Let My People Go
Nathaniel Ridgway White, C.S., of Palm Beach, Florida
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
All of us yearn to be free - from fear, poverty, disease, enslaving habits - from any limitation that would keep us from being all that we can be. In his lecture, "Let My People Go," yesterday afternoon, December 10, 1978, in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Nathaniel Ridgway White, C.S., discussed how each of us can express the spiritual dominion that enables us to be truly free.
A former business and financial editor of The Christian Science Monitor, Mr. White is now a member of The Christian Science Board of Lectureship. For 15 years he has been in the full-time public practice of Christian Science.
Nan Trent, a local member of The Mother Church, introduced Mr. White. An abridged text of his lecture follows:
What is freedom?
Freedom is the great desire of the whole human race. "Let my people go," is still the most persistent demand of all on mankind. What do those words, first uttered 3,300 years ago, mean? What is freedom? Who or what enslaves? And what sets free?
A child skips, runs, sometimes swims like a dolphin. Freedom? Yes. But what about the child who can't do these things? . . . because of malnutrition? . . . because of disease? A dolphin's free, too. But will the dolphins of the seas be free if the seas become chemically dead?
Fear, ignorance, disease, poverty, war, physical and mental oppression have enslaved the human race since history began. These types of enslavement beset people everywhere today. Technology isn't always the answer. Technological means for accomplishing mass death mark this century as surely as does the technological triumph of our lunar landings. It is enslaving habits and mental attitudes that fetter us more forcibly than prison walls. The fullest meaning of God's demand, "Let my people go," is the demand for freedom in its most basic sense - mental and spiritual freedom, from which all other freedoms flow.
All history points to the absolute necessity for each of us to dedicate ourselves to this real freedom, mental and spiritual freedom for ourselves, our planet, and our race. Of course, encroachments on freedom go back to the most ancient times; but the significant difference between today and earlier centuries is that we now have a full scientific presentation of divine law, the law of the living Christ, and how it operates. It is this law that can bring peace and freedom to our troubled earth.
Christ Jesus set our course, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, responded to this demand of Christ Jesus in her discovery of Christian Science. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." Mrs. Eddy inscribes the challenge of today in these ringing sentences: "Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free. . . . Jesus marked out the way. Citizens of the world, accept the glorious liberty of the children of God, and be free!" (p. 227).
A landmark struggle for freedom is the story of the Israelites leaving Egypt under the leadership of Moses.
While the Exodus historically seemed to be a political struggle of the Israeli tribes over Egyptian oppression, the Bible's spiritual teaching makes clear that the real Exodus was the people's struggle against their own ignorance and disbelief in God, and their own mental and moral weakness and fear. As they began to understand God's law, constantly propounded to them by Moses, they began to prove their freedom as individuals and as a people.
The Exodus also illustrates one man's struggle over his own fear and disbelief. Moses received God's command, "Let my people go." He didn't at first accept it. He objected to God's insistence that he, Moses, have anything at all to do with the freedom movement. He had no desire to get involved.
God didn't give Moses a choice.
Moses had excellent human qualities. He was intelligent. He was compassionate. He was humble. He was courageous, possibly even daring. He had conquered many individual character weaknesses. His humanity cried for his people's freedom. But he felt sure he wasn't the one to bring it about.
Stopping oppressive thinking
When we examine Moses' story we find his worst enemy was himself. He doubted that he had the understanding and intelligence to work for his people's freedom. He wasn't even sure his own people would understand what he meant by God's law.
His most aggressive foes were not Pharaoh and his soldiers, but his own doubt and fear. He spent what most of us would consider to be a lifetime in getting ready to do the job God commanded him to do.
Moses began as a young man tending sheep. He was over 80 before he was ready to lead his people out. He first had to trust God. Today we are blessed. We have Christ Jesus' example, and that of Moses and the prophets. And we have also the statement of God's universal law of good, revealed to Mrs. Eddy as Christian Science, with which to prove our own freedom. Moses had to learn every step of the way. So do we. But we have much more to work with. And many of us have already experienced the absolute proof in our lives that God's power and love assure each of us freedom.
