God the Healer of Disease
Psalm 103:3
Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases;

Though this psalm is one of the most familiar, both its authorship and its particular occasion are quite unknown. Early in the psalm this text comes. It is part of a review of God's personal mercies to the psalmist, but it is doubtful whether the psalmist referred to times of bodily disease and bodily healing, or to the soul diseases which answer to "iniquities." In view of the way in which Eastern poets loved to repeat their thought with slightly altered phraseology, it is quite possible that the text may read, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, and healeth all thy soul diseases - those soul conditions of frailty and infirmity, out of which iniquities come." But, however that may be, it is certainly true that God is the Healer of all men's diseases. The work of the physician must always be traced back to the Divine Physician, who alone has proved to be the recuperative force in human vitality. God has healed us again and again through the agency of the doctor and the medicine.

I. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT MEN'S SICKNESSES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT? Abraham and Isaac died of sheer old age. So indeed did Jacob, but there is a fuller reference to his ending. For all that appears in the record, neither the patriarchs nor their families suffered any sicknesses during their lives. Evidently, these experiences of sickness were not then seen in their relation to character, and so there was no need to leave any narratives concerning them. Sickness is reckoned with under the Mosaic system, but in a very peculiar way. It was treated as an outward sign and consequence of sin; both the sick person and those who tended him being treated as "unclean." To limit this rule because, in its working, it occasioned very serious family and social disturbance, one particular form of disease - that most typical form of disease, leprosy - was taken as the representative of all forms, and the law of the "unclean" was strictly enforced in relation to it. Judaism never suggests the idea that character is cultured by the experience of sickness; and so even its priests and Levites offer no example of tending the sick poor. Sickness, in the old economy, served its purpose simply as the outward sign of God's judgment on sin. When Job's friends came to comfort him, they could think of no other view of sickness than this, though Job felt sure that there must be a higher meaning, if only he could reach it. In the historical books the references to sickness - other than great pestilences - are very brief. One king suffered from internal disease, and one had the gout, but there is only one instance in which any details of a sickness are given, and in that case the relation of it to character first clearly appears. Hezekiah, in the middle of his reign, but before any son and heir was born to him, was smitten down with a bad kind of boil or carbuncle, which put his life in peril. He turned to God in his distress, and gained from God recovery. Evidently he prayed the prayer of faith. As evidently the Prophet Isaiah prayed for him the prayer of faith. And yet it is significantly told us that means were used to ensure his recovery, "Now Isaiah had said, Let them take a cake of figs, and lay it for a plaister upon the boil, and he shall recover." The Book of Job is not a discussion of the question - What ought a godly man to do who is smitten with sickness? Its subject is rather this - What moral end can explain the Divine permission of sickness? One king was seriously reproved because, when he was ill, he "sought unto the physicians, and not unto God." But the wrong was not in his seeking the help of the physicians, but in his failing to seek God first, and to let him send him to the physicians: All we can say about this matter, in connection with the Old Testament, is that when moral considerations began to prevail over ceremonial ones, a truer and worthier view of sickness began to gain power. Then sickness was seen to be one of the great moral agencies by means of which God wrought his higher work in characters and in souls.

II. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IN THE GOSPELS? Our Lord, as a moral and spiritual Teacher, our Lord as a Saviour, found in men's sicknesses, infirmities, and. disabilities his best agencies for reaching their souls with saving influences. To him suffering was the issue and consequence of sin. And so it was to everybody in his day. Sickness illustrated sin. Suffering produced moods of mind in men which laid them open to his higher influence. So he worked very largely for and among sick people, always trying to get their sicknesses sanctified to them, even in the very act of healing or removing them. He revealed fully to the world the moral relations of sickness, the moral possibilities that lie in sickness. Our Lord's dealing with it is unique, not so much because it was supernatural, as because it was moral. He dealt with it only as a means of securing soul healing. Since Christ's time, sickness, disease, and disability have taken rank among God's remedial agencies, God's character culturing agencies, God's sanctifying agencies.

III. WHAT IS SAID ABOUT SICKNESS IS THE EPISTLES? The apostles never claimed to exert any independent powers. They always healed "in the Name of Christ." They conceived of themselves as holding that special ability in trust for particular ends in the propagation of the gospel. They did not heal everybody. They only healed when the healing could make a way for the gospel, draw attention to it, or prove its Divine origin. And the historical fact is that the power of healing passed away with the first generation of disciples. It is found, in later ages, only in separate and highly endowed individuals, to whom has been entrusted a genius for healing. The case of the Apostle Paul is a remarkable one. He had the gift of healing. He did heal the father of Publius. But he was not carried away by the gift he possessed. He held all his gifts under the most careful restraints. His friend and fellow labourer, Epaphroditus, was "sick, nigh unto death," but St. Paul put forth no power to heal him. God had mercy on him, and restored him in the ordinary way. Trophimus was left at Miletum sick, but it did not enter the apostle's mind that he, or the eiders, could have cured him if they had tried. St. Paul himself had some bodily infirmity which he calls a "thorn in the flesh," but he simply prayed about it, as we pray about such things now. The reference made to this matter by the Apostle James has been gravely misunderstood. It must be read in the light of the chief point he deals with in his Epistle, viz. that faith which cannot get expression in action is not acceptable faith, it is mere sentiment. Anointing sick people with oil was no religious ceremony in the days of the apostle. Using oil in the toilet was simply the sign of health. Those who prayed in faith for the healing of the sick should show their faith by acting as if their prayer was answered. Get the sick man up, dress him, anoint him, in the full confidence that God answers prayer. So Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, "Stretch forth thine hand!" If he believed, he would do what Christ told him, and find power come in so doing. In every age God has healed diseases through his own appointed healing agencies; and those we must use in faith. - R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;

WEB: who forgives all your sins; who heals all your diseases;

Forgiving Mercy
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