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For what happiness can you possess in this world, whilst your soul, your immortal soul, is in such imminent danger? If you were only, like David, encompassed with armed hosts that were seeking to destroy you, you would be full of alarm and terror: and can you enjoy a moment's ease, while it is doubtful whether in the space of a few days you shall not lie down in everlasting burnings? I pray you to awake from your security: and “give neither sleep to your eyes nor slumber to your eyelids," till you have a good and well-founded hope, that Jesus is your Saviour, and till you are enabled to say with Paul, “ He has loved me, and given himself for me."]
COMPASSION TO THE SICK.
Ps. xxxv. 13, 14. As for me, when they were sick, my cloth
ing was sackcloth : I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
THE precepts of Christianity appear to be so pure and exalted, that all attempt to obey them must be vain. This is particularly the case with respect to the conduct which is to be observed towards those who injure us. To forgive them, is not sufficient. We must not only forbear to avenge ourselves upon them, but must do them good, and
act towards them with most unbounded benevolence : “I say unto you,” says our Lord, “Love your enemies; bless them that curse you ; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” But this duty is by no means impracticable : for even under the Law it was practised to an astonishing extent by David, who laboured to the uttermost, not only “not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.”
Scarcely any thing could exceed the bitterness of Saul towards his servant David : yet when David had him altogether, and as it should seem by a special intervention of Providence, in his power, he would neither hurt him himself, nor suffer him to be hurt by others : nay more, when either Saul, or any of those who joined with him in his relentless persecution of an unoffending servant, were stricken with any disease by God himself, so far from rejoicing at it, or even being unconcerned about it, he laid it to heart, and set himself by fasting and prayer to obtain for them a removal, or at least a sanctified improvement of their sufferings : in a word, he felt for them as if they had been his dearest friends, or his most honoured relatives.
Whilst this conduct of David evinced the height of his attainments in relation to a forgiving spirit, it shewed how justly he estimated the condition of a man oppressed with sickness, and at the same time destitute of the consolations of religion, and unprepared to meet his God. This is a subject deserving of peculiar attention : for, in truth, it is very seldom viewed as it ought to be, even by religious characters. Slighter feelings of sympathy are common enough ; but such as are described in our text are rarely experienced. To excite them in all our hearts, we shall shew, I. How much the sick stand in need of our com
passionUngodly men, whether in health or sickness, are in a truly pitiable condition ; for “they are walking in darkness, and ignorant whither they are going, whilst they are on the very brink and precipice of the bottomless abyss of hell. But in sickness they are peculiar objects of our compassion : for,
They are then bereft of all that they before enjoyed
[The pleasures of society, the sports of the field, the amusements of the theatre or the ball, and even the researches of science, have now lost their relish - They have neither strength nor spirits for such employments. Even the light itself, which is so cheering to those in health, is almost excluded from their chamber, because of their inability to endure its splendour.] Nor have they any substitute to repair their loss
[Those who were their companions in pleasure, have no taste for those things which alone would administer comfort in this trying hour. They may make from time to time their
complimentary inquiries, but they cannot sympathize with the afflicted, and, by participation, lighten their burthens. If they come to visit their friend, they have nothing to speak of but vanity, nothing that can strengthen his weak hands, or sustain his troubled mind. “ Miserable comforters are they all, and physicians of no value.” Nor does the sick person himself find it so easy to turn his mind to heavenly things as he once imagined. When immersed in the world, he supposed that it would be time enough to think of eternity when he should be laid aside by sickness; and he concluded that in that season he should feel no difficulty in turning his mind to heavenly contemplations: but he now finds that this is a very unfavourable season for such employment, and that pain or lassitude unfit him for them. He cannot collect his mind; he cannot fix it with any energy on things to which it has been a stranger : and the feelings of the body almost incapacitate him from attending to the concerns of the soul. Thus, however he may abound in worldly wealth and honour, he is a poor, destitute, unhappy being - -]
But the distress of the sick is greatly aggravated, if poverty be added to all their other trials
[A poor man in a state of health is as happy as his richer neighbours : but when he falls into sickness, his condition is very pitiable. He is unable to procure the aid which his disorders call for: yea, he cannot provide even the necessaries of life. His family, deprived of his earnings, fall into the extremest want. The little comforts which they have hitherto had for clothing by day and for rest by night, now are sold one after another to supply food for the body, or are pledged never more to be redeemed. Cold, hunger, and nakedness greatly aggravate the pressure of their disorders; and the miseries of a dependent family are an overwhelming addition to the weight already insupportable. The resources which might somewhat alleviate the sorrows of one in opulence, are wholly wanting to the poor: so that, if they have not the consolations of religion to support them in their sickness, they are objects of the deepest commiseration.]
