Divine Healing: Is It Scriptural?
by A.W. Pink
Every once in a while we receive an inquiry or a request for help on this subject, usually from one who has come into contact with some belonging to a cult which gives prominence to "Divine healing," to the removal of physical ills without the aid of a doctor and medicine, in response to faith and prayer. Such inquiring friends are generally more or less perplexed. They have heard nothing on the subject in their own churches and feel they are more or less in the dark on the matter. Those who press this "Divine healing" teaching upon them appear to be ill-balanced people and not at all orthodox in doctrine. If they are induced to attend their meetings they are not favorably impressed, and sense that something is wrong. The absence of reverence, the allowing of women to take part in the services before a mixed congregation, the prominence of the spectacular element, and the general spirit of excitement which prevails, makes the normal child of God feel quite out of place in such a gathering. The zeal displayed does not appear to be according to knowledge and the fervid emotionalism strikes him as being "strange fire" (Lev. 10:1)—not kindled at the Divine altar.
But what of their teaching on "Divine healing?" Is it scriptural or unscriptural? This is a question which it is not easy to answer in a single sentence. Many passages on healing may be cited from God’s Word, but that raises the question of their interpretation—in accord with the context and also in harmony with the general Analogy of Faith: as it also calls for a careful examination of all inferences drawn from and conclusions based upon those passages. Moreover, these modern cults who stress "Divine healing" are by no means uniform in their teaching thereon, some being more radical and extreme than others, so that the refutation of one erroneous presentation of this subject would not hold good of a similar error in an entirely different dress. Though familiar with all the principal varieties of them, we do not propose to waste the reader’s time by taking them up seriatim but rather deal with the broad principles which apply to them all.
First it must be said that much of the teaching which has been given out on this subject is decidedly unscriptural. For example, the majority of those who emphasize "Divine healing" insist that it was "in the Atonement," that on the Cross Christ was as truly our sickness-bearer as our sin-bearer, that He purchased healing for the body as well as salvation for the soul, and that therefore every Christian has the same right to appropriate by faith the cure of bodily disorders as he has forgiveness for his transgressions. In support of this contention appeal is made to Christ who "healed all that were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet: Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses" (Matt. 8:16, 17). Here is where the expositor is needed if the unlettered and unstable are to be preserved from jumping to an erroneous conclusion, where the mere sound of the words is likely to convey a wrong impression unless their sense be carefully ascertained—just as, "the dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5) is not to be understood absolutely, as though they who have departed this life are in a state of utter unconsciousness.
Had those words "Christ bare our sicknesses" occurred in some passage in the Acts or Epistles where one of the apostles was explaining the purpose and character of Christ’s death, then we should have been obliged to regard them as meaning that the Lord Jesus vicariously endured the sicknesses of His people while on the Cross, though this would present a very great difficulty, for there is no hint anywhere in the Word that the Redeemer experienced any illness at that time. But instead, Matthew 8:16, 17 has reference to what transpired during the days of His public ministry, the meaning of which we take to be as follows. Christ employed not the virtue that was in Him to cure infirmity and sickness as a matter of mere power, but in deep pity and tenderness He entered into the condition of the sufferer. The great Physician was no unfeeling stoic, but took upon His own spirit the sorrows and pains of those to whom He ministered. His miracles of healing cost Him much in the way of sympathy and endurance. Thus He "sighed" (Mark 7:34) when He loosed the tongue of the dumb, "wept" by the grave of Lazarus, and was conscious of virtue going out of Him (Mark 5:30) as He cured another. By a compassion, such as we are strangers to, He was afflicted by their afflictions.
