For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:4
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.
~ John 21:18
Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
~ Philippians 2:25
Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
~ John 12:27
Are You Prepared for Sickness?, by J. C. Ryle.
I hold it to be of cardinal1 importance not to be content with generalities in delivering God’s message to souls. I am anxious to impress on each one into whose hands this (article) may fall his own personal responsibility in connection with the subject. I would fain2 have no one lay down this (article) unable to answer the questions, “What practical lesson have I learned? What, in a world of disease and death, what ought I to do?”
One paramount duty that the prevalence3 of sickness entails on man is that of living habitually prepared to meet God. Sickness is a remembrancer of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgment. Judgment is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson that the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn should be to prepare to meet his God.
When are you prepared to meet God? Never until your iniquities are forgiven, and your sin covered! Never until your heart is renewed, and your will taught to delight in the will of God! You have many sins. If you go to church, your own mouth is taught to confess this every Sunday. The blood of Jesus Christ alone can cleanse those sins away. The righteousness of Christ alone can make you acceptable in the sight of God. Faith, simple childlike faith, alone can give you an interest in Christ and His benefits. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then, where is your faith? Your heart is naturally unmeet4 for God’s company. You have no real pleasure in doing His will. The Holy Ghost must transform you after the image of Christ. Old things must pass away. All things must become new. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then, where is your grace? Where are the evidences of your conversion and sanctification?
I believe that this, and nothing less than this, is preparedness to meet God. Pardon of sin and meekness for God’s presence, justification by faith and sanctification of the heart, the blood of Christ
1 cardinal – main; first.
2 fain – willingly.
3 prevalence – widespread presence.
4 unmeet – unfit.
sprinkled on us and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us—these are the grand essentials of the Christian religion. These are no mere words and names to furnish bones of contention for wrangling theologians. These are sober, solid, substantial realities. To live in the actual possession of these things in a world full of sickness and death is the first duty that I press home upon your soul.
Another paramount duty that the prevalence of sickness entails on you is that of living habitually ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung and our natural force abated, to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual avocations, to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed, to endure long hours and days and nights of weariness and pain—all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if peevishness and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.
How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost over our unruly tempers and dispositions. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (Joh 14:14).
I cannot think it needless to dwell on this point. I believe the passive graces of Christianity receive far less notice than they deserve. Meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, faith, (and) patience are all mentioned in the Word of God as fruits of the Spirit. They are passive graces that specially glorify God. They often make men think, who despise the active side of the Christian character. Never do these graces shine so brightly as they do in the sick room. They enable many a sick person to preach a silent sermon, which those around him never forget. Would you adorn the doctrine you profess? Would you make your Christianity beautiful in the eyes of others? Then take the hint I give you this day. Lay up a store of patience against the time of illness. Then, though your sickness be not to death, it shall be “for the glory of God” (Joh 11:4).
One more paramount duty that the prevalence of sickness entails on you is that of habitual readiness to feel with and help your fellowmen. Sickness is never very far from us. Few are the families who have not some sick relative. Few are the parishes where you will not find someone ill. But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases, a kindly visit in others, a friendly inquiry, or a mere expression of sympathy may do vast good. These are the sort of things that soften asperities,5 bring men together, and promote good feeling. These are ways by which you may ultimately lead men to Christ and save their souls. These are good works to which every professing Christian should be ready. In a world full of sickness and disease, we ought to “bear…one another’s burdens” and “be…kind one to another” (Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32).
These things, I dare say, may appear to some little and trifling. They must needs be doing something great and grand and striking and heroic! I take leave to say that conscientious attention to these little acts of brotherly kindness is one of the clearest evidences of having “the mind of Christ” (1Co 2:16). They are acts in which our blessed Master Himself was abundant. He was ever going about doing good to the sick and sorrowful (Act 10:38). They are acts to which He attaches great importance in that most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgment. He says there: “I was sick, and ye visited me” (Mat 25:36).
Have you any desire to prove the reality of your charity—the blessed grace that so many talk of and so few practice? If you have, beware of unfeeling selfishness and neglect of your sick brethren. Search them out. Assist them if they need aid. Show your sympathy with them. Try to lighten their burdens. Above all, strive to do good to their souls. It will do you good if it does no good to them. It will keep your heart from murmuring. It may prove a blessing to your own soul. I firmly believe that God is testing and proving us by every case of sickness within our reach. By permitting suffering, He tries whether Christians have any feeling. Beware, lest you be “weighed in the balances, and…found wanting”6 (Dan 5:27). If you can live in a sick and dying world and not feel for others, you have yet much to learn.
