Letter and Spirit

There are very few Christian people who have a clear sense of the relation between the letter and the spirit of Christianity, and many are apt to speak of the former in a rather derogatory way as if it were something to be avoided. This is probably due to the fact that the great Teacher often rebuked the doctors of the law, who prided themselves upon a wide acquaintance with its letter; but Jesus could not have meant to censure them for their knowledge of God's law when he himself declared that not "one jot or one tittle" should pass from it "till all be fulfilled." Rather did his stern rebuke mean that they had substituted "the doctrines and traditions of men" for even the letter of divine law, and that its spirit had been wholly ignored by them,—as when he said, "Woe unto you, ... for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God." They kept external cleanliness well to the fore, but the inward purification which their own prophets had urged they had largely ignored; hence his merited censure.

In one of Mrs. Eddy's classes the question was asked why the Christian church should have lost the understanding of Truth necessary to heal the sick as in the time of the Master and his early followers. A student ventured the opinion that it was because the letter had been substituted for the spirit. Mrs. Eddy, however, explained that this was not correct; that throughout the Christian centuries many had been deeply imbued by the spirit of Jesus' teachings, and that wherever this spirit had prevailed noble Christian characters were found who at any cost to themselves strove to give the word of God its rightful place in the world. She further explained that the letter of the Master's teachings had been largely lost or neglected; hence the almost universal failure to apply them as he had taught his disciples to do. It is also possible that the Science of Christianity was not given to the world in its fulness at that time, since, as Christ Jesus said, "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." It seems quite certain, however, that if the Christian church had continued to practise faithfully the rules given for the healing of sin and disease, a fuller understanding would have come, instead of a receding tide of spiritual truth, until professed Christians came to rely almost wholly upon material means for relief from suffering, and in a measure for the suppression of sin.

Among the Churches
September 6, 1913

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