Jeremiah 8:22
Gilead, an outlying district of Palestine, was celebrated for its aromatic balsam, of great virtue for wounds, sores, etc. The natives of the place doubtless became expert in the application of their famous herb. By virtue of its possession, Israel might be said to be the healer of the surrounding nations. Even more so in a spiritual sense it was the physician of men's souls, holding for others and for all time the saving truth of God. But the evils which came upon itself - social, political, spiritual - had now increased to such a degree that it might well be asked, were the sources of saving health exhausted, or were the possessors of spiritual wisdom wholly extinct?

I. WHAT FOUNDATION WAS THERE FOR THE PRETENSION OF ISRAEL TO BE THE SAVIOR or THE NATIONS? Its own internal condition was deplorable. Materially and spiritually it was more in need of healing than those it regarded as barbarians and heathen. So of the Church, which has become corrupt a similar question may be asked. If those who profess the faith of Christ do not exhibit its fruits or possess its peace, they belie their profession and discredit the cause of their Master. When professed believers are as troubled with earthly cares and as downcast amid earthly trials as others, men of the world will doubt the efficacy of their religion, belief, and life. This is the burning question of Christendom through all time. Has it any means of curing the evils of humanity, the miseries of life, the wickedness inherent in human nature?

II. HAD THE UTMOST USE BEEN MADE OF THE RESOURCES AT COMMAND? Was there any one who knew the nature of the evil, and how to cure it? Why did they not seek Jehovah? Christians are frequently at a loss, not so much for lack of an orthodox creed as of a realizing faith. They have not been in the habit of going to Christ with their cares and sorrows. Earthly things have been allowed to divert their attention from truth and righteousness as the principles of life. But sometimes great mischief is done by wrong expectations of what Christ will do for his people. Men sow to the flesh and expect to reap a spiritual harvest, or their faith in Christ is but another avenue to an earthly end. Under such circumstances they cannot fail to be disappointed. We must look to religion for its proper functions; to Christ for what he has promised to give. Have we any grief which we do not, cannot take to Christ? Are we consciously resting on him for moral guidance and support and spiritual fellowship? They who always and in all things rest their souls upon a living Savior will know that there is "balm in Gilead," etc. - M.







Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of My people recovered?
I. The BALSAM TREE is a little shrub, never growing past the height of two cubits, and spreading like a vine. The tree is of an ash colour, the boughs small and tender, the leaves are like to rue. Pliny saith the tree is all medicinable: the chief virtue is in the juice, the second in the seed, the third in the rind, the last and weakest in the stock. It comforts both by tasting and smelling. This Holy Word is here called balm: and, if we may compare spiritual with natural things, they agree in many resemblances. We may call God's Word that balm tree whereon the fruit of life grows; a tree that heals, a tree that helps; a tree of both medicament and nutriment; like the "tree of life" (Revelation 22:2). Neither is the fruit only nourishing, but even" the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations." Now though the balm here, whereunto the Word is compared, is more generally taken for the juice, now fitted and ready for application; yet, I see not why it may not so be likened, both for general and particular properties. The tree itself is the Word. We find the eternal Word so compared (John 15:1). He is a tree, but the root of this tree is in heaven. at was once "made flesh, and dwelt among us," etc. (John 1:14). Now He is in heaven. Only this Word still speaks unto us by His Word: the Word incarnate by the Word written; made sounding in the mouth of His ministers. This Word of His is compared and expressed by many metaphors, to leaven, for seasoning; to honey, for sweetening; to the hammer, for breaking the stony heart (Jeremiah 23:29). It is here a tree, a balm tree, a salving, a saving tree. Albumasar saith that the more medicinable a plant is, the less it nourisheth. But this tree makes a sick soul sound, and a whole one sounder. It is not only physic when men be sick, but meat when they be whole. It carries a seed with it, an "immortal and incorruptible seed" (1 Peter 1:13), which concurs to the begetting of a new man, the old dying away: for it hath power of both, to mortify the flesh, to revive the spirit (Matthew 13:3). Happy is the good ground of the heart that receives it! The juice is no less powerful to mollify the stony heart, and make it tender and soft, as "a heart of flesh." The seed convinceth the understanding; the juice mollifieth the affections. All is excellent; but still, the root that yields this seed, this juice, is the power of God. A tree hath manifest to the eye, leaves, and flowers, and fruits; but the root, most precious, lies hidden. In all things we see the accidents, not the form, not the substance. There are but few that rightly taste the seed and the juice; but who hath comprehended the root of this balm?

1. It spreads. No sharp frosts, nor nipping blasts, nor chilling airs, nor drizzling sleet can mar the beauty or enervate the virtue of this spiritual tree. The more it is stopped, the further it groweth. The Jews would have cut down this tree at the root; the Gentiles would have lopped off the branches. They struck at Christ, these at His ministers; both struck short. If they killed the messenger, they could not reach the message. The blood of the martyrs, spilt at the root of this tree, did make it spread more largely.

2. As it gives boughs spaciously, so fruit pregnantly, plentifully. The graces of God hang upon this tree in clusters (Song of Solomon 1:14). No hungry soul shall go away from this tree unsatisfied. It is an effectual Word, never failing of the intended success What God's Word affirms His truth performs, whether it be judgment or mercy.

3. As this balm spreads patently for shadow, potently for fruit, so all this ariseth from a little seed. God's smallest springs prove at length main oceans. His least beginnings grow into great works, great wonders. Now, there is no action without motion, no motion without will, no will without knowledge, no knowledge without hearing (Romans 10:14).God must then, by this Word, call us to Himself. Let us come when and whiles He calls us, leaving our former evil loves and evil lives.

