whom Thou lovest is sick." John 11:3
The chapter from which this text
is taken is well known to all Bible readers. In life like description,
in touching interest, in sublime simplicity, there is no writing in existence
that will bear comparison with that chapter. A narrative like this is to
my own mind one of the great proofs of the inspiration of Scripture. When
I read the story of Bethany, I feel "There is something here which the
infidel can never account for." "This is nothing else but the finger of
The words which I specially dwell
upon in this chapter are singularly affecting and instructive. They record
the message which Martha and Mary sent to Jesus when their brother Lazarus
was sick: "Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick" That message was short
and simple. Yet almost every word is deeply suggestive.
Mark the child like faith of these
holy women. They turned to the Lord Jesus in their hour of need, as the
frightened infant turns to its mother, or the compass needle turns to the
Pole. They turned to Him as their Shepherd, their almighty Friend, their
Brother born for adversity. Different as they were in natural temperament,
the two sisters in this matter were entirely agreed. Christ's help was
their first thought in the day of trouble. Christ was the refuge to which
they fled in the hour of need. Blessed are all they that do likewise!
Mark the simple humility of their
language about Lazarus. They call Him "He whom Thou lovest. They do not
say, "He who loves Thee, believes in Thee, serves Thee," but "He whom Thou
lovest." Martha and Mary were deeply taught of God. They had learned that
Christ's love towards us, and not our love towards Christ, is the true
ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope Blessed, again, are
all they that are taught likewise! To look inward to our love towards Christ
is painfully unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ's love towards us
Mark, lastly, the touching circumstance
which the message of Martha and Mary reveals: "He whom Thou lovest is sick.."
Lazarus was a good man, converted, believing, renewed, sanctified, a friend
of Christ, and an heir of glory. And yet Lazarus was sick! Then sickness
is no sign that God is displeased. Sickness is intended to be a blessing
to us, and not a curse. "All things work together for good to them that
love God, and are called according to His purpose." "All things are yours,
life, death, things present, or things to come: for ye are Christ's; and
Christ is God's." (Rom. 8:28; I Cor. 3:22 23. Blessed, I say again, are
they that have learned this! Happy are they who can say, when they are
ill, "This is my Father's doing. It must be well." I invite the attention
of my readers to the subject of sickness. The subject is one which we ought
frequently to look in the face. We cannot avoid it. It needs no prophet's
eye to see sickness coming to each of us in turn one day. "In the midst
of life we are in death." Let us turn aside for a few moments, and consider
sickness as Christians. The consideration will not hasten its coming, and
by God's blessing may teach us wisdom.
In considering the subject of sickness,
three points appear to me to demand attention. On each I shall say a few
I. The universal prevalence of sickness
II. The general benefits which sickness
confers on mankind.
III. The special duties to which
sickness calls us.
I. The universal prevalence of sickness
I need not dwell long on this point. To elaborate the proof of it would
only be multiplying truisms, and heaping up common places which all allow.
Sickness is everywhere. In Europe,
in Asia, in Africa, in America; in hot countries and in cold, in civilized
nations and in savage tribes, men, women, and children sicken and die.
Sickness is among all classes. Grace
does not lift a believer above the reach of it. Riches will not buy exemption
from it. Rank cannot prevent its assaults. Kings and their subjects, masters
and servants, rich men and poor, learned and unlearned, teachers and scholars,
doctors and patients, ministers and hearers, all alike go down before this
great foe. "The rich man's wealth is his strong city." (Prov. 18:11.) The
Englishman's house is called his castle; but there are no doors and bars
which can keep out disease and death.
Sickness is of every sort and description.
From the crown of our head to the sole of our foot we are liable to disease.
Our capacity of suffering is something fearful to contemplate. Who can
count up the ailments by which our bodily frame may be assailed? Who ever
visited a museum of morbid anatomy without a shudder? "Strange that a harp
of thousand strings should keep in tune so long." It is not, to my mind,
so wonderful that men should die so soon, as it is that they should live
Sickness is often one of the most
humbling and distressing trials that can come upon man. It can turn the
strongest into a little child, and make him feel "the grasshopper a burden."
