Christ is ever with you — in suffering. He Himself was a sufferer. Oh, suffering never looked so lovely, martyrdom never wore a crown so resplendent — as when the Son of God bowed His head and drank the cup of woe for us! Himself a sufferer — is there a being in the universe who could take His place at your side in all the scenes of mental, spiritual, and bodily suffering through which your Heavenly Father leads you, comparable to Christ? What are your sufferings — contrasted with His? And what was there in the unparalleled greatness and intensity of His sufferings — to disqualify Him from entering with the warmest love and deepest sympathy into yours?
It is possible, my dear reader, that this page may be read by you at a period of painful and entire separation from all public engagements, ordinances, and privileges. The way which it has pleased the Lord to take thus to set you aside, may be painful and humbling. The inmate of a sick chamber, or curtained within the house of mourning, or removed far remote from the sanctuary of God and the fellowship of the saints, you are perhaps led to inquire, “Lord, why this?” He replies, “Come aside and rest awhile.” O the thoughtfulness, the discrimination, the tenderness of Jesus towards his people!
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 42:11
In all His dispensations—the severest and the darkest—have faith in God. This is, perhaps, one of the greatest achievements of faith. To believe in God when He smiles, to trust in Him when conscious of His nearness, to have faith in Him when the path is flowery and pleasant, were an easy task. But to have faith in Him when “He holds back the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud upon it; to love Him when He frowns; to follow Him when He withdraws; to cleave to Him when He would seem to shake us off; to trust in Him when His arm is raised to slay—this were faith indeed. And yet all this the faith of God’s elect can achieve.
If not, of what value is it? Of what possible use to the mariner would be the compass which would only work in the day, and not in the night? which only served to steer the vessel in light winds, and not in rough gales? Faith is the believing soul’s compass, guiding it as truly and as certainly to the heavenly port through the wildest tempest as through the serenest calm. To change the figure, faith is that celestial telescope which can pierce the thickest haze or the darkest cloud, descrying suns and stars glowing and sparkling in the far distance. It can discern God’s smile under a frown; it can read His name to be “love” beneath the dark dispensation; it can behold the Sun of Righteousness beaming through the interstices of gloomy clouds; and now and then it can catch a glimpse of the harbor itself, with the towering turrets and golden spires of the “new Jerusalem” glittering in the distance. Oh, it is a wonderful grace, the precious faith of God’s elect!
Is God dealing with you now in a way of deep trial, of dark providence, mysterious to your mind, and painful to your heart? Is He even chastening you for your backslidings, correcting you for your sins? Still “have faith in God.” Sensible appearances, second causes, cannot in the least degree affect the ground of your faith which is God Himself—His immutable nature, His unchangeable love, His eternal purpose, His everlasting covenant, His own Divine and glorious perfections. Believe that you are in His heart, and that your interests are in His hands. Have faith in His wisdom to guide, in His love to direct, in His power to sustain, in His faithfulness to fulfill every promise that now relates to your best welfare and happiness. Only believe in God—that all things in His disposal of you, in His transactions with you, are working together for our present and eternal good. All that He expects and requires of you now is to have faith in Him. The cloud may be dark, the sea tempestuous, but God is in the cloud, and “the Lord sits upon the flood.” Even now it is the privilege of your faith to exclaim, “My soul, hope you in God. He is my God; I will trust, and not be
Oh, what inspiring words are these—”hope you in God!” I hesitate not to say, my reader, you may hope in God. Though your case may seem desperate, to your eye cheerless and hopeless, not merely too intricate for man, but too unworthy for God—yet you may hope in God. Take your case to Him, hoping against hope, and believing in unbelief. Will He close His heart against you? Never! Will He repel you when you fly to Him? Never! It is not in the heart of God, no, nor is it in His power, to do so.
