Horatio W. Dresser
Spiritual Health and Healing
“AND many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”–John xx, 30, 31.
Two sharply contrasted views concerning Christ have prevailed, the one that Jesus was the unique Son of God from eternity, wholly perfect and entirely divine; the other that he as a man attained the wisdom and power indicated in the Gospels as anyone might strive to realize a spiritual ideal. The one errs by over-emphasis on the divine, leaves no room for temptations and victories as we know them. The other assigns such importance to the human self that it fails to account for the universal wisdom and the far-reaching love of the Christ. Nor is the situation improved when we try to adopt one of those elusive midway positions which stand, now for the divine, and now for the human, but which afford no clear idea of the divine as manifested in the human according to a universal ideal. We seem to be imposing our own limitations on the Christ when we conceive of the wisdom and love displayed by Jesus as results of merely finite endeavor. What we need is an approach which does not intrude upon the infinite but yields the conviction that through the incarnation the divine love and wisdom dwelt with men in a human self not too far removed from the imperfections which we know.
We may begin by regarding the Christ as universal divine love and wisdom, taking our clue from the Gospels as they read. Such a reading of the Gospels is possible if we deem the recorded words parts only of the eternal Word of God, written in the hearts and minds of men throughout the ages. If the Christ is universal, surely no statement in any book can limit this wisdom so that there shall be nothing more to say.
Anyone reading the Gospels without theological predispositions must admit that there is a prevailing contrast between passages which pertain to the historical Jesus and those that imply special claims in his behalf as Messiah, Christ, the Lord. By the term “the Christ” we shall here mean Messiahship or Christhood, however it may be interpreted. If Jesus were “merely human,” as some say, the special claims would seem preposterous indeed. If these claims bespeak the Christ or universal divine love and wisdom, they involve the conviction that God has a universal way of making Himself known to men.
The difficulty usually encountered rests on the fact that Jesus speaks sometimes as man struggling to be faithful, and sometimes as love or wisdom implying all faith and all triumphs. Distinguishing between the personality and the love or wisdom for the moment, we may consider those passages which would be almost devoid of meaning unless we should think of the Christ as universal. Note how numerous are those passages which look beyond the man who speaks to the universal principle which he teaches.
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that doth not take up his cross and follow after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. x, 37-39). “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (x, 40). “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (xi, 28, 29). The wisdom thus speaking is declared to be greater than the temple, greater than Solomon or Jonah, and “Lord of the Sabbath.” This wisdom was prior to the historical incarnation, it is one with the Father in the works and teachings recorded in the Gospels, and is able to be with the disciples always, “even unto the end of the world.”
The Gospel of John from first to last expresses this universal wisdom in such a way that it can hardly be identified with or limited to a personality in a certain time or place. It is first associated with the Word, then with the Light both in the sense of the enlightenment of every man born into the world and also in the sense of life. Then follow passages in which the Christ is brought before us as “the living water” which quenches the thirst of men, as the bread of life which shall appease all hunger even unto the life eternal, as the flesh and blood which symbolize the immortal spirit, the divine plenitude, and other passages which have no meaning unless understood universally. The Christ as thus brought vividly before us in the greatest incidents recorded in the Gospels is indeed the universal Giver of life, the way, the truth, the surpassing power, triumphing over death, over space and time, over all limitations or conditions.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. . . . This is the bread that cometh down from heaven. . . . I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. . . . I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. . . . And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me. . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
Then follow still more intimate passages in which Jesus, while speaking in part as a person, utters statements which could be true only of a universal spirit or principle. Thus we have the figure of the vine as the symbol of all effective life in the Spirit, all true discipleship and service. The Christ is here a principle such that it can abide in all who are faithful to the precepts and the love set before the disciples as an ideal. It is not alone the spirit manifested in Jesus in his fidelity to the Father, but one capable of extension such that others shall receive it and abide in it. The self that speaks is not limited to the man of flesh and blood.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. . . . Abide in me, and I in you. . . . I am the vine, ye are the branches. . . . If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. . . . Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. . . . As the Father hath loved me, so I love you: continue ye in my love.”
Even this the infinitely tender thought of the love which is symbolized by the vine is surpassed in the great prayer of the seventeenth chapter. For here Jesus is speaking to the disciples in statements addressed to the Father expressive of a oneness which is not the oneness of identity, nor that of two beings whose association is unique; but the spiritual relationship which may become true of all.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also that shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them: that they may be one, even as we are; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one.” The “I” or being who here speaks also says, “for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.” It is not a temporal self or merely historical being who speaks. A spirit or life is here expressed which can bring all men together who receive spiritual life as Jesus speaks of his oneness with the Father. This passage carries our thought back to that of the apparently unqualified statement of Chapter X in which Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”
This saying is often taken to mean the absolute identity of the historical person Jesus with the Father, and it is put with the passage in Chapter XIV in which Jesus says, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” with the understanding that the two are absolutely one. But this passage in Chapter X is followed by the explanatory statement, “. . . the Father is in me, and I in him.” In the sense of this surpassing truth Jesus now prays that all may be one, “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Plainly the oneness refers to unity of spirit in universal wisdom. We are to understand the figure of the vine and the branches as a symbol implying ineffable nearness which no words can express but which the heart knows; not as an exact theological statement involving absolute identity of substance.
