December 1st, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-1-74 8:15 a.m.
The message this morning is entitled Divine Healing. And to you who share with us the hour on radio, the pastor invites you to turn to the last chapter of James. In our preaching through the Book of James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem [Acts 21:18; Galatians 2:12], he writes, beginning at verse 13:
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is he merry? let him sing psalms.
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.
Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.
Just a brief word to begin with, looking at the text itself, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church” [James 5:14]; that is, the pastors of the church. The three words: “bishop,” which actually is the translation of the word “overseer”; and poimēn, “shepherd,” the pastor; and this word “elder,” they all refer to the same office and are used in the New Testament interchangeably to refer to the same minister.
He is an elder; that refers to the dignity of his office. He is an episkopos, a bishop. He is the overseer of the work, he is responsible for the work. And he is a poimēn, he is a shepherd, he is a pastor. So the word here refers what we would call the pastors of the church.
“Let him call for the pastors 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”—there’s a little contraction there, kan, not kai, “and,” but kan, kai ean—“and even if,” that is, “whatever the cause of the illness” [James 5:14-15].
Sometimes illness is caused because of our sins. Sometimes our illness is not due to sin at all. But whether it is either way, “call for the elders of the church; and let them pray, anointing them with oil; and even if he’s committed sins, and the illness is due to the sin or not due to the sin, the Lord will forgive him” [James 5:14-15].
Well, you have here in this a little item, a little addition, a little thing that’s done that is immediately significant. “Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil” [James 5:14]. Now if you take time to study the passage, that is, finding through many commentaries what others say about it, you will find a bedlam of voices, and you will find a whole kaleidoscopic score of different interpretations.
For example, one of the fine commentaries of all time is Ellicott’s, Ellicott’s Commentary. Ellicott says that the anointing with oil is symbolic, has nothing to do with the healing at all. It is merely a symbol of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the American Commentary, this is a commentary published years ago by the Judson Press, it’s a Baptist Commentary, the American Commentary on the New Testament; the American Commentary says this refers to medicinal means in healing, the anointing with oil.
Now I want to show you one of the most unusual things that I ever stumbled into. One of the tremendous books of explanation, commentaries, on the Bible that has ever been published is entitled The Expositor’s Bible. And on one page they say one thing, and on the next page they say just exactly the opposite. Now I’m going to read it to you. In The Expositor’s Bible volume six, page 634, this is what the expositor writes about this anointing with oil:
It is altogether beside the mark to suggest that the elders were summoned as people who were especially skilled in medicine; of that there is not only no hint, but the context excludes the idea. If that were in the writer’s mind, why does he not say it once, ‘Let him call for the physicians’? The case is one in which medicine has already done all that it can or in which it can do nothing at all.
So, on that page 634 of The Expositor’s Bible he says it has nothing to do with medicine at all. All right now you turn the page of The Expositor’s Bible, and this is 635, the next page, quote:
What purpose was the oil intended to serve? Was it medicinal? The reason oil was selected was that it was believed to have healing properties; that oil was supposed to be efficacious as medicine is plain from numerous passages, both in and outside of the Holy Scriptures.
So he says exactly one thing on one page, turn the page and he says exactly the opposite. I have brought this to your attention just to show how differing are those who study the Word of the Lord and the scholars who write these books concerning it when they seek to explain what God means in this text.
Well, what we’re going to do is to take the Bible, and we’re going to see what God has to say about divine healing. First of all, as we read these many studies, and they are multitudinous, there are a library of them, as we read them we find many suggestions made. Here’s one. There are many who say that the anointing with oil, in the praying of the pastor over the one who’s sick, that the anointing with oil is an encouragement to faith. Somehow people are encouraged to believe that they are better, and that they can be healed, and that they are going to be well by some kind of visible means. I run every once in a while into a doctor who will give a patient sugar pills. Well, the reason for the sugar pills, there’s no healing in it at all, but they expect to have something, and if the doctor didn’t give them something, well, then they’d go to some other physician who would give them something. So just in order to encourage their psychological attitude toward their illness and their healing, well, the doctor will give them sugar pills.
