PreparednessW. John Murray
Vol. 7, No. 10
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.,
New York, July 1916.
“Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors.” – II Kings 4:3
The subject of preparedness is one that is occupying the human mind very much at the present time. We listen to orations on both sides of this very important question and we come away with a feeling that back of each speaker there is much that is true, much that is commendable and much that is worthy of adoption. We are almost distressed over the situation, because there is so much in favor of militarism and so much in favor of anti-militarism. The logic of both parties is almost unassailable. We are going to be thrashed if we are not prepared, and we are going to invite a thrashing if we do prepare.
The individual who feels that he is about to be set upon by other individuals feels a certain amount of security in providing himself with a six-shooter, but it is not really the full essence of security, because there is lurking back in his mind always, a little feeling that the other chaps may get the drop on him with their trusty weapons.
What is true of individuals, then, must be equally true of nations. No matter how well we provide ourselves with armaments of war, there is lurking back in our national mentalities a suspicion that in some way, somehow, the enemy may get in; and so in this there is not the fullest sense of security.
If one man should say to another man who is carrying a six-shooter, “Dispose of it and put your absolute trust and confidence in the protecting power of Divine Love,” he would be inclined to take the matter as a joke and laugh at it, unless he were really alive to the spiritual necessity of things. The idea of an intangible thing like Divine Love protecting an individual against other individuals who are bent on his destruction, is too absurd for acceptance, too ridiculous to think about.
If a man should rise today in the Congress of the United States and through that body, ask the nation to disarm and throw itself absolutely and unqualifiedly and entirely upon the protection of that Infinite Love which is God, he would be regarded as a foolish idealist. So, perhaps, it is better that we refrain from telling the man with the six-shooter to put it up and depend upon God for his protection, when he is not yet ready for a great spiritual truth. It may perhaps be just as well for our statesmen to keep quiet on this very important subject until the nation, which is composed of individuals who carry six-shooters, and every other nation on the face of the earth, is thoroughly alive to the great protecting power of the Infinite; because really it seems like a waste of words for peace advocates to be suggesting to other men the necessity and the wisdom of disarmament, and going about trusting to some unseen power which they know not of.
Preparedness is a necessity, a giant necessity, but there is preparedness and preparedness; and if we can take our thoughts off these great national and international issues and bring them down to ourselves as individuals, and study preparedness as it applies to our particular personal experiences, it may be that we shall be saved a great deal of anxiety and apprehension concerning the future of nations, a great deal of anxiety and apprehension concerning the proximity of war in this country with other countries; it may be that we shall be able to detach ourselves for the moment from these great, tremendous, universal issues and get down where we belong for the moment; just to ourselves.
Of course, it may seem rather selfish to be considering our personal difficulties when such great, universal troubles are at our door. We may feel as if we are called upon really to discuss these vital questions, but may it not be sometimes, in discussing these very vital questions, there is more of curiosity than real interest? Sometimes the man who sits around the stove in the corner grocery store discussing war would not be nearly so anxious to go to war if it came about. It is so easy for us to discuss these things so far off, simply because they are great clouds on the horizon.
What is our duty, really? First, it seems to me that a man’s duty is to make the best and the most of his own life; because it is only in so far as a man is able to make the best and the most of his own life that he becomes a real factor in society, a real unit in the great whole of things which is making for eternal progress, notwithstanding these wretched wars that go on.
Preparedness is a something that concerns you individually, and because it is, you have been preparing in many ways for your own personal betterment and for your own personal happiness and for your own personal prosperity, knowing that no one else will prepare for you, knowing that the nation as such, as big as it is, will not labor very intelligently or very diligently for your own personal prosperity, because that is a something which rests wholly with you. Yes, though you fight for it and almost die for it and are incapacitated from future lucrative employment as a result, your pension may be so meagerly small that you wonder if the big thing takes care of the little thing very well after all.
It has been my sad misfortune to see on Waterloo Bridge and other places, men maimed for life begging for bread. Tommy was all right in the trenches, but after the thing is over, Tommy is a mere speck in the great thing.
And so, while I would not destroy the idea of patriotism in the human heart, because I think that would be quite impossible; while I would not for a moment set aside the great thing which is worth while, namely, the love of country, the love of humanity and love of justice; I would have the individual doing the thinking on his own account, for himself, even though it appear in the beginning to be just a trifle selfish; because after all, I say, if you do not take care of yourself, there are few in the world who are willing to do it for you. The nation won’t, so if you have any such delusion as that, get away from it. The nation, as such, gives to you an opportunity to make a living. Every nation does this, but it is up to you to do it. So preparedness, then, is to be a purely personal thing.
We read the little account of the widow who had been reduced to abject poverty. Her husband owed a debt to those in authority, and those in authority were availing themselves of an existing law to seize upon her children as bonds for the debt which was not paid. It was not sufficient that this poor member of society should lose her husband through death, but now the authorities should seize upon her children, who were the only visible means of support she had, and use them and their labor to the end of paying this debt which her husband had contracted before his death and had not met.
