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Benefits of Sickness

Benefits of Sickness

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John xi. 3.

Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

John xi. 3.

Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jul 21, 2013
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John xi. 3. Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. Was there ever on earth, my brethren, a more privileged family than that of Lazarus? All the members of it were united in love to each other, and in love to the Redeemer, and were honoured, in return, by his most tender friendship. " Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." They resided at Bethany, a small village about two miles from Jerusalem; and to their hospitable roof the Saviour often retired from the tumult and noise, the vices and follies, of the city, and gave them the most sublime instructions, the most tender consolations, which they received with eager attention and with full faith. Who, then, would not have supposed that the dwelling of Lazarus, so gloriously distinguished by the frequent presence of the Son of God, would be inaccessible to those calamities and afflictions which embitter the lives of mortals, and would ever be blest by peace, by prosperity, and felicity ? If these

MISCELLA EOUS. 283 precise hopes were not entertained by this pious and amiable family; if, instructed in the school of Jesus Christ, the members of it had learned that his kingdom was not of this world, and that therefore it is not in this world that the believer must expect a perfect felicity; they seem at least to have flattered themselves that their intimacy with him, who by a single word cured the sick, would avert from a house-

hold, to which he was so much attached, the pains of sickness and the languors of disease. We may infer this from the message which the sisters of Lazarus send to Jesus Christ : " Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick." We may infer it from the words which Martha addressed to the Redeemer, when she met him approaching to Bethany : " Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Their faith in the power and goodness of Jesus was unlimited ; but it must be confessed, it was not sufficiently enlightened and submissive. The surprise which they express because the friend of Jesus is sick, and because the Redeemer does not immediately fly to his relief, ought at least to have been balanced by the persuasion that this sickness was for the benefit of Lazarus, and that it was permitted from motives equally wise on the part of Jesus, and useful for his friend. If the first emotion of nature made them exclaim, " Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died ;" religion should have induced them immediately to add, c Lord, thy will be done. Thy wisdom so perfectly knows what is necessary for us, that we are fully persuaded that all thy dispensations are right. Thy love for the men whom thou earnest to redeem, is so tender and enlightened, that we do not for a moment doubt, that die afflictions which thou sendest are useful to them ;

284 steknio xcv. and that therefore, if Lazarus thy friend is sick, it is because thou lovest him.' Yes, my brethren, the great design of the religion of Jesus is the salvation of our immortal souls. Every thing, then, which tends to produce this effect, is a blessing ; and as the afflictions which Providence

sends to us may powerfully tend to produce it, we should consider them as proceeding, not from the anger of God, but from his mercy and love: he afflicts the body, only to heal the soul, and prepare it for glory. It is under this point of view, that we propose to consider the advantages of sickness, and the influence which it may and ought to have upon us. Favour me with your attention : the subject is interesting to us all. Do you, who have been laid on the bed of disease, liston, and inquire of your own hearts, whether you have derived that benefit from this dispensation of Providence which you ought. Do you, who are still in health, listen ; that when the time of sickness comes, as it will surely come, you ma'y know to what duties and exercises God calls you. It is impossible, in a single discourse, to mention all the benefits which may result from sickness. I can only mention a few of the leading advantages which believers derive, and which we all ought to derive, from it. 1. By sickness, God designs to discover to us our true character, and make us know ourselves. I need not. tell you of what infinite consequence it is to be acquainted with the real state of our souls ; to know whether we are the children of God, or the children of Satan; the heirs of heaven, or the heirs of helh I need not tell you, believers, of what infinite conse„ quence it is, even after you suppose you have devoted

MISCELLA EOUS. 285 yourselves to God, to trace the most secret recesses of your hearts ; to examine constantly what you are and what you ought to be, what you do and what you ought

