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Advantages of Sickness.
1. I consider one of the greatest felicities of heaven consists in an immunity from sin: then we shall love God without mixtures of malice; then we shall enjoy without envy; then we shall see fuller vessels running over with glory, and crowned with bigger circles; and this we shall behold without spilling from our eyes (those vessels of joy and grief) any sign of anger, trouble, or a repining spirit: our passions shall be pure, our charity without fear, our desire without lust, our possessions all our own; and all in the inheritance of Jesus, in the richest soil of God's eternal kingdom. Now half of this reason, which makes heaven so happy by being innocent, is also in the state of sickness, making the sorrows of old age smooth, and the groans of a sick heart apt to be joined to the music of angels: and, though they sound harsh to our untuned ears and discomposed organs, yet those accents must needs be in themselves excellent which God loves to hear, and esteems them as prayers, and arguments of pity, instruments of mercy and grace, and preparatives to glory.
In sickness the soul begins to dress herself for immortality. And, first, she unties the strings of vanity that made her upper garment cleave to the world and sit uneasy; first, she puts off the light and fantastic summer robe of lust and wanton appetite; and as soon as that cestus, that lascivious girdle is thrown away, then the reins chasten us, and give us warning in the night; then that which called us formerly to serve the manliness of the body, and the childishness of the soul, keeps us waking, to divide the hours with the intervals of prayer, and to number the minutes with our penitential groans; then the flesh sets uneasily and dwells in sorrow; and then the spirit feels itself at ease, freed from the petulant solicitations of those passions which in health were as busy and restless as atoms in the sun, always dancing, and always busy, and never sitting down, till a sad night of grief and uneasiness draws the veil, and lets them die alone in secret dishonour.
2. Next to this, the soul, by the help of sickness, knocks off the fetters of pride and vainer complacencies. Then she draws the curtains, and stops the light from coming in, and takes the pictures down, those fantastic images of self-love7878Nunc festinatos nimium sibi sentit honores, Actaque lauriferae damnat Syllana juventae.–Lucan. lib. viii. and gay remembrances of vain opinion and popular noises. Then the spirit stoops into the sobrieties of humble thoughts, and feels corruption chiding the forwardness of fancy, and allaying the vapours of conceit and factious opinions. For humility is the soul's grave, into which she enters, not to die, but to meditate and inter some of its troublesome appendages. There she sees the dust, and feels the dishonours of the body, and reads the register of all its sad adherences; and then she lays by all her vain reflections, beating upon her crystal and pure mirror from the fancies of strength and beauty, and little decayed prettinesses of the body. And when, in sickness, we forget all our knotty discourses of philosophy, and a syllogism makes our head ache, and we feel our many and loud talkings served no lasting end of the soul, no purpose that now we must abide by, and that the body is like to descend to the land where all things are forgotten; then she lays aside all her remembrances of applauses, all her ignorant confidences, and ares only to know “Christ Jesus and him crucified,” to know him plainly, and with much heartiness and simplicity. And I cannot think this to be a contemptible advantage. For ever since man tempted himself by his impatient desires of knowing and being as God, man thinks it the finest thing in the world to know much, and therefore is hugely apt to esteem himself better than his brethren if he knows some little impertinences, and them imperfectly, and that with infinite uncertainty; but God hath been pleased, with a rare art, to prevent the inconveniences apt to arise by this passionate longing after knowledge, even by giving to every man a sufficient opinion of his own understanding: and who is there in the world that thinks himself to be a fool, or indeed not fit to govern his brother? There are but few men but they think they are wise enough, and every man believes his own opinion the soundest; and, if it were otherwise, men would burst themselves with envy, or else become irrecoverable slaves to the talking and disputing man. But when God intended this permission to be an antidote of envy, and a satisfaction and allay to the troublesome appetites of knowing, and made that this universal opinion, by making men in some proportions equal, should be a keeper-out or a great restraint to slavery and tyranny respectively; man (for so he uses to do) hath turned this into bitterness; for when nature had made so just a distribution of understanding that every man might think he had enough, he is not content with that, but will think he hath more than his brother; and whereas it might well be employed in restraining slavery, he hath used it to break off the bands of all obedience, and it ends in pride and schisms, in heresies and tyrannies; and it being a spiritual evil, it grows upon the soul with old age and flattery, with health and the supports of a prosperous fortune. Now, besides the direct operations of the Spirit, and a powerful grace, there is in nature left to us no remedy for this evil but a sharp sickness, or an equal sorrow, and allay of fortune; and then we are humble enough to ask counsel of a despised priest, and to think that even a common sentence, from the mouth of an appointed comforter streams forth more refreshment than all our own wiser and more reputed discourses; then our understandings and our bodies, peeping through their own breaches, see their shame and their dishonour, their dangerous follies and their huge deceptions; and they go into the clefts of the rock, and every little hand may cover them.
