Whilst thy sickness remains, use often, for thy comfort, these few meditations, taken from the ends wherefore God sendeth afflictions to his children. Those are ten.
1. That by afflictions God may not only correct our sins past, but also work in us a deeper loathing of our natural corruptions, and so prevent us from falling into many other sins, which otherwise we would commit; like a good father, who suffers his tender babe to scorch his finger in a candle, that he may the rather learn to beware of falling into a greater fire: so that the child of God may say with David, |It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn thy statutes; for before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep thy word.| And indeed, saith St. Paul (1 Cor. xi.32), |We are chastened of the Lord, because we should not be condemned with the world.| With one cross God maketh two cures -- the chastisement of sins past, and the prevention of sin to come. For though the eternal punishment of sin, as it proceeds from justice, is fully pardoned in the sacrifice of Christ, yet we are not, without serious judging ourselves, exempted from the temporal chastisement of sin; for this proceeds only from the love of God, for our good. And this is the reason, that when Nathan told David, from the Lord, that his sins were forgiven, yet that the sword of chastisement should not depart from his house, and that his child should surely die. For God, like a skilful physician, seeing the soul to be poisoned with the settling of sin, and knowing that the reigning of the flesh will prove the ruin of the Spirit, ministereth the bitter pill of affliction, whereby the relics of sin are purged, and the soul more soundly cured; the flesh is subdued, and the spirit is sanctified. O the odiousness of sin, which causeth God to chasten so severely his children, whom otherwise he loveth so dearly!
2. God sendeth affliction to seal unto us our adoption, for |every child whom God loveth, he correcteth; and he is a bastard that is not corrected.| (Heb. xii.6, 7, 8.) Yea, it is a sure note, that where God seeth sin and smites not, there he detests and loves not; therefore it is said, that he suffered the wicked sons of Eli to continue in their sins, without correction, |because the Lord would slay them.| On the other side, there is no surer token of God's fatherly love and care, than to be corrected with some cross, as oft as we commit any sinful crime. Affliction, therefore, is a seal of adoption, no sign of reprobation; for the purest corn is cleanest fanned, the finest gold is oftest tried, the sweetest grape is hardest pressed, and the truest Christian heaviest crossed.
3. God sends affliction to wean our hearts from too much loving this world and worldly vanities; and to cause us the more earnestly to desire and long for eternal life. As the children of Israel, had they not been ill-entreated in Egypt, would never have been so willing to go towards Canaan; so, were it not for the crosses and afflictions of this life, God's children would not so heartily long for and willingly desire the kingdom of heaven. For we see many epicures that would be content to forego heaven, on condition that they might still enjoy their earthly pleasures; and, having never tasted the joys of a better, how loath are they to depart this life? whereas the Apostle that saw heaven's glory tells us, that there is no more comparison between the joys of eternal life, and the pleasures of this world, than there is between the filthiest dung and the pleasantest meat; or between the most noisome dung-hill and the fairest bed-chamber (2 Cor. xii.4; Phil. iii.8.) As therefore a loving nurse puts wormwood or mustard on the breast, to make the child the rather to forsake it; so God mixes sometimes affliction with the pleasures and prosperity of this life, lest, like the children of this generation, they should forget God, and fall into too much love of this present evil world; and so by riches grow proud; by fame, insolent; by liberty, wanton; and spurn with their heel against the Lord, when they wax fat (Deut. xxxii.15.) For if God's children love the world so well, when, like a curst step-mother, she misuses and strikes us, how should we love this harlot, if she smiled upon us, and stroked us, as she does her own worldly brats? Thus doth God, like a wise and a loving father, embitter with crosses the pleasures of this life to his children, that, finding in this earthly state no true and permanent joys, they might sigh and long for eternal life, where firm and everlasting joys are only to be found.
4. By affliction and sickness God exercises his children, and the graces which he bestows upon them. He refines and tries their faith, as the goldsmith doth his gold in the furnace, to make it shine more glistering and bright (1 Pet. i.7;) he stirreth us up to pray more diligently, and zealously, and proveth what patience we have learned all this while in his school. The like experience he makes of our hope, love, and all the rest of our Christian virtues; which, without this trial, would rust, like iron unexercised, or corrupt like standing waters, that either have no current, or else are not poured from vessel to vessel; whose taste remaineth, and whose scent is not changed (Jer. xlviii.11.) And rather than a man should keep still the scent of his corrupt nature to damnation, who would not wish to be changed from state to state, by crosses and sickness, to salvation? For as the camomile which is trodden groweth best, and smelleth most fragrant; and as the fish is sweetest that lives in the saltest waters: so those souls are most precious to Christ who are most exercised and afflicted with crosses.