1. The leaves of the balsam are white; the Word of God is pure and spotless. Peter saith there is sincerity in it (1 Peter 2:2). It is white, immaculate, and so unblemishable that the very mouth of the devil could not sully it.

2. The balsam, say the physicians, is sharp and biting in the taste, but wholesome in digestion. The Holy Word is no otherwise to the unregenerate palate, but to the sanctified soul it is sweeter than the honeycomb. The Word may relish bitter to many, but is wholesome. There cannot be sharper pills given to the usurer than to cast up his unjust gains.

3. They write of the balsamum, that the manner of getting out the juice is by wounding the tree.

1. The balsam tree weeps out a kind of gum, like tears; the Word of God doth compassionately bemoan our sins. Christ wept not only tears for Jerusalem, but blood for the world.

2. The way to get out the juice of balm from God's Word is by cutting it, skilful division of it, "rightly dividing the Word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). It is true that God's Word is "the bread of life"; but whiles it is in the whole loaf, many cannot help themselves: it is needful for children to have it cut to them in pieces. Though the spice unbroken be sweet and excellent, yet doth it then treble the savour in delicacy when it is pounded in a mortar. There must be wisdom both in the dispensers and hearers of God's mysteries; in the former to distribute, in the other to apportion their due and fit share of this balm.

3. The balsam tree being wounded too deep, dies; the Word of God cannot be marred, it may be martyred, and forced to suffer injurious interpretations.

4. When the balsam is cut, they use to set vials in the dens, to receive the juice or sap; when the Word is divided by preaching, the people should bring vials with them, to gather this saving balm. How many sermons are lost whiles you bring not with you the vessels of attention! Philosophy saith that there is no vacuity, no vessel is empty; if of water or other such liquid and material substances, yet not of air. So perhaps you bring hither vials to receive this balm of grace, and carry them away full, but only full of wind; a vast, incircumscribed, and swimming knowledge, a notion, a mere implicit and confused tendency of many things, which lie like corn, loose on the floor of their brains. How rare is it to see a vial carried from the Church full of balm, a conscience of grace!

5. The balsam tree was granted sometimes to one only people — Judea, as Pliny (Lib. 12. cap. 17) testifies. It was thence derived to other nations. Who that is a Christian doth not confess the appropriation of this spiritual balm once to that only nation? (Psalm 147:19, 20.) Now, as their earthly balm was by their civil merchants transported to other nations; so when this heavenly balm was given to any Gentile, a merchant of their own, a prophet of Israel, carried it. Nineveh could not have it without a Jonah; nor Babylon without some Daniels; and though Paul and the apostles had a commission from Christ to preach the Gospel to all nations, yet observe how they take their leave of the Jews (Acts 13:46).

6. Pliny affirms, that even when the balsam tree grew only in Jewry, yet it was not growing commonly in the land, as other trees, either for timber, fruit, or medicine; but only in the king's garden. There is but one truth, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism," etc. (Ephesians 4:5). Even they that have held the greatest falsehoods, hold that there is but one truth. Nay, most will confess that this balsam tree is only in God's garden; but they presume to temper the balm at their own pleasure, and will not minister it to the world except their own fancy hath compounded it, confounded it with their impure mixtures.

7. They write of the balsam tree, that though it spread spaciously as a vine, yet the boughs bear up themselves; and as you heard before that they must not be pruned, so now here, that they need not be supported: God's Word needs no undersetting. It is firmly rooted in heaven, and all the cold storms of human reluctancy and opposition cannot shake it. Nay, the more it is shaken, the faster it grows.

8. Physicians write of balsamum, that it is easy and excellent to be prepared. This spiritual balm is prepared to our hands: it is but the administration that is required of us, and the application of you.

9. Balm is good against all diseases. Catholicon is a drug, a drudge to it. It purifieth our hearts from all defilings and obstructions in them. A better cornucopia than ever nature, had she been true to their desires and wants, could have produced: the bread of heaven, by which a man lives forever. A very supernatural stone, more precious than the Indies, if they were consolidate into one quarry; that turns all into purer gold than ever the land of Havilah boasted. A stronger armour than was Vulcan's, to shield us from a more strange and savage enemy than ever Anak begot, the devil (Ephesians 6:11). It is a pantry of wholesome food, against fenowed traditions; a physician's shop of antidotes, against the poisons of heresies and the plague of iniquities; a pandect of profitable laws, against rebellious spirits; a treasure of costly jewels, against beggarly rudiments. You have here the similitudes.Hear one or two discrepancies of these natural and supernatural balms.

1. This earthly balm cannot preserve the body of itself, but by the accession of the spiritual balm. Nature itself declines her ordinary working, when God's revocation hath chidden it. The Word without balm can cure; not the best balm without the Word.

2. So this natural balm, when the blessing of the Word is even added to it, can at utmost but keep the body living till the life's taper be burnt out; or after death, give a short and insensible preservation to it in the sareophagal grave. But this balm gives life after death, life against death, life without death.

II. THE PHYSICIANS. "Is there no balm at Gilead? is there no physician there?" The prophets are allegorically called physicians, as the Word is balm. So are the ministers of the Gospel in due measure, in their place. To speak properly and fully, Christ is our only physician, and we are but His ministers, bound to apply His saving physic to the sickly souls of His people.It is He only that cures the carcass, the conscience.

