When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
In one respect only may it be said, that our Divine and adorable Lord would seem to have been exempted from the physical infirmities peculiar to the nature which He so voluntarily and entirely assumed- it does not appear that He was ever, in His own person, the subject of sickness or disease. It is indeed declared by His inspired biographer, thus confirming at the same time a prediction of one of the prophets, “Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses;” but this He did in the same manner in which He bore our spiritual sicknesses, without any personal participation. He bore our sins, but He was Himself sinless. He carried our sickness, but He Himself was a stranger to disease. And His exemption from the one, will explain His exemption from the other. His humanity knew no sin; it was that ‘holy thing’ begotten by the Holy Spirit, and as stainless as God Himself. As sin introduced into our nature every kind of physical evil, and disease among the rest, our Lord’s freedom from the cause, necessarily left Him free from the effect.
He was never sick because He never sinned. No, He had never died had He not consented to die. With a nature prepared and conceived totally without moral taint, there were no seeds of decay from which death could reap its harvest. Under no sentence of dissolution, death had no power to claim Him as its victim. As pure as our first parents before the fall, like them in their original state of holiness, He was naturally deathless and immortal. Had He not, by an act of the most stupendous grace, taken upon Him the curse and sin of His Church, thereby making Himself responsible to Divine justice for the utmost payment of her debt, the ‘bitterness of death’ had never touched His lips. But even then His death was voluntary. His relinquishment of life was His own act and deed. The Jew who hunted Him to the cross, and the Roman by whose hands He died, were but the actors in the awful tragedy. The king of terrors wrenched not His spirit from Him. Death waited the permission of Essential Life before He winged the fatal dart. “Jesus yielded up the spirit,” literally, made a surrender, or let go His spirit. Thus, violent though it was, and responsible for the crime as were its agents, the death of Jesus was yet voluntary. “I lay down my life,” are His expressive words.
But there is a sense in which it may be said that our Lord was not exempt from sickness in the sense of His love for, and His union to, and sympathy with, all the sick of His flock. In this light it may be truly said, “Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses.” Let us briefly follow out these thoughts, as suggested by the case of Lazarus. Believers in Jesus, though they are the objects of the Lord’s especial love, are often the subjects of His painful dealings in sickness. In the bodily sicknesses of His people the Lord designs, in connection with their good, the promotion of His own glory. This may be traced in a sanctified recovery from sickness.
In alluding to the introduction of this infirmity of our nature, I have already remarked, that in the paradisiacal state of the world the human frame was a total stranger to the ravages of disease and the spoliations of death. It was of necessity so. There was no sickness, because there was no sin. The reign of holiness has ever been the reign of happiness. God, in justice to Himself, and in goodness to us, has indissolubly connected the two. Apart from each other they cannot exist. We address ourselves to the unconverted man, the poor seeker of this world’s happiness, to the panting chaser after the child’s bauble, the variegated bauble that dances before the eye of his fancy- and in truth and solemnity we affirm, that until the reign of holiness is once more set up in your soul, your notion of happiness is but a fiction, and your possession of it but a dream- the mere negation of the blessing.
In thus making the happiness of the creature to depend upon his holiness, let it not be overlooked, that God has studied the highest good of man equally with what was due to His own glory. Bent upon restoring him to happiness, He could only accomplish it by also restoring him to holiness; and in thus making man holy, He glorifies Himself by multiplying His own moral image.
We repeat, then, the moment that witnessed the suspension of the government of holiness in our world, saw the introduction of the curse, with all its entailed and dire effects. What must have been the astonishment and horror which seized the mind of Adam, hitherto a stranger to any physical malady, when for the first time he became conscious of the taint of bodily disease! What a new and strange sensation to him, the writhing pain- the burning fever- the maddening convulsion- the debility that unstrung and prostrated all the energies and vital powers of his frame! How overwhelming must have been the mournful reflection- keen as the adder’s sting- “SIN, MY sin, has created this! How have I destroyed myself, and afflicted my posterity!”
But let us turn to the case of Lazarus, as presenting, in some of its main features, a type of all the sick ones whom Jesus loves. Here was one dear- O how dear- to the heart of Christ, and yet the subject of disease and the victim of death. His interest in Christ’s love did not exempt him from the visitation of sickness; nor his union with Christ’s person shield him from the shaft of the last enemy. Contemplate the beauty with which the Lord’s love is in this instance brought out. As soon as they discovered that the hand of disease was upon their beloved brother, the affectionate sisters of Lazarus sent to Jesus. And what were the terms in which their message was couched? Observe, they did not say, “Lord, behold, he who loves you is sick;” but, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick!” They cast themselves solely upon the love of Jesus to Lazarus, and while their brother’s love to Christ was indeed most precious as wrought by the Holy Spirit, and as a fruit of faith, they yet based upon it no plea and drew from it no argument wherefore the great Physician and Friend should hasten to the chamber of sickness where he lay; but, founding their request entirely upon the Lord’s own love to him, they besought Him to come and heal him. They well knew that their brother’s love was but the effect, the mere reflection, of their Lord’s love to him. His love, they had been taught, was an infinite, an everlasting fountain. They knew that Jesus looked within Himself for that moved His heart towards a poor sinner, and not in that poor sinner, in whom He could see nothing but repulsive deformity. In appealing to His love, therefore, they pressed with skillful and delicate hand that spring which never needs but the gentlest touch of faith, and in an instant every chamber of His heart is opened.
