Page images
PDF
EPUB

sages : James, v. 14, 15. 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. And í John, v. 16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall

pray for it.

In order to understand these passages of scripture, it is necessary to observe, that in the first age of the church, among other miraculous gifts which were copiously dispensed, there were some, in every church planted by the apostles, who possessed the gift of miraculously healing the sick. They were to send for the elders of the church, who possessed this gift, who were to lay their hands on them, and to pray over them, anointing them with oil a rite which seems to have been prescribed by our Lord himself, when he sent forth his disciples to preach the gospel, and to heal the sick : For, in giving an account of their success, it is mentioned, among other things, that they anointed with oil. not as a natural remedy, but as a sensible token to the sick person himself, and to those who were present, that a miracle was to be performedthey anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them. The prayer of faith in this case, was the prayer which the elder, moved by the Spirit of God, was to make for the recovery of the sick, in

the full persuasion that the Lord would rdise him up.

In the parallel passage in John, it is said, There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.-In the first age of the church, it was essentially necessary to the successful propagation of the gospel, that those who embraced it should be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. Accordingly, we find that temporal judgments were sometimes inflicted upon individuals for gross and open offences, as a warning to others, and in order to bring the offenders themselves to a just sense of their sins, that, when chastened of the Lord, they might not be condemned with the world. Thus Paul tells the Corinthians, who had been guilty of great irregularities in the celebration of the Lord's supper, that, for this cause, many among them were sick, and some of them slept, or had been punished with temporal death. These judgments being public, would have a powerful influence in restraining others from similar offences.

On the other hand, to encourage those to repent who by their sins had brought on themselves mortal diseases, there were elders, as has been already observed, men full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, who were endowed with a miraculous gift of healing, whom they were to send for, and who were to pray with and for them, anointing them with oil, by the command, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by whose power the miraculous cure was to be effected. We may therefore infer, that when John directed any one who saw his brother sinning a sin not unto death, to ask God to give him life, he did not mean any ordinary man, or minister of the gospel, but such an one only as possessed the gift of healing diseases miraculously; and that when he says, there is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it, he refers to the miraculous knowledge, or discernment of spirits, which the spiritual man possessed, whereby he felt himself impelled, by an extraordinary impulse of the Holy Spirit, either to ask of God the restoration to health of the person who had sent for him, or restrained from asking it, according to the impression made upon his mind that his request would be granted or not. He felt a persuasion, in consequence of being inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit, either that the sick man had not yet truly repented of his sins, or that God was to inflict upon him temporal death, as in the case of some of the Corinthians, for a warning to others, and consequently he did not find himself at liberty to pray for his recovery.

A pious commentator, who understands this passage of praying in behalf of obstinate and impenitent sinners, thinks the apostle's meaning is, • I do not say that he should pray for such with the full assurance of being heard.' He draws, however, a very charitable and benevolent reflection from this passage, though he evidently misunderstands it. “ Let us not,” says he,“ too soon pronounce the case of a sinner hopeless; but rather subject ourselves to the trouble of some fruitless attempts to

reclaim him, than omit any thing where there may be a possibility of succeeding.”

But if the interpretation we have given be just, then the anointing of the sick with oil, and praying for their recovery, were not appointed as a permanent office in the church. These rites were peculiar to the first age of Christianity, and could even then be administered by those only who had the miraculous gift of the Spirit in prayer, which is here referred to. “Let those, then, anoint with oil,” says one, " who can heal diseases miraculously; and let those who cannot, abstain from the symbol of a power which God has not given them.”

2. But, though the miraculous gifts of the Spirit were conferred only for a special purpose, and were gradually withdrawn when Christianity had obtained a firm establishment, yet the promise, that the Holy Spirit should abide for ever with the disciples of Christ, to lead them into all truth, to help their infirmities, and to render their prayers fervent and effectual, remains, and will remain, unbroken to the end of time.

The title under which the Holy Spirit is promised, that of a Comforter, or Advocate, as it is elsewhere rendered, fully designates his office, in reference to our present subject.-As an Advocate, he pleads for us, or rather enables us to plead for ourselves at a throne of grace. He teaches us both how to pray, and for what. For we indeed know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us. The precept commands, the promise encourages, and the Spirit of God excites us to pray for those things that are agreeable to the will of God. As he perfectly understands the frame of human nature, and knows exactly our different situations, so he can impress upon our minds those truths and promises which are most suitable to our present circumstances. He leads us to examine and prove what manner of spirit we are of, and to observe and rectify whatever is amiss our passions, for instance, when they are too violent; and our affections, when they are wrong directed. Hence the gospel is called the ministration of the Spirit; and our superior advantages in consequence of this will be obvious, if we advert to the failures in this duty of some of the best of men who lived previously to, and under, the legal dispensation. These are, no doubt, recorded for our admonition.

Thus we read concerning Elijah, that, instead of waiting patiently all his appointed time till his change should come, he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough ; now, O Lord, take away . my life : for I am not better than my fathers. And Job, the most patient man of his day, prays in similar language : O that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! Moses too, who excelled all his cotemporaries in meekness, puts up a most unbecoming prayer to God: Wherefore, said he, hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found

favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people

« PreviousContinue »