Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
IN another chapter we noted certain of Swedenborg’s teachings which point very directly to the theory of spiritual healing. Indeed, there are several lines of resemblance between the doctrine of the great Swedish seer and the modern therapeutic movement. The intimate relationship was quickly noted by W. F. Evans, sometime Swedenborgian minister, when he visited Dr. Quimby as a patient in Portland, in 1863. Mr. Evans’s books were widely read by early leaders of the new therapeutism, and so there was commingling of ideas derived from Quimby and from Swedenborg. The theory, for example, that there is precise correspondence or relationship between spiritual states and natural conditions is due to this commingling. Swedenborg teaches that there is an influx of spiritual life into the human soul, and that our spiritual life is conditioned by our response to this inflowing of power from heavenly sources. He also teaches that many diseases have spiritual causes, and that salvation from our ills would ensue if we would acknowledge the Divine inflow in such a way as to prepare for genuine regeneration. To the believer in spiritual healing it is but one step further to incorporate this theory of the heavenly influx into the practical teaching known as the New Thought. Hence the new therapeutists are surprised when Swedenborgians fail to apply their teaching in this way.
But to his strict followers Swedenborg seems to be primarily a theologian. Everything in his system turns upon his doctrine of the Lord, the relation of this doctrine to the spiritual interpretation of the Bible, and “the life of charity” which ought to ensue as a result of this acceptance of true doctrine. Hence the prevailing interest is in salvation or regeneration, regarded as superior in importance to “healing.” It is the New Church which should assimilate the New Thought, not the other way. Moreover, Swedenborg teaches that the Lord approves of our use of natural means in the treatment of disease, and this is taken to mean the use of medicine and reliance on physicians. This is why the New Churchman of the doctrinal type turns as readily to medical practice as if he were not a believer in the Divine influx.
The apparent points of contact become radical points of difference, when we compare the views of the typical New Thought devotee with those of the typical Swedenborgian. Where, for example, the disciple of the New Thought would harmonize contrasts the Swedenborgian would strengthen them. Practically everything turns upon the interpretation of Swedenborg’s teaching concerning the nearness of the spiritual world to the natural, the theory of “discrete degrees,”
and the doctrine of contiguity.
In his “Divine Love and Wisdom” Swedenborg teaches that while the spiritual world is indeed intimately related with natural things this intimacy is not the relationship of continuity, as the doctrine of spiritual influx would seem to suggest, for this would mean unbroken inflow from the spiritual world into the natural; but is the relationship of “contiguity,” or the nearness of things fundamentally unlike. There is a discrete difference between spiritual and natural things. Real causes are spiritual, natural events are effects. There is no interfusion or blending. The same is true of God and man, the Lord Jesus and man. Consequently every comparison should be made clear and distinct. It is especially important to guard against mysticism or pantheism, that is, any teaching which lessens distinctions between God and man, or in any way compromises the doctrine of the Lord. This explains why any teaching not founded on the true doctrine of the Lord seems to a Swedenborgian a “falsity.” To advocate spiritual healing by identifying oneself with Christ, or by regarding the human self as a “part of God,” would be to err in the very beginning. Any theory or method founded on a “false premise” must itself be false.
It may be seriously questioned, however, whether a mode of inference which so easily dismisses a teaching that has brought incalculable good to thousands of people is fair either to the new therapeutism or to Swedenborg. The literal disciple of Swedenborg, making over-much of the theory of discrete degrees, emphasizes the fact that man is merely a “receptacle” of life. Hence he tends to rear doctrinal barriers where Swedenborg would have called attention to the mode of life incumbent upon all who know the glorious truth that man receives “life from the Lord.”
We must admit of course that God is the only giver of life. It is plain also that to regard man as a receptacle of Divine life is very different from affirming that the higher self is Divine, that man is “one with God,” that each of us can become “the Christ;” for from a New Churchman’s point of view the whole question is how, given our alienation from the Lord, we can attain unison of will with Him, and there is no advantage in merely affirming what we have yet to achieve. The New Thought devotee appears to attribute the efficiency to man. But Swedenborg teaches that to “look above oneself is to be lifted up by the Lord; for no one can look above himself, unless he is lifted up by Him who is above.” Yet when we have noted all these considerations, it may well be that despite doctrinal divergences there are impressive points of resemblance and contact.
