Christian Science Lifts the Burden of Mortality
Robert Dolling Wells, C.S.B., of
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The lecturer spoke substantially as follows:
Invitation to Unselfishness
Jesus said (Matt. ,29) "Come unto me, all ye that labour 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Christianity sets before you and me an open door which no man can shut, leading from where we are to where we need to be. But here is an important point: it is a door that leads away from the satisfaction of selfish interests. Primitive Christianity met the outer and legitimate wants of men by turning them away from primary interest in those wants.
It is a common misconception that mankind will respond only to appeals to their selfishness. Promise men physical health, higher positions in society or business, better personal relationships, or more money − this theory says − and they will come to you. But Jesus entered a severe criticism of such an appeal; he wanted none of it for his own ministry. He wanted men to come to him to hear his word, to learn his way, not to get something for themselves or to see signs and wonders. In his words (John 6:63), "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life."
The multitudes came to Jesus, but
only a few were more interested in the spirit than in the flesh. Yet those few
established Christianity and changed the course of history. The few, not the
many, caught the tone of Jesus' works. Christian Science follows the pattern of
the few in its appeal to modern thought; but like Jesus' teachings it benefits
the many. There are multitudes today who have been directly helped by Christian
Science, healed of physical and mental ills like the multitudes in
Writing of her discovery and founding of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy says (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 28): "I had learned that thought must be spiritualized, in order to apprehend Spirit. It must became honest, unselfish, and pure, in order to have the least understanding of God in divine Science. The first must become last. Our reliance upon material things must be transferred to a perception of and dependence on spiritual things."
Christian Science makes its appeal to the unselfishness of men. It offers to you and me the bread of heaven, not the manna of earth. It invites us to subjugate our material wants, rather than seek their unbridled fulfillment. It will overcome our human egotism and pride, rather than cater to them. It will lead us to a deeper satisfaction than mere human affection can supply − satisfaction, that is, in the things of God.
Jesus Outlined the Way
God, to Christian Science, is what he was to Jesus − Spirit or Truth. Most of the Christian churches agree today that God is not anthropomorphic, not a corporeal person. Christian Science says that Deity is the supremely natural and divine Principle of spiritual reality. The ideal man manifests this Principle.
This ideal of manhood is expressed only in a degree by human consciousness. In fact, the perfection of God's image means nothing to a mortal who rejects it in his living. Reality might as well have to us no divine Principle if we think and act in a way which is unprincipled. And divine Love holds no answer to our problems unless we are loving in our thoughts and action. Divine Truth does not free us unless we are truthful. In other words, there might as well be no God unless we act in a Godlike fashion.
And how do we learn to act in a Godlike fashion?
Christ Jesus showed the broad outlines of the way. And he summed up his entire teaching by quoting two commandments from the ancient Hebrew law (Deut. 6:5): "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thine heart," and (Lev. ), "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
Beatitudes Modern Guides
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is a digest of his instructions on love. Opening that sermon are a number of Beatitudes. The Christian Science Sunday School child − like many Sunday School children − is taught the Beatitudes among his first lessons, but none of us should outgrow a basic reliance upon them. They are masterly guides for modern thought. I am going to take three of these as typical and use them to indicate the manner and means of the Christian Scientist in his endeavor to lift the burden of mortality from himself and mankind.
The first Beatitude reads, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
The kingdom of heaven the Master here invites you to enjoy is on earth − available now. According to Matthew, Jesus began his whole preaching ministry with the statement, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" − meaning that it is not over there or up there, not somewhere else, or in another circumstance, or at another time, or after death, but within reach of human consciousness here and now.
Human experience, when it is divinely guided, has possibilities for real joy in the now. There is genuine happiness available for you and me in the living present. The word "blessed" beginning each Beatitude means literally, "how happy!" How happy are "the poor in spirit!"
To be "poor in spirit!" means not to be proud in spirit. We all know how different things appear when the customary trusts are gone, when material things and circumstances that were once of transcendent importance to us have become as nothing, when the pride of place or intellect or prejudice has been wiped out and we have nothing left but our basic worth.
Blessed are we when we know our human lack and our need for spiritual gain, for ours is the answerable demand to seek new trusts and a higher joy − to seek God, the divine Principle of all good, and man's nature as God's child.