Let us then consider, II. What is that measure of compassion which we
ought to exercise towards themIf we consider only the temporal distress of the sick, our sympathy with them should be deep
[It is not sufficient to express a few words of commiseration, and to send a little relief; we should feel for them as for ourselves; and bear a part of their burthens on our spirit, no way
less than in our purse. It was in this way that Job exercised this amiable disposition: “ Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poora?" And it is in this that we also must fulfil the law of Christb. --]
But more especially should we feel this from a regard for their souls
[Pious as David was, we can have no doubt but that in his griefs for Saul and Doeg, he had respect to their spiritual, as well as their temporal, condition. And this accounts for the strong feelings expressed in our text. He knew in what a fearful state they would be found, if they should die impenitent: and therefore, to obtain for them, if possible, a deliverance from such a heavy judgment, he fasted, and prayed, and clothed himself with sackcloth, and pleaded with God in their behalf, just as if they had been his dearest friends or relatives. He forgat all the injuries which they had done him, and were daily heaping upon him, from a persuasion that they did infinitely greater injury to their own souls, than it was possible for them to do to him. The thought of the danger in which they were of perishing for ever, quite overwhelmed him, so that he was bowed down, and as it were inconsolable, on their account. Now this is precisely the state in which our minds should be towards persons on a bed of sickness, whether they be rich or poor, friends or enemies. Their souls should be precious in our eyes : and we should exercise towards them that very same love which filled the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.” Nor let it be thought that this is proper for ministers only, or for those who have nothing else to occupy their time. David was accustomed to scenes of blood, and occupied day and night with the laborious duties of a General; yet he blended the feelings of sympathy and compassion with the intrepidity and ardour of a man of war. In like manner should we, however high our station, or numerous our engagements, find time and inclination for all the offices of christian love.]
That we may be stirred up to such benevolence, let us contemplate, III. The benefit that will accrue from it to our own
soulsOur exertions, however great, may not always prosper in the way we could wish —
(We fear that Saul and Doeg were but little profited by the sympathy of David. And we also may abound in visiting the sick, and see but little fruit of our labour. Indeed, much of the fruit which we think we see, proves only like the blossom that is soon nipped by the frost, and disappoints our expectations. Not that our labour shall be altogether in vain". We are persuaded, that if we labour with assiduity and tenderness to benefit the souls of men, God will make some use of us. Like Isaiah, we may have occasion to say, “Who hath believed our report?" yet, like him, we shall have in the last day some to present to the Lord, saying, “Here am I, and the children thou hast given me.” “The bread that we have cast upon the waters shall, in part at least, be found after many days."]
a Job xxx. 25. b Gal. vi. 2. Rom. xii. 15. c 2 Cor. viii. 9.
But our labour shall surely be recompensed into our own bosom
[So David found it: his fastings and prayers, if lost to others, were not lost to himself: “they returned into his own bosom.” And thus it will be with us. The very exercise of love, like the incense which regales the offerer with its odours, is a rich recompence to itself. Moreover, every exercise of love strengthens the habit of love in our souls, and thereby transforms us more and more into the Divine image. And may we not say, that exercises of love will bring God himself down into the soul? We appeal to those who are in the habit of visiting the chambers of the sick, whether they have not often found God more present with them on such occasions than at any other time or place? Have they not often, when they have gone with coldness, and even with reluctance, to visit the sick, received such tokens of God's acceptance, as have filled them with shame and self-abhorrence, for not delighting more in such offices of love?
But, if even here so rich a recompence is given, what shall we receive hereafter, when every act of love will be recorded, acknowledged, recompensed; and not even a cup of cold water given for the sake of Christ, shall lose its reward? Little as we think of such actions, (and little we ought to think of them as done by ourselves) our God and Saviour regards them with infinite delight, and will accept every one of them as done unto himself: “I was sick and in prison, and ye
visited ME. Let all then know, if they thus invite the sick, the lame, the blind, to participate with them in their temporal and spiritual advantages," they shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the justo."] ADDRESS
d If this be the subject of a Sermon for a Visiting Society, or Hospital, any particular good that has been done to the souls of men may here be distinctly specified.
e Luke xiv. 14. Heb. vi. 10.