“Behold, he whom you love is sick.” What a wondrous truth is here revealed for you, dear saints of God, afflicted with bodily disease- for to you, this chapter is especially and in prayer dedicated- that the Lord’s people are not, and cannot be, less the objects of His tenderest love, because He touches them with the hand of disease. I repair to the chamber of sickness, and take my place by the side of the beloved sufferer. The spectacle deeply affects me. I mark the ravages of disease, and the progress of death, advancing by slow and stealthy step, to plant the emblems of his conquest upon that pale brow. I watch the burning fever, the throes of agony, the exhaustion of decay, the weary days without ease, the long nights without sleep- there are tossings, and heavings, and pantings, and sufferings there, which the sufferer’s lip cannot describe, still less the beholder’s imagination conceive.
Or, if there is the absence of extreme pain, there is, perhaps, the long and tedious disease, life evaporating by slow degrees, the vital principle thrown off by minute particles, until the attenuated and weary-worn invalid is forced to exclaim, in the prophetic language of Jesus, “I can count all my bones: they look and stare upon me.” Bending over the couch, I ask, “Is this one whom Jesus loves? Do the Lord’s affections entwine around that skeleton form? Is this long-imprisoned sufferer dear to the heart of God?” Yes, faith instantly replies, and truth responds, “Behold, Lord, he whom you love is sick!”
This is the truth, dear invalid reader, upon which the Lord would pillow and sustain your soul- that you are the sick one whom He loves. Doubtless the enemy, ever on the watch to distress the saints of God, eager to avail himself of every circumstance in their history favorable to the accomplishment of his malignant designs, has taken advantage of your illness to suggest hard and distrustful thoughts of the Lord’s love to you. “Does He love you? Can He love you, and afflict you thus? What! this hectic fever, these night-sweats, these faintings and swoonings, these insufferable tortures, this long-wasting, this slow, tedious disease-and yet loved by God! Impossible!” Such has been the false reasoning of Satan, and such the echo of unbelief. But Lazarus was loved by Jesus, and so are you! That darkened room, that curtained bed, contains one for whom the Son of God came down to earth- to live, to labor, and to die! That room is often radiant with His presence, and that bed is often made with His hands. Jesus is never absent from that spot! The affectionate husband, the tender wife, the fond parent, the devoted sister, the faithful nurse, are not in more constant attendance at that solemn post of observation than is Jesus. They must be absent; He never is, for one moment, away from that couch. Sleep must overcome them; but He who guards that suffering patient “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” Long-continued watching must exhaust and prostrate them- but He, the Divine Watcher, “faints not, neither is weary.”
Yes, Jesus loves you, nor loves you the less, no, but loves you the more, now that you are prostrate upon that bed of languishing, a weak one hanging upon Him. Again I repeat, this is the only truth that will now soothe and sustain your soul. Not the thought of your love to Jesus, but of Jesus’s love to you, is the truth upon which your agitated mind is to rest. In the multitude of your thoughts within you, this is the comfort that will delight your soul- “Jesus loves me.” Your love to Christ affords you no plea, no encouragement, no hope. You can extract no sweetness from the thought of your affection to the Savior. It has been so feeble and fluctuating a feeling, an emotion so irregular and fickle in its expression, the spark so often obscured, and to appearance lost, that the recollection and the review of it now, only tends to depress and perplex you. But O, the thought of the Lord’s love! to fix the mind upon His eternal, unpurchased, and deathless affection to you– to be enabled to resolve this painful illness, this protracted suffering, this ‘pining sickness,’ into LOVE- Divine, tender, unwearied, unextinguishable love, will renew the inward man, while the outward is decaying day by day, and will strengthen the soul in its heavenly soarings, while its tenement of dust is crumbling and falling from around it.
All is love in the heart of God towards you! This sickness may indeed be a correction; and correction always supposes sin; but it is, as we have already shown, a loving correction, and designed to ‘increase your greatness.’ Not one thought dwells in the mind of God, nor one feeling throbs in His heart, but is love. And your sickness is sent to testify that God is love, and that you, afflicted though you are, are one of its favored objects. The depression of sickness may throw a shade of obscurity over this truth, but the very obscuration may result in your good, and unfold God’s love, by bringing you to a more simple reliance of faith.
“Every cloud that spreads above,
And veileth love, itself is love.”
O trace your present sickness, dear invalid reader, to His love who “himself took our infirmities and carried our sickness.” If He could have accomplished the important end for which it is sent, by exempting you from its infliction, you then had not known one sleepless hour, nor a solitary day; not a drop of sweat had moistened your brow, nor one moment’s fever had flushed your cheek. He, your loving Savior, your tender Friend, your redeeming God, had borne it all for you Himself, even as He bore its tremendous curse- your curse and sin, in His own body on the tree. Yield your depressed heart to the soothing, healing influence of this precious truth, and it will light up the pallid hue of sickness with a radiance and a glow- the reflection of the soul’s health- heavenly and divine. “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.”
But there is another most consolatory view of the sickness of the Lord’s people which we desire to present- it is the promotion of His own glory which the Lord designs by it. God is the ultimate end of all beings and of all events. The securing to Himself of His own glory must be the grand motive in all that He has created and ordained. To have been guided by an inferior end- to have made the ultimate result of all creatures and events to terminate in themselves, would have been unworthy of His name, and a denial of Himself, for there is none greater than He. But all His works praise Him, and all holy creatures glorify Him. Every atom of matter, and every spark of intellect, will yield Him an endless revenue of honor. He will be glorified in the salvation of His Church, and He will be glorified in the condemnation of the ungodly. Heaven and hell will contribute to this end so long as He exists. “I have created him for my glory,” is a sentence impressed upon every product of His power. Solemn truth!
