Project Canterbury


What We Believe and Why

No. 8

Spiritual Healing


Vicar of Trinity Chapel, New York


Published by
Trinity Parish

New York

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

Spiritual Healing


TOWARDS the close of his First Epistle to the Thessalonians St. Paul utters this fervent prayer for his readers: "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v: 23). The words make clear that he regards human nature as made up of three elements, a material body, an immaterial soul, and an immaterial spirit. He distinguishes between soul and spirit, though in our common every day speech and sometimes in the New Testament the two words are regarded as synonymous. In the opening words of the Magnificat—"My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (St. Luke i: 46, 47)—the two terms seem to mean the same thing, as they [1/2] apparently do in Philippians i: 27: "Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind (soul) striving together for the faith of the gospel." Frequently, however, the terms in noun or adjective form stand for two different parts of man's nature, as they do in St. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians quoted above. St. James in his Epistle distinguishing between earthly wisdom and the wisdom which is from above uses these words: "This wisdom cometh not from above, but is earthly, sensual (soulish), devilish" (iii: 15). St. Jude writes: "These be they who separate themselves, sensual (soulish), having not the Spirit" (19). St. Paul tells the Corinthians (I Cor. ii: 14, 15) : "The natural (soulish) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But [2/3] he that is spiritual judgeth all things." Later in the same Epistle he says: "There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body" (xv: 44). The margin of the R. V. renders "natural body" "psychical body," but the word psychical as we have come to use it does not accurately express the thought. It will be better to translate quite literally: "If there is a soul-body there is also a spirit-body."

Much confusion has arisen from the fact that the word psyche has been sometimes translated mind, sometimes soul, that the word literally rendered soulish has been sometimes rendered natural and sometimes sensual, and that spirit and soul have been generally regarded as different terms for the same thing, whereas the more accurate New Testament use is to distinguish clearly between them. According to this more accurate use soul stands for that part of man's immaterial nature which he has in common with the animals, and spirit stands for that part of his immaterial nature [3/4] which he has in common with God. Dr. Percy Dearmer says:

"It may be that once or twice in the New Testament these words are employed as synonyms in our modern fashion. None the less when the soul is contrasted with the spirit, or when the word is used as an adjective, it means that part of man's mind which he has in common with God—which is indeed from the Holy Spirit of God. Thus man consists of body, soul, and spirit—the material body, the animal part of the mind, and the mind which is the seat of Wisdom. . . . There is, then, such a thing as the psyche or 'soul,' contrasted with the 'spirit.' The line cannot perhaps be drawn precisely between man and the rest of the animal world, because in a few higher animals there is some 'spirit'—there is, for instance, some discrimination, some virtue in a dog. Though we may not consider that 'brain secretes dog's soul,' as Browning ironically suggested in 'Tray,' yet a dog is much less than a dog if his brain-cortex is removed; a rabbit, on the other hand, lives in a way that does 'not greatly transcend automatism,' and consequently his cortical centres may be removed without creating much obvious disturbance. Thus, a rabbit or a pigeon has developed little more than a 'soul,' and can do pretty well when entirely deprived of the cerebral machinery of the spirit" (Body and Soul. pp. 46, 47, 48).

[5] Man has then a threefold nature; through his body he is connected with the material world, through his soul with the immaterial part of the animal world, and through his spirit with the spiritual world; through all three, but most directly through the third, he is connected with God.

These three parts of man's nature are intimately related so that what affects one inevitably affects to some degree the other two. An injury done to the body may or may not be an injury done to the soul and the spirit but the soul and the spirit will be affected by the injury. An injury done to the spirit will almost immediately though not necessarily visibly affect the soul and the body.


Illness means disorder in at least one of these three parts and a disturbance of the relation between it and the other two. It may of course mean definite disorder in all the parts at once, but even when the disorder directly affects but one part [5/6] the relation between it and the other two is inevitably disturbed to some degree. The disturbance may not be apparent; one's body may be feeble and racked with pain while his spirit is full of life and joy and peace. This life and joy and peace may be evident in spite of the feebleness and pain, but it will scarcely be maintained that feebleness of the body does not to some extent disturb the body's relation to the spirit. A feeble body certainly is not as perfect an instrument as it was meant to be for the expression of the spirit's life and power.

If this be true, restoration to health will mean bringing order into the disordered part or parts, and bringing the various parts back to their proper relationship each to the others. Clearly we may begin our work of restoration with any one of the three parts. We may begin with the body and work upward through the soul to the spirit; we may begin with the spirit and work downward through the soul to the body, or we may begin with the soul [6/7] and reach downward on the one hand to the body and upward on the other hand to the spirit. What we need to keep in mind is that with whatever part we begin the other parts will be affected either negatively or positively.

Broadly speaking medicine has to do with the body, psychotherapy with the soul, and spiritual healing with the spirit. Ideally, of course, these three should always work together. Any conflict which may arise among them is to be deeply regretted and is probably due to ignorance, misunderstanding, or self-will. Advocates of spiritual healing have no desire to decry or to underestimate the value or the sacredness of medicine or of psychotherapy; they regard both as coming from God and only regret that they are so often looked upon as substitutes for the Church's ministry to the needs of man's spirit.