There is a rule of special encouragement for the "poor in spirit." Paul states it in I Corinthians (10:13); "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will, with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
But troubles sometimes are so agonizing we doubt or even resent this rule of encouragement. You may remember the story of the long-suffering country woman who had borne a winter of what seemed all the adversities known to mortals, and then when spring came her barn burned down. With a note of resignation, mixed with a little resentment, she said, "I know that the good Lord will not send more upon me than I have strength to bear, but why does He have such a good opinion of me?"
In both Matthew and Luke the Sermon on the Mount directly follows rehearsals of physical healings. How many have turned to Christian Science when physical disease has made them so "poor in spirit" they were willing to try what they had once severely criticized! And blessed are such, for in large numbers they have found the kingdom of heaven, the reign of harmony at hand, on earth − they have found the Master's way of healing available through Christian Science. As he said (John ), "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also."
Medical statistics seem to show an increase in physical and mental sickness over the last few decades. That is, the records seem to indicate that in proportion to the population there are today fewer persons able to walk the streets free and well than there were − for instance − thirty years ago. And this in spite of the most intensive public interest in medicine and growth in medical facilities known to history.
The Christian Scientist wants to do something about this terrible burden of mortality. He echoes Mrs. Eddy's intense desire to furnish men with the rule and practice of a successful metaphysical healing, a spiritual healing.
Health to the Christian Scientist is a spiritual state, not an objective material condition. Christian Science does not aim to manipulate matter, or the material body, by either mental or physical means. It aims to unfold the spiritual state of consciousness that constitutes health. Disease to the Christian Scientist is a phenomenon of wrong thinking rather than something we think about. We do not say that disease is merely, the after-effect of wrong thinking; it is momentarily inseparable from wrong thinking. Hence we aim only to improve thought, not to change something independent of thought.
We accept the Bible as our basic metaphysical authority. A tenet of the Christian Science church reads (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p 497), "As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide in eternal Life." It is a common saying that you can prove anything by the Bible, back up any contention. And you can. How, then, shall we learn what is the inspired teaching of Scripture and what is not?
The two creation stories of Genesis illustrate our point of view. The Christian Scientist believes that the first creation story is amazingly symbolic of the continuing way of spiritual unfoldment. The second and third verses of Chapter one read in part: "Darkness was upon the face of the deep. . . . And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." This has its gospel corollary in Christ Jesus' statement (John ), "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness."
You and I know that a light never changes what it shines upon. Think of your own living room in complete darkness, then imagine yourself switching on the light. Nothing will happen to the furniture or the walls or the color of the curtains. The light of the Christ is the light of spiritual understanding. This light does nothing to the objects of reality − on earth or in heaven. There is no need to do anything! The first creation story continues: "God created man in his own image . . . And God saw every thing that he had made, (that is, every object of spiritual reality, including man) and, behold, it was very good."
This "very good" creation obviously did not include disease.
And a "very good" man would not have the ability to decide to do things which would create disease. But the second creation story of Genesis is believed by many to tell of man's fall from perfection. We say that accurate human reasoning and practical demonstration disprove the fall of God's "very good" man. Hence, we see the second creation story as an account of the unenlightened, mortal sense of man − as distinct from God's man as a shadowy form imagined in a dark room is distinct from an object revealed in the light.
Mrs. Eddy's metaphysics had much more than the first creation story as authority. She knew, for instance, that the Master healed disease without material applications, and that he taught his disciples to do likewise, and that he plainly said to us that we can do the works he did if we follow in his way.
Jesus' instructions were in one field only − human thought. He did not teach or advocate hygiene or physical diagnosis or medication or surgery. Did you ever realize that all he did was teach men how to think better, that is, how to enlighten human consciousness? He said (John ), "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
And free from what? From ignorance, from an unspiritual state of consciousness − and Christian Science says that this means free from the disease that may now claim your attention, from the sin of the flesh that may be trying to insist upon its useless way in your experience, from the material limitations that would keep you earth-bound, and even from death itself.
What other logical explanation is there for Jesus' healing works than that the distress corrected by his right thinking existed only subjective to wrong thinking? Right thinking can correct only wrong thinking; it cannot reach outside the mental realm and change something independent of thought.
Healing of Cancer
In the development of this subject, I want to make it clear that while we maintain disease to be subjective to wrong thinking and correctable by spiritual understanding or right thinking, we do not believe disease to be merely imagination. There is a difference between imagination and a subjective state of experience. A child may imagine a ghost, and a hypochondriac may imagine that he has an incurable ailment, but the disease Christian Science treats and cures is the same outward phenomenon of wrong thinking, verifiable only by the five physical senses that the doctor treats with medication and surgery. Physical diagnoses, X-rays, and all the tests of medicine, will reveal such disease. And still the Christian Scientist says it is mental and unreal in the absolute sense.
