J. C. Ryle lived from 1816-1900 and was one of the old Anglicans that believed the Bible to be the very Words of the living God. The following is the first part of his message on the subject of Sickness. May the Lord bless as you read this thought provoking message.
“He whom thou lovest is sick.” — John 11:3
I. THE UNIVERSAL PREVALENCE OF SICKNESS
I need not dwell long on this point. To elaborate the proof of it would only be multiplying truisms, and heaping up common-places which all allow.
Sickness is everywhere. In Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in America; in hot countries and in cold, in civilized nations and in savage tribes, men, women, and children sicken and die.
Sickness is among all classes. Grace does not lift a believer above the reach of it. Riches will not buy exemption from it. Rank cannot prevent its assaults. Kings and their subjects, masters and servants, rich men and poor, learned and unlearned, teachers and scholars, doctors and patients, ministers and hearers, all alike go down before this great foe. “The rich
man’s wealth is his strong city” (Pro 18:11). The Englishman’s house is called his castle; but there are no doors and bars which can keep out disease and death.
Sickness is of every sort and description. From the crown of our head to the sole of our foot we are liable to disease. Our capacity of suffering is something fearful to contemplate. Who can count up the ailments by which our bodily frame may be assailed? Who ever visited a museum of morbid anatomy without a shudder? “Strange that a harp of thousand strings
should keep in tune so long.” It is not, to my mind, so wonderful that men should die so soon, as it is that they should live so long.
Sickness is often one of the most humbling and distressing trials that can come upon man. It can turn the strongest into a little child, and make him feel “the grasshopper a burden” (Ecc 12:5). It can unnerve the boldest, and make him tremble at the fall of a pin. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa 139:14). The connection between body and mind is curiously close. The influence that some diseases can exercise upon the temper and spirits is immensely great. There are ailments of brain, and liver, and nerves, which can bring down a Solomon in mind to a state little better than that of a babe. He that would know to what depths of humiliation poor man can fall, has only to attend for a short time on sick-beds.
Sickness is not preventible by anything that man can do. The average duration of life may doubtless be somewhat lengthened. The skill of doctors may continually discover new remedies, and effect surprising cures. The enforcement of wise sanitary regulations may greatly lower the deathrate in a land. But, after all, whether in healthy or unhealthy localities,
whether in mild climates or in cold, whether treated by homeopathy or allopathy,1 men will sicken and die. “The days of our years are three-score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be four-score years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psa 90:10). That witness is indeed true. It was true 3300 years ago. It is true
Now what can we make of this great fact, the universal prevalence of sickness? How shall we account for it? What explanation can we give of it? What answer shall we give to our inquiring children when they ask us, “Father, why do people get ill and die?” These are grave questions. A few words upon them will not be out of place.
Can we suppose for a moment that God created sickness and disease at the beginning? Can we imagine that He who formed our world in such perfect order was the Former of needless suffering and pain? Can we think that He who made all things “very good,” made Adam’s race to sicken and to die?
The idea is, to my mind, revolting. It introduces a grand imperfection into the midst of God’s perfect works. I must find another solution to satisfy my mind. The only explanation that satisfies me is that which the Bible gives. Something has come into the world which has dethroned man from his original position, and stripped him of his original privileges. Something
has come in, which, like a handful of gravel thrown into the midst of machinery, has marred the perfect order of God’s creation. And what is that something? I answer, in one word, It is sin. “Sin [has] entered into the world, and death by sin” (Rom 5:12). Sin is the cause of all the sickness, and disease, and pain, and suffering, which prevail on the earth. They
are all a part of that curse which came into the world when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and fell. There would have been no sickness, if there had been no Fall. There would have been no disease, if there had been no sin.
