Brother Lipscomb: Please explain James 5:14f. It seems that James was writing to Christians. Of course they were Jewish Christians; but are not all Christians entitled to the same privilege? And if the elders should pray faithfully, anointing with oil as instructed, does it not seem that the Lord has promised to raise the sick, not only then, but through all coming ages? If not, why not?
With the meaning our brother attaches to this passage, how could any Christian have died in reach of the elders with oil? If the elders could have cured every one that got sick, certainly none would have died or lingered in sickness; and if that order had become perpetual, a Christian in reach of elders and oil would never die. The scripture, whether applicable now or not, was in some sense true in the early days. Was there ever a time when Christians did not sicken and die? If God had ordained all that the elders anointed with oil and prayed over should recover, why did they not cure all? Why would any die? Why would Epaphroditus come nigh unto death ministering to Paul? (Phil. 2:27) Many sickened and died during the days of the apostles and of the miraculously endowed. So I take it James did not mean to say that all were or would be cured in this way at any time. Because this is so, I hardly think it was a miraculous cure. I think he only meant to say that if the sick would send for the elders and they would pray for them and anoint them with oil, those who could be cured at all would be cured in this way. That means that this was the best system of treating diseases and would cure all that could be cured. This may be true now. It may mean that anointing with oil was a remedial system very common at that day, and probably better than any in vogue. The practice of medicine then was a crude mixture of superstition and conjuration; so with the use of oil as a remedial agent the prayers of the elders should be connected. That would teach us that with any remedial agent we should connect the prayers of the elders. I think that just what was taught by James is applicable now, but I do not think he taught all would be cured at any time. That was not an antidote to mortality and would not stop the work of death.