Spiritual healing has to do primarily with the spiritual part of man's nature. It seeks to bring the spirit of man into more [7/8] vital contact with God and to fill it with God's life. In so far as it is effective it will have its inevitable influence upon his soul and his body. Clearly the moment God's life flows more fully into the spirit of man the appetites and passions of his animal soul will be to that degree brought into conformity with the highest interests of his spirit and to the will of God. And equally clearly the richer his soul life the more his body will be controlled and fitted for the fulfillment of its God-given function. From the standpoint of spiritual healing the healing of the body is the last thing and not the first. The body was made to be a perfect instrument of the spirit therefore it is to be desired that it shall be kept in perfect health, but a healthy body which is not directed by a sanctified spirit is from the Christian standpoint of little account, and simply illustrates how much of an animal man can be.


[9] The question often arises as to whether sickness is in accordance with the will of God. In order to answer this question it is necessary to distinguish between God's primary or antecedent will and His secondary or consequent will. Primarily God cannot wish to see any kind of imperfection but the world having become what it is through sin God permits imperfection of various kinds and so far as we will let Him do so turns it to good account. That sickness may be and often is turned to good account will scarcely be questioned; that in a very real sense it may help forward the fulfillment of God's purpose under certain conditions seems evident; but that it is our duty to do all that in us lies to remove from our nature defects of every kind, and to use every means which helps toward the perfecting of our bodies, our souls, and our spirits is manifest. Spiritual healing is one of these means; it is not the only one, unless of course we view it in its largest sense [9/10] as including the whole of the Church's ministry to the needs of men. In its more restricted and usual sense spiritual healing is but one of the Church's means for the bringing about of complete harmony within men themselves and between them and God.

It is difficult to see how any one who believes in prayer for the sick can deny the principle involved in laying hands on and anointing the sick. If, as some maintain, the work of healing is to be done exclusively by what are known as the scientific methods involved in medicine and psychotherapy it would seem either that we should cease altogether to consider prayer in relation to the recovery of the sick or that we should pray only for God's guidance of the physician and the psychotherapist, in which case it would seem that we should also cease to pray for the conversion of the individual and ask only that God should guide those who preach conversion. As a plain matter of fact medicine as medicine may heal the body or rather may clear away obstacles and so enable the body to heal itself. [10/11] Psychotherapy as psychotherapy may untangle the processes of men's minds and bring order out of mental confusion, but neither medicine nor psychotherapy can heal men's spirits nor restore harmony among the various parts of their natures. Let medicine and psychotherapy do what they can and will, room will still be left for spiritual healing, i. e., for the healing of men's spirits and for the adjusting of their souls and bodies to their spirits. When we say that a man is perfectly healthy we usually have in mind his physical well-being, sometimes we include his mental well-being, or to follow the terminology so far used in this article the well-being of his animal soul, but in a deeper sense the body and the soul cannot be well in and by themselves unless we are to reduce man to a purely animal plane; they cannot be well until they are controlled by a healthy spirit.

In the deeper sense therefore spiritual healing cannot be completely achieved in this life. [11/12] In other words man will not be spiritually healed until he has a spiritual body completely under the control of a sanctified spirit. We must, however, continue to strive for the progressive healing of all the parts of our nature, and unless we are prepared to take the stand that there is no vital relationship between the material and the immaterial parts of our being—a position which runs counter to all modern mental science—we must believe that the enriching of the spirit's life will result, normally at any rate, in the enriching of the life of the body.

It is indeed possible that the very intensity of a man's spiritual nature may be so great that his physical frame is unequal to the demands made upon it and that therefore physical weakness and illness may result. As a matter of fact this has been true in more than one case of spiritual genius. It has been suggested that it was true in the case of St. Paul. Whether or not we accept this suggestion [12/13] St. Paul described his thorn in the flesh as a messenger from Satan to buffet him. Whatever the thorn in the flesh may have been we can scarcely therefore regard it as in accordance with God's primary will, but inasmuch as St. Paul used it as a means of spiritual discipline, and inasmuch as he includes it in the weaknesses in which he glories, we may certainly regard it as in accord with God's secondary will and as used by God as a means of forwarding His purpose for St. Paul, and through St. Paul for the Christian Church. It may be well to quote St. Paul's own words:

"And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from me. And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (II Cor. xii: 7-9, R. V.).

[14] Spiritual strain of course wears upon the body; it wore upon our Lord's body and frequently left Him weak and weary. He found rest and refreshment primarily in prayer, in drawing upon the source of spiritual strength which was ever open to Him. We must follow His example. When the body is overstrained our need very often is for spiritual strength and spiritual peace and when we have gained these the physical strain will frequently be relieved automatically. Spiritual healing is one means of bringing us spiritual strength and peace, one means therefore of restoring the body to its normal condition.

