Healing God’s Way

DIVINE HEALING

Dr. W. A. Criswell

James 5:13-15

W. A. Criswell

We welcome you who are sharing with us the service on the radio and television this morning.  You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  As you know, at these services we are preaching through the epistle of the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, James, to the Diaspora, those brethren scattered abroad, and, of course, reaching down to us today.  And the title of the message is Divine Healing.  We have come to the fifth, the last chapter of the epistle, and beginning at verse 13, this is what by inspiration the brother of our Lord wrote:

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray.  Is any 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 hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed.

[James 5:13-16]

Just looking at the passage for a moment—if “one is sick among you, let him call for the elders of the church” [James 5:14].   We would use the word pastors of the church.  There are three words in the Bible that refer to the same office.  Sometimes he is called a presbuteros, an “elder,” referring to the honor of his office.  Sometimes he is called the episkopos, translated “bishop,” which refers to the assignment—the responsibility of office.  And sometimes he is called a poimen, “a shepherd,” which refers to his pastoral care of the congregation.  But all three words are used interchangeably to the same office.  They refer to the same man, whether he is called an “elder” or a “bishop” or a “pastor”—a “shepherd.”  It’s all the same man in the New Testament.  So if one is sick, let him call for the “pastors” we would say, 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” [James 5:14-15].  That’s exactly what is written.  It means “shall heal him”—”and the Lord shall raise him up . . . and if” kan-—not kai “and,” but kai ean.  And it is a contraction—kan—”even if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” [James 5:15].  That is, whether the illness is caused by his own wrongdoing or whether it is not caused by his own wrongdoing; either way, “even if he hath committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”  In the praying and in the anointing, the man is not only healed in his physical frame, but he is healed in his heart and soul.  He is forgiven.

Well, we are going to look especially at this praying and this anointing with oil.  What does that mean and what does that refer to?  If you had a fine library, or came to our library, and you had in it many commentaries—the works of scholars as they interpret and explain the Word of the Lord—if you look up that passage and read about it in the different commentaries—the scholarly books of those who give their lives to the study of the Word—you will find a bedlam of differing voices.  For example, Ellicott’s Commentary, one of the finest in the earth; Ellicott’s Commentary says that this anointing with oil is just symbolic.  It has no medicinal efficacy at all.  Now, if you would read The American Commentary on the New Testament, which is a Baptist commentary published by the Judson Press in Philadelphia—you read that commentary; it says that this anointing with oil is medicinal.  It is medicine to help the man be well.

Now, one of the great commentaries of all time is called the Expositor’s Bible.  And on one page of the Expositor’s Bible it says one thing; and then on the other page, it says diametrically the opposite thing.  I copied it out just to read to you.  In the Expositor’s Bible commenting on this, “Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil” [James 5:14]. In the Expositor’s Bible, volume 6, page 634, this is what is written, “It is altogether beside the mark to suggest that the elders were summoned as people who were specially 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 this page, on page 634, the Expositor’s Bible says that it is not medicinal nor has it a reference to it.

All right, now on page 635, the next page—just turn over the page in the Expositor’s Bible, and here’s what it says, “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 on one page of the Expositor’s Bible, it says it has no medicinal significance at all.  And on the next page it says that’s why it was used, was because of its medicinal properties.  Well, I’ll just use that as an example of how you see in the scholarly interpretation of the passage nothing but bedlam and confusion.

Well, we are going to look at it just as the Bible presents it to us; divine healing—the minister praying and anointing with oil [James 5:14].  One thing that is certain is psychological.   It is good to do something to help people believe that they can be well.  In the story of our Lord when He healed the blind, He made a clay of spittle and anointed the eyes of the blind man, and he was healed [John 9:6-7].  Upon another occasion, He did the same thing with the ears of a deaf man, and he could hear [Mark 7:31-37].  It helped the man’s faith to have some token of its healing.  And if you would study, you would find that there are healing properties in spittle, in saliva.  You reckon how on the earth the inside of your mouth ever heals when it is kept wet all the time?  God put a healing property in the saliva, and it will heal.  If you see a dog that is sore, he will lick his sores.  The reason for that is God put healing properties in the saliva, and it helps the dog get well—just like it helps us get well on the inside of our mouths.  So, to use a means like that has medicinal properties, and it helps the faith of the man to believe that he will be well.

