WITH SIGNS FOLLOWING
Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
“AND they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”–Mark xvi, 20.
Oftentimes when reading the Bible we come upon a verse or phrase which we have passed by a hundred times without even noting that it was there, so intent are we ordinarily in the pursuit of those ideas which habit has taught us to look for. There is such a phrase in the verse quoted above, “the Lord working with them,” as the clue to the conclusion which follows,” and confirming the word with signs following.” We are apt to overlook this significant statement because conventional thought emphasizes belief and the unfortunate consequences of wrong belief. Just above there is a verse which reads, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The reader who is fearful of results likely to attend refusal to believe will probably stop at this word “damned,” not knowing that this is too strong a word to translate the original, which means “condemned,” and is the same word used elsewhere to indicate the natural consequences of our actions. Missing the point with regard to belief, the reader is likely to go on to this last verse, “And they went forth and preached everywhere.” This verb “preach” is apt to suggest something modern, and so the whole thought of these verses may be shifted to the dogmas one is supposed to believe or be punished, the dogmas which are commonly preached in the churches.
But, noting this profound statement, “the Lord working with them,” we are sent back to reconsider. This is the last utterance of the disciple who writes this Gospel. The evangelist has been telling about the resurrection as the last of those memorable experiences which brought near to men’s hearts the power of the Christ over outward things. He informs us very briefly concerning the final appearance of the Master among the eleven. Once more he tells us how the disciples were imbued with the spirit of Christ and sent forth to labor in the vineyard of the Lord. The disciples were not bidden to “preach” in the sense in which we usually apply the term, but “to proclaim the glad tidings to every creature”–this is the way the original reads. It was above all a question, not of alleged punishment to be inflicted on those declining to believe; for this would be a negative consideration; but of the signs following upon belief. What kind of signs were these to be? Not theoretical matters, not the issues which pertain to dogmas and the organization of churches; but practical results. In the name of Christ the disciples were to cast out devils, speak with new tongues, take up serpents, drink deadly things without injury. That is, the disciples were to enjoy those experiences which show the supremacy of the Spirit over material things. More important still, those who believed were to lay hands on the sick, and the sick were to recover. This much having been given as a promise, the evangelist goes on to tell us that the Lord “was received up in heaven.” This did not mean that the Master of life and death departed from the disciples, for there follows this phrase so easily overlooked, “the Lord working with them.”
Here was an advance even beyond the power of the Master’s reappearance among the disciples. The Lord was still present with those who believed and went forth to proclaim the glad tidings with faith that practical benefits would follow among the suffering, and it was because He worked with them that the word was confirmed and the signs were added. This “word” which was confirmed was the glad tidings of the living Gospel. It was confirmed because the Lord worked with the faithful, and produced the “signs following.”
This teaching puts belief in an entirely different light. It is plainly not a question of what men proclaim with their lips. Nor does it turn upon what men accomplish in their own might. People have fundamentally misunderstood the Gospel who have been guided by the instruction of the churches concerning doctrines. The living Gospel which the Master taught and exemplified by works was essentially a gospel of works or signs following. It was so understood by the disciples. It was proclaimed and verified by the impressive works of which we read in the book of Acts. It was taught in this way by the Apostle Paul, despite the fact that he was also the first Christian theologian and was inclined to be doctrinal. And then little by little the original Gospel of immediate deeds among the suffering was lost in the maze of doctrinal entanglements.
Looking back to this last meeting of the eleven with the Master and trying to regain the lost clue, we realize that If the gospel of works shall have vital meaning for us there must be a way in which the Lord works with every genuine believer today so as to confirm the word with signs following. This promise is given in connection with all the evangelist has told us about the supremacy of the Spirit over material things. Death apparently made no difference then, and makes no difference today. Time makes no difference. The ages that have come and gone have not separated us from the living Christ. The Lord working with us is still the power that accomplishes the signs that follow. We make a mistake if we allow anything whatsoever to stand between us and the living Lord.
