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.
Brother Sewell: Please give us your views on James 5:13-15. Is not that portion of his letter as applicable to us in this age as any other portion of it? If not, how can we know where to draw the line? In verse 17 he refers to Elijah’s being a man subject to like passions as we are, and then speaks of the efficacy of his prayer. Is not the want of faith and works on our part the reason why our prayers are not efficacious in cases like those mentioned in the verses referred to above?
Verse 13 is plainly applicable to Christians at the present time. All Christians suffering afflictions should pray to God for help in these afflictions — in fact, all Christians should pray to God at all times, and then when afflictions come their special prayers will be regarded. People that are merry should always sing psalms rather than go into frivolity. But as to the matter of praying for the sick, with the full assurance that they will be restored, there are differences of judgment regarding this. Some think this pertained to the miraculous age of the church, and that the raising up of the sick had special reference to miraculous healing; and to this idea I am inclined. But, at the same time, anointing with oil is a good remedy in many things, and would be no bad thing to do in any case where oil could be beneficial. Calling the elders together and praying for the recovery of the sick, praying that the efforts made to cure the sick may be made effectual, is also a good thing to do at any time. And in all such prayers there should be the meek and humble expression: “Thy will, not mine, be done.” Then after all these things are done, if our sick do not recover, we should confidingly submit, Job-like, and still praise the name of the Lord. And while these prayers are going on for the recovery of the sick, if the sick member has committed sins, he should sincerely repent of and confess his sins to God and all pray together for their forgiveness. All this, I think, would be proper and right. But to expect speedy and certain cure of the disease of the sick, I think, belonged to the age of miracles. Prayers for healing, through the general laws of healing, for the success of our efforts to heal, I think, are in order all the time.
Elisha G. Sewell