Christ, the Physician of the Soul
William Nicholson, 1862
"It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick." Matthew 9:12
The body is liable to numerous diseases, and anxiety and efforts to effect a cure of them, are highly important. But how possible it is to attend to those needs and diseases, while the demands of the soul are neglected! What time and money will people expend to restore bodily health! Yet how few will make sacrifices and submit to Gospel prescriptions, to promote the health of the immortal spirit!
The design of Christ's coming was to save the soul, and this purpose he declared to the chief of sinners. The circumstance which occasioned the declaration of the proverb in the text, is stated verses 11, 12. He who, like the Pharisee, never felt himself indebted to Infinite mercy for his own salvation, will never be solicitous about the salvation of others. The grace of Christ alone inspires the soul with true benevolence. The self-righteous Pharisee considered it equal to legal defilement to sit in company with tax-gatherers, and heathen.
Jesus, in reply to the Pharisees, said, "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick." Only sick people need his aid. A physician would not commonly be found with the healthy. His proper place was among the sick. "If you Pharisees reckon yourselves pure and holy — then you do not need my aid. It would be of no use to you, and you would not thank me for it. With those who feel themselves sinners, I may be useful; and there is my proper place. I came on purpose to save sinners. My business is with them. There are none righteous; and as a physician is in his proper place with the sick, so am I with guilty and miserable sinners."
I. Man Is the Subject of Spiritual Disease.
In Scripture, sin is frequently compared to a disease: "My wounds," etc., Psalm 38:5. "Who heals," etc., Psalm 103:3; "He heals the broken in heart," etc., Psalm 147:3; Isaiah 30:26; "Is there no balm?" etc., Jeremiah 8:22. As the nature of the disease is generally ascertained by various symptoms, so the moral and spiritual disease of the soul has its symptoms by which its nature is indicated. The symptoms are,
1. Depraved mental appetite. When the body is diseased, the appetite fails; it no longer delights in suitable and nutritious food.
Just so, man was originally created in health and beauty; then he delighted in God; to serve him was his natural element. But alas! how has the pure gold become dim! The mind has been warped from its original attitude of purity, and bent and bowed down to the love and idolatry of earthly things. If the soul of man were in a healthy state, he would delight in God, and take pleasure in prayer and praise, and the ordinances of Divine worship. But these are not palatable to the carnal mind, which is enmity against God.
The Gospel, with all its promises and prospects of glory, is the only proper food of man's soul. But the diseased one has no appetite for it; it is all foolishness unto him. Hence the Scriptures are neglected, and the invitations of the Gospel are treated with contempt.
2. The faculty of moral vision is impaired. "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts!" Ephesians 4:18. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:14
The character of God is revealed in the Bible and throughout creation, in its excellence, its majesty, and its glory; but it has no attractions for the sin-diseased mind, though it fills Heaven with wonder and delight.
Saints behold Christ as the altogether lovely, and esteem him more precious than rubies; but the diseased sinner says, "He has no form nor loveliness in him, that we should desire him."
Christians contemplate Heaven as their glorious home, and long to depart, and be with Christ, which is far better. But the diseased ones account Heaven as the dream of visionary enthusiasts, and they say, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" They often call darkness light, evil good, bitter sweet, and prefer the deformity of vice, over the beauty of holiness.
3. Moral stupor and lethargic disposition of mind. "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." Ephesians 4:19. Their dreadful spiritual condition is frequently depicted in the clearest and most affecting manner, but without any effect on them. Truths the most important, and intimately connected with their souls' eternal interests, are frequently addressed to their judgments; but they remain unmoved.
Bereavements the most cutting,
providences the most alarming,
judgments the most startling,
afflictions upon them, threatening them with death —
yet they remain indifferent, listless, and unmoved!
