The Ministry of Healing - A. J. Gordon - ebook

Have there been any miracles since the days of the Apostles? To this question the common answer has been, in our times at least, a decided no. A call recently put forth in one of our religious journals, asking the opinion of ministers, teachers, and theological professors on this point was very largely answered; and the respondents were well-nigh unanimous in the opinion that the age of miracles passed away with the apostolic period. The statement contained in several of these replies gave evidence indeed that the question had never been deeply investigated by the witnesses. In some instances there was a perhaps unintentional evading of the issue by the question “What is a miracle?” But there were only one or two replies which gave countenance to the view that miracles are possible in all ages, and have appeared more or less numerously in every period of the Church’s history. If, then, the little book which we now send forth shall win any assent for its views, it will not do so, in all probability, because its sentiments accord with the opinion of the majority of the theologians of the day.

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The Ministry of Healing


A. J. (Adoniram Judson) Gordon


Fleming H. Revell


Hope. Inspiration. Trust.

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1. The Question And Its Bearings, Introductory

2. The Testimony Of Scripture

3. The Testimony Of Reason

4. The Testimony Of The Church

5. The Testimony Of Theologians

6. The Testimony Of Missions

7. The Testimony Of The Adversary

8. The Testimony Of Experience

9. The Testimony Of The Healed

10. The Verdict Of Candor

11. The Verdict Of Caution

12. The Conclusion

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Chapter 1


Have there been any miracles since the days of the Apostles? To this question the common answer has been, in our times at least, a decided no. A call recently put forth in one of our religious journals, asking the opinion of ministers, teachers, and theological professors on this point was very largely answered; and the respondents were well-nigh unanimous in the opinion that the age of miracles passed away with the apostolic period. The statement contained in several of these replies gave evidence indeed that the question had never been deeply investigated by the witnesses. In some instances there was a perhaps unintentional evading of the issue by the question “What is a miracle?” But there were only one or two replies which gave countenance to the view that miracles are possible in all ages, and have appeared more or less numerously in every period of the Church’s history. If, then, the little book which we now send forth shall win any assent for its views, it will not do so, in all probability, because its sentiments accord with the opinion of the majority of the theologians of the day.

It is therefore no enviable task which we have undertaken. The demand of the times is rather in the contrary direction from that in which our conviction carries us. “The strongest requirement now pressing on the Church is for an adaptation of Christianity to the age,”—so we read not long since. How presumptuous it will look, in the face of such an utterance, for one to set his face squarely in the opposite direction, and insist that the greatest present demand is for the adaptation of the age to Christianity. And not that exactly; for “this present evil age” can never be made to harmonize with a religion that is entirely heavenly in its origin, in its course, and in its consummation. But we trust it will not be presumption to say that the Church in every direction needs to be reshaped to the apostolic model, and reinvested with her apostolic powers. For is it not apparent that between the indignant clamor of sceptics against primitive miracles, and the stern frowning of theologians upon any alleged modern miracles, the Lord’s people are in danger of being frightened out of their faith in the supernatural? We speak of what we have often noticed. A simple-hearted believer comes into the assembly of the Church and details some remarkable answer to prayer—prayer for healing or prayer for deliverance—in response to which he alleges that God has wrought marvelously; and then we notice the slowness and shyness with which Christians turn their ears to the story, and the glances of embarrassment amounting almost to shamefacedness which they cast towards the minister, as though appealing for rescue from the perilous neighborhood of fanaticism to which they have been drawn. This we have often observed, and on it we have pondered, and from it we have raised the question again and again whether the Church has not drifted into an unseemly cautiousness concerning the miraculous. As a religion which is ritual is sure to put vestments on her ministers sooner or later, so a religion which is rational rather than spiritual will be certain to put vestments on the Lord’s providences, insisting on their being draped in the habiliments of decent cause and effect, and attired in the surplice of natural law and order, lest God should “make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.” “The world dislikes the recurrence of miracles.” Yes, without question. For the world which “by wisdom knew not God” is very jealous of everything which it cannot explain or reproduce. “A miracle is something very embarrassing to mock professors.” Doubtless; for it brings such people uncomfortably near to God. Accustomed only to such manifestations of the Infinite as have been softened and assuaged by passing through the medium of the natural, they cannot bear this close proximity to the Cause of causes. “He that is near to me is near to the fire” is one of the sayings which Apocrypha puts into the mouth of Christ. How shall they whose feet have never put off their shoes of rationalism and worldliness come near the burning bush, and into open vision of the “I AM”?

