IT is my purpose now, to consider the leading propositions presented in the previous chapter concerning miraculous healing. As the writings of Dr. Gordon and Dr. Simpson present the best, and, therefore, almost the last word to be said in favour of faith healing as generally held, their utterances deserve special consideration.1 We shall then take up their principal propositions one by one. In quoting, it seems best to refer to the words found in The Gospel of Healing as these are similar to those used in The Ministry of Healing and they are put in a more analyzed and consecutive form.
This, as any one will recognize, is a noble utterance; and it is largely true. But the question arises, is it wholly true? There is no doubt of the fact that Christ’s redemption includes man’s two natures—indeed, three, spirit, soul and body— and provides for the restoration of the physical life as well as the renovation of the spiritual. Those who believe in the resurrection of the body will hold that redemption includes the body; and those who believe in present-day miracles of healing will agree that they are the direct result of Christ’s redemptive work and power. But does it follow that Christ appears among men, in the sense of all saved men and at all times, with His hands stretched out to their physical need, offering healing?
Many men, indeed many sanctified and believing men, have pleaded with Christ for healing and have not received it. Mr. Hudson Taylor, for instance, who lived through a long life in almost unbroken fellowship with God and who trusted Him as few men on earth have done, had few ailments healed in answer to prayer apart from medical aid, though he was delivered from death again and again with such aid. With this one case before us, not to speak of the cases of countless other saints, some of us hesitate to conclude that Christ stands prepared to heal all Christians at all times, with its unjust and unhappy implication that Mr. Taylor and others like him were not healed because they were not sufficiently holy or did not sufficiently believe. The quoted statement seems so inclusive in its phraseology as manifestly to be contrary to experience.
Those who have studied prophecy will recognize that God has connected different and contrasted purposes with the various dispensations. For instance, He made Israel a nation and gave them a land, which He has not done for the church. For instance again, He wrought miracles in Israel’s behalf, such as making the sun to stand still in the heaven, which he has never wrought in behalf of the church. To argue, therefore, that what God did for His ancient people He will do for His present people, is fallacious and misleading. To illustrate again, out of many illustrations which might be chosen, it says this in Deuteronomy 29:5 concerning Israel, “Your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot.” Here is a thing which God did in the physical realm and a most easy thing for Him to repeat; and, we might argue, as He loves the church as fully as He did Israel, that He will do now, in respect to clothes and shoes, what He did formerly. This if it were justifiable, would be a heartening line of thought. But let the Christian, even the holy and believing Christian, “claim the promise” and try to put it into effect, and then see what will happen.
And why will not God respond to the saint now as He did of old, and, for instance, make old clothes and shoes perpetually new? There is but one answer: it is not because He is not able to do so, nor because He does not love now as He did of old, but simply and only because, in respect to such matters, He does not choose to do in this present dispensation what He did in the former. And it is much the same in respect to healing. God made Israel an earthly people and He gave them in a marked way earthly, and, therefore, physical blessings. God has made Christians a heavenly people and He gives them in a marked way heavenly, and, therefore, spiritual blessings. Hence, whatever He now does for the bodies of Christians, He does, not on the basis of what He did for Israel, but apart from it, in fulfillment of His special purposes of grace in this present dispensation.
The above quotation infers that there was a vicarious element in the healings of the Lord in Galilee, and they argue, since these healings were then and there for all, that this vicariousness, confirmed by the atonement on the cross, makes divine healing now and here for all. This argument seems to be unscriptural. There was no vicarious element in the Galilee healings, Christ not having yet suffered on the cross, and hence universality cannot be founded upon them or deduced from them. Peter in his first epistle gives the divine interpretation of Isaiah 53:4, 5, which Dr. Simpson quotes, in the following words, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Pet. 2:24). Here manifestly, the apostle has Isaiah 53:3-5 in mind, and he declares that the meaning of the verses is that Christ bore the burden of our sins not in His life, but in His death “on the tree,” that is, on the cross, and that by the stripes, or punishment laid upon Him, there we are healed, or saved. And with this declaration, the other writers of the New Testament agree (Mark 10:45; Rom. 3:25; 5:6-11; I Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:18-21).