Sinai may issue its lightning flash, and utter its thundering voice, the earth may heave, and the rocks may quake, at the transactions of Calvary, and even the clangor of the last day's judgment trumpet may be heard — but the diseased one is not awakened; he may be startled, and just lift up his head to say, "A little more sleep, a little more slumber." "Go away for now — when it is more convenient, I'll call for you again."
Even saints have to complain of remnants of this moral stupor and lethargy:
"The rocks can rend, the earth can quake,
The seas can roar, the mountains shake;
Of feelings all things show some sign,
But this unfeeling heart of mine!
"To hear the sorrows you have felt,
Dear Lord, an adamant would melt;
But I can read each moving line,
And nothing moves this heart of mine!
"Eternal Spirit, mighty God,
Do you apply the Savior's blood!
'Tis his rich blood, and his alone,
Can move and melt this heart of stone!"
4. Feverish excitement of disposition. Ordinary disease is always attended with some degree of fever. Sometimes it is raging, and is often followed by delirium.
Just so, sin, the disease of the soul, frequently stimulates the passions, excites to resentment, and blows up the flames of malice and wrath in the heart. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Galatians 5:19-21
Hence also the garrulity of a wicked man in the ebullitions of his profanity. His very tongue is diseased. The sinner is frequently incoherent, and raves like a madman.
See this feverish excitement manifested by worldly men. How they toil, how they scheme, plan, and adopt every stratagem which their minds can devise, in order to acquire wealth! They are like the grave, they never say enough. Sometimes the dictates of conscience, and the claims of justice, are violated, in order to obtain money. Witness the feverish excitement of that miser, who has, for a long time, been starving his body, and damning his soul — for what? a little shining dust which he must surrender at death, for, "and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart." Job 1:21. 1 Timothy 6:7-10, 17, 18.
Witness the feverish excitement of ambitious men, restless for fame, power, prestige, popularity, possessions, pleasures, etc., etc.
5. Moral weakness and want of activity. Sinners are said to be without strength — to be dead in trespasses and sins. "She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives." Can the dead praise God, and yield him service? The powers of the diseased soul are diverted from God, and fixed upon improper objects; in fact, all the powers, talents, and gifts of men, are prostrated at the shrine of self, and are covered over with the desolation of death. The ungodly are "the servants of sin." OBSERVE:
6. Its tendency to eternal death. Sin has already consigned the body to death, and, if unchecked, it will consign the soul to death eternal. "The wages of sin is death." "Sin when it is finished brings forth death." Such is its tendency. It is the death of the soul to all the favor of God, and all the blessings he has promised.
Some think sin is insignificant, if not innocent. But is it so represented in the Scriptures? This spiritual plague excludes from God, from the society of Heaven, and from its eternal weight of glory. Suppose it were possible for a diseased soul to enter Heaven, would it engage in their employments? Could it realize their enjoyments?
But this disease of sin has other peculiar symptoms:
1. The disease of sin is inherent in our constitution.Some assert and propagate that man is born in a kind of neutral state, inclined neither to good nor to evil, and that he receives a bias from education, example, or conversation. But the Scriptures assert the contrary, namely, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me!" Psalm 51:5. We do not, in the first instance, become affected by that which is contagious — but we come into the world with the seeds of evil in our very nature. Nevertheless this disease,
2. The disease of sin is infectious."One sinner destroys much good." Eve caught this evil disease, and Adam was immediately tainted with it, and their first-born became the murderer of his brother! See how it spread before the deluge; "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time!" Genesis 6:5.
3. The disease of sin is universal in its extent."The whole world lies in wickedness!" "There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one!" Romans 3:11-12.
Some diseases are peculiar to one climate, and affect one class of people; but the disease of sin rages in every region, and in every land, from the northern to the southern pole, and from the eastern to the western shores. It manifested itself thousands of years ago, and it yet prevails. It affects all, the monarch and the statesman, equally with the peasant and the clown, and nations the most civilized and savage are alike subject to its influence.