Another thing that we find is that in the using of means to be well, oil and then sometimes wine—and oil and wine are in these ancient days used for medicinal purposes.  In the first chapter of Isaiah, verse 6, Isaiah speaks of the wounds of the people that have not been healed with oil, with ointment [Isaiah 1:6].  And, of course, in the beautiful story of the good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37], the man who fell among the thieves and was left wounded and for dead, the kind Samaritan picked him up and poured into his wounds oil and wine, medicinally ministering to the man who was so grievously hurt [Luke 10:34].  In classical literature, Dio Cassius and Strabo will describe the army of Gallus and say that the army was afflicted with a malady, and they ministered to the soldiers with a mixture of oil and wine—externally and internally.  Josephus, in describing the death of Herod the Great, said that the physicians bathed his body in oil.  But however that is, there are two things here in the text that are very plain.  One is “The prayer of faith shall heal the sick” and “the Lord shall raise him up” [James 5:15].  That’s one thing that is definitely said.  Prayer before God heals.  And the other is, there are means that are used in that healing, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

Well, what of this healing of our bodies?  I was walking down one of the corridors in Baylor Hospital, and a man stopped me and asked me a question that I had been asked many, many times.  Because of a heavy illness in his family, he asked me, “Do you believe in divine healing?”  And I asked him back again, “Is there any other kind?  Does anyone heal but God?”  The doctor can prescribe, and the surgeon can cut, and the physician can tie up, sew up the wound, but it is God who heals.  Nobody heals.  No one heals but God.  The pharmacist cannot heal.  The physician cannot heal.  The surgeon cannot heal.  Only God can heal [Deuteronomy 32:39].  And the surgeon is as helpless, along with the doctor and the pharmacist, before God as you are and as I am.  They have to depend upon God whether they admit it or not—whether the man is an infidel or an atheist or not.  The physician has to depend upon God for healing. There is no other kind of healing but divine healing.  It comes from the gracious hands of the Lord.  Now, by the Scriptures do we have a right to look to God for healing and to expect it from His bountiful hands?  The answer to that is a deep and affirmative yes.

By the Holy Scriptures, we have a right to ask God for healing.  In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, the Lord says to His people, “My name is; I am the Lord that healeth thee” [Exodus 15:26].   That’s one of God’s names, “the Lord that healeth thee.”  Look again in Matthew 8, “When the even was come, they brought unto Jesus many that were possessed with demons: and He cast out the spirits . . . 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” [Matthew 8:16-17], quoting Isaiah 53:4.  A part of the atonement of Christ is for the healing of our bodies.  His atonement was not only for the forgiveness of our sins [Romans 5:11], but also for the healing of our bodies.  Look again in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans.  Paul writes in verse 11: “But if the Spirit of Him that raised 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].   Not your dead bodies—does not say “dead bodies.”  It says your mortal bodies; that is, your bodies that are liable for pain and suffering and illness.  The Spirit of Christ that dwells in you heals you, quickens you, brings you to strength and to health.

Now, we find in the Word of God instance after instance of the divine graciousness in healing His people, in answer to prayer.  Abraham prayed for Abimelech, and God healed him [Genesis 20:17].  Moses prayed for his sister Miriam, who was stricken with leprosy, and God healed her [Numbers 12:10-15].  Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and God heard his prayer and healed him [2 Kings 20:1-7].  And in the New Testament, in the life of Christ and the apostles, world without end there were those who were healed by the gracious hands of our Lord and by the gifts of the Spirit in the apostles.  So, by the Word of the Lord, I have a right, a privilege to go before God and to ask for healing.

Another thing in the text; does God use means in healing [James 5:14].  Are there instruments?  Are there medicines? Are there procedures?  Are there ways that God uses to heal us?  Yes.  An affirmative and decidedly emphatic yes!  In the Holy Scriptures there are means that are used in our healing.  For example, one of the noblest stories in the Bible concerns good King Hezekiah.  The Lord sent him word and said, “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live.  And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed” [Isaiah 38:1-2], and wept [Isaiah 38:3].   And Isaiah was sent to Hezekiah with the word, “Thus saith the Lord, I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears. . . . And I will add to thy life fifteen years” [Isaiah 38:4-5].   That’s a beautiful story of God’s healing.  Now, I want to read to you the little verse down here—a little addendum.  Verse 21: “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].  There were means that were used in the healing of Hezekiah.

Now I am going to turn again in the sixth chapter of Mark, “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 used for the practice of medicine [Mark 6:12-13]. The oil, the ointment was medicinal, and the apostles not only went out and preached, but they healed using means for the healing [Mark 6:12-13].