(Eccles. 12:5.) It can unnerve the boldest, and make him tremble at the
fall of a pin. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:14.)
The connection between body and mind is curiously close. The influence
that some diseases can exercise upon the temper and spirits is immensely
great. There are ailments of brain, and liver, and nerves, which can bring
down a Solomon in mind to a state little better than that of a babe. He
that would know to what depths of humiliation poor man can fall, has only
to attend for a short time on sick beds.
Sickness is not preventable by anything
that man can do. The average duration of life may doubtless be somewhat
lengthened. The skill of doctors may continually discover new remedies,
and effect surprising cures. The enforcement of wise sanitary regulations
may greatly lower the death rate in a land. But, after all, whether in
healthy or unhealthy localities, whether in mild climates or in cold, whether
treated by homeopathy or allopathy, men will sicken and die. "The days
of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength
they be four score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for
it is soon cut off, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10.) That witness is indeed
true. It was true 3300 years ago. It is true still.
Now what can we make of this great
fact, the universal prevalence of sickness? How shall we account for it?
What explanation can we give of it? What answer shall we give to our inquiring
children when they ask us, "Father, why do people get ill and die?" These
are grave questions. A few words upon them will not be out of place. Can
we suppose for a moment that God created sickness and disease at the beginning?
Can we imagine that He who formed our world in such perfect order was the
Former of needless suffering and pain? Can we think that He who made all
things "very good," made Adam's race to sicken and to die? The idea is,
to my mind, revolting. It introduces a grand imperfection into the midst
of God's perfect works. I must find another solution to satisfy my mind.
The only explanation that satisfies
me is that which the Bible gives. Something has come into the world which
has dethroned man from his original position, and stripped him of his original
privileges. Something has come in, which, like a handful of gravel thrown
into the midst of machinery, has marred the perfect order of God's creation.
And what is that something? I answer, in one word, It is sin. "Sin has
entered into the world, and death by sin." (Rom. 5:12.) Sin is the cause
of all the sickness, and disease, and pain, and suffering which prevail
on the earth. They are all a part of that curse which came into the world
when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and fell. There would have been
no sickness, if there had been no fall. There would have been no disease,
if there had been no sin. I pause for a moment at this point, and
yet in pausing I do not depart from my subject. I pause to remind my readers
that there is no ground so untenable as that which is occupied by the Atheist,
the Deist, or the unbeliever in the Bible. I advise every young reader
of this paper, who is puzzled by the bold and specious arguments of the
infidel, to study well that most important subject, the Difficulties of
Infidelity. I say boldly that it requires far more credulity to be a infidel
than to be a Christian. I say boldly that there are. great broad patent
facts in the condition of mankind, which nothing but the Bible can explain,
and that one of the most striking of these facts is the universal prevalence
of pain, sickness, and disease. In short, one of the mightiest difficulties
in the way of Atheists and Deists, is the body of man.
You have doubtless heard of Atheists.
An Atheist is one who professes to believe that there is no God, no Creator,
no First Cause, and that all things came together in this world by mere
chance. Now shall we listen to such a doctrine as this? Go, take an Atheist
to one of the excellent surgical schools of our land, and ask him to study
the wonderful structure of the human body. Show him the matchless skill
with which every joint, and vein, and valve, and muscle, and sinew, and
nerve, and bone, and limb, has been formed. Show him the perfect adaptation
of every part of the human frame to the purpose which it serves. Show him
the thousand delicate contrivances for meeting wear and tear, and supplying
daily waste of vigor. And then ask this man who denies the being of a God,
and a great First Cause, if all this wonderful mechanism is the result
of chance? Ask him if it came together at first by luck and accident? Ask
him if he so thinks about the watch he looks at, the bread he eats, or
the coat he wears? Oh, no! Design is an insuperable difficulty in the Atheist's
way. There is a God. You have doubtless heard of Deists. A Deist is one
who professes to believe that there is a God, who made the world and all
things therein. But He does not believe the Bible. "A God, but no Bible!
