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REMARKS ON JAMES 5:14-15

Brother Beebe: - The apostolic direction contained in James 5:14-15, is another subject of enquiry by Brother Moore. The text reads thus: "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 shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Until within a few months past, my views of this passage had been that it related only to that period in which special gifts of the Spirit were conferred on the churches; and that it was through the exercise of these gifts that this healing was to be expected. But four or five months since, in reading the passage, I was lead to a very different view of it, and the subject seemed to open to my mind so much light and clearness that I then thought I would embrace the first opportunity to write out my views for the Signs. When, however, such opportunity arrived, the liveliness of those views was somewhat gone, and dreading the charges being repeated that I was trying to bring forward things singular and new in order to become a leader, I therefore let it pass. If a desire to see our Old School brethren laying aside the traditions of men, both ancient and modern, and seeking to be closely conformed in all things to the only standard of truth in religion, the New Testament, and this desire prompting me to action in bringing things to the test of that one standard, regardless of the generally received opinions of men, justly subjects me to the above charge, so be it. As Brother Moore has requested my views on this text, I will now endeavor to give them; only aiming to bring forward what I believe designed by the text under consideration. If any consider my views wrong, let them show them to be such by the Scriptures, in a becoming spirit, and a kindness will be done both to me and others. If not, and they are not satisfied with my views, it is not for me to dictate their course.

But to come to the subject in hand. I will in the first place remark that the form of the direction here given does not correspond with the idea that the intention was to recommend the sick to those on whom was conferred the gift of healing, as one of those special gifts conferred by the Spirit in the first age of the church. For, according to Paul's account, this, like every other special gift, was conferred only on particular individuals; hence he says, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing?" etc., (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 29-30). It must, therefore, be manifest that the direction would have been, if those gifts had been designed, to send for those who had the gift of healing ; instead of this direction to send for the elders of the church, simply in their official relation, without any specification concerning gifts. Again, the direction given as to how the elders shall proceed does not comport with the view given of the exercise of the gift of healing. As in the instance of the healing of the lame man, by Peter's saying, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," he was healed (Acts 3:6), so also in the case of AEneas (Acts 9:33-34), Paul's healing the father of Publius and others, appears to have been different from the direction here given. See Acts 28:8-9. If then this passage does not relate wholly to the exercise of the extraordinary gifts which were in the churches in the apostolic age, as I think will appear evident to those who will candidly examine this point, it must be considered as an apostolic direction to the saints at large, and therefore to extend to all after ages. In fact, from the circumstances of the Apostle's having written this epistle near the close of the Apostolic age, or the period which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, it appears to me reasonable to suppose that this direction was designed by the Holy Ghost to meet the necessities of the saints after the gift of healing and other extraordinary gifts would have ceased; they having answered their purpose for the confirmation of the gospel, in its first publication in all the world for a witness unto all nations.

The direction here given, as I understand its import, is for the sick to commit their case directly to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in this prescribed form, by which faith in His sovereign power to heal is fully and publicly expressed, as also an acknowledgment of His authority in the case.

The faith that is necessarily required to perform this act acceptably to God (I speak not here of the prayer of faith which I shall again notice), is no other than the faith which the centurion expressed when he said, "Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed; for I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it" (Matthew 8:8-9). The centurion, by this form of _expression, showed that he had faith to believe that the Lord Jesus had the same control over diseases, to send and recall them at His pleasure, as he had over his soldiers and servants which were under him. Although the Master declared this to be greater faith than He had found in Israel, yet methinks an Old School Baptist ought surely to have as great faith in his Lord.

I will now notice the direction in its several parts. 1st.   "Is any sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church." It is then to be the voluntary act of the sick, by which he shall thus manifest his confidence in the Lord Jesus and subjection to His appointments. It is also thus made the duty of the elder or elders sent for to attend. 2nd.  "And let them pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." Olive or sweet oil is evidently intended, as that is the common oil of the Scriptures. As pouring oil on the heads of persons appointed to office was expressive of the communication of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit qualifying the person for the office, and as anointing the head was also an expression of cheerfulness, thankfulness, etc., the ceremony on this occasion of anointing with oil in the name of the Lord, may be designed as expressing a cheerful hope that the grace of the Lord may be extended to the healing of the sick, as well as a cheerful submission to His will; or its application to the diseased parts, perhaps for its medical qualities; like Isaiah's applying figs for a plaster upon the boils of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:21).

