Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
By Rev. Thomas Whitelaw, D.D.
("The Lord is my Healer").
The Hebrew people, having escaped from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and sung their triumphal song, advanced into the wilderness of Shur three days' journey, and found no water. The wilderness of Shur is "the tract of desert which separates Egypt from Palestine, and also from the more elevated parts of the desert of Arabia " (Keil). The encampment from which the travellers set out was in all probability " the present 'Ayun Musa (the springs of Moses), the only green spot in the northern part of this desolate tract of desert where water could be obtained." Three days' journey with children, cattle, and baggage brought them, let us say, to the well of Howara, thirty-three miles distant, "a basin of six or eight feet in diameter, with two feet of water in it, but so disagreeably bitter and salt that the Bedouins consider it the worst water in the whole neighbourhood " (Robinson, i. 96); and this again was, in all probability, though some writers doubt this (Picturesque Palestine, iv. 12), the Biblical "Marah" (Bitterness), of whose waters they could not drink, for they were bitten Cheyne, as usual (B.E.), remands the story of Marah to the region of the imagination. Moved by their murmurings against him, saying, " What shall we drink? " Moses cried unto the Lord, and was directed to cast a certain tree into the water which made it sweet. There is no reason to suppose this sweetening of the bitter waters was due to any inherent quality of the wood. At least, the present inhabitants of the desert have no knowledge of any tree possessing the power of making bitter water sweet. Nor was it brought about by any other agency than the power of God. It was clearly a miracle wrought for the express purpose of establishing "a statute and an ordinance" for the nation, i.e. laying it down as a rule or principle for their subsequent guidance, that in all their difficulties and dangers Jehovah would be their Helper and Deliverer, and that they should look to Him rather than to Moses or any creature-source for assistance in their straits. The double experience besides — of extreme need and of miraculous supply — was intended to serve as a means at once of revealing their helplessness without Jehovah and of strengthening their feith in Jehovah for the future. For their further encouragement Jehovah practically entered into a covenant with them, pledging Himself, if they diligently hearkened unto His voice, did that which was right in His eyes, gave ear to His commandments, and kept all His statutes, to put upon them none of the diseases He had put upon Egypt, but always to act as their Physician as He had just done at Marah, saying, "I am the Lord (Jehovah) that healeth thee."
The character of Physician here ascribed by Jehovah to Himself was pre-eminently that in which Jesus presented Himself to Israel when He appeared in the fulness of the times. Of the opening of His Galilean ministry it is recorded that "He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease and all manner of sickness among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them." And exactly as His ministry began so it continued, as the Gospel records show by the numerous miracles of healing they report as done by Him, and as He Himself said to John's messengers, "Go, and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them."
The first thought suggested by the texts is — That Humanity collectively and individually stands in need of a Physician.
That mankind generally is subject to diseases of various sorts — "physical, mental, and moral — requires no demonstration. As the Israelites at Marah were in danger of perishing from thirst through want of water, and as the crowds who flocked round Jesus were oppressed with divers ills, so are the modern populations of earth, in its cities, towns, and villages, afflicted with manifold bodily infirmities. Indeed, so palpable and grim is this fact of disease even in the strongest and healthiest, richest and most enlightened circles, and so terrible and depressing is it in the weakest and sickliest, poorest and most ignorant, that in every civilised community hospitals and infirmaries, doctors and nurses, medicines and tonics require to be provided in order to deal with it, to arrest its progress and repair its ravagesi if it cannot be wholly extirpated and destroyed A doubt has been expressed that it may never be possible absolutely and completely to eradicate bodily ailments from the race, a suspicion existing that when one malady has been overcome in any community another hitherto unknown takes its place. Be that, however, as it may, at the present time no nation or individual exists beneath the sun that can claim to be immune from disease. Rather, the picture drawn by Isaiah of Israel in his day will fit the condition of mankind at large in its nations and communities, in its towns and villages, with considerable accuracy, physically as well as spiritually: " The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
And, of course, this language applies with much greater fitness to the world's moral and spiritual condition than it did to that of Israel. What the moral and spiritual diseases of humanity are, calls for no lengthened recital. Its fundamental malady is alienation from God through sin, revealing itself — among nations as well as among individuals — in practical ungodliness, in unbelief and distrust, in open and secret wickedness of every kind, in anger, wrath, malice, hatred, jealousies, strifes, murders, seditions, wars, covetousness, idolatries, superstitions, immoralities, impurities, and deeds of shame such as are not fit to be named among saints. Even in professedly Christian countries and among genuinely religious people there is enough of this moral and spiritual infirmity remaining to show that for both nations and individuals the clamant need is a Physician.
The second thought in our text is — That Jehovah-Jesus is the Physician needed by humanity, since He only has the healing balm and the skill as well as power and willingness to use it.
See how He used it at Marah. To Moses He showed a tree which when cast into the bitter waters made them sweet, so that the thirsty and fainting multitude drinking of it were revived and fitted to proceed upon their journey. And oftentimes upon that journey He verified the appellation He bestowed upon Himself — Jehovah the Healer -—giving them bread from heaven when they hungered, water from the rock when they thirsted, life and health when they were serpent-bitten. Their moral and spiritual diseases, too, He would have healed had they only been conscious of their maladies and anxious to be cured. Unfortunately, as a nation they were not, but sank into greater and deeper demoralisation, wallowing in every form of wickedness, rolling iniquity under their tongues like a sweet morsel, forgetting Jehovah who had redeemed them, and giving their worship to heathen deities, " till there was no remedy," and they were sent away first into inglorious captivity and afterward to irretrievable destruction.