Why is it that we should look for such signs following as the Gospels tell us about? Why has the theologizing world separated sin and sickness, and limited the work of the churches to the kind of preaching that is supposed to show salvation from sins merely? Why have we failed to understand the works recorded in the Gospels in which the healing of disease and the forgiving of sins are brought into intimate relation?
Because, for one thing, we have failed to trace out either sin or sickness to its interior sources. The word translated “sin” in the Gospels means error or mistake, and comes from a verb signifying to miss the mark, that is, fail of doing, fail of one’s purpose. To hit the mark would be to realize one’s purpose, do one’s work in the world constructively. Hence the Master summoned men and women to be whole, to be their true full selves. What does it mean to be sick? In the passage in which Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick,” the word rendered “sick” is from a term meaning “to cause evil,” of a bad quality or disposition. Evidently the reference is to the mode of life which underlies sickness, the inner state with which the outer is in correspondence. Immediately after saying that it was the sick who had need of him, Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Righteousness is justice, integrity, wholeness of life; it is hitting the mark. Sickness is due to any quality in the disposition which keeps one from attaining this wholeness. The power of the Lord working with us to confirm the word with signs following is the power which seeks to make men whole, whether their lack of integrity is called sin or sickness. Wholeness is a positive consideration.
What kind of sign should we look for, therefore, among those who believe as the Gospels would have men believe? Plainly, that kind of life out of which righteousness or health would spring as a consequence, instead of sin and sickness. The human spirit is made for integrity or wholeness. It has power to hit the mark, to realize life’s purpose. Our thought should be given to the conditions which favor such wholeness, we should look for power in this direction. The Lord is working with us in this endeavor.
We have been taking our clues from the sorrow and misery, the sin and suffering of the world. We have judged the human spirit by its failures, by unfortunate inheritances, by external environment with its sinful influences. But this is wrong. We should think and will and work in the vineyard of the Lord with the divine standard of health or wholeness in mind. It is those who lack the ideal of this wholeness to whom the Gospel comes especially, calling them to turn about (repent) and look towards the light. The Gospel is not a mere corrective of our errors, not a mere plan of salvation. It discloses the true positive plan of living. This plan implies the supremacy of the Spirit over material things. That is, it leads us to the great truth that all real causality is spiritual, that we live and work from the spiritual world, the Lord working with us.
What does the power of the living Christ within us endeavor to achieve? To touch anything in our disposition, such as a tendency to rebel, look on the dark side, work for our own selfish interest, or work against our rivals, so that this lesser activity shall be enlarged into the greater and become constructive. To shake us out of our apathy and self-righteousness, our mere contentment when things are moving as we would like them whether other people suffer or not. To call us into the active service of spreading the glad news for those who believe. To quicken us out of our hypocrisy and every other form of two-foldness into true unity within the self, unity between head and heart, the understanding and the will. To prompt our hearts to change from self-love and love for the world to love of God and our fellowmen. To lead us into the true life of charity which is the real sign that we profoundly believe and expect the signs following.
But why do these states which we are summoned out of underlie both sin and sickness? Because he who is in them is untrue to the divine standard of unity or wholeness. He who is a hypocrite, for example, who is working underhandedly for his own interest while seeming to be virtuous, who strives to serve two masters, is in interior conflict, and such conflict is sickness or sin. It shows itself outwardly in a thousand different ways with as many individuals. The individual is beset within and around by those forces which his inner conflict invites. The outward life manifests by correspondence the inner struggle. It is marked in the face, or in the voice. It is expressed in daily conduct, with its subtleties and compromises. It affects the nervous system, and consequently the bodily activity in general. The house thus divided against itself tends to fall. It is repaired and propped up, painted other colors and in various ways disguised. But still it remains the same house. Some onlookers advise changes here. Others suggest modifications there. The external signs or defects appear to be the real trouble. But the real trouble is hidden far within and for that there is no lasting remedy save through becoming a house at harmony with itself–unified, stable, constant.