Take hold of His strength—I speak it humbly, reverentially—and you have overcome God. You disarm Him of the instrument and of the power to punish you; you have laid your hand of faith upon the strength of His love, and have made peace with Him. You cannot cherish a hope too sanguine, nor exercise a faith too implicit in God, hopeless, cheerless, and extreme as your case may be. Impossible! God never appears so like Himself, as in the season of the believer’s darkness and suffering. At the very moment in which he sees the least of God, God appears the most what He is. The tenderest unfoldings of His heart are in sorrow, the brightest exhibitions of His character are in darkness, and the most glorious displays of His wisdom, power, and grace are seen gleaming through the mist.
And Jesus answering said unto them, Those who are whole need not a physician; but those who are sick. Luke 5:31
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. Want 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 Syrophenician 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.
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, 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!
Or, if that sickness terminates in death’s slumber, is He less glorified? Ask the spirit just emerged from its shattered tenement, and soaring 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 has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Elijah the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. Matthew 8:16, 17
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 bare our sicknesses;” but this He did in the same manner in which He bore our moral sicknesses, without any personal participation.
He bore our sins, but He was Himself sinless. He carried our sicknesses, 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 lay life,” are His expressive words.
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 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 natural and spiritual healing of the paralytic, Luke 5:17—28. The resistless compassion with which He cured the daughter of the Syrophenician woman, Mark 8:24—3O. The wisdom and the authority with which He healed the lunatic child, Luke 9:37—43. The power with which He ejected the demons from the man, permitting their entrance into the swine, Matthew 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.
And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. John 8:9
WHAT an object was here, befitting the Savior’s sympathy and power! Do you think, reader, that from it His pure and gentle spirit shrunk? Would He feel terrified or polluted by so close a proximity to an object of guilt and wretchedness? Ah, no! Come, you vaunting philanthropists of poetry and romance, who dissolve over a fiction, and petrify at a reality—come, you who have your tears for imaginary woe, and recoil from contact with true misery—who deem it pollution to take kindly the hand of a poor wanderer, exclaiming, “Stand by yourself, come not near to me; for I am holier than you!”—come you, and learn what true philanthropy and sensibility mean.
Our Lord’s was no mawkish, sentimental humanity, standing aloof from the fallen and the despised, and attracting to itself only the virtuous and the worthy. It was a humanity that identified itself with our fall, and with all its consequent miseries. Itself pure, it yet took our impurity; itself happy, it yet took our sicknesses and our sorrows. He came as the Savior, and sinners were the objects of His love and compassion. He was a man, and to nothing that was human, but its essential taint, was he a stranger. He even carried our sins, as a crushing weight, upon that sinless frame; and that heart, to which sorrow was unknown, became “acquainted with grief.”
Oh, it is wondrous to see how closely the Son of God linked Himself with fallen, suffering man. Touch what chord you may of the human heart, and there comes up from the depths of His an instantaneous and harmonious response. With what effect would some of these hidden springs of feeling in the human soul of Jesus now be touched! He would remember, as His eye fell upon this trembling object of His sympathy, that He Himself was born of a woman, amid her perils and her pangs.
He would remember, too, that there still was one who bore to Him the endearing appellation of mother, and that yet others stood to Him in the sweet relation of sisters, and all that was tender in His heart would be moved. Looking at her humiliation, and thinking of His own, pity would melt His heart; and while listening to the voice of her clamorous accusers, with the garden of Gethsemane and Calvary full in view, her sin would stir to its center the deep fountain of His mercy. Then was fulfilled the Messianic prediction of the Psalmist, “He shall deliver the needy when he cries: the poor also, and him that has no helper; for He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those who condemn his soul.”
“Beloved, I wish above all things that you may prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2
Is it true that God, by setting you aside from active engagements, has set you aside from all duty and labor? We do not think so. 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 special 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 languid 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 upon truth and eternity. All transpiring there is stern reality. The dust of human applause is laid aside, 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 true. All is as real 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. 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.
“And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.” Mark 9:8
It is possible, my dear reader, that this page may be read by you at a period of painful and entire separation from all public engagements, ordinances, and privileges. The way which it has pleased God to take thus to set you aside may be painful and humbling.