3rd.  "And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." I do not understand by this that in all cases where this direction is observed that the sick will be raised up to health or that in any case through the observance of this institution the saints will live beyond their appointed time. By the prayer of faith I understand that prayer which is specially indicted by the Holy Spirit and therefore according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27). When the Spirit thus helpeth our infirmities, there is faith given us to believe that God hath heard our prayer, and hence a cheerful resting on Him for the accomplishment of the thing desired, in His own time and way. This prayer of faith is therefore a pledge to the sick, that the Lord hath rebuked his disease, and will again raise him up. It is the duty of the elders on this as in officiating on other occasions, to lead in public prayer unto God, but on this, as much as on other occasions, are they dependent on the special influence of the Holy Spirit to enable them to offer the prayer of faith; and as much so as are private members. Further we have reason to believe that where there is a submission to this institution in faith, even when the prayer of faith shall not be offered, and therefore the disease not removed, there will, nevertheless, be a blessing attend it, in giving to the sick a calm, resignation to the will of God, and a peaceful waiting for Him. A very different state this from that frequent distress of body, and anxiety of mind consequent upon submitting to, and waiting upon the doctor's prescriptions.

4thly.  "And if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him." This sentence, to me, conveys the idea that sickness is sometimes sent upon the saints as chastisement for their having indulged in sin. It also gives the assurance that, when this is the case, and the Lord is thus sought unto in the way of His appointment, the sin shall be forgiven and he healed. Isaiah 33:24, seems also to support this idea: "And the inhabitant shall not say I am sick" (why? because) "the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity." Thus also the case of the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthian 11:30-31).

When this subject was first presented to my mind, as applicable to the saints in all ages, I was particularly led to admire the care which the Lord had thus manifested for His people to relieve them from the necessity of being dependent on the learned professions of the world, and thereby of being subject to be oppressed by them. Of what the world denominates the learned professions, the priesthood is undoubtedly the worst and the oppression which they exercise upon the consciences and persons of those subjected to them, under the pretense that they alone are, by their learning, capable of expounding the Scriptures and declaring the will of God unto the people is the most galling and cruel. But the professions of law and medicine, from the consideration that a special course of learning is the essential prerequisite to the practice thereof, but more particularly from the fact of exclusive laws being enacted even in our free country for their benefit, may properly be considered as monopolies. Hence peculiar advantages are possessed by the practitioners in each of these professions to oppress those who are brought to depend on them. I would not be understood as intimating that there are not many honest and honorable men in each of these last two named professions, men who will be faithful to the trust reposed in them. Neither will I here assert that there are any of an opposite character; it being not necessary for my argument. It is enough to know that these monopolies give to each class great advantages to oppress if disposed to use them. The one practitioner, by protracting the course of law and by extravagant charges, may fleece his client almost at his pleasure; the other, by charges of a similar character and by procrastinating the perfect recovery of his patient, may take large sums from him. But worse still the practitioner of medicine may, with impunity from the law, trifle with both the constitution and life of his patient in trying experiments on his case, if rascal enough to do it. There is, therefore, great danger in putting ourselves on a general scale into the hands of men having such power, unless when we have the fullest confidence both in their skill and in their uprightness.

But when we reflect that not many wise men after the flesh, and therefore not many of the learned of this world are called, by grace; and consider further that by a determination to live godly in Christ Jesus , the believer draws upon him the opposition and even the persecution of the world, how important for the protection of the saints, under such circumstances, that they should not have to seek help for the preservation of their rights and their health from persons having such power to oppress them. Brethren, we have in our generation been in a great measure freed from the persecutions which others have suffered, and having gone along so smoothly with the world, we do not feel the full weight of the gracious provision made in our text for the saints, and also in the text: Matthew 10:18-20. "And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the spirit of your Father which is in heaven. " But let times come, such as some of the younger of us may live to see, and then we shall prize such gracious provisions as are made in these texts for the saints. More might be said to show the guards which the New Testament gives to the saints against being brought under the power of these several professions; but enough has been said to lead my brethren to reflect on the subject.

Perhaps Brother Moore may be desirous to know whether I have ever acted in obedience to this apostolic direction. I answer that I have not. In the first place, I have no idea that it would be proper to call for the elders of the church on every slight attack of cold or disease, for which simple remedies are at hand, and within the knowledge of almost every family, any more than it is prudent to send for a physician in all such cases. 2nd. I should not consider it proper to insist on this course in reference to any member of my family, especially of any age, unless by their choice. In case of sickness myself, I now think, if my faith fail not, that I should obey the apostolic direction, if elders be within reach, who would be willing to attend the call. At any rate, I would prefer committing my case to the Lord to seeking to physicians as did Asa, as in II Chron. 16:12. If called to attend the sick in obedience to this apostolic direction, and I believed that the sick had faith in the appointment as being of divine authority, I should not hesitate to officiate.

