James 5:15
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
5:12-18 The sin of swearing is condemned; but how many make light of common profane swearing! Such swearing expressly throws contempt upon God's name and authority. This sin brings neither gain, nor pleasure, nor reputation, but is showing enmity to God without occasion and without advantage It shows a man to be an enemy to God, however he pretends to call himself by his name, or sometimes joins in acts of worship. But the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. In a day of affliction nothing is more seasonable than prayer. The spirit is then most humble, and the heart is broken and tender. It is necessary to exercise faith and hope under afflictions; and prayer is the appointed means for obtaining and increasing these graces. Observe, that the saving of the sick is not ascribed to the anointing with oil, but to prayer. In a time of sickness it is not cold and formal prayer that is effectual, but the prayer of faith. The great thing we should beg of God for ourselves and others in the time of sickness is, the pardon of sin. Let nothing be done to encourage any to delay, under the mistaken fancy that a confession, a prayer, a minister's absolution and exhortation, or the sacrament, will set all right at last, where the duties of a godly life have been disregarded. To acknowledge our faults to each other, will tend greatly to peace and brotherly love. And when a righteous person, a true believer, justified in Christ, and by his grace walking before God in holy obedience, presents an effectual fervent prayer, wrought in his heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, raising holy affections and believing expectations and so leading earnestly to plead the promises of God at his mercy-seat, it avails much. The power of prayer is proved from the history of Elijah. In prayer we must not look to the merit of man, but to the grace of God. It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised. This instance of the power of prayer, encourages every Christian to be earnest in prayer. God never says to any of the seed of Jacob, Seek my face in vain. Where there may not be so much of miracle in God's answering our prayers, yet there may be as much of grace.And the prayer of faith - The prayer offered in faith, or in the exercise of confidence in God. It is not said that the particular form of the faith exercised shall be that the sick man will certainly recover; but there is to be unwavering confidence in God, a belief that he will do what is best, and a cheerful committing of the cause into his hands. We express our earnest wish, and leave the case with him. The prayer of faith is to accompany the use of means, for all means would be ineffectual without the blessing of God.

Shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up - This must be understood, as such promises are everywhere, with this restriction, that they will be restored to health if it shall be the will of God; if he shall deem it for the best. It cannot be taken in the absolute and unconditional sense, for then, if these means were used, the sick person would always recover, no matter how often he might be sick, and he need never die. The design is to encourage them to the use of these means with a strong hope that it would be effectual. It may fairly be inferred from this statement:

(1) that there would be cases in large numbers where these means would be attended with this happy result; and,

(2) that there was so much encouragement to do it that it would be proper in any case of sickness so make use of these means.

It may be added, that no one can demonstrate that this promise has not been in numerous instances fulfilled. There are instances, not a few, where recovery from sickness seems to be in direct answer to prayer, and no one can prove that it is not so. Compare the case of Hezekiah, in Isaiah 38:1-5.

And if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him - Perhaps there may be a particular allusion here to sins which may have brought on the sickness as a punishment. In that case the removal of the disease in answer to prayer would be an evidence that the sin was pardoned. Compare Matthew 9:2. But the promise may be understood in a more general sense as denoting that such sickness would be the means of bringing the sins of the past life to remembrance, especially if the one who was sick had been unfaithful to his Christian vows; and that the sickness in connection with the prayers offered would bring him to true repentance, and would recover him from his wanderings. On backsliding and erring Christians sickness often has this effect; and the subsequent life is so devoted and consistent as to show that the past unfaithfulness of him who has been afflicted is forgiven.

This passage James 5:14-15 is important, not only for the counsel which it gives to the sick, but because it has been employed by the Roman Catholic communion as almost the only portion of the Bible referred to to sustain one of the peculiar rites of their religion - that of "extreme unction" - a "sacrament," as they suppose, to be administered to those who are dying. It is of importance, therefore, to inquire more particularly into its meaning. There can be but three views taken of the passage:

I. That it refers to a miraculous healing by the apostles, or by other early ministers of religion who were endowed with the power of healing diseases in this manner. This is the interpretation of Doddridge, Macknight, Benson, and others. But to this view the objections seem to me to be insuperable.

(a) Nothing of this kind is said by the apostle, and this is not necessary to be supposed in order to a fair interpretation of the passage.

(b) The reference, as already observed, is clearly not to the apostles, but to the ordinary officers of the church - for such a reference would be naturally understood by the word presbyters; and to suppose that this refers to miracles, would be to suppose that this was a common endowment of the ordinary ministers of religion. But there was no promise of this, and there is no evidence that they possessed it. In regard to the extent of the promise, "they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover," see the notes at Mark 16:17-18.

