Man has a twofold nature. He is both a material and a spiritual being. And both natures have been equally affected by the Fall. His body is exposed to disease; his soul is corrupted by sin. How blessed, therefore, to find that the complete scheme of redemption includes both natures. It provides for the restoration of physical as well as the renovation of spiritual life!
The Redeemer appears among men with His hands stretched out to our misery and need, offering both salvation and healing. He offers Himself to us as a Savior to the uttermost; His indwelling Spirit the life of our spirit; His resurrection body the life of our mortal flesh.
Jesus begins His ministry by healing all who have need of healing; He closes it by making full atonement for our sin on the cross. Then on the other side of the open tomb He passes into heaven, leaving the double commission for “all nations” and “alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19-20).
He says, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils;… they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:15-18).
This was “the faith… once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). What has become of it? Why is it not still universally taught and realized? Did it disappear with the apostolic age? Was it withdrawn when Peter, Paul and John were removed? By no means! It remained in the church for centuries and only disappeared gradually in the church’s growing worldliness, corruption, formalism and unbelief.
With a reviving faith, with a deepening spiritual life, with a more marked and scriptural recognition of the Holy Spirit and the living Christ and with the nearer approach of the returning Master Himself, this blessed gospel of physical redemption is beginning to be restored to its ancient place. The church is slowly learning to reclaim what she never should have lost. But along with this there is also manifested such a spirit of conservative unbelief and cold, traditional theological rationalism as to make it necessary that we should “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
Faith must rest on the Word
First, we must be sure of our scriptural foundations. Faith must always rest on the Divine Word. The most important element in the “prayer of faith” is a full and firm persuasion that the healing of disease by simple faith in God is a part of the gospel and a doctrine of the Scriptures.
The earliest promise of healing is in Exodus 15:25,26: “There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, and said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”
The place of this promise is most marked. It is at the very outset of Israel’s journey from Egypt, like Christ’s healing of disease at the opening of His ministry.
It comes immediately after Israel passed through the Red Sea. This event is distinctly typical of our redemption, and the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness is typical of our pilgrimage: “These things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Corinthians 10:11).
This promise, therefore, becomes ours as the redeemed people of God. And God meets us at the very threshold of our pilgrimage with the covenant of healing. He declares that, as we walk in holy and loving obedience, we shall be kept from sickness which belongs to the old life of bondage we have left behind us forever.
Sickness belongs to the Egyptians, not to the people of God. And only as we return spiritually to Egypt do we return to its malaria’s and perils. This is not only a promise; it is “a statute and an ordinance.” And so, corresponding to this ancient statute, the Lord Jesus has left for us in James 5:14 a distinct ordinance of healing in His name, as sacred and binding as any of the ordinances of the gospel.
In Psalm 105:37 we read of the actual fulfillment of that promise: “He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.” Although they did not fulfill their part in the covenant, God kept His word. And so, although our faith and obedience are often defective, if Christ is our surety and if our faith will claim His merits and His name, we too shall see the promise fulfilled.
Satan the source
The story of Job is one of the oldest records of history. It gives us a view of the source from which sickness came — in this case, Satan (Job 1–2). It also reveals the course of action that brings healing — that is, taking the place of humble self-judgment at the mercy seat. If ever a sickroom was unveiled, it was that of the man of Uz. But we see no physician there, no human remedy, only a looking unto God as his Avenger. And when Job renounces his self-righteousness and self-vindication and takes the place where God is seeking to bring him — that of self-renunciation and humility — he is healed.
The psalms of David are a record of many afflictions. But God is always the deliverer, and God alone: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3). We see no human hand. The psalmist looks to heaven as directly for healing as he does for pardon, and in the same breath he cries: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases.” It is a complete healing — all his diseases — as universal and lasting as the forgiveness of his sins. And how glorious and entire that was is evident enough: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (103:12). But here, as in the case of Job, there is an intimate connection between sickness and sin and both must be healed together.
Asa was a king who had begun his reign by an act of simple, implicit trust in God when human resources utterly failed him. By that trust he won one of the most glorious victories of history (II Chronicles 14:9-12). But success corrupted him. It taught him to value too highly the arm of flesh. In his next great crisis Asa formed an alliance with Syria and lost the help of God (16:7-8). He refused to take warning from the prophet and rushed on to the climax of his earthly confidence.
Asa became sick. Here was a greater foe than the Ethiopians, but again he turned to man: “And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians” (16:12). The outcome could not be more sad or sarcastic: “And Asa slept with his fathers” (16:13).
The Old Testament evangel
It was Isaiah who delivered the great evangelical vision, the gospel in the Old Testament, the very mirror of the coming Redeemer. And at the front of his prophetic message, prefaced by a great Amen — the only “surely” in the chapter — is the promise of healing: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows… and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). It is the strongest possible statement of complete redemption from pain and sickness by Christ’s life and death. And these are the very words Matthew quotes afterward, under the inspired guidance of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 8:17), as the explanation of Jesus’ universal works of healing.
