"If My people which are called by My name shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). This passage bears directly on our present subject and contains important and definite instruction for us. First, it shows that God sends physical judgments upon His people because of their transgressions. Second, it makes known what they are to do when the Divine rod falls upon them. Third, it contains a pertinent and precious promise for faith to lay hold of. Against this it may be objected that such a passage is not applicable to us; that God's dealings with His people in this Christian era are on very different principles than those which actuated Him under the Mosaic economy; that He dealt with them according to the Law, whereas He deals with us according to the riches of His grace. Such a contention is entirely unscriptural. God's governmental dealings are the same in all dispensations: maintaining the requirements of holiness and exercising mercy toward the penitent have ever characterized God's "ways." Had the O.T. regime been one of stern and unrelieved justice, there had been no "healing" promised upon repentance, for Law as such knows no pity and shows no mercy.
Let it be carefully noted that the teaching of the New Testament is precisely the same on this subject as in the Old Testament. "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment) to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep" (1 Cor. 11:29, 30). The Corinthians had been guilty of profaning the Lord's table, turning the holy Supper into a carnal feast. God would not tolerate such irreverence and impiety in this dispensation any more than He would under the Mosaic, and evidenced His sore displeasure by visiting them with a temporal judgment, smiting them in their bodies. Thus this passage is strictly analogous to that in 2 Chronicles 7. But more, as there so here, the remedy is also graciously made known: "For if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged" (v. 31). If the Corinthians would unsparingly condemn themselves for their unseemly conduct and mourn over it before God, His judgment would be removed and the many weak and sickly ones recovered and not be made to "sleep" (die). If we sit in judgment on ourselves we shall not be judged by the Lord. "But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (v. 31): God chastening us here that we may escape eternal woe hereafter.
Let us return then to 2 Chronicles 7:14. There we find the Lord's people being dealt with for their sins. A temporal judgment bears heavily upon them: how is deliverance therefrom to be obtained? First, they must "humble themselves." And what is meant by that? The same as in 1 Corinthians 11:31, "judge ourselves." A word in Leviticus 26:41 will supply the needed help: "if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember My covenant." To "humble" ourselves beneath the rod of God is to cease asking, What have I done to deserve this? to stop resisting the rod, and meekly bowing thereto, acknowledging that my wicked conduct deserves it. David "humbled" himself when he owned "I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Ps. 119:75). To "judge ourselves" is to take sides with God against ourselves: not until we do so does the rod begin to obtain its designed effect. The "peaceable fruit of righteousness" is only obtained under Divine chastisement "unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11 )--exercised in their conscience. We must "hear the rod" (Micah 6:9) if we are to profit therefrom, and when we have heard its rebuking message, endorse the righteousness of it.
"If My people which are called by My name shall humble themselves": that is the first thing, and it is vain to proceed further until it be properly attended to, for pride is more hateful to God than anything else. "And pray" is the next thing. Until we have truly humbled ourselves before God there can be no real prayer, but having taken our place in the dust and condemned ourselves, then we may make known our requests unto Him. And what is it, under such circumstances, that we most need to pray or? Surely for a deeper sense of His holiness and of our vileness, for a contrite and broken heart for faith in His mercy, for cleansing and restoration to fellowship. Such requests issue not from the Pharisee, but they are the breathings of humility. "And seek my face": is that but a repetition of the previous clause? No, it goes further: it expresses increased definiteness, diligence and fervor. The omniscient One cannot be imposed upon by mere lip service: He requires the heart. There has to be more than a bare asking, namely, a "seeking," and such a "seeking" that we actually "draw near" and have a face-to-face meeting with Him we have displeased. God will not gloss over our sins, neither must we.
"And turn from their wicked ways." It was their departure from the paths of righteousness and entering into forbidden territory which brought down upon them the displeasure and rod of the Holy One, and therefore if they are to be delivered from His judgment they must of necessity forsake their sins. "Turn from their wicked ways" with loathing and abhorrence, with no secret reserve but with firm purpose of heart to abandon them and go back to them no more (Ps. 85:8). Repentance is something more than sorrowing over the past: it includes the resolution there shall be no repetition in the future. Idols must be destroyed and not put away in a cupboard from which they may be taken out again. "Then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Here is the gracious promise. But mark well its opening "Then": only when its preceding conditions have been fully met: we have no warrant to look for its fulfillment until its qualifying terms are observed by us. Note too its scope: hearing from God is granted, forgiveness is assured, and healing is available for faith to claim.