We are apt to think that the inner pain or struggle is due to some hostile force striving with us, as a germ might play havoc with disordered tissues or a devil insinuate sly temptations. It is great glad news indeed that there is no other life or power in the world plotting and working against man, whatever the appearance and secondary struggles, but only the force of his own self-love reinforced by the self-love of others ignorantly and foolishly laboring against man’s own better self, producing out of this inner conflict the whole trouble of the house divided against itself. For with this discovery comes the knowledge that conflict can be changed into harmony through turning about and working with the power once opposed. The living Lord is with those who believe in the sense in which the Gospels teach belief: to bring about just this marvellous sign following, thus turning a state of war into a state of peace so that the supposed enemy is seen not to exist at all.
It seems almost unbelievable at first, that our real foes are those of our own household and that they may one and all be turned into friends. Our conflicts are so real to us and our struggles often so intense that we appear to be mere victims of outward things, as if we were supremely innocent. We do indeed take on by inheritance and from the influences coming from the world those conditions which outwardly speaking give us our experience. Thus, for example, the world readily contributes to the cantankerous person things enough to be cantankerous about. It is not slow in helping the pessimist to find facts to judge in the darkest light. He who has a chip on his shoulder will find other fighters ready for him. The world seems no better to any one of us than we are ourselves. No one can complain that things are not what they appear to be, for the human mind is so constituted as to let the inner state color the world according to its kind. The world corresponds in marvellous degree, even to our fluctuating moods. If we persist in putting the blame on people and things, on God and this splendid universe wherein we live, why then the world will gratify us in our delusion. But there is only one thing to consider after all, and that is our own state of development with the fears it brings, its illusions, its errors, hardships and miseries. There can be no relief save through a change within, since this is the very nature of life, the law of experience. There is no mystery, surely nothing to complain about; simply the glad news that the key to the whole solution is within ourselves, that the living Lord holds this key with outstretched hand saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
What is it that we need rest from? Is it from ourselves? No, from the inner struggle which we make by going counter to our nature. The nature of man is to find his place in the Grand Man, in the social order in which all who love the Lord and their fellow men are “members one of another.” The nature of man is to do a specific work in the world, to be contributory, to cooperate, live and let live, give full measure running over in his desire to serve. The right attitude to take toward our fellow men is to see this tendency toward co-operative service and mutual love working its way out into expression. The living Lord is with everyone whom we would help to accomplish just this purpose, That is the great consideration when disciples are sent forth to proclaim the glad news, with signs following.
Are we able, in the first place, to see the significance of the word which shall be confirmed by the signs following? It means a radical change in our thinking for most of us. Our whole habit of thought tends toward emphasis on things, on outward conditions. We say, “human nature cannot be changed,” meaning by “human nature” all the sinfulness and criminality, all the selfishness of the world. We say this is impossible. We must take the world as it is. It is full of selfishness and sorrow, and all we can do is “look out for Number One.” Over against this scepticism the Gospel gives its amazing promises: With man such things are impossible, but not with God. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” Only believe. Have faith. It shall then be possible even to move mountains. To be saved through belief is to be lifted out of this skeptical attitude into alert expectancy which encourages us to look for the signs following. Such belief is “in His name.” It comes with the promise of the spirit of truth present with us to lead us into all truth. It comes with the impetus to go forth into all the world and proclaim with conviction this glad news. Then the Lord will work with us to achieve results which apparently were utterly impossible. Material things will no longer seem to be obstacles in our path. What seemed like a deadly thing will not now prove so. Our hands shall be imbued with power. We will speak with new tongues. All these signs shall come to those who believe whole-heartedly in such a way as to look for benefits coming to others, not the private joys supposedly vouchsafed to the “saved.” This is salvation and very much more. It follows the resurrection of man’s true self. It is the triumph of the Holy Spirit in us, the work of the ever-living Christ..
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Spiritual Health and Healing
Free Online Book by Horatio Dresser
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