Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
I. THE CASE OF THE AFFLICTED. (Ver. 13.) The believer must not allow his trials to exasperate him. Instead of swearing over them, he should pray over them. That is a graceless heart which, when under the rod, challenges God's sovereignty, or impugns his justice, or distrusts his goodness, or arraigns his wisdom. The child of God prays always, because he loves prayer; and especially when under trial, because then he has special need of it. He prays for a spirit of filial submission; for the improvement of his chastisement; and for the removal of it, if the Lord will. And only those who have proved the efficacy of prayer know how efficacious it is. Even to tell God of our trials helps to alleviate them. Prayer brings the soul near to him who bears upon his loving heart the burden of his people's sorrows. As we pray, our cares and trials pass into the Divine breast, and we are made of one wilt with our Father. But, besides this, our petitions will be directly and substantially answered. God wilt give us either the particular blessing which we ask, or, if that would not be good for us, something still better. When we crave relief from present suffering we may get instead, as Paul did (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), the power of higher moral endurance.
II. THE CASE OF THE LIGHT-HEARTED. (Ver. 13.) Sorrow and joy constantly meet in human life. There are many people who are "cheerful:" some, because they are in easy circumstances; others, because they are of a buoyant disposition. Now, a Christian ought to keep his hilarity from running to waste by expressing his gladness in praise. Cheerfulness naturally overflows into song. And the believer is to use as the vehicle of his joy, not the favorite ditties of the worldly man, which are often full of levity and sometimes tinged with profanity, but "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." This counsel reminds us that praise is a means of grace, not for the congregation and the family alone, but also for the individual believer. Praise is the art of adoration; and its outward attire is music, the most spiritual of the fine arts. To "psalm" with voice and instrumental accompaniment affords the best safety-valve for joyous emotion. Music
"Gentlier on the spirit lies,
III. THE CASE OF THE SICK. (Vers. 14, 15.) The sick brother is to "call for the presbyters of the Church." This implies that it belongs to the elders, or bishops, to visit the diseased and. infirm. In early times they were to do so, not only to render spiritual aid, but to exercise such "gifts of healings" (1 Corinthians 12:9) as they might possess. It is enjoined, or rather taken for granted, that they would "anoint" the sick man "with oil." Why so? Either because this was the accredited medical panacea in that age (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34), or because oil is a symbol of the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Healer (Mark 6:13). If we judge that the anointing was medicinal, the lesson is that in sickness we are to have recourse both to "the prayer of faith" and to the prescriptions of an enlightened pharmacy. If, however, we regard it as symbolical - perhaps the better view - in that case it would remind all parties that the miraculous cures were effected only by the Holy Spirit, whom the Lord Jesus had given. And so the apostle expressly says that the anointing is to be done "in the Name of the Lord," and that "the prayer of faith" which accompanied it would be followed by a cure. The gift of healing was granted to the apostles as a temporary aid in the work of founding the Christian Church. At first, before the gospel was sufficiently understood, signs and wonders were needed as helps to faith. This gift would cease with the death of the last person who had been endowed with it by the last of the apostles. The injunction to use oil as a symbol was, therefore, only temporary. Many, however, have judged otherwise.
1. Roman Catholics, who base their rite of extreme unction upon this Scripture. But that so-called sacrament differs entirely from the ordinance before us. Here, it is the elders; there, a priest. Here, it is a sick man who is to be restored to health; there, one who is about to die. Here, the object of the anointing is the recovery of the patient; there, it is to prepare him for death.