For instance, what the doctors would call an incurable disease is more than imagination. An operation and exhaustive laboratory tests convinced the physicians attending a friend of mine that there was a highly malignant cancer and no hope of recovery. As one "poor in spirit" he turned to Christian Science. He wanted and needed physical healing; but he found himself gaining a new satisfaction in things not of the flesh, that is, in a better understanding of God and man. He had believed that sickness and suffering were God-sent, but now he saw them as contrary to God's plan for man, as errors of human consciousness − evident and tangible to the physical senses but unreal in the absolute sense.
There were many such changes in his conceptions, and he felt comforted, with a new confidence and humility and love for the things of God. The result of this correction of thought was healing. Some months later at the request of the same physicians he submitted to another examination, and the healing was verified by them.
An Unusual Teaching
Matter itself, to the Christian Scientist, is a mental phenomenon, a subjective state of human thought. Even though it is tangible to the five physical senses, it is alterable with changes of human consciousness. In "Unity of Good" Mrs. Eddy writes (p. 8): "What you see, hear, feel, is a mode of consciousness, (notice she did not say it was the result of consciousness, but a mode, or state of consciousness) and can have no other reality than the sense you entertain of it. It is dangerous to rest upon the evidence of the senses, for this evidence is not absolute, and therefore not real, in our sense of the word."
Who was this woman with so unusual a doctrine? Mrs. Eddy faced the antagonism of her family and friends and the world in general. But she had a great conviction and the courage and persistence to go with it. She had a deeply earnest desire to aid in reforming the religious, medical and scientific systems of our day.
A multitude has been healed of sickness and sin because she transformed her desire into practice. Yet the outward forms of physical and moral healing by themselves are insufficient evidence of the truth of her teachings: there are physical and moral changes brought about every day by varied and often, mutually contradictory systems of therapeutics and religion. Physical and moral healing record the value of Mrs. Eddy's work as the chalk on the blackboard records but does not constitute the value of an idea of numbers.
Evidence in Today's Physics
Her success must be measured on a grander scale. For instance, she has made a tremendous contribution to the spirituality, to the culture, to the intelligence, of our time. In adapting the teachings of Jesus to the needs of the moment, she has leavened human thought and released it from many of its ancient and crippling limitations. This leavening, this release, this contribution to the spirituality and culture and intelligence of our time, evidenced in the physical changes that have followed, indicate the full value of Mrs. Eddy's teachings.
Just as physical healing records the truth of her teaching, there are areas of theoretical physics that bear further record. Consider, as an example, this basic and important element in the metaphysics and logic of Christian Science − that the objects of physical sense are inseparable from the consciousness that observes them. Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner, writes of "the essential dependence of every physical phenomenon on the standpoint of the observer." And Werner Heisenberg, the great German physicist, and also a Nobel Prize winner, writes in a recent book of what he terms "the over-simplified world-view of nineteenth century materialism: (in which) atoms move in space and time as the real and immutable substances;" and he continues: "But in our century it is just in this sphere that fundamental changes have taken place in the basis of atomic physics which have made us abandon the world-view of ancient atomic philosophy . . . We can no longer speak of the behavior of the particle independently of the process of observation."
It follows inevitably, according to the Christian Scientist, that you and I need to improve our "process of observation" − the way we think. And how do we improve our thinking so that the subjective state of thought, namely, the physical body, or material circumstances, will be healed of disease and distress? There is an implied error in this question. The Christian Scientist does not improve his thinking in order to have better matter. Rather, he accepts the implication of another of the Master's Beatitudes: Jesus said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
What the Christian Scientist seeks is righteousness, an understanding and practice of the spiritual truths of being. He seeks righteousness for its own sake, not for material or physical reward. Thus he does not aim to change his concepts so that matter will be better, but to improve human consciousness so that it will better reflect God.
Modern medicine has an increasing tendency to mentalize disease, that is, to believe that physical disorders may − at least in part − be mentally caused or influenced and hence benefited by a change of thought. An item in the medical column of a recent national news magazine reports the statement of a well-known physician as follows: "A mother's anxieties about various aspects of her child's bodily functions may play an important part in the youngster's unconscious 'choice' of psychosomatic illness. Some mothers nag about feeding: . . . in such a setting the child may develop ulcerative colitis. If mother worries every time baby wheezes, he may 'choose' asthma."