3. Next to these, as the soul is still undressing, she takes off the roughness of her great and little angers and animosities, and receives the oil of mercies and smooth forgiveness, fair interpretations and gentle answers, designs of reconcilement and Christian atonement in their places. For so did the wrestlers in Olympus; they stripped themselves of all their garments, and then anointed their naked bodies with oil, smooth and vigorous; with contracted nerves and enlarged voice they contended vehemently, till they obtained their victory or their ease; and a crown of olive, or a huge pity, was the reward of their fierce contentions. Some wise men have said, than anger sticks to a man's nature as inseparable as other vices do to the manner of fools, and that anger is never quite cured: but God, that hath found out remedies for all diseases, hath so ordered the circumstances of man, that in the worser sort of men anger and great indignation consume and shrivel into little peevishnesses and uneasy accents of sickness, and spend themselves in trifling instances; and in the better and more sanctified it goes off in prayers and alms and solemn reconcilement. And, however the temptations of this state, such, I mean, which are proper to it, are little and considerable, the man is apt to chide a servant too bitterly, and to be discontented with his nurse, or not satisfied with his physician, and he rests uneasily, and (poor man!) nothing can please him: and indeed these little indecencies must be cured and stopped, lest they run into an inconvenience. But sickness is, in this particular, a little image of the state of blessed souls, or of Adam's early morning in paradise, free from the troubles of lust, and violences of anger, and the intricacies of ambition, or the restlessness of covetousness. For though a man may carry all these along with him into his sickness, yet there he will not find them; and in despite of all his own malice, his soul shall find some rest from labouring in the galleys and baser captivity of sin: and if e value those moments of being in the love of God and in the kingdom of grace, which certainly are the beginnings of felicity, we may also remember that the not sinning actually is one step of innocence; and therefore that state is not intolerable which, by a sensible trouble, makes it in most instances impossible to commit those great sins which make death, hell, and horrid damnations. And then let us but add this to it, that God sends sicknesses, but he never causes sin; that God is angry with a sinning person, but never with a man for being sick; that sin causes God to hate us, and sickness causes him to pity us; that all wise men in the world choose trouble rather than dishonour, affliction rather than baseness; and that sickness stops the torrent of sin, and interrupts its violence, and even to the worst men makes it to retreat many degrees. We may reckon sickness amongst good things, as we reckon rhubarb and aloes and childbirth and labour and obedience and discipline; these are unpleasant, and yet safe; they are troubles in order to blessings, or they are securities from danger, or the hard choices of a less and a more tolerable evil.