2. The "Peculiar People" in England, and the "Tunkers in the United States, who in times of illness still rely upon this unction and prayer, rejecting all medical advice. At Mannedorf, in Switzerland, Miss Dorothea Trudel for many years superintended an establishment in which prayer was employed in preference to medicine for the cure even of the most serious diseases. And at Bad Boll, in Würtemberg, Pastor Blumhardt has prosecuted upon a large scale a similar enterprise. Hundreds of cures have been authenticated as having been wrought in these institutions. What, then, are we to say to this? First of all, that the promised recovery is doubtless connected in ver. 15, not with the anointing, but with the prayer, and with the faith which breathed in it. If there were faith on the part of the praying presbyter, and of the sick brother himself, his sickness would be healed; and his sins, of which perhaps his disease was a punishment, would be forgiven. But again, although we do not now look for evidently miraculous cures, the prayer of faith" still pierces the supernatural; and thus it is as reasonable now as ever to pray for the recovery of the sick, provided also we diligently use, at the same time, the best physical means of cure; it is a Divine law, in every department of life, that we must employ the means if we would secure the blessing. During sickness, therefore, we must pray as if all depended upon player; and avail ourselves of medical skill as if we had no other resource than that. But what Christian can doubt the efficacy of prayer as a means of cure? If Jesus Christ and his apostles could heal the sick, may not our Father in heaven still, although in occult ways which medical skill cannot trace, touch the secret springs of human life? and may he not do so in answer to the prayers of his own people? Certainly diseases are under law. But even a medical man has some power to direct the action of the physical laws of disease. And is not the power of the Lawgiver greater still than that of the most eminent physician? Is it not literally omnipotent?
1. Prayer, although by no means of the nature of a charm, is a real medicine for sickness.
2. While this is true, the supreme end of prayer is the attainment of spiritual blessing.
3. We should therefore ask more earnestly for the forgiveness of sins than for temporal mercies. - C.J.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders.I. The first thing to be noted in connection with this sending for the elders of the congregation by the sick man is, that in this Epistle, which is one of the very earliest among the Christian writings which have come down to us, we already find a DISTINCTION MADE BETWEEN CLERGY AND LAITY. St. James assumes as a matter of course, that every congregation has elders, that is a constituted ecclesiastical government. What the precise functions of the clergy were is not told us with much detail or precision; but it is quite clear that whatever the functions were they were spiritual rather than secular, and were duties which a select minority had to exercise in reference to the rest; they were not such as any one might exercise towards any one. In the present ease the sick person is not to send for any members of the congregation, but for certain who hold a definite, and apparently an official position. If any Christians could discharge the function in question, St. James would not have given the sick person the trouble of summoning the elders rather than those people who chanced to be near at hand. And it is quite clear that not all Christians are over all other Christians in the Lord; that not all are to rule, and all to obey and submit; therefore not all have the same authority to "admonish" others, or to "watch in behalf of their souls, as they that shall give account." The reason why the elders are to be summoned is stated in different ways by different writers, but with a large amount of substantial agreement. "As being those in whom the power and grace of the Holy Spirit more particularly appeared," says Calvin. "Because when they pray it is not much less than if the whole Church prayed," says Bengel. St. James, says Neander, "regards the presbyters in the light of organs of the Church, acting in its name"; and, "As the presbyters acted in the name of the whole Church, and each one as a member of the body felt that he needed its sympathy and intercession, and might count upon it; individuals should therefore, in cases of sickness, send for the presbyters of the Church. These were to offer prayer on their behalf." The intercession which St. James recommends, says Stier, is "intercession for the sick on the part of the representatives of the Church,... not merely the intercession of friends or brethren as such, but in the name of the whole community, one of whose members is suffering."
