"Spiritual Health and Healing"
by Horatio Dresser
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Horatio Dresser was one of the great American philosophers of the early 20th Century. His books were widely read but few are still in print, and this one has not been available for many, many years. This eBook contains the full text of the 1922 edition.
INTEREST in spiritual healing has reached a point where it is no longer necessary to dwell on such elementary matters as the influ-ence of fear and worry, the power of suggestion and the utilizing of the subconscious. These considerations are now taken for granted by those who believe that inner healing is more than mental. Suggestion is not regarded as decisive except by those who would ignore the spiritual life and limit healing to the sphere of psycho-logy. For those of us who believe that the spiritual life is insepar-able from true spiritual healing, the question of mental influences and mental methods is forever secondary. It ought rather to be a question of cultivating the mode of life which produces spiritual health. All our efforts should be constructive. Our clues should be drawn from the ideal, not through study of conditions which prod-uce disease.
To be normal, to live in spiritual health is to be in accord with the universe: to think, will, live by the Divine order. Spiritual health is the standard set for man by God's purpose in bringing him into being. It is man's birthright as heir of the heavenly kingdom. It is inherent in his nature as created in the Divine image and likeness. Jesus came among us to disclose that standard in its fulness, and establish it in the minds and hearts of men by inspiring works and words. He promised greater works when it should become a social ideal. He taught that wisdom which should become man's guide in living the life which produces health and freedom. A spiritual science was implied in those teachings. A spiritual art was exemp-lified by those works and words of healing. Those who would be true followers ought to give this science first place, taking the clue from Christ as archetype.
spiritual health begins from above and works down, from within and
Ordinary healing is from below and is concerned with measures of relief
improvement of man's material environment. Christ bids man so live that
shall always radiate from him as virtue radiates from one whose
"to do good." Thus health is made a secondary consideration in
comparison with that larger, more splendid life which manifests health
of the signs of its beauty. Health is to be a result of the abundant
will come as a consequence, just as our tastes change, our manners
gentle, our affections more constant, our faces more radiant through
touch of the Spirit.
The chief need at present is for a clearer statement of the ideas which lead beyond mental to spiritual healing. Some teachers would put the whole matter in the present tense, affirming the ideal as realized now, making light of the natural world with its opportunities, and passing by the ages of philosophic thought. Hence they would identify man in his real selfhood with "the Christ within" and end the matter with ever-varying affirmations turning upon one idea. Others would maintain that we make no headway except through acknowledgement of "the light of Christ in the soul" as leading us on to greater and greater attainments. While they would agree that man in spirit already exists in the Divine image and likeness, they would find reality and meaning in his progress from stage to stage in the natural world. It would seem clear that the truth of the Christ is too great and too wonderful to be apprehended except as man looks up to the Master, admitting that he has more and more to learn. It is this view which we plead for. A new statement of this ideal is called for because the trend of thought among people interested in inner healing is too much the other way. We hope to show that this philosophy of upliftment toward the Christ is the true view of spiritual healing.
A word seems to be called for concerning "A History of the New Thought Movement," 1919. Some reviewers have complained because I did not indulge in adverse criticisms. But I had supposed a historian should be impartial. I was telling a story, not comment-ing on its reality or truth. In other volumes, especially "A Hand-book of the New Thought," 1917, I had made critical estimates enough; pointing out that the psychology of the New Thought is one-sided, that some leaders tend to exalt the human self so as to make it a god, thereby advocating egotism instead of spiritual healing. My interest in the movement was to call attention afresh to its beginnings, in order to emphasize the fact that the therapeutic movement had not realized its spiritual standard. Since 1919, the remaining branches of the movement, save one, have been united in an effort to make the Christ the cardinal principle. It is now a question of looking forward to see what the movement will make of the Christ as its ideal.
Critics of New Thought and Christian Science in its various forms have pointed out that we are not "parts" of God, because God is one and indivisible; that man is not "life in itself," for God only is life in itself; that man is not "one with God," but may be conjoined with Him through responsiveness: hence that man's recipiency of life is measured by his love, not by his affirmation or thought. These discriminations point the way beyond mysticism and panth-eism in all its forms, beyond self-centredness and mere thought to the ideal of constancy of love for God and man in frank recognition of our sonship. The whole outlook changes with the adoption of this higher point of view. We realize that the spiritual life has hardly begun, since it is rather a gift of the Spirit in us than the work of our efforts at self-control and efficiency in the use of thought. It changes too because we adopt the idea of a spiritual incoming of power, touching the inmost being first, then quick-ening the understanding, spreading through mental life as a whole. The ideal is no longer a mere settling down into self in poise and composure, as if we had nothing to acknowledge and nothing to overcome; it is the attainment of inner openness to the Spirit, that the Divine life may freely course through all channels. It means that regeneration is still essential, hence that we need to make ready by purifying our desires, living on simpler food, keeping closer to nature, and avoiding anything like drugs and stimulants which clog and impede.