4. Sickness, is in some sense elegible, because it is the opportunity and the proper scene of exercising some virtues.7979Nola quad cupio statim senere, Nec victoria mi placet parata.—Petrom. It is that agony in which men are tried for a crown. And if we remember what glorious things are spoken of the grace of faith, that it is the life of just men, the restitution of the dead in trespasses and sins, the justification of a sinner, the support of the weak, the confidence of the strong, the magazine of promises, and the title to very glorious rewards: we may easily imagine that it must have in it a work and a difficulty in some proportion answerable to so great effects. But when we are bidden to believe strange propositions, we are put upon it when we cannot judge, and those propositions have possessed our discerning faculties, and have made a party there, and are become domestic before they come to be disputed; and then the articles of faith are so few, and are made so credible, and in their event and in their object are so useful and gaining upon the affections, that he were a prodigy of man, and would be so esteemed, that should, in all our present circumstances, disbelieve any point of faith: and all is well as long as the sun shines, and the fair breath of heaven gently wafts us to our own purposes. But if you will try the excellency, and feel the work of faith, place the man in a persecution, let him ride in a storm, let his bones be broken with sorrow, and his eyelids loosened with sickness, let his bread be dipped in tears, and all the daughters of music be brought low; let God commence a quarrel against him, and be bitter in the accents of his anger or his discipline; then God tries your faith. Can you, then, trust his goodness, and believe him to be a father, when you groan under his rod? Can you rely upon all the strange propositions of Scripture, and be content to perish if they be not true? Can you receive comfort in the discourses of death and heaven, of immortality and the resurrection, of the death of Christ and conforming to his sufferings? Truth is, there are but two great periods in which faith demonstrates itself to be a powerful and mighty grace; and they are persecution and the approaches of death, for the passive part, and a temptation for the active. In the days of pleasure and the night of pain faith is to fight her agonistiun, to contend for mastery: and faith overcomes all alluring and fond temptations to sin, and faith overcomes all our weaknesses and faintings in our troubles. By the faith of the promises we learn to despise the world, choosing those objects which faith discovers; and by expectation of the same promises, we are comforted in all our sorrows, and enabled to look through and see beyond the cloud: but the vigour of it is pressed and called forth when all our fine discourses come to be reduced to practice. For in our health and clearer days it is easy to talk of putting trust in God;8080Mors ipsa beatior inde est, Quod per cruciamina lethi Via panditur ardua justis, Es ad astreadoloribus itur. Prud. Hymn. in Exeq. Defunct. we readily trust him for life when we are in health; for provisions when we have fair revenues; and for deliverance when we are newly escaped: but let us come to sit upon the margent of our grave, and let a tyrant lean hard upon our fortunes and dwell upon our wrong, let the strom arise, and the keels toss till the cordage crack, or that all our hopes bulge under us and descend into the hollowness of sad misfortunes; then can you believe, when you neither hear, nor see, nor feel anything but objections? This is the proper work of sickness: faith is then brought into the theatre, and so exercised, that if it abides but to the end of the contention we may see the work of faith which God will hugely crown. The same I say of hope and of charity, of the love of God and of patience, which is a grace produced from the mixtures of all these: they are virtues which are greedy of danger; and no man was ever honoured by any wise or discerning person for dining upon Persian carpets, nor rewarded with a crown for being at ease.8181Virtutes avidae periculi monstrant, quam non paeniteat tanto pretio aestimasse virtutem.—Senec. Non enim hilaritate, nec lascivia, nec risu, aut joco comite levitatis, sed saepe etiam tristes firmitate et constantia sunt beati.