I have, out of a multitude of others, another instance in this letter that Paul writes to his young son in the ministry, Timothy.   Timothy was weak and sickly and Paul says, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” [1 Timothy 5:23].   Alcohol is so vital to the pharmacist that medicine would almost be impossible without it.  It’s one of the finest solutions in which the medicinal efficacies can be dissolved.  And that’s what Paul writes to his young son in the ministry.  Why didn’t Paul just pray for him and he get well?  No.  There are means to be used to be well—”use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.”  Apparently he was a teetotaler and wouldn’t touch it at all.  And Paul said, Now, you forget about being so overly righteous that you lean backward, and so fanatical that you won’t even use alcohol as a medicine.  Don’t be that way.  “Use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine oft infirmities” [1 Timothy 5:23], not to be a wine head or a wine bibber, but to get well; to get well means to be well.

So I learned from the Word of the Lord that when I am sick, I’m not only to pray, but I am also to use means that I might be healed [James 5:14].  Let me give you an example of that that is absolutely beautiful.  This is one of the most magnificent little side things to be seen in the Bible.  In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul is wrecked upon Malta, the beloved physician Luke is with him.  Now look at the story, “And it came to pass, that the father of Publius”—Publius was the governor of the island—”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” [Acts 28:8]. All right, now the next:—”So when this was done, others also, who had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: who also honored us” [Acts 28:4-10].  Paul the apostle, who prayed; and Luke the beloved physician, who practiced medicine, they honored us with many honors; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary for our continuing journey [Acts 28:10].  Now I want you to look at that as it is written here by Paul.  Look at that, Paul “laid his hands on him and—iaomai—healed him [Acts 28:8].  Then others came who had diseases, and they were theratherapeuō, the practice of medicine, who also honored us” [Acts 28:9-10], Paul and the beloved physician.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Does that please God?  Was the Lord honored in that?  Yes.  Paul prayed and laid his hands upon them, and Luke the doctor, the beloved physician, the Bible calls him, therapeua, he practiced medicine.

“Do you think that’s right, preacher?”  I’m just an echo.  I don’t invent this message.  I just read the Word of God and ask the Spirit of the Lord to help me expound it, expose it—exposition.  That’s all I do.  There’s not anything that I invent in the message.  And if I do, it’s human and speculative and has no authority.  But when I read in the Word of God that in the sickness of the people, Paul prayed, and Luke the beloved physician practiced medicine, I see it in conformity with the whole will and purpose of God.  If one is sick, let us pray.  Let us pray.  There is divine healing in prayer.  Let us pray.  People are sick most of the times in their hearts and in their souls—as much as they are in their physical frames.  Let us pray.  Let us ask God’s healing and then let us use all of the means that we can, for they also are of God.  Luke was a beloved physician.  God presents him as such [Colossians 4:14].  Where did penicillin come from?  God made it.  It was from the beginning.  It’s just now we’ve discovered it.  Where are all of these other herbs and chemicals?  Where do they come from?  They come from the creative hand of God.  And for us to have a minister pray for us, and to have friends and neighbors and family pray for us, and for us to have the hospital and the pharmacist and the physician and the surgeon to help us, this is in keeping with the Word of the Lord [James 5:14-15].

Now, does God always heal?  No.  No.  God has healed.  God does heal.  God can heal.  God will heal, but God does not always heal.  He does not.  God said to Moses, “You cannot enter in [Numbers 20:8-12].  You shall die here in the land of Moab.”  And Moses pled with the Lord [Deuteronomy 3:23-25].  And so insistent was his intercession that God said to Moses, “Speak no more to Me of the matter” [Deuteronomy 3:26-27].  “Thou shalt die here in the land of Moab.  You cannot enter in” [Deuteronomy 34:1-5].  Not always does God heal, saves us in life.  Add to our days, God does not.  He just does not.  There comes a time when the sentence of death that is passed upon all mankind passes also upon us in the will of the Lord.  God does not always heal.  Paul came before the Lord with a thorn in his flesh [2 Corinthians 12:7].  I don’t know what it was, but it was some malady in the flesh——in his physical body.  And he came before the Lord and asked God to heal him, to remove it.  And God said, “Not so.  My grace is sufficient for thee” [2 Corinthians 12:8-9].  And Paul, being a great Christian, said, “Therefore will I take pleasure in my reproaches and in my sicknesses and in my infirmities; for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10].  It’s in my weakness that God perfects His strength.  Not always does God heal.