II. The second point of interest is THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK PERSON BY THE ELDERS. What purpose was the oil intended to serve? Was it purely symbolical? and if so, of what? Was it merely for the refreshment of the sick person, giving relief to parched skin and stiffened limbs? Was it medicinal, with a view to a permanent cure by natural means? Was it the channel or instrument of a supernatural cure? Was it an aid to the sick person's faith? One or both of the last two suggestions may be accepted as the most probable solution. And the reason why oil was selected as a channel of Divine power and an aid to faith was, that it was believed to have healing properties. It is easier to believe when visible means are used than when nothing is visible, and it is still easier to believe when the visible means appear to be likely to contribute to the desired effect. Christ twice used spittle in curing blindness, probably because spittle was believed to be beneficial to the eyesight. And that oil was supposed to be efficacious as medicine is plain from numerous passages both in and outside of Holy Scripture (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34). A mixture of oil and wine was used for the malady which attacked the army of AElius Gallus, and was applied both externally and internally. His physicians caused Herod the Great to be bathed in a vessel full of oil when he was supposed to be at death's door. Celsus recommends rubbing with oil in the case of fevers and some other ailments. But it is obvious that St. James does not recommend the oil merely as medicine, for he does not say that the oil shall cure the sick person, nor yet that the oil with prayer shall do so; but that "the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick," without mentioning the oil at all. On the other hand, he says that the anointing is to be done by the elders "in the name of the Lord." If the anointing were merely medicinal, it might have been performed by any one, without waiting for the elders. And it can hardly be supposed that oil was believed to be a remedy for all diseases. On the other hand, it seems to be too much to say that the anointing had nothing to do with bodily healing at all, and was simply a means of grace for the sick. Thus Dollinger says, "This is no gift of healing, for that was not confined to the presbyters; and for that Christ prescribed not unction, but laying on of hands. Had he meant that, St. James would have bidden or advised the sick to send for one who possessed this gift, whether presbyter or layman .... What was to be conveyed by this medium was, therefore, only sometimes recovery or relief, always consolation, revival of confidence and forgiveness of sins, on condition, of course, of faith and repentance." But although the gift of healing was not confined to the elders, yet in certain cases they may have exercised it; and although Christ prescribed the laying on of hands (Mark 16:18), yet the apostles sometimes healed by anointing with oil (Mark 6:13). And that "shall save him that is sick," means "shall cure him, is clear both from the context, and also from the use of the same word elsewhere (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:23; John 11:12). And "the Lord shall raise him up" makes this interpretation still more certain. The same expression is used of Simon's wife's mother (Mark 1:31). That St. James makes the promise of recovery without any restriction may at first sight appear to be surprising; but in this he is only following the example of our Lord, who makes similar promises, and leaves it to the thought and experience of Christians to find out the limitations to them. St. James is only applying to a particular case what Christ promised in general terms (Mark 11:24; Matthew 17:20; John 14:14; John 16:23). The words "in My Name" point to the limitation; they do not, of course, refer to the use of the formula "through Jesus Christ our Lord," but to the exercise of the spirit of Christ: "Not My will, but Thine be done." The union of our will with the will of God is the very first condition of successful prayer. The apostles themselves had no indiscriminate power of healing (Philippians 2:27; 2 Timothy 4:20; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). How, then, can we suppose that St. James credited the elders of every congregation with an unrestricted power of healing? He leaves it to the common sense and Christian submission of his readers to understand that the elders have no power to cancel the sentence of death pronounced on the whole human race. To pray that any one should be exempt from this sentence would be not faith, but presumption. Of the employment of the rite here prescribed by St. James we have very little evidence in the early ages of the Church. mentions a cure by anointing, but it is not quite a case in point. The Emperor Septimius Severus believed that he had been cured from an illness through oil administered by a Christian named Proculus Torpacion, steward of Evodias, and in gratitude for it he maintained him in the palace for the rest of his life. quotes the passage from St. James, and seems to understand the sickness to be that of sin. He interpolates thus: "Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them lay their hands on him, anointing him with oil," &c. This perhaps tells us how the rite was administered in in his time; or it may mean that Origen understood the "pray over