This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
Is there then no warrant in the New Testament for the ordinary Christian to pray for the sick, and is there no utility in such prayers? "There's a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." The New Testament affirms that "All things work together for good to them that love God." It teaches that the highest good is the knowledge and love of God, and that the Spirit of God has constant access to the minds of men, and sets forth an all-inclusive doctrine of Providence without whom not even a sparrow falls. It does not say that prayer will always secure the recovery of the sick, for it gives the instance of Paul who had a " thorn in the flesh," and who besought the Lord thrice that this thing should depart from him, but received, "My grace is sufficient for thee".
None can demonstrate that God cannot work through second causes, bringing about results which, when they come, appear to be entirely natural, but which would not have come except through special providence, or in answer to prayer. The New Testament declares that he does so interpose "according to his will." It was not his will for Paul, and he did not remove the thorn, but gave spiritual blessings instead. Prayer for the sick is one of the most consoling privileges, and it would be a strange omission if we were not entitled to pray for comfort, for spiritual help, for such graces as will render continued chastening unnecessary, and for recovery, when that which is desired is in harmony with the will of God. Belief that when the prayer is in accordance with the mind of God," the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up," is supported by many explicit promises. But as all who die must die from disease, old age, accident, or intentional violence, every person must at some time be in a state when prayer cannot prolong his life.
1 The Roman Catholics use oil in the "sacrament of extreme unction," which is administered in view of death.
When we or others are suffering from any malady, the Christian doctrine is that we are to use the best means at command, and to pray, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine be done." The prayer may be answered by its effect upon the mind of the patient; by directing the physician, the nurse, or the friends to the use of such means as may hasten recovery; or, by a direct effect produced upon the physical system, behind the visible system of causes and effects, but reaching the patient through them ; if the patient recovers, it will seem as though he recovered naturally, though it may be in an unusual manner. The Christian in his personal religious experience may believe that his prayer was the element that induced God to interfere with the course of nature and prolong life. Assuming that there is a God, who made and loves men, none can show his faith irrational or unserip-tural; but such testimony can be of no value to demonstrate to others a fact in the plane of science. When the Christian conies to die, he must then rest, even while praying for life, upon the promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee".
Faith-healers represent God as interfering constantly, not by cause and effect in the order of nature, but affecting the result directly. That they do not surpass those who are not Christians, but use either false pretenses or natural laws, and that they are inferior in healing power to Christ and the apostles, condemn their pretensions. Nor does it avail them to say, "Christ would not come down from the cross when taunted by unbelievers." They might perhaps with propriety refuse a test for the test's sake; — though Elijah forced one. But a radical difference between their work and what it accomplishes, and those who, they say, have no divine help, should be manifest. Some of them affirm that the Mormons, Newton, and others do their mighty works by the aid of devils. If so, since casting out devils was miracle-working power of low grade, it is wonderful that none of these persons have been able to cast out the devils from any of the large number who are working in this way, and thus demonstrate their superiority as the apostles vindicated their claims against Simon the sorcerer and others.
Faith-cure, technically so called, as now held by many Protestants, is a pitiable superstition, dangerous in its final effects.
It may be asked, What harm can result from allowing persons to believe in "faith-healing"? Very great indeed. Its tendency is to produce an effeminate type of character which shrinks from pain and concentrates attention upon self and its sensations. It sets up false grounds for determining whether a person is or is not in the favor of God. It opens the door to every superstition, such as attaching importance to dreams; signs; opening the Bible at random, expecting the Lord so to influence their thoughts and minds that they can gather his will from the first passage they see; "impressions," "assurances," ete. Practically it gives support to other delusions which claim a supernatural element. It seriously diminishes the influence of Christianity by subjecting it to a test which it cannot endure. It diverts attention from the moral and spiritual transformation which Christianity professes to work, a transformation which wherever made manifests its divinity, so that none who behold it need any other proof that it is of God. It destroys the ascendancy of reason, and thus, like similar delusions, it is self-perpetuating; and its natural and, in some minds, irresistible tendency is to mental derangement.
Little hope exists of freeing those already entangled, but it is highly important to prevent others from falling into so plausible and luxurious a snare, and to show that Christianity is not to be held responsible for aberrations of the imagination which belong exclusively to no race, clime, age, party, or creed.