Let us examine, then, the law of God which surely brings liberty.
Science and Health offers us a living understanding of God and His law. This system of Christian thought begins by explaining that God is Life, Love, Spirit, Mind, Soul, Truth, and Principle. And its second basic premise is that individual man is the image, the divine reflection of Life, Love, Spirit, Mind, Soul, Truth. Principle. These two fundamentals, when understood and proved in our own experience, bring us the freedom which is already God's gift to us and which we have to prove.
Let's look at what it means when we put these two premises together. God is infinite Love; we can have no problem beyond God's ever-presence. God is our Life; this Life isn't burdened with chains. God is Mind, individually our Mind; and this Mind in its all-action and all-power obliterates material limitations. God is Soul; and this gentle substance underlies our individual being, freeing us from fear, disease, and wrongdoing. God is Truth; and ever-active Truth disentangles us from human deviousness. God is Spirit; and St. Paul tells us: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Cor. 3:17).
And God is divine Principle. This all-powerful, law-creating, law-sustaining, law-enforcing Principle is individually our God, our divine Principle. Supported, sustained, maintained by this God, this Principle, we can take courage and with intelligent conviction prove our freedom.
Here is the open secret of freedom. Having learned that freedom indeed is ours - freedom from every limit - we each then with courage and conviction can go forward and prove our freedom. And we can help others to prove theirs, applying the law of God.
Moses' struggle finds many parallels today. How often do we as individuals attempt to shrug off our own responsibility for freedom with the comment, "I don't wish to be involved"? But here we can take lessons from Moses. We need courageous conviction that individual freedom is ours because it is the law of God which assures us freedom. And we need to be willing to understand and prove this law of God for ourselves and others.
So let's be sure we understand it's God's law which sets us free. Many people have wished for freedom, have fought for it, but they haven't proved it. They've failed. An understanding of individual man and woman as the divine, specific idea, or reflection, of God, divine Mind, is the spiritual truth which sets us free. Free from disease, from fear, ignorance, lack - free morally and spiritually.
I was thinking about Moses' experience one morning in my office near Grand Central Station in New York. It was in the early years in my public practice as a Christian Science practitioner.
The door opened. A drunk man walked in, repulsive both in appearance and odor. I asked him, "What do you want?" He challenged, "Why does anyone come to a Christian Science practitioner?"
He obviously knew what he wanted: freedom.
And that's why he had come to a Christian Science practitioner. He apparently knew that Christian Science practitioners throughout the world are dedicated to spiritual healing, of sickness, disease, death, immorality, social and business problems - human emancipation - through spiritual means alone.
I'm ashamed to say one of my first thoughts was, "This man could sure use a bath!" But I quickly corrected this, because the thought followed, "What he really needs is the spiritual baptism of Christ!" I recalled God's words at Jesus' baptism: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
Also Mrs. Eddy's words, "The baptism of Spirit, washing the body of all the impurities of flesh, signifies that the pure in heart see God and are approaching spiritual Life and its demonstration" (Science and Health, p. 241).
Then I understood. That's what he had really come for, the baptism of Spirit, the baptism of Christ - not through personal consultation with another human being - but through understanding that God's pure being was by spiritual reflection his own pure being. He sought understanding of his "glorious liberty" as a child of God.
That first visit lasted five minutes. I spoke briefly of God's presence with him, of God's love for him. I set a time the next day and started to pray for him in Christian Science. He arrived on time - still dirty, reeking of cheap wine. I kept him 10 minutes that day. And I knew I had a job to understand clearer than ever before the meaning of spiritual baptism. I gave him some clothes I could easily spare.
The third day he arrived at the same time, washed, mentally bright, and dressed in his new clothes as well as in a better state of thought.
