Christian Science by Mark Twain
"For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him." --CHRIST JESUS.
The prayer that reclaims the sinner and heals the sick, is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God--a spiritual understanding of Him--an unselfed love. Regardless of what another may say or think on this subject, I speak from experience. This prayer, combined with self- sacrifice and toil, is the means whereby God has enabled me to do what I have done for the religion and health of mankind.
Thoughts unspoken are not unknown to the divine Mind. Desire is prayer; and no less can occur from trusting God with our desires, that they may be moulded and exalted before they take form in audible word, and in deeds.
What are the motives for prayer? Do we pray to make ourselves better, or to benefit those that hear us; to enlighten the Infinite, or to be heard of men? Are we benefited by praying? Yes, the desire which goes forth hungering after righteousness is blessed of our Father, and it does not return unto us void.
God is not moved by the breath of praise to do more than He has already done; nor can the Infinite do less than bestow all good, since He is unchanging Wisdom and Love. We can do more for ourselves by humble fervent petitions; but the All-loving does not grant them simply on the ground of lip-service, for He already knows all.
Prayer cannot change the Science of Being, but it does bring us into harmony with it. Goodness reaches the demonstration of Truth. A request that another may work for us never does our work. The habit of pleading with the divine Mind, as one pleads with a human being, perpetuates the belief in God as humanly circumscribed--an error which impedes spiritual growth.
God is Love. Can we ask Him to be more? God is Intelligence. Can we inform the infinite Mind, or tell Him anything He does not already comprehend? Do we hope to change perfection? Shall we plead for more at the open fount, which always pours forth more than we receive? The unspoken prayer does bring us nearer the Source of all existence and blessedness.
Asking God to be God is a "vain repetition." God is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever"; and He who is immutably right will do right, without being reminded of His province. The wisdom of man is not sufficient to warrant him in advising God.
Who would stand before a blackboard, and pray the principle of mathematics to work out the problem? The rule is already established, and it is our task to work out the solution. Shall we ask the divine Principle of all goodness to do His own work? His work is done; and we have only to avail ourselves of God's rule, in order to receive the blessing thereof.
The divine Being must be reflected by man--else man is not the image and likeness of the patient, tender, and true, the one "altogether lovely"; but to understand God is the work of eternity, and demands absolute concentration of thought and energy.
How empty are our conceptions of Deity! We admit theoretically that God is good, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinite, and then we try to give information to this infinite Mind; and plead for unmerited pardon, and a liberal outpouring of benefactions. Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more. Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks Action expresses more gratitude than speech.
If we are ungrateful for Life, Truth, and Love, and yet return thanks to God for all blessings, we are insincere; and incur the sharp censure our Master pronounces on hypocrites. In such a case the only acceptable prayer is to put the finger on the lips and remember our blessings. While the heart is far from divine Truth and Love, we cannot conceal the ingratitude of barren lives, for God knoweth all things.
What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds. To keep the commandments of our Master and follow his example, is our proper debt to Him, and the only worthy evidence of our gratitude for all He has done. Outward worship is not of itself sufficient to express loyal and heartfelt gratitude, since He has said: "If ye love Me, keep My Commandments."
The habitual struggle to be always good, is unceasing prayer. Its motives are made manifest in the blessings they bring --which, if not acknowledged in audible words, attest our worthiness to be made partakers of Love.
Simply asking that we may love God will never make us love Him; but the longing to be better and holier--expressed in daily watchfulness, and in striving to assimilate more of the divine character--this will mould and fashion us anew, until we awake in His likeness. We reach the Science of Christianity through demonstration of the divine nature; but in this wicked world goodness will "be evil spoken of," and patience must work experience.
Audible prayer can never do the works of spiritual understanding, which regenerates; but silent prayer, watchfulness, and devout obedience, enable us to follow Jesus' example. Long prayers, ecclesiasticism, and creeds, have clipped the divine pinions of Love, and clad religion in human robes. They materialize worship, hinder the Spirit, and keep man from demonstrating his power over error.
Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform, and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by Wisdom is the test of our sincerity--namely, reformation. To this end we are placed under the stress of circumstances. Temptation bids us repeat the offence, and woe comes in return for what is done. So it will ever be, till we learn that there is no discount in the law of justice, and that we must pay "the uttermost farthing." The measure ye mete "shall be measured to you again," and it will be full "and running over."
