This is the second post of a three part series on Sickness by J C Ryle (1816-1900) Who served as the Bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England. Although this message is old, it is as useful today as it was then, for it is saturated with Scriptures and directed by a Christian world-view which is so lacking in our day. Enjoy your read.
The special duties which sickness demands on us
I should be sorry to leave the subject of sickness without saying something on this point. I hold it to be of cardinal 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 paper may fall, his own personal responsibility in connection with the subject. I would fain have no one lay down this paper unable to answer the questions, "What practical lesson have I learned? What, in a world of disease and death, what ought I to do?"
(a) One paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on man, is that of living habitually prepared to meet God. Sickness is a reminder of death. Death is the door through which we must all pass to judgment. Judgment is the time when we must at last see God face to face. Surely the first lesson which the inhabitant of a sick and dying world should learn should be to prepare to meet his God.
When are you prepared to meet God? Never till your iniquities are forgiven, and your sin covered! Never till your heart is renewed, and your will taught to delight in the will of God! You have many sins. If you go to church, your own mouth is taught to confess this every Sunday. The blood of Jesus Christ can alone cleanse those sins away. The righteousness of Christ can alone make you acceptable in the sight of God. Faith, simple childlike faith, can alone give you an interest in Christ and His benefits. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then where is your faith?–Your heart is naturally unmeet for God's company. You have no real pleasure in doing His will. The Holy Ghost must transform you after the image of Christ. Old things must pass away. All things must become new. Would you know whether you are prepared to meet God? Then, where is your grace? Where are the evidences of your conversion and sanctification?
I believe that this, and nothing less than this, is preparedness to meet God. Pardon of sin and meetness for God’s presence,–justification by faith and sanctification of the heart,–the blood of Christ sprinkled on us, and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us,–these are the grand essentials of the Christian religion. These are no mere words and names to furnish bones of contention for wrangling theologians. These are sober, solid, substantial realities. To live in the actual possession of these things, in a world full of sickness and death, is the first duty which I press home upon your soul.
(b) Another paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of living habitually ready to bear it patiently. Sickness is no doubt a trying thing to flesh and blood. To feel our nerves unstrung, and our natural force abated,–to be obliged to sit still and be cut off from all our usual avocations,–to see our plans broken off and our purposes disappointed,–to endure long hours, and days, and nights of weariness and pain,–all this is a severe strain on poor sinful human nature. What wonder if peevishness and impatience are brought out by disease! Surely in such a dying world as this we should study patience.
How shall we learn to bear sickness patiently, when sickness comes to our turn? We must lay up stores of grace in the time of health. We must seek for the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost over our unruly tempers and dispositions. We must make a real business of our prayers, and regularly ask for strength to endure God’s will as well as to do it. Such strength is to be had for the asking: "If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it for you." (John 14:14.)
I cannot think it needless to dwell on this point. I believe the passive graces of Christianity receive far less notice than they deserve. Meekness, gentleness, longsuffering, faith, patience, are all mentioned in the Word of God as fruits of the Spirit. They are passive graces which specially glorify God. They often make men think, who despise the active side of the Christian character. Never do these graces shine so brightly as they do in the sick 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." (John 11:4.)
c) One more paramount duty which the prevalence of sickness entails on you, is that of habitual readiness to feel with and help your fellow-men. Sickness is never very far from us. Few are the families who have not some sick relative. Few are the parishes where you will not find some one ill. But wherever there is sickness, there is a call to duty. A little timely assistance in some cases,–a kindly visit in others,–a friendly inquiry,–a mere expression of sympathy, may do a vast good. These are the sort of things which soften asperities, and bring men together, and promote good feeling. These are ways by which you may ultimately lead men to Christ and save their souls. These are good works to which every professing Christian should be ready. In a world full of sickness and disease we ought to "bear ye 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." They are acts in which our blessed Master Himself was abundant. He was ever "going about doing good" to the sick and sorrowful. (Acts 10:38.) They are acts to which He attaches great importance in that most solemn passage of Scripture, the description of the last judgment. He says there: "I was sick, and ye visited Me." (Matt. 25:36.)
Have you any desire to prove the reality of your charity,–that blessed grace which so many talk of, and so few practice? If you have, beware of unfeeling selfishness and neglect of your sick brethren. Search them out. Assist them if they need aid. Show your sympathy with them. Try to lighten their burdens. Above all, strive to do good to their souls. It will do you good if it does no good to them. It will keep your heart from murmuring. It may prove a blessing to your own soul. I firmly believe that God is testing and proving us by every case of sickness within our reach. By permitting suffering, He tries whether Christians have any feeling. Beware, lest you be weighed in the balances and found wanting.
If you can live in a sick and dying world and not feel for others, you have yet much to learn.
I leave this branch of my subject here. I throw out the points I have named as suggestions, and I pray God that they may work in many minds. I repeat, that habitual preparedness to meet God, -habitual readiness to suffer patiently,–habitual willingness to sympathize heartily,–are plain duties which sickness entails on all. They are duties within the reach of every one. In naming them I ask nothing extravagant or unreasonable. I bid no man retire into a monastery and ignore the duties of his station. I only want men to realize that they live in a sick and dying world, and to live accordingly. And I say boldly, that the man who lives the life of faith, and holiness, and patience, and charity, is not only the most true Christian, but the most wise and reasonable man.