1. No physician can heal the body without Him.

2. No minister can heal the conscience where Christ hath not given a blessing to it.

1. We must administer the means of your redress which our God hath taught us, doing it with love, with alacrity.

2. The physician that lives among many patients, if he would have them tenderly and carefully preserve their healths, must himself keep a good diet among them. It is a strong argument to persuade the goodness of that he administers.This for ourselves. For you, I will contract all into these three uses, which necessarily arise from the present or precedent consideration —

1. Despise not your physicians.

2. If your physician be worthy blame, yet sport not, with cursed Ham, at your father's nakedness.

3. Lastly, let this teach you to get yourselves familiar acquaintance with the Scriptures, that if you be put to it, in the absence of your physician, you may yet help yourselves.

(T. Adams.)

Through fifty generations Gilead was famed for its plantations of aromatic and medicinal herbs. The balsam was a lowly tree — little better than a shrub, with scanty foliage and inconspicuous flower. Looking at it, you would scarcely have thought it profitable for any purpose, — for shade, for beauty, or for fruit. But on wounding its stem there flowed a pellucid gum, which was carefully collected, and was considered of all the substances known to pharmacy the most sovereign and wonderful. So early as the days of Joseph, this balm was an object of commerce, and was carried down from Gilead to Egypt. In the days of Solomon, the gardens where it grew were annexed to the crown, and become an item in the royal revenue. So precious were they deemed, that in the days of the Roman invasion a battle was fought for their possession; and among the other symbols of victory which Vespasian carried to Rome, — a balsam tree was borne through the streets in triumphal procession. But being an exotic, and being from that period entirely neglected, it has perished from the face of Palestine, and there is no balm in Gilead now.

(J. Hamilton.)

I. THE MELANCHOLY FACT THAT SIN PREVAILS. Sin is here, as in other places of Scripture, represented under the figurative character of a disease. And the representation is appropriate; for sin affects the soul much in the same way as disease affects the body. It is a derangement of the spiritual frame, by which its functions are impeded, its strength enfeebled, its comfort impaired, its proper ends counteracted, and its very existence, as a creature destined to immortal felicity, endangered or destroyed.

1. It is a hereditary disease — not induced by outward or accidental circumstances, but entailed upon us as an attribute of our fallen nature, and cleaving to us with as much tenacity as if it were a part of our original being.

2. It is a pervading disease — not limited to any one portion of our constitution, but dwelling in every department of it — influencing its intellectual powers, its moral dispositions, its sensitive organs: "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint."

3. It is a vital and inveterate disease — not touching merely the extreme or superficial parts of our system, and resisted in its progress by any inherent energies — but corrupting and preying upon our inmost soul, and so congenial to all that is within, and to all that is around us, as to grow with our growth, and strengthen with our strength.

4. It is a deceitful disease — not always accompanied with those violent and decided symptoms which forbid us to mistake the nature or disregard the perils of our condition — but often assuming that gentle form which allays our apprehensions, and flatters us with the hopes of recovery.

5. It is often withal a pailful and harassing disease — filling us with dissatisfaction and fear and trembling — rendering our days gloomy and our nights restless — or piercing us with agonies to which we can find neither utterance nor relief.

6. It is a mortal disease — not inflicting upon us a momentary pang, and then giving place to renovated vigour — but mocking at all human attempts to throw it off — sooner or later subduing us by its resistless, power — and consigning us to the pains and the terrors of the second death.

II. "IS THERE NO BALM IN GILEAD," no remedy by which the disease of sin may be cured? "Is there no physician there," no physician qualified to apply the remedy and able to make it effectual? Christ is set forth as the great Physician of souls. He has wisdom to devise whatever method may be necessary for rescuing the victims whom He has been sent to deliver. He has tenderness and compassion to induce Him to do, and bestow, and suffer all, whatever it may be, which their circumstances require. He has power to conquer every obstacle that would frustrate His exertions in their behalf, and to render effectual every means that may be employed for their recovery. And He has all these attributes in an indefinite degree; so that He is competent to heal those in whose instance the disease has assumed its most inveterate form, and even to call them back from the very gates of the grave. In the annals of Christianity we read of many who, though sin was preying on their very vitals as a deep seated and mortal distemper, and though they were ready to perish, because they had no ability to stay or to withstand its progress, yet escaped from its destroying power — felt that it had departed from them, manifested all the symptoms of renovated ragout, and rejoiced in the active exertion of those faculties which had been paralysed, and in the return of those comforts and those hopes which seemed to have fled from them forever. And they have testified that this happy change was wrought in their condition — because there "is balm in Gilead, and because there is a Physician there."

III. SOME OF THE CAUSES OF SUCH A MELANCHOLY PHENOMENON IN THE HISTORY OF SINFUL MEN.

1. Many sinners are insensible to their need of a spiritual physician. They shut their eyes against all the light by which they might be made aware of the perils and the horrors of their condition. They palliate or explain away all the circumstances by which we would prove that guilt does attach to them.

2. There are many who, though aware in some measure of the disease of sin, of its inveteracy and of its danger, and not unconvinced of the necessity of applying to Him who alone can save them from its power and consequences, are yet indisposed from doing so, by carelessness, or procrastination, or dislike to the remedies which they know will be prescribed.

3. Sinners are not saved, or have not their spiritual health recovered, because they will not take the remedy simply and submissively as it is administered by Christ. They put their own ignorance on a level with His wisdom — their own weakness with His power — their own depravity with His merit. And thus they defeat the purpose of all that He offers to do for them. They counteract His saving work. They render fruitless the remedies that He prescribes.

