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and that therefore, if Lazarus thy friend is sick, it is because thou lovest him.'
Yes, my brethren, the great design of the religion of Jesus is the salvation of our immortal souls. Every thing, then, which tends to produce this effect, is a blessing; and as the afflictions which Providence sends to us may powerfully tend to produce it, we should consider them as proceeding, not from the anger of God, but from his mercy and love: he afflicts the body, only to heal the soul, and prepare
it for glory. It is under this point of view, that we propose to consider the advantages of sickness, and the influence which it may and ought to have upon us.
Favour me with your attention: the subject is interesting to us all. Do you, who have been laid on the bed of disease, listen,"and inquire of your own hearts, whether you have derived that benefit from this dispensation of Providence which you ought. Do you, who are still in health, listen; that when the time of sickness comes, as it will surely come, you may know to what duties and exercises God.
It is impossible, in a single discourse, to mention all the benefits which may result from sickness. I can only mention a few of the leading advantages which believers derive, and which we all ought to derive, from it.
1. By sickness, God designs to discover to us our true character, and make us know ourselves. I need not tell you of what infinite consequence it is to be acquainted with the real state of our souls; to know whether we are the children of God, or the children of Satan; the heirs of heaven, or the heirs of hell. I need not tell you, believers, of what infinite conse. quence it is, even after you suppose you have devoted
yourselves to God, to trace the most secret recesses of your hearts; to examine constantly what you are and what you ought to be what you do and what you ought
, to do; to search what vices and errors you have which need correction; what virtues you have yet to acquire or strengthen; what temptations have most power over you; what weak places in your heart require to be fortified. Unless we habitually try ourselves on these and similar subjects, we act not as reasonable men, much less as Christians. Unless we constantly thus descend into our own souls, we shall not only not advance in holiness, but besides this, we are in danger, through the deceitfulness of our hearts and the illusions of self-love, of making the most fatal and irretrievable mistakes as to our true character. There are thousands in the regions of eternal despair, who, whilst they lived, doubted not of the love of God towards them, of their interest in the Redeemer, and their title to heaven. Neglecting to search deep into their souls, to test themselves by the word of God, to try themselves thoroughly and impartially, they lived in hopes of future felicity, and on leaving this world, with as much surprise as horror, found themselves enwrapped in the eternal flames ! But, all-important as is this accurate knowledge of ourselves, yet experience and observation teach us that nothing is more difficult than to acquire it in the hurry of an active life, and amidst the occupations of the world; when the soul, busied with the scenes around it, fixes upon them, and is prevented from turning inwards upon itself, and concentrating its reflections upon its own state and circumstances. But when disease lays us down on the bed of infirmity, when it removes us from our ordinary course of life, when it obliges us to interrupt our business and pleasures, then man is restored to himn. self, and led to re-enter into his own heart. Then all those objects which prevented him from fixedly looking at his soul, his conscience, his situationvanish from observation; and no longer occupied solely by his profession, his commerce, his family, his schemes of aggrandizement and fortune, he remembers himself, God, and eternity. He has now leisure to attend to these important subjects, since to the noise and tumult which surrounded him, succeeds the most profound tranquillity. He has the strongest motives, since he sees just before him that judgment-bar, at which he must appear; that God, who cannot be deceived, who searches his heart, and discerns his true character, and who will regulate his eternal destiny in conformity with this character. Ah! how many has our heavenly Father led by this painful but benevolent means of sickness, to study and to know themselves, to awake from that stupid forgetfulness of themselves in which they had lived, and to reject those illusions which had hitherto deceived them! Are there none of you, my brethren, who can attest, from your own experience, this beneficial effect of disease and infirmity ? Some of you, perhaps, can tell us that you formerly lived, as so many foolish men still live, in a perfect indifference to religion, never seriously examining it or seeking to know its : nature, neither rejecting nor believing it, neglecting its duties, and regardless of its sanctions; living, as to a future world, without principle and without system; never meditating on the end of your creation, on the state of your soul, or your future prospects. Sickness opened your eyes;
a man who, endowed with a reason and conscience, and surrounded by the light of revelation, lives without thinking of death, without reflecting on the destiny which awaits him, without solemnly asking himself, • Is there a future world and a judgment ? Shall I spend an eternity in heaven or hell?' You then began, for the first time, to meditate on these truths and on yourselves. Sickness, like the affliction of the prodigal, caused you to “ come to yourselves;" to turn your eyes inward upon your own hearts. Like him, you saw your guilt and your
misery; like him, you cried, " Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” Was it not in love that this sickness was sent ? Was it not the only means which could awaken you from your deep insensibility and disregard of yourself?
Others of you, perhaps, can tell us that you supposed yourselves the children of God, and imagined that
you had performed your duty when you had outwardly professed Christianity, diligently attended the means of grace, participated of the holy sacrament, and lived exempt from gross crimes and immoralities. You were visited with a dangerous sickness; you supposed you were nigh the eternal world, and you began to examine your preparations for it. You found then that the mere name of a Christian does not constitute Christianity; that a mere profession of religion and a regular walk will not fit the soul for heaven. Your hopes were shaken; your confidence was abandoned; you felt that a sound and thorough conversion unto God was something more serious than you had hitherto imagined, and that you had never been vitally united to the Lord Jesus. Though you had supposed, with the church of Laodicea, that you were spiritually “ rich, and increased
in goods, and had need of nothing;" yet you now found that you were “poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked." Was it not in love that this sickness was sent to you, whilst you still had time to flee to the cross of Jesus, and obtain from him the remission of your sins, and the renewal of your hearts ?
Others of you, perhaps, can tell us that you had lived in a cold and lukewarm state, yet were insensible how far you had gotten away from God, how much your holy dispositions had languished, and your Christian graces withered; for
your conscience had lost that nice sensibility and delicacy, that force and energy, which it once had. Sickness seized you; conscience woke from its lethargy; your eyes were opened on your wanderings; you shuddered as you considered the weakness of your faith, the coldness of your love, the waverings of your hope, and the strength of your attachment to the world. You found that, through disuse, you could scarcely manage the armour of God, and you saw the king of terrors apparently advancing towards you.' Your backslidings reproved you; you were humbled in the dust at your coldness, your unfruitfulness, your decay in grace; you lifted up your cries to God, and he inspired you with renewed zeal and engagedness in his service. Was it not in love that this sickness was sent, which thus made you compare your present state with days that were past, which taught you your declensions, and led you to God “ to strengthen the things which were ready to die?"
2. Sickness is designed, not only to make us know ourselves, but also to know God. When do we better know, than in severe disease, the authority of God, and our dependence upon him? We feel then that we are creatures sustained by his sovereign pleasure ;