Mans Redemption of Man

By William Osler, 1913
Mans Redemption of Man


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To man there has been published a triple gospel—of his soul, of his goods, of his body. Growing with his growth, preached and professed in a hundred different ways in various ages of the world, these gospels represent the unceasing purpose of his widening thoughts.

The gospel of his relation to the powers unseen has brought sometimes hope, too often despair. In a wide outlook on the immediate and remote effects of the attempts to establish this relation, one event discredits the great counsel of Confucius (who realized what a heavy yoke religion might be) to keep aloof from spiritual beings. Surviving the accretions of twenty centuries, the life and immortality brought to light by the gospel of Christ, remain the earnest desire of the best portion of the race.

The gospel of his goods—of man's relation to his fellow men, is written in blood on every page of history. Quietly and slowly the righteousness that exalteth a nation, the principles of eternal justice, have won acquiescence, at any rate in theory, though as nations and individuals we are still far from carrying them into practice.

And the third gospel, the gospel of his body, which brings man into relation with nature,—a true evangelion, the glad tidings of a conquest beside which all others sink into insignificance—is the final conquest of nature, out of which has come man's redemption of man, the subject to which I am desirous of directing your attention.

In the struggle for existence in which all life is engaged, disease and pain loom large as fundamental facts. The whole creation groaneth and travaileth, and so red in tooth and claw with ravin is Nature, that, it is said, no animal in a wild state dies a natural death. The history of man is the story of a great martyrdom—plague, pestilence and famine, battle and murder, crimes unspeakable, tortures inconceivable, and the inhumanity of man to man has even outdone what appear to be atrocities in nature. In the Grammar of Assent (chap. x) Cardinal Newman has an interesting paragraph on this great mystery of the physical world. Speaking of the amount of suffering bodily and mental which is our lot and heritage, he says: "Not only is the Creator far off, but some being of malignant nature seems to have got hold of us, and to be making us his sport. Let us say that there are a thousand millions of men on the earth at this time; who can weigh and measure the aggregate of pain which this one generation has endured, and will endure from birth to death? Then add to this all the pain which has fallen and will fall upon our race through generations past and to come. Is there not then some great gulf fixed between us and the good God?"

Dwelling too exclusively on this aspect of life, who does not echo the wish of Euripides: "Not to be born is the best, and next to die as soon as possible."

Some of you may remember Edwin Markham's poem, "The Man with the Hoe," based on Millet's famous picture.

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?

It is a world-old tale, this of the trembling heart, the failing eyes, the desponding mind of the natural man. "And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life: In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see" (Deut. xxviii.).