Right thinking assumes its proper place at
instrumental to right living. The life is a test in a far deeper way
had realized. There is something better than being either healed or
need a nobler prevailing love. We need practical Christ-ianity in all
fulness. We need the inner or spiritual Word. We need the living
glorified Lord. This is the great truth of the New Age. Interest in
healing is one of the tendencies of life today which point to this
have not begun to interpret it aright until we regard the healing
this its relation to the new time. We may therefore pass beyond the
and extravagant claims in quest of the really spiritual element. The
reader will find in these pages a very different way of stating the
matter, and will proceed to test it by direct reference to life, in
with the mere criticism of theories.
THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT
Two generations ago, in a small New England city, a promising young man of twenty-two lay apparently at the point of death. On both sides of his house the ancestors were physically weak, and all save two in a family of nine had already passed from this life when our record begins. The young man of whom we are speaking was frail in physique. There seemed to be little power of resistance to withstand the oncoming of a disease ordinarily accounted fatal as matters go in this world of allegiance to material things. In type he was spiritually minded and highly intuitive, inclined to think for himself and exercise rights of individual initiative. He was zealous in religion, devoted to the church, eager in fact to prepare himself for the ministry if his health should permit the completion of his college course. On the side of faith as conventionally understood nothing more could indeed have been asked.
He had joined the church at sixteen with a large measure of emo-tional enthusiasm. He regularly attended all services and was especially zealous in prayer-meeting. He was a Calvinist, however, in the thorough-going sense of the word. God to him was little more than a Man seated on a white throne of authority outside the world, a God to be admired with awesome reverence rather than a Father to be loved. Naturally our young man, devout as he was, had no idea of the power of divine love as an indwelling presence to be sought as one might turn to a friend. Christianity was a doctrine of salvation interpreted as a Baptist of the period under-stood it. Salvation as thus conceived by no means included the problems of bodily weakness and ill-health. Prayer was for certain purposes. The observances decreed by the church were to be rigidly adhered to, leaving mundane matters for consideration in their proper place. Among these matters was the question of dis-ease, and the physicians of the old school had apparently done their utmost to save this young man.
Then there came from a wholly unexpected source a marvellous change into this young life. This change not only meant that he was rescued from the abyss of death by spiritual means when material methods had failed, but that he was given a new impetus and an understanding of life which enabled him to live on this earth during many years of great usefulness. It will be worthwhile considering what wrought the change, why it could be so pro-nounced in the case of a man emphatically spiritual in type, genuinely a Christian as the Gospel was then understood.
There came as if heaven-sent a man whose work among the sick had no place among therapeutic systems commonly known as scientific. He did not give medicines or drugs. He had no system of physical treatment. Nor did he even diagnose disease by its symp-toms, or inquire into verdicts pronounced by those competent to make a diagnosis. He received as patients those whose faith gave them impetus enough to visit his office or send for him. Without asking questions, he sat meditatively by his patients to gather whatever impressions might come intuitively by his own way of seeking such discernment. Having gained his impression and sought light on the problem before him, he put his mind through a realization akin to prayer as an act of worship, but more effective than such prayers as our young man was to hear on Friday even-ings at church. He believed that God is directly accessible through prayer, yet with additional faith in the immediate response of the human spirit as potential master of the body. This definite and practical faith implied the utilizing of healing power to restore the body through the spirit. Proceeding by his own method, he ventured to seek help from within when all hope of a cure through conventional methods had passed. For in his practice with the sick he was not governed by outward appearances or even by signs which indicate the nearby presence of death. What signified was the state of a person's spirit and the possibility of leading a respon-sive person into the light out of the darkness of threatening miseries and fears.
Many people were restored to health by this true believer in the presence of God, some of whom became active workers when they grasped the principle. The world has since become familiar with the idea of mental healing, and is quick to arrive at the conclusion that this is what one means, namely, that by the influence of one mind on another through "suggestion" changes are wrought which physical means fail to accomplish. But here our account would end if this were an adequate explanation. Our reason for telling about the marvellous result accomplished in this young man's life is found in the fact that the change was more than victory over death and the successful staying of a disease presumably fatal. It will hardly be possible to see the meaning of this profound turning of a young life from one channel into another if we look at it as a mental cure. The change was the equivalent of a conversion and much more, if by a conversion we mean the adoption of a creed which makes of a worldly man a follower of Christ. For this young man had already given himself to Christ. Strange to relate, in adopting the teachings of the new therepeutist he renounced the church as an organization, together with all its observances, also his desire to become a minister. Yet on the other hand he became more faithfully a follower of Christ than before.
