Christian Science: The Religion of the Bible (1)
Judge Septimus J. Hanna, C.S.D.
Member of the Board of Lectureship of The Mother Church,
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts
The subject of this lecture indicates fairly well its scope and purpose, "Christian Science: the Religion of the Bible.'' We do not mean by this that Christian Science is the only religion which claims Biblical authority, for we are aware that it is one thing to claim Scriptural authority in a general way, and another thing to prove such authority from the Scriptures.
Before proceeding to this branch of my remarks, however, I will say for the benefit of those who have come for the first time to hear the subject publicly presented, that Christian Science has a textbook which is a treatise on healing through the power of God or the divine Mind. Or, as we claim, it is a thorough exegesis of the Scriptural method of healing all manner of diseases, and of curing all manner of sin through the understanding of God as all-present, all-powerful, all-wise. In short, it is a spiritual interpretation of the Bible.
The author of a book of note and of value is a person of whom people desire to know, therefore I shall refer briefly to the life and character of Mrs. Eddy. It may not be amiss for me to say that for nearly ten years, as former First Reader in The Mother Church in Boston and editor of the official periodicals, I have had opportunities which enable me to speak intelligently of her life and character as well as of her labors and literary attainments. Speaking from this vantage-ground I can truthfully say that, intellectually, she is one of the most alert persons I have ever known; that she labors incessantly and unselfishly for the Cause to which she has devoted her life, and that, notwithstanding her years, she performs an amount of labor each day which, if known, would seem to exhaust the capacity of one yet in the vigor of life. As to her religious character, I speak my profoundest conviction when I say I believe it to be in accord with the highest standard of Christian living. Yet, notwithstanding her highly spiritual nature, she is withal an intensely practical person. She keeps close watch of current affairs, and acquaints herself with the world's doings; she is, moreover, a patriotic citizen. Mrs. Eddy, like all great religious and moral reformers, has been the target for misrepresentations and sometimes malicious attack, but the animus of these attacks is so apparent that they have fallen harmless.
There is in Boston a Mother Church, having a membership composed of persons residing in almost every part of this country and of other countries. The Mother Church has branch churches and societies to the number of more than one thousand, also situated in nearly every part of this country and of other countries. Some years since The Mother Church adopted a set of church tenets. These became also the tenets of all of her branches. They acknowledge the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God. They acknowledge the supremacy and infinity of God. They declare there is but one Christ, and acknowledge his divinity. They inculcate the omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience of God. The last of these tenets enjoins upon all who subscribe to them the necessity to watch and pray that they may have in themselves the same Mind which was also in Christ Jesus, to do unto others as they would have others do unto them, and to be merciful, just, and pure.
The early records of this church contain the following interesting and significant item: "At a meeting of the Christian Scientist Association, April 19, 1879, on motion of Mrs. Eddy, it was voted, To organize a church designed to commemorate the word and works of our Master, which should reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."
We point to the history of the intervening years in witness of the correctness of that early declaration. During these years many thousands have been brought out of conditions of sin, sorrow, grief, woe, distress, disease, and sickness, who, without the aid of this scientific Christianity, would have remained in abandoned and hopeless conditions. We do not hesitate to say, therefore, as matter of current history, that to a most wonderful and gratifying extent primitive Christianity has been reinstated and its lost element of healing reestablished.
Christian Science teaches that God is in truth almighty. If He is almighty, then surely He is correctly defined by the terms omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, supreme, and infinite. He who is all-powerful is always all-powerful. He who is omnipresent is never absent. He who is all-wise is never less than that could not be, by the very necessity of His all-wisdom.
Objection is sometimes made that Christian Science is heterodox, because, as the objectors claim, it declares against God's personality. The Christian Science definition of God does not describe a more impersonal God, as that term is commonly used and understood, than does the orthodox definition contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. This definition is substantially accepted by all churches calling themselves evangelical. I quote it almost in full:
"There is one living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, most loving, gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin. . . . God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness in and of Himself, and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient. . . . He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things. . . . His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent or uncertain."
