The Necessity for Individual Work
From the Christian Science Sentinel, March 18, 1911, by Samuel Greenwood
The desire to be good is the first essential to living a good life; but this desire alone does not bring that knowledge of God which overcomes the sense of evil. There must also be the willingness to give effect to desire, the readiness to work one’s way out of error, to be what one desires to be, else the mortal will stagnate at that point, passively submissive to a false concept of being. Jesus preached the gospel of work as well as of faith and prayer, and at no time encouraged the hope that the kingdom of heaven could be won without striving for it. Even at the eleventh hour, according to the parable, the call comes to work. “The works that I do shall he do also,” was Jesus’ message to his followers in all ages.
The Master and his apostles taught the necessity of working out one’s own salvation, but not since the early days of Christianity has this necessity been so urged upon the attention of mankind, nor the way thereof made so plain, as in the advent of Christian Science. Appeals for righteousness have not been wanting, and much good has resulted in restraining the evil impulses of mortals, but the doctrine that sin is pardoned without personal reformation has obscured the demand which divine Principle makes upon each individual to work out his own problem. The ignorance of God that holds mankind in the sense of sin and its effects can be removed only through a knowledge of God; and this knowledge is Science, and Science requires demonstration, and demonstration involves work. One may theoretically believe himself to be a son of God, without manifesting Godlike qualities; but a knowledge of this fact put into practice, and this alone, enables a Christian to follow his Master in deed as well as in doctrine.
Human doctrines and dogmas that tend to remove the responsibility for individual purification are not divinely authorized, in that they do not benefit mankind. It is true in spiritual as in temporal things, that what one would possess without effort on his own part is not prized like the good which he himself strives for. Undeserved blessings are seldom appreciated or retained, because no place has been prepared for them. To transport a sensuous mortal into the spiritual atmosphere and environment of heaven, even if this were possible, would not bring him joy, for only as thought grows spiritual is one ready for this translation. Evil is tormented at the very thought of good, hence the unrighteous could never be at peace in the presence of God. Harmonious conditions are realized as the individual becomes conscious of good, but only as the sense of evil is overcome and put out of thought can this consciousness be reached. All mortals have faith in good, in the sense of intellectual belief, but faith must crystallize into earnest activity, and be the mainspring of Christian service, in order to qualify one for heavenly experiences.
In his story “A Rough Shaking,” George Macdonald writes: “[Men] are willing enough to be made noble; but that is very different from being willing to be noble: that takes trouble. How can any one become noble who desires it so little as not to fight for it?” So, while all mankind desire salvation from the effects of their belief in evil, comparatively few are willing to labor for it to the extent of overcoming this belief itself. They would accept salvation as a gift, if they might, but to struggle moment by moment, day in and day out, to have only that Mind which was in Christ Jesus, requires more than most mortals are willing to do. How, then, can they believe themselves fit for heaven, even if its doors were opened to them? For what do men know of harmony or righteousness or love outside the state of their own consciousness? What can any one know of God beyond the measure that good occupies his thought and activity?
The popular belief that heaven is an unknown locality leaves mankind without a clue to its whereabouts or the mode of reaching it; but the Master’s teaching, that the kingdom of heaven is within one’s own consciousness, reveals that the way thereto lies through right thinking and right living; and this is not accomplished by faith alone, but through overcoming. Heaven is not entered, here or hereafter, except as the Father’s will is done; and the doing of this will, to the human sense, is the destruction of all evil works, the correction of the belief in a power opposed to God. The test of one’s Christianity is not his faith but his work, not what he believes but what he does, not his church standing but his spiritual growth and demonstration; for the only value of a religious belief is the effect it produces. Since the material concept includes all sin and suffering, it is evident that heaven is not to be found in material sense, and can be reached only as human thought is spiritualized. Are Christians willing to begin this spiritual journey, to take up arms against the claims of material sense, to deny whatever would hinder the coming of the kingdom of heaven in their own consciousness? Are we ready to work as well as to pray for the good we desire?
In fulfilling his mission Jesus traversed through and out of the belief of life in matter, and declared that there is no other way by which we can go to the Father than that which he taught. The Christ-way is the way of triumph over the flesh, but the dense materialism that continued through successive ages, permeating every system of religion and medicine, obscured this spiritual way until it was discovered anew in Christian Science. Before this discovery it does not seem to have been clearly recognized, except by the Master and his disciples, that spiritualization of thought is the only door to heaven and immortality; nor was this process made scientifically demonstrable and brought within the mental compass and capacity of mortals until the publication of the Christian Science text-book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy. Through this teaching, humanity is beginning to learn the meaning, purpose, and scope of Christianity, and the possibility of reaching, even here, a higher spiritual sense of life.
Until the desire for good is expressed in the effort to be Godlike, it is not an effective factor in the working out of human salvation. When one becomes willing to do that which God requires of him, at whatever cost, he is where God can reach him with the wisdom and strength necessary for this work; but thought must free itself from the belief in matter to obey the call of Spirit. When the prodigal had sounded the emptiness of the material sense of existence, when he realized that it had nothing good to offer him, he said, “I will arise and go to my father;” and he arose and retraced his way until his father met and welcomed him. Had he remained idly content with believing in his father’s goodness, or longing for the plenty of his house, the prodigal would not have found his way home. What was required of him is required of all mortals; namely, to arise and go to the Father, to put good desires into action in working out of the delusions of a false sense.
The necessity of work as well as of faith is emphasized in Christian Science. In “Pulpit and Press” (p. 10), Mrs. Eddy speaks of “the deadened conscience, paralyzed by inactive faith,” and this conscience must be quickened to a sense of Christ’s demands and of individual responsibility. A thorough study of the letter of Christian Science is requisite, but the student must walk in the way this Science points out if he would prove for himself its blessedness and power and rise above the fears and failures of erroneous belief. The true understanding of Christian Science leads to intelligent activity in the overcoming of both sin and sickness, and unless this activity is present the student has not grasped the vital purpose of this teaching.
Christian Science is operative Christianity, and is preeminently a religion of doing; it ever enjoins upon its students the necessity of being “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” The awakening desire among Christian denominations for a broader practice of Christ’s teachings, as well as a stronger faith, indicates the influence of Christian Science upon the religious thought of the age. Christian Scientists do not lack faith, but, as Mrs. Eddy writes in her “Messages to The Mother Church” (p. 57), “they have Science, understanding, and works as well.” A special mission is theirs at this time, to prove the practical applicability of divine Truth to human needs, and to show in their own lives the saving power of Christian Science demonstrated.