The Significance of Quimby For Our Times

Dr. Robert Winterhalter

Annual SSMR Conference--July 25, 2002
INTA Congress, Norfolk Virginia

copyright © 2002 by
Robert Winterhalter

Henry Thoreau, a contemporary of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, observed: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil, to one who is striking at the root."

The significance of Quimby, whose 200th birth year we celebrate today, is that he struck at the root of evil--of disease, lack, limitation, and alienation from God. In his own practice, he found disease vanish--and wholeness emerge--in the realization of the Divine Presence as Life, Love, and Wisdom. It is true that his insights were extended and further developed by other, later teachers, but this is the case with pioneers in any field.

The New Thought movement, together with its constituent parts, is but the living core of an immense movement of spiritual consciousness that is infiltrating into all walks of life and segments of society. In some respects, it would be better if New Thought were more widely known as such, which would bring many of us fame and fortune. In another sense, however, there is great value in not giving our potential opponents too large a target. In the current situation, the essential message of New Thought can infiltrate, with minimum opposition, where it is most needed in the lives of individuals, families, businesses, churches, communities, and nations.

There is one aspect of the Quimby writings that has not been adequately emphasized. This is the depth of his own commitment to the vision of the United States as articulated by the Founding Fathers in 1776. He affirmed racial and gender equality in stark terms that a historian would not expect to find in the mid-nineteenth century. He understood the depth behind the affirmations, in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal (including both sexes, as Quimby interpreted it), and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Quimby was a foe of landed aristocracy. This included, but was not limited to, the slaveholders who held blacks in bondage in the American South. In principle, though perhaps not consciously, he also made common cause with free white settlers, many of whom had fled from the oppression of aristocracy in Europe, and cleared their own farms out of the western wilderness.

In a larger sense, he and his writings provide a vital historical link. This linkage demonstrates the kinship between early New Thought on the one hand, and the ferment of spiritual consciousness underlying democratic movements in many nations and many groups in the mid-nineteenth century. This needs to be understood not only with reference to Park Quimby himself, but also as background for Emma Curtis Hopkins's work in the 1880s and 1890s, including her efforts to make it legal for women to vote, and to promote other civic and social reforms.

Having given this general picture, which because of scheduling constraints must be kept succinct, we will now move on to specific references from the Quimby writings, to further document the depth of his spiritual consciousness. In referring to the Bible, we use the King James Version, for the sole reason that Quimby used it, having lived before any of the modern translations were made.

When Quimby discussed the healing ministry of Jesus as it appears in the Bible, he referred primarily to the Synoptic Gospels, namely, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In a paper presented last year in Las Vegas, and recently published in the SSMR Journal,1 I commented in detail as to how he referred to these gospels, principally Matthew, in discussing his own healing work. In so doing, he drew several valid analogies between his own healing practice and that of Jesus of Nazareth.

Earlier this year, the Bible Review published a learned article with the curious title, "The Un-Gospel of John."2 In it, the author points out the differences between the picture of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and in the Gospel of John. He writes, in part: "In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus' knowledge and powers are limited. In Mark, Jesus has some knowledge of the future, but it is incomplete .... John's Jesus, in contrast, never loses control of his situation or of those around him. He maintains this control in part by his knowledge."3

The obvious question is: Which picture is the true one, if either? Since Jesus shared our human nature, and moods change, I believe that both are partially correct. There were times when Jesus felt more like the images of him in the Gospel of Mark, and other times when he felt more like the images of him in the Gospel of John. Both Biblical authors, whether or not they were eye-witnesses, were also conditioned by their own views of Jesus and of what they believed actually took place. To a large degree, then as now, people see what they want to see and what they expect to see.

Having covered some of the Quimby material last year with respect to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I will now move on to how he viewed the material in the Gospel of John. This is fully appropriate. Throughout the history of New Thought, when teachers and students have examined the Bible, interest has centered on the Gospel of John. Once it is seen that the Word, the Christ, is the inmost reality of our being--and does not apply to Jesus only--the entire Gospel of John is seen in a new light. Phineas P. Quimby himself affirms, "The Christ is the God in us all."4 In light of this recognition, the Gospel of John begins to reveal its secrets.