(A. Thomson, D. D.)

The word treacle is derived from the Greek word therion, which meant primarily a wild beast of any kind, but was afterwards more especially applied to animals which had a venomous bite. By many Greek writers the term was used to denote a serpent or viper specifically. But what connection, it may well be asked, can there be between a viper and treacle? How came such a sweet substance to have such a venomous origin? It was a popular belief at one time, that the bite of the viper could only be cured by the application to the wound of a piece of the viper's flesh, or a decoction called viper's wine, or Venice treacle made by boiling the flesh in some fluid or other. Galen, the celebrated Greek physician of Pergamos, who lived in the second century, describes the custom as very prevalent in his time. At Aquileia, under the patronage of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, he prepared a system of pharmacy, which he published under the name of Theriaca, in allusion to this superstition. The name given to the extraordinary electuary of viper's flesh was theriake, from therion, a viper. By the usual process of alteration which takes place in the course of a few generations in words that are commonly used, theriake became theriac. Then it was transformed into the diminutive theriacle, afterwards triacle, in which form it was used by Chaucer; and, finally, it assumed its present mode of spelling as early as the time of Milton and Waller. It changed its meaning and application with its various changes of form, signifying first the confection of the viper's flesh applied to the wound inflicted by the viper's sting; then any antidote, whatever might be its nature, or whatever might be the origin of the evil it was intended to cure. The fundamental principle that gave origin to treacle was one that was extensively adopted and acted upon in ancient times. Similia similibus curantur — "Like cures like" — was the motto of nearly all the medical practitioners from Galen downwards. There are traces in the Bible of the principle of treacle as applied in the cure of disease, which are exceedingly interesting and instructive. Some of the most remarkable of our Lord's miracles were based upon it. We are told by St. Mark of the healing of a man deaf and dumb in Galilee, by our Saviour putting His fingers to his ears and touching his tongue with His own spittle. Saliva jejuna was supposed by the ancients to possess general curative properties, and to be especially efficacious in ophthalmia and other inflammatory diseases of the eyes. We are not, however, to suppose for a moment that our Lord was misled by this popular notion and that He was here acting merely as an ordinary physician acquainted with certain remedies in use among men. It was not for its medicinal virtue that He made use of the spittle. The application of it was entirely a symbolical action, indicating that as it was the man's tongue that was bound, so the moisture of the tongue was to be the sign of its unloosing, and the means by which it would be enabled to move freely in the mouth, and to articulate words. And the use of Christ's own saliva in the cure showed that the healing virtue resided in and came forth from Christ's own body alone, and was imparted through loss of His substance. All Christ's miracles, without exception, were in one sense illustrations of the principle. The effects of the curse in the diseases and disabilities of mankind were removed by Christ bearing the curse while performing the miracles. "Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses." The evil that He cured He suffered in His own soul. The sorrow that He alleviated cost Himself an equal degree of sorrow. Virtue went out of Him in proportion to the amount of healing virtue imparted. Gain to others was loss to Him. By fasting and prayer He cast out unclean spirits; by groaning in spirit and weeping He raised the dead Lazarus to life. The curse that He removed He came under Himself. In the economy of redemption we find many remarkable examples of the principle of treacle. The rule that "like cures like" is engraved on the very forefront of our salvation. It is shadowed forth in type and symbol; it is foretold in prophecy; it is clearly seen in realised fact. The brazen serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness to heal those who were bitten by the fiery serpents, as a prophetic symbol that the Son of Man would be lifted up on the Cross to heal those who had been deceived into sin by the old serpent, the devil. And in this type there was a significant fitness. It was not an actual dead serpent that was exhibited; for that would have implied that Christ was really sinful. It was a brazen serpent, formed of the brass of which the brazen altar and the brazen laver were made, in token that though Christ was our substitute, He was yet holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Throughout the whole of our Saviour's propitiatory work, we can trace this similarity between the evil and the cure; a similarity indicated very plainly and emphatically in the first announcement of the scheme of redemption to our fallen first parents. The serpent's head could only be bruised through the heel of the woman's seed being wounded by the serpent's fang. By faithlessness and pride, man sinned and fell; by treachery, false witness, and a cross, man is redeemed. It was not as God that Christ wrought out man's salvation, but as man. It was in the likeness of sinful flesh that He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So, also, in order that we may realise personally and individually the benefits of Christ's redemption, we must be identified with Him by faith; there must be mutual sympathy, partnership, and reciprocity of feeling — "I in you, and ye in Me." We must be partakers of His nature as He was partaker of ours. We must take up our cross and follow Him. We must know the fellowship of His sufferings. If we be planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection; if we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. In medicine, also, the same principle may be found. Homoeopathy was anticipated by the ancient use of treacle. The essential character of Hahnemann's famous system is that such remedies should be employed against any disease, as in a healthy person would produce a similar, though not precisely the same disease. The method of administering remedies in infinitesimal doses is not necessarily a part of the system, and it was not originally practised, although in the end it was adopted as a vital article of the creed. The fundamental principle of homoeopathy is that "like cures like"; and, to find suitable medicines against any disease, experiments are made on healthy persons, in order to determine the effect upon them. Thus whooping cough and certain eruptions of the skin of a chronic nature are supposed to be cured by an attack of measles; inflammation of the eyes, asthma, and dysentery, are homoeopathically cured by smallpox; arnica heals bruises because it produces the nervous symptoms which accompany bruises; camphor cures typhus fever because in a poisonous dose it lowers the vitality of the system; wine is a good remedy for inflammation because it inflames the constitution; quinine or Peruvian bark is the best remedy against intermittent fever or ague because, when taken in considerable quantity by a healthy person, it produces feverishness and furred tongue; and so on over a long list of medicines. There is a profound philosophy in this principle of treacle that applies to all the relations and interest of life. In the sweat of a man's face does he take away the curse that causes his face to sweat. Not by ease and idleness and self-indulgence does a man remove the remediable evils of the world; but by the evils of toil and trouble and care. It is the tear of sympathy that dries the tear of sorrow; the salt of the grief that springs from fellow feeling that heals the salt spring of the grief that flows from human bereavement. We all know the relief to imprisoned feeling with which the heart is bursting — when we can find one whose susceptibilities can take it in as we outpour it all, Who can understand our emotions and take interest in our disclosures. There is no earthly solace like that; and it is only a higher degree of it that we experience when we feel that we have "a brother born for adversity," who is afflicted in all our afflictions. That "Jesus wept," — that He still sheds tears as salt and as round as ours — when He sees us sorrowing; this is the blessed homeopathy of suffering — this is the balm, the treacle to every heart wound. Then, too, why is repentance bitter? Is it not because sin is bitter? Conviction and conversion, whether on the lower levels of ordinary moral conduct and worldly well-being, or on the higher heights of spiritual life and Gospel experience, must always be attended with acute sorrow; and the measure of the pain in the loss of the soul must be the measure of the pain in its recovery and gain. Look again at love. What does it require? Is it wealth, or rank, or fame, or any of the outward possessions and glories of life? The Song of Songs says, and the experience of every true loving heart echoes the sentiment, "If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned." Love can only be satisfied with love.

