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Read Pushing to the Front Part 64

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About the vilest thing on earth is a human being whose character is so tainted with impurity that he leaves the slimy trail of the serpent wherever he goes.

There never was a more beautiful and pathetic prayer than that of the poor soiled, broken-hearted Psalmist in his hour of shame, “Create in me a clean heart.” “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” There are thousands of men who would cut off their right hands to-day to be free from the stain, the poison, of impurity.

There can be no lasting greatness without purity. Vice honeycombs the physical strength as well as destroys the moral fiber. Now and again some man of note topples with a crash to sudden ruin. Yet the cause of the moral collapse is not sudden. There has been a slow undermining of virtue going on probably for years; then, in an hour when honor, truth, or honesty is brought to a crucial test, the weakened character gives way and there is an appalling commercial or social crash which often finds an echo in the revolver shot of the suicide.

Tennyson shows the effect of Launcelot’s guilty love for Guinevere, in the great knight’s conscious loss of power. His wrongful pa.s.sion indirectly brought about the death of fair Elaine. He himself at times shrank from puny men wont to go down before the shadow of his spear.

Like a scarlet blot his sin stains all his greatness, and he muses on it remorsefully:

“For what am I? What profits me my name Of greatest knight? I fought for it and have it.

Pleasure to have it, none; to lose it pain; Now grown a part of me: but what use in it?

To make men worse by making my sin known?

Or sin seem less, the sinner seeming great?”

Later when the knights of the Round Table joined in the search for the Holy Grail, that lost sacred vessel,

“The cup, the cup itself from which our Lord Drank at the last sad supper with his own,”

Launcelot was overtaken by his sin and failed ignominiously. Only Galahad the Pure was permitted to see the cup unsurrounded by a blinding glory, a fearful splendor of watching eyes and guarding shapes.

No one is quite the same in his own estimation when he has been once guilty of contact with impurity. His self-respect has suffered a loss.

Something has gone out of his life. His own good opinion of himself has suffered deterioration, and he can never face his life-task with quite the same confidence again. Somehow he feels that the world will know of his soul’s debauch and judge him accordingly.

There is nothing which will mar a life more quickly than the consciousness of a soul-stain. The loss of self-respect, the loss of character, is irreparable.

We are beginning to find that there is an intimate connection between absolute purity _of one’s thought and life and his good health, good thinking, and good work_, a very close connection between the moral faculties and the physical health; that nothing so exhausts vitality and vitiates the quality of work and ideals, so takes the edge off of one’s ambition, dulls the brain and aspiration, as impurity of thought and life. It seems to blight all the faculties and to demoralize the whole man, so that his efficiency is very much lessened. He does not speak with the same authority. The air of the conqueror disappears from his manner. He does not think so clearly; he does not act with so great certainty, and his self-faith is lost, because confidence is based upon self-respect, and he can no longer respect himself when he does things which he would not respect in another.

The fact that his impure acts are done secretly makes no difference.

No one can thoroughly respect himself when he does that which demoralizes him, which is unbecoming a gentleman, no matter whether other people know it or not. Impurity blights everything it touches.

It is not enough to be thought pure and clean and sound. One must actually _be_ pure and clean and sound morally, or his self-respect is undermined.

_Purity is power because it means integrity of thought, integrity of conduct_. _It means wholeness_. The impure man can not be a great power, because he can not thoroughly believe in himself when conscious that he is rotten in any part of his nature. Impurity works like leaven, which affects everything in a man. The very consciousness that the impurity is working within him robs him of power.

Apart from the moral side of this question, let us show how these things affect one’s success in life by sapping the energies, weakening the nature, lowering one’s standards, blurring one’s ideals, discouraging one’s ambition, and lessening one’s vitality and power.

In the last a.n.a.lysis of success, the mainspring of achievement must rest in the strength of one’s vitality, for, without a stock of health equal to great emergencies and persistent longevity, even the greatest ambition is comparatively powerless. And there is nothing that will sap the life-forces so quickly as dissipation and impure living.

Is there anything truer than that “To be carnally minded is death?” If the thought is carnal, the body must correspond, must express it in some physical discord.

Nothing else will destroy the very foundations of vitality quicker than impurity of thought and animal self-indulgence. The ideals must be kept bright and the ambition clean-cut.

Purity of thought means that the mental processes are not clouded, muddy, or clogged by brain ash from a dissipated life, from violation of the laws of health. Pure thought comes from pure blood, and pure blood from a clean, sane life. Purity signifies a great deal besides freedom from sensual taint. It means saneness, purity, and quality.

It has been characteristic of great leaders, men whose greatness has stood the acid test of time, that they have been virtuous in conduct, pure in thought.

“I have such a rich story that I want to tell you,” said an officer, who one evening came into the Union camp in a rollicking mood. “There are no ladies present, are there?”

General Grant, lifting his eyes from the paper which he was reading, and looking the officer squarely in the eye, said slowly and deliberately:

“No, but there are gentlemen present.”

“A great trait of Grant’s character,” said George W. Childs, “was his purity. I never heard him express an impure thought, or make an indelicate allusion in any way or shape. There is nothing I ever heard him say that could not be repeated in the presence of women. If a man was brought up for an appointment, and it was shown that he was an immoral man, Grant would not appoint him, no matter how great the pressure brought to bear.”