Most New Testament scholars, if liberal or centrist in their views, agree that according to the Gospel of John, eternal life is already here. This is called "realized eschatology." In New Thought circles, we understand that eternal life is here in practical terms. We recognize that the life, love, and wisdom of the Cosmic Christ are infinitely present and immediately available, here and now, to release healing in all its forms, within and without. This does not rule out a final consummation of the Divine Order on planet earth. To the contrary, it points toward such a consummation, and inspires us to affirm it and to visualize it.

As a literary work, the Gospel of John is structured as a cosmic trial. The antagonists are two opposing paradigms or states of consciousness, "the truth" and "the world." The duality, please note, is one of paradigms, and does not imply two opposing realities. Quimby viewed contemporary life in essentially the same way. In the Gospel of John, "the truth" wins an ultimate victory over "the world" with the resurrection of Jesus. In Quimby, truth is predicted to win in the end as superstition and ignorance are finally dissolved in the light of science, according to his own usage of the term.

Quimby declared: "This world is made up of all kinds of deception, superstition and ignorance, all based on heathen superstition governed by leaders of theories which are based on opinions and do not have the slightest foundation in truth. These two worlds are in and around every one."5

It is obvious that Quimby, in using the term "world," is not referring to the planet earth or to the universe. It is to his credit that having recognized that heaven and hell are states of consciousness, he never makes the absurd mistake of interpreting "the world" as referring to physical geography.

In keeping with the cosmic trial motif, Quimby views himself symbolically as an attorney for the defense. This is, in fact, one of the meanings of the Greek term parakletos, found in John 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7, and sometimes translated "Comforter." As found in an extract of one of his letters, Quimby writes: "I am ... guided by the dictations of my own conscience, as a lawyer is in leading a case governed by the evidence. A sick man is like a criminal cast into prison for disobeying some law that man has set up. I plead his case, and if I get the verdict, the criminal is set at liberty. If I fail, I lose the case. His own judgment is his judge, his feelings are his evidence. If my explanation is satisfactory to the judge, you will give me the verdict. This ends the trial, and the patient is released."6

Quimby quotes the opening statement of the Prologue of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the original Greek, logos (translated "Word") refers not only to the immutable Christ Idea, but also to Its active functioning as Creative Principle. Quimby, however, was not aware of the range of meanings of this Greek term, nor can we reasonably expect him to have known this. Therefore, he viewed the Word in this text only in terms of Its changeless nature.

Also, he views the realization of the indwelling Word, by the individual, as the spiritual meaning of the Resurrection. Here he is on firmer ground. "When Jesus said this Christ should rise, he meant that this wisdom should rise from the errors of mankind and should subject mind to this truth .... So this [The Word] was the name of something that could not be changed."7

John 1:5 contrasts the two paradigms as light and darkness. In his essay on Light, he declares: "Man is an idea of matter or darkness, and as his mind or matter becomes lit or clairvoyant, the darkness of the idea of matter is gone, and he is in light that the wisdom of this world of matter or darkness has not. So light came into darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not."8

John 1:9 refers to "the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." Quimby understood that Jesus was not the light in an exclusive sense, but that Jesus' work was to bring the true Light, the Christ, to individual awareness. He declared: "Jesus was the man who brought this true light or Christ to light, which the priests have crucified. It came to them first and they refused it. Then it turned to the Gentile or scientific world and has since been working in the hearts of the wise, and will always, till priesthood and superstition have been blotted out of the natural man."9

The true light of Christ is not only an inner realization, but the basis for practical demonstration in healing: "The religion of Jesus was to put his wisdom into practice and it is what the world knew not of. It was the light that lighteth everyone that cometh into the world of wisdom; therefore to be a follower of Christ is to break from your errors and learn to understand the truth."10

The third chapter of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the New Birth, excites Quimby's interest. He refers to it fairly often in his writings. The New Birth is viewed as a spiritual awakening, in which the individual moves out of one paradigm and into the other. Today we might call it a paradigm shift. "The natural man is ignorant of the spiritual or scientific world and to be born again is to get out of the world of opinions into the world of science."11 "The new birth is to know the wisdom that makes man sensible that there is a higher life of his identity than that of the natural man or brute."12