I pause for a moment at this point, and yet in pausing I do not depart from my subject. I pause to remind my readers that there is no ground so untenable as that which is occupied by the Atheist, the Deist, or the unbeliever in the Bible. I advise every young reader of this paper, who is puzzled by the bold and specious arguments of the infidel, to study well that
most important subject, the Difficulties of Infidelity. I say boldly that it requires far more credulity to be a infidel than to be a Christian. I say boldly that there are great broad patent facts in the condition of mankind, which nothing but the Bible can explain, and that one of the most striking of these facts is the universal prevalence of pain, sickness, and disease. In short, one of the mightiest difficulties in the way of Atheists and Deists, is the body of man.
You have doubtless heard of Atheists. An Atheist is one who professes to believe that there is no God, no Creator, no First Cause, and that all things came together in this world by mere chance. Now shall we listen to such a doctrine as this?
Go, take an Atheist to one of the excellent surgical schools of our land, and ask him to study the wonderful structure of the human body. Show him the matchless skill with which every joint, and vein, and valve, and muscle, and sinew, and nerve, and bone, and limb, has been formed. Show him the perfect adaptation of every part of the human frame to the purpose
which it serves. Show him the thousand delicate contrivances for meeting wear and tear, and supplying daily waste of vigour.
And then ask this man who denies the being of a God, and a great First Cause, if all this wonderful mechanism is the result of chance? Ask him if it came together at first by luck and accident? Ask him if he so thinks about the watch he looks at, the bread he eats, or the coat he wears? Oh, no! Design is an insuperable difficulty in the Atheist’s way. There is a God.
You have doubtless heard of Deists. A Deist is one who professes to believe that there is a God, who made the world and all things therein. But he does not believe the Bible. “A God, but no Bible! a Creator, but no Christianity!” This is the Deist’s creed. Now, shall we listen to this doctrine? Go again, I say, and take a Deist to an hospital, and show him some of the awful
handiwork of disease. Take him to the bed where lies some tender child, scarce knowing good from evil, with an incurable cancer. Send him to the ward where there is a loving mother of a large family in the last stage of some excruciating disease.
Show him some of the racking pains and agonies to which flesh is heir, and ask him to account for them. Ask this man, who believes there is a great and wise God who made the world, but cannot believe the Bible, ask him how he accounts for these traces of disorder and imperfection in his God’s creation. Ask this man, who sneers at Christian theology and is too wise to
believe the fall of Adam, ask him upon his theory to explain the universal prevalence of pain and disease in the world. You may ask in vain! You will get no satisfactory answer. Sickness and suffering are insuperable difficulties in the Deist’s way.
Man has sinned, and therefore man suffers. Adam fell from his first estate, and therefore Adam’s children sicken and die. The universal prevalence of sickness is one of the indirect evidences that the Bible is true. The Bible explains it. The Bible answers the questions about it which will arise in every inquiring mind. No other systems of religion can do this. They
all fail here. They are silent. They are confounded. The Bible alone looks the subject in the face. It boldly proclaims the fact that man is a fallen creature, and with equal boldness proclaims a vast remedial system to meet his wants. I feel shut up to the conclusion that the Bible is from God. Christianity is a revelation from heaven. “Thy word is truth” (Joh 17:17).
Let us stand fast on the old ground, that the Bible, and the Bible only, is God’s revelation of Himself to man. Be not moved by the many new assaults which modern skepticism is making on the inspired volume. Heed not the hard questions which the enemies of the faith are fond of putting about Bible difficulties, and to which perhaps you often feel unable to give an answer. Anchor your soul firmly on this safe principle, that the whole book is God’s truth. Tell the enemies of the Bible that, in spite of all their arguments, there is no book in the world which will bear comparison with the Bible, none that so thoroughly meets man’s wants, none that explains so much of the state of mankind. As to the hard things in the Bible, tell
them you are content to wait. You find enough plain truth in the book to satisfy your conscience and save your soul. The hard things will be cleared up in one day. What you know not now, you will know hereafter.’ This is from John C. Ryle’s booklet SICKNESS and may be downloaded at https://www.chapellibrary.org/search