One of the strangest things that I hear constantly from divine healers, paid healers—men who make money off of the illnesses of the people—”you put a one-hundred-dollar bill in the collection plate; you put a one-hundred-dollar bill in the envelope; you put a hundred-dollar bill on the radio, and on and on and on.  And I will pray and you will get well.”  That goes on day and night forever.  And they do that on the assumption that they have the gift of the healing.  They say that the apostles had that.  Listen, the only thing the apostles had was the gift and the power of the Spirit to confirm the Word, and that was all!  They did not have the power to heal indiscriminately and as they might wish.  No.  Paul writes to Timothy in his second letter to Timothy, saying, “Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick” [2 Timothy 4:20].  Why didn’t Paul heal him?  Because he didn’t have the power to heal him.  Why didn’t Paul heal Epaphroditus, who came to see him from Philippi, in the city of Rome?  Because he does not have the power to heal him [Philippians 2:25-30].  The sign, the miracle was an affirmation of the truth of the Word that was preached; but no apostle even had the power to heal indiscriminately.  “Trophimus have I left at Miletus sick!” [2 Timothy 4:20].  It may be God’s will that I not be well.  Now we are going to look at that in the last few moments that remain in the message.

What is to be my attitude, our attitude?  What is to be the attitude of a child of God toward illness?  Number one: let us admit it.  Let us say it is a fact—illness, disease, germs, bacteria, these things that hurt us and cause us to be sick, they are here, along with the accidents that we fall into.  And death is here, and we are not to deny it.  One of the strangest of all of the denominations to me in the world is that one that denies the reality of hurt, and injury, and disease, and illness, and death.  They say it’s just in the mind.  There’s no such thing as hurt.  There’s no such thing as illness, no such thing as disease.  And at the same time they’re saying it, the guy that’s saying it may have his teeth full of crockery and his eyes covered over with heavy lenses of glasses.  But, you know, there’s just no such thing.  It’s just in your mind.  It’s just in your head.  There’s no such thing as disease or illness.

I was pastor of a church where there was a university, and a professor in the university, her mother was a devout Baptist and belonged to our congregation.  And the mother was a big, heavy woman.  And she stumbled and fell down the steps into the basement.  And she was broken up from head to foot and black and blue all over.  And the daughter came running down and helped her mother up and said, “Now, Mother, you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt.  That’s just in your mind now.  You’re not hurt.  You’re not hurt.”  And there was no doctor called and no pharmacist was asked for medicines—and no anything.  And I went out to see that poor mother.  She was lying there in bed in the house, and I sat down by her side—and she was just hurting all over.  She was black and blue all over!  She was hurt and hurting—but not to that daughter of hers.  “That is just in her mind.  It is just—now, don’t you think anything about that, Mother.  Now, you’re not hurt.  You’re not hurt.  You’re not hurt.  You’re not hurt.”

Man, I do hurt!  And there are times when I am just sick.  It is just a fact.  And the best thing for me to do is just to recognize it.  And I see it in you.  There are times when you’re sick, and there are times when you’re hurt.  So what do I do with my illnesses and with my hurts?  Well, having recognized it, let me take it to God.  I take it to the Lord.  It may be due to my own fault.  I may eat the wrong things, and I get sick.  I may have the wrong diet, and I get sick.  I may not observe the laws of health, and I get sick.  Let’s look at ourselves and search ourselves and see why is it that we are ill.

Another thing, it can be a chastening from the Lord.  In the [twelfth] chapter of Hebrews we are told, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourges every son of His” [Hebrews 12:6].  And if we are not chastened, we are not children of God.  It could be due to something that we have done that is not right.  Illness can be an affliction and a judgment from God.

There’s a rampaging illness that is scourging America today, and especially among our teenagers.  And every doctor in the land would tell you it is due to the promiscuity, the immorality of our young people.  And the doctors don’t know what to do.  In many places, it is becoming epidemic.  There are illnesses that are due to our sins, and the disease is a judgment from Almighty God.  Again, it may be that we are afflicted and it may be that we are ill that we might manifest the glory of the Lord.  The disciples passed by and saw a man blind from his mother’s womb, and they asked the Lord, “Lord, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?  And the Lord said, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents”—that he be born blind—but that the glory of God might be manifest in him” [John 9:2-3].