a Creator, but no Christianity!" This is the Deist's creed. Now, shall
we listen to this doctrine? Go again, I say, and take a Deist to an hospital,
and show him some of the awful handiwork of disease. Take him to the bed
where lies some tender child, scarce knowing good from evil, with an incurable
cancer. Send him to the ward where there is a loving mother of a large
family in the last state of some excruciating disease. Show him some of
the racking pains and agonies to which flesh is heir, and ask him to account
for them. Ask this man, who believes there is a great and Wise God who
made the world, but cannot believe the Bible, ask him how he accounts for
these traces of disorder and imperfection in his God's creation. Ask this
man, who sneers at Christian theology and is too wise to believe the fall
of Adam, ask him upon his theory to explain the universal prevalence of
pain and disease in the world. You may ask in vain! You will get no satisfactory
answer. Sickness and suffering are insuperable difficulties in the Deist's
way. Man has sinned, and therefore man suffers. Adam fell from his first
estate, and therefore Adam's children sicken and die.
The universal prevalence of sickness
is one of the indirect evidences that the Bible is true. The Bible explains
it. The Bible answers the questions about it which will arise in every
inquiring mind. No other systems of religion can do this. They all fail
here. They are silent. They are confounded. The Bible alone looks the subject
in the face. It boldly proclaims the fact that man is a fallen creature,
and with equal boldness proclaims a vast remedial system to meet his wants.
I feel shut up to the conclusion that the Bible is from God. Christianity
is a revelation from heaven. "Thy word is truth." (John 17:17.)
Let us stand fast on the old ground,
that the Bible, and the Bible only, is God's revelation of Himself to man.
Be not moved by the many new assaults which modern skepticism is making
on the inspired volume. Heed not the hard questions which the enemies of
the faith are fond of putting about Bible difficulties, and to which perhaps
you often feel unable to give an answer. Anchor your soul firmly on this
safe principle, that the whole book is God's truth. Tell the enemies of
the Bible that, in spite of all their arguments, there is no book in the
world which will bear comparison with the Bible, none that so thoroughly
meets man's want none that explains so much of the state of mankind. As
to the hard things in the Bible, tell them you are content to wait. You
find enough plain truth in the book to satisfy your conscience and save
your soul. The hard things will be cleared up in one day. What you know
not now, you will know hereafter.
II. The second point I propose to
consider is the general Benefits which sickness confers on mankind.
I use that word "benefits" advisedly.
I feel it of deep importance to see this part of our subject clearly. I
know well that sickness is one of the supposed weak points in God's government
of the world, on which skeptical minds love to dwell."Can God be a God
of love, when He allows pain? Can God be a God of mercy, when He permits
disease? He might prevent pain and disease; but He does not. How can these
things be?" Such is the reasoning which often comes across the heart of
man. I reply to all such reasoners, that their doubts and questionings
are most unreasonable. They might as well doubt the existence of a Creator,
because the order of the universe is disturbed by earthquakes, hurricanes,
and storms. They might as well doubt the providence of God, because of
the horrible massacres of Delhi and Cawnpore. All this would be just as
reasonable as to doubt the mercy of God, because of the presence of sickness
in the world.
I ask all who find it hard to reconcile
the prevalence of disease and pain with the love of God, to cast their
eyes on the world around them, and to mark what is going on. I ask them
to observe the extent to which men constantly submit to present loss for
the sake of future gain, present sorrow for the sake of future joy, present
pain for the sake of future health. The seed is thrown into the ground,
and rots: but we sow in the hope of a future harvest. The boy is sent to
school amidst many tears: but we send him in the hope of his getting future
wisdom. The father of a family undergoes some fearful surgical operation:
but he bears it, in the hope of future health. I ask men to apply this
great principle to God's government of the world. I ask them to believe
that God allows pain, sickness, and disease, not because He loves to vex
man, but because He desires to benefit man's heart, and mind, and conscience,
and soul, to all eternity. Once more I repeat, that I speak of the "benefits"
of sickness on purpose and advisedly. I know the suffering and pain which
sickness entails. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings
in its train. But I cannot regard it as an unmixed evil. I see in it a
wise permission of God. I see in it a useful provision to check the ravages
of sin and the devil among men's souls. If man had never sinned I should
have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is
in the world, I can see that sickness is a good. It is a blessing quite
as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant But it is a real
friend to man's soul.
