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ON MIRACULOUS HEALING.
James V. 14, 15. . *. »■:"'■ "Is any sick among you 1 let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with Oil in the name of the Lord. And the -prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."- ■ •■;• i •.'-.'; .
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." But there is a very considerable diversity observable, both as to the relative importance of the instruction conveyed' in the Scriptures, and also as to the force aiid :learness with which it is presented to the mind. All that is really essential to our eternal salvation, is inscribed as it were with a sun-beam. It is made so clear, that even he that runs may fwd it; and "the wayfaring man," though in other respects he might be considered as "a fool," yet; bringing to the investigation of the path of truth, a simple, humble, teachable disposition, 'heshall not err therein."
But there are portions of the Sacred Word which are not made so perfectly nanifest; they appear to be involved in 1 certain degree of doubt and obscurity, *hich can only be removed by a careful 'Jamination of the circumstances of ime and of place under which they 'ore written. A knowledge of these Usages, it is true, is not absolutely ssential; but they acquire importance, [hen we consider, that from the exeriseof unsanctified learning upon them, [rors and corruptions of the grossest ind have sprung up, which for ages "ebeen fastened upon the consciences
of men, as emanating directly from the authority of the apostles', and founders of the Christian' church. Such is the case with the passage Selected for present discussion ;: it has formed a subject of some doubt and'dispute amongst Protestant Divines and Commentators; and in the Romish Church, it is taken as the authority for a superstitious rite, or sacram'ertt of the most delusive nature, and altogether at Variance with the spirit and design of the'Scripture itself.
'In venturing to offer a few observations upon the subject, I would desire to do so'with all humility and caution; cohscious of the presumption which attaches to a confident opinion upon a point, which has produced hesitation in the minds of eniinejrrtly wise, learned, and good men. I would only present my remarks as cursory hints, to be received with affection, and considered with candour.
Fully to understand the recommendation contained in these verses, and to be enabled in some measure to determine, how far it is binding upon the present and every age of the church, it does appear to me to be necessary, that we should recur to the means, which at the period when this Epistle was penned, were most commonly employed for the purpose of removing diseases: a consideration which will, I think, at once lead us to the necessity, the propriety, 2Q
and the limitation of the apostolic injunction.
The practice of healing had not at, this time assumed the character of a liberal and enlightened art. Though there were one or two men, who appeared as brilliant luminaries amidst the surrounding darkness, yet their influence was too feeble and scattered to produce much effect; and amongst the heathen nations, the care of the sick was almost universally confided to idolatrous priests, magicians, and soothsayers; who being destitute of a true knowledge of disease, applied their remedies, not according to any correct or certain principles, but merely according to the impulse and direction of their own imaginations; placing their chief dependence and confidence in the charms, superstitious incantations, and magical rites, with which the administration was accompanied, and which were usually performed in the name of some fancied Deity. Nor was this practice confined to the heathen, for there is full evidence for the belief, that the Jews themselves were in the habit of adopting it. They appear from prophetic testimony, to have had at all times a proneness to these unhallowed rites, which must have been much increased by the circumstances of the captivity, since no where was sorcery and soothsaying held in such high repute, as in the city of Babylon, and the land of Chaldsa. Elymas, who for "his sorceries, and perversion of the right ways of the Lord," was smitten with blindness in the island of Paphos, through the instrumentality of Paul, was a Jew—and Simon the sorcerer was of the city of Samaria. We have the direct testimony, both of sacred and of profane history, that magic and witchcraft were prevalent practices, both amongst Jews and Gentiles; and they were most particularly employed in the cure of diseases, which were invariably supposed to arise from the influence of an evil spirit within. Much the same idea is now entertained in countries where Divine Truth has not yet displayed all its purifying and enlightening influences; for those who are conversant with the accounts which have been so freely given to us, of the customs and practices of the natives of India and Africa, the aborigines of America, and others under similar circumstances, are well aware, that what
ever may be the remedy employed, recovery from sickness is calculated upon, wholly from the influence of the unintelligible and magical clurm, which in the name of some fancied Deity, is recited over the sufferer.