We proceed to remark, then, that God’s dealings with His people in seasons of bodily sickness, have this for their ultimate and great end- the glory of God. “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” It is most true that Lazarus died, and for four days was the lifeless tenant of the grave. But death was only the ordained termination of his sickness, not the final result to be accomplished. The temporary cessation of life was but the means to the ultimate and great end, which was, “the glory of God.” Therefore, with truth did our Lord say, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby!” And O how illustrious was the glory brought to Jesus by the sickness and death of this disciple whom He loved! Shall we contemplate it for a moment? Let us go, then; in hallowed imagination, and stand- not by the sick bed, for the mortal struggle was now over- but by the grave of Lazarus.
What a halo surrounds it! It scarcely seems like the place of the dead, for Essential Life is present, and the grave is preparing, at His command, to yield back its prey. Wrapped in his winding-sheet, and reposing in the stillness of death, lay one whom Jesus loved. “Groaning in his spirit and troubled,” He approached the spot. Behold the emotions of the Divine Redeemer! “JESUS WEPT.” How truly human does He appear! How like the Elder Brother! Never more so than now. Philosophy may scorn to betray emotion, and human genius might deem it beneath its dignity to weep. But the philosophy and the genius of Jesus were Divine, and imparted a dignity and a sacredness to the emotions and benevolence of His humanity: and if it be true that by genius a tear is crystallized and exhibited to the admiration of future ages, surely the tears of sympathy and love which Jesus dropped over the newly-made grave of Lazarus, will thrill the holy heart with feeling to the remotest period of time, and perpetuate their wonder through eternity.
Bereaved mourner! cease not to weep. Stifle not your emotions, impede not the flow of your tears. They well up from the fountain of feeling placed in your bosom by the Son of God Himself, who, as if longing to experience the luxury of human emotion, bowed His Deity to your nature and wept. This only would I say, let your tears fall like the dew of heaven- gentle, noiseless, chastened; or rather, like the tears of Jesus- meek, resigned, submissive.
But not illustrious does appear His humanity only. Behold, on this occasion, how His Deity shone forth resplendent and overpowering. He who had just wept, and while yet the tear-drop lingered in His eye, with a voice of conscious God-like power, which showed how completely Essential Life held death within its grasp, exclaimed, “Lazarus, come forth! And he that was dead came forth.” Behold the spectacle, you condemners of His Divine nature- you who would pluck the diadem from His brow, and force us by your soulless, lifeless creed to a reliance upon a created Redeemer- gaze upon the wondrous scene! See the Savior bathed in human sensibility like a man- behold Him summon back the dead to life like a God! Never did the glory of His complex person- the Son of man, the Son of God- burst forth with more overpowering effulgence than at this moment. Who will deny that the sickness and death of Lazarus brought glory to the Deity of the Savior?
But what was true of this servant of Christ, is also true of all the sick whom Jesus loves- their sickness is for His glory. Trace it in the origin of your sickness. It came not by accident, nor by chance- words which should never find a place in the Christian vocabulary of a child of God. It was God who stretched you on that bed of languishing. By the arrangement of your heavenly Father, those circumstances transpired which resulted in your present painful visitation. You have been looking alone at second causes- I do not say that they are to be entirely excluded in attempting to unravel the mystery of the Divine procedure, for they often develop links in the chain of God’s providence most harmonious and instructive; but there is such a thing as resting in second causes, and not using them rather as steps in the ladder which conducts us up to God Himself as the first great cause of all the circumstances of our history, from our cradle to our grave.
Oh how is the Lord glorified when the sinking patient whom He loves, traces the mysterious and strange event which, arresting him in the midst of health and usefulness, has severed him from active life, from domestic duties, and public engagements, imprisoning him in that lone chamber of sickness and solitude, the prey of disease, and perhaps the destined victim of death- to the infinite, infallible, unerring wisdom of the Son of God!
In the gentleness, tenderness, and love displayed in the sickness, the Lord is glorified. What a touching expression is that of the Psalmist, “You Shall make all my bed in my sickness!” What a view it gives of the consideration of our heavenly Father- stooping down to the couch of His sick child- softening the sickness by a thousand nameless kindnesses- alleviating suffering and mitigating pain. Would you learn the Lord’s touching tenderness towards His people? Go to the sick chamber of one whom He loves! Ten thousand books will not teach you what that visit will. Listen to the testimony of the emaciated sufferer- “His left hand is under my head, his right hand embraces me.” What more can we desire?- what stronger witness do we ask? What! is Jesus there? Is His loving bosom the pillow, and is His encircling arm the support of the drooping patient? Is Christ both the physician and the nurse? Is His finger upon that fluttering pulse, does His hand administer that draught, does He adjust that pillow, and make all that bed in sickness? Even so. Oh, what glory beams around the sick one whom Jesus loves!