When we have passed a certain age our physical vitality steadily diminishes, and spiritual healing does not operate in ways contrary to the fundamental laws which govern our natures; but even in our advancing years spiritual healing will help us to attain and keep that measure of physical health and strength which is natural to us in the particular stage in which we are.

[15] Our fundamental aim must ever be to seek the fulfillment of God's will, not only the fulfillment of His final will for us in the life which is beyond this, but also His will for us in this life, in each stage of our growth. If we do this we shall not be discouraged as those who seek the fulfillment of their own wills so often are. We shall ask and ask earnestly for complete health; we shall moreover be obedient to the laws of health, but we shall be quite content with, more than that we shall be grateful for, the measure of health which under our particular conditions and in the particular stage of our growth towards God, God deems it wise that we shall have. We shall not first determine just what God's will for us is and then lapse into despair because what we thought to be God's will has not been accomplished in us.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that spiritual healing has not necessarily failed because bodily healing does not result. While carrying on one of his missions at [15/16] Trinity Chapel, New York, Mr. Hickson was asked to visit and minister to a blind man. He did so and when some time afterward the man's daughter was asked as to her father's condition her reply was: "He is still blind but now he does not mind it." Certainly this was not a case in which spiritual healing failed.

In the New Testament accounts of His miracles of healing our Lord is said on various occasions to have touched those who came to Him for healing. The particular word translated touch means to mould or to take possession of. The idea is that our Lord took possession of those to whom He ministered and moulded them to His will. He made them over as it were, and their whole being—body, soul, and spirit—was changed. Those who come to Him now for healing must be prepared to be made over, to be moulded to His will. If they are so prepared we may feel certain that their bodies will be affected, but if they are not healed at once, or so long as this life [16/17] lasts, being possessed by Christ they will not despair, they will rather rejoice that He has taken possession of them, and will gladly remain in whatever state it may be His will they should remain under the particular circumstances.


It is extremely important that spiritual healing should be kept in right relation to the Christian life as a whole. As has already been said it is but one means of providing for the needs of man's nature. If these needs are to be fully met every means provided by Christ in His Church must be faithfully used. To speak or to think of spiritual healing, using the term in its more restricted sense, as if it were either the whole or the chief provision which our Lord has made for us is exceedingly dangerous and may prove to be disastrous. The Christian life as the Church understands it is a life of union with Christ, described in the New Testament as life "in Christ." [17/18]  It is a sacramental life, drawn from Christ and lived in Christ through the sacramental system which being ordained of God as a means of extending the Incarnation must not be in any way superseded or neglected.

Healing missions make a wide and often a deep appeal but unless careful preparation be made for them there is danger that they may give people the impression not only that physical healing is of greater importance than it is, but also that the laying on of hands by one specially gifted may take the place of systematic instruction and spiritual self-discipline, and be regarded as a substitute for faithful use of the sacraments. We have no right to expect that God will do for us what with His help we can do for ourselves, or that He will by an act of spiritual bounty make up for our spiritual indolence and neglect. In this as in all other departments of life He demands of us for our own good all that we can give in the way of faith and diligent effort. The following quotation from The Healer [18/19] of May, 1925, reprinted from the January number of the Church Standard published in Sydney, Australia, is much to the point.

"We are inclined to deprecate the holding of public healing services, with their element of publicity and the risk of lack of spiritual preparation on the part of the sick. The demand on the part of the latter for the Ministry of Healing provides the opportunity for spiritual teaching and guidance along lines of penitence and faith of a very thorough kind. Then in the home or the church the sick so prepared should receive individually the laying on of hands, or where so desired, the anointing with oil in the Name of the Lord, as the pledge of divine healing for the body and soul, and in closest conjunction with Holy Communion with the Sacramental assurance of renewal and the act of the consecration of the whole man, renewed in body and spirit, to the thankful service of God."


Spiritual healing then is not a substitute for faith, nor is it a substitute for spiritual effort; rightly understood and rightly used it deepens faith and inspires to greater effort. Numerous cases might be cited of persons sometimes ignorant of and [19/20] sometimes indifferent to religion who have been led through interest in spiritual healing to seek instruction concerning the Christian faith, have been brought to Baptism and Confirmation, and have gone steadily and quietly on living the Christian life. Doubtless many have begun and failed to persevere just as many have who have approached religion in other ways and from other standpoints, but those who have had opportunity to observe can testify that many who have gained their first real knowledge of our Lord through spiritual healing have been quite made over, are now experiencing the joy and peace which only God can give, and are serving their fellowmen diligently and faithfully.

Our Lord's miracles of healing did not constitute the whole of His ministry nor the chief part of it, but they did occupy an important place, and by means of them many were brought to know Him more fully and to accept Him as their God and Saviour. Spiritual healing is not the whole of [20/21] Christ's work through His Church today, nor is it the chief part of that work; but it has an important place and we have every reason to expect that it too will lead to a fuller knowledge of and devotion to Christ. To this fuller knowledge and devotion it has already led and as to the future we may be fully confident so long as we are faithfully striving to do God's will and diligently seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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