—Cic. de Fin. 1. xxii. It was the fire that did honour to Mutius Scaevola; poverty made Fabricius famous; Rutilius was made excellent by banishment; Regulus by torments; Socrates by prison; Cato by his death; and God hath crowned the memory of Job with a wreath of glory because he sat upon his dunghill wisely and temperately; and his potsherd and his groans, mingled with praises and justifications of God, pleased him like an anthem sung by angels in the morning of the resurrection. God could not choose but be pleased with the delicious accents of martyrs, when in their tortures they cried out nothing but ‘Holy Jesus' and ‘Blessed be God;' and they also themselves who, with a hearty designation to the divine pleasure, can delight in God's severe dispensation, will have the transportations of cherubim when they enter into the joys of God. If God be delicious to his servants when he smites them, he will be nothing but ravishments and ecstasies to their spirits when he refreshes them with the overflowings of joy in the day of recompenses. No man is more miserable than he that hath no adversity; that man is not tried,8282Nihil infelicius eo eui nihil unquam contigit adversi. Non licuit illi se experii.—Seneca. whether he be good or bad: and God never crowns those virtues which are only faculties and dispositions; but every act of virtue is an ingredient into reward. And we see many children fairly planted, whose parts of nature were never dressed by art, nor called from the furrows of their first possibilities by discipline and institution; and they dwell for ever in ignorance, and converse with beasts; and yet, if they had been dressed and exercised, might have stood at the chairs of princes, or spoken parables amongst the rulers of cities. Our virtues are but in the seed when the grace of God comes upon us first; but this grace must be thrown into broken furrows, and must twice feel the cold, and twice feel the heat, and be softened with storms and showers; and then it will arise into fruitfulness and harvests. And what is there in the world to distinguish virtues from dishonours, or the valour of Caesar from the softness of the Egyptian eunuchs, or that can make anything rewardable, but the labour and the danger, the pain and the difficulty? Virtue could not be anything but sensuality if it were the entertainment of our senses and fond desires; and Apicius had been the noblest of all the Romans if feeding a great appetite and despising the severities of temperance had been the work and proper employment of a wise man. But otherwise do fathers and otherwise do mothers handle their children. These soften them with kisses and imperfect noises, with the pap and breast-milk of soft endearments; they rescue them from tutors and snatch them from discipline; they desire to keep them fat and warm, and their feet dry, and their bellies full; and then the children govern and cry and prove fools and troublesome, so long as the feminine republic does endure. But fathers, because they design to have their children wise and valiant, apt for counsel or tie them to study, to hard labour, and affective contingencies. They rejoice when the bold boy strikes a lion with his hunting spear, and shrinks not when the beast comes to affright his early courage. Softness is for slaves and beasts,8383Modestia filiorum delectantur; vernularum licentia et ca num, non puerorum. for minstrels and useless persons, for such who cannot ascend higher that the state of a fair ox, or a servant entertained for vainer offices: but the man that designs his son for noble employments, to honours and to triumphs, to consular dignities and presidencies of councils, loves to see him pale with study, or panting with labour, burdened with sufferance, or eminent by dangers. And so God dresses us for heaven. He loves us struggling with a disease, and resisting the devil, and contesting against the weaknesses of nature, and against hope to believe in hope, resigning ourselves to God's will, praying him to choose for us, and dying in all things but faith and its blessed consequences; ut ad officium cum pericule simus prompti: and the danger and the resistance shall endear the office. For so have I known the boisterous north wind pass through the yielding air,8484Ventus ut amittit vires nisi robore densae Occurrunt sylvae, spatio diffusus inani.—Lucan. which opened its bosom and appeased its violence by entertaining it with easy compliance in all the regions of its reception: but when the same breath of heaven hath been checked with the stiffness of a tower, or the united strength of wood, it grew mighty, and dwelt there, and made the highest branches stoop and make a smooth path for it on the top of all its glories. So is sickness, and so is the grace of God: when sickness hath made the difficulty, then God's grace hath made a triumph, and by doubling its power hath created new proportions of a reward; and then shows its biggest glory,8585Marcet sine adversario virtus. when it hath the greatest difficulty to master, the greatest weaknesses to support, the most busy temptations to contest with; for so God loves that his strength should be seen in our weakness and our danger. Happy is that state of life in which our services to God are the dearest and the most expensive.8686Psalm lxxxix. 32, 33.