Prayer's Method and Effect
Should we, then, encourage such a mother not to worry, not to be so concerned about bodily functions? Such encouragement would not correctly represent the full method of Christian Science. The Christian Scientist would not merely say, "Don't worry, because your worry hurts your child." You cannot turn worry on and off like a faucet, and merely subjugating worry because of fear adds fear to worry, and makes the total mental condition worse, and therefore the total state of mental and physical health.
Christian Science would instruct the mother in spiritual things, in the truths of God and man. It would show her, for instance, that the outward phenomenon called the child's physical body is not the substance of the child of God. It would teach her that God's child is spiritual and perfect, made in the image of good.
Under such instruction, the Christian Science mother would cease to pay undue attention to the child's physicality; she would be more interested in developing an understanding of the true idea of man as God's child.
To illustrate, here is the testimony of a mother whose little son suffered from a particularly virulent type of influenza. She writes, in a letter to me: "His condition seemed so serious that there was great fear on the part of his father and me. I sat up nearly all night, reading Science and Health and trying to realize God's presence and His tender care for His child. I tried to see that disease is no part of God's creation and therefore not real. By next morning our son seemed even worse, and soon he was unconscious. I went over by the window in his room and sang hymns. After about an hour the boy awakened. 'I want to get up,' he said. He was healed."
What happened here? The mother prayed, and her prayer was successful.
Prayer to the Christian Scientist is desire to know the truth − desire that hungers and thirsts after righteousness − desire that is deep enough, sincere enough, active enough, persistent enough, to contradict the phenomena of evil with the spiritual truths of God and man. And the reward of such prayer is a full salvation − safety, that is, from the illusion of the physical senses.
One of the grand features of all the Beatitudes is that anyone at any time can fulfill their requirements. Any one of you, for instance, can be hungry and thirsty for the right. No past event, no present situation, no anticipated evil, can deprive you of the ability to want to be right, to yearn deeply and earnestly to correct the faults of human character that give rise to evil phenomena. And Jesus said there is a blessing in this want − a present blessing even in the desire to be righteous, the desire to be perfect.
The inherent ability of human consciousness to desire and know the truth is evidence of the Christ.
Because Jesus possessed this ability so completely, we call him Christ Jesus. Hence the Christ was not the person of Jesus but the ever-available spirituality, or righteousness, he manifested. It was the Christ − not of his person − that he said, "Lo, I am with you alway."
Righteousness Its Own Reward
Jesus said the reward for hungering and thirsting after righteousness is that we shall be filled.
Now, the question is, filled with what? Imagine yourself on a desert, thirsting for water. When you come to an oasis what will you look for? The oasis will mean one thing to you − water! But if, instead of looking for water, you spend time looking around at the trees and tents and people, this will prove you are not very thirsty. And when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, and reach the point of fruition, what are you going to look for? If you spend time looking for changes in matter, it will prove you are not very hungry for righteousness. I hope I am not disappointing you when I say that what you are going to be filled with when you hunger and thirst after righteousness is righteousness!
But we say, "Oh, but I have a
right to these material things." We quote Jesus' promise (Matt. ): "Seek ye first the
Changes in material phenomena, which we may mistakenly believe to be the substance of healing, follow the gain of righteousness as a shadow follows a man as he walks in the sunshine.
Mrs. Eddy writes (Science and Health, p. 494), "Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need." The blessings of Christian Science extend to the human realm. But the basic human need is always for righteousness, and righteousness has always been available, and always will be.
So when you seek righteousness − hunger and thirst for it − you will gain righteousness; and the burden of mortality, that is, the phenomena established by unrighteousness, by unspiritual thinking − including sin, disease, lack, and even death − will necessarily disappear.
Remember, too, you cannot bargain with God. You cannot rightly say, in effect: "God, I will be good. I will seek to understand the truth of being, on condition that You will be good to me, and heal me of my troubles. I will hunger and thirst after righteousness just so long as I can hope that righteousness will bring me the physical changes I want." Sometimes we even expect to get the better of such a bargain.
The Christian Scientist is taught to love God because God is good, not because of what he can get out of Him. He is taught to seek the spiritual truth, because that truth is wonderful − it is the "pearl of great price" for which he should be willing to sell, that is, dispose of, all his unrighteousness.
There is a question often put to the Christian Scientist in these days of great interest in medicine: "Why do you not seek medical diagnosis and encourage your children to learn about disease and its symptoms in school? What harm can come from a knowledge of the physical condition?"