Christ then is a unifying spirit or life which brings men into the most intimate relationship with the divine love, the relationship of Father to son, Master to disciple, disciple to disciple as brother with brother, and thus ever on and on as far as this love shall be preserved in its purity. This supreme relationship brings to completion the promises of the preceding chapters in which the Christ is symbolized as the door, the light, the truth, the way, and the life, each one being universal. These characteristics are never mentioned in an exclusive sense, but always with reference to the power going forth, the bond of union, the guiding wisdom. We are not led into a confined and narrow world when Jesus assures us that no man comes to the Father save through him, for he is speaking of the universal way, truth, and life, the way of the Christ. “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. xi, 27). The power speaking is at once the bread, the blood, the resurrection, the life, the light, the way, and the truth. Each of these is universal, and only through the Christ may they be understood. Each of these is given that men may have life more abundantly. “I am the resurrection and the life . . . because I live ye shall live also.” All men thus knowing and living by the Christ will be quickened.
Again, we note the clearness of vision and surety of knowledge with which Jesus performs works of healing and other “mighty works.” These are plainly not the works of one who performs miracles or mysteries, as if by special privilege and by the aid of concealed powers. He who performs these works proceeds as one who knows precisely what he is doing and why, who grasps the implied laws and understands the forces employed. They are works given by the Father for the Master to do, as hearing witness that the Father has sent the Son (John v, 36). Thus they have intelligible meaning, and the disciples, if unable fully to understand, are bidden to believe “for the very works’ sake.” The efficient principle is not only stated, namely, that the Father dwelling in the Master does the works; but assurance is given that those who believe shall perform such works also. The disciples had already been sent forth to perform similar works, with explicit instructions concerning this form of spiritual service.
It might confidently be said therefore that the works were wrought according to a spiritual science, so that Jesus could foretell the accomplishing of greater works when this science should be more extensively applied. That is, these works were wrought out in the open, in the light of divine truth universal in scope and meaning, for the purpose of making that truth known which brings spiritual freedom and establishes the kingdom of God in the minds and hearts of men. Hence Jesus said to critics who sought to turn the matter aside from the main principle, “But if I by the spirit of God cast out devils, then is the kingdom of God come upon you” (Matt. xii, 28).
Furthermore, the extent of the principle is shown by the fact that these works involve the overcoming of all the adversities to which the flesh is subject in man’s ignorance of the power of the spirit. The carrying out of the principle involves the mastery of diseases of all kinds, the casting out of obsessions, and the overcoming of death as death is understood by those who know not the power of the spirit. The emphasis is everywhere put on the life or spirit which overcomes, just as in the case of the crucifixion and resurrection the emphasis belongs on the triumphant life which the Master lived. There is a fundamental difference between occult power which an adept might acquire and display through magic, and a universal spiritual science implying divine laws capable of being understood through interior enlightenment. The first calls for special training in arts which man has acquired, arts which even the unprincipled might employ; the second calls for a consecrated life into which man is guided by divine light in his soul.
The same fidelity to a principle over and above special privileges is shown in passages in which Jesus, refusing to allow any credit to be given, invariably refers to works given him to do, words given him to speak, light to be made manifest, truth that will bestow freedom. No words could be more emphatic than the utterances of Jesus in this connection. “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God” (Matt. xix, 17). “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do . . . I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who hath sent me. . . . If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. . . . There is another that beareth witness of me. I am come in my Father’s name. My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. . . . I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.”
These are not the words of one who takes credit unto himself. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am;” “Search the scriptures . . . they are they which testify of me;” “Come unto me ail ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he is plainly not calling the weary and distressed to him as a man only. Jesus teaches from first to last that all wisdom, life and power have a single source. It is the Father who gives according to our needs, who guides us along life’s pathway, who sustains, provides, bestows life and light. All the words of wisdom proceed from Him. The works of healing are His. It is His mission that saves, quickens and establishes the kingdom. The divine plan of this mission antedates Abraham. Jesus fulfils it step by step, that all things may be accomplished according to divine law, that the human may not intrude. Hence he is able to say without qualification that he is faithful in word and deed to the Father’s will. He knows that the Father’s love and wisdom are so disclosed that the disciples actually hear and see the Father in the Son: “. . . and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.” “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father. . . . The Father and I are one.” It is these statements which disclose to us the Christ, which show that a universal wisdom and love were made manifest in Jesus.
We may state the universal principle as follows: There is one right attitude toward the Father, whose wisdom and love constitute the real efficiency in the minds and hearts of men, namely, that we should seek first the purpose or forward movement of the divine life in process through us, adopting this the divine trend of life as our own, serving and living with the realization that it is the Father who accomplishes in each of us the work He would have us do. Jesus is the living representative who not only teaches but proves this Christ-wisdom which he came to bring to men. As exemplifier of the Gospel he turns attention away from himself. We must “see the Christ stand,” saying with John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God.” We should discern the universality of the way, the truth, and the life. The Christ-wisdom is in a sense separable and capable of being taught by itself. Having discerned this universal principle, we are ready to consider the selfhood of God as Father on the one side and the personality of Jesus in the historic sense on the other.
The practical consequences are plain. We have before us a universal spiritual science involving “the way, the truth, and the life.” We know its source, the universality of its provisions, and of the guidances accessible to each. We know that no man alone can save his fellow men, that the true Saviour is God the Father, is the Christ. This wisdom is in a sense over and above each one of us as a person, inasmuch as we may all abide in the divine love as branches of the true vine. Hence it includes not only all men as sons of God, but the Father too; it is the abiding relationship throughout all eternity.
We may then say unqualifiedly that Christ is divine; not merely “the anointed one,” or the enlightened one, but enlightenment itself. Hence we see the value and meaning of impersonal forms of expression, such as the spirit of truth, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. This is the universal element foreseen in the Scriptures as a whole. All spiritual history points forward to it. It is discoverable, at any time when men receive the essential enlightenment. It speaks as it were to all men, in all time, this central word of appeal reaching beyond all historical events: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” “No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” “Neither doth any know the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture.”
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Spiritual Health and Healing
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