him" of St. James to signify imposition of hands. With him, then, the forgiveness of sins is the healing. A century and a half later takes a further step, and employs the passage to show that priests have the power of absolution. "For not only at the time when they regenerate us, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins." And then he quotes James 5:14, 15. It is evident that this is quite alien to the passage. The sickness and the sins are plainly distinguished by St. James, and nothing is said about absolution by the elders, who pray for his recovery, and (no doubt) for his forgiveness. When we reach the sixth century the evidence for the custom of anointing the sick with holy oil becomes abundant. At first any one with a reputation for sanctity might bless the oil — not only laymen, but women. But in the West the rule gradually spread from Rome that the sacred oil for the sick must be "made" by the bishop. In the East this has never been observed. Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that according to the Greeks it is lawful for presbyters to make the chrism for the sick. And this rule continues to this day. One priest suffices; but it is desirable to get seven, if possible. But the chief step in the development is taken when not only the blessing of the oil, but the administering of it to the Kick, is reserved to the clergy. In s time this restriction was not yet made, as is clear from his comments on the passage, although even then it was customary for priests to administer the unction. But by the tenth century this restriction had probably become general. It became connected with the communion of the sick, which of course required a priest, and then with the Viaticum, or communion of the dying; but even then the unction seems to have preceded the last communion. The name "" (unctio extrema), as a technical ecclesiastical term, is not older than the twelfth century. Other terms are "Last Oil" (ultimum oleum) and "Sacrament of the Departing" (sacramentum exeuntium). But when we have reached these phrases we are very far indeed from the ordinance prescribed by St. James, and from that which was practised by the apostles. "And if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." We ought perhaps rather to translate, "Even if he have committed sins. it shall be forgiven him." The meaning would seem to be, "even if his sickness has been produced by his sins, his sin shall be forgiven, and his sickness cured." It is possible, but unnatural, to join the first clause of this sentence with the preceding one: "the Lord shall raise him up, even if he have committed sins." In that case "It shall be forgiven him" forms a very awkward independent sentence, without conjunction. The ordinary arrangement of the clauses is much better: even if the malady is the effect of the man's own wrong-doing, the prayer offered by faith — his faith, and that of the elders — shall still prevail.
(A. Plummer, D. D.)1. From the supposition, "Is any among you sick?" The note is obvious. Christ's worshippers are not exempted from sickness, no more than any other affliction. Those that are dear to God have their share of miseries. Austin asketh, If he were beloved, how came he to be sick? In the outward accidents of life God would make no difference.
2. From that "let him call for the elders." Note that the chief care of a sick man should be for his soul. Physicians are to be called in their place, but not first, not chiefly. Sickness is God's messenger to call us to meet with God.
3. From that "let him call." The elders must be sent for. A man that hath continued in opposition is loath to submit at the last hour and to call the elders to his spiritual assistance. Aquinas saith that this last office must not be performed but to those that require it. Possidonius, in the life of Austin, saith that Austin was wont of his own accord to visit the poor, the fatherless, and the widow, but the sick never till he was called. It is indeed suitable to true religion to "visit the fatherless," (James 1:27); but the sick must call for the elders.
4. From that "the elders." For our comfort in sickness it is good to call in the help of the guides and officers of the Church. They, excelling in gifts, are best able to instruct and pray. They can with authority, and in a way of office, comfort and instruct; the prayers of prophets have a special efficacy.
5. Again from that "the elders." Visiting of the sick should be performed with the joint care of Church officers; it is a weighty work, and needeth many shoulders; the diversity of gifts for prayer and discourse seemeth to call for it; it is the last office we can perform to those of whom the Lord hath made us overseers.
6. From that "let them pray." One necessary work in visiting is commending sick persons to God, and this prayer must be made by them, or over them, that their sight may the more work upon us, and our prayers may work upon them.
7. From that "and anoint him with oil." From this clause observe the condescension of God. The first preachers of the gospel of Christ had power to do miracles: the doctrine itself, being so rational and satisfactory, deserved belief; but God would give a visible confirmation, the better to encourage our faith.
8. From that "anoint with oil" in order to cure, note that the miracles done in Christ's name were wrought by power, but ended in mercy. In the very confirmation of the gospel God would show the benefit of it.