Saints and sinners get their full award, but not always in this world. The followers of Christ drank His cup. Ingratitude and persecution filled it to the brim; but God pours the riches of His love into the understanding and affections, giving us strength according to our day. Sinners flourish "like a green bay-tree"; but, looking farther, the Psalmist could see their end--namely, the destruction of sin through suffering.
Prayer is sometimes used, as a confessional to cancel sin. This error impedes true religion. Sin is forgiven, only as it is destroyed by Christ-Truth and Life If prayer nourishes the belief that sin is cancelled, and that man is made better by merely praying, it is an evil. He grows worse who continues in sin because he thinks himself forgiven.
An apostle says that the Son of God (Christ) came to "destroy the works of the devil." We should follow our divine Exemplar, and seek the destruction of all evil works, error and disease included. We cannot escape the penalty due for sin. The Scriptures say, that if we deny Christ, "He also will deny us."
The divine Love corrects and governs man. Men may pardon, but this divine Principle alone reforms the sinner. God is not separate from the wisdom He bestows. The talents He gives we must improve. Calling on Him to forgive our work, badly done or left undone, implies the vain supposition that we have nothing to do but to ask pardon, and that afterwards we shall be free to repeat the offence.
To cause suffering, as the result of sin, is the means of destroying sin. Every supposed pleasure in sin will furnish more than its equivalent of pain, until belief in material life and sin is destroyed. To reach heaven, the harmony of Being, we must understand the divine Principle of Being.
"God is Love." More than this we cannot ask; higher we cannot look; farther we cannot go. To suppose that God forgives or punishes sin, according as His mercy is sought or unsought, is to misunderstand Love and make prayer the safety-valve for wrong-doing.
Jesus uncovered and rebuked sin before He cast it out. Of a sick woman He said that Satan had bound her; and to Peter He said, "Thou art an offense unto me." He came teaching and showing men how to destroy sin, sickness, and death. He said of the fruitless tree, "It is hewn down."
It is believed by many that a certain magistrate, who lived in the time of Jesus, left this record: "His rebuke is fearful." The strong language of our Master confirms this description.
The only civil sentence which He had for error was, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." Still stronger evidence that Jesus' reproof was pointed and pungent is in His own words--showing the necessity for such forcible utterance, when He cast out devils and healed the sick and sinful. The relinquishment of error deprives material sense of its false claims.
Audible prayer is impressive; it gives momentary solemnity and elevation to thought; but does it produce any lasting benefit? Looking deeply into these things, we find that "a zeal . . . not according to knowledge," gives occasion for reaction unfavorable to spiritual growth, sober resolve, and wholesome perception of God's requirements. The motives for verbal prayer may embrace too much love of applause to induce or encourage Christian sentiment.
Physical sensation, not Soul, produces material ecstasy, and emotions. If spiritual sense always guided men at such times, there would grow out of those ecstatic moments a higher experience and a better life, with more devout self-abnegation, and purity. A self-satisfied ventilation of fervent sentiments never makes a Christian. God is not influenced by man. The "divine ear" is not an auditoria! nerve. It is the all- hearing and all-knowing Mind, to whom each want of man is always known, and by whom it will be supplied.
The danger from audible prayer is, that it may lead us into temptation. By it we may become involuntary hypocrites, uttering desires which are not real, and consoling ourselves in the midst of sin, with the recollection that we have prayed over it --or mean to ask forgiveness at some later day. Hypocrisy is fatal to religion.
A wordy prayer may afford a quiet sense of self-justification, though it makes the sinner a hypocrite. We never need despair of an honest heart, but there is little hope for those who only come spasmodically face to face with their wickedness, and then seek to hide it. Their prayers are indexes which do not correspond with their character. They hold secret fellowship with sin; and such externals are spoken of by Jesus as "like unto whited sepulchres . . . full of all uncleanness."
If a man, though apparently fervent and prayerful, is impure, and therefore insincere, what must be the comment upon him? If he had reached the loftiness of his prayer, there would be no occasion for such comment. If we feel the aspiration, humility, gratitude, and love which our words express--this God accepts; and it is wise not to try to deceive our. selves or others, for "there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed." Professions and audible prayers are like charity in one respect --they "cover a multitude of sins." Praying for humility, with whatever fervency of expression, does not always mean a desire for it. If we turn away from the poor, we are not ready to receive the reward of Him who blesses the poor. We confess to having a very wicked heart, and ask that it may be laid bare before us; but do we not already know more of this heart than we are willing to have our neighbor see?
