Greatest Thing In The World

( Originally Published 1950 )

THE GREATEST THING in the world is faith. Positiveness is inherent in faith. There is no such thing as a negative faith. Doubtless this is a paraphrase of some wiser writer, but there is not enough skeptical, negative darkness in all the world to put out the light of one small candle of positive courageous faith.

Just what is this greatest thing in the world—how do we define it?

It has been said that where knowledge ceases faith begins.

It has been said that faith is believing what you know isn't so.

Webster's dictionary says that it is "the recognition of spiritual realities and moral principles as of paramount authority and supreme value."

The New Testament says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." John Wesley asked a group of friends for a definition of faith, and when no one gave a satisfactory statement he turned to a woman possessed of deep spirituality. "What is faith?" he asked her.

She replied simply, "It is taking God at His word." "That will do," the noted clergyman replied. "That is enough for us all."

Make your own choice of these or other definitions. But whether you realize it or not, your daily life of thought and action is based on faith—faith in the timepieces that awaken us, faith in the purity of the packaged breakfast food, faith that the automobile starter will work, faith in the dependability of trains. You have faith that, by and large, your friends and associates and loved ones are honest and loyal, a faith and courage of the commonplace without which life would be futile.

As for me, I'll take "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Things hoped for! Things not seen! I have a friend of scientific trend of mind who is skeptical of the qualities of faith. Despite the fact that he shuns churches, he leads a daily life of action more truly Christian than that of some men of the cloth I have known. But "scientific proof" is a fetish with him. As an avocation he plants little seeds and bulbs and glories in the bloom that comes months later. Things hoped for! Long, long before the advent of television he anticipated the reality to come. He wrote a check for his television set—the check itself was evidence of the cash not seen. Now he turns the dials and has the evidence on the screen of things not seen between the studio and his living room. The scientific proofs that this man adores have come as the result of faith—they don't precede faith. First there is faith and vision of things hoped for and not yet seen, and from the faith are later born the scientific proofs of the power of faith. Last night this kindly man showed me with modest pride a choice begonia created through processes not seen in an ugly little bulb. He thought it was beautiful; so did I. He said with full confidence there would be no contradiction that the bloom was beautiful. So did I. I didn't have the heart to demand of him scientific proof that the flower was beautiful. His wife played exquisitely on her cherished Steinway. I didn't ask him to give scientific proof that the music was beautiful. His daughter of ten, whose adoring eyes follow her daddy wherever he goes, threw her little pajamaed body into his arms and hugged and kissed him good night. His eyes glowed. I didn't ask him for scientific proof that the child loved him dearly.

Somehow this scientific friend prompts recollection of the story of Chateauneuf, keeper of the seals of Louis XIII. He became known for his deep religious faith and when only a lad of nine discussed religion with a scoffing nobleman, who needled him with challenging questions and finally said, "I will give you an orange if you will tell me where God is."

"My lord," the boy replied. "I will give you two oranges if you will tell me where He is not."

We can't give you scientific proof that faith is real money in your pockets, but we can give you the true story of a skinny, hungry young man who wrote skits for a Greenwich Village supper show and received as wages the only meal he had each day. Even that meal was in jeopardy, for while his audience was easy to satisfy, his early work wasn't very good.

The owner of the restaurant decided to give his young writer a bit of advice. "I'm feeding you now," the proprietor said, "but someday you're going to starve if you don't get a real job and work at it and make some real money.

"I've got real money," the skit writer said and moved his hand in his pocket as though he was jingling real coins.

"Real money, bah!"

"I believe in myself, and that's money in my pocket," said the young man. "Faith in yourself—that's money in your pocket! Listen. Someday I'll be so famous that the great will ask me where's the best place to dine, and I'll send them down here. Because you've been my friend."

The restaurant man shrugged and gave up. The skit writer grinned, jingled his coins of faith in his pocket, and later went on his way. Years passed, and one night when the famous Anthony Eden was in this country on a diplomatic mission from England, he was missed by the reporters. There was no trace of him in the famous night places. One enterprising reporter found him, however. The Honorable and Mrs. Anthony Eden were dining in a little restaurant and talking with the proprietor about their valued and noted friend Noel Coward, who had sent them to Greenwich Village to dine, just as he had promised the proprietor years before.

Noel Coward holds no patent rights to faith. Long ago Schlegel said, "In actual life every great enterprise begins with and takes its first forward step in faith." William James, who sired American psychology with a wisdom that has enriched generations, said, "Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that assures the successful outcome of our venture."

