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(caption title) A Word of Comfort for the Sick Soldier.
[between 1861 and 1865]
4937 Conf. (Rare Book Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
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IT is bad, under any circumstances, to be sick. Pain, nausea, emaciation, feebleness, wearisome days, sleepless nights, depression of spirits, and a dread of greater sufferings, and of approaching death, are the usual accompaniments of sickness. Only those who have tasted know the bitterness of the cup. How hard it is to endure, through tedious days and nights, the burning of fever, the throbbing of pain, and the prostration of strength! But the condition of the sick or wounded soldier, in the camp, or in the hospital, is peculiarly trying. Far from home and kindred, he feels lonely and desolate. No friendly voice utter words of encouragement to him, no familiar countenounce sheds its cheering light upon him, and no kind hand anticipates and supplies his wants. His narrow cot, his bed of straw, and his coarse fare, remind him, by painful contrast, of the comfort and luxuries which he enjoyed in his distant and loved home.-- The sighs, and groans, and dying struggles of his fellow-sufferers, disturb his slumbers, and fill his waking hours with gloom. And to all these evils must be added, though it is to be hoped in few in few instances, the rudeness of surgeons, and the inattention and heartlessness of nurses.
Sincerely do I sympathize with the sick soldier in his suffering and desolation. I come to you, my brother, not to staunch your wounds, or check your disease, or mitigate
your pains, or supply your bodily wants--though I would gladly do all these things--but to offer you words of comfort and encouragement.
Do you love Christ? This is an important question. You may not be able to answer it with confidence. Some Christians are strong in faith, having attained to the full assurance of hope, and can joyfully say with Paul, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." It is cause for unfeigned thanksgiving to God, if you belong to this favored class. But other Christians are "weak in faith," having their minds clouded by doubts, and fears. With sinking Peter, they subjected themselves to the just rebuke, "Wherefore dost thou doubt?" To this class it may be your infirmity or your sin to belong. In some Christians, doubts are a weakness, arising from an unfortunate temperament, or a deranged nervous system. Viewing every subject on its dark side, they are naturally inclined to be undecided, irresolute and discouraged. In their bosoms doubts find a congenial soil, spring up, and grow apace. Persons of this class are entitled to our sincere sympathy, and should be pitied rather than blamed--encouraged rather than reproved. These are the lambs that the good Shepherd gathers with his arms and tenderly carries in his bosom. Isa. xl, 11. But doubts spring more frequently from neglected privileges, forsaken duties, or sins indulged, than from infirmity. That faith is not of God, but of the devil, which the commission of known sin does not shake. If a man who lives in sin has no doubt of his acceptance with God, he has reason to fear that God has sent him strong delusion that he should believe a lie.--2 Thess. i, 11.
Perhaps, you are, or were, a professor of religion. You can call to remembrance "the blessedness you knew when first you saw the Lord." Christ appeared to you as "altogether lovely"--precisely adapted to your spiritual necessities, having all fulness dwelling in him. His mercy, faithfulness, and glory were your meditation, delight aud song, by day and by by night. Then was his word your food, his
house your home, his people your companions, his service your employment, and his glory your aim. Then you found it sweet to mingle with the disciples of Jesus in prayer and praise. Then you supposed that your mountains stood strong, and that you should never be moved. But a sad change has come over your spirit. Christ did not forsake you, but you have forsaken him. The world engrossed your time and affections, sinners enticed you, your privileges were undervalued and neglected, dnties were forgotten, and sins, it may be, were knowingly committed, and the natural consequences ensued--the light of God's countenance, and the strengthening influence of his spirit, were withdrawn, and you sank into insensibility and doubts. You cannot relinquish your hope--you would not exchange it for the world--but it does not sustain and cheer you. You are not without evidence of your acceptance with God, but it is dim and unsatisfactory. The brightness of your past is in painful contrast with the darkness of your present experience.
Do not despond, my brother. You have cause for shame, sorrow, weeping and anxiety, but not for despair. If God has begun a good work in you, he will perform it to the day of Jesus Christ. The same mercy that received you at, first, will receive you again. "Return unto me, and I will return unto you," saith the Lord. "Remember, therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." Do you feel your sins to be a burden? Do you deplore the hardness of your heart! Do you pray that God would restore unto you the joy of salvation? Do you, renouncing your own righteousness, trust in Christ for deliverance? Is your heart drawn toward Christ, and toward his people? These are encouraging signs of grace. Go to Christ just as you did in the beginning, with the burden of your guilt, the plague of your heart, and your sense of unworthiness, and trust in his mercy and faithfulness, and he will in no wise cast you out. Say with holy Job, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him," That same Jesus that bore your sins on the cross, ever lives to make intercession
for you. He has never rejected a suppliant sinner and he will not reject you.
"Raise thy down cast eyes and see
What crowds his throne surround!
There, though sinners once like thee,
Have full salvation found.
Yield not then to unbelief,
While he says, 'There yet is room;'
Though of sinners thou art chief,
Since Jesus calls thee, come."
Your sickness, my brother, did not come from chance. Where God reigns, and he reigns everywhere, there is no chance, but events are all wisely ordered. The bow may be drawn at a venture, but God directs the arrow. The pestilence that walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noon-day, are under his guidance. "The Lord hath erected his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all."