We ought to examine ourselves, and learn what is the affection and purpose of the heart; for this alone can show us what we honestly are. If a friend informs us of a fault, do we listen to the rebuke patiently, and credit what is said? Do we not rather give thanks that we are "not as other men?" During many years the author has been most grateful for merited rebuke. The sting lies in unmerited censure--in the falsehood which does no one any good.
The test of all prayer lies in the answer to these questions: Do we love our neighbor better because of this asking? Do we pursue the old selfishness, satisfied with having prayed for something better, though we give no evidence of the sincerity of our requests by living consistently with our prayer? If selfishness has given place to kindness, we shall regard our neighbor unselfishly, and bless them that curse us; but we shall never meet this great duty by simply asking that it may be done. There is a cross to be taken up, before we can enjoy the fruition of our hope and faith.
Dost thou "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind?" This command includes much--even the surrender of all merely material sensation, affection, and worship. This is the El Dorado of Christianity. It involves the Science of Life, and recognizes only the divine control of Spirit, wherein Soul is our master, and material sense and human will have no place.
Are you willing to leave all for Christ, for Truth, and so be counted among sinners? No! Do you really desire to attain this point? No! Then why make long prayers about it, and ask to be Christians, since you care not to tread in the footsteps of our dear Master? If unwilling to follow His example, wherefore pray with the lips that you may be partakers of His nature? Consistent prayer is the desire to do right. Prayer means that we desire to, and will, walk in the light so far as we receive it, even though with bleeding footsteps, and waiting patiently on the Lord, will leave our real desires to be rewarded by Him.
The world must grow to the spiritual understanding of prayer. If good enough to profit by Jesus' cup of earthly sorrows, God will sustain us under these sorrows. Until we are thus divinely qualified, and willing to drink His cup, millions of vain repetitions will never pour into prayer the unction of Spirit, in demonstration of power, and "with signs following." Christian Science reveals a necessity for overcoming the world, the flesh and evil, and thus destroying all error.
Seeking is not sufficient. It is striving which enables us to enter. Spiritual attainments open the door to a higher understanding of the divine Life.
One of the forms of worship in Thibet is to carry a praying-machine through the streets, and stop at the doors to earn a penny by grinding out a prayer; whereas civilization pays for clerical prayers, in lofty edifices. Is the difference very great, after all?
Experience teaches us that we do not always receive the blessings we ask for in prayer.
There is some misapprehension of the source and means of all goodness and blessedness, or we should certainly receive what we ask for. The Scriptures say: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." What we desire and ask for it is not always best for us to receive. In this case infinite Love will not grant the request. Do you ask Wisdom to be merciful and not punish sin? Then "ye ask amiss." Without punishment, sin would multiply. Jesus' prayer, "forgive us our debts," specified also the terms of forgiveness. When forgiving the adulterous woman He said, "Go, and sin no more."
A magistrate sometimes remits the penalty, but this may be no moral benefit to the criminal; and at best, it only saves him from one form of punishment. The moral law, which has the right to acquit or condemn, always demands restitution, before mortals can "go up higher." Broken law brings penalty, in order to compel this progress.
Mere legal pardon (and there is no other, for divine Principle never pardons our sins or mistakes till they are corrected) leaves the offender free to repeat the offense; if, indeed, he has not already suffered sufficiently from vice to make him turn from it with loathing. Truth bestows no pardon upon error, but wipes it out in the most effectual manner. Jesus suffered for our sins, not to annul the divine sentence against an individual's sin, but to show that sin must bring inevitable suffering.
Petitions only bring to mortals the results of their own faith. We know that a desire for holiness is requisite in order to gain it; but if we desire holiness above all else, we shall sacrifice everything for it. We must be willing to do this, that we may walk securely in the only practical road to holiness. Prayer alone cannot change the unalterable Truth, or give us an understanding of it; but prayer coupled with a fervent habitual desire to know and do the will of God will bring us into all Truth. Such a desire has little need of audible expression. It is best expressed in thought and life.