THE QUICKENING WORD
Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
IT is the spirit that quickeneth; . . . the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.–John vi, 63.
What marvellous words are these that fall from the Master’s lips after he has assured his hearers that he is “the bread of life,” “the living bread” from heaven, bringing life from the Father and giving life to those who are responsive. Even the words he utters are spirit and life. Hence Jesus says to the disciples on another occasion, after conversing with them at length, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John xv, 3). The word of the Lord then is purifying as well as life-giving. This is the word which “shall not pass away,” the word of eternal life, the truth which sets men free. It is the word which unites, which is from the Father to the Son, and thence to the disciples. “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will make our abode with him . . . and the word which ye hear is not mine. but the Father’s which sent me” (John xiv, 23-24) “For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me” (John xvii, 8).
Is it possible for us to read these same words so that they shall become to us words of spirit and of life? Surely, if we give thought to the inward man as renewed and quickened by the Divine Presence through the creative word.
The Apostle Paul speaks of having “the mind of Christ,” which renews. Writing to the Corinthians he says, “But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (II Cor. iv, 16). He also bids the Ephesians seek the inward source of the life that renews. “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph. iv, 23). One’s prayer would naturally be that of the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. Li, 10). This quest for the renewing word reminds us of the inspiriting statement in Isaiah, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah xl, 31).
Surely, these are wonderful words of promise. God is the true source of strength, of quickening power. Our part is to seek the sanctuary of the Spirit, that we may truly “wait on the Lord,” may hear the quickening word which especially meets our need. Every true prayer should bring this quickening. Whenever we read the Master’s words as words of life we ought to be renewed. This renewal ought not only to give us a new impetus to do our work in the world but a sense of power in carrying out that impetus, in His name.
Why is it that we do not more frequently feel this renewing sense of Life? Is it because we read with doctrinal interests and forget to realize that there is quickening value in the very words themselves, in addition to the truth which appeals to our understanding? Is it because we have heard and read these words so many times that now they are as familiar as the beauties of spring or the glories of sunset? Do we read them as historical statements simply, and fail to make them vivid and real in the concrete imagery of our own thought? Or is our failure due to the fact that we have never thought of these words of power as applying to the whole of life, as bringing strength and overcoming weariness through the spirit they bring?
Whatever the reason for failing to make the spiritual word a vitalizing power, it is well to consider the matter in some detail, that we may make headway at last in passing beyond the mere letter.
How can it be true that the inward man is renewed day by day? Through the continuous, the constant presence of the Divine life within us as an influx or incoming into “the secret place” of the heart. While we are not conscious of this incoming Life in the moment of its imbuing touch with our spirit, we may complete in thought what is lacking in actual experience, thinking of it as more immediately present to our spirits at certain times than at others. We may remind ourselves, for example, that during sleep we may be more receptive than in our waking hours, when mental life surges forward so actively. If tonight I take my problems and trials to bed with anxious and fear-breeding thoughts, I shall thereby put a barrier around the inward man. But if I begin half an hour before the time for sleep approaches to make my spirit ready for sleep, I may be able to drop all cares with a free-mindedness which will make of my night’s rest a divine communion. My part is to cut connection with external matters, to drop all difficulties and uncertainties, and give myself to gentle sleep, “Nature’s sweet restorer,” as I would offer my spirit in the truest prayer.
I do not assume to know my chiefest needs in so doing. I do not necessarily ask for help. My hope is that I shall give myself to renewing slumbers in whatever way I need most to be receptive. I return to the sources. I am a child again. If I knew precisely by what word to utter or express this responsiveness at its best, I would let this be my last active thought before giving myself to sleep. I can but say, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” “The words of my mouth” here represent the external life, while the meditation of the heart stands for the inner self. May these be in unison. May I so give myself in spirit to my Father who knows all my needs that on awakening there will come a new impetus for the dawning day.
Sometimes the day begins to dawn on our consciousness before we open our eyes to behold the beautiful morning light. We may awaken at an earlier hour than usual, to find the mind partially illumined by thoughts which come spontaneously; not by self-conscious exertion, inference or reasoning, but through the divine light. Difficulties are sometimes cleared away in a flash during such an experience. We may see precisely where we have lost the spirit and become immersed in forms, things and processes. We may have a new vision of the self or of someone whom it is our privilege to help.