Swedenborg teaches that man as he was created might have remained wholly open to the heavenly influx, without disease and without sin. The crucial question then is, Why did man lose his pristine privilege? What may he do to regain it? To learn Swedenborg’s answer is to find that the dark picture of man’s sins and the hells to which they correspond is not so dark as it seems. For man was created in the Divine image and likeness, this is still the ideal put before man for attainment. To deny the ignorance into which we are born and the darkness in which we find ourselves is not to find the wisdom that we need. But granted fundamental awareness of our actual situation, our great concern is with the wonderful opportunity put before us here in this natural world. Here is the ideal place to meet life fairly and squarely, overlooking nothing, never ignoring the conditions in which we are placed. To look at life courageously and “see it whole” is to realize that each of us has a, prevailing love which for better or worse is steadily shaping our future. It is what we love that determines our thinking and our life, not what we “affirm.” Never till we rightly love can we become intelligently open to the Divine influx. Surely, no follower of the New Thought can dispute this, and if he sees it he has gained new insight into spiritual healing.
Nor can it be disputed that there is a radical difference between love for self and the world, and love toward our fellow men through love to the Lord. While in this world we are held in equilibrium between these two types of affection–until we choose once for all. Hence most of us are subject to an inner conflict which, when all has been said, is the real trouble with us. We are one and all at some stage in this conflict. We all know there are two voices, and we are struggling, wavering, or choosing between them. No relief comes to us through self- condemnation. None comes by blaming our neighbors and the world. We may enter into and pass out of many of our tribulations and diseases–whatever views we may hold regarding disease and its cure–and still find this state of affairs pressing upon us for solution. Whether we will or no, we must admit that this, the problem of “salvation,” is deeper than any mere question of health, although our health is intimately connected with the will. What would bring real freedom, we must indeed agree, would be fundamental enlightenment concerning the true unity of head and heart, a “marriage,” as Swedenborg calls it, between the understanding and the will; and everything he says on this subject is of vital importance for the believer in spiritual healing. For what we need is to be lifted out of this state of tension in which we have turned possible blessings into curses, that we may be guided into true co-operation with the Divine life–with the Lord’s help. The whole meaning of the Divine providence, Swedenborg insists, is that man shall be led out of his ignorance and sin through successive states of repentance, reformation, and regeneration into constancy of spirit. To do his part man must acknowledge his sins as sins against the Lord and must acknowledge the one true Lord.
Since man’s diseases and sins correspond to his interior love or spiritual states, there can be no freedom till these states are changed. Man’s sins and diseases pertain to his life, and if that life is covetous, selfish, self-seeking, until the life is regenerated there can be no true healing. Man will not change his thoughts or outward life until his love changes. When he begins to love spiritual things with devoted or constant love he will find every helpful influence in the world coming to him. No device will ever succeed in concealing man’s actual self–as if he could somehow avoid facing himself, avoid repenting and coming to judgment.
Despite his suggestive statement about the possibility of human openness to Divine life and what such receptivity would mean in relation to health, Swedenborg does not however draw the inference that man might recover this responsiveness and apply it to the healing of disease. Swedenborg does not teach any method by which a man might put his spirit into a certain attitude to appropriate and utilize the life which enters the spirit from within. He assures us that the mind rules the body by influx, that the body is “mere obedience,” and so he seems on the point of saying that man should cultivate the poise and inner control which are essential to intelligent use of the bodily instrument; but he does not touch on these matters. He has nothing to say about “the power of thought” as mental healers employ it. He does not emphasize the importance of mental attitudes, nor teach the art of “attracting success.” He has little to say about the imagination and almost nothing about the emotions or the effects they produce. Nor does he write about ideals and the need of affirming them. He makes no reference to the subconscious mind as the term is now used, although he approaches modern physiological psychology at various points.
Indeed, his emphasis is never put on any method employed by man for his betterment. Man of his own volition is said to be tending toward the hell of self-love, and the Divine love alone can bring salvation from this natural tendency toward the hells. What is needed is the doctrine which acquaints man with the subtle influences to which he is subject when withdrawn from the hells through the ministry of angels.
The reason for this apparent neglect of the methods so much in vogue among mental healers is that Swedenborg sees no salvation for man save by admitting sins as sins, not as “errors” or illusions. Man has no power of his own to overcome temptations, but may be lifted above them by the Lord’s help when he is willing. Man needs to realize his own weakness and unregen- eracy, needs to see that there is a discrete difference between himself and the Lord who would save him.
