The sick room, part 2

(J.C. Ryle)

"In those days King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death! The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said: 'This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.' Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 'Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.' And Hezekiah wept bitterly." Isaiah 38:1-3

I ask you to learn from this chapter, that sickness is not an unmixed evil.

That King Hezekiah received spiritual benefit from his illness — I think there can be no doubt. The good man saw things in his sickness, which he had never seen clearly and fully in the days of health.

I do not say that sickness always does good. Alas! We ministers know to our sorrow, that it frequently does no good at all. Too often we see men and women, after recovering from a long and dangerous illness — more hardened and impious than they were before. Too often they return to the world, if not to overt sin — with more eagerness and zest than ever. The impressions made on their conscience in the hour of sickness, are swept away like children's writing on the sand of the sea-shore when the tide flows in.

But I do say that sickness ought to do us good. And I do say that God sends it in order to do us good. Affliction is a friendly letter from Heaven. It is a knock at the door of conscience. It is the voice of the Savior knocking at the heart's door. Happy is he who opens the letter and reads it, who hears the knock and opens the door, who welcomes Christ to the sick room. Come now, and let me show you a few of the lessons which He by sickness would teach us.

1. Sickness is meant to make us think — to remind us that we have a soul as well as a body — an immortal soul — a soul that will live forever in happiness or in misery — and that if this soul is not saved, we had better never have been born.

2. Sickness is meant to teach us that there is a world beyond the grave — and that the world we now live in is only a training-place for another dwelling, where there will be no decay, no sorrow, no tears, no misery, and no sin.

3. Sickness is meant to make us look at our past lives honestly, fairly, and conscientiously.
Am I ready for my great change — if I should not get better?
Do I truly repent of my sins?
Are my sins forgiven and washed away in Christ's blood?
Am I prepared to meet God?

4. Sickness is meant to make us see the emptiness of the world and its utter inability to satisfy the highest and deepest needs of the soul.

5. Sickness is meant to send us to our Bibles — that blessed Book, which in the days of health is too often left on the shelf, and is never opened from January to December. But sickness often brings it down from the shelf and throws new light on its pages.

6. Sickness is meant to make us pray. Too many, I fear, never pray at all, or they only rattle over a few hurried words morning and evening without thinking what they do. But prayer often becomes a reality — when the valley of the shadow of death is in sight!

7. Sickness is meant to make us repent and break off our sins. If we will not hear the voice of mercies — then God sometimes makes us "hear the rod."

8. Sickness is meant to draw us to Christ. Naturally we do not see the full value of the blessed Savior. We secretly imagine that our prayers, good deeds, and sacrament-receiving will save our souls. But when flesh begins to fail — then the absolute necessity of a Redeemer, a Mediator, and an Advocate with the Father, stands out before men's eyes like fire, and makes them understand those words, "Simply to Your cross I cling!" as they never did before. Sickness has done this for many — they have found Christ in the sick room.

9. Last, but not least, sickness is meant to make us feeling and sympathizing towards others. By nature we are all far below our blessed Master's example — who had not only a hand to help all, but a heart to feel for all. None, I suspect, are so unable to sympathize — as those who have never had trouble themselves. And none are so able to sympathize — as those who have drunk most deeply the cup of pain and sorrow.

Brethren, when your time comes to be ill, I beseech you not to forget what the illness means. Beware of fretting and murmuring and complaining, and giving way to an impatient spirit. Regard your sickness as . . .
  a blessing in disguise;
  a good — and not an evil;
  a friend — and not an enemy.

No doubt we would all prefer to learn spiritual lessons in the school of ease — and not under the rod. But rest assured that God knows better than we do, how to teach us. The light of the last day will show you that there was a meaning and a "needs-be" in all your bodily ailments. The lessons that we learn on a sick-bed, when we are shut out from the world — are often lessons which we would never learn elsewhere. Settle it down in your minds, that, however much you may dislike it — sickness is not an unmixed evil.