I leave this branch of my subject here. I throw out the points I have named as suggestions, and I pray God that they may work in many minds. I repeat that habitual preparedness to meet God, habitual readiness to suffer patiently, (and) habitual willingness to sympathise heartily are plain duties that sickness entails on all. They are duties within the reach of everyone. In naming them I ask nothing extravagant or unreasonable. I bid no man retire into a monastery and ignore the duties of his station. I only want men to realise that they live in a
5 asperities – harsh, embittered feelings.
6 wanting – lacking.
sick and dying world, and to live accordingly. And I say boldly that the man who lives the life of faith and holiness and patience and charity is not only the most true Christian, but the most wise and reasonable man.
And now, I conclude all with four words of practical application. I want the subject of this paper to be turned to some spiritual use. My heart’s desire and prayer to God…is to do good to souls.
In the first place, I offer a question to all who read this (article), to which, as God’s ambassador, I entreat their serious attention. It is a question that grows naturally out of the subject on which I have been writing. It is a question that concerns all of every rank, class, and condition. I ask you, “What will you do when you are ill?”
The time must come when you, as well as others, must go down the dark valley of the shadow of death. The hour must come when you, like all your forefathers, must sicken and die. The time may be near or far off. God only knows. But whenever the time may be, I ask again, “What are you going to do?” Where do you mean to turn for comfort? On what do you mean to rest your soul? On what do you mean to build your hope? From whence will you fetch your consolations?
I do entreat you not to put these questions away; suffer them to work on your conscience, and rest not until you can give them a satisfactory answer. Trifle not with that precious gift, an immortal soul. Defer not the consideration of the matter to a more convenient season. Presume not on a deathbed repentance. The greatest business ought surely not to be left to the last. One dying thief was saved that men might not despair, but only one that none might presume. I re- peat the question. I am sure it deserves an answer. “What will you do when you are ill?”
If you were going to live forever in this world, I would not address you as I do. But it cannot be. There is no escaping the common lot of all mankind. Nobody can die in our stead. The day must come when we must each go to our long home. Against that day, I want you to be prepared. The body that now takes up so much of your attention—the body that you now clothe, feed, and warm with so much care—that body must return to the dust. Oh, think what an awful thing it would prove at last to have provided for everything except the one thing needful—to have provided for the body, but to have neglected the soul—to die, in fact, like Cardinal Beaufort7 and give no sign of being saved! Once more I press my question on your conscience: “What will you do when you are ill?”
In the next place, I offer counsel to all who (think) they need it and are willing to take it—to all who (think) they are not yet prepared to meet God. That counsel is short and simple: acquaint yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ without delay. Repent, be converted, flee to Christ, and be saved.
Either you have a soul, or you have not. You will surely never deny that you have. Then, if you have a soul, seek that soul’s salvation. Of all gambling in the world, there is none so reckless as that of the man who lives unprepared to meet God, and yet puts off repentance. Either you have sins, or you have none. If you have (and who will dare to deny it?), break off from those sins, cast away your transgressions, and turn away from them without delay. Either you need a Saviour, or you do not. If you do, flee to the only Saviour this very day and cry mightily to Him to save your soul. Apply to Christ at once. Seek Him by faith. Commit your soul into His keeping. Cry mightily to Him for pardon and peace with God. Ask Him to pour down the Holy Spirit upon you and make you a thorough Christian. He will hear you. No matter what you have been, He will not refuse your prayer. He has said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Joh 6:37).
Beware, I beseech you, of a vague and indefinite Christianity. Be not content with a general hope that all is right because you belong to (a church), and that all will be well at last because God is merciful. Rest not, rest not without personal union with Christ Himself. Rest not, rest not until you have the witness of the Spirit in your heart that you are washed, sanctified, and justified, and one with Christ and Christ in you. Rest not until you can say with the apostle, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2Ti 1:12).
Vague, indefinite, and indistinct religion may do very well in time of health. It will never do in the day of sickness. A mere formal, perfunctory church membership may carry a man through the sunshine of youth and prosperity. It will break down entirely when death is in sight. Nothing will do then but real heart-union with Christ. Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand; Christ known and believed as our Priest, our Physician, our Friend—Christ alone can rob death of
7 Cardinal Henry Beaufort (c. 1375-1447) – English Roman Catholic Bishop of Winchester.
its sting and enable us to face sickness without fear. He alone can deliver those who through fear of death are in bondage. I say to everyone who wants advice, “Be acquainted with Christ.” As ever you would have hope and comfort on the bed of sickness, be acquainted with Christ. Seek Christ. Apply to Christ.