The inmate of a sick chamber, or curtained within the house of mourning, or removed far remote from the sanctuary of God and the fellowship of the saints, you are, perhaps, led to inquire, “Lord, why this?” He replies, “Come apart, and rest awhile.” Oh the thoughtfulness, the discrimination, the tenderness of Jesus towards His people! He has set you apart from public, for private duties, from communion with others for communion with Himself. Ministers, friends, privileges are withdrawn, and you are- oh enviable state!- alone with Jesus. And now expect the richest and holiest blessing of your life!
Is it sickness? Jesus will make all your bed in your sickness, and your experience shall be, “His left hand is under my head, and His right hand embraces me.” Is it bereavement? Jesus will soothe your sorrow and sweeten your loneliness; for He loves to visit the house of mourning, and to accompany us to the grave, to weep with us there. Is it exile from the house of God, from the ordinances of the Church, from a pastor’s care, from Christian fellowship? Still it is Jesus who speaks, “There will I be unto you as a little sanctuary.”
The very circumstances, new and peculiar as they are, in which you are placed, God can convert into new and peculiar mercies, yes, into the richest means of grace with which your soul was ever fed. The very void you feel, the very need you deplore, may be God’s way of satiating you with His goodness.
Ah! does not God see your grace in your very desire for grace? Does He not mark your sanctification in your very thirsting for holiness? And can He not turn that desire, and convert that thirst, into the very blessing itself? Truly He can, and often does. As one has remarked, God knows how to give the comfort of an ordinance in the desire of an ordinance. And He can now more than supply the absence of others by the presence of Himself.
Oh, who can compute the blessings which now may flow into your soul from this season of exile and of solitude? Solitude! no, it is not solitude. Never were you less alone than now. You are alone with God, and He is infinitely better than health, wealth, friends, ministers, or sanctuary, for He is the substance and the sweetness of all. You have perhaps been laboring and watching for the souls of others; the Lord is now showing His tender care for your soul.
And oh, if while thus alone with Jesus you are led more deeply to search out the plague of your own heart, and the love of His- to gather up the trailing garment- to burnish the rusted armor- to trim the glimmering lamp- and to cultivate a closer fellowship with your Father, how much soever you may mourn the necessity and the cause, you yet will not regret that the Lord has set you apart from others, that you might rest awhile in His blest embrace- alone with Jesus.
“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” John 11:4
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. 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 of grace were never felt to be so establishing, and the precepts were 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 what is the greatest weanedness of all, from the wedded idol, self! What humility of mind, what meekness of spirit, and self-renunciation follow!
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 dreadful 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. Truly, his sickness was “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be gloried thereby.”
“Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept your word.” Psalm 119:67
THERE is infinite wisdom in the Lord’s restorings. This perfection of Jesus is clearly revealed here: in the way He adopts to restore, we see it. That He should make, as He frequently does, our very afflictions the means of restoration to our souls, unfolds the profound depth of His wisdom. This was David’s prayer—”Quicken me according to Your judgments:” and this was his testimony—”Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Your word.” The season of trial is not infrequently the sanctified season of revival. Who that has passed through the furnace has not found it so? Then the declension of the soul has been discovered—then the hidden cause of that declension has been brought to light—then the spirit has bowed in contrition before the Lord—then grace has been stirred up in the heart, a new sweetness has been given to prayer, a new impulse to faith, a new radiance to hope, and from the flame the gold and the silver have emerged, purified from their tin and dross. But for the production of effects like these, why the many peculiar and heavy afflictions that we sometimes see overtaking the child of God? Do not think that our Heavenly Father takes pleasure in chastening us; do not think that it delights Him to behold the writhings, the throes, and the anguish of a wounded spirit; do not think that He loves to see our tears, and hear our sighs and our groans, under the pressure of keen and crushing trial. No: He is a tender, loving Father; so tender and so loving that not one stroke, nor one cross, nor one trial more does He lay upon us than is absolutely needful for our good—not a single ingredient does He put in our bitter cup, that is not essential to the perfection of the remedy. It is for our profit that He chastens, not for His pleasure; and that often to rouse us from our spiritual sleep, to recover us from our deep declension, and to impart new vigor, healthiness, and growth to His own life in the soul.