4. The disease of sin is incurable by human agency.No man can cure himself of sin, or deliver his fellow from this fatal malady. Every method which the human mind could devise, has been tried, but in vain. Legislators have issued edicts; philosophers have delivered lectures, unrivaled for beauty, sublimity, and eloquence; science has cultivated the intellect, and fed it with every species of knowledge — and what has been the result? Still the leprosy of sin rages, and sometimes those the most esteemed among men have afforded the worst examples of moral degeneracy.
It is emphatically said of Christ that "he went about doing good." This was the benevolent design of his mission into this world. "He came to seek and to save those who are lost." Sin had converted the world into a spiritual desert — a waste howling wilderness; Jesus came to make it bud and blossom as the rose. Sin had diseased and desolated the soul of man; Jesus came to heal it, and to fill it with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Hence he frequently represented himself as the great Deliverer, the Savior, the Ransomer, and the Physician. Unrolling the volume of prophecy at Nazareth, he thus addressed the people, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed!" Luke 4:18
Having considered the soul as diseased by sin, consider now,
II. Christ as the Physician of the Soul.
The names, titles, and offices of Christ imply this. His language in the text must be regarded as the representation of himself, as the Physician of the soul.
He is called a Prophet and Teacher, because he banishes darkness from the mind.
He is called a Ransomer, because he delivers the soul from Satan.
He is called Savior, because he absolves it from guilt.
He is called a High Priest, because he made atonement for transgressors.
He is called an Advocate, because he ever lives to make intercession for his people.
All these, and similar appellations, denote his healing power. In Malachi 4:2, he is called the "Sun of righteousness." In Revelation 22:2, he is called the "Tree of life, whose fruits were for the healing of the nations."
1. The Character of the PHYSICIAN.To ascertain this is of the utmost importance. We read of "Physicians of no value," Job 13:6, and confidence cannot be placed in them.
(1.) Christ was Divinely authorized and appointed to this important work.An ordinary physician must first be tried, examined, and proved, before he can possess a diploma to authorize him to practice in the medical department. This gives him a superiority over pretenders, quacks, etc., who frequently kill more than they cure.
Christ received his diploma, or commission, from God the Father. "Him has God the Father sealed." He was tried many ways, and gloriously proved to be eminently qualified to undertake the care and cure of souls. When he commenced his prophetic career, he combined with it the profession of a Divine physician, healing the bodily maladies of men and women, raising the dead, and casting out devils. And when he was asked about his commission, or by what authority he did those things, he immediately produced his diploma, even his Father's seal to his commission. John 5:36, 37. He was no deceiver.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." Isaiah 61:1-3
(2.) Christ's skill is infinite.He is infinite in wisdom, "the only wise God." A physician must understand the anatomy of the human body — the nature of the various diseases to which it is subject. He should also know their various symptoms, and the cause producing them. He must be skillful to prescribe suitable remedies, advice, operations, and medicines.
Just so, Christ possesses unbounded knowledge. He knows all the faculties of the soul. He knows its state throughout. He understands the cause, the progress, and the precise state of the soul's disease; whether it be . . .
the fever of anger,
the cancer of covetousness,
the leprosy of immorality,
the lunacy of ambition,
the palsy of spiritual sloth,
the stone of an obdurate heart,
the swellings of pride, or
the consumption of unbelief.
As a skillful physician understands the constitution of his patient, so Christ knows the inclinations of every soul; the sins which most easily beset them, Hebrews 12:1, 2. He knows all its habitual diseases, which may be inveterate and stubborn, and distinguishes them from the weaknesses and infirmities to which the best of men may be subject.
(3.) Christ's power is infinite.He can command the disease to depart at his pleasure. He can destroy the works of the devil in the soul. He can calm the rage of human passions, and break the rocky heart in pieces, and bring every thought and desire into obedience to himself. "We are God's workmanship, created unto good works in Christ Jesus." "He works in us both to will and do of his own good pleasure."