One sees why most followers of Swedenborg have been highly doctrinal in type. The relationship with the Lord is interpreted in a beautiful way, so far as life in general is concerned; hence the nobility of spirit everywhere attributed to Swedenborgians. The emphasis put on “the life of charity” or service according to Divine precepts has always led them to make steady effort to live by their doctrines. But if asked why they do not connect this beauty of spirit with healing for the body, they would point out not only the need for regeneration as above indicated but the fact that there is a break in the correspondences to which man is subject. Man by taking on hereditary evils comes into the world handicapped. Moreover, man through external influx is open to tendencies making for disease and evil through his contact with the world. From this compromised state of things, namely, the conflict between the influxes, there is no escape through any method of healing. While, therefore, the Swedenborgian does indeed believe in the Divine influx with respect to conduct, that is, in the inner life, he finds himself surrounded by a natural environment and a natural inheritance which may be radically unlike his inner state and needs. Where the disciple of the New Thought sees favorable relationships or correspondences only, and affirms that heredity can be overcome and circumstance conquered, the New Churchman points out that there is not necessarily a condition of harmony between inner state and outward condition. Consequently he does not anticipate healing or escape from material conditions.
A few of Swedenborg’s readers, however, interested to find those principles which so quickly led Mr. Evans to espouse Quimby’s theory and method of spiritual healing, have indicated what to them is a more practical way of accepting the idea of the Divine influx. It is pointed out that as all causes are spiritual, as natural things have no life or power, the relationship of the spiritual to the natural is “dynamic.” The Divine influx then is the real causal efficiency in the world, whatever the degree of difference between the spiritual world and the natural. It accomplishes its results despite the contrasts. It attains its ends with man too. It is a real, a vital inflow. Hence we should not emphasize the mere nearness of the spiritual world, pointing to the differences and contrasts; but call attention to the great truth that man lives, moves, and has his being in and from this influent Divine life.
Why then should we always dwell on the fact that man is a “receptacle” of life”? The result might be mere acquiescence on our part. What if we emphasize the dynamic character of the Divine influx, seek to unite with it and become affirmative, in co-operative response to the Divine love and wisdom? Indeed, Swedenborg teaches that although man has no life or power of his own he should act “as if” all the power were his–while inwardly acknowledging that it is the Lord’s. This would mean that man should actively respond to, assimilate and express the life which comes as love and wisdom. What is needed is a method of realization which will enable man to become a genuinely efficient “organ of life.” This efficiency ought to be more practically attained on Swedenborg’s basis then on the New Thought basis. For Swedenborg’s teaching is more explicit, that is, that the Divine life first touches the will or the affections, and then the understanding or intellect. This means that man more directly receives Divine love than Divine wisdom, that his will is closer than his thought. It is therefore plain that man must first modify his affections before he can rightly reform his thinking. To begin by affirming or holding thoughts would be to put the cart before the horse.
Granted this more interior knowledge of the human spirit, namely, that the life or love is prior to the thought, we are in a position to see the larger meaning of the theory of spiritual healing. For in his development of this theory Dr. Quimby also emphasized the importance of knowing what the life is before one could rightly adjust the thoughts. Not primarily concerned with theological matters, Quimby approached the subject of man’s relation to God in a purely practical way. Laying emphasis on the Divine presence as Wisdom adequate to meet all occasions and all needs, he acquired a method of practical realization or silent spiritual healing, and used this method in the healing of disease because this was the work given him to do. He saw that healing included the life, and that it was necessary to change one’s idea of God if the idea was ecclesiastical rather than practical; but his province was to make sure that people saw the connection between the Divine presence and healing, since this was the vital application of Christianity which the world had overlooked for eighteen hundred years. The method of realizing the Divine presence which was original with him could be applied with equal value to man’s life as a whole.
It was in accord with our practical age that Quimby should bring the psychological elements of this realization into view. Quimby drew a fundamental distinction between the outer man or “man of opinions” and the inner mind which can know the Christ-truth. He believed that by absenting himself from the outward world with its opinions and errors, its notions about disease and suffering, one could unite in spirit with the Divine life ready at hand to guide the way to freedom. To enter vividly into realizations of the Divine presence is to banish every influence to which man is subject through opinion, including hereditary influences and those coming from the world. To “realize” is to become open to the Mind which never changes, whereas the mind of opinions is always changing. Quimby developed these realizations into an effective method of silent or spiritual healing which applied, as he believed, to all kinds of disease and trouble in the world.
