Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, 'Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.' So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."
The apostles were leading a busy life. Much of their time was spent in public, with great numbers of people around them; and now they had just returned from going about the country, together two by two, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out devils. Our Lord saw that they needed rest, rest for body and rest for mind — so He took them apart for a while.
Those who are working hard for God and leading an active life in doing good to others, stand in need of rest from time to time. Not merely for the body, but for the mind and spirit too. Sometimes they go away from home for the sake of getting rest, and change of scene is often found useful. But sometimes God Himself interposes, and lays the busy worker upon a sick bed and bids him rest there awhile. This is, as it were, taking him "apart into a quiet place." For he is removed from his usual employments and separated from those with whom he commonly has to do.
The sick-bed is like "a quiet place" to him — quiet and lonely and destitute of the comforts of health. But it is a wholesome place for the soul. There the Christian can search his heart and life. There he may have many an hour alone with God. There, removed from the bustle of constant interaction with others, he has full leisure for praise and prayer, for serious thought, for self-humiliation, for a fresh devotion of himself to God. There he can bring his motives into judgment and examine whether those works which have won him perhaps a high place in men's esteem, have really been done in faith and love. It is good for him to be there. He will go forth again to his work, if so it pleases God — with renewed grace and strength and zeal — more humble, perhaps, but more truly and simply the servant of God.
But if it is good for such a man to be laid aside occasionally — then how much more needful is it for others! The person I have mentioned, as busy as his life is, has his thoughts continually drawn to spiritual things, even in his very work. But a man of business or a hard-working laborer or the striving mother of a large family — has much in daily life to draw off the mind from the soul's concerns.
We are not acquainted with God's purposes, any further than He has been pleased to reveal them; yet we may be sure that, in numberless cases, the reason why one thus leading a busy life is laid on a bed of sickness — is that he may have leisure to turn his thoughts to his soul.
The man of business toils hard in his calling from one week's end to another. Important concerns depend upon him, things that need close attention and earnest thought; and he is apt to become too much engrossed with them. God graciously calls him apart from them, brings him into the stillness of a sick-room, and bids him there rest awhile from the world and think and pray. In that quiet room, far removed from the bustle of worldly concerns, God often visits the soul with His grace. All worldly things seem different when seen from a sick-bed, and many such a person has looked back afterwards and gratefully owned how good it was for him to be led into that "quiet place."
A laboring man's life is somewhat different. He has less of anxious thought — but more of bodily work. His days are much like one another. He rises early and works hard and sometimes scarcely thinks of anything beyond the day. What a change to such a man, to be laid on a sick-bed! His strength is gone — he cannot work, and he must lie still.
Who put him there? Was it not God? He has taken him apart, to rest awhile and to think of other things. That room is like "a quiet place" to him, so different from anything he is used to. Now let him think and pray. Now let him consider his ways and humble himself before God and seek his Savior.
The mother of a poor family — oh, how she is missed when she is laid aside! Who shall care for the little ones now? Who shall see to the house? Who shall get ready the husband's food and welcome him in the evening and make his home cheerful? Ah! Husband and children must do as well as they can without her — for there she lies, weak and ill, and all she asks is quiet. But she is laid there for good.
God took her apart and placed her there. Perhaps she was, like Martha, "anxious and troubled about many things" — but forgetting the one thing needful. Perhaps she used to say, when spoken to about her soul, "I am too busy now; my family is so large; some day I shall have more time." It was not right to say so — we ought never to be too busy to attend to our souls; but God is very gracious, and He has given her more time now, sooner than she expected, by laying her there. He would have her rest awhile. He gives her leisure time. He takes her aside to a quiet place. Now let her turn her heart to Him and think of her soul. She has a soul — she must not forget it. Perhaps she has forgotten it too much. God lays her on a sick-bed, in order that she may bring it to mind and seriously and earnestly think of eternity, and seek salvation through Christ Jesus.
How kind and gracious was Jesus to His apostles, thus caring for their needs and giving them rest! How kind and gracious is our Heavenly Father to us still! We cannot always see mercy in sickness. "How can I be spared from business?" says one. "How will things get on, with me confined to a sick bed?" cries another. "How unlucky, to be laid up just now!" says a third.
Not so! All is ordered wisely and well. This sickness would not have come to you — if it had not been needed. God knows better than you. Do not fret or murmur, or all the blessing of such a time may be lost. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God; open your heart to Him; confess your sins; tell Him all things that you have done — and seek His mercy, grace, and blessing.
Many a sick bed has thus become, not "a quiet place," which seems to imply bareness and discomfort — but a happy place, because the Savior was there. Just as the disciples, though called aside into "a quiet place," must have found it a safe and happy place to them, because Jesus was there with them. Every place is happy where He is with us.