From A Reasoned Faith: Collected Addresses by John Baillie (London, Oxford, 1963)
THE WHOLENESS OF BELIEF
by John Baillie
And he said unto her, "Daughter, thy faith lath made thee whole"...He saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, "Be not afraid, only believe" Mark 5:34, 36
MY SUBJECT is the wholesomeness of belief. The phrase may at first strike us as an unfortunate one. We may protest that the important thing about beliefs is not that they should be wholesome but that they should be true. Such a protest, however, rests largely upon a misunderstanding. Let me then begin by trying to say first what is here meant by belief, and then what is meant by wholesomeness.
The two English words "belief" and "faith" translate the same word in the Greek of the New Testament, and it is a word that is never used in the plural. Christian faith does not mean believing a number of things, few or many: it means a single indivisible disposition of mind and heart. It does not mean accepting a creed: it means trusting in God. Our Lord's complaint was not that men did not have a creed or even that they had a wrong one. I do not suppose He ever met a man who would have boggled at saying, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Certainly the ruler of the synagogue to whom Jesus said, "Be not afraid, only believe" would have had no difficulty in making this confession. No, Jesus' complaint was that men seemed to lean so little upon the God of whose reality and power they professed to have no doubt. They put so little trust in Him when confronted with the actual vicissitudes of life. And so they were perpetually haunted by fear. I remember once hearing John Macmurray say, "All through the New Testament the opposite of faith is fear."
And now what does wholesomeness mean? What did Jesus mean by saying, "Thy faith hath made thee whole"? The phrase would just as well be translated, "Thy faith hath saved thee," for the verb used is the regular New Testament word for "save." Our two concepts of health and salvation represent one concept in the New Testament, and the same is true in the German language, where Heil means both health and salvation. We have erroneously come to think of salvation as having to do only or primarily with a state of blessedness into which men may or may not pass after they die, but how wrong this idea is may be seen from the fact that the Old Testament writers had no notion of a state of blessedness after death and yet are all the time speaking about salvation.
Let us keep it in mind, then, that salvation means neither more nor less than wholesomeness or health, which are of course two forms of the same Anglo-Saxon word. And if it be objected that healing has to do with the body and salvation with the soul, we must further remind ourselves that the Bible does not work with that hard-and-fast distinction between body and soul which we have inherited from Greek philosophy, but which contemporary philosophy and psychology are now teaching us to correct. Nothing could be further from the thought of the Biblical writers than the conception of a man as "a ghost in a machine," against which Professor Ryle of Oxford University has so vigorously protested; for to them also man is a single and indivisible psycho-somatic organism. We have for long been accustomed to think of the healing of the body and the salvation of the soul as two quite unrelated things; but how wrong we were may be suspected, not only from the fact that "heal" and "save" were the same word in our Lord's language, but even more significantly from the fact that He appears to have spent as much time in healing bodily diseases as in healing the diseases of the soul. Once indeed I heard a man, complain that the Four Gospels had more of the atmosphere of the hospital about them than that of the meeting house! And not only so, but the two seemed to be most closely interconnected in our Lord's mind, as when John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether He were indeed the Messiah and Jesus answered, "Go and tell John the things you hear and see; how the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Good News preached to them."
I suppose the truth is that most, if not all, of the ills that flesh is heir to have both a somatic and a psychical side to them, and that some approach to the healing of them may be made from either side. One often wonders, in reading the lives of the saints of bygone generations, whether the periods of depression, the black humours, the darknesses and doubts, to which they were so often subject, were not in part due to physical causes; while on the other hand the medical profession is every day laying greater stress on the mental or spiritual causes of physical ailments. However that may be, it is clear that our Lord's own approach to the healing of all diseases was from the spiritual side. Trust in God was His sovereign remedy. I once heard a great New Testament scholar say that the keyword of Jesus' whole teaching was, "All things are possible to him who believes." It was to a woman who, as we are told, "had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered but rather grew worse," that He spoke this word, "Daughter, thy faith hath healed (or saved) thee; go in peace." But He said just the same to the woman who washed His feet and dried them with her hair and anointed them with precious ointment. The one was suffering from a physical ailment —a haemorrhage; the other, we are told, was a sinner; bit to each He spoke exactly the same words, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace."
Do you and I enjoy this peace, this haleness and this salvation? And if we do not, what is it that stands in our way? The Bible answers with one voice, What stands in our way is that, instead of trusting in God, we trust in ourselves. The Bible word for trusting in ourselves is sin; for sin is simply self-centredness, no more and no less. What is wrong with mankind is that it is introverted towards itself instead of being extroverted towards God, that instead of leaning upon God it leans upon its own resource. How constantly that is said in the Old Testament, as in the eighteenth psalm, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man"; or in the Book of Proverbs, '"The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe"; or by Jeremiah, "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." In more than one of his writings Martin Luther says that our human trouble began when mankind became incurvatus in se --"bent inwards towards itself," and this is something that our contemporary psychiatrists are constantly saying in their own different way. I remember hearing a distinguished contemporary of my own exclaim that even the worship of the sun would be a much more whole some thing than mankind's worship of himself. He was speaking of the so-called Religion of Humanity as championed by Auguste Comte and his followers. To Comte, Humanity, not God, was le grand Etre, and it is very significant that his last words, spoken on his death-bed, were Quelle perte irreparable! -- "What an irreparable loss!"—than which surely no statement could be more unchristian.