On one occasion, when Grant formed one of a dinner-party of Americans in a foreign city, conversation drifted into references to questionable affairs, when he suddenly rose and said, “Gentlemen, please excuse me, I will retire.”

It is the glory of a man to have clean lips and a clean mind. It is the glory of a woman not to know evil, even in her thoughts.

Isaac Newton’s most intimate friend in young manhood was a noted foreign chemist. They were constant a.s.sociates until one day the Italian told an impure story, after which Newton never would a.s.sociate with him.

“My extreme youth, when I took command of the army of Italy,” said Napoleon, “rendered it necessary that I should evince great reserve of manners and the utmost severity of morals. This was indispensable to enable me to sustain authority over men so greatly my superiors in age and experience. I pursued a line of conduct in the highest degree irreproachable and exemplary. In spotless morality I was a Cato, and must have appeared such to all. I was a philosopher and a sage. My supremacy could be retained only by proving myself a better man than any other man in the army. Had I yielded to human weakness, I should have lost my power.”

The military antagonist and conqueror of Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, was a man of simple life and austere virtue. When he was laid to rest in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral, “in streaming London’s central roar,” the poet who wrote his funeral ode was able to say of him:

“Whatever record leap to light He never shall be shamed.”

The peril of impurity lies in the insidiousness of the poison. Just one taint of impurity, one glance at a lewd picture, one hearing of an unclean story may begin the fatal corruption of mind and heart.

“It is the little rift within the lute That by and by will make the music mute, The little rift within the lover’s lute Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit That rotting inward slowly molders all.”

When Bunyan’s pilgrim was a.s.sailed by temptation he stopped his ears with his fingers and fled for his life. Let the young man who values himself, who sets store upon health and has ambition to succeed in his chosen career, be deaf to unclean speech and flee the companionship of those who think and speak uncleanness.

It is the experience of every man who has forsaken vice and turned his feet into the paths of virtue that evil memories will, in his holiest hours, leap upon him like a lion from ambush. Into the harmony of the hymn he sings memory will interpolate unbidden, the words of some sensual song. Pictures of his debauches, his past licentiousness, will fill his vision, and the unhappy victim can only beat upon his breast and cry, “Me miserable! Whither shall I flee?” This has been, through all time, the experience of the men that have sought sanct.i.ty in seclusion. The saints, the hermits in their caves, the monks in their cells, could never escape the obsessions of memory which with horrible realism and scorching vividness revived past scenes of sin.

A boy once showed to another a book of impure words and pictures. He to whom the book was shown had it in his hands only a few minutes. In after-life he held high office in the church, and years and years afterwards told a friend that he would give half he possessed had he never seen it, because its impure images, at the most holy times, would arise unbidden to his mind.

Physicians tell us that every particle of the body changes in a very few years; but no chemistry, human or divine, can entirely expunge from the mind a bad picture. Like the paintings buried for centuries in Pompeii, without the loss of tint or shade, these pictures are as brilliant in age as in youth.

a.s.sociation begets a.s.similation. We can not mix with evil a.s.sociations without being contaminated; can not touch pitch without being defiled.

Impurity is especially fatal in its grip upon the young, because of the vividness of the youthful imagination and the facility with which insinuating suggestions enter the youthful thought.

Indelible and satanic is the taint of the evil suggestive power which a lewd, questionable picture or story leaves upon the mind. Nothing else more fatally mars the ideals of life and lowers the standard of manhood and womanhood.

To read writers whose lines express the utmost possible impurity so dexterously and cunningly that not a vulgar word is used, but rosy, glowing, suggestive language–authors who soften evil and show deformity with the tints of beauty–what is this but to take the feet out of the straight road into the guiltiest path of seduction?

Very few realize the power of a diseased imagination to ruin a precious life. Perhaps the defect began in a little speck of taint. No other faculty has such power to curse or bless mankind, to build up or tear down, to enn.o.ble or debauch, to make happy or miserable, or has such power upon our destiny, as the imagination.

Many a ruined life began its downfall in the dry rot of a perverted imagination. How little we realize that by subtle, moral manufacture, repeated acts of the imagination weave themselves into a mighty tapestry, every figure and fancy of which will stand out in living colors in the character-web of our lives, to approve or condemn us.

In many cases where, for no apparent reason, one is making failure after failure, never reaching, even approximately, the position which was antic.i.p.ated for him, if he would look frankly into his own heart, and searchingly at his own secret habits, he would find that which, hidden, like the worm at the heart of the rose, is destroying and making impossible all that enn.o.bles, beautifies, and enriches life.

“I solemnly warn you,” says Beecher, “against indulging a morbid imagination. In that busy and mischievous faculty begins the evil.

Were it not for his airy imagination, man might stand his own master,–not overmatched by the worst part of himself. But ah! these summer reveries, these venturesome dreams, these fairy castles, builded for no good purposes,–they are haunted by impure spirits, who will fascinate, bewitch, and corrupt you. Blessed are the pure in heart.

Blessed art thou, most favored of G.o.d, whose THOUGHTS are chastened; whose imagination will not breathe or fly in tainted air, and whose path hath been measured by the golden reed of purity.”

To be pure in heart is the youth’s first great commandment. Do not listen to men who tell you that “vice is a necessity.” Nothing is a necessity that is wrong,–that debauches self-respect. “All wickedness is weakness.” Vice and vigor have nothing in common. Purity is strength, health, power.


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