It wasn't easy. That man knew he was included in God's law of freedom. Yet his struggle to bring about this freedom in his own experience was severe. The most difficult task before him was to face himself - even as it had been difficult for Moses. Until this man learned that "facing himself" really meant admitting to himself that he was at that and every moment - past, present, or future - the beloved son of God, including spiritual freedom, until he knew that, he had to struggle with the old concept of himself.
Seeing the 'new man'
Sometimes he would call me in the early morning hours, 2 or 3 a.m. And I knew he was in the midst of a severe trial of his faith. But he persisted. And so did I, as I prayed for him in Christian Science. We got over the acute alcoholism within about a month. But then greater problems arose - the cause of the alcoholism - bitter resentment over past injustices, actual or imagined, a divorce, separation from his son.
He had no money - no job. For a time I think he begged for food, but he never admitted this to me. Through all of this period his desire for spiritual freedom, his ongoing spiritual baptism in Christ, Truth, sustained him. And me. We each persisted in this goal.
At the end of the six months the "new man" (Eph. 4:24) of whom St. Paul speaks had appeared. Always there, God's very own son, or spiritual reflection and image, had been proved.
Employment, income, joy in spiritual freedom were his reward for persisting in the spiritual discipline of Christian Science through which we learn the love of God for us.
This incident illustrates three qualities often needed in wholly spiritual healing from severe trials:
- Conviction of the power of God to set one free.
- Disciplined spiritual determination - not human will - to participate in God's active power and tender love.
- Persistence in the face of the crudest, rudest, most obstinate and stubborn resistance, both within ourselves and from the environment we've accepted for ourselves.
All these were qualities which Moses developed and strove to develop in the Israelites;
and they were qualities my friend from the Bowery had in a measure to develop. But behind these qualities, nurturing and impelling their growth, was his dawning understanding of his own true nature as a son of God, wholly and always spiritual and free - the ongoing baptism of the Christ.
That experience has been an inspiration to me whenever I've been confronted with challenges to freedom, my own or another's. You see, that first morning my friend opened my office door, he wanted freedom. In spite of his condition, he knew he could be free. And I, as a Christian Science practitioner, knew that he, as an individual idea in divine Mind, was already free.
But why does it sometimes seem so hard to win our freedom? Why do we ever seem to have lost it?
It may be helpful to ask and answer another question first. What are the freedoms we each desire?
To list all our desires would compass the whole range of human thought. Human hopes are as diverse as human beings. Most of us must deal in some ways with basic desires -the desire to be free of fear, of disease, of mental or physical limitation, of immorality. Many of us need to free ourselves from the results or effects of environmental hereditary, cultural, educational, or economic limitations.
Some of us must free ourselves of the drug culture, often ignorantly introduced into our lives by our parents. Some of us have been caught up in drugs through social pressures. Still others of us are hooked on tobacco and alcohol, or a desire for overindulgence in food.
Still others, perhaps most of us, must rid ourselves of what we sometimes call animal nature, acute physicality and bodily appetites.
When compounded with political and economic slavery, these basic infringements on our freedom might seem to take away all hope of freedom and put us in a mental state of despair and futility.
Disarming the 'strong man'
Christ Jesus went right to the point in his attack on the enslaving mental qualities which would hold individuals in slavery. "How," Jesus asked, "can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man?" (Matt, 12:29). And St. Paul identified the enemy of the human race just as definitely. He said, "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7).
Science and Health calls "the strong man" mortal mind. It teaches that this supposed consciousness, outside the infinitude of the one infinite divine Mind, God, must be recognized for what it is, a fraudulent and unreal imposture, and be held in subjection. Only so can humans be free of sin and disease. This carnal or mortal mind would defraud us. Our real individual freedom is found in finding our true nature as spiritual ideas of the divine Mind, God.