9. From that "in the name of the Lord." All the miracles that were wrought were to be wrought in Christ's name. The apostles and primitive Christians, though they had such an excellent trust, did not abuse it to serve their own name and interests, but Christ's; teaching us that we should exercise all our gifts and abilities by Christ's power to Christ's glory (Psalm 51:16).
Let them pray over him.
I. WE SHOULD ALWAYS BE HUMBLE IN OUR PRAYERS. The Times, in mentioning petitions which had been presented to the House of Lords, remarked of one, that it was rejected on the ground of an omission — after all, but a simple one — the word "humble" was left out. Doubtless, many a petition is rejected by a higher tribunal for lack of humility in the hearts of those who presented it. "Of all trees," says Owen Feltham, "I observe God hath chosen the vine, a low plant that creeps upon the helpful wall; of all beasts, the soft and patient lamb; of all fowls, the mild and guileless dove. When God appeared to Moses, it was not in the lofty cedar, nor the sturdy oak, but in a bush, a slender, lowly shrub: as if He would, by these elections, check the conceited arrogance of man."
II. IMPORTUNATE EARNESTNESS is another characteristic of successful prayer. A clergyman who had been preaching to the young, closed with an appeal to parents, in these words: About two-and-twenty years ago, a small circle had gathered around the couch of an apparently dying infant; the man of God, who led their devotions, seemed to forget the sickness of the child in his prayer for his future usefulness. He prayed for the child, who had been consecrated to God at his birth, as a man, and a minister of the Word. The parents laid hold of the horns , f the altar, and prayed with him. The child recovered, grew toward manhood, and ran far in the ways of folly and sin. One after another of that little circle were called sway; but two, and one of them the mother, lived to hear him proclaim the everlasting gospel. "It is no fiction," added the minister; "that child, that prodigal youth, that preacher, is he who now addresses you!"
III. The prayers of the Church, when making special supplications for the sick, ALWAYS LEAVE IT TO THE WISDOM OF OUR HEAVENLY FATHER TO DETERMINE WHETHER RESTORATION TO HEALTH OR PREPARATION FOR A PEACEFUL DEATH SHALL BE BEST, and we beseech Him to grant the petition accordingly. Nothing could be more proper than this spirit of childlike submission. A father, once praying by the sick-bed of an only son, gave utterance to the rebellious petition, "Let him become what he will; so he may live, I shall be satisfied." Years and years passed by; the child had been spared, grew up to manhood, passed through a course of crime too awful to be dwelt upon, and was tried, and condemned to die. As he went forth from the prison to the gallows, he said to his old, heartbroken father, with a careless air, "Will you see me to the tree?" What a lesson to those who, while beseeching the Lord for the removal of some bitter cup, have not learned to add in the Saviour's submissive words, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt!"
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.More than half a century since, Rev. T. Charles, of Bala, was evidently near death, when a prayermeeting of his friends was held, in which earnest prayer was offered by an aged Christian for his recovery; especially asking that fifteen years might be added to the useful life of his servant. The prayer was exactly answered. Mr. Charles filled up the fifteen added years in great usefulness and in full expectation of release at its end. On his last visit to some friends, he said that he could not expect to see them again, as he was now in the last year of his life. Strange as it may seem, his death occurred just at the termination of the fifteen years.
(New Cyclopedia of Illustrations.)
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
Bengel's Life.When one of his relatives was recovering from a dangerous illness, Bengel said: "I did not regard outward appearances, unfavourable as they were. I prayed, and hoped for a favourable answer and it has been given. I said nothing about it to any one at the time, but it came to me as a positive assurance that God will hear prayer."
Anointing him with oil.