(a) Sickness helps to remind men
of death. The most live as if they were never going to die. They follow
business, or pleasure, or politics, or science, as if earth was their eternal
home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable,
as if they had a long lease of life, and were not, tenants at will. A heavy
illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from
their day dreams, and reminds them that they have to die as well as to
live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good.
(b) Sickness helps to make men think
seriously of God, and their souls, and the world to come. The most in their
days of health can find no time for such thoughts. They dislike them. They
put them away. They count them troublesome and disagreeable. Now a severe
disease has sometimes a wonderful power of mustering and rallying these
thoughts, and bringing them up before the eyes of a man's soul. Even a
wicked king like Benhadad, when sick, could think of Elisha (2 Kings 8:8.)
Even heathen sailors, when death was in sight, were afraid, and "cried
every man to his god." (Jonah 1:5.) Surely anything that helps to make
men think is a good. (c) Sickness helps to soften men's hearts, and
teach them wisdom. The natural heart is as hard as a stone. It can see
no good in anything which is not of this life, and no happiness excepting
in this world. A long illness sometimes goes far to correct these ideas.
It exposes the emptiness and hollowness of what the world calls "good"
things, and teaches us to hold them with a loose hand. The man of business
finds that money alone is not everything the heart requires. The woman
of the world finds that costly apparel, and novel reading, and the reports
of balls and operas, are miserable comforters in a sick room. Surely anything
that obliges us to alter our weights and measures of earthly things is
a real good.
(d) Sickness helps to level and humble
us. We are all naturally proud and high minded. Few, even of the poorest,
are free from the infection. Few are to be found who do not look down on
somebody else, and secretly flatter themselves that they are "not as other
men." A sick bed is a mighty tamer of such thoughts as these. It forces
on us the mighty truth that we are all poor worms, that we "dwell in houses
of clay," and are "crushed before the moth." (Job 4:19), and that kings
and subjects, masters and servants, rich and poor, are all dying creatures,
and will soon stand side by side at the bar of God. In the sight of the
coffin and the grave it is not easy to be proud. Surely anything that teaches
that lesson is good.
(e) Finally, sickness helps to try
men's religion, of what sort it is. There are not many on earth who have
no religion at all. Yet few have a religion that will bear inspection.
Most are content with traditions received from their fathers, and can render
no reason of the hope that is in them. Now disease is sometimes most useful
to a man in exposing the utter worthlessness of his soul's foundation.
It often shows him that he has nothing solid under his feet, and nothing
firm under his hand. It makes him find out that, although he may have had
a form of religion, he has been all his life worshipping "an unknown God."
Many a creed looks well on the smooth waters of health, which turns out
utterly unsound and useless on the rough waves of the sick bed. The storms
of winter often bring out the defects in a man's dwelling, and sickness
often exposes the gracelessness of a man's soul. Surely anything that makes
us find out the real character of our faith is a good. I do not say that
sickness confers these benefits on all to whom it comes. Alas, I can say
nothing of the kind! Myriads are yearly laid low by illness, and restored
to health, who evidently learn no lesson from their sick beds, and return
again to the world. Myriads are yearly passing through sickness to the
grave, and yet receiving no more spiritual impressions from it than the
beasts that perish. While they live they have no feeling, and when they
die there are "no bands in their death." (Psalm 73:4.) These are awful
things to say. But they are true. The degree of deadness to which man's
heart and conscience may attain, is a depth which I cannot pretend to fathom.