Isn't this what Jesus would have us understand and prove when he teaches, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you tree"? Isn't this why he is known as Christ Jesus? He showed to men the true idea of God and of themselves and of the universe they lived in. It was this Christ, Truth, which enabled him to do his works of healing and saving mankind from the impositions of mortal mind.
Mrs. Eddy's words describe today's situation when she says, "The antagonistic spirit of evil is still abroad; but the greater spirit of Christ is also abroad, - risen from the grave -clothes of tradition and the cave of ignorance" (Miscellaneous Writings, p. 370). Today, this spirit of the Christ, ever with us, separates the wheat from the tares, the ambiguities of conflicting forces. Mrs. Eddy explains that "Christian Science . . . shows the scientific relation of man to God, disentangles the interlaced ambiguities of being, and sets free the imprisoned thought" (Science and Health, p. 114).
A simple recognition of the presence and love of the Christ has enabled many - some from tiny years up - to go to homes where illness, despair, death would abide and bring to those homes and hearts the healing of the living Christ.
There's hardly any human ill I haven't seen dissipated through this gentle healing power and Science of God's presence - Christian Science. Death has been destroyed, and life renewed. Broken bones have been healed, particularly a broken back, and malignancies have been dissolved. Infantile paralysis (polio) has been instantaneously healed and normality restored. Hemophilia has been completely healed. I've witnessed arthritis healed, and drug addiction and immorality ended. I've seen financial destitution turned to abundance, business and governmental decisions rightly made.
Practically any Christian Science student could report similar conclusions. The Mind of Christ is the Mind of man. And this simple truth dissolves human ambiguities. In this Science of Christ, we learn to discern our way in a world of conflicts of thought.
We have said that divine Mind expresses itself in wholly spiritual ideas, in spiritual man and spiritual creation. Matter and all material things are the supposed creations of mortal mind; but they are without power or substance. They are no more than the projections of mortal mind. Once seen as such, they cannot bind and enslave men: they cannot deprive us of our mental and spiritual freedom, nor of any other freedom. The experience of Moses can illustrate this point, too.
Total dependence on God became Moses' strength. He learned to perceive that deceit, fear, doubt, and all that these produce were the evil suggestions of mortal mind, illusions. He learned to face these illusions and see them disappear from his experience.
When God gave Moses a sign, it was definitive. We're familiar with the time God commanded Moses to throw his shepherd's rod to the ground. When he did so, it appeared to become a solid material serpent. Moses was afraid. But then God told Moses to pick up the serpent. When he did so, it became his rod.
Mrs. Eddy uses this experience to alert us to the illusions of mortal mind. In Science and Health she tells us how Moses' illusion lost its ability to alarm him (p. 321).
The first step in Moses' lesson was to detect the fear as illusion. The second step was to prove the fear to be illusion by absolutely facing it. Then his fear vanished, and that apparently solid material serpent went, too. Both the fear and the serpent were illusions, projections of supposed mortal mind, without reality or substance. By proving the law of God for himself in this instance, Moses had won a major victory which would stand him in later trials of greater magnitude.
We, too, must face fear and doubt - not as realities or writhing serpents - but as illusions. They are never real to God, divine Mind. Therefore they cannot be real to us - no matter how insistent they seem to be.
Moses' lesson for us is to face fear, and demand its disappearance from our lives, because it is not of God.
When we do this we gain mental and spiritual freedom. Then we're well on the way to all other freedoms.
We need to see ourselves and others as ideas of the one infinite divine Mind and that there is in reality no other mind and no other creation.
The more quickly the basic nature of the illusion of life in matter, the suggestion of mortal mind, is exposed, the quicker healing and liberation are experienced.
But whether the healing comes more quickly or more slowly the requirements for individual freedom remain the same: the Spirit-based conviction that freedom is ours and can be proved needs to fulfill our conviction; and the persistent living understanding of God's spiritual law, maintaining man's relationship to his divine source in face of material claims to the contrary. Our response to these requirements opens the door for this divine law to operate in our daily lives with all its liberating power.
