Sickness takes us aside and sets us alone with God. We are taken into his private chamber, and there he converses with us face to face. The world is afar off, our relish for it is gone, and we are alone with Him. Many are the words of grace and truth which he then speaks to us. All our former props are struck away, and now we must lean on God alone. The things of earth are felt to be vanity. Man’s sympathy deserts us. We are cast wholly upon God, that we may learn that his praise and his sympathy are enough.
There is something in sickness that lowers the pride of manhood, that softens the heart, and brings it back to the feelings of infancy. Who that has languished, even in advanced life, in sickness, but has thought of the mother who watched over his childhood, who smoothed his pillow, and administered to his helplessness? When a man is laboring under the pain of any distemper, it is then that he recollects there is a God, and that he himself is but a man. No mortal is then the object of his envy, his admiration, or his contempt, and, having no malice to gratify, the tales of slander excite him not. But it unveils to him his own heart. It shows him the need there is for sympathy and love between man and man. Thus disease, opening our eyes to the realities of life, is an indirect blessing. One who has never known a day’s illness is lacking in one department, at least, of moral culture. He has lost the greatest lesson of his life; he has missed the finest lecture in that great school of humanity, the sick chamber.
Disease generally begins that equality which death completes. The distinctions which set one man so much above another are very little perceived in the gloom of a sick chamber, where it will be vain to expect entertainment from the gay or instruction from the wise; where all human glory is obliterated, the wit is clouded, the reasoner perplexed, and the hero subdued; where the highest and brightest of mortal beings finds nothing of real worth left him but the consciousness of innocence.
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 noticed. From the noisy, wrestling world we are separated completely; 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.
It is on the bed of sickness that we fully realize the value of good health. The first wealth is health. Sickness is poor-spirited, and can not serve any one; but health is one of the greatest blessings we are capable of enjoying. Money can not buy it; therefore, value it, and be thankful for it. Health is above all gold and treasure. It enlarges the soul, and opens all its powers to receive instruction and to relish virtue. He that has health has but little more to wish for; and he that has it not, in the want of it wants every thing. It is beyond price, since it is by health that money is procured. Thousands, and even millions, are small recompense for the loss of health. Poverty is, indeed, an evil from which we naturally fly; but let us not run from one enemy to one still more implacable, which is assuredly the lot of those who exchange poverty for sickness, though accompanied by wealth.
In no situation and under no circumstances does human character appear to better advantage than when watching by the side of sickness. The helplessness and weakness of the sick chamber makes a most effective appeal to the charity and natural kindness inherent in the hearts of all, even of the most degraded. Thus it appears that sickness is not only of discipline to the sick one, but it serves also, to bring to a more perfect growth the flowers of charity and kindness in the hearts of those who care for the sick one.
It is on the sick-bed that the heart learns most completely the value of self-examination. Life passes before the sick one as a gliding panorama. How strong are the resolutions formed for future guidance! And only God and the angels know how many lives have been turned from evil courses to the right, have been snatched as brands from the burning, who can date their progress in the good and true modes of living from some bed of sickness. Then, let us be patient in sickness. Let us turn it to account in the bettering of our hearts, and thus may we reap from seeming evil what will conduce in no small degree to our ultimate happiness.
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