‘Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.’
St. John’s desire is founded on a reflection of primary importance, namely, that man does not consist of soul only, but rather of body, soul, and spirit. His desire is one in closest harmony with the general will of Almighty God as revealed in the pages of the New Testament, and when to considerations, derived from the New Testament, we add the thought which can hardly fail to strike us, as we note in the Mosaic law the strict sanitary regulations laid down in the Old Testament for Israel, we cannot doubt what is God’s will for man, in his entirety, and we may be sure that His will will not only eventually be accomplished in all who use the appointed means, but also that His blessing, meantime, will rest on all efforts to promote it.
I. Note first the measure of health which, in a physical and in other points of view, St. John craved for him to whom he wrote.—Observe that he describes his friend as one whose soul was already in health and prospering, so that we may conclude that the quickening, health-giving, and renovating influences of the Holy Ghost had been brought to bear upon his spirit. And in reply to any question which may arise as to what is the ‘spirit’ of man, I would remind you of those significant words of Solomon: ‘The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.’ The human spirit is the seat and spring of a man’s aims, desires, and ideals; and the wise man here likens it to a candle, because, just as there is affinity between a candle and a flame, so also the spirit of man is capable of being lighted with fire from on high. It is that part of man with which the Divine influences come most directly in contact, and where this is so it becomes the candle of the Lord. And if it be true of our Lord Himself that He was the ‘Light of the world,’ this is true also, in a measure, of those who are touched and illumined by the Divine flame.
II. But St. John was not yet satisfied.—Attractive as was the condition of his friend, he still desired something more for him. How was this? Because, like other men, Gaius did not consist of soul and spirit only. The Apostle considered him not merely in a spiritual point of view, but in a physical one as well; and therefore said he: ‘Beloved, I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.’ That man should be renewed in the very sanctuary of his being—his spirit, his very holy of holies, wherein he holds communion with his Maker—this I must assert to be the first and chiefest thing to be sought after. Nevertheless, reason, no less than this clear expression of desire on the part of an Apostle of Jesus Christ, assures us that something more is to be sought after as well, for be it remembered that spirit, soul, and body are intimately connected together. In a marvellous way do they act and react on one another, and, as an eminent physician once remarked to me, ‘To slight and neglect God’s sanitary laws, as we usually speak of them, is a course which comes next door to insanity.’
III. While the mission of Christ was primarily spiritual in its aims, still a great portion of His work was to heal the sick, to minister to the diseased, and to show care for the human body. And so, when He admonished His disciples to go out into the world to preach the Gospel of His Kingdom, He carefully charged them also to fulfil like practical duties. It is impossible, I think, not to perceive how this view of things sweeps away that unfortunate line of demarcation between what people call their religious and their secular duties. Nothing that is done in the following of Christ can properly be called a merely secular obligation. There is an old saying that cleanliness—and health depends on this—comes next to godliness, and a very true saying it is. Not only for our own sakes, but in the spirit of the truest altruism, which is the very essence of Christianity, it is our bounden duty to do all that in us lies to promote health around us, as also a clear knowledge of those laws on which health depends. The violation of those laws is a constant source of misery, disease, and loss to the human family; and notwithstanding all our boasted civilisation, ignorance of these laws is still widespread. The accounts which any one may read as to the spread of various diseases, and of the preventable injuries thereby inflicted on communities and individuals, are lamentable. Surely the time has come when an earnest desire, such as that recorded in the text, should pervade the hearts and minds of all, and that we should look to the wide promotion of such a desire rather than to the penalties of the law for the amelioration of many of the evils which so largely oppress and degrade us.
‘As an instance of the close connection between the soul and spirit on the one hand, and the body on the other, I may mention that not long ago heard of a little child who was excruciatingly burnt, and it was found most difficult to alleviate her pain. At last some one suggested that she should be urged to sing her usual evening hymn. She did so, and the soul satisfaction thus engendered at once produced the desired effect, and she immediately fell peacefully asleep. Let no one imagine, then, but that body and soul are closely allied, or that what ministers to the well-being of the one fails to minister also to the other.’
THE HEALTH OF THE SOUL
Let me suppose that your soul is in a good way and is in ‘health’—what shall you do to keep well? Let me offer you one or two rules for sustaining and increasing spiritual health.
I. Keep very near to the Good Physician to Whom you owe your recovery, and consult Him very often, and wait for His answer.
II. Use His prescription, for He is the Counsellor to the soul, always ready to listen patiently; He knows the exact treatment your constitution requires, and His remedies are infallible.
III. You must never forget two things: one, the fact that you have a soul—you carry a soul with you wherever you are; and the other, that your soul is a very delicate thing, easily and immediately affected by all outward things, and has a great tendency to relapses.
IV. You must be very careful of the atmosphere in which you live; see that it be a pure atmosphere, free from all impurities. For the soul cannot breathe in every climate; the surroundings must be wholesome ones, suited to your health. The presenting of one bad subject to the mind, or the reading of one infidel or immoral book, may have such an influence or leave such a taint as may be very difficult indeed to eradicate from your moral constitution.
V. See that your soul has its own proper food, its daily diet, on which it is entirely dependent—‘the Bread of Life,’ which is God’s Holy Word, and ‘the Water of Life,’ which is God’s Holy Spirit. Without these, constantly taken, your soul cannot live! And it must take its meals regularly and have time for digestion.