THE sovereignty of God is not a doctrine which appeals to the natural man. Indeed, it is repellent to him because it creates a situation which is beyond his understanding and control. Few of us take readily to the thought of surrendering our lives into the hands of another, even though that other is God. We prefer to reserve to ourselves the right of choice and thus to limit others to the right of advice. We shrink from autocracy and dogmatism, whether it is human or divine.
In no aspect of life is our human foolishness more manifest than when we assume such an attitude toward God. “God is light” (I John 1:5) and “God is love” (I John 4:8), and what more can any soul want in Him than this? If our heavenly Father’s love is controlled by wisdom, and His wisdom is expressed in love, we have our sufficiency in Him. But, often, we believe in ourselves—our wisdom and love—more than in Him. Hence we are inclined to deny Him His sovereign choice and acts.
This affects ourselves, to our great and permanent loss. But it does not affect God. Whether we approve or disapprove, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Dan. 4:35). From the beginning it has been so. To the end it will be so. And happy it is, for this earth and all men in it, that it is so. for otherwise, there would be infinite and eternal chaos.
These remarks are not aside from the subject before us, but have a direct bearing upon it. For nowhere has God’s sovereignty been more pronouncedly shown than in the world of miracle-working, including the miracle of healing the body. Because this is so, I now purpose to set forth the fact in several paragraphical statements. In doing this, I shall concentrate my thought upon the person of Christ, speaking of His sovereign will and ways.
Christ was sovereign in respect to the time in which He came to earth. It was several thousand years after man’s creation before Christ came to serve mankind in redemption and sanctification. During that time, many generations of people came and went, which involved the living and dying of millions of men, women and children. We may take it for granted that the majority of these, during their lifetime, developed physical infirmities, and we know that all of them—with the exception of Enoch and Elijah—eventually passed into physical debility and death. And yet, in all of these thousands of years, Christ remained in the glory, looking upon this infinite woe, and doing practically nothing of a miraculous kind for the alleviation of man’s physical pains and sorrows. It is true that He gave Israel a perfect sanitary code. But this was on a natural line of things, and also, it had almost no application to the world at large, so that the vast majority of men lived and died without more medical and surgical help than that which human-minded physicians could give. At last Christ came, in what Paul called “the fulness of time” (Gal. 4:4). But this time was sovereignly chosen by Christ.
Christ was sovereign in the race of people with which He identified Himself. No human reason can be given why Jesus should have been born a Jew. Many divine reasons, of course, may be stated, such as those which are connected with God’s prophecies, promises and purposes. But otherwise, our Lord might have been born of any other godly virgin mother than Mary, and have lived as some other person than a Jew. Indeed, from our Gentile standpoint, we might well argue against a Jewish and in favour of a Gentile birth, and our argument would be strengthened by the fact that Gentiles have always vastly outnumbered the Jews. But Christ did not consult men in the matter. What He did was to exercise a sovereign choice. Hence, the Scriptures set before us a virgin who was descended from Abraham and David; and hence they present to us Jesus, the seed of David and the heir of David’s throne.
Christ was sovereign in the choice of the land of His nativity and earthly living. Granting that Jesus was to be a Jew, it is not to be concluded that there are any human reasons why Jesus should have been born in Palestine. The Jews were a widely scattered people at the time of Christ’s birth, the most learned, wealthy and influential among them being in other countries than the Holy Land. We might argue, therefore, for say, Alexandria, or Babylon or Rome as a birthplace rather than the little village of Bethlehem. But Christ did not ask men where He should be born. He had said, “Thou, Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a governor, that shall rule my people Israel” (Matt. 2:6); and hence, on one blessed night, the Babe lay in Bethlehem’s manger. It was a case of a sovereign choice.
Christ was sovereign in the places He visited. As to Palestine, it is the general impression that Christ covered in His itineraries the whole of that land. But this is far from true. It is impossible to mark out with exactness the journeys which He took; but this may be done approximately. Doing this last, reveals the fact that Jesus kept mostly to beaten paths, going to and fro between Galilee and Judea, between Capernaum and Jerusalem. As to Gentile lands, in all of the space of His earthly service, He kept Himself from these, touching only, and that but once, the nearby coasts of Tyre and Sidon. The result of this geographical exclusiveness was that a comparatively small portion of Palestine was visited, and that the greater part of its multitudes was left untouched; and also that the great Gentile nations, stretching far away eastward and westward and having uncounted millions of people, never saw His face, nor heard His voice, nor felt His healing touch. Therefore, to say, as a certain teacher does, that Christ’s healing ministry on earth was universal is far from the facts of the case. It was universal so far as individual villages and districts in Palestine were concerned, that is, at the time He was there; but otherwise, it was restricted both in space and time. In other words, Christ sovereignly chose where He would journey and where He would demonstrate His miraculous power. He was the master of His own plans and ways, never asking even the apostles where He should go or what He should do. He was thus continually sovereign in His decisions and actions.