(4.) Christ possesses infinite tenderness and compassion."He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities." "He knows our frame, he knows that we are but dust."
"His heart is made of tenderness,
His affections melt with love."
With the compassion of a God, Christ treats the wounded conscience, and heals the broken heart. "He will not break the bruised reed." "Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." I long to heal you, and make you whole. When he ascended Mount Olivet, and looked down on Jerusalem, which had rejected his healing balm — he wept, and said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" etc.
(5.) Christ's healing is characterized by patience, and diligent attention.This must be the case with an ordinary physician, laboring to effect a cure. The eye of the great Physician is ever upon his patients — he goes on with his work until he has effected a cure. He bears with their ingratitude, and the good work which he begins in them, he performs unto the day of his second coming.
2. Observe the REMEDY which he applies.It is his precious blood! "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." "In that day there shall be a fountain opened, to cleanse from sin and impurity!" The healing of the soul is universally ascribed to his blood, the shedding of which satisfied the claims of Divine Justice, magnified the law, and made it honorable. Hence believers are . . .
redeemed by his blood,
reconciled to God by his blood,
forgiven and justified by his blood,
sanctified by his blood, and
cleansed from all sin by his blood.
It is by the shedding of his blood, his resurrection from the dead, and his intercession at God's right hand, that "he is able to save to the uttermost." Millions of once diseased spirits, but now made whole, and gifted with immortal health in glory, now ascribe their spiritual cure to the blood of the Lamb! "And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation!" Revelation 5:9
(1.) This Remedy is announced by the ministry of his word. "We are ambassadors of Christ," etc. That word says, you are diseased, perishing, dying. Christ is the true physician. Look to him and live. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life!" John 3:14-15
(2.) He applies the Remedy by his Spirit. By that agency, the diseased sinner is made sensible of his disease, and induced to cry out, "What must I do to be saved?" By the same power he is "quickened," to fly to the refuge — the cross of Christ!
(3.) This Remedy is received by faith. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." "Look unto me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth!" Faith is going to the blood of sprinkling, and there submitting the soul to be healed — resting on Christ for pardon, redemption, atonement, etc.
(4.) This Remedy is carried on, or perpetuated in connection with the Church of Christ. Though sin may be subdued — yet it will attempt to gain the ascendency as long as we are in the body. The Church is the hospital of Grace, where the Divine Physician dwells, and progressively carries on his saving work. "He who has begun a good work in his people, will perform it to the end." Public Worship, the ministration of the truth, prayer, Christian fellowship, adverse providences, afflictions, etc., are all designed to make Christians healthy in the Divine life.
3. The excellency of the Remedy.Observe briefly,
(1.) It is universally adapted. It will do for any people, in any climate, young or old, rich or poor, however vile.
(2.) It is always available. "The word is near you," Romans 10:8. "He brings his salvation near."
(3.) It is perfectly free. How expensive the charges of earthly physicians! Some, by curing the body, or attempting to do it — ruin the estate of the patient. But this remedy is "without money, and without price."
(4.) It is infallibly efficacious. Ordinary physicians, after a long and expensive course of medical attendance, are frequently compelled to declare, "I can do no more for this patient."
But when did the Great Physician fail? He has cured the most inveterate cases. See the specimens of his sovereign cure in his word. See Saul of Tarsus — the Ephesian converts — the saints at Corinth — the dying thief, etc. The immutable physician cannot fail!
1. From what has been said, we may ascertain why so few are healed. They are not sensible of their disease, or, if sensible, they will not submit to the Divine Remedy.
2. Learn the danger of neglecting an application to the Physician of souls. While you delay, the disease is progressing — progressing rapidly towards death.
3. Be thankful for so excellent a Physician.
4. All must acknowledge their spiritual maladies, and the need they have of his mercy in order to be healed by him.
5. The most inveterate and dangerous disease the soul can be infected with, is to imagine itself whole, when the sting of death, which is sin, has pierced it through in every part, infusing its poison everywhere!