Bishop JC Ryle on Sickness
Lord, he whom You love is sick!” John 11:3
The chapter from which this text is taken, is well known to all Bible readers. In life-like description, in touching interest, in sublime simplicity — there is no writing in existence that will bear comparison with that chapter. A narrative like this is to my own mind, one of the great proofs of the inspiration of Scripture. When I read the story of Bethany, I feel “There is something here which the infidel can never account for. This is nothing else but the finger of God!”
The words which I specially dwell upon in this chapter are singularly affecting and instructive. They record the message which Martha and Mary sent to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was sick: “Lord, he whom You love is sick!” That message was short and simple. Yet almost every word is deeply suggestive.
Mark the child-like faith of these holy women. They turned to the Lord Jesus in their hour of need, as the frightened infant turns to its mother, or the compass-needle turns to the North Pole. They turned to Him as their Shepherd, their almighty Friend, their Brother born for adversity. As different as they were in natural temperament, the two sisters were entirely agreed in this matter. Christ’s help was their first thought in the day of trouble. Christ was the refuge to which they fled in the hour of need. Blessed are all those who do likewise!
Mark the simple humility of their language about Lazarus. They call him “He whom You love. They do not say, “He who loves You, believes in You, serves You” — but “He whom You love.” Martha and Mary were deeply taught of God. They had learned that Christ’s love towards us, and not our love towards Christ — is the true ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope! Blessed, again, are all those who are taught likewise! To look inward to our love towards Christ — is painfully unsatisfying. To look outward to Christ’s love towards us — is peace.
Mark, lastly, the touching circumstance which the message of Martha and Mary reveals: “He whom You love is sick.” Lazarus was a godly man, converted, believing, renewed, sanctified, a friend of Christ, and an heir of glory. And yet Lazarus was sick! Then sickness is no sign that God is displeased. Sickness is intended to be a blessing to us — and not a curse. “All things work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to His purpose.” “All things are yours — life, death, things present, or things to come; for you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 3:22-23. Blessed, I say again, are those who have learned this! Happy are they who can say, when they are ill, “This is my Father’s doing. It must be well!”
I invite the attention of my readers to the subject of sickness. The subject is one which we ought frequently to look in the face. We cannot avoid it. It needs no prophet’s eye to see sickness coming to each of us in turn one day. “In the midst of life — we are in death.”