But does sickness confer the benefits
of which I have been speaking on only a few? I will allow nothing of the
kind. I believe that in very many cases sickness produces impressions more
or less akin to those of which I have just been speaking. I believe that
in many minds sickness is God's "day of visitation," and that feelings
are continually aroused on a sick bed which, if improved, might, by God's
grace, result in salvation. I believe that in heathen lands sickness often
paves the way for the missionary, and makes the poor idolater lend a willing
ear to the glad tidings of the Gospel. I believe that in our own land sickness
is one of the greatest aids to the minister of the Gospel, and that sermons
and counsels are often brought home in the day of disease which we have
neglected in the day of health. I believe that sickness is one of God's
most important subordinate instruments in the saving of men, and that though
the feelings it calls forth are often temporary, it is also often a means
whereby the Spirit works effectually on the heart. In short, I believe
firmly that the sickness of men's bodies has often led, in God's wonderful
providence, to the salvation of men's souls.
I leave this branch of my subject
here. It needs no further remark. If sickness can do the things of which
I have been speaking (and who will gainsay it?), if sickness in a wicked
world can help to make men think of God and their souls, then sickness
confers benefits on mankind.
We have no right to murmur at sickness,
and repine at its presence in the world. We ought rather to thank God for
it. It is God's witness. It is the soul's adviser. It is an awakener to
the conscience. It is a purifier to the heart. Surely I have a right to
tell you that sickness is a blessing and not a curse, a help and not an
injury, a gain and not a loss, a friend and not a foe to mankind. So long
as we have a world wherein there is sin, it is a mercy that it is a world
wherein It there is sickness.
Ill. The third and last point which
I propose to consider, is the special duties which the prevalence of sickness
entails on each one of ourselves.
I should be sorry to leave the subject
of sickness without saying something on this point. hold it to be of cardinal
importance not to be content with generalities in delivering God's message
to souls. I an anxious to impress on each one into whose hands this paper
may fall, his own personal responsibility in connection with the subject.
would fain have no one lay down this paper unable to answer the questions,
"What practical lesson have I learned? What, in a world of disease and
death, what ought I to do?"
(a) One paramount duty which the
prevalence of sickness entails on man, is that of living habitually prepared
to meet God. Sickness is a remembrancer of death. Death is the door through
which we must all pass to judgment. Judgment is the time when we must at
last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant
of a sick and dying world should learn should be to prepare to meet his
When are you prepared to meet God?
Never till your iniquities are forgiven, and your sin covered! Never till
your heart is renewed, and your will taught to delight in the will of God!
You have many sins. If you go to church, your own mouth is taught to confess
this every Sunday. The blood of Jesus Christ can alone cleanse those sins
away. The righteousness of Christ can alone make you acceptable in the
sight of God. Faith, simple childlike faith, can alone give you an interest
in Christ and His benefits. Would you know whether you are prepared to
meet God? Then where is your faith? Your heart is naturally unmeet for
God's company. You have no real pleasure in doing His will. The Holy Ghost
must transform you after the image of Christ. Old things must pass away.
All things must become new. Would you know whether you are prepared to
meet God? Then, where is your grace? Where are the evidences of your conversion
and sanctification? I believe that this, and nothing less than Pardon
of sin this, is preparedness to meet God. and meetness for God's presence,
justification by faith and sanctification of the heart, the blood of Christ
sprinkled on us, and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us, these are the
grand essentials of the Christian religion. These are no mere words and
names to furnish bones of contention for wrangling theologians. These are
sober, solid, substantial realities. To live in the actual possession of
these things, in a world full of sickness and death, is the first duty
which I press home upon your soul.
(b) Another paramount duty which
the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of living habitually
ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh
and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural force abated, to
be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual avocations, to
see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed, to endure long
hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain, all this is a severe
strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if peevishness and impatience
are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should
study patience. How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when
sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time
of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost
over our unruly tempers and dispositions. We must make a real business
of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God's will as
well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: "If ye shall
ask anything in my name, I will do it for you." (John 14:14.) I cannot
think it needless to dwell on this point. I believe the passive graces
of Christianity receive far less notice than they deserve. Meekness, gentleness,
longsuffering, faith, patience, are all mentioned in the Word of God as
fruits of the Spirit. They are passive graces which specially glorify God.