Take every care and trouble to Him when you are acquainted with Him. He will keep you and carry you through all. Pour out your heart before Him when your conscience is burdened. He is the true Confessor. He alone can absolve you and take the burden away. Turn to Him first in the day of sickness, like Martha and Mary. Keep on looking to Him to the last breath of your life. Christ is worth knowing. The more you know Him, the better you will love Him. Then, be acquainted with Jesus Christ.
In the third place, I exhort all true Christians who read this paper to remember how much they may glorify God in the time of sickness and to lie quiet in God’s hand when they are ill. I (think) it very important to touch on this point. I know how ready the heart of a believer is to faint and how busy Satan is in suggesting doubts and questionings when the body of a Christian is weak. I have seen something of the depression and melancholy that sometimes comes upon the children of God when they are suddenly laid aside by disease and obliged to sit still. I have marked how prone some good people are to torment themselves with morbid thoughts at such seasons and to say in their hearts, “God has forsaken me: I am cast out of His sight.”
I earnestly entreat all sick believers to remember that they may honour God as much by patient suffering as they can by active work. It often shows more grace to sit still than it does to go to and fro and perform great exploits. I entreat them to remember that Christ cares for them as much when they are sick as He does when they are well, and that the very chastisement they feel so acutely is sent in love and not in anger. Above all, I entreat them to recollect the sympathy of Jesus for all His weak members. They are always tenderly cared for by Him, but never so much as in their time of need. Christ has had great experience of sickness. He knows the heart of a sick man. He used to see “all manner of sickness and all manner of disease” when He was upon earth (Mat 4:23). He felt especially for the sick in the days of His flesh. He feels for them especially still. Sickness and suffering, I often think, make believers more like their Lord in experience than health. “Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses” (Mat 8:17). The Lord Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). None have such an opportunity of learning the mind of a suffering Saviour as suffering disciples.
I conclude with a word of exhortation to all believers, which I heartily pray God to impress upon their souls. I exhort you to keep up a habit of close communion with Christ, and never to be afraid of “going too far” in your religion. Remember this, if you wish to have great peace in your times of sickness.
I observe with regret a tendency in some quarters to lower the standard of practical Christianity and to denounce what are called “extreme views” about a Christian’s daily walk in life. I remark with pain that even religious people will sometimes look coldly on those who withdraw from worldly society, and will censure them as “exclusive, narrow-minded, illiberal, uncharitable, sour-spirited,” and the like. I warn every believer in Christ who reads this paper to beware of being influenced by such censures. I entreat him, if he wants light in the valley of death, to “keep himself unspotted from the world,” to follow the Lord very fully, and to walk very closely with God (Jam 1:27; Num 14:24).
I believe that the want of thoroughness about many people’s Christianity is one secret of their little comfort, both in health and sick- ness. I believe that the “half-and-half,” “keep-in-with-everybody” religion, which satisfies many in the present day, is offensive to God, and sows thorns in dying pillows, which hundreds never discover until too late. I believe that the weakness and feebleness of such a religion never comes out so much as it does upon a sick bed.
If you and I want “strong consolation” in our time of need, we must not be content with a bare union with Christ (Heb 6:18). We must seek to know something of heartfelt, experimental communion with Him. Never, never let us forget, that “union” is one thing, and “communion” another. Thousands, I fear, who know what “union” with Christ is, know nothing of “communion.”
The day may come when, after a long fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity, with its realities, will be looming large before our minds. What shall support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, “I…fear no evil” (Psa 23:4)? Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, Christ putting His right arm under our heads, Christ felt to be sitting by our side, Christ alone can give us the complete victory in the last struggle.
Let us cleave to Christ more closely, love Him more heartily, live to Him more thoroughly, copy Him more exactly, confess Him more boldly, follow Him more fully. Religion like this will always bring its own reward. Worldly people may laugh at it. Weak brethren may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even time, it will bring us light. In sickness, it will bring us peace. In the world to come, it will give us “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1Pe 5:4).
The time is short. The fashion of this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness, where parting, pain, crying, and mourning are done with forevermore. Heaven is becoming every year fuller and earth emptier. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous than the friends astern. “Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb 10:37). In His presence shall be fulness of joy! Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people’s eyes. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1Co 15:26). But he shall be destroyed. Death himself shall one day die (Rev 20:14).
In the meantime, let us live the life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ and rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore.
Yes, blessed be God! Christ lives, though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried to the grave. He lives Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. He lives Who said, “O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hos 13:14). He lives Who will one day change our vile body and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely, we ought to say daily with one of old, “Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!”