No one withholds faith, inner peace, and the positive power of belief from you or from me. Faith is there waiting for the taking. Taken today, it can begin to perform its feats of magic, for faith is positive and banishes negative doubts. Faith is the focal point of the positive attitude of mind. George Russell, the Irish editor and poet, knew this, and he said, "We become what we habitually contemplate." Marcus Aurelius knew this, and he said, "A man's life is what his thoughts make of it." Ralph Waldo Emerson was also aware, and he said, "We are what we think about all day long." After years of study and observation, Walter Dill Scott, one-time president of Northwestern University, said, "Failure or success in business is primarily not determined by mental capacity but by mental attitudes."

We have the testimony of Dr. Smiley Blanton, eminent psychiatrist, that your mental attitudes, your lack of faith or loss of it can mean the end of even life itself.

"Recently I saw a woman who was recovering satisfactorily from a major operation," Dr. Blanton reports in Guideposts. "She thought her marriage had been happy, but about a week after the operation her husband came to the hospital and told her he wanted a divorce. Suddenly there was nothing left for the woman to believe in; life collapsed with a black crash. She began to run a temperature, and refused to eat. In a few days she became unconscious, and died.

"No physical reason for her death could be discovered. But her faith had been destroyed, and life was not worth the effort of living without it."

There are other deaths, little deaths that kill us a bit at a time, when we lack faith in ourselves and so surrender the power that can be had for the asking. Dr. David Harold Fink, author of Release from Nervous Tension, tells us about a young golfer who was a master of the sport but could never win a major tournament because of his attitude toward himself. When playing alone or with friends, he shattered course records but in a tournament he consistently failed.

Dr. Fink ascribes the failure to the golfer's mental attitude. He had been born on the "wrong side of the tracks" and learned to play golf while a caddy at a fashionable country club. He became so expert he was employed as the club professional, but never could he shed the thought that he, the former caddy, was "not supposed" to lick the "big shots." Dr. Fink says that, deep inside, the young golfer had a feeling that the club members were "better" than he was, and because of this mental attitude he couldn't defeat them in tournament play.

The psychiatrist declares that if you have the idea you are "supposed to" be a slave you will act like one and feel guilty if you don't. If you get the idea you're supposed to be a queen, then you'll begin to feel, and act, like a queen.

Let's examine the magic power of faith at work with a mayor and a bandit. Years before he became Secretary of War in President Wilson's cabinet, Newton D. Baker was mayor of Cleveland. During that period he had an experience with a bandit which he confided to William Dinwoodie.

One evening in the suburbs Mayor Baker was seated alone in his car when a revolver was thrust through the window and a young man barked, "This is a holdup."

"I was frightened—make no mistake about that," Mr. Baker recalled. "My first thought was to give him my pocketbook and be done with it. But something in the young man's face appealed to me. I couldn't think of him as a professional robber.

" 'Won't you tell me why you're doing this?' I asked. " 'I' ve got to, mister,' the bandit said. 'There's no one willing to give me a job and I'm hungry.'

" 'Suppose I were to offer you a job,' I said. 'Suppose I were to give you some money—a loan say—until you could get back on your feet?'

" 'You mean that, mister?' the youth was incredulous. " I mean every word of it: I assured him.

"Okay, mister, what have you got in mind?' he asked me.

Mr. Baker gave him his business card and a ten-dollar bill. The bandit lit a match and looked at the card.

" Cripes, sir, you're the mayor.' I nodded. 'Is your offer on the level? You're not trying to give me the double cross?' "

Mayor Baker assured the youth he was acting in good faith, and the young man drifted away. Later that evening a business friend scoffed at the mayor's faith in the youth but promised the requested job. The next day a scrubbed and neat young man matched the mayor's own faith by risking immediate arrest and appeared in the office. He took the job and steadily advanced to a position of some importance.

Here we have glimpsed the magic of faith at work in the lives of others. No doubt if you search back in your own life you will find that the finest things that have ever happened to you have been preceded by faith and supported by the positive attitude. The negative folk make a faithless journey through life, creeping like infants with eyes cast down. The positive individuals with faith lift up their eyes to far, fine horizons and with dauntless courage are driven ahead by a force within, a confidence and a trust that there is good in this life that is worth fighting for.

Here are five guides that may help you to achieve faith:

1. No matter how desperate your circumstances may be, realize that it is never too late to turn the switch of faith that can release an almost magical power within you. You have everything to gain and not one little thing to lose by striving for the courage expressed in "The Ballad of Sir Andrew Barton":

Fight on, my men, Sir Andrew says,

A little I'm hurt, but yet not slain; I'll lie me down and bleed awhile,

And then I'll rise and fight again.