Words could not define a more impersonal God, if we accept words at their ordinary meaning. May I not fairly and honestly ask: How can we think of a God who is "infinite" as being composed of flesh, blood, and bones, with all the infirmities and limitations pertaining thereto? How can we thus think of a God who is "Spirit? How can we thus think of a God who is "eternal"? How can we thus think of a God who is "almighty"? How can we thus think of a God who is without "body, parts, or passions"? I submit these questions in no spirit of captious criticism, but by way of sincere and earnest inquiry.
The Methodist Episcopal church adopts substantially the Westminster definition but leaves out the word "passions;" thus describing God as being without "body" or "parts." And yet our ministerial friends including those of the Methodist church oppose Christian Science largely upon the ground that, as they claim, it teaches that God is not a person. It remains for them, not for Christian Scientists, to explain how a God who is "infinite," who is "Spirit," who is "eternal," who is "without body, parts, or passions," can be a person in the ordinary sense of the term, or a merely "big man," as He is so commonly thought to be.
The definition above quoted is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian church of the United States. It does not appear in what is called the Shorter Catechism. The book from which I quote is dated 1906.
I do not hesitate to say that the Christian Science definition of God is even more personal, in the correct sense of the term, than is that of the so-called orthodox churches as set forth in their creeds or articles of faith. In evidence of this I quote briefly from the Christian Science textbook. [See Science and Health, pp. 116 and 330.]
The assertion of God's presence and power runs through the Old Testament. How could words express a more impersonal Being, viewed from the standpoint of mere anthropomorphism, than the following from the 139th Psalm: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me."
Jesus' plain words are of themselves sufficient to settle any question as to God's anthropomorphism. He distinctly declares God to be Spirit. It is wrongly translated in the old version as "a Spirit," and adds that those who worship Him must worship Him "in spirit and in truth." While John, the beloved disciple, as distinctly says, "God is love." In further corroboration of the true conception of God and His power and presence in His universe and in His world, I desire to call attention to another definition of God given by the psalmist in the 103rd Psalm: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." This is either mere abstract poetical sentiment or else it is a declaration of eternal truth, a definition of the eternal God. We accept it as the latter.
We believe in just such a God as the psalmist here sings of, a God who possesses the power to forgive and who does forgive all the iniquities of His children, a God who possesses the power to heal and who does heal all the diseases of His children, who redeems their life from destruction, who crowns them eternally with lovingkindness and tender mercies. I cite this definition of God, not because it stands alone; we find just such conceptions running all through the Scriptures if we look for them. Have we sufficiently looked for them? Have we been generally taught to believe in such a God? On the contrary, have we not been taught that God, instead of forgiving all the iniquities of His children, has provided a means and place of eternal punishment for such of them as fail to live up to a prescribed course of conduct; that so far from healing all the diseases of His children, God sends disease upon them in order to chasten and make them better? This manifestly was not David's conception of God.
In immediate connection with the 103rd Psalm I now call your attention to a part of the New Testament record which we consider as fundamental Christian doctrine or teaching. I refer to the great commandment given by Jesus to his disciples, called by some Bible commentators his Great Commission to the Twelve. If it is true that this part of the Bible is fundamental Christian doctrine or teaching, then surely those who desire to live Christian lives cannot study it too much nor understand it too well. For present purposes I quote the account contained in Matthew 10:
"Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat," "of his hire," or "wages," as it is elsewhere rendered.
This commandment is a unit. It is not two commandments. There is in this language no authority to separate or subdivide it, no more authority to do this than there is to reject it as a whole. The words relating to healing sickness and doing the other works there mentioned are not only part of the general commandment, but are part of the very sentence in which occur the words relating to preaching. Yet we have been taught to believe that while a part of this commandment was intended for all times and all peoples, another part was intended only for a particular time and a particular people. In other words, that the part relating to preaching the gospel was to be handed down to all the nations of the world, until the heathen nations should be converted to the Christian religion, but that the part relating to healing the sick and doing the other works mentioned was intended only for the time of Jesus and his disciples. Or, in yet other words, the theoretical part was to be perpetuated, but the practical part, the doing of the work, was to be relegated to the dead ages of the past, left away back beside the sea of Galilee.