5. Sickness hath some degrees of eligibility, at least by an after-choice; because to all persons which are within the possibilities and state of pardon it becomes a great instrument of pardon of sins. For as God seldom rewards here and hereafter too, so it is not very often that he punishes in both states. In great and final sins he doth so; but we find it expressed only in the case of the sin against the Holy Ghost. ‘which shall never be forgiven in this world, nor in the world to come,' that is, it shall be punished in both worlds, and the infelicities of this world shall but usher in the intolerable calamities of the next. But this is in a case of extremity, and in sins of an unpardonable malice: in those lesser stages of death, which are deviations from the rule, and not a destruction and perfect antinomy to the whole institution, God very often smites with his rod of sickness that he may not for ever be slaying the soul with eternal death. ‘I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges; nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my truth to fail.' And there is in the New Testament a delivering over to Satan,87871 Cor. v. 5; 1 Tim. i. 20. and a consequent buffetting, for the mortification of the flesh indeed, but that the soul may be saved in the day of the Lord. And to some persons the utmost process of God's anger reaches but to a sharp sickness, or at most but to a temporal death; and then the little momentary anger is spent, and expires in rest and a quiet grave. Origen, St. Augustine, and Cassian say, concerning Ananias and Sapphira that they were slain with a sudden death, that by such a judgment their sin might be punished, and their guilt expiated, and their persons reserved for mercy in the day of judgment. And God cuts off many of his children from the land of the living; and yet, when they are numbered amongst the dead, he finds them in the book of life, written amongst those that shall live to him for ever. And thus it happened to many new Christians, in the church of Corinth, for their little indecencies and disorders in the circumstances of receiving the holy sacrament. St. Paul says, that ‘many amongst them were sick, many were weak, and some were fallen asleep.' He expresses the divine anger against those persons in no louder accents; which is according to the style of the New Testament, where all the great transactions of duty and reproof are generally made upon the stock of heaven, and hell is plainly a reserve, and a period set to the declaration of God's wrath. For God knows that the torments of hell are so horrid, so insupportable a calamity, that he is not easy and apt to cast those souls which he hath taken so much care, and hath been at so much expense to save, into the eternal never-dying flames of hell lightly, for smaller sins, or after a fairly-begun repentance, and in the midst of holy desires to finish it; but God takes such penalties and exacts such fines of us which we may pay salvo contenemento, saving the main stake of all, even our precious souls. And therefore St. Augustine prayed to God in his penitential sorrows, “Here, O Lord, burn and cut my flesh, that thou mayest spare me for ever.” For so said our blessed Saviour, ‘every sacrifice must be burnt with fire;' that is, we must abide in the state of grace; and if we have committed sins we must expect to be put into the state of affliction; and yet the sacrifice will send up a right and untroubled cloud, and a sweet smell to join with the incense of the altar, where the eternal Priest offers a never-ceasing sacrifice. And now I have said a thing against which there can be no exceptions, and of which no just reason can make abatement. For when sickness, which is the condition of our nature, is called for with purposes of redemption; when we are sent to death to secure eternal life; when God strikes us that he may spare us - it shows that we have done things which he essentially hates; and therefore we must be smitten with the rod of God: but in the midst of judgment God remembers mercy, and makes the rod to be medicinal, and, like the rod of God in the hand of Aaron, to shoot forth buds and leaves and almonds, hopes and mercies and eternal recompenses, in the day of restitution. This is so great a good to us, if it be well conducted in all the channels of its intention and design, that if we had put off the objections of the flesh with abstractions, contempts, and separations, so as we ought to do, it were as earnestly to be prayed for as any gay blessing that crowns our cups with joy and our heads with garlands and forgetfulness. But this was it which I said, that this may, nay, that it ought to be chosen, at least by an after-election; for so said St. Paul, ‘If we judge ourselves, we shall not be condemned of the Lord;' that is, if we judge ourselves worthy of the sickness, if we acknowledge and confess God's justice in smiting us, if we take the rod of God in the infliction; and then the sickness, beginning and being managed in the virtue of repentance and patience and resignation and charity, will end in peace and pardon and justification and consignation to glory. That I have spoken truth, I have brought God's Spirit speaking in Scripture for a witness. But, if this be true, there are not many states of life that have advantages which can outweigh this great instrument of security to our final condition. Moses died at the mouth of the Lord, said the story; he died with the kisses of the Lord's mouth:8888Deut. xxxiv. 5. (so the Chaldee paraphrase:) it was the greatest he kissed him and he died. But I have some things to observe for the better finishing this consideration.
