Christian Science: The True Idealism
Annie M. Knott
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
In standing here today to speak to this large assemblage of earnest men and women on the subject of Christian Science, I should be overwhelmed by the greatness of the task assumed did I not know that the simplest utterances of Truth have behind them such infinite depths of reality that thought needs but be touched and awakened in order to perceive that all Truth, understood, is self-evident; and the task becomes a joy through knowing that at every one of these lectures burdens are lifted from weary hearts, and many are led to accept the healing power of the Christ-Truth.
In one of Mrs. Eddy's books Christian Science is thus defined: "The law of God, the law of Good, interpreting and demonstrating the Principle and rule of universal harmony."
When Christian Science first came to my notice, it was with the startling statement that these people claimed to heal the sick by the same method which Christ and his apostles practised. Although the words were spoken with scorn, they kindled anew my faltering hope and faith with the ardent desire that they might be found true, for who is there that has known sorrow or sickness but has longed for such ministration as they were wont to bestow? None can deny the world's great need of something more definite than the teachings of either past or present, for human want and woe are but ill-concealed, or at best, bravely endured.
If any apology were needed for a woman's speaking of the limitless possibilities of Christianity, we might recall the fact that the religion itself began with the adoring song of a simple Jewish maiden. We would do well to remember also how eagerly the women followed the footsteps of the great Master; how they were healed by him and ministered unto him of their substance. We are told in the gospels that when the tragedy of Jesus' life was approaching, when he was pursued by the hatred and scorn of men; when a traitor amongst his own disciples was watching for the opportunity to give him over to his foes, a woman came, and poured upon his head and feet a costly ointment, less precious than her great love for the world's Redeemer, and he accepted at her hands this sacrament and immortalized it by saying that wherever the Gospel should be preached throughout the world, this that she had done should be told of her. It is well to recall also that to woman − last at the cross and first at the sepulcher − was given the commission to announce to the world the triumphant news of the resurrection. We are told, too, that the women were present at the founding of the first Church, praying with the disciples for the coming of the Holy Ghost, and St. Paul speaks of some of them as his co-laborers in the ministry, and says in, his epistle to the Galatians, "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law." It is very clear, also, that when the world has gone forward with rapid strides, woman has been in some degree conscious of her mission, and man has in a measure accorded to her her divine rights.
Many of you are no doubt familiar with the history of Christian Science, but as others are not, let me say that a little over thirty years ago a woman, who, from her childhood, had looked for the fulfilment of the Scriptural promises, and seemingly in vain, for the years had been clouded over with sorrow and suffering, − met with an accident which was declared by the physicians to be of necessity fatal.
Materia medica was helpless and scholastic theology equally so, for it could only urge acquiescence in the medical verdict and resignation to what was supposed to be the will of God; namely, the death of the poor sufferer. But God had a mission for Mrs. Eddy, and nothing could stay His hand. In the darkest hour, even within the shadow of death, the day star dawned upon her with healing on its wings, and she rose from her bed, dressed herself, and announced to the first one she met the truth that I here tonight urge upon your acceptance − the great fact, that Christ has never left us.
We might well suppose that there would be many eager to believe this statement, with all that it includes, but there were not, and why? It had yet to be verified to her own understanding in a manner in which she tells us in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," namely: "through divine revelation, reason, and experiment." Accordingly she was ere long led to seek seclusion, which, to use the words of a certain eminent writer, "produces a wonderful lucidity of the mind, and is like the smoke arising from the burning bush, which converts the sage into a seer and the poet into a prophet."
For three years Mrs. Eddy worked on from the thought revealed in her own healing, studying by night and day the Scriptures, toiled on sublimely until the goal was won and she understood how Jesus and his apostles healed the sick: how their work was the necessary outcome of all the ancient prophets had achieved, and how the religion of the present time must be characterized, as was his and theirs, by victories over sickness, sin, and death, to be consistent with the fundamental idea of the Bible; namely, the omnipotence of God − Good − and the consequent powerlessness of evil.
The needed proof of healing followed her declaration of the law of God which had been discovered anew, and, after much had been accomplished in this way, she taught others how to do this much-needed work. The next step was the publication of our great textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." which not only opens up to humanity the Scriptures as its title indicates (thereby bringing us into the most vital relations with the Christ life and character), but it reveals the infinite adaptation of God's spiritual law to human want and woe, and the transcendent glory which surrounds Being even now.