Christian Scientists cannot agree to this attempt to cut out or make obsolete this part of the great commandment. Had they no other authority than this which I have quoted, they would feel compelled to maintain that this commandment has not been fully complied with, and will not be fully complied with until the sick are healed and the other works mentioned therein accomplished, in accordance with the teachings and methods of the Founder of the Christian religion. But they are not compelled to rest upon this alone, as this commandment is substantially reiterated in the other Gospels. I shall not now stop to notice these particularly, but I do desire to call your attention to another commandment which Jesus gave to his disciples, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. After his crucifixion, and just before his ascension, he gave to those disciples a final commandment, which is recorded at the close of the book of Matthew. I ask your attention to its plainness as well as to its sweeping character:
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
This language is plain and unqualified. If we accept it for what it distinctly says, we must conclude that it embraces all of that first commandment, as well as all of any commandment or instructions given by Jesus to his disciples.
Without wishing to criticize or condemn the views of others, I must frankly say that I do not see how any one can read these plain words and give them a moment's thought, and continue longer to think or to say or believe that any part of the first commandment or of any commandment ever given by Jesus to his disciples was to be put aside or to become obsolete. Especially so when we consider the closing words of the final commandment, "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
In direct connection with Jesus' first great commandment and his final commandment, I desire to call your attention to another declaration made by the Founder of the Christian religion. When we think of all the great works that Jesus did during his earthly career, how he overcame and destroyed all kinds of sin, how he healed all manner of sickness and disease, how he raised the dead, how he walked the waves and stilled the tempest, and how he did many other wonderful works, I say, when we think of these works we may well be astonished at the words which I now quote as they are recorded in John 14:12: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also." Plain words. I do not see how words could be plainer. It seems to be only a question as to whether we shall accept them or reject them. We might well suppose that when Jesus had made so startling a declaration he would have ceased. We might well suppose that when he had in terms of such solemnity and plainness declared that those who believe on him should do the great works that he did, he would have reached the utmost limit of mankind's hopes and expectations and possibilities. But he did not stop there. He went farther, and uttered these yet more astonishing words: "And greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father."
"Because I go unto my Father," he here says; and, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," he says at the close of his final commandment: if these words are true, we must believe that the Christ-power and the Christ-spirit were never withdrawn from this world. Jesus went unto the Father, into a better understanding of the divine law whereby he did his mighty works upon the earth, and by virtue of which those who believe on him were to do not only the works that he did, but greater. Here, I say, is Jesus' great commandment to his disciples. Christian Scientists are not responsible for it; Mrs. Eddy did not write it. It stood unrepealed, unchanged, unmodified, long ages before the birth of any one who today claims the name of Christian Scientist. We are not responsible for it, but we are responsible, together with all other professing Christians, for either accepting or rejecting these plain teachings.
Again, in Mark 16 we read: "And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Jesus read from the prophecy of Isaiah the following concerning his mission: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised."
This is a clear and comprehensive declaration of the mission of the Christ. We see from what has been quoted that this mission, in its mighty entirety, was passed down to Jesus' disciples, by them to be handed down to all nations. There is no escape from this conclusion when we group together the sayings of the Master, and give them their plain and unmistakable meaning.