But it is not worldlings and false professors alone that dislike miracles. Real true-hearted and sincere disciples are afraid of them, and inclined to push away with quick impatience any mention of their possible occurrence in our time. In most cases probably this aversion comes from a wholesome fear of fanaticism.

On which point permit us to observe,—that fanaticism is in most instances simply the eccentric action of doctrines that have been loosened from their connection with the Christian system. Every truth needs the steadiness and equipoise which come from its being bound into harmony with all other truths. If the Church by her neglect or denial of any real doctrine of the faith thrusts that doctrine out into isolation and contempt, thus compelling it to become the property of some special sect, she need not be surprised if it loses its balance. She has deprived it of the conserving influence which comes from contact and communion with other and central doctrines, and so doomed it inevitably to irregular manifestations. If the whole body of Christians had been faithful to such truths as that of the second coming of Christ, and scriptural holiness, for example, we probably should never have heard of the fanaticism of Adventism and perfectionism. Let a fragment be thrown off from the most orderly planet, and it will whirl and rush through space till it is heated hot by its own momentum. It is nothing against a doctrine in our minds, therefore, that it has engendered fanaticism. One who studies the history of important religious revivals, indeed, must take quite an opposite view, and suspect that it is a proof of the vitality of the truth around which it has gathered.

Who that is acquainted with the religious movements led by Luther and Wesley, and with the endless extravagances that followed in their wake does not see that in the instances the stir produced came from the writhing of wounded error rather than from the birth of falsehood, from the contortions of the strangled serpents around the cradle of the new Hercules come for reformation. So let us be less disturbed by the unaccustomed stir of truth than by the propriety of dead and decent error.

But we are offering no apology for fanaticism and providing no place for it in connection with the doctrine we are defending. It need have no place. We believe in regeneration, the work in which God comes into immediate contact with the soul for its renewal. That is no less a miracle than healing in which God comes into immediate contact with the body for its recovery. In the one case there is a direct communication of the divine life to the Spirit, which Neander calls “the standing miracle of the ages”; in the other there is a direct communication of the divine health to the body which in the beginning was called “a miracle of healing.” An able writer has said, we believe with exact truth: “You ask God to perform as real a miracle when you ask Him to cure your soul of sin as you do when you ask Him to cure your body of a fever.”1 Yet who of us thinks of encouraging fanaticism by preaching and praying for man’s regeneration? Enthusiasm has often kindled about this truth, indeed, when it has had to be revived after long neglect and denial, but not when it has been held in orderly and recognized relation to other cardinal doctrines.

Very beautifully did one say of the sister of the poet Wordsworth, that “it was she who couched his eye to the beauties of nature.” More than anything else is it needed today that some one couch the eyes of Christians to the realities of the supernatural. Holden of unbelief, filmed with suspicion and distrust, how many of the Lord’s truest servants would be unable to discern His hand if He were to put it forth in miracles! It is not easy for those whose daily bread has always been forthcoming, with no occasion for the raven’s ministration, to believe in miraculous feeding. The eyes that “stand out with fatness” would be the last ones to catch sight of the angels if they should chance to be sent with bread to some starving disciple. To whom says the Lord, “Anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see”? Is it not to those that say, “I am rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing”? If, then, we protest that we do not see what others claim to have witnessed of the Lord’s outstretched hand, it may because of a Laodicean self-satisfaction into which we have fallen. When shall we learn that “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him” most deeply, and not of necessity with those who have studied the doctrines most deeply? And so, if the eyes long unused to any sight of the Lord’s wonder-working are to be couched to the realities of the supernatural, it may be some very humble agent that shall perform the work,—some saintly Dorothea of Mannedorf at whose feet theologians sit to learn things which their utmost wisdom had failed to grasp, or some Catharine of Siena who speaks to learned ecclesiastics with such depth of insight that they exclaim with astonishment, “Never man spoke like this woman.” In other words, let us not be too reluctant to admit that some of God’s children in sore poverty and trial and distress, and with the keener faith which such conditions have developed, may have had dealings with God of which we know nothing. At all events, be not angry, O you wise and prudent, at those Christians of simple faith who believe with strong confidence that they have had the Savior’s healing touch laid upon them.

