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Chapter Eleven - With Signs Following
"AND they went forth,
and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the
word with signs following."--Mark xvi, 20.
Oftentimes when reading the
Bible we come upon a verse or phrase which we have passed by a hundred
times without even noting that it was there, so intent are we ordinarily
in the pursuit of those ideas which habit has taught us to look for. There
is such a phrase in the verse quoted above, "the Lord working with
them," as the clue to the conclusion which follows," and confirming
the word with signs following." We are apt to overlook this significant
statement because conventional thought emphasizes belief and the unfortunate
consequences of wrong belief. Just above there is a verse which reads,
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth
not shall be damned." The reader who is fearful of results likely
to attend refusal to believe will probably stop at this word "damned,"
not knowing that this is too strong a word to translate the original, which
means "condemned," and is the same word used elsewhere to indicate
the natural consequences of our actions. Missing the point with regard
to belief, the reader is likely to go on to this last verse, "And
they went forth and preached everywhere." This verb "preach"
is apt to suggest something modern, and so the whole thought of these verses
may be shifted to the dogmas one is supposed to believe or be punished,
the dogmas which are commonly preached in the churches.
But, noting this profound statement,
"the Lord working with them," we are sent back to reconsider.
This is the last utterance of the disciple who writes this Gospel. The
evangelist has been telling about the resurrection as the last of those
memorable experiences which brought near to men's hearts the power of the
Christ over outward things. He informs us very briefly concerning the final
appearance of the Master among the eleven. Once more he tells us how the
disciples were imbued with the spirit of Christ and sent forth to labor
in the vineyard of the Lord. The disciples were not bidden to "preach"
in the sense in which we usually apply the term, but "to proclaim
the glad tidings to every creature"--this is the way the original
reads. It was above all a question, not of alleged punishment to be inflicted
on those declining to believe; for this
would be a negative consideration; but of the signs following upon belief.
What kind of signs were these to be? Not theoretical matters, not the issues
which pertain to dogmas and the organization of churches; but practical
results. In the name of Christ the disciples were to cast out devils, speak
with new tongues, take up serpents, drink deadly things without injury.
That is, the disciples were to enjoy those experiences which show the supremacy
of the Spirit over material things. More important still, those who believed
were to lay hands on the sick, and the sick were to recover. This much
having been given as a promise, the evangelist goes on to tell us that
the Lord "was received up in heaven." This did not mean that
the Master of life and death departed from the disciples, for there follows
this phrase so easily overlooked, "the Lord working with them."
Here was an advance even beyond
the power of the Master's reappearance among the disciples. The Lord was
still present with those who believed and went forth to proclaim the glad
tidings with faith that practical benefits would follow among the suffering,
and it was because He worked with them that the word was confirmed and
the signs were added. This "word" which was confirmed was the
glad tidings of the living Gospel. It was confirmed because the Lord
worked with the faithful, and
produced the "signs following."
This teaching puts belief in
an entirely different light. It is plainly not a question of what
men proclaim with their lips. Nor does it turn upon what men accomplish
in their own might. People have fundamentally misunderstood the Gospel
who have been guided by the instruction of the churches concerning
doctrines. The living Gospel which the Master taught and exemplified by
works was essentially a gospel of works or signs following. It was so understood
by the disciples. It was proclaimed and verified by the impressive
works of which we read in the book of Acts. It was taught in this way by
the Apostle Paul, despite the fact that he was also the first Christian
theologian and was inclined to be doctrinal. And then little by little
the original Gospel of immediate deeds among the suffering was lost in
the maze of doctrinal entanglements.
Looking back to this last meeting
of the eleven with the Master and trying to regain the lost clue, we realize
that If the gospel of works shall have vital meaning for us there must
be a way in which the Lord works with every genuine believer today so as
to confirm the word with signs following. This promise is given in connection
with all the evangelist has told us about the supremacy of the Spirit over
material things. Death apparently made no difference then, and makes no
difference today. Time makes no difference. The ages that have come and
gone have not separated us from the living Christ. The Lord working with
us is still the power that accomplishes the signs that follow. We make
a mistake if we allow anything whatsoever to stand between us and the living
Why is it that we should look
for such signs following as the Gospels tell us about? Why has the theologizing
world separated sin and sickness, and limited the work of the churches
to the kind of preaching that is supposed to show salvation from sins merely?
