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§ 100. The Relation between Sin and Physical Evil.—Jewish Idea of Punitive Justice.—Christ’s Doctrine on the Subject.

We must now examine Christ’s miracles of healing in their moral aspects, and in their connexion with his ministry as Redeemer. If it can be shown that all those disturbances of the bodily organism, which we call diseases, have their origin in Sin, as the source of all discord in human nature, we may infer that there is a close connexion between these miracles and his proper calling; and that, in healing the diseases produced by sin, by means of his influence upon the essential nature of the disturbed organism, he displayed himself also as the Redeemer from sin. In many cases, also, we may find the physical and the moral cure reciprocally operating upon each other.

The question first occurs, In what relation does Christ himself place disease to sin? This question is connected with the broader one, In what relation to sin does he place physical evil in general? In Luke, v., 20, and John, v., 14, he seems to assign a special connexion between sin and certain diseases as its punishments; but other expressions of his appear to contradict such a connexion. To solve this difficulty, we must not only distinguish the different aims of these several expressions, but also discriminate between the true and the false in the modes of thinking prevalent among the Jews.

The doctrine that sin is guilt, and that the Divine holiness reveals itself in opposition to sin, as punitive justice, is one of the characteristics of the religion of the Old Testament in its relations to the various shapes of natural religion. Punitive justice displays itself in the established connexion between sin and evil, in consequence of which the sinful will that rebels in act against the Divine law must be compelled, through suffering, actually to acknowledge that law, and to humble itself before its majesty. According to this view of the world, which subordinates the natural to the moral, all evil is to be attributed to sin; it shows itself to the soul estranged from God as belonging to, and connected with sin; the consciousness that sin is opposed to the Divine order of nature is developed by sufferings; and thus sin appears, even to the sinner, to be deserving of punishment. All history proves that 144the consequences of bad actions, as well as of good ones, operate for generations; all history testifies that “God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” We can see this especially in the crises of the history of nations, by tracing them to their preparatory causes. The history of the Jewish nation, particularly, was designed to exhibit this universal law in miniature, but with striking distinctness.

To this conception of the punitive justice of God, as displaying itself in the progress of history and in the course of generations, a contracted Theodicy had joined itself, which arrogantly assumed to apply the universal law to special cases.222222   The fact that this view was maintained by the carnally-disposed, and that the later Jewish history often apparently reversed the connexion between sin and evil, piety and happiness, gave rise, subsequently, to an Ebionitish reaction, which maintained that in this world, belonging as it does to Satan, the wicked have possession of the goods of this life, while poverty and pain must be the lot of the pious; and that this state of things will only be compensated in the Millennium, or in the life to come. Christ’s truth opposes both these false views. The book of Job had already refuted this contracted view; and Christ himself opposed it; taking, however, the basis of truth which was found in the Old Testament, purifying it from foreign admixtures of error, and giving it a fuller developement.223223   Luke, xiii., 4.

The doctrine of punitive justice was in no degree impugned by the new and lofty prominence which Christ gave to the Redeeming love of God; on the contrary, the latter doctrine presupposed the former, but at the same time gave it peculiar modifications. And as Christ teaches us that all human events are subservient to the manifestation of redeeming love, the highest aim of God’s moral government, it follows that the connexion between sin and physical evil, ordained by Divine justice, must serve the same great end. The universal evil introduced by sin is so distributed in detail as to aid in preparing the soil of men’s hearts to receive and appropriate redemption and salvation, and in further purifying the hearts of those who have already become partakers of the Divine life.

There are two passages in which Christ contradicts, in the one negatively and in the other positively, the contracted view of punitive justice, before referred to.

The negative contradiction is given in Luke, xiii., 2, 4: “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?” In this passage Christ teaches that the evil that befel the individuals did not necessarily measure their individual guilt, but that their particular sufferings were to be traced back to the general guilt of the nation.


The positive contradiction is found in John, ix., 2, 3: “Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Here he rebukes the presupposition that the calamity of the individual sufferer was to be referred to sins committed by his ancestors, and brings out, in strong contrast with it, that Almighty love which shows itself even by so distributing physical evil as to train men for salvation.224224   We shall examine this explanation again in its proper place in the narrative.

We interpret, in accordance with this view, the explanations which Christ gave in several cases of a relation between disease and sin, and between healing and the pardon of sin. He referred either to the general connexion, through which all evil was intended to call forth the consciousness of sin; or to a closer connexion, in individual cases, between a given misfortune and a specific sin. The relation between the bodily cure and the pardon of sin was still closer.225225   Matt., ix., 2-5.

II. Demoniacal Possession.

The connexion, of which we have spoken, between sin and evil, must be especially predicated of those forms of disease which, view them as we may, exhibited a moral wreck, not only of the individual sufferers, but of the age in which they lived; and which admitted no means of perfect cure except moral influences. We mean the psychical diseases, the sufferings of the so-called Demoniacs.

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