( Originally Published 1879 )
SICKNESS brings a share of blessings with it. What stores of human love and sympathy it reveals. What constant affectionate care is ours. What kindly greetings from friends and associates. This very loosening of our hold upon life calls out such wealth of human sympathy that life seems richer than before. Then it teaches humility. Our absence is scarcely felt or noticed. From the noisy, wrestling world without we are separated completely, as if the moss was on our tombstones; yet our place is filled and all moves on without us. So we learn that when at last we shall sink forever beneath the waves of the sea of life, there will be but one ripple and the current will move steadily on. On the sick-bed the sober truth comes home with startling. emphasis:
"The gay will laugh
We cannot too soon convince ourselves how easily we may be dispensed with in the world. What in portant personages we imagine ourselves to be! We think that we alone are the life of the circle in which we move; in our absence we fancy that life, existence and breath will come to a general pause; and alas! the gap which we leave is scarcely perceptible, so quickly is it filled again; nay, it is often but the place, if not for something better, at least for something more agreeable.
When sickness has drawn a vail over the gayety of our hearts, or adversity eclipsed the splendor of our outward circumstances; when some intervening cloud has darkened the pleasing scenes of life, or disappointments opened our eyes; then vice loses her fallacious allurements and the world appears as an empty, delusive cheat; then Jesus and the Gospel beam forth with inimitable luster, and Christian virtue gains loveliness from such lowering providences, and treads the shades with more than mortal charms. May this reconcile me, and all the sons of sorrow, to our appointed share of sufferings. If tribulations tend to refine the soul and prepare it for glory, welcome distress, or whatever our peevish passions may miscall calamities. These are not judgments or marks of displeasure to God's children, but necessary and salutary chastisements, as well as tokens of his parental concern for our spiritual and eternal welfare. Afflictions should, therefore, sit easy upon us, since they increase our knowledge and humility, pro-mote our faith and love, and work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Sickness scours us of our rust, and however the wicked, like trees in the wilderness, grow without culture, yet the saints, like trees in the garden, must be pruned to be made fruitful, and sickness does this. God will prune his people, but not hew them down; the right hand of his mercy knows what the left hand of his severity is doing. There is as much difference between the sufferings of the saints and those of the ungodly, as between the cords with which an executioner pinions a condemned malefactor, and the band-ages wherewith a tender surgeon binds his patient.
Sickness and disease are, in weak minds, the sources of melancholy; but that which is painful to the body may be profitable to the soul. Sickness, the mother of modesty, puts us in mind of our mortality, and while we drive on heedlessly in the full career of worldly pomp and jollity, kindly pulls us by the ear, and brings us to a proper sense of our duty.
A minister was recovering of a dangerous illness, when one of his friends addressed him thus: "Sir, though God seems to be bringing you up from the gates of death, yet it will be a long time before you will sufficiently retrieve your 'strength and regain vigor enough of mind to preach as usual." The good man answered: "You are mistaken, my friend; for this six weeks' illness has taught me more divinity than all my past studies and all my ten years' ministry put together."
Dr. Payson being ill, a friend coming into his room remarked, in a familiar way: "Well, I am sorry to see you lying here on your back." "Do you know what God puts us on our backs for ?" asked Dr. Payson, smiling "No," was the answer. "In order that we may look upward." His friend said to him, "I am not come to condole but to rejoice with you, for it seems to me that this is no time for mourning." "Well, I am glad to hear that," was the reply, "it is not often that I am addressed in such a way. The fact is I never had less need of condolence, and yet everybody persists in offering it; whereas, when I was prosperous and well, and a successful preacher, and really needed condolence, they flattered and congratulated me." Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and if we endure chastening, God dealeth with us as with sons and daughters.