We may conclude then that the atonement was wrought out on the cross, and there alone. Nevertheless, we cannot turn aside from the declaration of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 8:17 to the effect that the healings in Galilee were a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4, 5. This raises the question as to what was the fulfillment which took place. In regard to this, two things are to be noted; first, the Spirit says that the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4, 5 as related to the healings, was then and there “fulfilled,” which forbids the thought that it was, in the sense spoken of, fulfilled by the subsequent atonement on Calvary; and second, the context indicates that the fulfillment referred to was related only to healings, and hence had no relationship with sin or an atonement for sin.
It appears, therefore, that Isaiah 53:4, 5 was written with a double prophetic outlook: first to an atonement for sin, of which Peter speaks (I Pet. 2:24); and second, to the healing of disease, before and apart from the atonement, of which Matthew speaks (Matt. 8:17), this last, undoubtedly, as an evidence and proof of Christ’s messianic claim. This double significance, if a rightful interpretation is to be reached, must be kept in view, and the two must be held separate and must not be confused. In other words, Matthew 8:17 does not refer to the atoning work of Christ, and universal healing cannot be founded upon it. It refers to a temporary content connected with the earthly ministry of our Lord, which being “fulfilled” was not to be renewed.
This is an instance of generalization, for, as a matter of fact, the apostles, not to speak of subsequent disciples, did not do greater works than Christ, that is, in the physical world. Did any apostle or disciple turn water into wine; or bring up from the sea a draught of fishes; or still a tempestuous lake; or feed five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes; or heal a man at a distance who was sick and ready to die; or raise a man from the tomb who had been dead four days? Aside from Peter and Paul raising the dead, the apostolic miracles of a physical kind did not approach those which the Lord wrought, either in quality or quantity. One can but conclude, therefore, that the Lord in the words quoted (John 14:12) had reference to acts in the spiritual realm, in respect to which His statement is wholly applicable and true. If this is the case, then they do not refer to acts of healing, and they are not to be made the basis of an assumption to the effect that the apostles and all following Christians may equal and even exceed Christ in His healing power and acts.
As will be seen, these words make large claims for the church, and lay down unequivocally the proposition that any Christian who believes may bring to pass the signs spoken of by Christ as recorded by Mark. But these facts are to be noted. A “sign” in Scripture is never a frequent, continuous, or universal event. When the sun rises and sets in its daily course about the earth, it is frequent, continuous and universal, and hence it is not a sign. But when, at the command of Joshua, the sun stood still in the heaven, it was neither frequent, nor continuous, nor universal, and hence, it was a sign. The fact then, that Christ said that these “signs” should follow them that believe was the divine indication that they should not be frequent, continuous and universal. In addition to this, what is argued for one of the stated signs must be argued for all of the others; that is, if Christ gave to all believing Christians the right to lay hands on the sick that they might recover, He also gave them the right to cast out demons, to speak with new tongues, to take up serpents, and, if they should drink any deadly thing, to recover. But we do not read that the author of the quotation elsewhere argued for the putting into effect of these other signs of which the Master spoke. He did indeed tolerate seeking for the receiving and exercising of the gift of tongues, during a series of “waiting meetings” at the New York Tabernacle. But this was only for a comparatively short time, for spiritual abuses developed and he brought the meetings to an end. And, finally, it is to be observed that the commission in Mark does not give the right to be healed, but to lay hands on the sick and heal, which two things, though somewhat similar, are distinctly unlike, coming under different classifications and being for different purposes.