(H. Macmillan, D. D.)

I. TO DESCRIBE YOUR SPIRITUAL DISEASE. Sin itself, and all its pernicious consequences, comprehends the whole disease of human nature.

1. This disease has infected the whole race of mankind.

2. This disease has infected the whole person of every individual. The members of the body are likewise infected with the disease of sin.

3. What especially renders this disease an object of apprehension and sorrow is, that it is mortal. It has not only entirely deprived mankind of strength but has involved them in death itself.

II. TO EXPLAIN AND ILLUSTRATE THE NATURE OF THE REMEDY.

1. Though this Physician healed the most inveterate diseases of the body with a word, He could cure the distempers of the soul with no other medicine but the balm of His own blood.

2. With this precious balm our Physician heals all manner of diseases.

3. The cures which the Physician performs by the balm of His blood are all forever perfect.

4. This wonderful Physician heals His patients without money and without price. When Zeuxis the Grecian painter presented his incomparable paintings for nothing, his vanity prompted him to give this reason for his own conduct, that they were above all price. So Jesus, our Almighty Physician, who can never be suspected of having indulged a vain-glorious pride, performed His mighty work of healing freely, and without reward, because it was impossible to propose to Him any remuneration that would either merit His favour, or claim His acceptance. The case is precisely the same to this very day.

III. WHY, THEN, ARE THERE SO MANY DISEASED SOULS AMONG US?

1. Because multitudes are ignorant and insensible of their real condition. The patient who labours under the violence of a fever may, in a fit of delirium, affirm that he is completely recovered from his indisposition; but this very circumstance is one of the most unpromising symptoms of his disease.

2. Others refuse the Physician's grace, and reject His kind offers of assistance, from an opinion that it is so near and easy to be obtained, that they may have it at whatever time they choose to ask it. What greater dishonour can you offer to the Physician? What greater abuse can you make of this precious remedy?

3. A third class continue under the power of their spiritual disease on account of their contempt for the person of the Physician, and their obstinate prejudices against His prescriptions.

4. Another reason why so many remain under the power of their spiritual distemper is, that they spend their all upon other physicians.Application —

1. Are you among the "whole who need not the Physician"? Awfully dangerous condition! Death approaches, and ye perceive it not! Beseech the Physician Himself to quicken you, and make you thoroughly sensible of your real condition by nature, that finding yourselves guilty, polluted, and condemned sinners, and feeling the plagues of your own deceitful and wicked hearts, you may humbly sue for mercy, and without delay repair to that all-sufficient Physician, whose blood is a balm for every wound of the sin-sick soul, who "of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption."

2. Are ye among "the sick who need the Physician"? Be not discouraged. Of such sickness it may be truly said, that it is not unto death, but for the glory of God. The more heinous your guilt, the more imminent your danger, so much more reason have you to apply for relief. Oh, then, speedily have recourse to this Physician! Thankfully accept of His remedy, and you shall find to your present comfort and everlasting joy that "He is both able and willing to save to the very uttermost all who come unto God through Him."

3. Are ye now made whole? "Go, and sin no more." Rejoice in the Physician and in His salutary aid.

(T. Thomson.)

I. THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF THE SALVATION PROVIDED FOR OUR PERISHING SOULS.

1. The glorious constitution of His person as God and Man in one Christ. He, who has undertaken the office of our great Physician, is "Lord of lords, and King of kings." "All the angels of God worship Him." He is Himself "God over all, blessed for evermore." Yet, wonderful to tell, He is also Man, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, and made in all things, sin only excepted, like unto us; whom He is therefore not ashamed to call His brethren.

2. The wonderful way which He has taken to save us from sin. This way was by giving up to death this Person so gloriously constituted, that by thus dying He might atone for our sins.

