They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appears before God.
What is the true progress of man? We say progress of "man" in contradistinction to the progress of ideas, "graces," principles, faculties, or arts.
1. Progress in the accumulation of wealth is not the true progress of man.
2. Nor progress in the attainment of knowledge.
3. Nor progress in social influence.
4. Nor progress in theological zeal.
5. Nor the progress of any element in the soul distinct and separable from it.
I. TRUE PROGRESS IS THE PROGRESS OF THE SOUL IN APPROPRIATING, WITH HAPPINESS TO ITSELF, ALL EXTERNAL OBJECTS TO ITS HIGHEST USE. But how is this appropriation to be made? How is this outward universe to promote the growth of our souls? Not without our willing and earnest effort. Put the acorn into a congenial soil, and external nature, by a necessity, will draw all the particles of vitality from its "milky veins," and elaborate them into majestic forests. The seed has no resisting force; it is passive in the plastic hand of nature. But it is not so with mind; it has a choice in the matter. There must be investigation and application.
II. TRUE PROGRESS IS THE PROGRESS OF THE SOUL IN DISTRIBUTING, WITH HAPPINESS TO ITSELF, THE HIGHEST BLESSINGS TO THE CREATION.
1. Analogy indicates it. There is nothing made for itself — nothing whose powers and influences, are entirely circumscribed to self. Whatever a creature receives it gives out, with the modification and increase of its own force. The clouds borrow water of the ocean, but they pour it forth again in refreshing showers upon the thirsty hills, which, in their turn, send them amongst the valleys. The tree borrows from every part of the world in order to build up itself, but it gives out, in return, beauty, fragrance, and fruit. Thus all things give what they appropriate. The material is but the emblem of the spiritual, and thus all nature typifies man's distributive function.
2. Its instinct suggests it. "There are," says Bishop Butler, "as real, and the same kind of indications in Nature that we are made for society, and to do good to our fellow-creatures, as that we were intended to take care of our own life, and health, and private good; and that the same objections lie against one of these assertions as against the other."
3. It has a sphere for it. No two spirits, perhaps, throughout the intelligent universe are exactly alike: the one has what its neighbour requires, and thus to all there is a field for distribution. Now, true progress is, as we have said, the progress of the soul in distributing the highest blessings, with happiness to itself. What are the highest blessings? Spiritual thoughts. Ideas that will stimulate to duty, and nerve for nobler deeds; that will shed new light on being, and present the Eternal to the mind under aspects yet more lovely; that will guide to loftier walks of existence; that will touch new chords, develop new powers of being, awaken new hopes, and kindle higher aspirations; I call the highest blessings.
III. TRUE PROGRESS IS THE PROGRESS OF THE SOUL IN BOTH APPROPRIATING AND DISTRIBUTING, UNDER AN EVER-HEIGHTENING CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE CREATOR'S PRESENCE AND APPROVAL. Neither of the two former instincts to which we have referred — that of self or society — is more real, deep, or universal, than the Divine All men, in all periods, circumstances, and places, have developed their intuitive belief in the supernatural and Divine. This instinct is the ultimate fact in our spiritual constitution: it is the fountain-head of all religions. It has reared temples for the world, transformed men into priests, and wood and stone into gods. It is the breath of prayer, the song of thanksgiving, the soul of worship, through all lands and ages. To enjoy the approbation of the Deity is the grand desideratum of life. This last element of progress — namely, the ever-heightening consciousness of Divine approbation — transcends the other two, inasmuch as it involves them. It is only as this consciousness is felt that the spirit can succeed, either in the great work of appropriation or distribution. This is the spirit of advancement.
Parallel VersesKJV: They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.