John 3:14 declares: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." Quimby interprets this image to mean "lifting up" spiritual understanding and communicating it to others: "As Moses lifted up the serpent of the old Egyptian theology and creed and explained them, and all those who looked on his explanation were healed of their errors that made disease, so Christ was lifted up, and all who understood were healed from the doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees. So in our day I hold up the serpent of creeds and doctors' theories and show the absurdity of their beliefs and all who understand are healed of their diseases."13

John 3:19-21 again contrasts light and darkness. Despite the fact that light has come into people's inner world of consciousness, some choose darkness over light because their deeds are evil. These deeds, however, are not only overt acts but also false beliefs and images held in the mind, which in turn generate the overt acts. Clearly, neither Quimby nor the Gospel of John intend to deprecate the geographical earth, but rather, the "world" of false beliefs. Quimby is vivid, yet concise, when he makes this point with reference to the political idea of freedom vs. slavery. In 1863, the year that Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he wrote: "Light is liberty, darkness is slavery. The aristocratic mind chooses darkness rather than light, because his thoughts are evil, while the scientific mind comes to the light to prove all things."14

John, Chapter 4, tells of Jesus passing through Samaria on the way to Galilee. He meets the Samaritan woman at the well. A key passage is Verses 13-14: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Quimby finds this symbology to be meaningful, referring to the divine Source of wisdom and satisfaction within us: "To the wise, it is to know this fountain is in yourself, a well of water springing up into everlasting wisdom."15

Verses 23-24 highlight the importance of worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth, which Quimby, of course, finds congenial. He would also be pleased to know that later translations of the Bible read: "God is Spirit," not "God is a spirit," as in the King James Version. He declared: "To be a disciple of Jesus you must forsake all these forms and ceremonies, for in sacrifices and [traditional] prayers he has no sympathy. But to worship this Christ as Jesus did is to worship it in spirit and in truth."16

The Sixth Chapter of John records the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, the crowd's abortive attempt to crown Jesus king, and his flight to a mountain. Quimby doesn't comment on these events, but he does comment on their aftermath, when a group went looking for Jesus and found him.

In John 6:35 and 6:48, speaking to this group, Jesus uses the I AM statement: "I am the bread of life." Quimby understands the meaning of the I AM as the Indwelling Christ. There is an implied predicate here: "I AM [is] the bread of life." Quimby comments, "He [Jesus] put his God or Christ into practice, and it was called the bread of life, and he called on all to come and eat of it, etc."17

In his essay, "The Body of Jesus and the Body of Christ," Quimby gives one of his few extended commentaries on the Bible, which includes comments on various statements of Jesus found in John 6:48-67. The people to whom Jesus spoke found it difficult to understand him. His metaphors about eating his flesh and drinking his blood would have been especially troubling. According to Quimby: "As he [Jesus] affirmed that his words of truth were his body and his spiritual food, they could not understand such purely spiritual doctrine. He tried to teach them that the body which they saw was nothing of itself and existed only as a shadow of the truth of Christ, which Christ was meat and drink and all that made up man."18

In another essay, Quimby comments on John 6:53 as follows: "This truth was called Christ and when Jesus spoke it he spoke Christ and the identity of it was a body and the doctrine was its blood. So when he says, `If you eat not my flesh nor drink my blood, you have no life in you.' But the ignorance of the people thought he meant to eat the man Jesus."19

John 7:15-18 was another important text for Quimby, as his commentary shows. His hearers wondered how Jesus could have acquired such wisdom, without any formal schooling. Jesus replied: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." The true test of realization is the ability to prove one's understanding in practice. As Quimby notes: "Here he [Jesus] was accused of being ignorant and he would be now by the same class were he on earth. Jesus taught not opinions but a truth based on eternal science that he could practice which was the science of health and happiness. He called this truth his father, and when it spoke it was not Jesus; therefore he makes a difference between himself as a natural man and himself as this truth or science."20