II. THE REASON WHY SO MANY PERSONS, NOTWITHSTANDING, CONTINUE IN A PERISHING CONDITION.

1. Some are altogether insensible of their disease. Engrossed with worldly business, sunk in sensual pleasures, they give no thought at all, or no serious thought, to the state of their soul. As to their sin, it gives them no concern. They regard it as light and trifling.

2. Some are too proud to accept or use the proffered medicine. They think that they can heal and cure themselves. The proposition of being saved wholly through the blood and sacrifice of another is too humbling for them. They cannot submit to be thus indebted to grace.

3. Others there are who use not the remedy prescribed because of its holy tendency. They know that, while it brings them to the Cross of Christ, it requires them to take up their cross, to crucify the flesh, and to be crucified to the world. But to these things, these acts of self-denial and godliness, they have no mind; therefore they go not to the Physician to heal them.

(E. Cooper, M. A.)

Appalling as our condition may now be, the spectacle of a world abandoned to the reign of sin, without any corrective or mitigation, would be far more lawful. It is an instance of the Divine mercy for which we can never be sufficiently grateful, that "where sin abounded grace doth much more abound." The interrogative form of this statement seems to contemplate, not so much cases of want or woe indiscriminately, as examples of peculiar and signal distress. Such examples every community might supply. There are families here and there whose afflictions have given them a sad preeminence among their neighbours. Stroke after stroke has fallen upon them, until their cup of bitterness seems filled to the very brim. A blessed thing it is to be allowed to go to a family in these circumstances, and say, "We will not mock you with the tender of such consolations as the world may have to bestow. But rest assured there is balm in Gilead which can soothe your wounds, and a Physician there who knows how to apply it." It was long ago said, "the heart knoweth his own bitterness." And the older we grow, the deeper must become the conviction of every thoughtful person, that the hearts are not few in number which have some secret sorrow.

1. Very many of these examples belong to the realm of the affections. Misplaced love, morbid sensibility, disappointed hopes, abused or unrequited confidence, — who can compute the measure of unhappiness in the world which flows from these sources? The world may sneer at the "sentimentalism" of such experiences. The essential spirit of the world is as coarse and cynical where human affections are concerned, as it is arrogant and impious in dealing with the prerogatives of the Deity. It may very well be that, in many instances, there is an ill-balanced constitution, or that a passion has been cherished in opposition to all reason, or that, in some way, the calamity has been self-imposed. But the consciousness of this only increases the bitterness of the cup; as it may also prompt to a more careful seclusion of it from every eye. It were a mission of Godlike philanthropy could one seek out all these afflicted ones, bowed down with their crushed hearts, and languishing under the weight of griefs too sacred to be shared by any earthly bosom, and say to them, "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no Physician there?" Do not repel the suggestion as either unsuited to your state of mind or as unseasonable. What you need is a Friend whose sympathy can avail to relieve you, and whose arm can keep you from sinking; a Friend upon whom you can fix your lacerated affections with a confidence that He will never betray you; and whom you can love with the conviction that your attachment to Him can never become so absorbing as to be an occasion of self-reproach or of sin. Jesus of Nazareth will not disappoint you. Such is the essential perfection of His nature, — such its boundless amplitude, — that in Him all your griefs may be assuaged and all your cravings after happiness satisfied.

2. The moment we pass from the sphere of the affections into the realm of spiritual things, new forms of suffering meet the eye, as diversified in character as they are various in intensity. And here, no less than among the tribes of sickness and sorrow and disappointment, we have but too much occasion to ask, "Is there no balm in Gilead, and no Physician there?"(1) You have seen individuals under the terrors of an awakened conscience. God has come near to them and set their sins in order before their eyes. How hopeless is it to attempt to minister relief to a soul in this condition with any mere earthly specifics! Something widely different from this you must have before that agitated breast can be tranquillised. And the boundless mercy of God proffers you all that you need. "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no Physician there?" Yes, thou heavy-laden sinner. Great as thy sins are, there is a greater Saviour. Ponderous as is thy burden, what will it be to Him whose hand holds up the firmament and guides the spheres in their orbits? Deep as may be the crimson dye of thy soul, the blood which cleansed Manasseh, and the dying thief, and Saul of Tarsus, can cleanse thee.(2) A second glance around the realm we are now traversing reveals another class of sufferers. These are the doubting, the tempted, the desponding, — the bruised reeds and the smoking flax, — who "desire to follow Christ," and would "give worlds" to know that He owned them as His disciples, but who walk in darkness. Long accustomed to dwell on their conscious sins and infirmities, their sense of personal unworthiness forbids them to appropriate the promises, and even restrains them from looking, with any confidence, to the Saviour. These doubts and misgivings have their rooting in unbelief, and in unworthy conceptions of the character of the Redeemer. Conscious ill-desert keeps you from going to Christ. But is there anything either in His character or in the events of His life to justify this feeling? How can you say, as you do practically say, "There is no balm in Gilead, and no Physician there"?(3) It is a dark portraiture which the Spirit has drawn of man's moral character, when, with a single graphic touch of the pencil, he is depicted as having "a heart of stone." The sceptic resents the great indignity. "A heart of stone! Look at the virtues which cluster around humanity! See the integrity and the truthfulness, the high-toned honour and the magnanimity, which embellish society! Let these testify how gross a libel that is upon the race, which ascribes to man 'a heart of stone'!" Granted all. Make the flattering inventory still more flattering, and its every item shall be acknowledged. The brighter the vestments in which you infold your idol, the clearer do you bring out the demonstration that his heart is "a heart of stone." It is of his relations Godward that the Scriptures affirm this quality of him. But we are not now dealing with sceptics. There are those who, so far from cavilling at this representation, freely concede its truth. They have reasoned with themselves on the surpassing folly and impiety of living for this world only. They are convinced that Jesus Christ ought to be in their eyes the chief among ten thousand; that they ought to enthrone Him in their hearts with a grateful and confiding devotion; that they ought to delight in prayer, and to find their happiness in doing God's will. They long for this. They would make any earthly sacrifice to accomplish it. They have laboured and struggled to bring themselves into this state of mind. But all in vain. The wayward affections will not relax their hold of earth at the bidding of reason and conscience. Here, at least, is a class of sufferers whom no earth-born philosophy can reach. But are they therefore to be abandoned to despair? Far from it. Your case is not hopeless. That heart of stone can be broken in pieces. That proud will can be subdued. Those intractable affections can be detached from earth and lifted to the skies. The love of Christ may yet burn with seraphic ardour in that breast which has hitherto refused Him its homage. In place of the ingratitude and distrust with which you have requited Him, your joyful protestation may yet be heard, "Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee." Be it so, that your sins are of colossal magnitude, and as the stars of heaven for multitude. That is a cogent reason for repentance and contrition; it is no reason for declining to accept "the balm in Gilead and the Physician there." You "have no real sorrow for your sins." Christ is "exalted as a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins." One glimpse of Him whom you have pierced, such as the Spirit can afford you, will make streams of penitential sorrow burst from that heart of stone as the waters gushed from the smitten rock. You have no faith. But can you not cry, Lord, I would believe. Help thou mine unbelief? You have no love. Who ever loved Him, except as he was loved by Him? "We love Him, because He first loved us." Let Him but reveal His love to you, and that will "kindle yours" as nothing else can.