Well, that kind of a thing, some of these men suggest, some of these scholars suggest, about the anointing with oil. They say that it is a means to encourage faith that people are going to be well. And there’s something in that. For example, in the life of our Lord two different times He made clay of spittle. The people believed in that day that spittle was efficacious for healing. So the Lord made a clay, an ointment of spittle, put it on the eyes of a blind man, and he could see [John 9:6-7]. He was healed. Put it on the ears of a deaf man and he could hear [Mark 7:32-35]. Well, they suggest that such an ointment like that encouraged the man to believe. And it was a means of persuading him that he could be healed of his blindness and healed of his deafness. Well, that’s fine.
Then, of course, there are those who would say that the oil has in it a medicinal value. For example, in the first chapter of Isaiah and the sixth verse, Isaiah refers to the “ointment, the oil of healing” [Isaiah 1:6]. And, of course, all of us know that in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in the beautiful story of the Samaritan, the Good Samaritan, who picked up this man who had been waylaid by robbers; that the man poured into his wounds oil and wine [Luke 10:33-34]. That is, it was medicinal.
And when you read in classical literature you find many instances of that. For example, Dio Cassius in Strabo, in describing the malady that attacked the army of Aelius Gallus, says that oil was applied externally and internally, that the army might be healed. When you read the story of Herod the Great in Josephus, Josephus says in that last illness of Herod that the physicians bathed him in oil. So you have a bedlam of voices in these interpretations.
Well, however it is and whatever the interpreter will say, the text says that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up” [James 5:15]. Whatever the ointment, whatever the oil, “the prayer of faith shall heal him, and the Lord shall raise him up.”
I was walking through the corridors of Baylor Hospital—which I do almost every day-— and a man met me and said, “Do you believe in divine healing?” I answered, “Is there any other?” The physician can cut and the surgeon can operate, but it is God who heals the wound. The doctor doesn’t. He can make the wound. He can sew it up, but only God can heal.
So we’ve learned a great deal to start with, if we will start with that great fundamental avowal, only God heals! The physician can prescribe, and we can take medicines, and we can go to the hospital, and we can be operated on, and many other things, but only God heals.
Now according to the Word of the Lord, do we have a right by the Holy Scriptures to expect healing from God? Yes, we do. We do. There is no thing in the Bible that is more certainly true than that. We can look to God in expectancy for healing. For example, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God says His name is, “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Exodus 15:26, “That is My name; I am the Lord that healeth thee.” Look again in Matthew 8; a part of the atoning efficacy of the death of our Lord is our healing.
When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with demons; and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses,
quoting Isaiah chapter 53, verse 4 [Isaiah 53:4]. A part of the atonement of our Lord was not only that our sins be forgiven [1 Corinthians 15:3], but that our illnesses and our sicknesses be healed [Matthew 8:16-17]. It is a part of the efficacious offering of Christ on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].
Now look again. By the Holy Spirit of God within us we can expect to be healed. Paul will write in Romans 8:11, “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,” not dead bodies, but your mortal bodies, “by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” The Spirit of God in us quickens us, heals us. Our mortal bodies, subject to illnesses, the Spirit of God brings healing to those who open their hearts to the presence of the Spirit of Christ [Romans 8:11].
Not only that, but in the Holy Scriptures there are instances of those who have been healed by the divine intervention of the Lord. Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and God healed him [Genesis 20:17]. Isaiah was sent by the word of the Lord to speak to Hezekiah that he would surely die, and not live [Isaiah 38:1]. And Hezekiah prayed to God [Isaiah 38:2-3], and the Lord sent Isaiah back, saying, “I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears: and I add fifteen year to your life” [Isaiah 38:4-5].
