THE unbelief which stands in the way of spiritual progress is not so much disbelief of the truth which has been presented, as it is the occupation of the mind with beliefs which are contrary to the truth. Since the mind is thus preoccupied, it has no hospitality for the truth. "Why do ye not understand my speech?" asked Jesus; and in reply he went on to say, "even because ye cannot hear my word." He was speaking to those who claimed to be the children of Abraham without discerning the spirit which had animated Abraham; they were proud of their lineal descent, but unable to discern the qualities of mind which exalted their great ancestor. Their formality and pride prevented them from accepting the teaching which was in accord with the vision and faith of Abraham. Later, Jesus made the sweeping statement, "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." The converse of this would be that they who were of error did not hear, because they were listening for something else than the voice of Truth. "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them," is the explanation given by John, regarding those who affiliate with the "spirit of error."
Unbelief, then, is that condition of mind which is so receptive of erroneous views that the word of Truth seems to be a strange language, and there is no hospitality for its messenger. Disbelief may express itself in argument and controversy, and finally be changed to a new conviction as it yields to facts; but unbelief is of the nature of apathy and deafness, and it is necessary that there should first be an arousing, an awakening, then a clearing of thought, whereby the beliefs in error sheltered in the house of unbelief are dispersed. In speaking of the kind of grieving which effects repentance, Paul said, "For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves."
The abolishment of unbelief is accomplished by such a clearing of thought that wrong beliefs are seen to be without basis, and as they are dispersed there comes a vision of that which has basis and enduring cause. The false sense of man as a composite of sensations, errors, sicknesses, sins, and unsatisfied desires, yields to a vision of the truth of being. As discernment of that on which being depends, the creative power which we name God, becomes clearer, eventually it can be said that by faith we understand what man is; we are able to see the causal connection between the Father and the son who is the expression of the Father's being and character.
When we consider this matter practically we recognize that every argument we use to favor the prepossession that evil is power, whether we give to the argument the name of any one of the thousand diseases which men believe to be hurtful, or the name of any one of the innumerable sins which men believe to be delightful, is really a statement of unbelief in God. Any belief in sickness is really an expression of unbelief in omnipotent goodness; if there were faith, there would be healing. Every sin is an expression of unbelief in omnipotent goodness; if there were faith, there would be righteousness. If men fear evil so as to be sick, and love evil so that they are sinful, what is this but unbelief in the real power which manifests itself in healing and happiness among men? How shall we help this unbelief, or rather help men out of it and bring them into the salvation which comes by faith?
The expression of unbelief may be in a variety of beliefs. In this usage of the word a "belief" is a conviction as to the reality of something not caused by God, and a consequent experience of conditions which correspond to the conviction. James Whitcomb Riley tells a pathetic story of a man who came to believe that he could not speak, and met the love and persuasion of his family with apparent stubbornness in the conviction that it was of no avail to try to use his voice. At last the tenderness of his daughter so touched his own love, that he broke through the barrier of his fear and false belief with answering speech to hers.
In the case of the epileptic boy brought by his father to Jesus after he came down from the mount of transfiguration, the measure of the father's conviction as to his son's affliction was the measure of his unbelief in any healing power. His doubts were confirmed by the failure of the disciples to help him, but his strong belief in the reality and incurable nature of the disease had practically brought the disciples to his way of thinking; hence they were for the time in a state of unbelief. To meet the need of them all, and of the world, Jesus analyzed the error, and sharply rebuked the father of the boy when his recital of the symptoms and manifestation of the disease ended with the doubt,—"If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Jesus replied to him in words that awakened a new sense of the case, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." The man was trying to put the responsibility upon the healer; now he was shown that faith leads to the power which heals, and his heart melted with new love and hope. How graphic is the record: "Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Then followed the healing of the boy, and it was a permanent cure; "the child was cured from that very hour," as one of the evangelists affirms.
The disciples were still puzzled over their failure, and not discerning their Master's method, asked him why they were not able to cast out the demon. Jesus showed them that they were in the same case as the father of the boy, who had a prepossession as to the reality of the disease, and had affected them with the same belief, and thus had brought them into a state of unbelief. "Why could not we cast him out?" asked they. "Because of your unbelief," replied Jesus, with the indisputable authority of the completed demonstration. Furthermore he said, "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."
Further instruction still he gave them, when he said, "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." As ceremonially observed, fasting was merely abstinence from food, or from certain proscribed kinds of food. Of course it cannot be within the power of either fasting or feasting, in a material sense, to deliver one from unbelief; but when we consider how with greediness the mortal mind assimilates the various beliefs in error which human imagination has originated, one can see that a fast from such indiscriminate gorging would be a blessing. Like the "crop-full bird," men become heavy and sordid with their beliefs, and their eyes become too dull to have any vision of divine realities. To fast, in the sense of giving up such sense-gratification, and to pray aright, which is to commune with God, to turn one's thought to the contemplation of that real cause of happiness and well-being for man, that source of life which to every returning prodigal is Father, cannot fail to establish faith in good. The process is well stated by Isaiah: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord." If we recall the word spoken by Jesus in connection with salvation, "With God all things are possible," it must be evident that when through fasting and prayer we both forsake the false belief, and also realize the new vision of divine goodness, we shall be equipped for the work of casting out demons, as the disciples desired to be.