They often make men think, who despise the active side of the Christian
character. Never do these graces shine so brightly as they do in the sick
They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around
him never forget. Would you adorn the doctrine you profess? Would you make
your Christianity beautiful in the eyes of others? Then take the hint I
give you this day. Lay up a store of patience against the time of illness.
Then, though your sickness be not to death, it shall be for the "glory
of God." (John 11:4.)
(c) One more paramount duty which
the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of habitual readiness
to feel with and help your fellow man. Sickness is never very far from
us. Few are the families who have not some sick relative. Few are the parishes
where you will not find some one ill. But wherever there is sickness, there
is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases, a kindly visit
in others, a friendly inquiry, a mere expression of sympathy, may do a
vast good. These are the sort of things which soften asperities, and bring
men together, and promote good feeling. These are ways by which you may
ultimately lead men to Christ and save their souls. These are good works
to which every professing Christian should be ready. In a world full of
sickness and disease we ought to "bear one another's burdens," and be "kind
one to another." (Gal. 6:2; Ephes. 4:32.)
These things, I dare say, may appear
to some little and trifling. They must needs be doing something great,
and grand, and striking, and heroic! I take leave to say that conscientious
attention to these little acts of brotherly kindness is one of the clearest
evidences of having "the mind of Christ." They are acts in which our blessed
Master Himself was abundant. He was ever "going about doing good" to the
sick and sorrowful. (Acts 10:38.) They are acts to which He attaches great
importance in that most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of
the last judgment. He says there: "I was sick, and ye visited Me." (,Matt.
Have you any desire to prove the
reality of your charity, that blessed grace which so many talk of, and
so few practice? If you have, beware of unfeeling selfishness and neglect
of your sick brethren. Search them out. Assist them if they need aid. Show
your sympathy with them. Try to lighten their burdens. Above all, strive
to do good to their souls. It will do you good if it does no good to them.
It will keep your heart from murmuring. It may prove a blessing to your
own soul. I firmly believe that God is testing and proving us by every
case of sickness within our reach. By permitting suffering, He tries whether
Christians have any feeling. Beware, lest you be weighed in the balances
and found wanting. If you can live in a sick and dying world and not feel
for others, you have yet much to learn.
I leave this branch of my subject
here. I throw out the points I have named as suggestions, and I pray God
that they may work in many minds. I repeat, that habitual preparedness
to meet God, habitual readiness to suffer patiently, habitual willingness
to sympathize heartily, are plain duties which sickness entails on all.
They are duties within the reach of every one. In naming them I ask nothing
extravagant or unreasonable. I bid no man retire into a monastery and ignore
the duties of his station. I only want men to realize that they live in
a sick and dying world, and to live accordingly. And I say boldly, that
the man who lives the life of faith, and holiness, and patience, and charity,
is not only the most true Christian, but the most wise and reasonable man.
And now I conclude all with four
words of practical application. I want the subject of this paper to be
turned to some spiritual use. My heart's desire and prayer to God in placing
it in this volume is to do good to souls.
(1) In the first place, I offer a
question to all who read this paper, to which, as God's ambassador, I entreat
their serious attention. It is a question which grows naturally out of
the subject on which I have been writing. It is a question which concerns
all, of every rank, and class, and condition. I ask you, What will you
do when you are ill? The time must come when you, as well as others, must
go down the dark valley of the shadow of death. The hour must come when
you, like all your forefathers, must sicken and die. The time may be near
or far off. God only knows. But whenever the time may be, I ask again,
What are you going to do? Where do you mean to turn for comfort? On what
do you mean to rest your soul? On what do you mean to build your hope?
From whence will you fetch your consolations?
I do entreat you not to put these
questions away. Suffer them to work on your conscience, and rest not till
you can give them a satisfactory answer. Trifle not with that precious
gift, an immortal soul. Defer not the consideration of the matter to a
more convenient season. Presume not on a death bed repentance. The greatest
business ought surely not to be left to the last. One dying thief was saved
that men might not despair, but only one that none might presume. I repeat
the question. I am sure it deserves an answer. "What will you do when you
are ill ?"