(c) If this referred to the power of working miracles, and if the promise was absolute, then death would not have occurred at all among the early disciples. It would have been easy to secure a restoration to health in any instance where a minister of religion was at hand,

II. It is supposed by the Roman Catholics to give sanction to the practice of "extreme unction," and to prove that this was practiced in the primitive church. But the objections to this are still more obvious.

(a) It was not to be performed at death, or in the immediate prospect of death, but in sickness at any time. There is no hint that it was to be only when the patient was past all hope of recovery, or in view of the fact that he was to die. But "extreme unction," from its very nature, is to be practiced only where the patient is past all hope of recovery.

(b) It was not with a view to his death, but to his living, that it was to be practiced at all. It was not that he might be prepared to die, but that he might be restored to health - "and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." But "extreme unction" can be with no such reference, and no such hope. It is only with the expectation that the patient is about to die; and if there were any expectation that he would be raised up even by this ordinance, it could not be administered as "extreme unction."

continued...

15. prayer—He does not say the oil shall save: it is but the symbol.

save—plainly not as Rome says, "save" the soul. but heal "the sick": as the words, "the Lord shall raise him up," prove. So the same Greek is translated, "made (thee) whole," Mt 9:21, 22.

and if … sins—for not all who are sick are so because of some special sins. Here a case is supposed of one visited with sickness for special sins.

have committed—literally, "be in a state of having committed sins," that is, be under the consequences of sins committed.

they—rather, "it": his having committed sins shall be forgiven him. The connection of sin and sickness is implied in Isa 33:24; Mt 9:2-5; Joh 5:14. The absolution of the sick, retained in the Church of England, refers to the sins which the sick man confesses (Jas 5:16) and repents of, whereby outward scandal has been given to the Church and the cause of religion; not to sins in their relation to God, the only Judge.

And the prayer of faith; i.e. proceeding from faith; the cure is ascribed to prayer, the moral means, and standing ordinance, not to the anointing, which was but ceremonial and temporary; and to faith in prayer, to show that this remedy was effectual only when faith (requisite to the working of miracles) was active, viz. in a certain persuasion that the sick person should be healed.

Shall save the sick; restore to health, (if God see it fit, and the health of the body be good for the soul), Mark 10:52 Luke 7:50 18:42.

And the Lord shall raise him up; the elders pray, but the Lord raiseth up, being prayed to in faith.

Raise him up; the same as saving before, only the word seems to respect the sick man’s lying upon his bed, from which he riseth when he is healed, Mark 1:31.

If he have committed sins; if he have by his sins procured his sickness; or, those sins for which particularly God visits him with sickness; sin being often the cause of sickness, Matthew 9:2 John 5:14 1 Corinthians 11:30, though not always, John 9:2.

They shall be forgiven him; God will take away the cause as well as the effect, heal the soul as well as the body, and prayer is the means of obtaining both. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick,.... That is, the prayer of the elders, being put up in faith by them, and in which the sick person joins by faith; such a prayer is a means of bringing down from God a blessing on the sick man, and of restoring him to his former health:

and the Lord shall raise him up; from his bed of sickness, on which he is laid, and bring him forth to praise his name, and to fear and glorify him.

And if he have committed sins; not that it is a question whether he has or not, for no man lives without sin, nor the commission of it; but the sense is, if he has been guilty of any sins, which God in particular has taken notice of, and on account of which he has laid his chastising hand upon him, in order to bring him to a sense of them, and to acknowledge them; which is sometimes the case, though not always, at the same time that his bodily health is restored:

they shall be forgiven him; he shall have a discovery, and an application of pardoning grace to him: and indeed the removing the sickness or disease may be called the forgiveness of his sins, which is sometimes the sense of this phrase in Scripture, as in 1 Kings 8:34.

And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed {i} sins, they shall be forgiven him.

(i) He has reason in making mention of sins, for diseases are often sent because of sins.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Jam 5:15 mentions the result of the prayer conjoined with the anointing.

καὶ ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως] That the prayer of the presbyters must proceed from faith was not asserted in the preceding, but was evidently presupposed; it is now directly characterized as such. τῆς πίστεως is gen. subj.: the prayer which faith offers; inaccurately Schneckenburger: preces fide plenae. πίστις is used here in the same signification as in chap. Jam 1:16; it is sure confidence in the Lord, in reference to the case in question. Grotius, Gomarus, Schneckenburger, Theile, and others define the prayer more closely, as that of the presbyters and of the sick man. On the other hand, Wiesinger refers ἡ εὐχὴ τ. π. to προσευξάσθωσαν, accordingly the intercession of the presbyters; so also de Wette. This is correct; it is, however, to be observed that James has certainly supposed as self-evident the prayer of the sick man who called the elders. The following words: σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα, state the effect of the prayer of the presbyters.