The Weekly Pulpit.I. EXAMINE THE PASSAGE. Epistle of James. The first epistle written. Point, the activity of faith. It must do something. Such active faith covers the whole life. This passage is found among practical directions. Affliction. Merry. Sick. Every natural and simple explanation has been given to this difficult and misused passage. Anointing the body with oil was the sign of health. Those who were sick might not be anointed; nor those passing through a time of mourning. The ancient customs in relation to anointing may be illustrated by our customs in relation to shaving the beard. The sick man will neither trouble himself, nor be troubled, about shaving; but as soon as he begins to recover he will return to his cleanly habits. So the ancients would neglect daily anointing while under sickness, and their return to their old ways was the sign of recovering. When, therefore, James enjoins the elders to anoint the sick man after prayer for his restoration, he really says, "Pray for him in perfect faith, and show that you have such strong faith by acting towards him as if he were restored to health again." The elders were to "help him rise, wash, and anoint."
II. THINGS REQUIRING SPECIAL NOTICE. Age of miracles was not then passed.
1. The unconditional character of the promise. Not really without conditions. See the demand for faith, and for acts expressing faith. Rules should be stated without their exceptions. But all rules have such. Compare our Lord's strong sentences about prayer.
2. The meaning of the anointing with oil. After the prayer. Idea.
(1) (2) 3. The sense in which forgiveness is blended with recovery. (1) (2) III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES? 1. The duty of showing sympathy with the sick. Example of Christ. Consider sickness from the Christian point of view. Issue of sin. Divine chastisement. Corrective discipline. 2. The duty of using means for the recovery of sick. Oil a curative agent in those days. So the elders were to use means. Anointing means "rubbing the body," or the affected parts. Symbol of all healing agents. Show how science now takes the place of miracle. 3. The importance of recognising the power of the "prayer of faith." This was needed for miracle: much more is it needed for science. What, then, is our duty? To the sick belonging to our Church. Note that the duty rests on the sick to send for the elders, and on the elders to go when sent for. To the sick in general. Provision made for their relief. Support during sickness required. Prayer-power — faith-power — still more needed, if the spiritual ends, for which all sickness is sent, are to be reached. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
(2) 3. The sense in which forgiveness is blended with recovery. (1) (2) III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES? 1. The duty of showing sympathy with the sick. Example of Christ. Consider sickness from the Christian point of view. Issue of sin. Divine chastisement. Corrective discipline. 2. The duty of using means for the recovery of sick. Oil a curative agent in those days. So the elders were to use means. Anointing means "rubbing the body," or the affected parts. Symbol of all healing agents. Show how science now takes the place of miracle. 3. The importance of recognising the power of the "prayer of faith." This was needed for miracle: much more is it needed for science. What, then, is our duty? To the sick belonging to our Church. Note that the duty rests on the sick to send for the elders, and on the elders to go when sent for. To the sick in general. Provision made for their relief. Support during sickness required. Prayer-power — faith-power — still more needed, if the spiritual ends, for which all sickness is sent, are to be reached. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
3. The sense in which forgiveness is blended with recovery.
(1) (2) III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES? 1. The duty of showing sympathy with the sick. Example of Christ. Consider sickness from the Christian point of view. Issue of sin. Divine chastisement. Corrective discipline. 2. The duty of using means for the recovery of sick. Oil a curative agent in those days. So the elders were to use means. Anointing means "rubbing the body," or the affected parts. Symbol of all healing agents. Show how science now takes the place of miracle. 3. The importance of recognising the power of the "prayer of faith." This was needed for miracle: much more is it needed for science. What, then, is our duty? To the sick belonging to our Church. Note that the duty rests on the sick to send for the elders, and on the elders to go when sent for. To the sick in general. Provision made for their relief. Support during sickness required. Prayer-power — faith-power — still more needed, if the spiritual ends, for which all sickness is sent, are to be reached. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES? (The Weekly Pulpit.)
III. REMOVING THE LOCAL AND TEMPORARY, WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THE PASSAGE FOR OUR TIMES?
(The Weekly Pulpit.)