(H. A. Boardman, D. D.)

or every wrong there is a remedy. God is Almighty. The prophets of old believed this. The Church of Christ, in all ages, professes to believe this.

I. "THERE IS BALM IN GILEAD." And to Gilead we must go to seek and to find it. That is, the remedy for every wrong must be made the object of our effort to attain. Gilead — as all students of the Bible know — is the mountainous region east of Jordan, forming the frontier of the Holy Land. The name itself signifies "a hard, rocky region," and there the fragrant, resinous gum, possessed of such famous healing properties, was to be found — found, however, not by the casual, unobservant traveller who happened to pass by that way, but by the man who clambered up the rocks, scaled the heights, diligently searched among the precious, storm-stunted shrubs, yielding the healing gum. And so, surely, is it the same with that which the balm of Gilead symbolises. The remedy for every, or for any, wrong is not to be found in religious idleness. It must ever be a serious business — a search, requiring an effort upwards, taxing all the strength that is vouchsafed. And does it very much matter by what name they are called, who in sincerity attempt the search? or, indeed, whether the balm they find is all identical in outward appearance? For instance, "the balm of Gilead," the remedy for wrong, comes to us in modern times, certainly in one way, in the form of scientific truth. Scientific ignorance is the fruitful cause of how vast a waste of human life! — of disease, and wretchedness, and pain, and bereavement, and idiocy, and drink, and death! God's laws and nature's laws are one and the same, and the high priests of science serve at the altar of the Most High God. Or, again, the balm of Gilead, the remedy for wrong, comes to us in the form of philosophic thought. Social science, based upon historical research and experience, economic problems, thought out in the light of what has been, and what men are, and need — labelled by whatever name — if they are not self-condemned by insincerity, are all possessed with some healing virtue. So, too, with politics in the true and highest sense; but, alas! not with party "politicalism," unless indeed that balm serves the purpose of an emetic. Again, the true "balm of Gilead," the remedy for every wrong, is to be found upon the mountain top of revelation. The balm of revealed knowledge, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, the insight into the spiritual, is within the reach of all.

II. BUT WHO IS THE PHYSICIAN QUALIFIED TO ADMINISTER THE BALM, to tell us how, and where, and in what proportion it should be applied? For, indeed, without proper knowledge, a remedy itself may become a poison; the cure may be more fatal than the disease. In matters social and spiritual we have many teachers, and some who seem to be more interested in their own nostrums than in the cures they effect. But is there no true physician, is there none whose direction and advice we may follow with absolute confidence? An answer to that question some will immediately give. "Our blessed Lord," they say, "is the good Physician" (a title which by implication only our Lord applies to Himself), "and to follow Jesus Christ is to be healed of all that is wrong." Nothing could be truer, and yet is this all the truth? Does not our Lord Himself point onwards, to the revelation of the Holy Ghost, as the perfect Physician, as the Teacher, and Leader, and Guide, and Comforter of men's souls? "He shall take of Mine, and shall show it unto you." Every spiritual man is a physician qualified, according to the measure of the light which he enjoys, to apply the healing balm to the sorrows and distresses of others.

(A. A. Toms, M. A.)

I. MANKIND UNIVERSALLY ARE IN A DISEASED STATE.

1. Atheism, infidelity, or unbelief of Divine truths.

2. Ignorance of God and Gospel truths, even among those who profess to know Him (Hosea 4:6).

3. Hardness of heart.

4. Earthly mindedness.

5. Aversion to spiritual duties.

6. Hypocrisy and formality in God's service.

7. Trusting to our own righteousness.

8. Indwelling corruption.

9. Backsliding.

II. THERE IS A PHYSICIAN WHO CAN CURE ALL DISEASES.

1. He is infinite in knowledge, and understands all diseases, with the proper remedies, so that He never can err (John 21:17).