What Jehovah was to Israel at Marah, and would have been to them and their descendants in all after ages and generations had they chosen, Jesus is to men of all nations to-day, a Physician, if they will have Him, When He lived on earth He bore His people's sicknesses and carried their sorrows. He cured their bodies and renewed their souls. He healed individuals and would have healed the nation, had it received Him. At the beginning of this twentieth century He is the Physician the world needs — though unfortunately the world does not think so— for its bodily ills and spiritual maladies, for its nations and for its individuals. He has the balm for hurt minds as well as for bruised bodies, and knows how to apply it. That balm, it need not be said, is His own Cross, a better tree than was cast into the bitter waters of Marah. This tree applied to the world's sins and sorrows would remove them alL
What it does for the individual it can and will do also for collective humanity: " it is the Tree of Life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations." Were the doctrines of the Cross embraced by this nation, e.g., they would solve all its problems, social and political, if not wholly and at once, at least gradually and in time. They would banish much of its social misery; they would put an end to its private and public wickedness; they would cleanse its literature; they would moralise its trade and commerce; they would purify its politics, municipal and imperial; they would sweeten the lives of its inhabitants. To this nation as to Israel of old Jehovah- Jesus says, "I am the Lord that healeth thee "; " Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding: yea, I will restore health unto thee; and I will heal thee of thy wounds."
Why, then, one naturally asks in the third place, — Why, then, are Individuals and Nations not healed of their diseases-" physical as well as moral — when both a balm and a Physician have been provided? Jeremiah asked that question in his day — a time of great national and individual degeneracy — "Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? " We may properly ask this question now.
The answer is that either nations and individuals do not repair to the Physician, or if they do, they do not follow His prescription.
Frequently they do not go to the Physician. This was sadly true of Israel — first in Moses' time at Marah, when they murmured against him instead of calling upon Jehovah, and often afterwards in the Wilderness, when they tempted God, saying, "Is God among us, or not?" Again, in Isaiah's time, when Jehovah complained that His people did not know Him and would have none of His counsels; and yet again in Jeremiah's day, when they stood upon the brink of national ruin and looked everywhere for help except to Jehovah. And lastly, in Christ's day, when the nation went forward to its doom because it declined to receive the Divine Physician who went about among them, saying by His actions if not by His words, *"I am the Lord that healeth thee' and who would have saved them from their enemies had they turned to Him in penitence and faith, in love and obedience. But they did not, as He complained — " Ye will not come unto Me, that ye might have life." And to this day it is the same. Nations and individuals will turn to any physician rather than to Jesus — to culture and learning, to science and philosophy, to legislation and material improvement, as if these, however valuable in themselves, could penetrate to the root-malady from which men and nations suffer, or could do anything but alleviate some of its external symptoms.
Even when they turn to Jesus, they do not always follow His prescription.
That prescription was plainly stated by Jehovah at Marah — " If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians." Had that prescription been followed by ancient Israel, there can be no doubt that her national and individual health would have been preserved, and she would have been, if not immune from every kind of hurt or disease, — for in the ordinary course of life both good men and good nations may suffer, — at least comparatively safe in respect of physical ills, and absolutely free from all spiritual woes. But, unfortunately, Israel did not follow the prescription and did not enjoy the promise.
Again, the prescription was set forth by Jesus in somewhat different terms but to the same purport — " Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." As interpreted by Christ Himself and His apostles, this meant that in order to secure healing by Christ, individuals and nations must believe in His person, rest upon His work, listen to His teaching, and follow His example,
How often when on earth He made it a condition of the forth-putting of His healing power that the invalid should be possessed of faith in Him, the Gospel records show. That reliance on His finished work of atonement is indispensable in those who seek relief from guilt and sin is unambiguously declared in the Epistles, as by Peter who writes that "by His (Christ's) stripes we are healed.*' Acceptance of His teaching, which was not His but His Father's (John vii. 1 6), forms another part of His prescription, since no man can come to the Father but by Him. And unless we keep His commandments we have no guarantee that we have passed from death to life. The last necessary requirement is that we should follow His example, for unless we walk as He walked we are none of His. " He that saith he abideth in Him ought also to walk even as He walked."
What a marvellous transformation would pass upon the hce of Society in this and other lands were this prescription to be faithfully followed! Not only would the moral and spiritual maladies that afflict men's souls be remedied, but their bodily and mental infirmities would in great measure, if not wholly, be cured. This is the true " Christian Science " and " Faith-Healing " for both individuals and nations. One wonders that individuals and nations have not long since discovered this. Surely, like the poor woman in the Gospels who for twelve years had suffered from a painful malady and had spent her all upon physicians, neither could be healed of any but rather grew worse, men and nations have had time enough to learn from experience that other physicians are of no value, and that their only hope for healing lies in Him of whom it is written, "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds," and who saith of Himself, "I am the Lord that healeth thee." When statesmen, philanthropists, and social reformers realise that the fundamental law of health for individuals and nations is to fear God and keep His commandments, to believe in Christ and obey His teaching, there will be hope that the days of heaven upon earth are at hand.
"What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it " (Ps. xxxiv. 12-14).
"My son, forget not My law; but let thine heart keep My commandments: for length of days, and years of life, and peace shall they add to thee " (Prov. iii. 1, 2).