"Cured by Active Work." The Congregationalist, 16 Aug. 1888

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"Cured by Active Work." The Congregationalist, 16 Aug. 1888


Work; Christianity; women




Every man in business, once or twice a year must take account of stock, to see just where he stands. He has not enough of one article, or has too much of another. In that direction he must show more energy in this, it behooves him to be cautious. It is easily seen how necessary such a frequent searching scrutiny is in trade.

We are not so apt to see that it is necessary to our own soul’s health. It is not pleasant to stop once in the year, or once in the day, as the traveler used to do when journeying alone through the wilderness of the Old World, to ask: “How far have I come? Where am I going? Do I make better progress than I did at first? How near am I to home?” 

There are many well-meaning, active Christian people, who never thus stop to look into their own condition. They drudge along through their whole lives, in shop or office or kitchen, without ever calling a halt to convince themselves of the purport of it all. It is true, they do the duty which each hour brings faithfully. But their minds the year around are full of hardware, or sheetings, or unwashed dishes, when they might sometimes climb high enough to survey the whole landscape of their lives, catch a glimpse of the heavenly heights, and march on to the echo of triumphant music.

But these people who never have, so to speak, been introduced to their own souls, are surely of higher rank than those who are perpetually employed in examining themselves. The first belong usually, by birth and necessity, to an active class, little given to books or meditation. The latter are, as a rule, intellectual, devout, women, and are oftenest to be found in what Dr. Holmes calls the Brahmin[1] in New England or elsewhere. Their first purpose is doubtless a god one—to elevate and develop their own natures to perfection. But they become absorbed in self-contemplation. Their own sins, their vicious tendencies, their coldness, their wanderings of heart—these are the subjects which fill their minds, their diaries—if they are so unfortunate as to have a correspondent—their letters.

“Remember,” said Margaret Fuller,[2] high priestess of this order of egotists, “remember, the business of your life is—to grow!”

These exalted enthusiasts devote themselves to the business of cultivating the growth of their souls. If the sun sets with unusual splendor, or the sea is lashed to fury, it is to call forth certain emotions in their hearts, which they jot down in their journals with care. If death or trouble comes into the family, they at once consider the effect upon their own spiritual condition. If they go out to nurse the sick, or to help the poor, it is not as one of Christ’s children, to show their love to His other children, but that their own natures may be enlarged by the divine work of charity. When they kneel in prayer, it is not to struggle close to their Father, to touch His hand, but to stand apart from themselves, as it were, to observe how cold or how fervent are their supplications. In a word, the devil, with shrewd assumption of virtue, puts their own selfish souls in the stead of Christ. 

One of these women, who had tormented her pastor for years with morbid fears concerning her condition and her self-examinations, was suddenly called upon to take charge of an orphaned family of children. After several years the minister met her, bright-eyed, active, cheerful. He inquired into her spiritual life. But she scarcely heard him. “The baby who was crippled had been restored by care and nursing, the girls were all now in the church; and Tom—poor Tom, who drank was quite reformed!”

She told it all with tears of delight.

“But your own soul?” asked the pastor. “You used to have such fears?”

“Ah,” she exclaimed, “the Lord gave me so much to do, and I had to keep so close to Him to do it, that I left my own soul for Him to look after!”

Active hard work in Christ’s service is, after all, the best cure for morbid self-consciousness of every kind.

[1]Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) coined “Brahmin” to refer to upper class families of Boston. The Brahmin class is the highest ranking caste in the Hindu system in India.

[2] Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was an American journalist, editor, critic, and women’s rights activist during the early 19th century.


Laney Jolley Smith


March 30, 2020



Laney Jolley Smith, “"Cured by Active Work." The Congregationalist, 16 Aug. 1888,” Rebecca Harding Davis: Complete Works, accessed March 31, 2023, https://rebeccahardingdaviscompleteworks.com/items/show/209.

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