It is a matter of history that for two hundred years after the inauguration of the Christian era the sick were healed by the early Christians without resort to material means or remedies. Gibbon, in his history of the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," treats elaborately of this subject under the head of "The Early Christians." He cites instances of persons, some of them well-known Romans high in official authority, who were healed of diseases pronounced incurable by the then physicians, through the ministration of the early Christians. In this he does not stand alone; he is corroborated by other authentic historians. Then there are the writings of the early Christian Fathers, the Ante-nicene Fathers, as they are called; they wrote exhaustively upon this subject, going into minute details as to the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead by the early Christians. Their writings constitute a library of themselves. I am the possessor of a set of them and have read them with much interest and profit. It is also matter of church history that a number of the Christian sects formerly believed in the efficacy of prayer to heal the sick, and put their belief into practice. This is true of the Waldenses, of the Moravians, of the Huguenots, of the Friends or Quakers, of the Baptists, and of the Methodists. According to the "Life of Martin Luther," he was a believer in the power of prayer to heal sickness and practiced the healing more or less. According to the "Life of John Wesley," the founder of Methodism was for many years a firm believer in the direct power of God to heal the sick through the efficacy of prayer, and he practiced this healing not only for himself but for many others. An instance is related where he restored himself to health almost immediately, from a severe fever which had hung upon him for several days, by asking God's direct help and by revolving in his mind and contemplating some of the very Scriptural passages to which I have called your attention. It is also matter of record, in connection with the Methodist Episcopal church, that when the bishops of that denomination are ordained they are counseled, among other things, to heal the sick, not as educated physicians, not with drugs, but by virtue of their office.
Does this plain Biblical authority, with its corroborative history, both sacred and secular, count for nothing now? Has it no meaning for us today? Have we a right to wipe it all out, or to declare it obsolete? Let us think a moment. If a part of Jesus' great commandment has become obsolete, then it is mere dead letter, and each of us would have a right at pleasure to take pen and ink and blot it out. We surely have the same right to blot it out physically that we have to blot it out mentally. Christian Scientists do not admit this right nor seek to exercise it.
Jesus Healing of the Sick
A few words as to Jesus' healing of the sick. Often when he healed a sick person he said to him, in substance, Go, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you. When he healed the man sick of the palsy he said to him: "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee." He evidently recognized a connection between some kind of sin this man had been committing and the sickness which was upon him, but he did not denounce the poor fellow because he was sick as the result of his sins. He made no threats of eternal punishment toward him, nor did he pronounce upon him a verdict of incurability or of death. He did nothing to frighten, but everything to encourage him. He bade him be of good cheer, and at the same time he pronounced his sins forgiven, he declared his sickness healed, and told him to arise, take up his bed, and go into his house; which he did. In recognizing the fact that sin was the cause of much of the sickness of his time, to say the least, Jesus was only recognizing that of which we are bound to take notice today, if we take notice of anything. Had we the power now, and did we exercise it, to remove from the world all the sickness and disease, the sorrow, grief, woe, suffering, and death resulting from some kind of sinful, or wrongful, or foolish living, thereby we would verify, almost literally, the possibility of doing the works which Jesus said must be done by those who believe on him. Take the great sin, the stupendous folly of intemperance, the excessive use of intoxicating liquors: had we the power this moment to remove from the world all the sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, woe, suffering, poverty, and death resulting from this one form of sinful or foolish living, thereby we would transform this earth into almost a paradise. I refer to this sin because it stands out conspicuously. We know it to be a prolific source of many kinds of sickness and all the consequences thereof. There are other causes of a mental character, such as worry, anxiety, discouragement, and melancholia, with their long train of physical disorders. Take the business world: how many men and women become sick, and how many die as the result of business worry and disappointment and discouragement and defeat, and how many seek to escape from their sufferings through suicide.
The Christian Scientist, in his analysis of the causes of sickness, goes farther and tells you that there are yet other causes, mental in origin, such as anger and malice and hatred, lust and jealousy, and the spirit of revenge and kindred mental qualities. We know that people sometimes get sick and sometimes die in fits of passion. These other qualities, harbored, are not less harmful, and if they be not overcome, sooner or later manifest themselves in the form of so-called physical diseases.