There are illnesses that are sent upon us that we might demonstrate to the world the glory, the manifested presence of Almighty God.  Job was that way.  The friends of Job tried to convince him that because he was a great sinner, therefore he was a great sufferer [Job 22:5].  Not so.  God said to those three friends, “You have spoken that which is not right concerning Me.  Now, you go to Job and ask Job to pray for you” [Job 42:7-8], lest you die.  There are some things that God sends upon us that we are to bear for the glory of the Lord.

As many of you know, for many years I was a trustee at Baylor Hospital.  I faithfully went to the meetings.  In those days, the chairman of the board of trustees for Baylor Hospital was Harvey Penland.  He was the founder of the Southwestern Drug Company.  Harvey Penland was the nephew of Dr. Truett.  Harvey Penland’s mother, Mrs. Penland, was the sister of Dr. Truett.  Harvey Penland was a noble man.  He was a fellow member of this church.  I buried Harvey Penland.  He was a wonderful man, a gifted man, a worthy man.

I could not tell you the numbers of times that going to a trustee meeting maybe a little early and Harvey Penland would talk to me.  Most of the times tarrying after the meeting was over, and he’d talk to me.  I don’t think there was ever a time but that Mr. Penland talking to me would ask me why Dr. Truett suffered so greatly.  For a year, a full year before he died, Dr. Truett suffered agonizingly.  He was allergic to all the pain killing drugs.  Any narcotic would make him deathly sick, nauseated.  So he suffered a full year, excruciatingly, agonizingly.  And, of course, Harvey Penland looked upon it for all the year.  And he would ask me again and again and again, almost every time that we’d talk, why it was that Dr. Truett, the great man of God and the incomparable preacher of the Word, why did Dr. Truett suffer so agonizingly, so painfully for a full year?

When he would talk to me, my mind would go back to a Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.  Pat Neff, a layman, the president of Baylor University, was the president of the convention and presided over it.  And before the thousands assembled there in hushed quiet, Pat Neff began his presiding with a word of a personal visit he had made to the suffering and dying Dr. Truett.  He had gone from Waco, from Baylor to Dallas, and had visited with the great pastor in the home and so had come to the convention in Atlanta.  And Pat Neff described in words of deepest humility and reverence, described the hurt and the illness and the pain of the great pastor; then described Dr. Truett’s faith in the Lord and in the goodness of God, and repeated what Dr. Truett repeated so many times concerning which he preached so often, “Not my will, but Thine be done” [Luke 22:42].  And in that faith and in that committal, in that yielded submissiveness, the great pastor died.  That is what it is to be a Christian.

Anybody can sing songs, can be happy when they’re well and up.  What do you do when the dark day comes, when the valley stretches endlessly before you, when illness racks and the bed is itself an affliction?  That’s when we glorify God, singing songs in the night, believing and trusting in the goodness of the Lord in the day of our illness, of our suffering.  Take it to God.  Ask God in prayer.  Ask the pastor to pray.  Ask the people who believe in the Lord to pray.  Use every means God has given us:  the doctor, the pharmacist, the hospital.  Then having prayed, having done all that we know how to do, yield it, submissive.  We leave the final verdict in God’s hands.  If it is God’s will that I live, may I praise the Lord in the gift of days.  If it is God’s will that my life is closed like a book, and the last chapter is written, and the sun has set in this life, then, Lord, may I have the  faith to believe that God will heal me over there, give me length of days over there, that the sun shall rise over there.  This is what it is to be a Christian.

Our time is far spent.  In the moment that we sing, to give your heart in faith to our blessed Lord, to come into the fellowship of His church, whatever God shall say, answer with your life.  “Today I take Him as my Savior,” or, “Today we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this dear church.”  As the Lord shall speak, answer now.  Come now, while we stand and while we sing.

Author: Editor

An ordained Baptist minister. Worked for 10 years with a Christian publishing ministry where I was the circulation manager for a growing publication, The Sword of the Lord. I also did most of direct mail fundraising and promotion. I have pastored churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Arkansas. I served for some four years as Vice President of The Spoken Word of God ministry, Orlando, FL. This ministry was active in church planting in India and broadcasting the Scriptures via Trans World Radio and other radio outlets. My associate in this ministry later invited me to join him and his dad in starting a business working with churches providing multimedia equipment. I have done this work for the last 16 years. This blog, hopefully, will scratch an itch I have for communicating the Word of God to a broader audience via the Internet. I would be honored to hear from you via email.

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