In John 7:33-34, Jesus declares: "Yet a little while am I with you, and then I go unto him that sent me. Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me: and where I am, thither ye cannot come." Quimby interprets this text spiritually, finding its meaning in the difficulty that the paradigms of "light" and "darkness" have in "finding" each other. This is how he understands it: "Christ is that unseen principle in man, of which he is conscious but which he has never considered as intelligence. It is God in us, and when man arrives at that state that he can recognize an intelligence that transcends belief, then death is swallowed up in wisdom. All will acknowledge that every scientific discovery might have been known before, that is, the truth existed before we knew it. We, in like manner, have an existence as active in itself as man in his opinions, but both cannot be seen at the same time for as one dies the other rises."21

In John 8:15-16, Jesus declares: "Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me." Obviously this text refers to two levels of consciousness. What is called for here is not a mental vacuum, but a shift from judging by outer appearances to seeing reality in the light of Truth. As Quimby states: "Jesus ... showed the people the difference between a belief, or the wisdom of this world and wisdom of God or Science. When asked a question [he] said, I, that is Christ, judge no man, for science or wisdom is the standard, but again he said, If I, the man Jesus, judge, my judgment is not good, for it is of this world. If it is true or of the scientific world, it is not judgment but wisdom."22

Despite this contrast between judgment and wisdom, in other contexts Quimby does portray Jesus as passing judgment upon error in all its phases. He alludes to John 8:44, declaring: "He called them [the Pharisees] the children of the devil and He said their father or error was a liar from the beginning. Jesus judged them by their works and told the people to do the same."23

After Jesus gave sight to the man born blind, the Pharisees interrogated the man, who told them, "Whether he [Jesus] be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25) Quimby understands this verse as applying not only to the restoration of physical sight, but also to inner enlightenment. He comments: "Jesus saw a truth that led man out of matter into wisdom, and when this wisdom was reduced to practice, it became a science and the necessity of performing cures was the field for this science."24

In John 10:30, Jesus declares: "I and my Father are one" ("I and the Father are one" in most modern translations). Alluding to this verse, Quimby makes a major statement of principle, recognizing that this verse does not apply to Jesus only: "Every man is a part of God, just as far as he is Wisdom. So I will tell you what I know, not what I believe. I worship no God except my own and I will tell you what He teaches me. In the first place He puts no restrictions on me, in fact He is in me, and just as I know myself I know Him; so that I and God are one, just as my children and I are one."25

In John 11:25-26, Jesus declares: "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." According to Quimby, this statement does not refer only to Jesus, but also implies that we are immortal now. His own interpretation of overcoming death (certainly not the only one in the field of New Thought) is based on his experience with out-of-body travel. In affirming that death is an illusion, he set aside the illusion for himself, based on his own experience. He writes: "I am certain that I know what Jesus meant to convey to the people, for I have seen death myself and eternal life that he spoke of and can testify that I have passed from death unto life, as he taught his disciples."26

Quimby quotes Peter in John 13:37: "Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake?" From Quimby's context, it is apparent that he is telling of an occasion when he attended a worship service. He states that the minister who led the service could not explain where Jesus went, when he returned, or even if he went anywhere, for in John 13:36 Jesus had said to Peter: "Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now: but thou shalt follow me afterwards."27

In John 14:1-2, Jesus advises: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." Quimby states that the "me" in 14:1 really refers not to Jesus in any exclusive sense, but to Christ or truth. In so doing, he affirms the same basic approach that is generally used in New Thought circles regarding the Gospel of John. And, the "place" that Jesus prepares is a place in consciousness. Commenting on the second verse, Quimby continues: "While this truth was with them in their understanding, they would rejoice in it, but in teaching them what they did not understand, it went away to prepare a place for them, so that the truth could explain how they had wandered away from it, through their errors and he (truth) would lead them back to their right senses."28

Quimby was aware of Jesus' great statement in John 14:12: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do." Also, Quimby issues a harsh challenge to the church of his era: "The true Christ shall cast out devils and do the works Jesus did and greater, but do you find the Christ of our day [as viewed by the Church] to do what the Christ of whom they pretend to be a disciple did? No. Why? Because they are false Christs."29

John, Chapter 17, includes great meditations that reflect a high state of spiritual consciousness. Quimby was familiar with these meditations. For example, he writes: "As God and I are one so you and I are one and to please myself is to please you and to injure myself is to injure you."30 "So you see I am in you and you in me. You will not say that the great wisdom of all is less wise than me, so is he not in you and you and I in him?"31

Finally, in John 18:36, Jesus declares before Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world." Quimby interprets: "Science is a kingdom not of this world of opinions. It has no dealing with the opinions of man but tests all things by a standard, not of man but of science, which does not say, Believe this or that but shows its opinions by its works."32

The appropriateness of the term "Science" to characterize New Thought has been debated at various times, especially from the standpoint of pastoral tactics. Quimby, for one, was willing to test his healing wisdom in the laboratory of experience, and to make the results his criterion of what is true or false. In this sense, at least, all can agree that he reflects a scientific spirit.