Those who hold the doctrine of miraculous healing as the right and privilege of all saints make much of this verse in Romans. But before the interpretation which the quotation expresses is given to it, two or three things should be observed. First, the verse does not make the quickening of our mortal bodies dependent upon conditions of any kind, such as the prayer of faith or a sanctified life, as it would do if present experiences were in mind. It simply announces the fact that the Spirit will bring the quickening mentioned to pass. Second, what is promised in the verse is not said to be for a few, peculiarly sanctified and specially believing Christians, but for all saints in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, that is, for every member of the body of Christ. And third, the verse does not say that the Spirit now quickens the mortal body, but that He will do so, the difference being between a present and future action. In my opinion, these considerations are insuperable difficulties to making the verse apply to present times and experiences. It seems clear that the words used point forward to the coming of Christ when all who live and believe in Him will be quickened by the Spirit into His form and beauty. It will be of interest to my readers to know that Dr. Gordon, whose miraculous healing views would naturally have led him to an opposite interpretation of the verse than this, told me that a prolonged study of it, including its Greek wording, had forced him to conclude that it could not possibly be made to refer to the present time; and he added that undoubtedly it spoke of the transformation of the body which is to take place at the return of the Lord,
There are few verses in the Word of God more comprehensive in implication and more establishing in effect than the one which is here quoted. It shows, to the comforting and strengthening of the soul, that we have an eternal Christ, who is enduring and unchangeable. The promise, therefore, is a rock foundation upon which to stand and in which to rejoice, through all the events of time as related to oneself, the church, the nations, the world, and the whole universe of God. But, granting this, may one found upon it what the quotation does? Is it true, because Christ is unchangeable in His being and attributes, that also, He is unchangeable in His will and ways? Is He, for instance, doing the same in this church age that He did in the Jewish age, and that He will do in the millennial and eternal ages? To ask these questions is to answer them. The fact is, one of the most blessed things about Christ’s unchangeableness is His changefulness. If He were so changeless as to know no change, He would be a machine, not God, nor even man. It is because He is the God-Man, that He thinks and plans, and acts, and so, by various ways and diverse means, brings to pass different purposes at different times. In the nature of the case, therefore, it seems a false line of argument to declare, because Christ healed men in the days when He was on earth, that He will do so now that He is in heaven, and for the simple reason that He is the same “yesterday, and today, and for ever.” Whether He will or will not heal in our day must be ascertained, not from the standpoint of His eternal sameness, but from that of His revealed will and purpose as related to the present age.
Almost all writers upon the subject of miraculous healing regard the passage in James (5:14-20) as basic and pivotal. Most students of the subject of such healing agree with them in this, at least in this sense, that it is their opinion that it is most important carefully to study and accurately to interpret the passage. But some teachers feel that these last requirements have not always been fulfilled, and, on the contrary, that many expositors of the verses have come to them with biased minds and with the object of confirming predetermined views. I do not know that I may wholly be delivered from such a bias of opinion. Nevertheless, I shall beg to point out certain facts about the passage which often have been passed by, and which, I think, must be before us if we are to reach safe conclusions. Let me state these as follows:
Light is thrown upon the James passage by considering the New Testament in general in respect to the use or non-use of oil. There is only one other passage in this part of the Bible which speaks of the use of oil in cases of sickness, namely, Mark 6:13. This reads thus: “They cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” This quotation establishes the fact that the apostles at times used oil in their acts of healing. But other passages indicate that at other times they did not do so (Acts 3:1-8). It is to be remembered that their using oil, so far as the Word records, was in the lifetime of Christ and thus before the church had been formed. James brings the practice within the time of the church. But again it is to be remembered that he wrote in the early period of the church, during Jewish supremacy. In connection with this, it is to be carefully observed that there is not a passage in the New Testament subsequent to Pentecost which says that the apostles, in cases of healing, used oil, and thus not one which indicates that Paul, the great healer, did so.
This silence of Scripture, as related to the church period and especially as related to its later portion, is suggestive. It seems to indicate that the instructions of James concerning healing were intended particularly for the church in a condition of a large Jewish membership and at a time when it was emerging from Judaism and was spiritually undeveloped; and hence, that they are not so much intended for the church in its present Gentile condition and spiritual maturity. In the last analysis of the case, Paul’s writings are to be taken as containing the latest and highest church truth, and it is to be observed that he gives no hint, in his teaching or practice, of sending for the elders in cases of sickness or of anointing by oil. It seems fair to conclude, therefore, that the instructions of James, as related to present-day Christians, are to be regarded as permissive but not mandatory. Dr. Simpson, in spite of his saying that anointing with oil is a command and the divine prescription for disease, seemed to sense the truth of this conclusion, for in his various sicknesses, as already noted, he never sent for the elders of the church and was never anointed with oil.