to do; to search what vices and errors you have which need correction; what virtues you have yet to acquire or strengthen; what temptations have most power over you ; what weak places in your heart require to be fortified. Unless we habitually try ourselves on these and similar subjects, we act not as reasonable men, much less as Christians. Unless we constantly thus descend into our own souls, we shall not only not advance in holiness, but besides this, we are in danger, through the deceitfulness of our hearts and the illusions of self-love, of making the most fatal and irretrievable mistakes as to our true character, There are thousands in the regions of eternal despair, who, whilst they lived, doubted not of the love of God towards them, of their interest in the Redeemer, and their title to heaven. eglecting to search deep into their souls, to test themselves by the word of God, to try themselves thoroughly and impartially, they lived in hopes of future felicity, and on leaving this world, with as much surprise as horror, found themselves enwrapped in the eternal flames ! But, all-important as is this accurate knowledge of ourselves, yet experience and observation teach us that nothing is more difficult than to acquire it in the hurry of an active life, and amidst the occupations of the world; when the soul, busied with the scenes around it, fixes upon them, and is prevented from turning inwards upon itself, and concentrating its reflections upon its own state and circumstances. But when disease lays us down on the bed of infirmity, when it removes us from our ordinary course of life, when it obliges us to interrupt our

236' 6EIIMO xcV. business and pleasures, then man is restored to himself, and led to re-enter into his own heart. Then all those objects which prevented him from fixedly

looking at his soul, his conscience, his situation — ¦ vanish from observation ; and no longer occupied solely by his profession, his commerce, his family, his schemes of aggrandizement and fortune, he remembers himself, God, and eternity. He has now leisure to attend to these important subjects, since to the noise and tumult which surrounded him, succeeds the most profound tranquillity. He has the strongest motives, since he sees just before him that judgment-bar, at which he must appear; that God, who cannot be deceived, who searches his heart, and discerns his true character, and who will regulate his eternal destiny in conformity with this character. Ah! how many has our heavenly Father led by this painful but benevolent means of sickness, to study and to know themselves, to awake from that stupid forgetfulness of themselves in which they had lived, and to reject those illusions which had hitherto deceived them! Are there none of you, my brethren, who can attest, from your own experience, this beneficial effect of disease and infirmity ? Some of you, perhaps, can tell us that you formerly lived, as so many foolish men still live, in a perfect indifference to religion., never seriously examining it or seeking to know its nature, neither rejecting nor believing it, neglecting its duties, and regardless of its sanctions ; living, as to a future world, without principle and without system; never meditating on the end of your creation, on the state of your soul, or your future prospects. Sickness opened your eyes; it roused you from this neglect of yourselves : it made you feel the folly of

MISCELLA EOUS. 287 a man who, endowed with a reason and conscience, and surrounded by the light of revelation, lives without thinking of death, without reflecting on the des-

tiny which awaits him, without solemnly asking himself, 4 Is there a future world and a judgment? Shall I spend an eternity in heaven or hell ?' You then began, for the first time, to meditate on these truths and on yourselves. Sickness, like the affliction of the prodigal, caused you to " come to yourselves ;" to turn your eyes inward upon your own hearts. Like him, you saw your guilt and your misery; like him, you cried, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee." Was it not in love that this sickness was sent ? Was it not the only means which could awaken you from your deep insensibility and disregard of yourself? Others of you, perhaps, can tell us that you supposed yourselves the children of God, and imagined that you had performed your duty when you had outwardly professed Christianity, diligently attended the means of grace, participated of the holy sacrament, and lived exempt from gross crimes and immoralities. You were visited with a dangerous sickness ; you supposed you were nigh the eternal world, and you began to examine your preparations for it. You found then that the mere name of a Christian does not constitute Christianity; that a mere profession of religion and a regular walk will not fit the soul for heaven. Your hopes were shaken; your confidence was abandoned ; you felt that a sound and thorough conversion unto God was something more serious than you had hitherto imagined, and that you had never been vitally united to the Lord Jesus. Though you had supposed, with the church of Laodicea, that you were spiritually " rich, and increased