5. God sends afflictions, to demonstrate to the world the trueness of his children's love and service. Every hypocrite will serve God whilst he prospereth and blesseth him, as the devil falsely accused Job to have done: but who (save his loving child) will love and serve him in adversity, when God seemeth to be angry and displeased with him? yea, and cleave unto him most inseparably, when he seemeth with the greatest frown and disgrace to reject a man, and to cast him out of his favour; yea, when he seemeth to wound and kill as an enemy: yet, then to say with Job, |Though thou, Lord, kill me, yet will I put my trust in thee.| The loving and the serving of God, and trusting in his mercy in the time of our correction and misery, is the truest note of an unfeigned child and servant of the Lord.
6. Sanctified affliction is a singular help to further our true conversion, and to drive us home by repentance to our heavenly Father. |In their affliction,| saith the Lord, |they will seek me diligently.| (Hos. v.15.) Egypt's burdens made Israel cry unto God (Exod. iii.7.) David's troubles made him pray (Psal. lxxxvi.7.) Hezekiah's sickness made him weep (Isa. xxxviii.2, 3;) and misery drove the prodigal child to return and sue for his father's grace and mercy. Yea, we read of many in the gospel, that by sicknesses and afflictions were driven to come unto Christ, who, if they had had health and prosperity as others, would have like others neglected or contemned their Saviour, and never have sought unto him for his saving health and grace. For as the ark of Noah, the higher it was tossed with the flood, the nearer it mounted towards heaven, so the sanctified soul, the more it is exercised with affliction, the nearer it is lifted towards God. O blessed is that cross that draweth a sinner to come upon the knees of his heart unto Christ, to confess his own misery, and to implore his endless mercy! O blessed, ever blessed be that Christ, that never refuseth the sinner that cometh unto him, though weather-driven by affliction and misery!
7. Affliction worketh in us pity and compassion toward our fellow-brethren that be in distress and misery; whereby we learn to have a fellow-feeling of their calamities, and to condole their estate, as if we suffered with them (Heb. xiii.3.) And for this cause Christ himself would suffer, and be tempted in all things like unto us (sin only excepted) that he might be a merciful High Priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. iv.15; ii.18; v.8, 9.) For none can so heartily bemoan the misery of another, as he who first himself suffered the same affliction. Hereupon a sinner in misery may boldly say to Christ.
Non ignare mali, miseris succurrito Christe.
Our frailty sith, O Christ, thou didst perceive,
Condole our state, who still in frailty cleave.
8. God uses our sicknesses and afflictions as means and examples both to manifest to others the faith and virtues which he hath bestowed upon us, as also to strengthen those who have not received so great a measure of faith as we; for there can be no greater encouragement to a weak Christian, than to behold a true professor in the extremest sickness of his body, supported with greater patience and consolation in his soul. And the comfortable and blessed departure of such a man will arm him against the fear of death, and assure him that the hope of the godly is a far more precious thing than that flesh and blood can understand, or mortal eyes behold, in this vale of misery. And were it not that we did see many of those whom we know to be the undoubted children of God, to have endured such afflictions and calamities before us, the greatness of the miseries and crosses which oft-times we endure, would make us doubt whether we be the children of God or no. And to this purpose St. James saith, |God made Job and the prophets an example of suffering adversity, and of long patience.|
9. By afflictions God makes us conformable to the image of Christ his Son (Rom. viii.18; 1 Pet. iv.14), who being the captain of our salvation, was made perfect through sufferings (Heb. ii.10.) And therefore he first bare the cross in shame, before he was crowned with glory (Heb. ii.7;) did first take gall (Matt. xxvii.34), before he did eat the honey-comb (Luke xxiv.42;) and was derided King of the Jews, by the soldiers in the High Priest's hall, before he was saluted King of glory, by the angels in his Father's court (Psal. xxiv.7.) And the more lively our heavenly Father shall perceive the image of his natural Son to appear in us, the better he will love us; and when we have for a time borne his likeness in his sufferings, and fought (2 Tim. iv.7, 8) and overcome (Rev. iii.21), we shall be crowned by Christ; and with Christ, sit on his throne; and of Christ receive the precious white stone and morning-star (Rev. ii.17), that shall make us shine like Christ for ever in his glory (Phil. iii.21.)