No rule for putting the mind into this illumined state at its best can be given. One can only say, Cherish it when it comes, observing the conditions which invite its coming that you may encourage their recurrence. By such an experience one learns in part what it means to “think with the spirit” rather than with the external mind. Thus one has a clearer idea what the spirit is.
But one can give a rule for mental states in which the will plays a part. When you are nonplused, absorbed in conditions, involved in routine and weary, seek some form of recreation or change which will fill your mind for the time, so that you will drop your cares and problems. Then in the midst of it all you may gain the needed contrast, side lights may fall upon your daily life, your work, your relation to your associates. Again, read a favorite author or the Bible until a thought appeals to you with clarifying power and gives you a clue. The Apostle Paul says, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. xii, 2).
It is well to bear in mind, also, that there is with us a “spirit of truth” which will lead us into all truth if we faithfully follow. Oftentimes we are unable to find a clarifying or uplifting thought until we first think matters over, looking back over the past to see what influences have brought us where we are today, what lessons are to be learned, what change we need to make in our attitude. There is great value in facing life as it actually exists in the living present which is for our development, noting motives, desires, the kind of love which is prevalent. For when we trace our activities to their sources, seeing clearly, realizing where we weakened, when we became unduly absorbed in externals–then we realize that there is a great freeing power in spiritual truth. Sometimes a thought suffices to turn the prevailing attitude from negative to positive. Sometimes, too, we are prompted to utter the word of power which as quickly sets another free.
It is interesting and helpful to put ourselves back in imagination into the time of the Gospel works of healing and realize what faith was sometimes felt in the Master”s presence. One woman of strong faith simply begged leave to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, that she might be made whole. Another person said confidently, “Speak the word, only, and my servant shall be healed.” Many of the hearers of the parables and the Sermon on the Mount must have realized most vividly that they were hearing words which were spirit and life. Undoubtedly these hearers felt marked spiritual benefit from these power-carrying words.
Why is it that the followers of Christ in the churches have lost the ability to put the soul in touch with spirit and life as the glad messages once brought power to men? Why was it necessary for a new movement to spring up outside of the churches to re-emphasize the therapeutic value of the Gospel? Apparently because so much stress has been placed upon the intellectual value in contrast with the life-giving power. It has seemed to believers in doctrines that they have done their part when they have come forth into public acceptance of the denominational faith. But thus to believe, with qualification after qualification, lest one fail to state this faith in precisely the right way, has been to lose the force of the original truth. That truth was spread abroad in its universality. It was for every emergency and every hour of need. It was to be made concrete, carried out into the flesh, the external life. When we qualify, when we try to manage or regulate, we check the incoming life, losing impetus and becoming absorbed in our own states and thoughts. But this life comes to us that we may not only receive in fulness but give in abundance.
“Give, and it shall be given unto you.” The power of love is increased within us by giving. Conjunction with God is increased through such responsiveness and expression. This reciprocal action is the real test of belief. Man is so constituted as to receive the divine life in ever- increasing fulness and perfection, if he gives in equal abundance. “Every faculty can enlarge with capacity for the receptivity of love and wisdom, peace and joy, which will increase with every influx of life from the Lord.” Man appropriates life and power from this influx by living in large-minded responsiveness in accordance with it. The influx vivifies in accordance with reception. Inasmuch as no two individuals are precisely alike, each one needs to learn from experience how to adapt life in its fulness to receptivity and giving. The individual who has proved the power of the quickening word by admitting it into his whole being, is able to speak and to give persuasively to others.
The denominational Christian is apt to become crystallized in attitude through constant emphasis on his particular creed. Hence it remains for the outsider to practice the Gospel with respect to its larger application. But the large-minded follower of Christ never allows his thought to become crystallized at all. There ought to be new evidences, fresh reasons, immediate contacts with life, to keep the spirit alive. This would be our constant effort, if instead of believing for our own salvation or worshipping to increase personal piety, and the mere giving of intellectual assent to what we already believe, we should seek the words of life and of the spirit, and forthwith carry them to someone in need.