Nor should we unwittingly limit the Lord by our too confident theories about the cessation of miracles. The rationalist, jealous of any suggestion that God in these days may cross the boundary line that divides the natural from the supernatural, cries out against “the dogma of Divine interference,” as he names it. The traditionalist, viewing with equal jealousy any notion that the Lord may pass the line that separates the apostolic from the non-apostolic age, and still act in His office of miracle working, sounds the cry of fanaticism. But what if some meantime should begin to talk about “the crown rights of Immanuel,” as the old Covenanters did, insisting on His prerogative to work what He will, and when He will, and how He will, without our compelling it to be said of us and of our century that “He could not do many mighty works among them because of their unbelief”? Certainly the time has come for us to make use of all the Divine assistance that is within our reach. If there are any residuary legacies of power and privilege accruing to us since the fathers fell asleep, and yet remaining unclaimed, every consideration is pressing us to come forward and take possession of them. For observe what confessions of weakness our Protestant Churches are unconsciously putting forth on every hand. Note the dependence which is placed on artistic music, on expensive edifices, on culture and eloquence in the pulpit; on literary and social entertainments for drawing in the people, and on fairs and festivals for paying expenses. Hear the reports that come in at any annual convention of Churches, of the new organs and frescoings and furnishings, and of the—not saints’ festivals—but strawberry festivals and ice cream festivals and flower festivals and the large results therefrom accruing. And all this from Churches that count themselves to be the body of Christ and the habitation of God through the Spirit! Is not this an infinite descent from the primitive records of power and success—the Lord “confirming the word with signs following,” and the preaching which was “not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”?

How deeply we need the demonstration of the Spirit in these days! We have not utterly lost it, indeed. When men are renewed by the Holy Ghost, and give the world the exhibition of a life utterly and instantly transformed, that is a master-stroke for our divine religion. “And that is all we want,” most will say. But did such ever witness an instance of a drunkard cured in a moment of enslaving appetite by the prayer of faith—the opium habit which had baffled for years every device of the physicians broken and utterly eradicated by the direct energy of God’s Spirit—the consumptive brought back from the edge of the grave, or the blind made to see by the same power, after long years of darkness—and the glowing love, the exultant thankfulness, the fervid consecration which almost invariably follow such gracious deliverances? If they have not, they have not witnessed a sight that has within our own time and knowledge extorted conviction from the most reluctant witnesses.

These are some of the practical bearings of the question before us.

It is not our purpose in this volume to define a miracle any further than we have already done so. For the definitions generally given are widely variant; and it is easy for a disputant to evade facts by entrenching himself behind a definition. We prefer rather to appeal to specimens of acknowledged miracles, and then to press the question whether there have been any like them in modern days. It is written in the Acts of the Apostles as follows: “And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux; to whom Paul entered in and prayed and laid his hands on him, and healed him.”2 This is conceded, we suppose, to be a miracle of healing. Has anything of the same sort occurred in the Church since the days of the apostles?

Again it is written in the same book: “And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple: who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.” Acts 3:2, 8.

This transaction is expressly called a “miracle of healing” in the same Scripture. Has there been any recurrence of such a miracle since the time of Christ’s immediate disciples? It has been our purpose in preparing the present volume to let the history of the Church of all ages answer to the teaching of Scripture on this question without presuming to dogmatize upon it ourselves.

One who has not committed himself on this subject, as it was the fortune of the writer to do a year ago in a little tract called “The Ministry of Healing,” has several things to learn. First, that there is a sensitiveness amounting often to extreme irritability towards any who venture to disturb the traditional view of this question. Credulity is sure to get more censure than honest doubt; and while one may with impunity fall behind the accepted standard of faith concerning the supernatural, provided he does it in a regretfully necessitous spirit, it is hardly safe for one to go beyond that standard. Thus a little experience has made us aware of the peril to which we have exposed ourselves of being sorely shot at by the theological archers. But being defamed we still entreat our critics to deal kindly and candidly with us, since we desire nothing but the furtherance of the truth.