10. Lastly, that the godly may be humbled in respect of their own state and misery, and God glorified by delivering them out of their troubles and afflictions, when they call upon him for his help and succour. For though there be no man so pure, but if the Lord will straitly mark iniquities he shall find in him just cause to punish him for his sin; yet the Lord in mercy doth not always, in the affliction of his children, respect their sins, but sometimes lays afflictions and crosses upon them for his glory's sake. Thus our Saviour Christ told his disciples, that the man was not born blind for his own or his parents' sin, but that the work of God should be shewed on him. So he told them likewise that Lazarus's sickness was not unto the death, but for the glory of God. O the unspeakable goodness of God, which turneth those afflictions, which are the shame and punishment due to our sins, to be the subject of his honour and glory!
These are the blessed and profitable ends for which God sends sickness and affliction upon his children; whereby it may plainly appear that afflictions are not signs either of God's hatred or our reprobation; but rather tokens and pledges of his fatherly love unto children whom he loveth, and therefore chasteneth them in this life, where, upon repentance, there remains hope of pardon; rather than to refer the punishment to that life where there is no hope of pardon, nor end of punishment. For this cause, the Christians in the primitive church were wont to give God great thanks for afflicting them in this life. So the apostles rejoiced, that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ's name (Acts v.41.) And the Christian Hebrews suffered with joy the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had in heaven a better, and an enduring substance (Heb. x.34.) And in respect of those holy ends, the apostle saith, |that though no affliction for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; yet afterwards it bringeth the quiet fruit of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby.| (Heb. xii.11.) Pray, therefore, heartily, that as God hath sent thee this sickness, so it would please him to come himself unto thee with thy sickness, by teaching thee to make those sanctified uses of it, for which he hath inflicted the same upon thee.
Meditations for one that is recovered from Sickness.
If God has of his mercy heard thy prayers, and restored thee to thy health again, consider with thyself: --
1. That thou hast now received from God, as it were, another life. Spend it therefore to the honour of God, in newness of life. Let thy sin die with thy sickness; but live thou by grace to holiness.
2. Be not the more secure, that thou art restored to health, neither exult in thyself, that thou escaped death; but think rather, that God seeing how unprepared thou wast, .hath of his mercy heard-thy prayer, spared thee, and given thee some little longer time of respite; that thou mayest both amend thy life, and put thyself in a better readiness against the time that he shall call for thee, without further delay, out of this world. For though thou hast escaped this, it may be, thou shalt not escape the next sickness.
3. Consider how fearful a reckoning thou hadst made before the judgment-seat of Christ, by this time, if thou hadst died of this sickness: spend, therefore, the time that remains, so as that thou mayest be able to make a more cheerful account of thyself, when it must be expired indeed.
4. Put not far off the day of death; thou knowest not, for all this, how near it is at hand; and being so fairly warned, be wiser. For if thou be taken unprovided the next time, thy excuse will be less, and thy judgment greater.
5. Remember that thou hast vowed amendment and newness of life. Thou hast |vowed a vow unto God, defer not to pay it, for he delighteth not in fools; pay, therefore, that thou hast vowed.| (Eccles. v.4.) The unclean spirit is cast out; O let him not re-enter with seven worse than himself! Thou hast sighed out the groans of contrition; thou hast wept the tears of repentance; thou art washed in the pool of Bethesda, streaming with five bloody wounds, not of a troubling angel (John v.4), but of the angel of God's presence (Isa. lxiii.9), troubled with the wrath due to thy sins; who descended into hell, to restore thee to saving health, and heaven. Return not now, with the dog, to thine own vomit, nor, like the washed sow, to wallow again in the mire of thy former sins and uncleanness; lest being entangled and overcome again with the filthiness of sin, which now thou hast escaped, thy latter end prove worse than the first beginning. Twice, therefore, doth our Saviour Christ give the same cautionary warning to healed sinners. First, to the man cured of his thirty-eight years' disease -- |Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing fall upon thee.| Secondly, to the woman taken in adultery -- |Neither do I condemn thee; go thy way and sin no more.| Teaching us, how dangerous a thing it is to relapse and fall again into the former excess of riot (1 Pet. iv.4.) Take heed, therefore, unto thy ways, and pray for grace, that thou mayest apply thy heart unto wisdom, during that small number of days which yet remain behind; and for thy present mercy and health received, imitate the thankful leper, and return to God this or the like thanksgiving: --
A Thanksgiving to be said of one that is recovered from Sickness.