Our English version of Isaiah does only imperfect justice to the force of the original. The translation in Matthew is much better: “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” A literal translation of Isaiah would be: “Surely he hath borne away our sicknesses and carried away our pains.”
Any person who will refer to such a familiar commentary as that of Albert Barnes on Isaiah, or to any other Hebrew authority, will see that the two words denote respectively sickness and pain. And the words for “bear” and “carry” denote not mere sympathy but actual substitution and the utter removal of the thing borne.
Therefore, as Jesus Christ has borne our sins, He has also borne away and carried off our sicknesses, yes, and even our pains. Abiding in Him, we may be fully delivered from both sickness and pain. Thus “by his stripes we are healed.” Blessed and glorious gospel! Blessed and glorious Burden-Bearer!
And so the ancient prophet beholds in vision the Redeemer coming first as a great Physician and then hanging on the cross as a great Sacrifice. The evangelists have also described Him so. For three years He was the great Healer, and then for six hours of shame and agony He was the dying Lamb.
Jesus fulfills prophecy
Matthew, inspired by God, quotes Isaiah 53:4-5 as the reason why Jesus healed all who were sick: “He… healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17).
It was not that Jesus might give His enemies a vindication of His Deity, but that He might fulfill the character presented of Him in ancient prophecy. Had He not done so, He would not have been true to His own character. If He did not still do so, He would not be Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). These healings were not occasional but continual, not exceptional but universal. Jesus never turned any away. “He… healed all that were sick.” “As many as touched him were made whole.” He is still the same.
This was the work of Jesus’ life, and God would not have us forget that His Son spent more than three years in deeds of power and love before He went up to Calvary to die. We need that living Christ quite as much as we need Christ crucified. The Levitical types included the meal offering as much as the sin offering. And suffering humanity needs to feed upon the great loving Heart of Galilee and Bethany as much as on the Lamb of Calvary.
It would take entirely too long to examine in detail the countless records of Jesus’ healing power and grace. He cured the leper, the lame, the blind, the paralytic, the impotent, the fever-stricken — all who “had need of healing.” He linked sickness often with sin and forgave before He spoke the restoring word. He required their own personal touch of appropriating faith and bade them take the healing by rising up and carrying their beds.
His healing went far beyond His own immediate presence to reach and save the centurion’s servant and the nobleman’s son. How often He reproved the least question of His willingness to help and threw the responsibility of man’s suffering on his own unbelief.
These and many more such lessons crowd every page of the Master’s life and reveal to us the secret of claiming His healing power. What right has anyone to explain these miracles as mere types of spiritual healing and not as specimens of what He still is ready to do for all who trust Him? Such was Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus empowers others to heal
But was this blessed power to die with Jesus at Calvary? Jesus does not so indicate. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12). Jesus makes it emphatic — “verily, verily” — as if He knew it was something mankind was sure to doubt. It is no use to tell us that this meant that the church after Pentecost was to have greater spiritual power and do greater spiritual works by the Holy Spirit than Jesus Himself did, inasmuch as the conversion of the soul is a greater work than the healing of the body. Jesus says, “The works that I do shall he do also,” as well as the “greater works than these.” That is, Jesus’ followers are to do the same works that He Himself did and greater also.
Even during His life on earth Jesus sent out the 12 apostles. Then He sent out the 70 as forerunners of the whole host of the Christian eldership (for the 70 were in effect the first elders of the Christian age, corresponding to the 70 elders of Moses’ time) with full power to heal. And when Jesus was about to leave the world, He left on record both these commissions in the most unmistakable terms.
A twofold commission
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover” (Mark 16:15-18).
Here is the commission of the twofold gospel given to them and the assurance of Christ’s presence and unchanging power. What right have we to preach one part of the gospel without the other? What right have we to hold back any of God’s grace from a perishing world? What right have we to go to unbelievers and demand their acceptance of our salvation message without these signs following? What right have we to explain their absence from our ministry by trying to eliminate them from God’s Word or to consign them to an obsolete past?
Christ promised the signs, and they followed as long as Christians continued to believe and expect them. It is important to observe Young’s translation of verse 17: “Signs shall follow them that believe these things.” The signs shall correspond to the extent of their faith.
By such mighty “signs and wonders” the church was established in Jerusalem, Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. The unbelief of the world needs these signs today as much as in the apostolic times. During the apostolic age these manifestations of healing power were by no means confined to the apostles. Philip and Stephen were as gloriously used as Peter and John.
In I Corinthians 12:9-30, “the gifts of healings” are spoken of as widely diffused and universally understood among the endowments of the church. But the apostolic age was soon to close; were the gifts to be continued, and if so, by whom? By what limitation was the church to be preserved from fanaticism and presumption? By what commission was healing to be perpetuated to the end of time and placed within the reach of all God’s suffering saints?