Faith may not come easily to those who have been dominated by the negative attitude of mind. But if they have—and they do have—the remnants of fighting hearts, they should realize that faith is like a spiritual second wind for body and mind.

"Second wind," said the psychologist William James in his essay on "The Energies of Men," "is a reality which can be found and used when needed." It can't be found, he continued, on the other side of "the first effective layer of fatigue, which is an efficacious obstruction on this side of which our usual life is cast. But if an unusual necessity forces us to press onward, a surprising thing happens. The fatigue gets worse up to a certain point, when it suddenly passes away and we are fresher than before. A third and a fourth wind may supervene. We have evidently tapped a reservoir of new energy, hidden until then by the fatigue-obstacle, which is usually obeyed. There may be reservoir upon reservoir of such energy."

The writer Joseph Gollomb has told about taking William James at his word. When a youth, Gollomb broke into a trot a mile away from his home, and this is what happened.

"At the quarter mile, as always, I felt every muscle in my legs and waist a burning tract of pain, and iron closed on my chest just when my lungs and heart seemed about to burst.

"I stumbled on, praying to William James that what I was feeling was only that 'first effective layer of fatigue.' It certainly felt 'effective.'

"Suddenly, a miracle. Something extinguished the burning in my muscles, the iron about my chest vanished, I drew in the easiest, longest, sweetest breath of air in all my life, and instead of legs I felt as if I had wings. I trotted past the mile end, on and on, until I knew it was no mere dream I was having, but I had broken through barriers I thought forever closed to me.

"In my exultation I was sure I knew what Robert Browning meant when he wrote:

For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave, The black minute's at end,

And the elements' rage, the fiend voices that rave, Shall dwindle, shall blend, Shall become first a peace out of pain. . . ."

Faith, the second wind of your spirit, is yours for the asking.

2. Realize fully that you can have neither physical nor mental nor spiritual strength without faith as the "evidence of things not seen."

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale urges us to an adventure in self-discovery. He says we need to realize the power that is in us and behind us; we need to rely upon it and draw upon it. We "do not know our own strength," he says, and maintains that, although we are giants, we think we are pygmies and consequently we act like pygmies. We simply won't believe in the power available to us and limit ourselves constantly with negative thoughts and attitudes toward life.

The golden key to self-discovery and belief in ourselves, says Dr. Peale, is the realization that we are powerful, not in ourselves standing alone, but only in relation to something bigger than we are. Dr. Peale maintains that belief in yourself as something by yourself will only make you conceited and you'll end up in frustration and defeat. But believe in yourself as an instrument of something bigger than yourself, he declares, and you release undreamed-of powers and at the same time develop humility.

3. Declare a quiet period for yourself each day. Make time for a few minutes or more of seclusion from the bombarding pressures of our times. Turn off the radio and television and clamor of woeful headlines, and indulge in the luxury of quiet contemplation. There can be an actual physical and mental relaxation of the nerves in such a period.

The noted physicist Albert Einstein, in common with other highly intelligent men and women, knows this trick of the quiet mental redoubt. Einstein was attending an especially tedious and boring meeting one day when a fellow scientist turned to him and softly said, "This must be terribly boring to you, Professor Einstein."

"Ach, nein," denied the professor. "On occasions like this I retire to the back of my mind, and there I am happy."

There was a carpenter from Nazareth who spent forty days and nights in the wilderness to achieve quiet for contemplation. There was Mahatma Gandhi, one of the great leaders of recent times, who knew the value of quiet periods. In such periods he gained the insight that made him the leader of a multitude—and that without the aid of a single atom bomb or machine gun.

In such quiet hours one can invite composure and let the heart reach out for understanding and faith. Such hours expel cynicism, salve the wounds so carelessly inflicted by a thoughtless world, banish self-deception. A quiet mind invites faith, and faith brings as its companions, peace and strength and hope.

4. If life's cynicism has hemmed you in and its frustrations have so completely battered you down that you can't recall faith on your own initiative, go to a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist or seek conference with and the teaching of the ever-increasing number of clergymen who have been astute enough to learn the rudiments of everyday psychology and the methods of practical counselors.

5. Come to understand that the negative attitude is a rejection of faith. Faith is a positive working force of mind that grows stronger with constant use. The laurels of hope and strength that true faith bestows are not a cushion to sit upon but are a crown of triumph over mediocrity to be worn proudly and confidently.

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