Trace it, too, in the grace which He measures out to the languid sufferer. The season of sickness is a season, in the Christian’s life, of especial and great grace. Many a child of God knew his adoption but faintly, and his interest in Christ but imperfectly, until then. His Christianity was always uncertain, his evidences vague, and his soul unhealthy. Living, perhaps, in the turmoil of the secular world, or amid the excitement of the religious world, he knew but little of communion with his own heart, or of converse with the heart of God. No time was extracted from other and all-absorbing engagements, and consecrated to the high and hallowed purposes of self-examination, meditation, reading, and prayer- elements entering essentially and deeply into the advancement of the life of God in the soul of man. But sickness has come, and with it some of the costliest and holiest blessings of his life. A degree of grace answerable to all the holy and blessed ends for which it was sent, is imparted. And now, how resplendent with the glory of Divine grace has that chamber of sickness become! We trace it in the spirit and conduct of that pale, languid sufferer. See the patience with which he possesses his soul; the fervor with which he kisses the rod; the meekness with which he bows to the stroke; the subduing, softening, humbling of his spirit, once perhaps so lofty, fretful, and sensitive to suffering. These days of weariness and pain, these nights of sleeplessness and exhaustion, how slowly, how tediously they drag along, and yet not an impatient sigh, nor a murmuring breath, nor an unsubmissive expression, breaks from the quivering lip. This is not natural, this is above nature. What but Divine and especial grace could effect it? Oh how is the Son of God, in His fulness of grace and truth, glorified thereby!
In the result of this visitation, whether it be in recovery or in death, Christ is glorified by the sickness of His people. The control and power of Christ over bodily disease form one of the most instructive and tender pages of His history, when upon earth. We should like to have quoted largely from that page in this connection of our subject, had the limits of the chapter permitted. We can but briefly refer the reader to a few of the different traits of the Divine Physician’s grace, as illustrated by the various cures which He effected. His promptness in healing the nobleman’s son, John 4:43-54. His unsolicited cure of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, and the man with a withered hand, John 5:1-9; Mark 3:1-6. The humility and delicacy with which He heals the centurion’s servant, Matt. 8:5-13. The tenderness with which He restored the widow’s son, Luke 7:11-17. The simplicity with which He recovered the man born blind, John 9:1-7. The gentle touch with which He cured the man sick of the dropsy, Luke 14:1-6. The physical and spiritual healing of the paralytic, Luke 5:17-28. The resistless compassion with which He cured the daughter of the Syrophenician woman, Mark 7:24-3O. The wisdom and the authority with which He healed the lunatic child, Luke 9:37-43. The power with which He ejected the demon from the man into the swine, Matt. 8:28-34. Truly the name of our Divine Physician is “Wonderful!” All this skill and power and feeling He still possesses; and in their exercise, in His present dealings with His suffering saints, is He glorified.
When human power has come to its end; when skill and affection can do no more; when man retires, and hope is extinguished, and the loved one is despairingly abandoned to death- then to see the Lord step forward and take the case in His hands, arresting the disease, rebuking the distemper, bringing back the glow of health to the cheek, vigor to the frame, elasticity to the limb, and brilliance to the eye, and raising as from the very grave itself- oh how glorious does He appear in that chamber of sickness!
Who bowed down His ear to the whisper, that faintly cried for help and support? Who heard the fervent, agonizing prayer that that precious life might be spared, which, in another room, broke from the lips of some anxious, holy wrestler- a parent, a brother, a sister, a friend, it may be? It was the Son of God! and oh how is He glorified in the recovery!
But trace it further in an increased acquaintance with God and His truth. The season of sickness is the schooling of the soul. More of God is unfolded then, and more of His truth is learned, than perhaps in any other circumstances. The individual was, it may be, but little more than a mere theorist. He could talk well about God, and Christ, and the Gospel. He could reason accurately, and argue skillfully, and speak fluently, and yet there was a great and melancholy deficiency in his religion; much was still lacking. But a lonely sick chamber has been his school, and sickness the teaching discipline. Oh how the character, and the perfections, and the government of God become unfolded to his mind by the teachings of the Spirit of truth! His dim views are cleared, his crude ideas are ripened, his erroneous ideas are rectified; he contemplates God in another light, and truth through another medium.
But the sweetest effect of all, is the personal appropriation of God to his own soul. He can now say, “This God is my God, and is my Father, and is my portion forever”- words of assurance hitherto strange to his lips. The promises of God were never realized as so precious, the doctrines were never felt to be so establishing, and the precepts never seen to be so obligatory and so sanctifying as now- blessed results of a hallowed possession of the season of sickness!
And what a pruning of this living branch has taken place! What weanedness from the engrossing claims of the earthly calling, from an undue attachment to created good, from the creature, from the world, and from what is the greatest weanedness of all- a weanedness from the wedded idol- self! What humility of mind, what meekness of spirit, and self-renunciation follow! Accompany him on his return to the world, where he has again been brought, as from the confines of the grave, and from the land of Beulah- he appears like another man! He entered that chamber as a proud man! he leaves it as a little child. He went into it with much of the spirit of a grasping, covetous, worldly-minded professor; he emerges from it with the world under his feet- ‘Consecration to Christ, and holiness to God’ written upon his substance, and engraved upon his brow. He has been near to eternity! he has been looking within the veil! he has been reading his own heart! he has been dealing with Christ! he has seen and felt how solemn a thing it was to approach the gate of death, to enter the presence of God- and from that awful point of vision, he has contemplated the world, and life, and human responsibility, as they are; and he has come back like a spirit from another sphere, clothed with all the solemnities of eternity- to live now as one soon in reality to be there.