288 SERMO xcv. in goods, and had need of nothing;" yet you now found that you were u poor, and miserable, and blind,

and naked." Was it not in love that this sickness was sent to you, whilst you still had time to flee to the cross of Jesus, and obtain from him the remission of your sins, and the renewal of your hearts? Others of you, perhaps, can tell us that you had lived in a cold and lukewarm state, yet were insensible how far you had gotten away from God, how much your holy dispositions had languished, and your Christian graces withered ; for your conscience had lost that nice sensibility and delicacy, that force and energy, which it once had. Sickness seized you; conscience woke from its lethargy; your eyes were opened on your wanderings ; you shuddered as you considered the weakness of your faith, the coldness of your love, the waverings of your hope, and the strength of your attachment to the world. You found that, through disuse, you could scarcely manage the armour of God, and you saw the king of terrors apparently advancing towards you. Your backslidings reproved you; you were humbled in the dust at your coldness, your unfruitfulness, your decay in grace ; you lifted up your cries to God, and he inspired you with renewed zeal and engagedness in his service. Was it not in love that this sickness was sent, which thus made you compare your present state with days that were past, which taught you your declensions, and led you to God " to strengthen the things which were ready to die ?" 2. Sickness is designed, not only to make us know ourselves, but also to know God. When do we better know, than in severe disease, the authority of God, and our dependence upon him ? We feel then that we are creatures sustained by his sovereign pleasure j


that in a moment he can crush us in the dust; that our struggles against his appointments are vain ; and that on him alone we rely for life and felicity. When do we better know his holiness, which cannot endure sin, and his wrath against sinners, than when we feel those pains, which, without guilt, would never have entered into our world ; than when we look forward to that death which is the wages of sin, and to that awful tribunal whence the impenitent shall be blasted by the thunders of the Lord ? When do we better know the divine faithfulness, than when we find our Heavenly Father supporting his children amidst their pains and weakness, accomplishing all his promises to them, proving that " his grace is sufficient for them," and making his strength perfect in their weakness? When do we better know how good is God, than when we find him tenderly standing by us in our sickness, giving us the consolations of his grace, and lifting us above the pressure of outward sorrow, by letting down in our soul an anticipated heaven ! Yes, my brethren, I doubt not there are many of you who can attest that, in a week of dangerous and severe sickness, the believer often sees more of the compassion and kindness of God, than in months of health. How delightful is it then, to behold the hand of our Father pointing us to immortality, and leading the soul sinking under pain, to approach to the fountain-head of felicity, and to drink in delight from that stream which " makes glad the city of our God !" How delightful, to have him giving us a warm feeling of his love, a full certainty of our adoption, and an assurance of the heavenly glory ! And these are blessings which he generally communicates to his children in severe sickness ; through his overflowing

vol. ii r. 37

290 isERMO XCV. goodness, he generally then removes every fear and apprehension from the minds even of those believers who, in health, were overclouded by doubts and darkness. 3. Sickness is calculated to make us feel the prcciousncss of Jesus. Even in the time of health, the Saviour is to the believer the " chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely ;" but his value is especially felt by us when sickness has brought us to look into the eternal world. With what lustre do the glories of the Redeemer then shine ! with what ecstasy is his name pronounced ! with what adoring gratitude is his grace remembered ! Oh ! what a mercy does it now appear, to have a Christ who hath disarmed death of his sting ! who stands ready to conduct our separated souls to that kingdom, of which he hath taken possession for his followers ! who will appear as our advocate before the eternal throne, and receive us to dwell in his embraces for ever!' Yes, I repeat it, sickness renders the name of Jesus more dear, and causes us with more eagerness to press his cross to our hearts, as the only source of our felicity, the only basis of our hope, the only foundation of our triumph ! 4. Sickness is beneficial, because it makes us more deeply to feel the infinite importance of religion. Yes, the heart that has been most obdurate, is then constrained to feel, and the mouth that has vented the boldest scoffs against vital godliness, is then constrained to acknowledge the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between a holy and a worldly life. The believer then feels more than he

did before, under what unspeakable obligations he is to God for having softened, and humbled, and converted his heart ; for having forgiven his sins, and

MISCELLA EOUS. 29 1 justified him by his grace, and sealed him by -his Spirit. And you too, careless sinner, will then have different views and sentiments. The Saviour, whom you now neglect, will then appear to you more desirable than a thousand worlds; that futurity, which you now disregard, will break in upon your soul in all its overwhelming powers ; and whilst you, standing on the isthmus which separates time from eternity, look on the one hand and behold the glories reserved for the pious, and contemplate on the other the agonies prepared for the impenitent, you will curse yourself for your folly in refusing to tread that narrow path, which terminates in endless joy ! 5. Sickness is beneficial, since it shows us the vanity of the world. On the bed of sickness, honours, pleasures, riches, the pursuit of which occupies the lives of so many men, to the forgetfulness of their soul, their heaven, their God, lose their lustre, and appear but phantoms. What consolation would the acquisition of all earthly dignities afford to him who, from the bed of disease, as from a watch-tower, looks into the eternal world, and sees that the only true honour is that which cometh from God only ? What support can power and authority give to the soul of him who is taught (oh ! how convincingly !) by sickness, that he is a feeble, impotent mortal, whose honours will perish in the dust, whose authority will be disregarded in the eternal world ? Does not sickness as forcibly teach us the vanity of earthly pleasures ? The ghosts (if 1 may speak so) of many forbidden delights, in which the voluptuary has in-