The apparent paradox is resolved when we note that the transition was from the Calvinistic deity to faith in God as immanent, loving, guiding Father, immediate and accessible, in a sense as intimate as that of our own self-consciousness when aware that there is an ideal self within us, when we will to have that self become actual in daily life. It meant the conviction that the true God is already present in our spirit to uplift and make us free as rapidly as we come to recognize and respond, admitting the divine life into all parts of our being. It signified the disclosure of the original gospel of health and freedom taught and proved by the Master. Sectarian Christianity no longer existed for him. He reacted against its limitations as against the faults of medical science and practice. Yet he did not in any sense cease to believe in Christ as the true Saviour of the world.
That his was a genuine conversion in the practical sense of the word was shown by the fact that, once restored to active service, he began to live by what to him was a new gospel and to give his time to spreading this gospel in the world. We naturally look for differ-ent signs if we gain this point of view, and we are not surprised when we find a person somewhat critical of the old order of thought. For the reaction, in the case of a man who discards theol-ogy as a formulated scheme but retains religion, is in favor of what is spiritually essential. It is constructive and worthy of being reg-arded from within. Intellectually it is critical because the under-standing must be clarified. Spiritually it assimilates all that was best in the type of thought that has been discarded.
Later, our young man was fond of saying that one must set aside all preconceptions for the time being, to grasp the new point of view as a "spiritual science." So we too must neglect for the moment ideas which are familiar and toward which we strongly incline, if we shall enter sympathetically into a spirit of truth capable of giving a creative impetus in Christian life. This is not easy for those who judge by doctrines in contrast with experience disclosing new fields.
involved the idea that Christ is not a Person in the sense in which
believers associate the Son with the Father in the Trinity. The leading
was that Christ was divine wisdom taught and exemplified by the
personality, Jesus of Nazareth, whom we begin truly to understand when
this discrimination. The extent to which such a distinction is
interpretation of the Gospels is a question which we postpone for the
being. We are now concerned with its practical consequences through
"the light of Christ in the soul," the living Christ near to the
heart of every sincere believer, the divine wisdom and love made
our needs and aspirations.
characteristic of the healer who restored our young man was
humility, an exceptional combination of true receptivity interposing no
obstacle and an affirmativeness reaching beyond what ordinary
venture to claim. This is vastly different from attributing all virtue
finite self. It calls for much more thorough renovation of one's life
usually expected by priest or physician, each of whom ordinarily asks
reform but half a man. It means taking life seriously indeed, yet with
a joy, a
benefit, a freedom, with powers of service beyond comparison.
Too often we judge a human life by its failures, by disfigurements and injuries which do not wholly disappear, by apparent lapses and inconsistencies. We should gain the point of view of the achieving spirit, taking up one phase of life after another as steadily as each can be understood and brought into line. The perfect demonstration will come only when the entire human race is regenerated. No one can truly know himself in the profounder sense save as a, member of a human family whose weaknesses and ignorance he shares when he starts on the long road. No one can begin truly to be free unless he extends a helping hand to fellow mortals. Indeed, one may begin thus genuinely to serve while struggling to get on one's feet out of quagmires of inheritance which seem overwhelming.
The spiritual life is a progress, not a leap. What one claims who adopts Christ as guide, in preference to sciences and methods which approach man from the outside, is that the wisdom which proves itself by its works here and now can be carried on to the perfect demonstration.
young man had
all the obstacles he could contend with during years when people were
for the truth he saw. But these were given him, let us say, not to make
of, not to run away from, but to face, to call out his courage and his
he might learn the law of Christ, live by it and help others to live by
spirit could not have begun to be supreme save through obstacles in the
and his environment over which to become triumphant. The turning-point
with him when he realized that infinite resources of divine love and
were ready at hand within him.
are apt to
think when we believe rightly that the rest will follow, as zealous
have thought all through the ages, with their doctrine of "faith
alone." We are apt to think that it is sufficient to see nearby causes
our unhappiness, and make some slight change. But a spiritual
life calls upon us to trace matters to the end, not stopping with
The finding of the way back to health is secondary to the discovery of the kind of life we might have lived had we always kept close to God, had we drawn upon divine resources, practised divine wis-dom, manifested divine love, outwardly as well as inwardly in spiritual health. The power of the spirit to keep the way, to live by the truth, attain the life, is a greater consideration than the power to regain the way when we have missed it. For Christ is affirmative in us. The Christ is the true science of right living, and only indirectly the corrective of our errors. We are bidden to judge by the ideal, the normal, and to expand our life to its full proportions. We are bidden to find the kingdom which is within and to live by its law. This the power of the Spirit is able to accomplish through us. This gives the impetus which makes daily life a joy in the presence of our friends and our God.