Of the difficulties which beset her whilst engaged in this work, I need not speak now, though if it were told it would but add to the honor in which she is held by the thousands who are today reaping the results of her unparalleled courage and unflinching devotion to a lofty ideal.
To this I would add that I know of no other person who has such marvelous powers as hers to demonstrate and explain the teachings of the Bible and of Science and Health; and I must also say very reverently, as one who has sat at her feet and heard her inspiring words, that no one can listen to her without at least desiring a nobler life and feeling ashamed of all that is unlike Christ. Her power to inspire others with new hope and faith in God, to impart something of her own sublime courage, and to unfold new and unsuspected capabilities in her students, is the secret of her great success.
Now we find ourselves face to face with the question, Wherein does Christian Science healing differ from the accepted methods and beliefs; in what is it so superior to them, that its adherents forsake all else and cleave to it?
Materia medica builds its theories upon the mistaken belief that man is material, primarily, and it absolutely ignores the permanent element in life; i.e., the moral and spiritual.
But I would go still further, and say that, so far as mortal man is concerned, there is not a single drug known or used, but has a disastrous effect upon the mental and moral constitution, in belief.
No intelligent physician would deny this of opiates, and all deplore the seeming necessity for their use, but the various substitutes which have been offered them in recent years are open to the same objection, and wherefore, because they wholly overlook the one all-important fact; viz., that man is primarily and ultimately a moral and spiritual being, and he can never be made whole until this is understood, acknowledged, and demonstrated.
A further objection to the material theories of disease and its cure is their tendency to limit man's possibilities.
We are taught in Christian Science that man may expand into self-completeness because he is the image and likeness of God, and is governed by a perfect and divine Principle; but materia medica begins to limit even the babe in the cradle with fear of disease of every sort, thus shutting out the unceasing and untiring presence of divine Love.
Friends, is it not wholly inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible to tell our children of the glorious promises contained in the Word of God, and then to tell them that night and day they are surrounded by bacteria, microbes, and all sorts of disease germs; that though man is supposed to be at the head of creation, having dominion over all things, he is in constant danger from cold, fatigue, and accidents?
Need any wonder at the skepticism which comes so early, and stays so late, the doubt which so haunts to the very portals of the grave?
Associated with all these is the belief in mind as limited to the brain, or matter, and a veritable slave to the body. If, according to these theories, the stomach or liver is disordered, man is irritable and cannot help being so; if he is studious and diligent beyond others, he is liable to nervous prostration or loss of his mind, − and such cases are by no means infrequent. So long as mortals believe such error they are held down by self-made limitations, one generation going no further than its predecessor in the matter of exemption from sin, sickness, and death, for this should be the standard of progress, not the fine houses, the comfort, or the luxury, − these are the merest externals, − but man's individual growth out of all limitations into health, harmony, and immortality.
I do not for a moment deny the philanthropy and fair motives of a large number of physicians, but this does not alter the fact that their methods are wrong, because they are not based upon divine Principle and they ignore the fact that man is a spiritual being both primarily and ultimately. The correctness of this statement is fully sustained by the Bible. Jesus said. "Take no thought for your . . . body" − and why? Because on the body only effects can be found, − in mind the cause, − and until this is understood and acknowledged, no system of healing will be either scientific or successful.
If instead of devoting so much time to the study of bacteriology and pathology, doctors would study man as a moral, spiritual, and intellectual being, not merely "so much lung, liver, integument," they would begin to discover what has been so long hidden from the scientific gaze; namely, God's man, endowed with limitless powers and possibilities, having embodied in his true consciousness all needed remedies, because he is the reflection of God. If they would turn the lens of Truth upon the secret and open sins of their patients, which blight the moral nature and so react upon the body, they would see the need of studying the great therapeutics taught by Jesus. He said: Make clean that which is within and that which is without will be clean also.
One phase of opposition with which Scientists have to deal is the prejudice against their receiving pay for their services. People very thoughtlessly say, "Why do you not heal as Jesus did without making any charge?" If we are to take as authority the statements given both by Matthew and Luke, we shall see that Jesus told his disciples not to take with them any money when they went out on their mission of healing, but to depend upon the return made for the work. He made for them the application of the principle of justice which governs all human affairs and said, "The laborer is worthy of his hire."