Being a godly woman, she turned to a man of God, to the prophet, as most people do in their extremity; and Elisha asked her what she had, what there was remaining out of the estate. “A pot of oil,” she said, “just a pot of oil.” “Then,” he said, “go, borrow thee vessels of thy neighbors, empty vessels; not a few. And when thou art come in, shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and pour out into all those vessels.”
Now that seemed almost as silly as to tell a man to put up his six-shooter when he is afraid of another man; almost as foolish as to tell a country to disarm when all the other countries on the face of the earth are armed to the teeth. Why should a woman take the empty vessels into the room and begin to pour of the full vessel into the empty vessels? What would she gain thereby? What would she profit? Naturally those arguments rose in the woman’s mind. The question with her was not a question of pouring oil from the one vessel into a lot of other vessels, but just simply a question of rising above poverty.
But the man of God knew what he was doing. He was resorting to a higher law than she understood, and all he asked of her was obedience, and she was sufficiently sophisticated in the law of God to be obedient at least, to that which she could not understand, and so she did like many women of Israel in that day – she was obedient to the prophet. She went into the room and the oil multiplied.
The lesson here is first, obedience; second, preparedness of a kind that is higher than the preparedness that we talk so much about. She had been praying for an increase of her substance and like all of us, her substance had been gradually lessening until she had come down to this lonely pot of oil, which she no doubt was just cherishing with all the power of one who thought that when it was gone she would have nothing left at all.
She had prayed and prayed intently, but she had not prepared for the answer to her prayers. If it came, what would she have to put it in? What was there to receive it? She had prayed for abundance, but she had feared poverty. She had prayed for increase, but she saw persistent decrease going on. The prophet knew that the only way to bring about an answer to her petition, the only way to better her condition in life, was to change the current of her thoughts, adding to prayer, preparation for the thing being prayed for, – a form of preparedness that invites the thing we desire, a getting ready for it, so to speak, and then having it flow naturally and normally and without trouble or torment.
The increase was not due to any other law than the higher law which says that a thing standing still never increases. A bottle of oil, cherished because it is the last bottle in the house, will not increase by reason of being cherished any more than a dollar squeezed in the palm of the hand will grow. It is the divine law of circulation – it had to be set in motion. There must be, according to the prophet’s idea, something doing as well as something praying. She must pray for increase, but she must get ready for it. She must get vessels, and it is very significant that the flow of oil does not cease until there are no more vessels to fill. The goodness of God never ends so long as we are willing to receive it, so long as there is that preparedness of the soul which reaches out for the goodness of God and attracts it in all of its abundance. It only ceases when there are no more vessels.
In the third chapter of the second book of Kings there is another wonderful incident related. The king of Israel had gone out to seize upon the king of Moab because the king of Moab had refused to pay his tribute. With him he had taken two other kings, the object being to vanquish the king of Moab and seize upon his treasures as just payment for bills long rendered and long due.
For seven days the king of Israel and his two allies traveled across the wilderness and then camped, only to discover that in the place where they camped there was water for neither man nor beast; and over there was the fortress of the king of Moab. Men who having nothing to drink and horses who have nothing to drink can neither travel nor fight, and so the king of Israel became depressed and dejected. To go back was impossible. He was seven days away from his base of supplies. He was just one day from the fortress of the king of Moab. If the king of Moab should know that the king of Israel and his armies were starving for water, it would be a very easy matter to swoop down upon them and demolish them, great and powerful as they were; and in his despair the king of Israel cried out for some relief.
It was a cloudless sky and a hot day and there was no evidence of water anywhere in the great desert. In this moment of distress, one of the men of the army came forward and said, “Elisha the prophet is in this vicinity.” Someone always seems to come along and tell us in the hour of our extremity that near us is a man of God; and the king of Israel with the king of Judah and the other king, went off in search of Elisha. Presently they found him. They poured out their tale of woe. The first thing that Elisha did to the king of Israel was to rebuke him for his apostasy, for his having turned his back upon his God in his days of prosperity, for having left God until the very last thing – a rebuke which we all merit, really. The prophets did not spare kings any more than they spared peasants.
The king of Israel accepted the rebuke, and then Elisha said to him, “Make ditches in the valley. Make ditches.” Now in those days they made ditches in valleys for the purpose of being filled with water during the rainy season. From these ditches men and horses and cattle generally were refreshed and invigorated. Make ditches in a valley that is as dry as the desert of Sahara! Make ditches on a red-hot day with the sun shining in the heavens and not a cloud to indicate the approach of rain! Get ready! You know something about the law of preparedness, so far as your horses and your military are concerned, so far as your ammunition is concerned, but you don’t understand the law of preparedness on its higher plane.
There must have been some questioning in the minds of the kings. There must have been some argument going on mentally. “Why should we make ditches in Death Valley, a place where rain is rarely ever