1. All these advantages and lessenings of evils in the state of sickness are only upon the stock of virtue and religion. There is nothing can make sickness in any sense eligible, or in many senses tolerable, but only the grace of God;8989Haec clementia non paratur arte: sed norunt cui serviunt ieones. Si iatus aut renes morbo tententur acuto, Quaere fugaim morbi. Vis recite vivere? quis non? Si virtus hoc una potest dare, fortis omissis Hoc age delicis — Horat. 1.i.ep.6. that only turns sickness into easiness and felicity which also turns it into virtue. For whosoever goes about to comfort a vicious person, when he lies sick upon his bed, can only discourse of the necessities of nature, of the unavoidableness of the suffering, of the accidental vexations and increase of torments by impatience, of the fellowship of all the sons of Adam, and such other little considerations; which indeed, if sadly reflected upon, and found to stand alone, teach him nothing but the degree of his calamity, and the evil of his condition, and teach him such a patience, and minister to him such a comfort, which an only make him to observe decent gestures in his sickness, and to converse with his friends and standers-by so as may do them comfort, and ease their funeral and civil complaints, but do him no true advantage; for all that may be spoken to a beast when he is crowned with hair-laces, and bound with fillets to the altar, to bleed to death to appease the anger of the Deity, and to ease the burden of his relatives. And indeed what comfort can he receive whose sickness as it looks back, is an effect of God's indignation and fierce vengeance, and if it goes forward and enters into the gates of the grave is the beginning of a sorrow that shall never have an ending? But when the sickness is a messenger sent from a chastising father; when it first turns into degrees of innocence, and then into virtues, and thence into pardon, this is no misery, but such a method of the divine economy and dispensation as resolves to bring us to heaven without any new impositions, but merely upon the stock and charges of nature.
2. Let it be observed, that these advantages which spring from sickness are not in all instances of virtue, nor to all persons. Sickness is the proper scene for patience and resignation, for all the passive graces of a Christian, for faith and hope, and for some single acts of the love of God. But sickness is not a fit station for a penitent; and it can serve the ends of the grace of repentance but accidentally. Sickness may begin a repentance,9090Nec tamen putaverant ad rem pertinere, ubi inciperent, quod placuerat ut fieret if God continues life, and if we co-operate with the divine grace; or sickness may help to alleviate the wrath of God, and to facilitate the pardon, if all the other parts of this duty be performed in our healthful state, so that it may serve at the entrance in or at the going out. But sickness, at no hand, is a good stage to represent all the substantial parts of this duty; 1. it invites to it; 2. it makes it appear necessary; 3. it takes off the fancies of vanity; 4. it attempters the spirit; 5. it cures hypocrisy; 6. it tames the fumes of pride; 7. it is the school of patience; 8. and by taking us from off the brisker relishes of the world, it makes us with more gust to taste the things of the Spirit: and all this only when God fits the circumstances of the sickness so as to consist with acts of reason, consideration, choice, and a present and reflecting mind which then God sends, when he means that the sickness of the body should be the cure of the soul. But let no man so rely upon it as, by design to trust the beginning, the progress, and the consummation of our piety to such an estate, which for ever leaves it imperfect; and though to some persons it adds degrees, and ministers opportunities, and exercises single acts with great advantage, in passive graces; yet it is never an entire or sufficient instrument for the change of our condition from the state of death to the liberty and life of the sons of God.