Thus in the Holy Scriptures, and in the life of our Lord, and in the life of the apostles, so many, many, many, many healed by the divine intervention of God. So that’s our second great avowal: all healing is of God, all of it. There is none other. Only God can heal. It is God who made us. We can’t make ourselves, nor can the finest, shrewdest scientist conceive of our conception. This is a work of God. And we have a right according to the Holy Spirit and according to the Holy Scriptures to bring our illnesses to the Lord. That is a part of His atoning grace, that we be healed.
Next, does the Bible countenance means in our healing, instruments of healing? Is it all just in prayer, in supplication, or does the Scriptures countenance the use of means, medicines, pharmaceutical rewards and knowledge, and what is known and taught in the medical school? Does the Lord do that? Does the Lord grant us means in our healing? There is no doubt in the answer to that. For example, I just spoke of Hezekiah the king to whom God sent word that he would surely die and not live [Isaiah 38:1]. And Isaiah the prophet was sent to him to tell him, “The Lord has heard your prayers, and He has seen your tears, and He has added fifteen years to your life” [Isaiah 38:5].
All right, now you look. In the prophet Isaiah, chapter 38, in verse 21, there is an addendum, “For, for, Isaiah had said, Let them take a lump of figs, and lay it for a plaster upon the boil, and he shall recover” [Isaiah 38:21]. It was a thing God did that Hezekiah was healed. God said, “I have heard your prayers, I have seen your tears” [Isaiah 38:5]. But when it came to the healing itself, there’s a little addendum, “Because, for Isaiah had said, Take a lump of figs, and put it on the boil, make a plaster of it, and he shall recover” [Isaiah 38:21]. Means are used in healing.
Now you look again in the sixth chapter of Mark, in the ministry of our Lord. “And the disciples went out, and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and therapeuō,” which is the word for practicing medicine; “they anointed with oil and healed them” [Mark 6:12-13].
Now you look again, in 1 Timothy chapter 5, “Drink no longer water,” says the apostle to his young son in the ministry, “but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine oft infirmities” [1 Timothy 5:23]. Apparently, Timothy was a teetotaler. He wouldn’t touch anything that had alcohol in it. And the apostle writes to him and says, “Now, Timothy, it’s all right to be a teetotaler. That’s fine, absolutely to refuse to drink liquor of any kind, that’s good; but you’re carrying it too far. Timothy, alcohol has a place in the medicinal world”—most of our medicines are somehow dissolved in alcohol—“and for you to be thus squeamish about using a little wine is not correct. It’s fine to take medicines for your stomach and your often infirmities.” Timothy was a sickly fellow, and the apostle Paul prescribes for him medicines.
So I learn from this that for me to use what God has given us that we might be healed is according to the Word of the Lord. I am to pray [James 5:13, 15]. I am to expect healing from the hand of God, and I am also to use means [James 5:14].
Who invented penicillin? It’s been here from the creation of the world. Who invented it? God! Who discovered it? Just in our generation have we learned about it. All of these herbs and all of these chemicals and all of these medicines have been here from the beginning of time. But we are beginning now to see how they can be efficaciously used under the hands of a learned doctor, or under the direction of a fine pharmacist, for our healing. So as I read the Bible, I learn that I am to pray when I am sick [James 5:15]. And I am to use means that I might be healed [James 5:14], for the means are as much from the hand of God, they are as much a creation of the Lord God Almighty as all the other wonderful things we see in God’s world.
Now does God always heal? Does He? When we take the case to the Lord, and we bow before the great High God, and we ask God for healing, does God always heal? God can heal. God does heal. God has healed. God will heal. But God does not always heal. The answer is a categorical “No!” God does not always heal.