Having thus briefly referred to the causes of sickness and its consequences, what shall we say of the real remedy therefore? Can we hope for final and radical healing of sickness and disease resulting directly or indirectly from the causes referred to, through any power or efficacy contained in inanimate drugs? Can the drug enter human thought and regulate wrong conditions there? Can it destroy wrong mental appetites and desires? If it could do this, it would be both powerful and intelligent. If it could really heal under such circumstances, it would be the very god that some honest people believe it to be. And what shall we say of surgery? Can the surgeon's knife cut out wrong mental conditions or remove wrong appetites and passions? The utmost that is claimed for it is that it may in some cases remove the physical effects of these. In saying this, I wish to cast no reflections upon the professions of medicine and surgery. From their standpoint, they are doing the best they can. Their purpose is right, for it is to alleviate human suffering and stay the ravages of diseases; but allowing to these professions all the credit to which they can possibly be entitled, the question recurs, and to those who are at all awakened to this great question, keeps recurring, and like Banquo's ghost, will not down at their bidding, viz.: Can inert drugs and medicines or the surgeon's knife really heal diseases which are the result of wrong thoughts, wrong mental conditions, or wrong habits of thinking?
In speaking of sin and its consequences, we do not wish to be understood as saying that all who get sick are sick as the result of any conscious or willful wrong-doing on their part. Some of the best people in the world seem to suffer most. Some of the most refined and sensitive natures seem to succumb most rapidly to the ravages of disease. What we do wish to be understood as saying is, that we are all suffering, in greater or less degree, as the result of long ages of wrong human conditions or human error; long ages of living too far away from God and His divine law; long ages of too great failure to study and understand and apply the teachings of the Bible, and especially the teachings of the great Founder of the Christian religion. Hence the necessity of mankind awakening to a higher and truer sense of the cause and cure of sickness and disease. Hence the need of the establishment of that church whose purpose and mission are to "reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing."
This is the purpose of the Christian Science Church. This is the single life-purpose of the Discoverer and Founder and Leader of Christian Science. To this great end she wrote and published and promulgated the Christian Science textbook, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." To this great end she organized The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, with all of its branches. To this great end she caused to be established a Christian Science literature, which is so rapidly reaching out and leavening human thought. To this great end she caused to be ordained as the only pastor of the Christian Science Church, the Bible and its "Key," the Christian Science textbook. To this great end the Lesson-Sermons, selected from the Bible and the Christian Science textbook, are read each Sabbath all over this land and in other lands. To this great end every legitimate means of spreading this great truth is resorted to, that the public may be informed thereof and avail themselves of its blessings and benefits if they desire.
In thus endeavoring to obey the teachings of Christ Jesus in all their fullness, and to establish upon earth his complete gospel, are Mrs. Eddy and her adherents doing rightly or wrongly? Are they or are they not entitled to the good will and the good fellowship of all who desire a full reign of Christ's gospel in the earth, a complete redemption of humanity from all its sins, its sorrows, its griefs, its woes, its sicknesses, and its deaths?
May we not fairly ask our friends of all Christian churches: If it is right to do or to attempt a part of the works which Jesus said must be done by those who believe on him, is it not right in a greater measure to do or to attempt all of such works? If, on the other hand, it is wrong to do or to attempt all of those works, it is wrong in relative degree to do or to attempt a part of those works. How, then, can any one who claims to be a follower of the Christ consistently disavow or denounce the teachings of Christian Science and the glorious results thereof?
Christian Scientists do not claim to be able at this period to do all the works that Jesus and some of his disciples did, but they do sincerely claim to be making an honest and united effort in that direction, and even thus far their labors have been crowned with such wondrous and gratifying success that they may well be encouraged to go on and on in the Christ way, with the full hope and expectation and assurance that if they are true to their sacred trust, sooner or later there shall be accomplished here upon this earth all of the great works that Jesus did and taught his disciples to do, and which he commanded them to hand down to all the nations of the world, as we have clearly shown. Not only so, but the greater works of which he prophesied shall also be accomplished.
[Published in pamphlet form by The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1909.]