If the physical state were an objective condition, rather than only phenomenon subjective to human thought, no harm would come from studying it. But physicality is a false mental image, not an objective condition; it is phenomenon inseparable from the mistaken thought that conceives it. It is a picture, a shadow of substance. A physical diagnosis deliberately draws attention to the subjective state, to the shadow. Instruction in the nature of disease, and the physical symptoms of it, will encourage us to ignore the falsities of thought which determine that nature and symptoms; it will turn attention away from the righteousness that heals wrong thinking and hence corrects the evil phenomenon.
Consider now another area of theoretical physics that bears record of the truth of Mrs. Eddy's teachings. Classical physics accepted time as an objective and inevitable reality. But an important area of modern physics considers time − time past, time present, time to come − to be among the phenomena of human thought, completely subjective to mentality. Einstein considered time a form of intuition. Lincoln Barnett, in his book "The Universe and Dr. Einstein" (pp. 22, 39) says: Einstein discarded the concept of absolute time − of a steady, unvarying inexorable, universal time-flow streaming from the infinite past to the infinite future. . . . Sense of time," he continues, is a form of perception."
There are reverberations of this point of view in medicine. Time is an essential element of aging. The Bible speaks of ideal humanhood as a condition where "thine age shall be clearer than the noonday" (Job ). And Mrs. Eddy writes (Science and Health, p. 245), "Decrepitude is not according to law, nor is it a necessity of nature, but an illusion." And a recent news item reports the conclusion of a staff conference of medical specialists and surgeons from an important clinic in part as follows: "Years alone . . . have no effect in bringing about degenerative disorders. Anyone who thinks he is getting along in years, that loss of vigor, disabilities . . . should be experienced, is suffering from time neurosis. . . . Time has no effect on human tissues under any condition. Vigor does not necessarily vary inversely with the age of adults. . . . All those who develop a time neurosis subscribe to the prevalent superstition that time is in some way a poison, exerting a mysterious cumulative action."
Thus according to some areas of modern thought, time is a present belief, a superstition, a neurosis. Remember that it takes time for disease to develop even if that time seems only a moment. It takes time to be born, time to worry, time to fear, time to be mortal, time to die, and time to mourn.
Jesus said, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Mankind needs a sense of immortality, of the continuity of life. But the immortality offered by Christianity and scientifically explained in Christian Science will not appeal to selfish interests; that is, this spiritual continuity of being is not an endless time, running from the infinite past to the infinite future, in which men can indulge themselves with the things of matter. There is no time in immortality. Immortality is the continuing now of existence, measured entirely in terms of the unfoldment of ideas − immeasurable and unappreciated by the physical senses.
It is a basic rule in Christian Science, as in mathematics, that the statement of absolute truth contains no "has been" or "will be," no past or future tense, no time. We do not say, "Two times two has been four, or will be four," only that it is four. And the Christian Scientist does not say, "Man was the perfect child of God before the fall of Adam," or, "Man will be perfect after millenniums of progress," but, "Man is the perfect expression of God." Jesus did not say, "Before Abraham was, I was," but "Before Abraham was, I am." The grammar of spiritual reality has only a present tense.
Comfort in Rededication
Why are those who weep, those who mourn, for loved ones, blessed? There are easier ways to be blessed. We should never become so attached to the superstitions of time, and the mortal phenomena that surround those superstitions, that it takes a jolt, a loss, a deep grieving, to bring us face to face with the awful unreality of death, or the fear of it for ourselves or others.
But if we have made this mistake, and now feel the agony of it, then in this agony, as in the darkest night when the stars shine brightest, we are able to confront the basic and present ideas of spiritual reality, the continuing now of spiritual being untouched and unmoved by the things of time. We then can search out real values, Christian values, values that never come and go, and dedicate ourselves, not to materiality, not to physicality, not to personal gain, but to spiritual good that is universal and timeless and individual and infinite. "Blessed are they that mourn," and even more blessed are they who learn through Christ's way, through Christian Science, instead of through suffering, to know the continuity of good in the living and wonderful now.
Christian Science lifts the burden of mortality. It repeats the invitation of the Master, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden." Come to this scientifically Christian way of life. Come and worship God, because God is good. Come and discover the infinite spiritual possibilities of man's native state, where the things and the pride of matter have no place and offer no rewards. Come with that rare kind of love that asks nothing of the world but receives the blessing of eternal good in the living present!
My friends, happy are ye who come!