Oh, how many times do we find that in the Holy Scriptures? Moses said, “Lord, Lord, I do not want to die here in Moab. Please, God, let me cross over into that goodly land, please God.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Speak no more to Me of this matter [Deuteronomy 3:25-26]; thou shalt die in the land of Moab, and thou shalt not go over,” because of the anger he displayed in breaking one of the great types in the Old Testament, striking the rock, when God said speak to it [Numbers 20:8-12]. Christ dies one time for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and He doesn’t die twice. And when Moses broke the type [Numbers 20:8-11], God said, “Because of your anger, your volative, impetuous taking away of what I seek to teach these people, you cannot go over” [Deuteronomy 3:25-27]. That is a plain negative from God in prayer. “No,” says God, “no!”
Let’s take again; the apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh. What it was we do not know, except it was in the flesh. He had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan that buffeted him. And thrice he went to the Lord about it, asking God to remove it, to heal him. And thrice God said, “No, no.” So Paul said, “I therefore will take pleasure in my reproaches and mine infirmities; for when I am weak then I am strong: For God said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee” [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. It was something that Paul had to bear, by the word of the Lord. God said, “No.”
Take once again, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, the last letter to Timothy, Paul said to Timothy, “Trophimus, my fellow worker, Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick” [2 Timothy 4:20]. Why didn’t Paul heal him? Why, you’d listen to these divine healers today, and you would think these apostles had the power of healing, that any true man of God today can heal indiscriminately. There is not anything farther from the truth of the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures than that. The apostles had no indiscriminate power of healing at all. “Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick,” because Paul had no power to heal indiscriminately; only in the will of God [2 Timothy 4:20].
Now we must conclude because our time is passed. What is to be our attitude toward illness? First, according to the Word of God, let us face it, let us accept it, it is a fact: sickness, and illness, and infirmity, we have it. It is one of the curses of the world, our illnesses, our infirmities, our sicknesses.
There is a denomination of religion to which many people belong, who deny the reality of illness. They say, “It’s just in your mind, and if you get it out of your mind then you’re not ill. There’s not any death,” they say. That is one of the strangest aberrations in doctrine that I have ever seen in my life.
In one of my pastorates, where was a university, a state university, there was a professor there whose mother belonged to our church. She was a devout, humble, Baptist. She was a wonderful Christian, but her daughter, who was the professor, belonged to this denomination that denies the reality of illness. So upon a day, this mother, she was a big heavy woman, this mother fell down the stair steps into the basement. And she nearly broke herself up. She fell all the way down. And the daughter ran down into the basement, and helped her mother up, and said, “Now, Mother, you’re not hurt, you’re not hurt, you’re not hurt, you’re not hurt.” No doctor was called. No medicines were used. No anything to alleviate her suffering.
So I went out to see her at the house. And I sat down by the bed and there she was broken up, black and blue. And the daughter saying to her, “Now you’re not hurt, Mother. You’re not hurt, you’re not hurt. That’s just in your mind. You’re not hurt, you’re not hurt.” Man, was she hurt, and was she hurting!
Oh, I don’t understand! To me that is a mental aberration. First of all, let’s admit it. When I have a cold, I have a cold. When I’ve got the stomach ache, I have the stomach ache. When something’s wrong with my gizzard, I feel it on the inside of me. Let’s admit it. Let’s face it. Let’s just confess it. There is illness in this earth.
Second; let us seek the mind of God concerning it. Why am I sick? Why? And there are lots of reasons. One, I may be ill because of my own habits. It is due to my diet, and it’s due to my lack of exercise, and it’s due to my lack of observing the laws of health. It may be due to me. That’s one reason I may be sick.
Another reason, it may be a chastening of the Lord. According to the [twelfth] chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son” [Hebrews 12:6]; it may be a chastening from the Lord.
Again, it may be that God’s glory might be manifest in me. And as they walked by,” the ninth chapter of the Book of John:
And as they walked by, the disciples pointed to a man who was born blind. And they asked the Lord, Lord, who did sin? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?
And the Lord replied, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but that the glory of God might be manifest in him.
And the Lord Jesus opened his eyes, healed him of his blindness [John 9:6-7], and men praised God for the marvelous ableness of the Divine Healer [John 10:21].