Casting out false beliefs, we assail unbelief; but the mind must not be left empty, lest they return with added torment. The comforting remedy, the action of the spirit of Truth, must be applied. Fear has torment; but sin also, though it may begin in deceptive pleasure, has torment. The man seeking comfort needs to be led by the Comforter into truth as to physical well-being, as to usefulness and efficiency, as to happiness and destiny. Then faith becomes his attitude to God; and the good which he expects from God is done unto him, and proved to others.
For an example of faith let us take the case of that blind beggar, the son of Timæus, who sat by the wayside near the Jericho gate. When Jesus went out of the city with his disciples, a multitude followed; and hearing the footfall and rustling of many people moving, this blind man, Bartimæus as he was known, asked of some one what it meant. They replied that Jesus of Nazareth was passing on his way. What had this man heard of the prophet of Nazareth that hope should leap up in his breast? Enough he had heard to believe that this was "great David's greater son," so he began to cry out, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me." The people that went before told him to be still; indeed he attracted the notice of several, for it is recorded that "many charged him that he should hold his peace." But he was not discouraged. This was the great moment of his life. More vehemently still he continued to cry out, until he was heard by the Master, who listening stood still, and bade that the man be called.
Then, instead of rebuking the blind man, those about him encouraged him, saying, "Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee." Then Bartimæus rose and came, but there is a graphic touch in the story whereby we may infer that it was probably written by a spectator. The writer says that Bartimæus, "casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus." Doing this, he not only showed his alertness and expectation, but left behind him perhaps all that he had of value. To a beggar the thick outer garment or cloak was almost a necessity for protection during the chill of the cold nights. One thing only was before his thought, and Jesus by a question made him state that desire, which was to receive his sight. Through all the tests Bartimæus had come: he believed that this greatest good to him could be made manifest by Jesus; and so the Master quietly said, "Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole [saved thee]." Was it any wonder that the story ended: "And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way."
It needs but little analysis of this case of healing to see that the mind of the man who was healed was not preoccupied with unbelief. Even the blindness which was a chronic condition was not uppermost in his mind as an argument to prevent him from seeking a cure. That argument might have been present in the minds of those who rebuked him, their rebuke being the result of a belief that it was of no use to ask for help in such a case. One thing only was in the thought of the blind man, and when he put it into words, he expressed his faith and expectation: "Lord, that I might receive my sight." Notice that he did not ask for the cure of his blindness, but for that condition of harmony which he felt ought to belong to him according to the law of good, which really was his, so that he could already call it "my sight." How naturally, then, through the channel of faith, that which he so confidently expected appeared to him, since the demonstration of the Master was in no wise resisted. How different it was when Jesus was in his own country, where he could do "no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them." Even to Jesus it seemed wonderful that the minds of his neighbors should be so occupied with set beliefs that they could not be hospitable to the blessing of healing. It is recorded that "he marveled because of their unbelief."
A brief illustration comes to mind whereby the diverse action of faith and of false belief, or unbelief, may be shown. A young boy while playing lacerated his foot with a rusty nail, and as his homeward way was marked by blood and tears, there were several who talked with him, and who without exception spoke of the danger from the wound, and predicted such possibility of disaster that the lad was hysterical with fear when he got home. Even His mother's tender care did not soothe him. The parents consulted as to what it was best to do, but found that they could not reach any outside help. At last the boy himself asked the father to work for him, and with much trepidation he undertook to treat him. Soon confidence was gained, however, and the quiet of sleep came to the little fellow. For a long time the father worked to confirm his own faith in the truth that God is the only power, and that God expresses in man "saving health." In the morning the inflammation was gone, and the boy was as active and free from anxiety as if he had been never wounded. He could not be induced to take even ordinary care of himself; it was as if the disaster of the previous day had been obliterated from his mind. It was not till afterward that the father of the boy heard the list of arguments of unbelief, or prophecies of disaster, which had been made to occupy the child's mind through the solicitude of others, who by the way had no comfort to give, because they did not have faith in God as man's deliverer from every kind of evil and distress.
It is by work as patient as that of the gardener that we are to eradicate the various false beliefs which are the expression of the attitude of unbelief. They are from no heavenly origin of good seed; where they seem to grow, it is from such sowing as the perverted imagination of men has been doing for ages. There is comfort in knowing of the impermanence of all these conditions. Our Master declared, "Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up."
Until our small services are sweet with divine affection, our great ones, if such we are capable of, will never have the true Christian flavor about them.
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