What a holy and a lovely being does he now appear! A fresh conversion would seem to have taken place. The ‘dust’ swept from beneath his feet, he stands upon the naked ‘rock’ with a firmer foothold than ever. He is brought nearer to Christ. He has the inward witness more clearly to the preciousness of Jesus, and his own personal salvation. His lightness and levity are lessened, and there is a heavenliness of mind, a sobriety of manner, and a spirituality of conversation, which mark one who has been in close converse with the great realities of eternity. Truly his sickness was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”
Or, if that sickness terminates in death’s slumber, is He less glorified? Ask the spirit just emerged from its shattered tenement, and hastening away to its home on high- ask it as it enters the portals of heaven, the blaze of eternal glory bursting upon its view- ask it as it finds itself before the throne of God, once an earthly, polluted creature, now whiter and brighter than an unfallen angel- ask it as it rests in the bosom of its redeeming Savior, blissfully conscious of its final and eternal safety, and reposing in expectation of its complete glorification, when its reunion with the spiritual body shall take place on the morning of the first resurrection- ask, and it will testify how great was the glory brought to the Son of God by the termination of a sickness which, while it left kindred and friends weeping around the death-bed below, demonstrated His life, and power, and love, “who has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light.” Blessed words of Jesus! “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby.”
But the subject is suggestive of much practical reflection. We would briefly present one or two. It addresses itself pointedly to those who have been arrested by the hand of bodily disease, after a long course of preparation for holy labor, and who may have just entered upon, or may have been stopped in the midst of, a career of usefulness, full of promise and of hope. It requires no effort of the imagination to portray the class of feelings and of thoughts which now agitate the heart and crowd upon the mind. The whole dispensation is, to you, mysterious, dark, and painful. Taking your view of its circumstances from the complexion of your own feelings, you are probably disposed to regard it rather as a token of Divine displeasure, than as a messenger of mercy, and as an evidence of love. But is it really so? Suffering from disappointed expectation, the mind sympathizing with the body; gloominess, despondency, and unbelief prevailing; are you fitted to form a clear and just view of God’s present dealings with you? May not your judgment err, and your conclusion be wrong?
But is it true that God, by setting you aside from active engagements, has set you aside from all duty and labor? We think not. Is it too much to say, that He is now summoning you, though to a more limited and obscure, yet to a higher and holier, because more self-denying and God-glorifying, sphere of duty? Your present loss of health has brought with it its high and appropriate duties, obligations, and employments. It bears an especial message from God to you, and through you to others. Contemplate the work to be done in your own soul, and the testimony through this which you are to bear to the power of Divine grace, to the sustaining energy of the gospel, and to the character of God, and I ask if the lone chamber of sickness has not its especial and appropriate duties, responsibilities, and work; equally as difficult, as honorable, and as remunerative as any which attach to the sphere of activity, or to the season of health? You are called upon now to glorify God in a passive rather than in an active consecration to His service. Graces hitherto perhaps dormant, or but feebly brought into play, are now to be developed and exercised to their utmost capacity. Patience is to be cultivated, resignation is to be exhibited, faith is to be exercised, love is to be tried, and example is to be set- and are not these great, holy, and sublime achievements?
Who will affirm that there is no sermon to be preached from that solitary couch, that sick-bed- yes, and it may be more solemn, more searching, more full of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, than the pulpit ever preached. The Church and the world have now the testimony of one passing through the present and personal experience of what he speaks. A sick room is not the place for theorizing and experimentizing upon truth and eternity. All transpiring there, is stern reality. The dust of human applause is laid, the breath of adulation is hushed, the flush of excitement has faded, and the delirium of an admiring throng has passed away- the artificial gives place to the real. All is as substantial and solemn as eternity.
Deem not yourself a useless cumberer because sickness has incapacitated you for active labor. God has but changed your sphere of duty, transferring you, doubtless, to one more glorifying to Himself. What though your cherished hopes are blighted, what though your fond plans are frustrated, what though your brilliant prospects are darkened, what though your years of hard, ambitious study seem for nothing, and the honors won by unwearied application and midnight toil, are withering and drooping upon your brow? God is summoning you to a profounder study, to more splendid achievements, and to a more verdant and deathless reward.
Do you think that your life has been alla blank? Was Kirke White’s? was Spencer’s? was Brainerd Taylor’s? and a thousand more, whose brilliant career was darkened, and whose opening prospects of eminence and of usefulness were suddenly arrested by sickness, and speedily closed by death? Oh no! Though dead, they still live, and speak, and influence. And who can tell for what nobler purpose and higher employment in heaven the severe mental and moral discipline through which they passed, was designed by God to fit them? No, it is impossible that the past, its toil and sacrifice, can be a blank in your history, or that its literary and spiritual acquisitions are utterly fruitless and lost. To say nothing of the pleasures which you have derived in your mental discursions through the glowing fields of literature and of science, of the high gratification you have felt in converse with ancient authors, and of the feeling of ecstatic delight which has thrilled your soul, when, with the Grecian philosopher, you shouted your “Eureka! Eureka!” over some deep mystery unraveled, or some profound problem solved.