2. He has sovereign authority and almighty power, so can command diseases to obey (Matthew 9:2).

3. He has infinite pity, ready to help the distressed, even unasked (Luke 10:33).

4. He has wonderful patience towards the distressed; bears with their ingratitude, and works their perfect cure.

III. THE REMEDY WHICH HE APPLIES TO EFFECT THE CURE.

1. Principally, His own blood.

2. But Scripture speaks of other subservient means.

(1)The Spirit of God, with His gracious operations on the soul.

(2)The Word and ordinances of Christ.

(3)Afflictions.

(4)Faithful ministers.

(5)Prayers of pious Christians.

IV. HIS METHOD OF APPLYING THE REMEDY.

1. He makes sinners sensible that they are sick.

2. He works faith in the soul by His Holy Spirit.

3. He accomplishes and perfects the cure by the sanctifying influences of the Spirit.

V. WHY SO FEW ARE HEALED, NOTWITHSTANDING THERE IS BALM IN GILEAD AND A PHYSICIAN THERE.

1. Many are ignorant of their disease, and wilfully so.

2. Many are in love with their disease more than with their Physician.

3. Many neglect the season of healing (Jeremiah 8:20).

4. Many will not trust Christ wholly for healing.

5. Many will not submit to the prescriptions of Christ; self-examination, repentance, godly sorrow, mortification.Conclusion —

1. Let those in a diseased state see their danger, for it is great.

2. Balm of Gilead is freely offered in the Gospel.

3. Consider how long you have slighted this balm already.

4. Those whom Christ has healed, manifest their gratitude by living to His glory.

(T. Hannam.)

Is there no Physician there?
I. THE PHYSICIAN is Jesus Christ the Son of God, who, being the Son of God, must needs be able and skilful; since He is the Christ, He wants not a call to the office, etc.; as He is Jesus, He cannot but be ready and willing to the work, — who can desire a better, who would seek after another Physician than Him in whom skill, and will, and ability, and authority do meet?

II. The PATIENTS are those who stand in need of this Physician, and they most need Him who think they have least.

III. The DISEASE of these patients is sin — a disease both hereditary, as to the root of it, which together with our nature we receive from our parents, and likewise contracted by ourselves, in the daily eruption of this corruption, by thoughts, words, and works.

IV. The MEDICINE or "balm" which this Physician administereth to the patient for the cure of his disease is "His own blood," which He is content to part with for our sakes.

V. The METHOD by which the cure is effected is by cleansing; no cordial like this to comfort our hearts and to rid us of the ill-humours of our sins, thereby restoring our spiritual health.

(Nath. Hardy.)

A distressed father, that had just left the sick bed of a beloved daughter, and was wandering through the streets in all the dejection of grief, may easily be supposed to have uttered himself in the language of the text. And if we may suppose that she had been long subjected to the want of a physician and a nurse, while death must now ensue as a consequence of that neglect, while there was a remedy at hand, and a physician hard by; but there was none at hand to call in that physician, or to apply that balm, by the application of which she might have been restored to health, joy, and life. One would grieve to hear the solitary moan of such a father, and haste to know if it is altogether too late to call in the kind and timely physician.

I. THE DISEASE IS ONE OF UNIVERSAL APPLICATION. There has been no nation found that is not totally depraved. They all practised a gross and God-provoking idolatry. They made their idols as stupid and as devilish as they could, practising as gross a perversion of their Supreme Deity as possible, and then they practised upon man all the outrages that a perverted intellect could contrive.

II. THIS DISEASE IS, OF ALL OTHERS, THE MOST CONTAGIOUS. It has been communicated through the wide world, and gone into every little ramification of every kingdom under the whole heaven. It poisons all the human relations, and mars every human compact; and, first of all, man's covenant with his God. The result of this is, that it has filled and loaded him with misery to the full, and all nature "groans and travails to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and be brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God."

III. WHY IS NOT THE PLAGUE HEALED?

1. Sinners are not sensible that they are the subjects of this deplorable disease. The first object of a preached Gospel is to convince them of this fact.

2. If to any extent they are conscious of their condition, they love the very disease that cleaves to them.

3. They do not love the Physician.

4. They do not love the price at which they can be healed. It must be with Christ a mere gratuitous healing.

5. Sinners do not relish the manner of the application. This deep repentance, and this being healed by faith, destroys all human agency and contrivance, and gives God all the glory.

(D. A. Clark.)

I. Our mortal and evangelical resources.

1. No country in the world in all respects equal in privileges.

2. No age comparable to this.

(1)Plenitude of God's Word

(2)Good books.

(3)Evangelical ministry.

(4)Rich variety of social institutions.

II. The fearful evils which still exist.

1. Avowed infidelity.

2. General neglect of Divine worship.

3. Juvenile precocity and profligacy.

5. Overwhelming intemperance.

III. The affecting inquiry presented. "Why, then," etc. Three classes of reasons.

1. In the Church.

(1)Prevalence of spiritual indifference.

(2)Sectarian contentions.

(3)Fewness of workers.

(4)Want of spiritual self-denial.

(5)Coldness in prayer.

(6)Feeble faith.

2. Reasons in the persons themselves. Feel separated from other classes; neglected, despised on account of poverty, etc.

3. Reasons in the world. Seductive temptations, dissipating scenes.Applications —

1. We appeal to Church of Christ. Great responsibility.

2. Sinners are inexcusable. Every man must give account.

3. God's mercy and grace are all-sufficient.

4. The provisions of the Gospel are freely published.

(J. Burnt, D. D.).

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