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VIEWS DURING THE THIRD PERIOD (750-1517 A.D.)

THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS

EXTREME UNCTION

(continued)

We concluded our preceding article with the remark that Rome’s appeal to James 5:14-15 and Mark 6:13 is completely unfounded. Rome administers this sacrament to those who are gravely ill and in imminent danger of death. Rome declares that “this unction is to be applied to the sick, but to those especially who lie in such danger as to seem to be about to depart this life: whence also it is called the sacrament of the departing.” We have all read, at one time or another, how Roman Catholic priests will move quickly among the dying, in times of disaster, to administer these last rites. “And if the sick should, after having received this unction, recover, they may again be aided by the succor of this sacrament, when they fall into another like danger of death. “It is evident from this quotation from the decrees of the Council of Trent that Rome’s sacrament of Extreme Unction is administered with a view to death. But the passages in Mark and James inform us that these sick will recover. Hence, Rome has no Scriptural support whatever. 

We now wish to make a few remarks about the passage in James 5 in general. James 5:13-16 reads as follows: “IS any sick among you? afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And then the holy writer quotes the example of Elijah in the Old Testament as he prayed that it might not rain and again that he prayed that it might rain, and these prayers of the fearless prophet of the Old Dispensation, as we know, were answered. 

All commentators whom I have read are agreed that the sick of verse 14 are physically sick, although they are also agreed that there is no support in this passage for the Roman Catholic sacrament of Extreme Unction. They are also agreed on this, that this anointing with oil must be understood in the natural sense of the word, although they also declare that the restoration of the sick must not be attributed to any magical power in the oil. These elders whereof we read in this passage must, according to some commentators, be regarded as elderly men who were peculiarly gifted, although they do not explain how their being peculiarly gifted is related to the oil and the restoration of these sick. And, finally, it is declared that what we read in James 5:14 was applicable only to the time when this epistle was written and is no longer in effect today. 

However, against this interpretation are most serious objections. First, notice that we read of afflicted ones in verse 13 and of the sick in verse 14. It is generally agreed that the afflictions of verse 13 must be regarded in the physical sense of the word. The word means: to endure or suffer hardships, troubles. The word, for example, occurs in II Tim. 2:9, and we quote: “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” And the word also appears in verse 3 of the same chapter, and we again quote: “Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Now, if both words (“afflicted” in verse 13 and “sick” in verse 14) refer to physical troubles, why must the afflicted of verse 13 pray for himself and the sick of verse 14 be admonished to call the elders of the church to pray for him? Why may not also the sick of verse 14 pray for himself? Secondly, verse 16, evidently referring to the sick of verse 14, declares that “ye may be healed.” And this healing is connected with the confessing of our faults to one another. Does this not indicate that this healing is spiritual? Thirdly, we read emphatically in verse 15 that the prayer of faith shall save the sick and that the Lord shall raise him up. The commentators really do not know what to do with this. They say that this must be understood conditionally, was depending upon the will of the Lord. But the text states very positively that they will be healed and that the Lord will raise them up. In fact, we read that the prayer of faith will save them. And it may also be of interest that the word “sick” in verse 15 is not the same word in the original as the word “sick” in verse 14: First of all, why is it that the afflicted of verse 13 are exhorted to pray for themselves and that the sick of verse 14 are admonished to call for the elders of the church? It seems to me that the answer to this question is obvious. The afflicted of verse 13 are able to pray for themselves but the sick of verse 14 are not able to do so. The reader will notice that James in the verses 15-16, speaks of sins and faults committed against one another. Obviously, therefore, the sick of verse 14 is in the position that he cannot pray for spiritual reasons and because of sins which he has committed against the brethren. The elders, therefore, must be called in to “pray over him.” 