Maybe the purpose of the illness is to glorify God. That was the story of Job who refused to curse God in his tragic illness, and he magnified the Lord [Job 2:9-10]. And the example of Job has been an encouragement to the thousands who have looked to God in faith ever since. Maybe the reason for the illness is that we might understand more of the goodness and purpose of God in this life; loving and getting ready for the life that is to come.
So, to conclude, when we are ill, let us take it to God. Let us pray [James 5:13, 15]. Let us ask God about it and let us use the best means that God hath given us, that we might be healed [John 5:14]. “It came to pass,” this is the twenty-eighth chapter of Acts,
It came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever . . . to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.
And when this was done, others also which had diseases in the island came and were healed:
Who also honored us with many honors; and when we were departed, they ladened us with such things as were necessary for our journey.
Now I want to look at that just for a minute, just for a moment. “Paul laid hands upon them and healed them, iaomai, healed them. And then others came and brought those who were sick, and they were therapeuō. And they honored us,” Luke was a physician and Paul was a preacher. And when it says, “Paul healed,” they use iaomai; and when they say Luke healed they use therapeuō, therapeutic, the practice of medicine; “and they ladened us with honors.” It is both. It is both. It is both.
According to the Word of the Lord it is both. It is iaomai, praying for God to help us and to heal us. It is therapeuō, the practice of Luke, the beloved physician. It is both. And my dear people, when time comes and we are ill, according to the Word of God, it is both. Let us pray. Let us ask the pastor to pray. Let us ask our pastors to come to see us. And our ministers will pray and our loved ones will pray for us.
And we’ll take it to God in prayer. And we will call Doctor Luke, the beloved physician, and let him prescribe for us, and build hospitals for us, and call upon the services of the pharmacist for us. And we’ll take ourselves to God and then leave it in the hands of the Lord.
I cannot stop without one thing. Many, many years I was on the board of Baylor Hospital. And the chairman of the board so many of those years was Harvey Penland, who founded the Southwestern Drug Company and was Truett’s nephew. Mrs. Penland, his mother, was Dr. Truett’s sister.
I could not tell you the number of times, because I went to the meetings faithfully, that Harvey Penland, who belonged to the church here, would talk to me. And he never failed in talking to me to say, “I cannot understand the great illness of Dr. Truett.” As you know, Dr. Truett was sick for a year, and he was allergic to any kind of medicine that would take away pain, any kind. It made him deathly sick, deathly nauseated. So for a year Dr. Truett bore an excruciating and agonizing pain. And Harvey Penland would say, that great man of God, for a year in agony, “I don’t understand it, I don’t understand it.”
And you know, when Harvey Penland spoke to me of that, my mind went back to the Southern Baptist Convention, presided over by Pat Neth, a layman, who was the president of Baylor University. And Pat Neth, at this convention, to a vast throng of thousands who were hushed in deepest sympathy, described his visit to George Truett on the way to the convention, from Waco to Dallas, to visit the great pastor, and to go to Atlanta to report concerning Dr. Truett at the convention.
And there was not one there, including me, but was moved to deepest tears as Pat Neth described the suffering of the great pastor, and the absolute submissiveness of George Truett in the words that he so often used and preached, “Thy will be done.” And if it God’s will that I suffer, God’s will be done.
And in those moments of suffering, and illness, and agony, it may be we have our finest opportunity to magnify the faith of our Lord. Anybody can sing and praise God when they’re well. But it’s singing and praising God when it’s dark and when we’re sick and when we’re dying that magnifies and glorifies our Lord.
So we’ll pray and use the means God hath given us. And if God says, “Yes,” we will rejoice and praise His name. If God says, “No, my grace is perfected in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10], then Lord, may I be faithful in the hour of my trial and glorify God’s name in the night as in the day, when I’m sick as when I am well.
Our time is far, far spent. To give your heart to Jesus, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, on the first note of that first stanza come, come: “I have decided now and I’m coming.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.