Such, then, were the circumstances which made it necessary for the apostle to warn those to whom he wrote, against a compliance with such superstitious and unholy practices; for these persons being "Jews of the dispersion," converts scattered abroad amongst the nations of the heathen, were more especially liable to seek assistance, in the only sources from which it appeared likely to be obtained, and to which it is to be supposed, they had hitherto been in the habit of resorting. But "Is any sick among you?'' let him not seek to the soothsayers and magicians, "who peep and who mutter," however imminent may be his danger, and however great their reputation—but let him rather "call fur the elders of the church," those who had been solemnly designated to bear, office amongst them; and who, in fulfilment of the declaration of the promise of their risen Redeemer, had been endowed with those extraordinary and miraculous gifts, which were imparted by the Spirit, to qualify them for the requirements of their station. Now among these was the gift of healing: or that manifestation of Divine energy and power, by which, without any previous knowledge of the nature of remedies, an humble, and perhaps perfectly illiterate individual, became capable of instantly removing sickness, and restoring the afflicted person to health.
Such was the delegated power which the apostles exerted, both during the personal ministry of the Redeemer, and also after his ascension; this power accompanied the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; and in answer to the prayer of faith, it was, in all needful cases, bestowed on others by the apostles.
"Let him then send for the ciders of the church," who though of mean reputation as to earthly knowledge, would in this case prove more wise and skilful than the most eminent magicians; since by these mean things of the world God would exert his power to confound the wisdom of the wise, and to bring to nought the understanding of the prudent, when these were displayed under the supposed direction of false gods, in
ON MIRACULOUS MEALING
defiance of the sole authority which he claimed in the disposal of the lives and health of his creatures. But this power was not to be exerted without the employment of means. The Almighty can accomplish his purposes without any intervention. The power which called an universe into being, can with equal ease fulfil all determinations, without being compelled as we arc to employ subordinate and intermediate agents. Yet he is pleased to condescend to employ means, that the active powers of his servants may be brought into exercise, and that they may feel that their <luties and his blessings are intimately blended together. But when the Divine glory, and the honour of the character of Cod, are particularly the objects to be attained; the means employed in bringing about an event are generally such, as of themselves, would appear utterly inadequate to its accomplishment. When the Red Sea was to be divided to afford a passage for the trembling and affrighted Israelites, Moses was commanded to stretch forth his rod over the sea, and its waves instantly recoiled. When the walls of Jericho were to be levelled, the besieging host was commanded to compass the city seven times, and blow with ram's horns; and when the host of the Midianites was to be given as a prey into the hands of Gideon, it was by means of an hundred men, armed only with burning lamps in carthern pitchers. Thus it is in the present case: "The elders if the church" are directed to come at the request of the individual, and miraculously gifted as they might be, they must first "pray over him," thus acknowledging a sense of their own native weakness and insufficiency, imploring the aid, and submitting to the guidance of Him, who had expressly promised to hear and answer the believing supplications of his people. They were then to "anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord." There has been much unnecessary mysstery and obscurity attached to this part of the passage, which seems however to admit of a very simple and plain interpretation. The remedies which were employed by the Heathen priests and Jewish sorcerers, appear to have been of a very complex description, and their origin and nature were carefully concealed. But here a very common and a very simple application was to be made. It has been conjectured, that anointing with oil, was at that time
customarily used in the removal of some diseases. There is no direct and immediate evidence that it was so used, although it was a very common practice after an individual had risen out of the baths, which were so generally resorted to for health and luxury. But the determination of this is not by any means important. This remedy in all its simplicity, was to be applied in all cases of sickness; no particular sanctity appears to have been attached to the material itself, either in this case, or where the apostles were themselves the persons employed, as in Mark vi. 13. It was oil—pure unmixed oil; but this oil, applied "in the name of the Lord," and in conjunction with earnest fervent prayer to Him, who holds all the issues of disease in his own hands; this shall be made effectual.