τὸν κάμνοντα] takes up again ἀσθενεῖ τις. κάμνειν, in the N. T. except here only in Hebrews 12:3 in a figurative sense, has even with classical writers very commonly the meaning to be sick.

σώσει] equivalent to will recover. This meaning is required by reference to τὸν κάμνοντα, and to the context generally; the word occurs in the same signification in Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:23; John 11:12, and elsewhere.

By the following clause: καὶ ἐγερεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ κύριος, what is said is more exactly specified; the prayer of faith effects σώζειν, by which the Lord (apparently Christ) on its account helps; ἐγείρειν, to raise up from the sick-bed, see Mark 1:31, etc.; not “to raise up from sickness” (Lange; “to cause him to recover,” de Wette); the word never occurs in this meaning in the N. T.

A particular case is added to the general. κἂν ἁμαρτίας ᾖ πεποιηκώς] κἄν is not, as is done by most expositors, but against linguistic usage,[243] to be resolved by and if, but by even if (so also Lange). By the sins here meant are such as formed the special reason of the sickness. Accordingly, the meaning is: even if he has drawn his sickness upon himself by special sins (unsatisfactorily Lange: “if his sickness has become by them very severe”). By ᾖ πεποιηκώς the effect of the sins is represented as existing.

The apodosis ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ expresses that even in this case the healing will not fail. The forgiveness of sins is here meant, which is confirmed by the removal of the special punishment produced by the particular sins. The explanation of Hammond is evidently entirely erroneous: non tarn a Deo, quam a Presbyteris, qui aegroto peccata ipsis confitenti … absolutionem dare tenentur. As regards the construction of the sentence, κἂν πεποιηκώς may be joined to what goes before, and ἀφεθήσεται considered as an asyndeton addition: and the Lord will raise him up, even if he has committed sins … (for) it will be forgiven him. But the usual construction, according to which ἀφεθήσεται is simply the apodosis to κἂν κ.τ.λ., is to be preferred on account of the close connection of ideas; thus: even if he hath committed, sins, it will be forgiven him; by which the idea is included in ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ, that he will be healed of his sickness.

τὸ πεποιηκέναι is to be supplied from the preceding to ἀφεθήσεται (Bengel, Theile, Wiesinger).

The promise (σώσειἐγερεῖ) so positively expressed by James is founded on his confidence in the Lord, who hears believing intercession, so that it is not in vain. It is certainly surprising that James gives this assurance without any restriction. Although we cannot say, with Hottinger: si certus et constans talium precum fuisset eventus, nemo unquam mortuns esset, since the nature of the condition, on which James makes the event dependent, is not considered; on the one hand, it is self-evident that true πίστις includes the humble πλὴν οὐχ ὡς ἐγὼ θέλω ἀλλʼ ὡς σύ (Matthew 26:39); and, on the other hand, it is to be observed that although James here evidently speaks of bodily sickness and its cure, yet he uses such expressions as point beyond the sphere of the corporeal to the spiritual, so that even when the result corresponds not to the expectation in reference to the bodily sickness, yet the prayer of faith does not remain unanswered in the higher sense.[244]

[243] In no passage of the N. T., except perhaps Luke 13:9, is the καί in κἄν the simple copula uniting two sentences, but it has everywhere the meaning though, even. The N. T. usage is here in conformity with the classical; see Pape on the word κἀν.