Why have we failed to understand the works recorded in the Gospels in which
the healing of disease and the forgiving of sins are brought into intimate
Because, for one thing, we have
failed to trace out either sin or sickness to its interior sources. The
word translated "sin" in the Gospels means error or mistake,
and comes from a verb signifying to miss the mark, that is, fail of doing,
fail of one's purpose. To hit the mark would be to realize one's purpose,
do one's work in the world constructively. Hence the Master summoned men
and women to be whole, to be their true full selves. What does it mean
to be sick? In the passage in which Jesus said, "They that are whole
need not a physician; but they that are sick," the word
rendered "sick" is
from a term meaning "to cause evil," of a bad quality or disposition.
Evidently the reference is to the mode of life which underlies sickness,
the inner state with which the outer is in correspondence. Immediately
after saying that it was the sick who had need of him, Jesus said, "I
came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Righteousness
is justice, integrity, wholeness of life; it is hitting the mark. Sickness
is due to any quality in the disposition which keeps one from attaining
this wholeness. The power of the Lord working with us to confirm the word
with signs following is the power which seeks to make men whole, whether
their lack of integrity is called sin or sickness. Wholeness is a positive
What kind of sign should
we look for, therefore, among those who believe as the Gospels would have
men believe? Plainly, that kind of life out of which righteousness or health
would spring as a consequence, instead of sin and sickness. The human spirit
is made for integrity or wholeness. It has power to hit the mark, to realize
life's purpose. Our thought should be given to the conditions which favor
such wholeness, we should look for power in this direction. The Lord is
working with us in this endeavor.
We have been taking our clues
from the sorrow and misery, the sin and suffering of the world.
We have judged the human spirit
by its failures, by unfortunate inheritances, by external environment with
its sinful influences. But this is wrong. We should think and will and
work in the vineyard of the Lord with the divine standard of health or
wholeness in mind. It is those who lack the ideal of this wholeness to
whom the Gospel comes especially, calling them to turn about (repent) and
look towards the light. The Gospel is not a mere corrective of our errors,
not a mere plan of salvation. It discloses the true positive plan of living.
This plan implies the supremacy of the Spirit over material things. That
is, it leads us to the great truth that all real causality is spiritual,
that we live and work from the spiritual world, the Lord working with us.
What does the power of the living
Christ within us endeavor to achieve? To touch anything in our disposition,
such as a tendency to rebel, look on the dark side, work for our own selfish
interest, or work against our rivals, so that this lesser activity shall
be enlarged into the greater and become constructive. To shake us out of
our apathy and self-righteousness, our mere contentment when things are
moving as we would like them whether other people suffer or not. To call
us into the active service of spreading the glad news for those who believe.
To quicken us out of our hypocrisy and every other form of two-foldness
into true unity within the self, unity between head and heart, the understanding
and the will. To prompt our hearts to change from self-love and love for
the world to love of God and our fellowmen. To lead us into the true life
of charity which is the real sign that we profoundly believe and expect
the signs following.
But why do these states which
we are summoned out of underlie both sin and sickness? Because he who is
in them is untrue to the divine standard of unity or wholeness. He who
is a hypocrite, for example, who is working underhandedly for his own interest
while seeming to be virtuous, who strives to serve two masters, is in interior
conflict, and such conflict is sickness or sin. It shows itself outwardly
in a thousand different ways with as many individuals. The individual is
beset within and around by those forces which his inner conflict invites.
The outward life manifests by correspondence the inner struggle. It is
marked in the face, or in the voice. It is expressed in daily conduct,
with its subtleties and compromises. It affects the nervous system, and
consequently the bodily activity in general. The house thus divided against
itself tends to fall. It is repaired and propped up, painted other colors
and in various ways disguised. But still it remains the same house. Some
onlookers advise changes here. Others suggest modifications
there. The external signs or
defects appear to be the real trouble. But the real trouble is hidden far
within and for that there is no lasting remedy save through becoming a
house at harmony with itself--unified, stable, constant.