It is in this way that we are to understand the great New Testament conception of salvation by faith—which is the same as to say the wholesomeness of belief. "By grace are ye saved through faith," writes St. Paul. The conception has often been crudely interpreted to mean that only if our theology is orthodox during this present life can we hope to reach heaven after we die; but what it really means is that only if by the grace of God we are enabled to entrust our lives to Him can we attain, either here or hereafter, to wholeness of life, to spiritual health, to joy and peace, and to deliverance from all the fears that otherwise beset us. The service rendered by doctrinal theology is to keep our trust in God free from the many aberrations to which it is at all times subject. The New Testament frequently speaks of "sound doctrine," but I think it significant that in the Greek the phrase is hygiainousa didaskalia, literally by “hygienic teaching." It would sound very modern if I were to say that reliance upon God rather than upon ourselves is the secret of spiritual hygiene, but actually it is not modern at all—it is in the New Testament!
I cannot think that any of us will want to deny that humanity stands in need of salvation. Something is radically wrong with us. Something is wrong with our society. The world is in a sorry muddle, making us afraid to open our newspapers every single morning, lest we read that the muddle has become still more muddled while we slept. Not all the lessons of their long history have yet taught men how to live with one another. But clearly what is wrong with our society derives from what is wrong with our individual selves. At least one phrase in the General Confession we can all make our own: "There is no health in us." We are full of fears, full of anxieties, full of discontents and inward dispeace. Nor can it, I think, reasonably be doubted that it is from a single malady we are suffering. The symptoms are many, but they are symptoms of the same fundamental disease. How is this disease to be diagnosed? Well, for myself I can only say that the longer I live, the more convinced I am that the New Testanent diagnosis is the true one. It is that each of us is incurvatus in se. We are self-centred both in the sense that we think too much about ourselves and in the sense that we think too highly of our own importance in the scheme of things. I know I do both, but I do not know it as I ought. My friends and acquaintances are probably far more aware of my self-importance and self-indulgence than I am myself.
How then is this deep-seated malady of mine to be healed? I can only answer with Jeremiah and St. Paul, "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." No doubt a partial answer would be to say that we should think less about ourselves and more about our fellow men; for our fellow men are the Lord's proxy—"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Yet I must not allow this to mean that I give the glory to the human race, vesting all my hope and all my trust in human achievement; for St. Paul says again, "That no flesh should glory in his presence," and "Let no man glory in men, for . . . ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's.” It is only when I see all human achievement as dependent upon divine grace, and my service of men to be a service of God, that my hurt can be healed.
Such then is my conviction. Only by faith in God, only by reposing my trust in Him, only by giving Him the sole glory, can we be made whole. To believe that our times are in His hand is to find a new and better way of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a way of facing disappointment and defeat, accident and bereavement, sickness and the fear of death and the daily anxieties that fall to the lot of us all; but a way also of taking our successes, our little triumphs, and our joys. I like to think of the Christian religion as a frame of reference within which every one of life's exigencies is put in its true setting and given its rightful place. If we have no such faith to support us, if we are thrown back upon the strength of our own arm and the brightness of our own wits, making us take pride in human achievement and bluffing ourselves into a stoical indifference to human defeat, the whole conduct of our lives will turn sour and savourless.
And now only one last word. Perhaps somebody will say that he cannot attain to this faith. Well, I will say only this: perhaps one reason why we fail to have faith is that we do not really want it. The finding of the cure must await the diagnosis of the disease. Do we really know how ill we are? And do we know what is wrong with us? If we do not, we shall be both listless and misguided in our search for the cure. How can I find God?, we ask. I would venture to answer that God is He who is found by those who know that they themselves are lost. God is the name for the reality that breaks in upon our consciousness when we have surrendered our pride. Jesus said, "Everyone that asketh receiveth: and he that seeketh findeth: and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." And Pascal, you remember, was bold enough to make Christ say to the doubter that in the seeking itself there was a measure of finding: "Thou wouldst not be seeking me, if thou hadst not already found me: therefore disquiet not thyself." Yet let our prayer be for a fuller finding than this, a finding of greater things in God than we had ever sought or desired; remembering the familiar words of St. Bernard's hymn:
Quam bonus to quaerentibus,
Sed quid invenientibus?
How good to those
But what to those who find?