There are some who would limit the return to what they think they can see in the way of results, but that would not satisfy the demands of justice, for suppose we were to pay schoolteachers only for the bright pupils they turn out of the schools, or the ministers so much apiece for the persons really Christianized as a result of their labors, or the doctors for those whom they bring into permanent good health! The probability is that many estimable members of the learned professions would be seeking other callings. The truth is that all work well done is deserving of due compensation. Some one said to a student of Christian Science, "Why do you not give this healing freely, since God gives you the power?" The student replied, "My friend, the water in the river is free to all to take, but the city is at great expense to bring it to the individuals, and because they cannot go and bring it to their homes, they must needs pay for it." So it is with Truth. You can go and take it if only you know where it is to be found. Until then you should not hesitate to make the proper return to those who through toil and sacrifice bring to you what is so much needed. The Bible says, "The price of wisdom is above rubies." Who is there willing to pay such a price for the knowledge of God and of his own being? The Christian Scientist is, for each succeeding period of experience shows him more and more clearly the priceless value of this wonderful Truth. No condition of error, be it sin, sickness, or poverty, is dense enough to resist the all-penetrating power of the light and warmth of divine Love as revealed to us in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." It is well to remember, too, that it is by no means blind faith which does this mighty work, as so many mistakenly suppose, confounding faith itself with mere credulity. In Science and Health we are told that "diligence, promptness, and perseverance are likened to 'the cattle upon a thousand hills.' They carry the baggage of stern resolve, and keep pace with highest purpose." Christ proved by his works in healing the sick, in raising the dead, in feeding the multitudes, in stilling the storm, that the understanding of God is the power by which all the good that can ever bless the human race must come. The basis of this understanding is the revelation of one divine Principle, and until this is clearly seen neither religion, science, nor art − no, nor human life − will be upon the true foundation.
So much has been said about the treatment of so-called contagious diseases by Christian Science methods that it may be well to view the subject dispassionately in the light of reason and of revelation, and see whether these do not coincide in pointing to the probability of greater success in the treatment of such ailments than has ever been attained through material practice. There are many persons who are willing to admit at this period that Christian Science may be, nay, is, successful in overcoming what are popularly called nervous diseases, but why should we limit the divine power in such a way, when it is declared most emphatically in the l03rd Psalm, 3rd verse, that God healeth all thy diseases.
The question to be answered at this point is whether disease has any reality in the scientific sense of the word − whether it expresses or possesses entity in any sense. I think that the most highly educated physicians would unhesitatingly give the negative to such a proposition, − indeed, many who know nothing at all of Christian Science have done so, and declare that disease is simply the absence of the life principle. No one could claim for a moment that disease is a manifestation of life or intelligence, and we thus have it reduced to a purely negative condition of mortal consciousness, and this statement may be further explained if we use light as an illustration. Now light represents an intelligent principle; but darkness, which is merely the absence, or supposed absence, of light, has no centre from which to radiate, and it would be impossible to bring darkness into a lighted room, but it is easy to show that light, which is positive, can replace darkness instantaneously, and it is equally easy to see that when light takes the place of darkness, the latter does not require any other space in which to manifest itself, − in other words, it is not necessary to take the darkness out of the room to make place for the light.
Now disease has no principle any more than darkness − and this statement is susceptible of the same proof as the former proposition; i.e., when the belief in disease is removed from man's consciousness, − from mind and body, − you have not taken anything from the sum-total of his existence; disease is not needed to bring out the full expression of man's being, but health, rightly understood, is inseparable from the true being. It ought to be very clear that the man who is a sound moralist could not be contaminated by association with those on a lower plane than himself; on the contrary, his influence ought to extend as light does, and affect, favorably at least, the thought and conduct of all those who come within the radius of his thought, − and there can be no question that this is the best of all reformatory work, − it must come from above, − from a higher and purer condition of thought, which is always a divine influence reaching out toward human need.
Christian Science teaches that the
one divine Principle governs the universe alike in the spiritual, moral, and
physical realms so-called, and that the same law must of necessity govern on
every plane of human consciousness. An illustration of this is to be found in
Jesus' treatment of the lepers. In one instance he put his hands upon them,
which was contrary to the law relating to the isolation of lepers, − and
it is really most important that we should know why he did this. Was it merely
to show his disregard of all human law? This is not supposable for a moment,
but it seems very clear indeed that in this act he illustrated and demonstrated
It would have been impossible for sin to have invaded his pure consciousness, even though he were constantly associated with the impure, and equally impossible for disease to have affected him through contact with those suffering from its most terrible forms, and why? The answer is to be found in the apostle's words, "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." Did this Truth apply to him alone? it is well to ask. The apostle who declared it also prayed on behalf of all Christians, "That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." If we are filled with the fulness of God may we not resist both moral and physical contagion, and is it not also possible that the light which shines through us may go out with healing power and glorify our Father in Heaven?