3. It were good, if we would transact the affairs of our souls with nobleness and ingenuity, and that we would, by an early and forward religion, prevent the necessary arts of the divine providence. It is true that God cures some by incision, by fire, and torments; but these are ever the more obstinate and more unrelentint natures. God's providence is not so afflictive and full of trouble,9191Neque tam aversa unquam videbitur ab opere suo providentia, ut debilitas inter optima inventa sit. as that it hath placed sickness and infirmity amongst things simply necessary; and, in most persons, it is but a sickly and an effeminate virtue, which is imprinted upon our spirits with fears, and the sorrows of a fever, or a peevish consumption. It is but a miserable remedy to be beholden to a sickness for our health; and though it be better to suffer the loss of a finger than that the arm and the whole body should putrefy, yet even then also it is a trouble and an evil to lose a finger. He that mends with sickness pares the nails of the beast when they have already torn off part of the flesh: but he that would have a sickness become a clear and an entire blessing, a thing indeed to be reckoned among the good things of God and the evil things of the world, must lead a holy life, and judge himself with an early sentence; and so order the affairs of his soul, that, in the usual method of God's saving us, there may be nothing left to be done, but that such virtues should be exercised which God intends to crown; and then, as when the Athenians upon a day of battle, with longing and uncertain souls sitting in their common-hall, expecting what would be the sentence of the day, at last received a messenger who only had breath enough left him to say, “We are conquerors,” and so died, - so shall the sick person, who hath ‘fought a good fight and kept the faith,' and only waits for his dissolution and his sentence, breathe forth his spirit with the accents of a conquer, and his sickness and his death shall only make the mercy and the virtue more illustrious.
But for the sickness itself: if all the calumnies were true concerning it with which it is aspersed, yet it is far to be preferred before the most pleasant sin, and before a great secular business and a temporal care; and some men wake as much in the foldings of the softest beds, as others on the cross; and sometimes the very weight of sorrow and the weariness of a sickness press the spirit into slumbers and the images of rest, when the intemperate or the lustful person rolls upon his uneasy thorns, and sleep is departed from his eyes. Certain it is some sickness is a blessing. Indeed blindness were a most accursed thing,9292Detestabilis erit caecitae, si nemo oculos perdiderit nisi cui eruendi sunt. if no man were ever blind but he whose eyes were pulled out with tortures or burning basins: and if sickness were always a testimony of God's anger, and a violence to a man's whose condition, then it were a huge calamity; but because God sends it to his servants, to his children, to little infants, to apostles and saints, with designs of mercy to preserve their innocence, to overcome temptation, to try their virtue, to fit them for rewards: it is certain that sickness never is an evil but by our own faults, and if we will do our duty, we shall be sure to turn it into a blessing. If the sickness be great, it may end in death, and the greater it is9393Memineris ergo maximos dolores morte finiri, parvos habere multa intervalla requietis, mediocrium nos esse dominos. Cicero. the sooner; and if it be very little, it hath great intervals of rest; if it be between both, we may be masters of it, and by serving the ends of Providence serve also the perfective end of human nature, and enter into the possession of everlasting mercies.
The sum is this: He that is afraid of pain is afraid of his own nature; and if his fear be violent it is a sign his patience is none at all, and an impatient person is not ready-dressed for heaven. None but suffering, humble, and patient persons can go to heaven; and when God hath given us the whole stage of our life to exercise all the active virtues of religion, it is necessary in the state of virtues, that some portion and period of our lives be assigned to passive graces; for patience, for Christian fortitude, for resignation or conformity to the Divine will. But as the violent fear of sickness makes us impatient, so it will make our death without comfort and without religion; and we shall go off from our stage of actions and sufferings with an unhandsome exit, because we were willing to receive the kindness of God, when he expressed it as we listed; but we would not suffer him to be king and gracious to us in his own method, nor were willing to exercise and improve our virtues at the charge of a sharp fever, or a lingering consumption. ‘Woe be to the man that hath lost patience; for what will he do when the Lord shall visit him?'9494Ecclus ii. 15.
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