Conviction, spiritual discipline, and a living understanding of God's law in Christian Science assure the world citizen that today is his or her day of freedom. Neither mortal mind nor matter can withstand this law.
Christ Jesus proved the truth of God's love by his works. He insisted and his disciples insisted on proof. So does Christian Science.
James puts it this way. "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2:17, 18).
Mrs. Eddy's insistence on proof of one's faith in the spiritual facts of being lifts Christianity out of belief, dogma, mere theory or blind faith into demonstrable Science - Christian Science. We prove what we understand, else we're doctrinaire and not scientific.
Today Christian Science embraces the discipline of Moses in the Ten Commandments, his example and his victories, and the love of Christ in offering humanity a platform of scientific law - on which each of us can build our individual freedom, secure and beyond the reach of mortal environment, fear or human will.
We prove our freedom. We don't just talk about it. And if we are to maintain our position in freedom, we must prove and continue to prove what we've learned. The illusions and delusions of matter are powerless to prevent us.
We've discussed the liberation of individuals from enslaving conditions. But God's command to Moses was not merely to lead individual Israelites to freedom nor was God's command to Pharaoh that he should let this or that Israelite go. "Let my people go," was the divine order - all people.
This certainly was Mrs. Eddy's view of the mission of the Christ, Truth, the Christ Science, that it would make all men free - that it would raise all citizens of the world to perceive their glorious liberty as the children of God. We have only to look at her experience to confirm this.
Mrs. Eddy's life experience encompassed the period of the United States' struggle to abolish human slavery. During her own deep, tragic contests with mortal mind, the United States was struggling to end human slavery.
While the Abolitionists were conducting their crusade against slavery, Mrs. Eddy herself was almost engulfed in her own fight for freedom. She was a widow at 23. She sought happiness and a home for her young son. But these were elusive. She was separated from her son, because of her own poor health and economic dependence; when he was nearly seven.
A second marriage brought more sorrow, due to the infidelity of her husband. She became increasingly isolated and ill. Then came an accident which was nearly fatal. Her life hung in the balance. But in a moment of conscious spiritual light, she read in the New Testament of a healing by Jesus. She felt herself to be in the presence of infinite spiritual reality, and she was healed.
That historic moment of Mrs. Eddy's healing set the world on a course of spiritual emancipation. President Lincoln had performed the great humane act of emancipation for physically bonded men, women, and children. Mrs. Eddy sought to emancipate the mentally enslaved. Her statement of Christian Science today is the result of many years of preparation and search for the divine Principle of Christ healing. This healing Christ - today revealed in Christian Science - is available to each of us, as Mrs. Eddy intended it to be. And it is available to all of us.
Mrs. Eddy, as I've indicated, knew years of financial hardship, and so it is no wonder that later on, when she had it in her power to help those in financial need, she did so generously. The records of her public and private benefactions are many.
But more important to her was that the Science she discovered and gave to the world could awaken men and women spiritually and enable them to find their source of supply in divine Spirit. Economic lack is bondage. And we can free ourselves from this bondage through understanding God's laws just as effectively as we can free ourselves from disease, or sin, or fear,
Economic conditions cannot bind us. Each individual and all individuals are the beneficiaries of the unrestricted, unlimited, forever active law of divine Love. This law of liberation isn't just for one; it is for all. Why? Because in our true nature we are not a race of material mortals, living in a material universe. We are the sons and daughters of God, wholly spiritual citizens of a wholly spiritual universe where wholly spiritual laws alone govern.
No condition can enslave us when we learn God's law of freedom. We are never alone in our efforts to win freedom. We always have God's help at hand. Even in our darkest, most discouraging moments this gracious help is there. No experience is so severe that it cannot be touched by God's love. No situation can enslave us, when we understand God's law. We are never beyond the reach of God's ever-presence and care. Each of us, in our own way can respond to God's demand, "Let my people go." We are free, because we are now and always the people of God, expressions of divine good.