In the long and dreary struggles of humanity toward the light it is not surprising that the deepest thinkers are continually seeking to understand what life is, and many of them are ready to admit that life itself is quite distinct from the phenomena of existence − that there is a wide difference between the things which seem to live and Life itself. It is hardly supposable that life can be that which is manifested by savage beasts and scarcely less savage men, − and yet where is life to be found?
The late Professor Drummond wrote, "Nature cannot say what spiritual life is. Indeed, what natural life is remains unknown, and the word life still wanders through Science without a definition." While still wandering through these mazes of thought a remarkable passage from a favorite author was read one day and it kindled anew the fires of hope upon the hilltops until the day dawned in Christian Science and the shadows began to flee away. It was this, "Shall life itself be less beautiful than one of its days? Do not believe it, young brother. Men call the shadow thrown upon the universe where their own dusky souls come between them and the eternal sun, life, and then mourn that it should be less bright than the hopes of their childhood. Keep thou thy soul translucent that thou mayst never see its shadow; at least, never abuse thyself with the philosophy which calls that shadow life. Or rather I would say, become thou pure in heart and thou shalt see God, whose vision alone is life."
Now let us take the statement made by the great Teacher almost at the beginning of his earthly career, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If we study the gospels closely we shall find that life was the theme upon which Christ dwelt continually and toward which he directed all thought. He told them of the bread of life, and of the water of life, and he even said, "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." In Christian Science we soon learn that these statements are of the most vital importance to every human being, because we discover that it is this divine life which heals the sick, and at the same time saves from sin; and this scientific understanding becomes such a mighty transforming force that it sweeps away fear and everything which does not represent God.
In the history of the unfoldment of human thought in the past, and no less at the present time, it is simply astonishing to see the scorn and contempt with which idealists have been treated by their realistic contemporaries. Few seem to be aware of the fact that existence itself could scarcely be perpetuated without ideality of some sort: and the question is ever presenting itself, What are our ideals?
In. Science and Health this remarkable statement is to be found, "Through trope and metaphor, the Revelator − immortal scribe of Spirit, and of a true idealism − furnishes the mirror in which mortal mind may see its own image." Now suppose we start with the idea home, and witness its unfoldment in human consciousness. How much does it mean to the average man and woman? It would be difficult, perhaps, to give a satisfactory answer to this question, but there can be little doubt that all would agree that the home should be a place of shelter from the storm and tempest of the world's toil and strife. We must admit on the start that this is a mental or spiritual, and not a material concept, dispute it who will, and it is easy to prove that this concept is inseparably connected with the true idea of life itself.
Now let us return to the average thinker and worker who would build for himself a home. He has his designs prepared and outlined on paper. By some accident the plans are destroyed, but the idea has not been lost thereby, and accordingly new plans are prepared, which, in the process of time, are transferred from paper to brick, mortar, and wood. Assuming that the edifice has been completed and furnished, it may disappear within an hour by a disastrous fire, but has the man therefore lost his home? It is quite likely that many would say that he had, but if we think more deeply we shall see that the true idea can never be separated from its expression; for both represent and embody the necessities of existence. So we find sooner or later, another, and possibly a more spacious and elegant place of abode, occupied by the one who had before seemed to suffer from the destruction of his home, and it is well to enquire again whether the costly and sumptuously furnished mansion is, after all, what the heart craves for and seeks to realize as home. Now the true conception of home should embody, like the old baronial residences, the idea of stronghold and sanctuary; and where these are not realized in a measure at least, you have but an empty shadow where a solid reality ought to exist. If that splendid abode is not lighted by the sacred light of Love, and made pure and healthful by Truth, it can never be a resting-place for the weary heart. If its walls are not strong enough to shut out sickness, sin, and corroding care, you may have nothing better than a prison house where the weary inmates sigh, and sigh in vain, for release, finding little consolation in the thought that their splendid possessions are looked upon with envy by every one who passes by.
Now suppose the owner of the home to have the true understanding of Mind and its transcendent power; and suppose that he also has the right idea of what constitutes true riches, he will build, and build securely, and it matters little whether his home be a simple cottage or a princely mansion, he will rest secure both night and day in the realization of the eternal fact, that the Lord God, who made heaven and earth, and all things therein, defends him and his loved ones, not only from danger, but also from the fear of possible harm.
