With the current COVID19 situation, I can’t help but think about a sermon I read years ago entitled Sickness by J.C. Ryle.
In the sermon, he offers a biblical perspective on sickness under three headings:
I. The universal prevalence of sickness and disease.
II. The general benefits which sickness confers on mankind.
III. The special dutiesto which sickness calls us.
Under his second heading, Ryle unpacks five benefits sickness offers to those who know Jesus. For your joy, I have copied those points below.
I could not recommend the sermon more highly, especially since sickness is on everyone’s mind.
Once more I repeat, that I speak of the “benefits” of sickness on purpose and advisedly. I know the suffering and pain which sickness entails. I admit the misery and wretchedness which it often brings in its train. But I cannot regard it as an unmixed evil. I see in it a wise permission of God. I see in it a useful provision to check the ravages of sin and the devil among men’s souls. If man had never sinned — I would have been at a loss to discern the benefit of sickness. But since sin is in the world, I can see that sickness is a good. It is a blessing quite as much as a curse. It is a rough schoolmaster, I grant — but it is a real friend to man’s soul.
1. Sickness helps to remind men of death.
Most people live as if they were never going to die. They follow business, or pleasure, or politics, or science — as if earth was their eternal home. They plan and scheme for the future, like the rich fool in the parable, as if they had a long lease of life, and were not tenants whose length of stay is brief. A heavy illness sometimes goes far to dispel these delusions. It awakens men from their day-dreams, and reminds them that they have to die, as well as to live. Now this I say emphatically is a mighty good.
2. Sickness helps to make men think seriously of God, and their souls, and the world to come.
Most people, in their days of health, can find no time for such thoughts. They dislike them. They put them away. They count them troublesome and disagreeable. Now a severe disease has sometimes a wonderful power of mustering and rallying these thoughts, and bringing them up before the eyes of a man’s soul. Even a wicked king like Benhadad, when sick, could think of Elisha (2 Kings 8:8.) Even heathen sailors, when death was in sight, were afraid, and “cried every man to his god.” (Jonah 1:5.) Surely anything that helps to make men think, is a good.
3. Sickness helps to soften men’s hearts, and teach them wisdom.
The natural heart is as hard as a stone! It can see no good in anything which is not of this life, and no happiness excepting in this world. A long illness sometimes goes far to correct these ideas. It exposes the emptiness and hollowness of what the world calls “good” things, and teaches us to hold them with a loose hand. The man of business finds that money alone, is not everything which the heart requires. The woman of the world finds that costly apparel, and novel reading, and the reports of balls and operas — are miserable comforters in a sick room. Surely anything that obliges us to alter our weights and measures of earthly things, is a real good.
4. Sickness helps to humble us.
We are all naturally proud and high-minded. Few, even of the poorest, are free from the infection. Few are to be found who do not look down on somebody else, and secretly flatter themselves that they are “not as other men.” A sick bed is a mighty tamer of such thoughts as these. It forces on us the mighty truth that we are all poor worms, that we “dwell in houses of clay,” and are “crushed before the moth.” (Job 4:19), and that kings and subjects, masters and servants, rich and poor — are all dying creatures, and will soon stand side by side at the judgment bar of God. In the sight of the coffin and the grave — it is not easy to be proud. Surely anything that teaches that lesson, is good.
5. Finally, sickness helps to try men’s religion, of what sort it is.
There are not many on earth who have no religion at all. Yet few have a religion which will bear inspection. Most are content with traditions received from their fathers, and can render no reason of the hope that is in them. Now disease is sometimes most useful to a man in exposing the utter worthlessness of his soul’s foundation. It often shows him that he has nothing solid under his feet, and nothing firm under his hand. It makes him find out that, although he may have had a form of religion, he has been all his life worshiping “an unknown god.” Many a creed looks well on the smooth waters of health — which turns out utterly unsound and useless on the rough waves of the sick bed. The storms of winter often bring out the defects in a man’s dwelling — and sickness often exposes the gracelessness of a man’s soul. Surely anything that makes us find out the real character of our faith, is a good…
We have no right to murmur at sickness, and repine at its presence in the world. We ought rather to thank God for it. It is God’s witness. It is the soul’s adviser. It is an awakener to the conscience. It is a purifier to the heart. Surely I have a right to tell you that sickness is a blessing, and not a curse — a help, and not an injury — a gain, and not a loss — a friend, and not a foe to mankind. So long as we have a world wherein there is sin, it is a mercy that it is a world where there is sickness.