The Vice of Selfishness and the Power of Love

LETTER NO. 44 - JULY, 1914

In the last lesson we saw that the Lord of Wartburg asked the minstrel to describe love. As we all aspire to evolve within ourselves that quality, it is perhaps of very great importance that we should look the matter squarely in the face and see what is our greatest hindrance, for surely there can be no question but that we are all lacking woefully in respect to love. No matter what we may seem to others, when we look into our own hearts we stand ashamed, knowing the motives which prompted acts that others consider dictated by love of our fellow men. When we analyze these motives we shall find that they are all dictated by the one trait of selfishness; moreover, this is the one fault we never confess. I have heard men and women stand up publicly or in private and confess to every sin on the calendar save this single one of selfishness. Yes, we even deceive ourselves by imagining that we ourselves are not selfish. We see this trait of character very plainly in others if we are at all observant, but fail to perceive the beam in our own eye; and so long as we do not admit this great fault to ourselves and strive seriously to overcome it, we cannot progress upon the pathway of love.

Thomas a Kempis says: "I would rather feel compunction than know how to define it"; and we may well substitute the word love for compunction. If we could only feel love rather than be able to define it! But love cannot be known now by us except in the measure that we cleanse ourselves from the great sin of selfishness. Life is our most precious possession, and Christ therefore said, "Greater love (or unselfishness) hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

In the measure, therefore, that we cultivate this virtue of unselfishness, we shall attain to love, for they are synonymous, as was shown by Paul in that inimitable thirteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians. When a poor brother knocks at our does, do we give him as little as we can? If so, we are selfish. Or do we help him only because our conscience will not allow us to let him go? Then also this is selfishness, for we do not want to feel the pangs of conscience. Even though we give our lives for a cause, is there not the thought that it is OUR work? Often I hide my face from myself in shame at that thought in connection with the Fellowship, and yet we must go on. But let us not deceive ourselves; let us fight the demon of selfishness and be ever watchful against its subtle onslaughts. If we find it whispering that we need rest and cannot afford to give our strength for others, or if we feel that we cannot afford to give our substance, let us force the virtue of generosity. As a matter of actual fact, we only keep what we give; our bodies decay and our possessions are left behind, but our good deeds remain ours for all eternity.