One thing more remains to be considered in reference to this subject, namely: The objection which will be made against my views that miracles have ceased, and that this apparently implies a miracle, seeing that healing is anticipated without the use of adequate secondary means. But is it a fact that miracles have ceased, that is, that no events take place which are not brought about by the regular operation of certain fixed laws of nature? I admit that the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, etc., are not now in the churches, as in the apostolic ages, and that men are not now empowered to work miracles, as were the prophets and apostles. But I cannot believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has either laid aside, or suspended, His power to accomplish His own purposes concerning either the work of salvation or the government of the world, independent of the regular operation of any natural laws. In the affairs of the world many events take place which can be consistently accounted for on no principle but that of the special providential government of God, or rather, more properly of Christ, as Mediator, to whom is given all power in heaven and in earth. As to the great work of salvation, which is continually going on, it is from first to last a continued series of miracles. No power of man, no natural cause, or law of nature, can give efficacy to the gospel of Christ so as to minister consolation to the child of grace, nothing short of the immediate power of God the Holy Ghost can open the heart of the unregenerate to receive the truth as it is in Jesus. The gifts which alone can constitute even a child of grace a true minister of the gospel of Christ, cannot be derived from the schools, they must be communicated direct from Christ, who alone has received gifts for men. But to come to the point in hand; Is there a natural and necessary connection between the skill and medicine of the physician, and the recovery of health to the sick? A Predestinarian Bapist who admits that affliction cometh not forth of the dust, at least, whatever others may think, will not believe that the skill of man, who is but dust, can control affliction, or that God is dependent on the exertion of the doctor's skill for the removal of affliction. There are instances of frequent occurrences when the physician acknowledges he has exhausted his skill and can do no more, and yet the sick person, after all, recovers. Many other instances, I will venture the assertion, there are in which physicians, if they would state the truth, have exhausted their skill, yet they continue to prescribe more to keep up the appearance of trying to do, or by way of experiment, more from any hopes of their patient's recovering. Now if under such circumstances, you will consent that the doctor's prescriptions had any hand in bringing about the recovery, you must admit that it was not big skill which directed the result. What was it then? Was it chance, or an overruling Providence that directed to the remedy? If then, whether it be miracle, or not miracle, God does thus interpose and restore health where the physician's skill has failed, why may we not hope that without the aid of the doctor, God will recall the affliction, when the sick, turning from every other helper, looks by faith to Him alone, and that according to the direction of His word? Will any still say that God has appointed the skill and medicine of the doctor as the alone means through the use of which we have a right to expect the earth to produce bread? Let them establish this fact and we submit. But one of two things must be proved in order to establish it. They must either show that there is a fixed law of nature by which healing is the natural result of the application of the doctor's skill and medicine, as the pointing of the needle to the polar star is the effect of magnetism or as the falling of heavy bodies let loose to the earth, is according to the fixed law of gravitation. Or they must show where God has revealed the appointment to such connection between the doctor's art of healing, and the removal of disease, as He has declared the appointment that in the sweat of man's face shall he eat bread, until he return unto the ground. Neither of which can they show, and therefore to divine appointment for a dependence on the doctor's skill for health, can be proved. Thus much for this subject.

The last text proposed as matter of enquiry by Brother Moore is Genesis 4:7. The difficulty I apprehend, apparent in this text, arises from supposing sin to be the subject spoken of in the latter part of the verse. I formerly so apprehended it, and the import of the text, was incomprehensible to me. In order to a correct understanding of this text, it is necessary to consider that Cain was the elder brother, and therefore considered himself entitled to the preeminence, hence his anger against Abel, considering the acceptance of Abel's offering and rejection of his own, as a preferring of Abel before him. The Lord is, therefore, in this text reasoning with him on this ground, showing him that if his offering was not accepted, sin, and not a preference to Abel, was the cause of it. That if he did not well, sin lieth at the door, and thus separated between him and the divine favor, God appears to him to say: If he did well, should not he be accepted, and after showing the cause of his rejection, namely: in sins lying at the door (that sentence being parenthetical), goes on to assure him that if he did thus well, Abel's desire should be unto him, and he should rule over him. The form of expression here used is the same as that used in Genesis 3:16, in reference to Eve's subjection to her husband. The expression: Thy desire shall be to thy husband, I cannot conceive was designed to import that her affections should be to him, for that could not be considered a punishment or an effect of sin, but the import I conceive to be is that she should feel herself dependent on him as her head. So in the other case: And unto thee shall be his desire, was designed to show that Abel should acknowledge his dependence on Cain and subjection to him. Thus the false religionists of our day quarrel with the saints and with the doctrine of election, &c., as though that was the cause of their religious services being rejected; whereas the sinfulness of their own self- devised performances, and their not worshipping in faith, is the ground of their being rejected as reprobate silver.

I remain yours, &c.

Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
Jan.10, 1840
S. Trott.
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol.8 (1840)

Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott
pgs. 200 - 207