Your disease is of divine appointment. Its kind, degree and circumstances, were all determined by the Lord.-- Why he afflicted you, it may be impossible for you fully to comprehend. He takes no pleasure in your sufferings; "for he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." There was a necessity for your trial, and it is wisely adapted to that necessity[.] The cup which you are called to drink is bitter, but it is medicinal, and was mixed and administered by one who loves you.
Christ will be near you in your sickness. It is a great trial that your dear kindred and friends, who would nurse you with so much sympathy and tenderness, are far from you in your sufferings; but it is an unspeakable comfort that Christ is near you. From him neither time, nor place, nor disasters can separate you; "for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." He is a sympathizing High-priest--\a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.--
If Christ be with you, there is no cause to be alarmed at any evil. "Thus saith the Lord, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by name: thou art mine.-- When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." He, that preserved the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace, can safely cary you through the furnace of affliction.
Christ can, not only support, but comfort and cheer you in your loneliness and sufferings. He can turn the darkness of night into the brightness of morning. No cup is so bitter but that he can sweeten it. When God makes the bed of his people in sickness, as he has promise to do, they find it 'soft as downy pillows are." Many disciples of Christ have experienced a higher joy on beds of langor and pain than they ever knew in health and prosperity. "I had great joy," said a returned missionary, "when after years of absence, among the heathen, I first saw the mountains of my native country; but it was nothing to the joy I felt when I expected soon to die, and go to my heavenly Father.
Christ, my friend, if you love him, will not only comfort you in your sickness, but convert it into a rice blessing. Affliction enters into that system by which God prepares his children for heaven; "for our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Sickness is a fatherly chastisement, not joyous but grievous, with which God exercises his children-- Heb. xii, 6. It teaches us lessons that we need to learn, but which we can learn only in the school of affliction. It is easy to declaim on the vanity of the world, and on the preciousness of the divine promises; but only the afflicted, tempest-tossed Christian has an experimental, efficacious knowledge of these things. He can testify that the world is vain, for he has felt its utter impotence to relieve and comfort him. He knows, because he has tasted, that the Lord is gracious. What the crucible is to gold, affliction is to the christian--it purifies and brightens him. It restrains the turbulent passions, mortifies the corrupt lusts,
exercises and develops the spiritual graces, and improves the life. As there are some flowers that flourish only on the beetling cliffs, so there are Christian graces that thrive only in the bleak storms of adversity. When shall we find patience, submission, deadness to the world, strong confidence in God, and the bright hope of heaven, as we find them in the chamber of sickness and suffering? If we search for eminent piety, we shall be likely to discover it, not in scenes of prosperity, not in the dwellings of the healthful and vigorous, but in the house of affliction: and on the bed of langor and pain. Many children of God may say with David, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now do I keep thy commandments."
There are many most precious privileges, my brother, of which sickness cannot deprive you. It may detain you from the public worship of God, incapacitate you to read the scriptures, deprive you of Christian sympathy and intercourse, and of all opportunities for active usefulness; but while reason keeps its throne, it cannot prevent you from praying to your heavenly Father. The throne of grace is accessible at all times, from all places, to all the sons of God. If you cannot turn on your coach, you may turn your eyes to the blood besprinkled mercy seat. If you cannot speak, you may pray:
"Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire,
That trembles in the breast."
You may be excluded from all outward privileges; but you cannot be excluded from "fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." On the promises of God you may meditate, in the silent watches of the night, and from them derive unfailing strength, consolation and hope. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, dwells peculiarly with the afflicted saint; and you may well endure the want of all earthly good to enjoy his presence. Where he is, there are
light, and liberty and peace, and the fruits of righteousness, and the "dawn of heaven below."
Should God raise you from your sick bed, and prolong your life, as I hope he may, the benefits of your affliction will appear. Chastisements, for the present, are not joyous but grievous, but afterward yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. It is the shining of the sun, after the storm has passed, that diffuses cheerfulness. It is returning health, after protracted and painful sickness, that fills the heart with gratitude, and gladness, and holy resolutions. If you come forth from this furnace, it will be to reflect more brightly the glory of your Redeemer. The renewal of your bodily strength and beauty will be but the symbol of the more important renovation of your inner man. You will not be delivered from your warfare, but you will be more vigilant, more courageous, and more hopeful in the conflict. When Peter was converted from his self-confidence, he was better qualified than he could have been before his fall, to strengthen and encourage his brethren.--Luke xxii: 32.-- And should God deliver you from this affliction, you will be better fitted, than otherwise you could be, to sympathize with the suffering, to pray for them, and to instruct and comfort them. As long as you live, you will be a better and more useful Christian from the discipline and experience which you are receiving in the hospital. Your sojourn there may, through grace, be your brighest days.
But should you die in the hospital, as die you may, death will be your gain. "The day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth," says Solomon--this is true of every good man. If God, my afflicted brother, should see fit to remove you from the hospital to heaven, what a happy, glorious change it will be. Your body may be borne to the tomb, without pomp, and without tears, and be deposited in its lonely bed, among the multidudes of its pale and sleeping compatriots; but your spirit, refined and beautified, will be carried by angels to the "bosom of Abraham." Then how light, and yet how beneficial will seem all the sufferings of the past. Then it will appear that God led you forth by the
right way, that he might conduct you to a city of habitation. Then you will join that favored throng, who have come "out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb," And of whom the celestial eder said, "Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in histemple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of them shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe all tears from their eyes."--Rev. vii: 14--17.
Oh for a closer walk with God;
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
Where is, the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus, and his word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoy'd
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.
Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made me mourn
And drove thee from my breast.