[244] It must be designated as arbitrary when Lange understands this passage also as symbolical, and thus interprets it: “If any man as a Christian has been hurt, or become sick in his Christianity, let him seek healing from the presbyters, the kernel of the congregation. Let these pray with and for him, and anoint him with the oil of the Spirit; such a course, wherever taken, will surely restore him, and his transgressions will be forgiven him.”Jam 5:15. ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως: Cf. Matthew 21:22.—σώσει: for this sense cf. Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:23; John 11:12.—κάμνοντα: in this sense only here in the N.T., though it is used in a somewhat similar sense in Hebrews 12:3.—ἐγερεῖ: it seems most natural to take this as referring to the sick man being raised up from his bed of sickness, though the use of κάμνειν in Hebrews 12:3 suggests the possibility of spiritual comfort being also included.—ὁ Κύριος: this must probably refer to Christ, though the O.T. reference in the context would justify the contention that Jahwe is meant.—κἂν. Cf. Mark 16:18; Luke 13:9, as showing that this does not necessarily mean “even if”.—ἁμαρτίας ᾖ πεποιηκώς ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῷ: Cf. Sir 38:9-10, Τέκνον, ἐν ἀρρωστήματί σου μὴ παράβλεπε, ἀλλʼ εὖξαι Κυρίῳ, καὶ αὐτὸς ἰάσεταί σε· ἀπόστησον πλημμελίαν καὶ εὔθυνον χεῖρας, καὶ ἀπὸ πάσης ἁμαρτίας καθάρισον καρδίαν; The Jewish belief on this subject may be illustrated by the following: in Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs, Simeon, Jam 2:11 ff., because Simeon continued wrathful against Reuben, he says, “But the Lord restrained me, and withheld from me the power of my hands; for my right hand was half withered for seven days”; in Gad. Jam 5:9 ff. the patriarch confesses that owing to his hatred against Joseph God brought upon him a disease of the liver, “and had not the prayers of Jacob my father succoured me, it had hardly failed but my spirit had departed”. That sin brings disease was, likewise in the later Jewish literature, an article of faith, indeed here one finds specified what are the particular sicknesses that particular sins bring in their train. According to Rabbinical teaching there are four signs by means of which it is possible to recognise the sin of which a man has been guilty: dropsy is the sign that the sin of fornication has been committed, jaundice that of unquenchable hatred, poverty and humiliation that of pride, liver complaint (?) (אסכרה) that of back-biting. In Shabbath, 55 a, it says: “No death without sin, no chastisement without evil-doing,” and in Nedarim, 41 a it says: “No recovery without forgiveness”. Leprosy may be due to one of eleven sins, but most probably to that of an evil tongue (see Weber, Jüdische Theologie, pp. 245 f.).15. and the prayer of faith shall save the sick] The context leaves no doubt that the primary thought is, as in our Lord’s words to men and women whom He healed, “Thy faith hath saved thee”—“thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matthew 9:22; Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52; Luke 7:50; Luke 8:48; Luke 17:19; Luke 18:42), that the sick man should in such a case “recover his bodily health.” The “prayer of faith” was indeed not limited to that recovery in its scope, but the answer to that prayer in its higher aims, is given separately afterwards in the promise of forgiveness.

and the Lord shall raise him up] Here, as in James 5:14, we have to think of St James as recognising not merely the power of God generally, but specifically that of the Lord Jesus, still working through His servants, as He worked personally on earth. So Peter said to Æneas, “Jesus Christ maketh thee whole” (Acts 9:34).

if he have committed sins …] The Greek expresses with a subtle distinction, hard to reproduce in English, the man’s being in the state produced by having committed sins. Repentance, it is obvious, is presupposed as a condition, and the love of God in Christ as the fountain of forgiveness, but the prayer of the elders of the Church is, beyond question, represented as instrumental, as helping to win for the sinner the grace both of repentance and forgiveness. It is noticeable that the remission of sins thus promised is dependent not on the utterance of the quasi-judicial formula of the Absolvo te (that, indeed, was not used at all until the 13th century) by an individual priest, but on the prayer of the elders as representing the Church. Comp. John 20:23, where also the promise is in the plural, “Whosesoever sins ye remit.”Jam 5:15. Ἡ εὐχὴ τῆς πίστεως, the prayer of faith) [He does not say the oil shall save.—V. g.] When some of the faithful pray, the whole power of faith is spread and exercised through the whole body of the Church. James would have complained that he was greatly misrepresented, if any one were to say, that he attributed the remission of sins to works.—κἂν, and if) It may happen that a man is sick, even though he has not committed [special] sins.—ἀφεθήσεται, it shall be forgiven him) the having committed sins.The sick (τὸν κάμνοντα)

Rev. gives, better, the participial force, him that is sick. The word originally means to work. Hence, "him that is laboring under disease."

And if he have committed sins (κἃν ἁμαρτίας ᾖ πεποιηκώς)

The Greek gives a shade of meaning which can hardly be transferred neatly into English, representing not merely the fact that the man has sinned, but his condition as a sinner. Literally the words read, if he be having committed sins; i.e., in a state of having committed, and under the moral or physical consequences of transgression.

They shall be forgiven (ἀφεθήσεται)

Better, Rev., "it shall be forgiven," supplying the commission as a subject. The verb means to send forth or discharge, and is the standard New-Testament word for forgiving. Forgiveness (ἄφεσις) is a putting or sending away of sins, with a consequent discharge of the sinner; thus differing from τάρεσις (Romans 3:25), which is a passing by of sin, a pretermission as distinguished from a remission. See, farther, on Romans 3:25.

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