If you were going to live for ever
in this world I would not address you as I do. But it cannot be. There
is no escaping the common lot of all mankind. Nobody can die in our
stead. The day must come when we must each go to our long home. Against
that day I want you to be prepared. The body which now takes up so much
of your attention the body which you now clothe, and feed, and warm with
so much care, that body must return again to the dust. Oh, think what an
awful thing it would prove at last to have provided for everything except
the one thing needful, to have provided for the body, but to have neglected
the soul, to die, in fact, like Cardinal Beaufort, and "give no sign" of
being saved! Once more I press my question on your conscience: "WHAT WILL
YOU DO WHEN YOU ARE ILL?"
(2) In the next place, I offer counsel
to all who feel they need it and are willing to take it, to all who feel
they are not yet prepared to meet God. That counsel is short and simple.
Acquaint yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ without delay. Repent, be
converted, flee to Christ, and be saved.
Either you have a soul or you have
not. You will surely never deny that you have. Then if you have a soul,
seek that soul's salvation. Of all gambling in the world, there is none
so reckless as that of the man who lives unprepared to meet God, and yet
puts off repentance. Either you have sins or you have not. If you have
(and who will dare to deny it?), break off from those sins, cast away your
transgressions, and turn away from them with out delay. Either you need
a Saviour or you do not. If you do, flee to the only Saviour this very
day, and cry mightily to Him to save your soul. Apply to Christ at once.
Seek Him by faith. Commit your soul into His keeping. Cry mightily to Him
for pardon and peace with God. Ask Him to pour down the Holy Spirit upon
you, and make you a thorough Christian. He will hear you. No matter what
you have been, He will not refuse your prayer. He has said, "Him that cometh
to Me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.) Beware, I beseech you,
of a vague and indefinite Christianity. Be not content with a general hope
that all is right because you belong to the old Church of England, and
that all will be well at last because God is merciful. Rest not, rest not
without personal union with Christ Himself. Rest not, rest not till you
have the witness of the Spirit in your heart, that you are washed, and
sanctified, and Justified, and one with Christ, and Christ in you. Rest
not till you can say with the apostle, "I know whom I have believed, and
am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him
against that day." (2 Tim. 1:12.)
Vague, and indefinite, and indistinct
religion may do very well in time of health. It will never do in the day
of sickness. A mere formal, perfunctory Church membership may carry a man
through the sunshine of youth and prosperity. It will break down entirely
when death is in sight. Nothing will do then but real heart union with
Christ. Christ interceding for us at God's right hand, Christ known and
believed as our Priest, our Physician, our Friend, Christ alone can rob
death of its sting and enable us to face sickness without fear. He alone
can deliver those who through fear of death are in bondage. I say to every
one who wants advice, Be acquainted with Christ. As ever you would have
hope and comfort on the bed of sickness, be acquainted with Christ. Seek
Christ. Apply to Christ.
Take every care and trouble to Him
when you are acquainted with Him. He will keep you and carry you through
all. Pour out your heart before Him, when your conscience is burdened.
He is the true Confessor. He alone can absolve you and take the burden
away. Turn to Him first in the day of sickness, like Martha and Mary. Keep
on looking to Him to the last breath of your life. Christ is worth knowing.
The more you know Him the better you will love Him. Then be acquainted
with Jesus Christ.
(3) In the third place, I exhort
all true Christians who read this paper to remember how much they may glorify
God in the time of sickness, and to lie quite in God's hand when they are
ill. I feel it very important to touch on this point. I know how ready
the heart of a believer is to faint, and how busy Satan is in suggesting
doubts and questionings, when the body of a Christian is weak. I have seen
something of the depression and melancholy which sometimes comes upon the
children of God when they are suddenly laid aside by disease, and obliged
to sit still. I have marked how prone some good people are to torment themselves
with morbid thoughts at such seasons, and to say in their hearts, "God
has forsaken me: I am cast out of His sight."
