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The Afflicted Man's Companion (2)

by Rev. John Willison

In this article, Rev John Willison gives sound advice as to how we are to deal with illness and affliction. How do we ascertain the root cause of our condition?

First published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue 22, April-June 2001.


Containing General Directions To All Families and Persons Visited With Sickness

DIRECTION II. – Let all who are visited with sickness and distress, search for the Achan in the camp, and inquire diligently what is the ground and cause of God'scontroversy with them.

It has been the practice of God's people in scripture-times, to inquire into the meaning of God's rods that have been laid upon them. So David, 2 Sam. xxi. when the land of Israel was three years under the stroke of famine, he inquired into the meaning of it. So Job is exceedingly desirous to know why God set him as a mark for his arrows, Job vii. 20. and hence it is that he makes that petition, Job x. 2. which is most suitable to every man in distress, "Show me wherefore thou contendest with me."

I grant, indeed, that God sometimes visits his people with affliction for the trial and exercise of their grace, and for their spiritual instruction, more than for their correction or their sin. But, sin being the original and foundation of all affliction, it is safest, when it is our own case, and most acceptable to God, to own sin as the procuring cause. Or, if our sins have not immediately procured the present affliction, yet the best of God's children must own that they have at least deserved it; for God never afflicted a perfectly innocent person, there is still just cause for it. We see the sin of the Corinthians is mentioned as the cause of their sickness, 1 Cor. xi. 30. "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you." The Psalmist concludes the very same thing, Psalm cvii. 17, 18. "Fools, because of their transgressions and their iniquities, are afflicted; their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw nigh unto the gates of death." But ordinarily by sickness the Lord points at one sin in us more than another, some Jonah in the ship that hath raised the storm, which the Lord would have us to search out, and throw overboard without delay.

Question: - But, how shall we discover and find out the particular sin for which God afflicts us with sickness and distress?

Answer: – 1st, Study the Lord's word, and the chastisements there recorded which he hath inflicted upon people for their sins, and inquire if you be guilty of the like. Observe what hath been God's mind to his people, and what sin it pointed out to them, when they have been brought under such a rod, and so you may learn his mind to you, Rom. xv. 4. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning."

2dly, Consider what is the sin which conscience doth most of all accuse thee for, in thy most serious and solitary hours. Conscience is God's deputy, and thy bosom monitor, whose voice perhaps thou hast little regarded in the day of thy health; wherefore God hath sent a sharper messenger to second the voice of conscience. Hear now the voice of the rod, for it is the same with the voice of conscience. In the day of prosperity, carnal profits and pleasures made such a noise that the voice of conscience could not be heard, wherefore God hath brought on thee the silent night of adversity, that his deputy may obtain audience. Well then, give ear; what saith conscience now? May you not hear it saying, as Reuben to his brethren in distress, spake I not to you in the day of health, do not commit such a sin, and do not delay repenting for such a sin, but you would not hear? O man, let conscience get a hearing at last, as it got with the patriarchs when they were brought to distress in Egypt, and made them confess their sin in selling of Joseph, Gen. xliii. 21. "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear. Therefore is this distress come upon us."

3dly, Consider what are these evils that others have observed in you, whether they be friends or foes. Hearken to what a Christian friend noticeth in you, either when speaking to you, or to others about you: "Let the righteous smite me," saith David, "and it shall be a kindness." Yea, do not disregard what even enemies say of you. As David got good by the malicious reproaches of Shimei in the day of his affliction, so may you in the time of distress, for sometimes malice itself will speak truth. Enemies are sharpsighted to spy out our faults, and so may, through the divine blessing, prove monitors to us, both with respect to sin and duty.

4thly, Consider the nature and circumstances of thy distress. Ofttimes the affliction is so suitable to the transgression, that we may clearly read our sin written on the forehead of our punishment, as in the case of Adonibezek, and many others. And also you may be helped to find it out by the Lord's timing of the rod to you. Was it sent when you were under much formality in duty? or when you were eagerly pursuing the things of the world? or when you were under the power of some prevailing lust or other? Then the rod comes to reprove you, and awake you to see the evil thereof.

5thly, Consider what is the sin that hath been formerly most affrighting to thy thoughts, and perplexing to thy conscience, when thou hast been in the immediate view of death and a tribunal. It is very likely, (if thou hast not truly repented of it) that is the sin which God now intends to awake you to see the evil of, that thou mayest sincerely mourn for and turn from it, looking to God in Christ for pardon and mercy.

Object. Ah! (saith one) it is my lot to lie under a dumb and silent rod, I do not understand its language, I cannot hear its voice, I cannot find out the sin that is pointed at by it: what course shall I take?

Answer 1. Be deeply humbled under this trial, and bewail thy case before the Lord; for it very much aggravates the affliction of God's people when they know not the language of it. Hence was it that Job lamented so heavily, that his way was hid, and he knew not the reason of God's contending with him, Job iii. 23.

2. A believer's ease may be sometimes so dark that it requires a great deal of spiritual art and wisdom to enable him to hear the voice of the rod, and understand its language. Hence it is said, "He is a man of wisdom that seeth God's name upon it," Micah vi. 9. Now, this wisdom must only come from above. Therefore,

3. Go to God, and earnestly beg for this wisdom, that you may know his mind, and the meaning of the rod. Do as Rebekah, when the children struggled in her womb, she went to enquire of the Lord, saying, "Why am I thus?" Gen. xxv. 22. Cry to God to give you this spirit, to teach and enlighten you, to see sin in its evil, and the particular evils you are guilty of. This was Job's course in his affliction; "Show me," says he, "wherefore thou contendest with me. That which I know not, teach thou me. Make me to know my transgression and my sin." There is no better way for a prisoner to know the reason of his confinement, than to ask the magistrate that committed him. God is a wise agent, and can give the best account of his own actions.

4. If thou canst not find out the particular sin for which God afflicts thee, then labour to repent of every known sin, and cry for pardon of every unknown and forgotten sin also. Do that out of wisdom, which Herod did out of malice, who because he could not find out the babe Jesus, killed all the children of Bethlehem, that he might be sure to kill Jesus among them. Let us seek the utter ruin and death of all our sins, that we may be sure to destroy that sin for which God afflicts us.

5. Study to exercise a strong faith, and a humble submission, while God keeps you under the silent rod. Believe firmly, that God is most just, though you know not for what he contends. And, however long he thinks fit to make you walk in the dark, resolve humbly to wait on him, and commit yourself to him, who has many times guided the blind in the way they knew not.

(To be continued, D.V.)