dulged, start up around his bed, and instead oi tranquillizing his agitated mind, or affording a leni tive to the pains of his body, sting him with remorse, and point to that world where he will recompense.

292 sermon xcv. ah ! dearly recompense, for his guilty joys ! And with respect to the innocent pleasures of life, the remembrance even of them can afford him no satisfaction. Whilst he considers that for them he neglected the one thing needful, he is forced to regard himself as a child running after shadows, and amusing himself with toys and playthings, that in a little time must be broken to pieces. Do riches on the bed of dangerous sickness appear more valuable ? Answer, you who have been accustomed to fix your trust in them, to consider them as the supreme good, as the source of all pleasures, as the antidote to all pains. Did not sickness break your idol, and discover to you its impotence ? Did it not make you feel that your gold could then do nothing for you ? that it could not assuage the burnings of that fever which scorched you, nor mitigate those bodily pains which oppressed you ; much less refresh, support, uphold your soul, trembling on your lips, and ready to fly to the bar of God ? Did it not make you feel that the beggar, lying at your gate, covered with sores and rags, expiring with hunger — but humble, resigned, patient, rich in faith — is incomparably more happy from his piety than you from your riches ; and that this poor man, formerly the object of your contempt and scorn, becomes at this moment, and in your own eyes, an object truly great, truly worthy of your envy and respect ? How useful are those disorders, which thus show how false and illusive is the glare of those earthly objects, an

inordinate attachment to which destroys so many souls ! 6. Sickness is beneficial, when our deportment under it is such as becomes Christians, since it then benefits our ?icighboar, and glorifies God. Thousand^

MISCELLA EOUS. 293 of examples might easily be produced, of persons who received their first serious impressions from the conduct of Christians in dangerous diseases. Indeed, there can scarcely be found any person so profane and insensible, as not to be affected when he beholds Christians, amidst bodily pains and in the prospect of dissolution, calm, tranquil, rejoicing in the perfections of God and the all-sufficiency of Jesus, and saying with composure to their afflicted friends, " Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves !" Such spectacles prove to him that there is a great reality in religion; and even if they do not produce a true conversion, they will at least cause him to pause, and have more solemn thoughts of religion than he has hitherto had. And besides this, the hearts of the pious are cheered by such a deportment in sickness ; their diligence in serving God is augmented ; their fears are removed ; they triumph in the faithfulness of their covenant God ; and look forward without apprehension to the time when they too shall be stretched upon the bed of sickness and of death. Since then your disorders may be the means of awakening the careless, of causing the praises of God to be celebrated by those who have hitherto neglected him, and his perfections to be enstamped upon hearts that have hitherto glowed with no affection to him; since they may inspire the children of God with thankfulness and joy, with confidence and trust, they may certainly be the eflbcts of his mercy,

and sent to you because he loves you. I intended to have mentioned many other beneficial effects of sickness, but it is time for me to pause. Suffer me, however, before concluding, to entreat those of you who have lately been visited with sickness, to enter into your hearts, and inquire whether

294 SERMO XCV. you have derived these benefits from it. It you have, bless God for it, and consider it as a disguised mercy. If you have not, on leaving this house, retire to your private chamber, and then supplicate God for these advantages. This, like every other dispensation of providence, will produce some effect upon you. It is the rod of the Almighty ; it may be made like that of Aaron, to bloom with the fruits of righteousness. Beware lest, through your neglect, it be converted into a serpent, like that of Moses. And may God grant, that all who have experienced these trials may learn those pious sentiments which they are calculated to teach ; and that those of us, whom he may shortly call to the same state, may then be supported by him, and find our sicknesses conducing to his glory and to our salvation.

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