Discussing the phenomenon of miracles from a standpoint...


Discussing the phenomenon of miracles from a standpoint which is neither that of Christian Science nor orthodox theology, Matthew Arnold laid stress on what is termed the "moral therapeutics" of Jesus. This declaration, though embodying what in Christian Science is regarded as a mere truism, does not seem to be regarded by the orthodox churches as an unquestionable truth, much less as an absolute basis for medical practice. Recent controversial writings have disclosed the fact that there are orthodox Christians who are not prepared to admit even that Jesus in no circumstances relied on material means, and the cases of the deaf and dumb man on the coast of Decapolis and of the blind men at Bethsaida and in Jerusalem, have been relied on to substantiate this. Now it seems so impossible for one moment to believe that the man who performed countless miracles, who raised the dead, fed the multitudes, walked on the water, stilled the tempest, and made the resurrection the final and most incontrovertible proof of the power of God in this world, was reduced in certain specific instances to the use of saliva as a medicament, that this suggestion may be dismissed as untenable. The position of those who frankly regard the miraculous element in the healing recorded in the New Testament as "Aberglaube invading" is at least logical; the position of those who, whilst straining at the Bethsaida gnat, swallow the Bethany camel, is simply unintelligible.

The truth probably is that, so far from relying in these cases on material means, Jesus was simply expressing, in a characteristic, Eastern fashion, his contempt for them. And that being so, it becomes of the first importance to discover whether his disciples ever departed from his method; whether Luke really did travel with Paul as a sort of physician-in-ordinary; and whether, in attempting to part the seamless garment, by separating the healing of sickness from the healing of sin. Christendom has been true to Christianity.

Now there are just two passages in the New Testament which can be tortured into an excuse for such an argument; the one is the description of Luke as "the beloved physician," the other is the direction of James to anoint the sick with oil. That oil was regarded in the East as having a medicinal value is of course unquestionable. It was in Europe, down to the time of Crecy at any rate, a sovereign remedy for wounds, and is still regarded as valuable. There never was a time, however, when it was pretended that it was what Bishop Berkeley centuries later strove to exalt tar water to, a universal panacea; and as the command of James was to anoint the sick without any distinction, it may safely be assumed that his intention was that it should be used, as in anointing a king, simply as a symbol, and that the actual healing was to be wrought by the prayers of the elders, for, as he continues, "the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up." The probability is that had it not been for Paul's reference to "the beloved physician" no one would ever have dreamed of attaching any material significance to the words of James. It therefore becomes of the first importance to decide what that reference signifies.

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