The answer is in James 5:14, to which we turn again with deep interest: “Is any sick among you? 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.”
Notice first who gives this commission. It is James — James, who had authority to say, in summing up the decrees of the council at Jerusalem, “My sentence is…” He is the man who is named first by Paul himself among the pillars of the church (see Galatians 2:9).
Observe to whom this power is committed. Not to the apostles, who are now passing away; not to men and women of rare gifts or difficult to contact. It was given to the elders — the men most likely to be within reach of every sufferer, the men who are to continue till the end of the age.
Notice the time at which this commission is given. It was not at the beginning, but at the close of the apostolic age. It was not for that generation, but for the one that was just rising and all the succeeding ages. Indeed, these New Testament letters were not widely circulated in their own time, but were mainly designed “for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
Again, observe the nature of the ordinance en joined. It is “the prayer of faith” and the “anointing… with oil in the name of the Lord.” This was not a medical anointing, for it was not to be applied by a physician, but by an elder. It must, naturally, be the same anointing we read of in connection with the healing of disease by the apostles (for instance, Mark 6:13).
Any other interpretation would be strained and contrary to the obvious meaning of the custom as our Lord and His apostles observed it. In the absence of any explanation to the contrary, we are bound to believe that it was the same — a symbolic religious ordinance expressive of the power of the Holy Spirit, whose peculiar emblem is oil.
The Greek Orthodox church still retains the ordinance, but the Roman Catholic church has changed it into a mournful preparation for death. It is a beautiful symbol of the Divine Spirit of life taking possession of the human body and breathing into it God’s vital energy.
Divine healing is a command
Divine healing ceases to be a mere privilege. It is the Divine prescription for disease, and no obedient Christian can safely ignore it. Any other method of dealing with sickness is unauthorized. This is God’s plan. This makes faith simple and easy. We have only to obey in childlike confidence; God will fulfill.
Once more, we must not overlook the connection of sickness with sin. There is here the suggestion that the trial has been a Divine chastening and requires self-judgment, penitence and pardon. There is the blessed assurance that both pardon and healing may be claimed together in His name.
If more were needed than the testimony of James, then John, the last of the apostles and the one who best knew the Master’s heart, has left a tender prayer: “Beloved, I wish [pray] above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (III John 2). By this prayer we may know our Father’s gentle concern for our health as well as for our souls. When God breathes such a prayer for us, we need not fear to claim it for ourselves. But as we do, we must not forget that our health will be even as our soul prospers.
In Ephesians 5:30 we note a union between our body and the risen body of the Lord Jesus Christ: “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” We have the right to claim for our mortal frame the vital energy of Christ’s perfect life. He has given His life for us, and it is all-sufficient.
“If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11). This promise cannot refer to the future resurrection. That resurrection will be by the “voice of the Son of God” (John 5:25), not the Holy Spirit. This is a present dwelling in and a quickening by the Spirit. And it is a quickening of the “mortal body,” not the soul.
What can this be but physical restoration? The physical restoration is the direct work of the Holy Spirit, and only they who know the indwelling of the Divine Spirit can receive it. It was the Spirit of God who wrought the miracles of Jesus Christ on earth (Matthew 12:28). And if we have the same Spirit dwelling in us, we shall experience the same works.
Not simply healing but health
Paul expressed his physical experience this way: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (II Corinthians 4:10-11).
Paul knew constant peril, infirmity and physical suffering — probably by persecution and even violence. But it came in order that the healing, restoring and sustaining power and life of Jesus might be the more constantly manifest in his very body. And this for the encouragement of suffering saints — “for your sakes” (4:15). His life was a constant miracle that it might be to all persons a pledge and monument of the promise made to him for all who might thereafter suffer. This life, he tells us, was “renewed day by day” (4:16). The healing power of Christ is dependent on our continual abiding in Him and, like all God’s gifts, is renewed day by day.
Christ did not say, “I will be with you alway.” That would have suggested a break. He said, “I am” — an unchanging now, a presence never withdrawn, a love, a nearness, a power to heal and save as constant and as free as ever, even unto the end of the world. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
Thus have we traced the teachings of the Holy Scriptures from Exodus to Patmos. We have seen God giving His people the ordinance of healing at the very outset of their pilgrimage. We have seen it illustrated in the ancient dispensation in the sufferings of Job, the songs of David and the sad death of Asa. We have seen Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the coming Healer. We have seen the Son of man coming to fulfill that picture to the letter; we have heard Him tell His weeping disciples of His unchanging presence with them. We have seen Him transmit His healing power to their hands. And we have seen those followers hand down this gospel of healing to us and to the church of God until the latest ages of time.
What more evidence can we ask? What else can we do but believe, rejoice, receive and proclaim this great salvation to a sick and sinking world?