Secondly, as far as the word, “sick,” is concerned in verse 14, we remark the following. It is undoubtedly true that this word” does appear in Scripture as referring to physical sickness and distress. The word itself means: weak, infirm, feeble. This is evidently the meaning of the word in John 5:5 : “And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.” And it is surely also of the same significance inJohn 11:4 ; “When Jesus heard that, He said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” However, this word also has a spiritual connotation in Holy Writ. It surely does not have a physical significance in Romans 8:3 : “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” Neither does this word have a physical meaning in Romans 6:19, where the word “weakness” surely refers to the human nature, and we quote: “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” So the word surely does not have a physical connotation in Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” And the same also applies toRomans 5:6 “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” We have already remarked that the word “sick” in verse 15 is different than the word “sick” in verse 14. The word “sick” which appears in verse 15 is principally the same word as that which is translated “wearied” in Hebrews 12:3: “For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds,” and in this verse it is used with respect to the mind or soul. We surely have a right, therefore, to ascribe to it a spiritual significance in James 5:14

Thirdly, in connection with this “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord,” we wish to make the following comments. The expression: “and let them pray over him, anointing .him with oil in the name of the Lord,” can mean that this anointing with oil accompanied this prayer and also that this anointing with oil refers to the prayer, so that we can read this text as follows: and let them pray over him, thereby anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The expression, “anointing with oil” can surely be interpreted as a participial phrase which modified this prayer of the elders and further explains it. We all understand, of course, that no magical power of healing must be ascribed to this oil, provided that we understand this anointing as actually occurring in the natural sense of the word. Even if this anointing occurred in that natural sense of the word, it surely accompanied this praying of the elders of the church because of its symbolical significance. What, then, is the significance of “anointing with oil” in Holy Writ? Oil, we know, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It was always used in connection with the anointing in the Old Dispensation of the prophets, priests and kings. This needs no further comment at this time. And to be anointed with oil symbolized that act of the Lord whereby He ordained, and qualified a certain person to be busy in the things of the house of His covenant, to proclaim His Word, be it as prophet, priest, or king. The significance, therefore, of this anointing in James 5must not be sought in any magical power of healing in the oil but because of its relation to the elders of the church. An elder is a person ordained and qualified by God to speak His Word and this, we understand, regardless of the age of the elder. There is a good reason why the apostle, in writing to Timothy, urges that he not be despised because of his youth. And this also explains the words: In the Name of the Lord. This expression does not merely mean that such an elder spoke by the authority of the Lord, but also that he acted in the power of the Lord; the power of the Lord Jesus Christ operated through this office of the elder which God in Christ has instituted in the midst of the church. This anointing of the sick with oil surely means (apart from the question whether natural oil was symbolically administered, actually applied as a symbol) that through the prayer of these Divinely ordained elders the Spirit was imparted unto the sick. These sick are not to be regarded as sick in the physical sense but in the spiritual sense. This is fully apparent for reasons which we have already stated. Why, for example, is he unable to pray whereas the sick of verse 13 can pray for himself? Why is it stated that the sick of verse 14 will be healed if and when this prayer of faith is uttered in his behalf? Why do we read of sins and faults if this sickness is merely physical? Hence, because they are spiritually sick, infirm, weak, they cannot pray. They do not have the spiritual strength to pray. And through this prayer they receive the Spirit (in their consciousness, we understand) whereof the oil (which may have been used) was a symbol. 

This also explains the rest of this text in James 5. A prayer of faith is a prayer that has its origin in faith and is also prompted by faith, the bond that unites us with God in Christ, and therefore the fear and love of God. Such a prayer, prayed by the elders and in which the spiritually sick concurs, will heal and raise him up. He will be healed. All such sick persons will be healed by God through the prayer of faith. This also emphasizes that physical sickness cannot be meant. Indeed, a physically sick person cannot draw from the Word of God the assurance that if only elders pray for him he will be healed. However, this is spiritually true. And that such a spiritual healing and sickness is meant is also evident from what follows in the verses 15-16 where we read of the confession of faults and sins. These are the general remarks we wished to make in connection with the passage in James 5

H.V.