What is a still more consolatory reflection, you have been cultivating those mental powers with which God has endowed you, in the precise way which His wisdom ordained, and which His providence marked out. The future, now mournfully realized, of disappointed ambition, of blighted hope, and of withered expectation, your Heavenly Father studiously concealed from your view, that nothing might suppress your ardor or daunt your zeal in its high and brilliant career of investigation and of thought. And which, let me ask you, would from your bed of sickness be the most painful and humiliating retrospect- the years spent in mental dissipation and wasted time, or the years which you have devoted to those acquisitions which expanded your mind, and enriched it with thoughts, which now shed an intellectual luster upon your pallid countenance, and supply material for pleasing reflection in the weary hours of sickness and of solitude?
But there is a view of your present trial even more soothing and consolatory than this. It is the thought that your heavenly Father- to whom, in youth, and, perhaps, by renewed dedication in riper years, you gave yourself in solemn covenant, to use you and to dispose of you as best promoted His glory- is dealing with you now; that His wisdom is infallible, His love immutable, and that all His thoughts towards you are precious thoughts of peace, and not of evil. Receive, then, with meekness your Heavenly Father’s dispensation, which, while it has set you apart from the Lord’s work, has set you apart more exclusively and entirely for the Lord Himself. Your great desire has been to glorify Him; leave Him to select the means which may best advance it. You have thought of health and activity, of life and usefulness, of being a champion for the truth, a herald of salvation to the ignorant and the lost, a leader in some high and laborious path of Christian enterprise- but He has ordained it otherwise. And now, by sickness and suffering, by silence and solitude, He is giving you other work to perform, which shall not the less secure your usefulness and promote His glory. Oh take this cup of trembling from His hands and say,
“My God, my Father, while I stray
Far from my home on life’s rough way
Oh teach me from my heart to say,
Your will be done.”
“Though dark my path, or sad my lot,
Let me be still and murmur not,
But breathe the prayer, divinely taught,
Your will be done.”
“Should pining sickness waste away
My life in premature decay,
May I with meek submission say,
Your will be done.”
“If You should call me to resign
What most I prize- it never was mine,
I only yield You what was Thine.
Your will be done.”
“Control my will from day to day,
Blend it with Yours, and take away
All that now makes it hard to say,
Your will be done.”
“And when on earth I breathe no more
The prayer often mixed with tears before,
I’ll sing upon a happier shore,
Your will be done.”
But let us not lose sight of the Physician of the patient. “The whole need not a physician, but those who are sick.” That Physician is He who spoke these words. The power of the Son of God over the moral and physical diseases of men, prove Him to be just the Physician which our circumstances require. Do we need skill? He possesses it. Sympathy? He has it. Patience, tenderness, perseverance? all belong to Jesus. Wonderful Physician! No disease can baffle You, for You are Divine. No suffering can fail to move You, for You are human. Are your deep anxieties awakened, my reader, on behalf of some loved object, now pining in sickness, perhaps, to all appearance, in circumstances of extreme danger? In simple faith call in the aid of this Physician. Let the prayer of Moses for Miriam be yours, presented with the faith, and urged with the importunity, of the Syrophoenician mother, “Heal her now, O Lord, I beseech you.” “I will come and heal her,” will be His reply. Deem not the case beyond His skill. Thus reasoned the sister of Lazarus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatever you will ask of God, God will give it you.” Go in prayer and faith, and lay your sick one at His feet. Jesus is with you. One word from Him, and the disease shall vanish; one touch of His hand, and health shall be restored. He who raised Lazarus from the grave, can bring back from its brink the dear one around whose fast waning life the veins of your heart are entwined. Ask believingly, ask submissively, ask importunately, and then leave the result with Him.
Christian sufferer! you marvel why the Lord keeps you so long upon the couch of solitariness, and upon the bed of languishing- why the “earthly house of this tabernacle,” should be taken down by continued and pining sickness, the corrodings of disease, and the gradual decay of strength. Hush every reasoning, anxious, doubtful thought. Your Heavenly Father has so ordained it. He who built the house, and whose the house is, has a right to remove it by what process He sees fit. The mystery of His present conduct will, before long, be all explained. Yes, faith and love can even explain it now, “Even so, Father, for so it seems good in your sight!” Yours is an honorable and a responsible post. God has still a work for you to do. You have been waiting year by year in the quietness of holy submission the summons to depart. But God has lengthened out your period of weariness and of suffering, for the work is not yet done in you and by you, to effect which this sickness was sent. Oh what a witness for God may you now be! What a testimony for Christ may you now bear! What sermons- converting the careless, confirming the wavering, restoring the wandering, comforting the timid, may your conversation and your example now preach from that sick bed! And oh, for what higher degrees of glory may God, through this protracted illness, be preparing you!
That there are degrees of glory in heaven, as there are degrees of suffering in hell, and degrees of grace on earth, admits of not a doubt. “As one star differs from another star in glory,” so does one glorified saint differ from another. Will there be the absence in heaven of that wondrous variety of proportion which throws such a charm and beauty around the beings and the scenery of earth? Doubtless not. Superior grace below, is preparing for superior glory above. And the higher our attainments in holiness here, the loftier our summit of blessedness hereafter. For these high degrees of heavenly happiness, your present and lengthened sickness may, by God’s grace, be preparing you. Sanctified by the Spirit of holiness, the slow fire is but the more perfectly refining; and the more complete the refinement on earth, the more perfectly will the sanctified soul mirror forth the Divine Sun in heaven. Be, then, your beautiful patience of spirit- meek and patient sufferer- increasingly that of the Psalmist, “I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.”