Christ was sovereign as to the people whom He healed. Inasmuch as Christ did not go everywhere, He did not heal everybody. This is true of certain parts of Palestine as compared with certain other parts; and it is true of the whole of Palestine as compared with the whole world. Jesus, therefore, established great differences in respect to healing between persons and persons, showing mercy to some and withholding it from others. Taking the largest possible view of Christ’s healing acts and counting these, not by the score, but by the hundreds or thousands, we must recognize that what He did in the way of healing was infinitesimal in comparison with the perhaps three millions of people in Palestine and the perhaps eight hundred millions of people scattered abroad on the face of the earth. In other words, if compassion for the multitudes in connection with their physical condition was the chief constraint upon Jesus in His healing acts, His life and ministry must remain an enigma, for these were not widely effective. And if we reduce the problem from the world at large to the saints in the world, the enigma remains, for the disciples in a short space of time were greatly increased and widely scattered abroad and Christ never went to them in person, nor did the apostles reach any considerable number of them. This brings us back to Christ’s sovereignty. His chief constraint in healing, evidently, was not compassion— though such was included in His ministry—but rather the setting forth of His divine Person and power; and He sovereignly chose the time, place, method, people and individuals deemed best suited for this manifestation.
Christ was sovereign in the conditions which He imposed upon men as a means of physical healing. Teachers of miraculous healing usually state that several conditions must be fulfilled before healing may take place. These are expressed more or less as follows: first, one must be a Christian; second, one, if need be, must confess sin; third, one must be anointed with oil; fourth, one must more or less be holy in life; fifth, one must believe, not in general, but in particular, by putting one’s faith in Christ as the Healer; sixth, one must accept healing and lastly, one must act as if healed, believing that one is healed as one so acts. If all of these conditions are required, certainly healing will remain restricted to the few, for the many will not be capable of fulfilling them. In addition, if all of these conditions are required, it will always be easy to say that this or that person was not healed because he was not sufficiently holy or did not exercise the proper degree of faith. But aside from these objections to the long list of conditions given, where in God’s Word will one find such an array of experiences and attainments as a requirement for healing?
If we take Christ’s earthly ministry of healing as a standard, and, therefore, as an interpretation of miraculous healing, we are impressed by the discrepancy which exists between His practice and the above-mentioned conditions. First, Christ did not require that a man should be a disciple in order to be healed, as the case of the blind man attests (John 9a, 17, 25, 35, 36), and the cases of the unevangelized multitudes who thronged upon Him suggest (Matt. 4:24; 14:35, 36; 15:30, 31; Mark 1:32-34; Luke 17:11-19); second, Christ did not always demand that a man should confess his sin before he could be healed, there being no such intimation in His general acts of healing (John 5:1-15; 9:17, 24, 25, 35-38); third, Christ, so far as we know, never anointed with oil, and yet He healed; fourth, Christ did not hold back healing until men had attained to holiness of life, but healed multitudes just as they were, in their spiritual ignorance and common-level living (Matt. 14:35, 36; Mark 1:33, 34; Luke 6:17-19; 8:49-56); and fifth, Christ seldom laid down the rule of a peculiar attainment of faith before healing was granted, but often responded to the simplest and most ignorant appeals (Mark 9:25-27). In other words, the requirements for healing expressed by miraculous healing teachers are not found in the practice of Christ. On the contrary, whether there was salvation or lack of salvation, holiness or absence of holiness, special faith or want of special faith, Christ dispensed His healing according to His sovereign grace and purpose. He was chiefly demonstrating His deity, and the healing of the unjust and spiritually undeveloped signified this as truly as that of the just and sanctified (Matt. 15:30, 31). And what was true of Christ’s healings when He was on earth, has been true of His healings since He has been in heaven. In the apostolic days after Pentecost, men were healed who had hardly or not at all fulfilled the above conditions (Acts 3:1-8; 9:36-42; 19:11, 12; 28:7, 8); and during modern times, healings have taken place amongst those who have not been converted or have been in a primitive development of faith and holiness, as the history of missions in China and other foreign fields indisputably attests.
Christ was sovereign in the limitations which He put upon Himself in His acts of healing. It must be remembered that Christ, when He was on earth, possessed and exercised infinite power in respect to miracles. The stilling of the troubled waters of the lake of Galilee, the walking upon those waters, the feeding of five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes and the raising of Lazarus from the grave when he had been four days dead, indicate that He could have done whatever He might have desired on behalf of the human body. Moreover, He made this power plain by miracles related to the body, such as restoring sight and hearing, straightening out deformed limbs and restoring men from leprosy, for He thus manifested the fact that He could have done anything and everything for the physical frame of man. But nothing in the Scriptures is plainer than this, that He did not do anything and everything. For instance, He did not lengthen out the lives of those He healed to the patriarchal age, making men live from two hundred to nine hundred years; nor did He anticipate the millennial condition when there will be no more an infant of days, nor an old man who has not filled his days, when the child will die an hundred years old (Isa. 65:20); nor did He deliver those who He healed from further infirmities, for all who were healed eventually sickened and died. In fact, the things which Christ did not do in His various acts of healing were as remarkable as those which He did do, considering His hatred of sickness and death, His longing to consummate His redemptive and resurrection work, and His full purpose of finally undoing once and forever the ravages of sin, not only as related to the spirit and soul, but also to the body. To restrain Himself thus was sovereignty indeed wherein He deliberately chose to do in part what He intended ultimately to do in whole, and thus in spite of what these would mean to the human race He let sickness and death hold sway over the suffering sons of men, including those who were and were to be His blood-bought disciples.