But in another way one has a real advantage who has published his views on such a question. His communication puts him en rapport with those like minded, and opens to him sources of information which he could not otherwise have had. It has been an occasion of no little surprise to us to learn how widely the minds of Christians of all names and countries are exercised upon this subject. Information to this effect has come to us not only in the constant testimonies from humble Christians who bear witness to what God has wrought in their own bodies; but also from pastors and evangelists and Bible readers and foreign missionaries, and in one instance from a theological professor, expressing their strong assent to the view which is herein set forth. We are well aware, indeed, that it is not a question of human opinion, but of Scriptural testimony. In the Word of God, therefore, we wish our argument to lean its heaviest weight. The witnesses whom we have brought forward from the Church of all the ages have been summoned only that they may corroborate this Word. 

May the Lord graciously use whatever of truth there may be in this volume for the comfort and blessing of His children; may He mercifully pardon whatever of error or forwardness of opinion it may contain. And if by His blessing and furtherance our words should bring a ray of hope to any who are sick, let not those who are “whole” and who “need not a physician “ unreasonably grudge their suffering and afflicted brethren this boon of comfort.

Chapter 2


In the atonement of Christ there seems to be a foundation laid for faith in bodily healing. Seems, we say, for the passage to which we refer is so profound and unsearchable in its meaning that one would be very careful not to speak dogmatically in regard to it. But it is at least a deep and suggestive truth that we have Christ set before us as the Sickness-bearer as well as the Sin-bearer of His people. In the gospel it is written, “And He cast out devils and healed all that were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” Matt. 8: 17. Something more than sympathetic fellowship with our sufferings is evidently referred to here. The yoke of His cross, by which He lifted our iniquities, took hold also of our diseases; so that it is in some sense true that as God “made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin,” so He made Him to be sick for us who knew no sickness. He who entered into mysterious sympathy with our pain, which is the fruit of sin, also put Himself underneath our pain, which is the penalty of sin. In other words, the passage seems to teach that Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities.3

If, now, it be true that our Redeemer and Substitute bore our sicknesses, it would be natural to reason at once that He bore them that we might not bear them. And this inference is especially strengthened from the fact that when the Lord Jesus removed the burden of disease from “all that were sick,” we are told that it was done “that the scripture might be fulfilled, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” Let us remember what our theology is in regard to atonement for sin. “Christ bore your sins, that you might be delivered from them,” we say to the penitent. Not sympathy—a suffering with, but substitution—a suffering for, is our doctrine of the Cross; and therefore we urge the transgressor to accept the Lord Jesus as his Sin-bearer, that he may himself no longer have to bear the pains and penalties of his disobedience. But should we shrink utterly from reasoning thus concerning Christ as our Pain-bearer? We do so argue to some extent at least. For we hold that in its ultimate consequences the atonement affects the body as well as the soul of man. Sanctification is the consummation of Christ’s redemptive work for the soul; and resurrection is the consummation of His redemptive work for the body. And these meet and are fulfilled at the coming and kingdom of Christ.

But there is a vast intermediate work of cleansing and renewal effected for the soul. Is there none of healing and recovery for the body? Here, to make it plain, is the Cross of Christ; yonder is the Corning of Christ. These are the two piers of redemption spanned by the entire dispensation of the Spirit and by all the ordinances and offices of the gospel. At the cross we read this twofold declaration

“Who His own self bare our sins.”

“Himself bare our sicknesses.”

At the coming we find this twofold work promised:

“The sanctification of the Spirit.”

“The redemption of the body.”

The work of sanctification for the spirit stretches on from the cross to the crown, progressive and increasing until it is completed. Does the work of the body’s redemption touch only at these two remote points? Has the gospel no office of healing and blessing to proclaim meantime for the physical part of man’s nature? In answering this question we only make the following suggestions, which point significantly in one direction.

Christ’s ministry was a twofold ministry, affecting constantly the souls and the bodies of men. “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and “Be whole of thy plague,” are parallel announcements of the Savior’s work which are found constantly running on side by side.

The ministry of the apostles, under the guidance of the Comforter, is the exact facsimile of the Master’s. Preaching the kingdom and healing the sick, redemption for the soul and deliverance for the body,—these are its great offices and announcements. Certain great promises of the gospel have this double reference to pardon and cure. The commission for the world’s evangelization bids its messengers stretch out their hands to the sinner with the message, “He that believeth shall be saved,” and to “lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.” The promise by James, concerning the prayer of faith, is that it “shall save the sick, and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him.” Thus this twofold ministry of remission of sins and remission of sickness extends through the days of Christ and that of the apostles.