I earnestly entreat all sick believers
to remember that they may honour God as much by patient suffering as they
can by active work. It often shows more grace to sit still than it does
to go to and fro, and perform great exploits. I entreat them to remember
that Christ cares for them as much when they are sick as He does when they
are well, and that the very chastisement they feel so acutely is sent in
love, and not in anger. Above all, I entreat them to recollect the sympathy
of Jesus for all His weak members. They are always tenderly cared for by
Him, but never so much as in their time of need. Christ has had great experience
of sickness. He knows the heart of a sick man. He used to see "all manner
of sickness, and all manner of disease" when He was upon earth. He felt
specially for the sick in the days of His flesh. He feels for them specially
still. Sickness and suffering, I often think, make believers more like
their Lord in experience, than health. "Himself took our infirmities, and
bare our sicknesses." (Isaiah 53:3; Matt. 8:17.) The Lord Jesus was a "Man
of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." None have such an opportunity of
learning the mind of a suffering Saviour as suffering disciples.
(4) I conclude with a word of exhortation
to all believers, which I heartily pray God to impress upon their souls.
I exhort you to keep up a habit of close communion with Christ, and never
to be afraid of "going too far" in your religion. Remember this, if you
wish to have "great peace" in your times of sickness.
I observe with regret a tendency
in some quarters to lower the standard of practical Christianity, and to
denounce what are called "extreme views" about a Christian's daily walk
in life. I remark with pain that even religious people will sometimes look
coldly on those who withdraw from worldly society, and will censure them
as "exclusive, narrow minded, illiberal, uncharitable, sourspirited," and
the like. I warn every believer in Christ who reads this paper to beware
of being influenced by such censures. I entreat him, if he wants light
in the valley of death, to "keep himself unspotted from the world," to
"follow the Lord very fully," and to walk very closely with God. (James
1:27; Num. 14:24.)
I believe that the want of "thoroughness"
about many people's Christianity is one secret of their little comfort,
both in health and sickness. I believe that the "half and half," "keep
in with everybody" religion, which satisfies many in the present day, is
offensive to God, and sows thorns in dying pillows, which hundreds never
discover till too late. I believe that the weakness and feebleness of such
a religion never comes out so much as it does upon a sick bed.
If you and I want "strong consolation"
in our time of need, we must not be content with a bare union with Christ.
(Heb. 6:18.) We must seek to know something of heart felt, experimental
communion with Him. Never, never let us forget, that union" is one thing,
and "communion" another. Thousands, I fear, who know what "union" with
Christ is, know nothing of "communion."
The day may come when after a long
fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that
nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help
us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing
us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity,
with its realities, will be looming large before our minds. What shall
support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, "I fear no
evil"? (Psalm 23:4.) Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with
Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, Christ putting His right
arm under our heads, Christ felt to be sitting by our side, Christ can
alone give us the complete victory in the last struggle.
Let us cleave to Christ more closely,
love Him more heartily, live to Him more thoroughly, copy Him more exactly,
confess Him more boldly, follow Him more fully. Religion like this will
always bring its own reward. Worldly people may 'Laugh at it. Weak brethren
may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even time it will bring
us light. In sickness it will bring us peace. In the world to come it will
give us a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
The time is short. The fashion of
this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A
few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms
and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world
where there is no more sickness, where parting, and pain, and crying, and
mourning, are done with for evermore. Heaven is becoming every year more
full, and earth more empty. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous
than the friends astern. "Yet a little time and He that shall come will
come, and will not tarry." (Heb. 10:37.) In His presence shall be fullness
of joy. Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people's eyes. The last
enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. But He shall be destroyed. Death
himself shall one day die. (Rev. 20:14.) In the meantime let us live the
life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ and
rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore.
Yes: blessed be God! Christ lives,
though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried
to the grave. He lives who abolished death, and brought life and immortality
to light by the Gospel. He lives who said, "O death, I will be thy plagues:
0 grave, I will be thy destruction." (Hos. 13:14.) He lives who will one
day change our vile body, and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness
and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely
we ought to say daily with one of old, "Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!"