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The Afflicted Man's Companion (3)

by Rev. John Willison

How is the Christian to confront sickness, and to make preparation for death in the face of such illness?

First published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue 23, July-September 2001.


Containing General Directions To All Families and Persons Visited With Sickness

DIRECTION III. - When any fit of sickness attacks you, think seriously upon death, and make diligent preparations for it .

I do not mean that any man may delay the work of preparation for death, till sickness cometh: No, no, this should be the great and uptaking business of every man in the time of his health and strength. But sickness and diseases being the harbingers of death, and messengers sent from God to warn us of its coming; every man is thereby called to renew the work of preparing for death with all earnestness and application. God's voice, by every fit of sickness, is that in Deut. xxxii. 29. "O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end." God knows our folly, and readiness to forget this great work in the day of health; and therefore in his mercy he sends sickness and affliction, to teach us so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to this piece of heavenly wisdom, of making preparation for death.

And here I shall drop, 1st, Some motives to press it. 2dly, Advice for the doing it right.

I. For motives, consider these things:

1st, Consider God's mercy and patience towards you, in giving you so many warnings, and so many years to prepare for death: and in sending his messengers and warnings so gently and gradually to excite you to this work, when many younger and stronger than you are hurried into eternity, and little or no time given them to think where they are going. Have you not been spared many years in the midst of dangers, when you have seen that bold archer death, shooting his arrows, and killing thousands of your neighbours and friends round about you? Sometimes the arrow hath glanced over your head, and slain some great man, your superior; sometimes it hath lighted at your feet, and cut off a child or servant, your inferior, sometimes it hath gone by on your left hand, and killed your enemy; at other times it hath passed on your right hand, and killed your near relations. So that you have seen friends and foes, superiors and inferiors, relations and strangers dropping down dead round about you; and all this for a long tract of time, to give you warning to prepare for death. O let the goodness and forbearance of God towards you, lead you to repentance, and persuade you to flee speedily to Christ for refuge, and protection from wrath.

2dly, Consider how terrible death will be, if it meets you in an unprepared state, in a Christless and impenitent condition. What a fearful change will it bring upon you! A change from earth to hell, from hope to despair, from pleasure to pain, from comforts to terrors; a change from the offers of grace to the revelation of wrath; a change from probabilities to utter impossibilities of salvation. Death will cut off all your hopes and expectations of mercy for ever, Job. xxvii. 3. There is no coming back to amend what hath been done amiss here, and there is no work nor device in the grave whither you go. As the tree falls, so will it lie through all eternity.

II. I come to give some advice, in order to the right preparation for death.

1st, Set about self-examination work. Inquire if you be in Christ or not; if you be yet far off from God, or if you be brought near by the blood of Christ. And see that you be impartial in this search, and willing to find out the truth in this important question. Be not foolishly tender of yourself and apt to believe that you are safe, when it is not so; for in this way thousands do ruin themselves. But be content to know the worst of your case, and thoroughly to understand your soul's danger, that you may be moved to take the right way to escape it. Wherefore take a view of the marks of Christless and unconverted persons, set down in God's word, and judge yourself by them, and consider also the signs of true grace there recorded, and see if they be applicable to you or not.

2dly, If, after inquiry, you find your state is bad, that you have been a lover of the world more than of God, you have minded your body more than your soul; you have lived in the neglect of precious Christ, allowed yourself in known sin; O then he convinced of your inability to help yourself, and your need of Christ to help you. And labour to be deeply humbled before God under a sense of your sin and folly. "Ah, how foolishly, how rebelliously, how unthankfully have I carried! I have abused God's mercies, and left undone the work for which I was made, preserved, and enjoyed the gospel. O! I had all my by-past time given me to make preparation for endless eternity, and I have never minded it till now that sickness, the harbinger of death is come upon me; and now what shall I do to be saved?" Well then, in order to convince and humble you the more, cast back your eyes upon the sins of your nature, and of your by-past life; view them in their number, nature, aggravations and deserts. O, do not so many years' sins need a deep humiliation? O, do you not stand greatly in need of such a person as Christ to be your Saviour and ransomer from such a vast number of sins? O but their weight will press you eternally down to the lowest hell, if left to yourself, and laid upon your back.

3dly, O sinner, art thou deeply humbled and desirous of mercy upon any terms? Believe, then, that thy case is not remediless, but that there is a sacrifice provided for your sins, and an able and all-sufficient Saviour in your offer. Believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and became flesh, to be a surety for you; that he is both able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him. Though your sins, your dangers, and your fears were ever so great, yet he is able and willing to save. O flee presently to this refuge city, whose gates are ever open to receive you. Trust your souls upon Christ's sacrifice and meritorious blood for mercy and salvation. Apply humbly to him, that he may teach you the will of God, reconcile you to his Father, pardon your sins, renew you by his Spirit, and save you from eternal wrath.

4thly, Give up yourself to God in Christ, by way of covenant and solemn resignation. Every man doth this sacramentally in baptism; but you must also renew it personally and explicitly; and thereby give a cordial and voluntary consent to the covenant of grace. Acquiesce cheerfully in the gospel way of salvation through Christ and his righteousness, and accept of God in Christ, as thy portion. Make choice of God the Father, as thy reconciled Father in Christ; and God the Son, as thy Redeemer and Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost, for thy sanctifier, guide and comforter. And likewise give up thyself, soul and body, and all thou hast, to be the Lord's; engaging, in Christ's strength, to live for God and walk with him in newness of life. And study to do all this deliberately, unfeignedly, and cheerfully. Though perhaps you have done this hypocritically at former times, you have profaned God's covenant, and behaved unsteadfastly and perfidiously therein; yet now endeavour to be sincere with God for once.

5thly, Believing daily, in the exercise of faith and repentance renew the acts thereof frequently, in proportion to your renewed sins and guiltiness, cleave close to glorious Christ your High Priest and surety, and be ever washing in his blood. As long as you are in the world, you will need to wash your feet, John xii. 10. Come death when it will, let it find you at the fountain always looking to, and making use of Jesus Christ. You have great need of Christ every day of your life, more especially in sickness, but most of all at a dying hour. O what need will you have of Christ then as an advocate with God, when the question is to be determined, where your mansion is to be assigned through all eternity, whether in heaven or hell! O then be looking always to Christ with the eye of faith. Live in the constant thoughts of this blessed Mediator. Let him be first in your thoughts in the morning and last in your thoughts at night.

6thly, By striving to mortify every sin and lust, both outward and inward,–by dying to sin daily, that so you may not die for sin eternally. O that sin may be daily losing its strength, and dying in you! so that it may be certainly dead before you! Pray earnestly that all your sins may die before you die: for if they die not before you, but outlive the dying body, they will live eternally to sting and torment the never dying soul.

(To be continued, D.V.)