We only suggest these facts, leaving the example and acts and promises of the Lord and His apostles to stretch out their silent index in the direction which our argument will obediently pursue throughout this discussion.

Only one other fact need be alluded to—the subtle, mysterious, and clearly recognized relation of sin and disease. The ghastly flag of leprosy, flung out in the face of Miriam, told instantly that the pirate sin had captured her heart. Not less truly did the crimson glow of health announce her forgiveness when afterwards the Lord had pardoned her and restored her to his fellowship. And it is obvious at once that our Redeemer cannot forgive and eradicate sin without in the same act disentangling the roots which that sin has struck into our mortal bodies.

He is the second Adam come to repair the ruin of the first. And in order to accomplish this He will follow the lines of man’s transgression back to their origin, and forward to their remotest issue. He will pursue the serpent trail of sin, dispensing His forgiveness and compassion as He goes, until at last He finds the wages of sin and dies its death on the cross; and He will follow the wretched track of disease with His healing and recovery, until in His resurrection He shall exhibit to the world the firstfruits of these redeemed bodies, in which “this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality.”

From this mysterious and solemn doctrine of the gospel, let us turn now to some of its clear and explicit promises.

We will take first the words of the gospel according to Mark: “These signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with other tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover.” Mark 16:17, 18.

It is important to observe that this rich cluster of miraculous promises all hangs by a single stem—faith. And this is not some exclusive or esoteric faith. The same believing to which is attached the promise of salvation has joined to it also the promise of miraculous working. Nor is there any ground for limiting this promise to apostolic times and apostolic men, as has been so violently attempted. The links of the covenant are very securely forged,—”He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” in any and every age of the Christian dispensation. So with one consent the Church has interpreted the words, “And these signs shall follow them that believe,” in every generation and period of the Church’s history;—so the language compels us to conclude.

And let us not unbraid this twofold cord of promise, holding fast to the first strand because we know how to use it, and flinging the other back to the apostles because we know not how to use it. When our Lord gives command to the twelve, as He sends them forth, “to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of diseases,” we might conclude that this was an apostolic commission, and one which we could not be warranted in applying to ourselves. But here the promise is not only to the apostles, but to those who should believe on Christ through the word of these apostles; or, as Bullinger the Reformer very neatly puts it in his comment on the passage, to “both the Lord’s disciples and the disciples of the Lord’s disciples.”4 Whatever practical difficulties we may have in regard to the fulfilment of this word, these ought not to lead us to limit it where the Lord has not limited it. For if reason or tradition throws one half of this illustrious promise into eclipse, the danger is that the other half may become involved. Indeed, we shall not soon forget the cogency with which we heard a skillful sceptic use this text against one who held the common opinion concerning it. Urged to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” that he might be saved, he answered: “How can I be sure that this part of the promise will be kept with me, when, as you admit, the other part is not kept with the Church of today?” And certainly, standing on the traditional ground, one must be dumb before such reasoning. The only safe position is to assert emphatically the perpetuity of the promise, and with the same emphasis to admit the general weakness and failure of the Church’s faith, in appropriating it.5 For who does not see that a confession of human inability is a far safer and more rational refuge for the Christian than an implication of the divine changeableness and limitation? There is a phrase of the Apostle Paul which has always struck us as containing marvelous keenness and wisdom, if not covert irony—”What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh.” The law must not be impugned by even a suspicion: “the law of the Lord is perfect.” But there has been utter failure under its working—the perfection which it requires has not appeared. Rashly and dangerously, it would seem, the apostle has arraigned the law, telling us what it “could not do” and wherein it was “weak “—and then, having brought us to the perilous edge of disloyalty, he suddenly turns and puts the whole fault on us where it belongs—”What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh.” The one weak spot in the law is human nature; there is where the break is sure to come; there is where the fault is sure to lie. In like manner this great promise, with which Christ’s commission is enriched and authenticated, has failed only through our unbelief. It is weak through the weakness of our faith, and inoperative through lack of our cooperating obedience.6 We believe, therefore, that whatever difficulties there may be in us, there is but one attitude for us to take as expounders of the Scripture—that of unqualified assent.