Christ was sovereign in healing only those who were in immediate contact with Him. There are two notable exceptions to this statement recorded in the Gospels: the first, that of the centurion who left his servant in his house at Capernaum, sought out Jesus in some other part of the city, asked for healing and went back home to find his servant well (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10); and the second, that of the nobleman who lived at Capernaum, had a son there lying at the point of death, met Jesus at Cana, which was about ten miles away, asked him to heal his boy, received a favourable response and went back to his house to learn from his servants that his son had recovered at the very hour Jesus had spoken (John 4:46-53). But these two exceptions are a remarkable confirmation of my statement. They indicate that Jesus could have healed at any time, at any place, at any distance throughout Palestine and the world, for time, place and distance were no more to Him then than they are now when He is healing throughout the world in spite of the fact that He is millions or billions of miles away. Yet the record of the Gospels is perfectly plain. Aside from the two cases given, He ceased to heal in a given place immediately He had gone forth from it, reserving His healings for some new place where He Himself would be. This meant that He left places where He had shown His healing power wholly destitute of further healings. It also meant that He left untouched with His healing power great reaches in Palestine and the world, which contained innumerable villages and cities with countless sick and dying inhabitants, to the common, unrelieved conditions of human life. It would be interesting to pursue this line of thought and seek to discover why the compassionate Christ took such a course. But this is aside from our present purpose. What we would point out is this, that Christ did so act and that the basic reason was that He sovereignly chose to do so.
Christ was sovereign as to the persons to whom He gave the gift of healing. He chose the twelve apostles and imparted to them power to heal others (Mark 16:15-18); and later, He commissioned the seventy disciples and likewise empowered them to heal others (Luke 10:1-9). Thus, only eighty-two men were chosen to perform miracles of healing. Stephen, Philip, Barnabas and Paul were afterwards added to this company, which brought up the number to eighty-six. But it is to be noted that no women were given healing power. And again it is to be noted that no other men, as far as the record shows, were given such power. These last are remarkable facts, for the disciples rapidly multiplied in the apostolic days, especially after Pentecost, and there is no reason for believing that many of these later disciples did not have the same holy life and strong faith which the Twelve and Seventy had. The explanation of the disparity, therefore, is not to be found in a difference between the men—as if the twelve apostles and seventy disciples reached a peculiar quality and degree of sanctity and faith—but rather in their particular calling and office. But when this is admitted, we are brought face to face with Christ’s sovereign acts in choosing the Twelve and Seventy, in enduing them with special power for miracle-working and in confirming through them the Word preached with signs following (Mark 16:19, 20; Acts 2:43; 5:12). This exclusiveness on Christ’s part in selecting those who would work miracles does not mean that He has never, from apostolic days to these, chosen others to heal sick saints, for facts, and even modern facts, are against such a conclusion. But it does mean that sovereignty in selection was the prevailing law of Christ’s life on earth and that it is of His life in heaven.
Christ was sovereign in making the Holy Spirit sovereign in His miracle administration. This statement is true in reference to all of the operations of the Spirit, inclusive of the experience where one would least expect it to be a fact, namely, in salvation (John 3:8). To prove that this is presently true in respect to miracle-working in general, including the gift of healing, I would quote the following verses: “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will” (Heb. 2:4); “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? (1 Cor. 12:28-30); “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withall. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (I Cor. 12:4-11). Here, manifestly, we are informed that the Holy Spirit dispenses His miracle-gifts wholly and exclusively as He chooses. Once more, then, we are brought face to face with Christ’s sovereignty in His healing operations. This last consideration is peculiarly important as it brings us to present times and into present experiences.
A remarkable example of Christ’s power in working miracles and His sovereignty in the display of this power is given in Revelation 11:3-12. In this passage there is told the story of the two witnesses—possibly Moses and Elijah—who live in the last days and testify against the Antichrist and his followers. Christ’s miracle-power is manifested in the mighty acts performed by these two witnesses, who “have power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy, and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” And Christ’s sovereignty is manifested in the way He deals with the two witnesses: first, in empowering them to perform such miracles as utterly overwhelmed their enemies; then, in allowing them to be overcome and killed, their dead bodies lying in the streets of Jerusalem and being made a spectacle to all; and finally, in raising them from death to heaven in a cloud, their enemies beholding them as they went up. Here in quick succession, as related to the same individuals, one sees Christ passing from one episode to another, with each experience different from and opposite to the other. In short, He does what He pleases with His two saints. And the two witnesses had no misunderstanding of Christ and expressed no objection to His ways. Whether used or not used, whether well or sick, whether living or dead, it was all the same to them, for they were prepared to follow the Lamb whithersoever He might go.