The question would then be, How may I put my spirit into the right attitude to receive Divine love and wisdom most effectively? Thus questioning one would find that the way to test any spiritual teaching is by the method of inner experience. In accordance with the modern spirit one would not judge even the scriptural works of healing by any doctrine, but one would be prompted by the endeavor to recover the lost methods of Christian healing. Thus one might make capital use of the idea that the Divine life enters the soul by influx, thence into the understanding, which in turn may be “lifted into spiritual light.” One would then turn to the body with the expectation that its ills could be overcome through this inner response to influx.
But what of the distinction between God and man? The answer is that the idea of discrete differences does indeed help us in doctrinal matters, but this idea should not keep us from putting primary emphasis on the love which unites and the wisdom which guides when man becomes truly receptive. The tendency of the incoming life is to make us in very truth sound men and women in the image and likeness of God. It is this which we should dwell on, this we should recognize, substituting the Divine idea for any other. This tendency is the basis of true spiritual healing because it is the basis of spiritual life. Here is the clue to all real efficiency and the dynamic attitude.
The objection to urging discrete differences, and the break in correspondences due to heredity and present relations to the world, is that when we have made all the requisite doctrinal qualifications we are apt to stop there instead of pressing forward to realize what the Divine presence vitally means. If we reduce man to a “receptacle,” then leave him there, tied down by qualifying doctrinal distinctions, impotent in thought, almost helpless in will, the prospect is indeed dark. Even the doctrine of tile Lord might then remain an intellectual instrument merely. The modern spirit says, If you believe all efficiency is from the Lord, show this by Living in accordance with Divine providence as vitalizing guidance today. It asks you vividly to realize what it means to attribute all love and wisdom to God, and to apply this realization to all problems. The person who concentrates upon the vital present realization is far more likely to show actual results than one who uses these ideas as doctrines merely.
If charged with exalting the human self unduly, the practical devotee would say, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” I formerly lived in bondage to material things, now I have the ideal of the supremacy of the spirit. Once I believed that sickness, trouble, poverty, weakening old age and an untimely death were the lot of man; now I know that God intended man to be in good health, to increase in power and live a triumphant life. I used to give way to negative attitudes, now I am learning to adopt the affirmative attitude in all things. Anyone can learn how to take this attitude. Everyone can draw on Divine sources at need.
Mental healing devotees do not claim to be theologians. They leave believers in the new therapeutism free to think as they like about God, although steadily insisting that God dwells with man and that we may grow into “the mind of Christ.” They sometimes verge strongly toward Oriental mysticism, but this is for the sake of making the Divine presence vivid. They sometimes speak of man as a god, identifying the higher self with Christ, but this is to encourage the individual to recognize his full privileges as a son of God. To condemn the teaching because its statements concerning God are not always satisfactory in form would be to miss the fruits or “signs following” which are the real evidences of the power of this new movement.
There is of course a difference between mental and spiritual healing, but the latter is meant to include the new birth and the spiritual life. The view of the spiritual life thus emphasized is enriched by the idea of the Divine influx. But as developed by therapeutists this view ordinarily has little to do with psychical experiences and visions. The idea of intuition or direct inner guidance is substituted for that of tile Swedenborgian theory of guidance through angels. Nothing is said about three classified heavens and three hells, since the new therapeutists anticipate endless progress in the future life, not a life that is determined once for all by our choice or prevailing love in this world. Consequently the practical worker parts company with the doctrinaire, at all points responsive to the spirit of his age. But his study of the problems of spiritual healing is always fostered by comparison with teachings which have points in common. Hence he is not disposed to be dogmatic or to claim that the account is closed.
If the literal follower of Swedenborg is right, there is little to say in behalf of spiritual healing. But if it be permissible to interpret Swedenborg freely or liberally, then we may profit by the description of life which Swedenborg gives us and wholly assimilate his teaching concerning the Divine influx. Great good might come from interchange of ideas between New Thought people and Swedenborgians. The former need to discriminate more carefully, need light on the more difficult problems of salvation, need to advance from mere healing to the ideal of the completely spiritual life. But the Swedenborgians might well learn to overcome their fears, their bondage to medical practice, their blindness to the practical values of the Divine influx. Both groups of people belong to the new age, and that age is far larger than any doctrinal formulation lets us know. To read Swedenborg literally is to miss the great value of his teaching. But to read him in the modern empirical spirit is to see that the true way to test what he taught is by endeavoring to live in accordance with it, by putting ourselves in dynamic relation with the Divine influx.
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Spiritual Health and Healing
Free Online Book by Horatio Dresser
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