If it is true, as the Bible teaches, that ''Righteousness exalteth a nation," it is surely no less true that righteousness, which means right thinking, right speaking, and right acting, will give to every man who understands God, courage, intelligence, and integrity in working out the great problem of life, and his ideals will be continually advancing in the ratio of his understanding of God, the divine Mind. He will come to know unmistakably that he carries his home with him wherever he goes, and will remember oft the profound saying of the Hebrew bard, "Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations." He will not merely believe but know, what absolute security there is in dwelling in, "the secret place of the most High," and, "under the shadow of the Almighty." He will learn in the great light of Christian Science, that neither pestilence, nor destruction, nor any other form of evil shall befall the one who makes the most High his refuge, though thousands and tens of thousands of those who doubt and deny the all protecting power of omnipotence shall fall at his right hand.
The true Idealism, then, begins and ends with God, and no element is found wanting in it, for those who understand God and keep His commandments build securely upon everlasting foundations, that neither the vicissitudes of time, nor changing circumstance, can ever wear away. It is true that our human ideals, even at their best, must be enlarged, uplifted, and purified by the transforming power of the spirit of Truth, and when they are so uplifted, there will be no disappointments nor wrecked lives floating down the stream of time, for that which is perishable will be known as unreal, and men will no longer cling blindly to that which can only disappoint them, when they come to know that the real and the perfect is, in the good providence of God, within the reach of all His children.
Christ said nearly two thousand years ago, "Upon this rock I will build my church." Did his disciples, think you, understand his words? for neither rock nor Church were there in the literal sense, but both were there to his spiritual consciousness, and they have never disappeared from the world, despite all mortal belief to the contrary.
Now Christian Science holds most persistently to this thought, that the right idea springs from an imperishable and intelligent Principle revealed to us as God, Good, and whether it is the idea of health or harmony or of true prosperity, it may be perfectly realized by faithfulness and untiring energy. The world will come to see ere long that all true ideals come down from above, and it is well for us that we are compelled to look up to catch even a glimpse of that which exists in God; but St. John did this, and the humble fisherman who toiled on the sea of Galilee became at length a seer who foretold the coming down to humanity of the City of our God.
Christ told the disciples whom he sent out to heal the sick, to declare the presence of this kingdom; but there were few, if any, ready to behold it. In spite, however, of the world's persistent denials of this essential Truth, St. John wrote at the command of the angel what he saw in spiritual vision, a condition of things embodying all the essentials of existence but shutting out therefrom sickness, sin, and death. When and where are such conditions to be found? Christian Science answers now and here, if only we are willing to accept the Truth of our own Being and to give up the belief in that which has not its origin in God.
Throughout the whole of the
Scriptures we see that the spiritual idea or idealism, if you choose, is the
ruling thought. A most wonderful lesson may be learned if we read the story of
Jesus' resurrection as given by
The great poet and prophet, King David, asks in one of his incomparable psalms, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" and an English poet and philosopher of modern times thus voices the same query: −
What am I? Whence produced and to what end?
Whence drew I being, to what period tend?
Am I the abandoned orphan of blind chance
Dropped by wild atoms in disordered dance?
Or from an endless chain of causes wrought,
And of unthinking substance born with thought?
Am I but what I seem, mere flesh and blood,
A branching channel with a mazy flood?
The pipes through which the circling juices stray
Are not that thinking I, no more than they;
This frame compacted with transcendental skill,
Of moving joints obedient to the will,
Nursed from the fruitful globe like yonder tree,
Waxes and wanes, I call it mine, not me.
New matter still the mouldering mass sustains;
The mansion changed, the tenant still remains,
And from the fleeting stream repaired by food,
Distinct as is the swimmer from the flood.
Can this perpetual questioning of the human heart ever be answered, except as Christ taught when he said that to know God is life eternal? Remember that each individual must answer for himself this momentous question: What am I? The Bible declares man to be God's image and likeness; and as God is not subject to sin, disease, and death, man, as his likeness, cannot be.
One of the most glorious promises in the Bible is this: "He that overcometh shall inherit all things." Now what is to be overcome and how are we to do it?
When all the shadows of error shall have passed away from human consciousness it will be evident to all that nothing real has been lost, but everything gained. Then when God calls to man, "Where art thou?" he will answer through spiritual understanding, "Here am I, redeemed from the bondage of material belief by the Truth which sets man free, resting ever upon that word of promise which says, 'To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne."
[Published in The Christian Science Journal, July, 1901.]