Has the Lord recently recovered you from sickness? Then see that He receives much glory from your recovery. Let your life, which He has anew snatched from the grave, be anew consecrated to His service. Preserve in constant and grateful remembrance the hallowed seclusion, the sacred impressions, the solemn transactions of the sick chamber. “Vow, and pay your vows unto the Lord.” Be doubly guarded against that which, previously to your illness, deadened the life of God in your soul. It is not seemly for a Christian to emerge from the solemnities and retirement of sickness, light, trifling, and earthly. We look for it far otherwise. We expect to see the froth of vain conversation subsided, the dust of earth blown away, the clinging attachment to objects of sense weakened; and in their place, sobriety of spirit heavenliness of deportment, and weanedness from earth. Let these Christian traits be yours, beloved reader. Let it appear by your increased spiritual-mindedness, that you have risen from the bed of sickness, and come forth from the place of solitude, like the “bridegroom coming out of his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race.”
Cherish in your heart and perpetuate in your life a grateful sense and remembrance of the Lord’s mercy in your recovery. He it was who healed you. He gave the skill, and blessed the means, and rebuked the disease. You were brought low, and He helped you. A monument of His sparing mercy, may you be a monument of His sanctifying grace. Let the life which He has ‘redeemed from destruction,’ be as a pleasant psalm to the Lord. “O Lord my God, I cried unto you, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from the grave; you have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing unto the Lord, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness; for his anger endures but a night: in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto you forever.” “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies.”
Go, with lowly and adoring spirit, to the house of the Lord, saying, “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.” There lay yourself, a living sacrifice, upon the altar of your living High Priest- a renewed consecration to God.
“Here in Your courts I leave my vow,
And Your rich grace record;
Witness you saints who hear me now,
If I forsake the Lord.”
You who visit sick and dying beds, tread solemn and important ground. You have need to visit much the throne of grace for the wisdom and the grace which such a sphere of labor requires. Remember that you are brought in contact with those with whom God is especially dealing. Your advantages for instruction and impression are great. Sickness has given a distaste for the world; God’s judgment has perhaps aroused the conscience, and his dealings have made the heart soft. Your first step will be to ascertain, as far as it is possible, the real state of the soul. What medical man would attempt to prescribe for his patient without first thoroughly ascertaining the nature of the disease, its symptoms, phases, and the course of treatment demanded?
But your post is infinitely more important and responsible than his, whose only office is to heal the body. Having learned this, you will then be prepared to bring the grand remedy contained in the gospel of Jesus to bear upon the case. Let your unfoldings of that remedy be scriptural, simple, and appropriate. You will present such statements of divine truth as the nature of the case requires, making prominent the two great ingredients in your Divine recipe- the fall in the first Adam- the recovery in the second Adam; out of self, into Christ. Before the truly awakened, yet anxious, restless soul, you will array all the precious promises and gracious invitations of the Gospel, so amply provided for such. You will lay peculiar stress upon the finished work of Jesus, and the perfect freeness of the remedy which he has provided; especially holding up to view the great and glorious fact, that Christ died for the ungodly. You will explain faith to be the one simple channel through which flow pardon and peace to the soul- “believing in the Lord Jesus Christ;” while you unfold his richness to meet all the necessities of his own beloved and called people. But the Spirit of truth will be your Teacher and your Guide. Looking up to Him, and leaning upon Christ, your labor in this peculiarly difficult, trying, and important sphere of Christian exertion will not be in vain in the Lord.
Nor would I fail to remind the Christian physician, should the eye of such an one light upon this page, of the peculiar advantages which he possesses of uniting the healing of bodily disease with a deep solicitude for the spiritual welfare of the sick. The example of our adorable Lord, our great model in all things, presents a beautiful and instructive illustration of this union. Immediately preceding His magnificent sermon on the mount, it is narrated of Him, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness, and all manner of diseases among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought unto him all sick people who were taken with diverse diseases and torments, and those who were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatics, and those who had the palsy: and he healed them.”
Molding his Christianity and shaping his professional career after this illustrious example, doubly and immensely useful may the pious physician be. Let no delicacy of feeling lest you should invade the sacred functions of the Christian ministry- let no dread of being singular, nor fear of man, dissuade you from a work which God has so providentially placed in your hands. Some of the most illustrious names in the history of medical science have been identified with the profession and propagation of Christianity. Bateman and Hamilton, Hervey and Sydenham, Boerhaave and Mason Good, were Christian physicians. Illustrious as they were in the annals of science, still more honored and distinguished were they as men of whom it is their highest eulogy, that while they healed the bodily malady of the sick, they administered to the ‘mind diseased,’ and both in their professional and private life, walked with God.
And, oh, if but one soul is, by your instrumentality, brought to Christ- if one, wounded by the serpent, is led to raise his eye of faith, even in the agonies of death, and fix it upon the Savior- slain and lifted up for sinners the chief, the vilest- that were a blessing and a reward before which all the honors of your professional skill and reputation droop and die. Christian physician! be faithful to souls, be faithful to your high trust, be faithful to God.
The subject of Christian Missions, in connection with the medical profession, is becoming one of deepening interest and importance. It is found that a practical acquaintance with the art of healing, clothes the missionary of the Cross with an importance in the estimation of the heathen, and places in his hands an influence over their minds, superior to all other laborers in the field. The healing of the body opens an avenue to the healing of the soul. Confidence and gratitude, and even affection, are inspired within the ‘savage breast,’ and these prepare the way for the Gospel message. The human physician thus becomes the herald of the Divine; and the balm which he administers to the physical malady, is but the introduction to the ‘balm of Gilead,’ of which the diseased and deathless mind so deeply stands in need. The question of duty with pious medical men, as to their personal consecration to the missionary work, viewed in this point of light, is worthy of their most solemn and prayerful consideration.