We are apt to think that the
inner pain or struggle is due to some hostile force striving with us, as
a germ might play havoc with disordered tissues or a devil insinuate sly
temptations. It is great glad news indeed that there is no other life or
power in the world plotting and working against man, whatever the appearance
and secondary struggles, but only the force of his own self-love reinforced
by the self-love of others ignorantly and foolishly laboring against man's
own better self, producing out of this inner conflict the whole trouble
of the house divided against itself. For with this discovery comes the
knowledge that conflict can be changed into harmony through turning about
and working with the power once opposed. The living Lord is with those
who believe in the sense in which the Gospels teach belief: to bring about
just this marvellous sign following, thus turning a state of war into a
state of peace so that the supposed enemy is seen not to exist at all.
It seems almost unbelievable
at first, that our real foes are those of our own household and that they
may one and all be turned into friends. Our conflicts
are so real to us and our struggles often so intense that we appear to
be mere victims of outward things, as if we were supremely innocent. We
do indeed take on by inheritance and from the influences coming from the
world those conditions which outwardly speaking give us our experience.
Thus, for example, the world readily contributes to the cantankerous person
things enough to be cantankerous about. It is not slow in helping the pessimist
to find facts to judge in the darkest light. He who has a chip on his shoulder
will find other fighters ready for him. The world seems no better to any
one of us than we are ourselves. No one can complain that things are not
what they appear to be, for the human mind is so constituted as to let
the inner state color the world according to its kind. The world corresponds
in marvellous degree, even to our fluctuating moods. If we persist in putting
the blame on people and things, on God and this splendid universe wherein
we live, why then the world will gratify us in our delusion. But there
is only one thing to consider after all, and that is our own state of development
with the fears it brings, its illusions, its errors, hardships and miseries.
There can be no relief save through a change within, since this is the
very nature of life, the law of experience. There is no mystery, surely
nothing to complain about; simply
the glad news that the key to the whole solution is within ourselves, that
the living Lord holds this key with outstretched hand saying, "Come
unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
What is it that we need rest
from? Is it from ourselves? No, from the inner struggle which we make by
going counter to our nature. The nature of man is to find his place in
the Grand Man, in the social order in which all who love the Lord and their
fellow men are "members one of another." The nature of man is
to do a specific work in the world, to be contributory, to cooperate, live
and let live, give full measure running over in his desire to serve. The
right attitude to take toward our fellow men is to see this tendency toward
co-operative service and mutual love working its way out into expression.
The living Lord is with everyone whom we would help to accomplish just
this purpose, That is the great consideration when disciples are sent forth
to proclaim the glad news, with signs following.
Are we able, in the first place,
to see the significance of the word which shall be confirmed by the signs
following? It means a radical change in our thinking for most of us. Our
whole habit of thought tends toward emphasis on things, on outward conditions.
We say, "human nature cannot be changed," meaning by "human
nature" all the sinfulness and criminality, all the selfishness of
the world. We say this is impossible. We must take the world as it is.
It is full of selfishness and sorrow, and all we can do is "look out
for Number One." Over against this scepticism the Gospel gives
its amazing promises: With man such things are impossible, but not with
God. "All things are possible to him that believeth."
Only believe. Have faith. It shall then be possible even to move mountains.
To be saved through belief is to be lifted out of this skeptical attitude
into alert expectancy which encourages us to look for the signs following.
Such belief is "in His name." It comes with the promise of the
spirit of truth present with us to lead us into all truth. It comes with
the impetus to go forth into all the world and proclaim with conviction
this glad news. Then the Lord will work with us to achieve results which
apparently were utterly impossible. Material things will no longer seem
to be obstacles in our path. What seemed like a deadly thing will not now
prove so. Our hands shall be imbued with power. We will speak
with new tongues. All these signs shall come to those who believe whole-heartedly
in such a way as to look for benefits coming to others, not the private
joys supposedly vouchsafed to the "saved."
This is salvation and very much more. It follows the resurrection of man's
true self. It is the triumph of the Holy Spirit in us, the work of the
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