"Then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). We have no time to waste on any who would raise the quibble that this verse refers to the healing of "land" and not of our bodies. But some who perceive that the principles of this verse are pertinent to cases of personal affliction will ask, Are we then to understand that where God has visited His people with temporal judgment and they have complied with the conditions He has here specified, He will in every instance remove that judgment; that He will bestow immediate and complete healing? Ah! the terms of that question go beyond the terms of that promise: 2 Chronicles 7:14 neither says that He would heal their land "immediately" nor "completely." Nor must we when pondering the subject of Divine healing confine ourselves to this particular verse. For instance, we read that the men of Jericho sought unto Elisha on behalf of their ground, saying "the water is naught and the ground barren." And we are told the prophet said "Bring me a new cruse and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the springs of the waters and cast the salt in them and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from hence any more death or barren land" (2 Kings 2:21).
God could have healed those waters without any salt, as He could have made sweet the bitter waters at Marah without bidding Moses to cast a certain tree into them (Ex. 15:23-25). Sometimes the Lord is pleased to use means, and at other times to dispense with them: for He exercises His sovereignty here as elsewhere. Perhaps some will say, this makes the subject more complex and hence more perplexing. Doubtless, and God may have so designed it. The natural man wants everything to be made smooth and easy for him. But God's way is to stain human pride, to make us feel our insufficiency, to drive us to our knees. God would have our hearts to be exercised before Him, and instead of assuming we must now act in the same way as we did before in a similar situation, look to Him for instruction and directions. "My soul wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from Him" (Ps. 62:5).
God is sovereign and does not act uniformly, and we are both responsible agents and utterly dependent upon Him, and therefore must act neither irrationally nor presumptuously. God is sovereign: He did not always afflict Israel's land with drought or pestilence when they displeased Him, nor does He afflict the Christian's body each time he backslides or forsakes the highway of holiness. And when God did cause His judgment to fall upon Israel's land, He did not always remove His stroke as soon as confession of sin was made and reformation of conduct was affected; nor will He in every instance removed sickness when the afflicted one acknowledges his fault and does his "first works." And, as already pointed out, when God was pleased to heal Israel's land sometimes it was by blessing the means of His own appointing, and at other times it was without the use of any means at all. Thus it is when He heals our bodies. To one blind man Christ gave sight instantly, but to another He put His hands on his eyes a second time before he was fully restored (Mark 8:22-25).
Does some one say, All of this seems very confusing and gets me nowhere. No doubt it is so to the carnal mind. It is for the tried child of God we write and not for those who wish to be spared all exercise of heart, like patients going to a doctor for a prescription so that nothing is required of them but to hand it to the chemist for him to make up. As intimated at the beginning of the preceding paper, the first duty of the ailing Christian is to inquire into the occasion or cause of his sickness: whether it be due to imprudence or intemperance, whether God be chastening him for some breach of His Law, or whether there be some other reason for it, for afflictions are sometimes sent upon the saints for their refining and pruning rather than for correction, that they may yield some of the choicest of all the spiritual fruits. Thus the believer who desires light on his situation must wait upon the Lord and say "show me wherefore Thou contendest with me" (Job 10:2).
If the Lord has shown that the sickness is a mark of His displeasure because we have followed some wicked way, then our course is clear, namely, to conduct ourselves according to the requirements of 2 Chronicles 7:14. Having done so, then what? Appropriate its promise, yet meekly and not presumptuously. Having righted the wrong before God, having obtained His ear, now plead His Word. Say, Lord, I have sought to humble myself, pray, and seek Thy face, and renounce my wicked ways, and Thou assurest me Thou wilt forgive and heal me: do as Thou hast said. But Lord, I am a poor ignorant creature and knowest not Thy mind: what wouldest Thou have me to do? Is it Thy pleasure to lay Thy restoring hand upon me this very moment? If so, enable me to trust in Thee with all my heart; or wouldest Thou have me to use some means? if so, graciously direct my mind and hand to them and cause me to count upon Thy making them efficacious unto me, so that I may trust Thee and not them, that the glory may be all Thine own.