To paraphrase John Kennedy, we in the field of New Thought are the prime movers of a rising tide that will lift all boats. Time, insofar as it exists at all, is our friend, because time is always on the side of Truth.

Future historians will, I believe, view Park Quimby somewhat as a second Luther.

The first, Martin Luther, was the key figure in the movement for emancipation from the illusions of sacramentalism, which had corrupted the Church and largely destroyed its spiritual power.

Quimby, the second Luther, is the key figure in the movement of consciousness that will finally bring about full emancipation from the illusions of materialism. This second liberation, greater than the first, will bring the full treasures of Divine Mind into expression in and through all of humanity. Be of good cheer: The vision in the Book of Revelation, of a New Heaven and a New Earth, will yet be fully realized.

Under the banner of Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, so let it be.


1. JSSMR, Vol.. 7. No. 2. Fall 2001; "Phineas P. Quimby, the Bible, and Healing," by Robert Winterhalter, pp. 123-143
2. Bible Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, February 2002; "The Un-Gospel of John," by Robin Griffeth-Jones, pp. 14-21, 46-47
3. Ibid, p. 16
4. Ervin Seale, Editor; Phineas Parkhurst Quimby: The Complete Writings; Marina del Rey, CA., DeVorss, 1988, Vol. III, p. 236
5. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 227
6. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 208 (cf. I-284ff, II-94) Also, in III-269 he mentions John, Chapter 14 and declares: "He [Jesus] speaks of this truth that shall come to the disciples as I am coming to you." Then Quimby continues with another court analogy. Did he know of the Greek word parakletos, or is this coincidence? We may never know for sure.
7. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 181
8. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 384 (cf. I-187, I-249, I-263, I-413)
9. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 371 (cf. I-367, III-416)
10. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 170
11. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 320 (cf. I-334, II-284, II-312, III-133, III-144-146, III-329-330) Note the brief allusion to John 3:16 in III-330.
12. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 133
13. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 385 (cf. I-264)
14. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 403 (cf. I-187, II-20, II-90, III-304)
15. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 113 (cf.II-146, II-304)
16. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 231 (cf. I-228, III-153, III-285)
17. Ibid, Vol. II, pp. 91-92
18. Ibid, Vol. II, pp. 209-210 (cf. II-389)
19. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 329 (cf. II-389)
20. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 185
21. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 270
22. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 240
23. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 162
24. Ibid, Vol. II, p.181
25. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 383 (cf.I-262, II-90, II-207-208, III-322)
26. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 356 (cf. III-340). In III-355, Quimby quotes Jesus as affirming: "I am the life." It is not clear whether he intended this as a reference to John 11:25, or to John 14:6.
27. Ibid, Vol. III, p. 265
28. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 208
29. Ibid, Vol. II, p. 92. Emphasis added.
30. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 262 (cf. II-93)
31. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 390
32. Ibid, Vol. I, p. 318 (cf. II-225, II-262)

Robert Winterhalter is president of the Society for the Study of Metaphysical Religion. His doctorate is in Biblical Studies. He is a minister both of Unity and of Divine Science, and has served in various field ministries. His Unity ordination is by the Unity-Progressive Council. Currently, he teaches in the External Degree Program of the Emma Curtis Hopkins College & Seminary. His books include The Odes of Solomon, The Fifth Gospel, Jesus' Parables, and the forthcoming work, The Healing Christ. He has done extensive research on the Quimby writings.

[Originally presented before the Annual SSMR Conference - July 25th, 2002, which was held in conjunction with the 87th INTA Congress, Norfolk Virginia. Reprinted by the Phineas Parkhurst Quimby Resource Center with permission from the author who retains all publishing rights. —Ron Hughes]