The fact that really great, true, and happy lives have been lived in the past and are being lived to-day gives us our starting-point. Time and again I have examined such lives in a most careful endeavor to find what has made them so, and have found that in _each and every_ individual case this that we have now come to has been the great central principle upon which they have been built. I have also found that in numbers of lives where it has not been, but where almost every effort apart from it has been made to make them great, true, and happy, they have not been so; and also that no life built upon it in sufficient degree, other things being equal, has failed in being thus.
Let us then to the answer, examine it closely, see if it will stand every test, if it is the true one, and if so, rejoice that we have found it, lay hold of it, build upon it, tell others of it. The last four words have already entered us at the open door. The idea has prevailed in the past, and this idea has dominated the world, that _self_ is the great concern,–that if one would find success, greatness, happiness, he must give all attention to self, and to self alone. This has been the great mistake, this the fatal error, this the _direct_ opposite of the right, the true as set forth in the great immutable law that–_we find our own lives in losing them in the service of others_, in longer form–the more of our lives we give to others, the fuller and the richer, the greater and the grander, the more beautiful and the more happy our own lives become. It is as that great and sweet soul who when with us lived at Concord said,–that generous giving or losing of your life which saves it.
This is an expression of one of the greatest truths, of one of the greatest principles of practical ethics the world has thus far seen. In a single word, it is _service_,–not self but the other self. We shall soon see, however, that our love, our service, our helpfulness to others, invariably comes back to us, intensified sometimes a hundred or a thousand or a thousand thousand fold, and this by a great, immutable law.
The Master Teacher, he who so many years ago in that far-away Eastern land, now in the hill country, now in the lake country, as the people gathered round him, taught them those great, high-born, and tender truths of human life and destiny, the Christ Jesus, said identically this when he said and so continually repeated,–“He that is greatest among you shall be your servant”; and his whole life was but an embodiment of this principle or truth, with the result that the greatest name in the world to-day is his,–the name of him who as his life-work, healed the sick; clothed the naked; bound up the broken-hearted; sustained the weak, the faltering; befriended and aided the poor, the needy; condemned the proud, the vain, the selfish; and through it all taught the people to love justice and mercy and service, to live in their higher, their diviner selves,–in brief, to _live_ his life, the Christ-life, and who has helped in making it possible for this greatest principle of practical ethics the world has thus far seen to be enunciated, to be laid hold of, to be lived by to-day. “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant,” or, he who would be truly great and recognized as such must find it in the capacity of a servant.
And what, let us ask, is a servant? One who renders service. To himself? Never. To others? Alway. Freed of its associations and looked at in the light of its right and true meaning, than the word “servant” there is no greater in the language; and in this right use of the term, as we shall soon see, every life that has been really true, great, and happy has been that of a servant, and apart from this no such life _ever has been or ever can be lived_.
O you who are seeking for power, for place, for happiness, for contentment in the ordinary way, tarry for a moment, see that you are on the wrong track, grasp this great eternal truth, lay hold of it, and you will see that your advance along this very line will be manifold times more rapid. Are you seeking, then, to make for yourself a name? Unless you grasp this mighty truth and make your life accordingly, as the great clock of time ticks on and all things come to their proper level according to their merits, as all invariably, inevitably do, you will indeed be somewhat surprised to find how low, how very low your level is. Your name and your memory will be forgotten long ere the minute-hand has passed even a single time across the great dial; while your fellow-man who has grasped this simple but this great and all-necessary truth, and who accordingly is forgetting himself in the service of others, who is making his life a part of a hundred or a thousand or a million lives, thus illimitably intensifying or multiplying his own, instead of living as you in what otherwise would be his own little, diminutive self, will find himself ascending higher and higher until he stands as one among the few, and will find a peace, a happiness, a satisfaction so rich and so beautiful, compared to which yours will be but a poor miserable something, and whose name and memory when his life here is finished, will live in the minds and hearts of his fellow-men and of mankind fixed and eternal as the stars.