The following remarks by a distinguished Christian physician are so singularly appropriate, and withal so excellent and eloquent, that I am happy to strengthen my appeal by their quotation. Alluding to the duty of pious medical men, he says, “And responsibility stops not at themselves. Having become Christians, they find it at once their privilege and their duty to become Christianizers too. A privilege- for thus only can they satisfy that burning desire which else consumes them- to make known and convey to others the blessings they have themselves received. And a solemn duty, inasmuch as God has given to them, more than to perhaps any other class of men, many and invaluable opportunities of advancing His glory, and doing His will, in the salvation of lost souls– perishing and yet immortal. It is commonly said that ‘man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.’ The heart is soft in sickness, and impressible; and the soul awakened, seeks earnestly for hope and comfort then. The faithful pastor is perhaps little less successful in turning souls to Christ, by his ministrations in the sick-room, than by those of the pulpit; and the faithful physician, too, can look back with thankfulness to many happy times, when with one hand he healed and soothed the body, and with the other guided the soul heavenward and home. Conversion may come mysteriously and softly as the breeze- no man knowing where it comes or where it goes. At other times it is dated back to special providences in perils and escape. But, oh! how often is it referred, with adoring gratitude, to some lingering disease or sudden and sore sickness! It is in the fear of death and judgment that conscience regains its power, and speaks for God. Memory upbraids and conviction grows deeper and darker; but memory alone will never bring peace. News, good news, is eagerly sought- news of hope and salvation. Then is the sowing time, while the earth is soft and open, and watered by the tears of penitence. Then is it that the smitten patient clings with child-like confidence to the physician; and, hanging life upon his looks and lips, implores his aid. Then is it that he, sad and sorrowful, his best skill baffled, and himself bereft of all hope of cure, yet rejoices in being able to say- ‘One thing more I can do. It is the sure prescription: believe and live!’ Then is it that in the deep furrow of affliction, the good seed may be by his hand hopefully laid. Nourished by the dews of the Holy Spirit, and warmed by the rays of God’s love, it takes deep root, springs up, and bears fruit, to the praise and glory of His name.” -Professor Miller of Edinburgh.
Let the Christian invalid be cheered with the prospect of before long arriving at that land the inhabitants of which shall no more say, I am sick. It is the land of light and love, of rest and holiness. The moment the spirit is ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord,’ it treads those balmy shores where health breathes in the air, flows in the waters, and sparkles in the sunbeams. There is no sickness in heaven, for “the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity,” and this accounts for the absence of all physical malady. There is no sickness in heaven, because there is no sin. But the more full enjoyment of this blessing is reserved for the new earth, upon which the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, will dwell. Then it is that, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Christian sufferer! you are nearing this land- a few more days of languishing and pain, a few more nights of weary wakefulness, and you are there! Do you see through the chinks of the, “earthly house of this tabernacle,” “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens?” Do you see the “city which has foundations, whose Maker and Builder is God?” It has “no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine on it for the glory of God does enlighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. . . The gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there is no night there.”
Soon you will exchange this hospital for your Father’s house, and as you cross the threshold, the last pang is inflicted, the last sigh is heaved, and the last tear is brushed from your eye. Then, at the resurrection of the just, comes the new body. “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” All this blessedness and glory JESUS has procured for you. All this blessedness and glory awaits you. And into its full possession and experience Jesus will soon bring you. Animated with such a prospect, and cheered with such a hope, patiently endure the prolonged sickness, the protracted suffering, exclaiming in the spirit and language of Jesus, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it, your will be done!”
“Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.”
“When languor and disease invade
This trembling house of clay,
It is sweet to look beyond our cage,
And long to fly away.”
“Sweet to look inward and attend
The whispers of His love;
Sweet to look upward to the place
Where Jesus pleads above.”
“Sweet to look back and see my name
In life’s fair book set down;
Sweet to look forward and behold
Eternal joys my own.”
“Sweet to reflect how grace divine
My sins on Jesus laid;
Sweet to remember that His blood
My debt of sufferings paid.”
“Sweet on His righteousness to stand,
Which saves from second death;
Sweet to experience, day by day,
His Spirit’s quickening breath.”
“Sweet on His faithfulness to rest,
Whose love can never end;
Sweet on His covenant of grace
For all things to depend.”
“Sweet in the confidence of faith
To trust His firm decrees;
Sweet to lie passive in His hand,
And know no will but His.”
“Sweet to rejoice in lively hope
That, when my change shall come,
Angels will hover round my bed,
And waft my spirit home.”
“There shall my disimprisoned soul
Behold Him and adore;
Be with His likeness satisfied,
And grieve and sin no more.”
“Shall see Him wear that very flesh
On which my guilt was lain;
His love intense, His merit fresh,
As though but newly slain.”
“If such the views which grace unfolds,
Weak as it is below;
What rapture must the church above
In Jesus’ presence know!”
“If such the sweetness of the stream,
What must the fountain be;
Where saints and angels draw their bliss
Immediately from Thee!”
“O may the unction of these truths
Forever with me stay;
Till from her sinful cage dismissed,
My spirit flies away.”