O gracious and merciful father, who art the Lord of health and sickness, of life and of death; who killest and makest alive; who bringest down to the grave and raiseth up again; who art the only preserver of all those that trust in thee, I, thy poor and unworthy servant, having now, by experience of my painful sickness, felt the grievousness of misery due unto sin, and the greatness of thy mercy in forgiving sinners, and perceiving with what a fatherly compassion thou hast heard my prayers and restored me to my health and strength again, do here, upon the bended knees of my heart, return, with the thankful leper, to acknowledge thee alone to be the God of my health and salvation; and to give thee praise and glory for my strength and deliverance out of that grievous disease and malady; and for thus turning my mourning into mirth, my sickness into health, and my death into life. My sins deserved punishment, and thou hast corrected me, but hast not given me over unto death. I looked from the day to the night when thou wouldst make an end of me. I did chatter like a crane or a swallow; I mourned as a dove when the bitterness of sickness oppressed me; I lifted up mine eyes unto thee,
O Lord, and thou didst comfort me, for thou didst cast all my sins behind thy back, and didst deliver my soul from the pit of corruption; and when I found no help in myself nor in any other creature, saying, I am deprived of the residue of my years, I shall see man no more among the inhabitants of the world, then didst thou restore me to health again, and gavest life unto me; I found thee, O Lord, ready to save me.
And now, Lord, I confess that I can never yield unto thee such a measure of thanks as thou hast for this benefit deserved at my hands. And seeing that I can never be able to repay thy goodness with acceptable works, O that I could with Mary Magdalene testify the love and thankfulness of my heart with abounding tears! O what shall I be able to render unto thee, O Lord, for all these benefits which thou hast bestowed upon my soul! Surely, as in my sickness, when I had nothing else to give thee, I offered Christ and his merits unto thee as a ransom for my sins; so being now restored by thy grace to my health and strength, and having no better thing to give, behold, O Lord, I do here offer up myself unto thee (Rom. xii.1), beseeching thee so to assist me with thy Holy Spirit, that the remainder of my life may be wholly spent in setting forth thy praise and glory.
O Lord, forgive me my former follies and unthankfulness, that I was no more careful to love thee according to thy goodness, nor to serve thee according to thy will, nor to obey thee according to thy benefits. And seeing thou knowest that of myself I am not sufficient so much as to think a good thought, much less to do that which is good and acceptable in thy sight, assist me with thy grace and Holy Spirit, that I may, in my prosperity as devoutly spend my health in thy service, as I was earnest in my sickness to beg it at thy hands. And suffer me never to forget either this thy mercy in restoring me to my health, or those vows and promises which I have made unto thee in- my sickness. With my new health renew in me, O Lord, a right spirit, which may free me from the slavery of sin, and establish my heart in the service of grace. Work in me a great detestation of all sins which were the causes of thy anger and my sickness; and increase my faith in Jesus Christ, who is the author of my health and salvation. Let thy good Spirit lead me in the way that I should walk; and teach me to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world, that others, by my example, may think better of thy truth. And sith this time which I have yet to live is but a little respite and small remnant of days which cannot long continue, teach me, O my God, so to number my days that I may apply my heart to that spiritual wisdom which directeth to salvation. And to this end make me more zealous than I have been in religion, more devout in prayer, more fervent in spirit, more careful to hear and profit by the preaching of thy gospel, more helpful to my poor brethren, more watchful over my ways, more faithful in my calling, and every way more abundant in all good works. Let me, in the joyful time of prosperity, fear the evil day of affliction; in the time of health, think on sickness; in the time of sickness, make myself ready for death; and when death approacheth, prepare myself for judgment. Let my whole life be an expression of thankfulness unto thee for thy grace and mercy. And therefore, O Lord, I do here from the very bottom of my heart, together with the thousand thousands of angels, the four beasts, and twenty-four elders, and all the creatures in heaven and on the earth, acknowledge to be due unto thee, O Father, which sittest upon the throne, and to the Lamb, thy Son, who sitteth at thy right hand, and to the Holy Spirit which proceedeth from both, the holy Trinity of persons in Unity of substance, all praise, honour, glory, and power, from this time forth and for evermore. Amen.