That the interpretation we have given above (briefly suggested by the Puritan, Thomas Goodwin) is the correct meaning of "Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses" appears from several considerations. If those words signified what the "Divine healing" cults say they do, then they mean that in His act of healing the sick Christ was then making atonement, which is absurd on the face of it. Again, if the healing of the body were a redemptive right which faith may humbly but boldly claim, then it necessarily follows that the believer should never die, for every time he fell ill he could plead before God the sacrifice of His Son and claim healing. In such a case, why did not Paul exhort Timothy to exercise faith in the Atonement rather than bid him "use a little wine for his stomach’s sake" (1 Tim. 5:23), and why did he leave Trophimus at "Miletum sick" (2 Tim. 4:20)? A glorified body, as well as soul, is the fruit of Christ’s atonement, but for that the believer has to wait God’s appointed time.
One error leads to another: most of those who teach that Divine healing is in the Atonement argue that therefore it must constitute an essential element in and part of the Gospel, and thus their favorite slogan is: "Christ our Saviour, Christ our Sanctifier, Christ our Healer, Christ our Coming King," and hence "the Fourfold Gospel" is the leading caption of most of them. But such a contention will not bear the light of Holy Writ. In the book of Acts we find the apostles preaching the Gospel of God both to Jews and Gentiles, yet, though in the course of their ministry miracles of healing were performed by them (to authenticate their mission, for none of the N. T. had then been written), yet nowhere did the removal of physical maladies form part of their message. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 a brief summary of the Gospel is given, namely, that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day"—mark the omission of His dying for our sicknesses! In Romans we are furnished with a systematic and full unfolding of "the Gospel of God" (see 1:1), yet "healing" of bodily ills is never referred to.
If it were true that Christ made atonement for our sicknesses as well as our sins, then it would follow that all bodily disorders are the immediate consequence of some iniquity. We say, "immediate consequence," for of course it is readily granted that all the ills which man is heir to are so many effects and results of the great transgression of our first parents. It is only reasonable to conclude that had sin never entered this world suffering in any form had been unknown here, for we know that in Heaven the absence of the former ensures the absence of the latter. Thus there is a vital difference between saying that a physical disorder which occasions great discomfort and pain finds its remote cause in the tragedy of Eden, and affirming that it is the direct result of the person’s own wrong doing, as most of the "Divine healing" cults insist. Our Lord’s reply to His disciples in John 9:2, 3 expressly forbids any such sweeping conclusion. There is much suffering, especially among children, which is due to ignorant and innocent breaking of natural laws rather than to violation of the Moral Law. Moreover, if this contention of "Divine healing" were valid, we should be obliged to conclude that every sickness severed the soul from communion with God, which is falsified by the experiences of many of the saintliest persons who ever trod this earth.
Those who hold that Christ made atonement for our sicknesses as well as for our sins are quite consistent in maintaining that deliverance from the former must be obtained in precisely the same way as salvation from the latter: that the sole means must be the exercise of faith, without the introduction or addition of any works or doings of our own. Thus the "Divine healing" cults teach that the service of a physician or the aid of drugs is as much a setting aside of the finished work of Christ as reliance upon baptism or deeds of charity for the securing of pardon would be. The untenability of this logical inference will at once show that while in some cases God was pleased to cure the sick without means, yet in other instances He both appointed and blessed the use of means. For the healing of the bitter waters of Marah, Moses was instructed to cast into them a tree which "the Lord showed him" (Ex. 15:25). When God promised to heal Hezekiah who was sick unto death, Isaiah bade the king "take a lump of figs" and we are told "they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered" (2 Kings 20:7). So with Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23.
We are certainly not prepared to hold any brief in defence of the present-day medical fraternity as a whole. The greed for gold, the love of novelty (experimentation), the deterioration of moral character in all walks of life, fails to inspire confidence in any class or clique, and the writer for one would prefer to suffer pain than place himself at the mercy of the average surgeon. Yet this does not mean that we regard all medical practitioners as either charlatans or knaves, still less do we believe with "Faith-healing" fanatics that they are the special emissaries of Satan. The Holy Spirit would never have termed Luke "the beloved physician" (Col. 4:14) had he been employed in the service of the Devil.