"The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.'' This is the efficient encouraging part of the declaration. The persons engaged might be ignorant of the nature and character of the disease; the agent employed as a remedy might appear to be of no avail; but when these poor weak means were sought for, in preference to the witcheries and impious rites of the heathen, they shall be made the channels of a blessing in the recovery of the afflicted person. "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." The terms in which the declaration is made are very positive; and though we may be allowed to consider them in a most enlarged sense, when opposed to the darkness, doubt, and utter uncertainty, which attended the practice of superstitious orgies; yet it seems necessary that we should somewhat limit it to those cases of sickness which were not necessarily and absolutely unto death; or to such as would by their removal, tend to promote the Divine glory, and subserve the purposes of God's providence; since, were we to take the passage in an unlimited view, we should be apt to conclude, that none who were so prayed for became the subjects of death—a position not reconcileable with fact, since it is certain, that individuals at that period died as they do now, notwithstanding the fervent prayers which were offered on their behalf. Though, therefore, we must not limit the operation of the Divine energy, as displayed in primitive times, even in reference to restoration
from death itself, when this was needful to accomplish some remarkable end; yet I think we are to consider this text, as connected with the ordinary practice in cases of a curable nature; the term "the prayer of faith" referring, not to a certain persuasion that God will in all cases absolutely raise up the individual, but to a full conviction of his ability to do so. And when we review, what we may perhaps be allowed to call, the history of prayer, what abundant encouragement do we receive, to employ this powerful mean in humble subservience to the will of God, for the mitigation and removal of disease and pain, though we are no longer vested with miraculous powers! Elisha prayed to the Lord, and the son of the Shunamite was restored to life. Peter prayed, and Dorcas was presented alive to the saints and widows who were lamenting her. Paul entered in, and prayed with the father of Publius, of the island of Meli ta, and laid his hands on him and healed him. And though in the other instances of miraculous cures effected by the apostles and other disciples of our blessed Redeemer, no express mention is made of prayer, yet the acts themselves made manifest the existence of that active, energetic principle of faith, which indeed made their whole lives, lives of prayer.
From the terms here employed," save the sick," "the Lord shall raise him up," and "his sins shall be forgiven him," a licence has been taken, by the Church of Home in particular, to consider, that this unction and prayer, have a peculiar reference to the state and salvation of the soul; and the practice is accordingly enjoined in the catalogue of her sacraments: but it is deferred until the sick person is in the very article of death, conceiving, that under these circumstances it secures his salvation, the forgiveness of his sins, and his joyful resurrection. The history of the rise of this corrupt and superstitious observance is somewhat curious, and seems fully to justify and establish the view which I have before taken, of the reasons and intent of the originally enjoined practice. Though God is always ready to display extraordinary manifestations of his power, when especially necessary for the establishment of his own honour, and for the casting down of that which opposes him; yet this power is never unnecessarily exhibited,
where the end may be attained by ordinary and unexceptionable means ; in which latter case, that may become sinful and unwarrantable presumption, which would before have been considered only as the exercise of a strong and lively faith.
In the early ages, as at the present day, the animation and vigour which Christianity diffused, soon became communicated to the understandings of those whose hearts perhaps were in no wise affected by its saving truths. But the superstitious shackles which had hitherto bound those who thirsted for knowledge were burst asunder—and amongst other advantages, the art of healing was practised, on open, correct, and judicious principles, rendered still more unexceptionable, by the conversion of many of its most eminent professors; and the proper and suitable remedies which now came to be administered, were attended only by those fervent prayers, which are authorised and enjoined in the passage before us. This then being the case, the necessity for extraordinary interposition ceased to exist, and there was no longer reason to expect a continuance of the blessing, which had hitherto been attendant on the simple anointing in the name of the Lord. But " the elders of the church" had, even at this time, departed from their original simplicity and disinterestedness. In the course of a century or two, the desire for power, honour, and emolument, had taken possession of their hearts, and they could not bear to think of yielding one iota of that influence, which they had obtained over their respective flocks.
To secure to themselves the accustomed controul over diseases, it was first assumed, that there was a peculiar sanctity and efficacy in the oil employed: which must either be prepared and consecrated by the priest, or must be taken from one of the holy lamps, which were kept continually burning before the tombs and shrines of the canonised fathers of the church. This peculiar sanctity and efficacy became however suspected, in consequence of the numerous failures in its effects; and it was at length found to be necessary, utterly to disclaim all healing virtue as referring to the body, restricting its influences entirely to the restoration of the soul from its spiritual maladies. In conformity with this idea, it is now employed by the Church of Rome in circumstances