Sometimes, in endeavoring to be helpful to one in need, we find it necessary to utter keen truths that arouse dissent, stir the mind into self-defense, or even evoke vigorous emotions in protest. For there must first be vital response of some sort. Thus a physician may find it necessary to arouse a bedridden invalid out of easy-going habits of months or years of self-absorption and the nourishing of luxurious aches and pains. Thus the whole world had to be aroused from its complacent, luxurious and pleasure-loving slumbers by the great war. And the war itself was hardly enough. It had to be followed by other deep stirrings over social issues, strikes and revolutionary programs. “Where there is life there is hope.” There must often be ploughing and harrowing. Then we may sow the good seed. All these processes are mentioned in the Gospels, that we may understand the rightful place of the quickening word.
Of what avail after all is belief in spiritual things unless we realize that the spiritual element in us is the life-element, that to be spiritual is to be unselfish? If the divine life which comes to us comes as power to do, as energy wherewith to achieve, then the first question is, What is there within our being, our thought, our affections and conduct, which interferes with this life, and how can it be removed?
When such searching questions are put to us we are apt to rise up in self-defense at first. Some of us chanced to have a weak physical inheritance, with tendencies to disease, and so we seem to be exempt. Others are handicapped through early training at home, by educational deficiencies, and by our contact with the world. The story of our handicaps seems indeed endless, as one after another we come forward to tell why we are wearied, burdened, ill and suffering. We seem to be involved in one another’s burdens to the limit. Our good resolutions and efforts should have been made by our great-grandparents on both sides of the house. There seems to be no real relation or correspondence between what we inwardly will to be and the conditions which our outward life attracts.
Yet what shall we do? Shall we simply excuse ourselves and our immediate ancestors, making no effort to live by the quickening word? Of what meaning is this great truth that the divine love and wisdom are present with us according to our need?
What if we think as little as possible of heredity and external environment, of any and all handicaps, and begin where we are today to give the inner life more and more fully to the divine presence? However old we may be according to the calendar, whatever the hindrances before us, we are all in the same process at one point or another, and we may all begin to emphasize the divine efficiency instead of dwelling on the human process.
Sincerely to believe in the divine influx as a present reality, is to open our spirits in readiness to receive guidance, the word of life and power which is our greatest need today. We should not try to bring the whole of life into line at once. It is well to concentrate upon an immediate opportunity, lifting our spirit into spiritual light that we may be guided. Then our responsiveness will grow from more to more, and we may find ourselves doing what seemed impossible while we dwelt upon our limitations and handicaps.
Something we have gained if we are willing to entertain even the idea that the divine influx is to be regarded as vitally true now, that the living Lord is here with words which are spirit and are life. For theoretical objections will then fall away and we will begin to see that it is a question of our attitude.
On the inward side of our nature at least the correspondence between attitude and what it invites is perfect. There is all the power and life, all the wisdom and love me need. There is spiritual health and freedom. There is power to live the good life. Everything depends on the human side on recognition of and co-operation with the one Efficiency. We can hardly expect what we have not invited. We are not likely to seek to be “every whit whole” even in spirit, until we gain the idea that the living Christ comes to minister to the whole individual.
So, too, when we read the Gospels, much depends on what we look for. If we, when we read, when we worship, merely anticipate a Sabbath rest from our week day problems, this pleasant contrast is what we are likely to find. If we search the Bible in quest of passages to confirm a favorite doctrine, we may find what we seek. But to find the hidden truth in the letter of the Word, we must make the effort which leads to it. And so to hear the word which is spirit and is life we need especially to start with the thought of God as the living, present Lord, the light of Christ in the soul of man today. We need the idea of the divine influx and with this the thought that there is wisdom, life, power according to our need. The word is a symbol or sign of this power. The idea is a clue or incentive to start our spirit into activity in the direction in which we need light. And so we endeavor to penetrate behind the intellectual form in an attitude of openness of spirit. It was in this penetrating, vivifying spirit that Jesus spoke to the disciples and then said to them in confirmation, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” And it is in further confirmation and quickening power that he also says, “And the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”
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Spiritual Health and Healing
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