IT is just here that we are bound to plant our foot, and say, "This sickness, this disease, this death, is the testimony, that the gates of hell have not prevailed." Looking steadily and sternly at each particular phase of disease, shrinking from none of its ghastly features, tracing it to its causes, following it to its consequences, reflecting on all the complications of disease to which flesh is heir, on all the accursed derangements in the hearts of individual men, and in our social economy, which have produced them, we say boldly, "Behold the great signs and trophies of redemption!" In the midst of this confusion and wretchedness, we proclaim these words: "If ye endure chastisement, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he, whom the father chasteneth not? But, if ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons."
When our Lord had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath-day, His answer to the complaint of the Pharisees was, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." This healing art was a manifestation of His Father's Mind and Will. In this act, as in every other that the Son did, they, that saw Him, saw the Father. That they might see the Father, might feel and own Him as a Father, He wrought His Divine cures, He spoke His Divine words. Consider the parable of the shepherd, seeking the strayed sheep of the flock; of the woman, sweeping the house for the piece of money she had lost; of the father, going out to meet the prodigal, who had begun to dream of the home, from which he had wandered. Consider these in relation to the circumstances under which they were spoken; and then say, whether it is possible to doubt that our Lord, by his acts of mercy, was proving that He had come to seek His sheep;--that the sickness and sorrow, which had brought them to His feet, crying for help, were His way of sweeping the house in search of the treasure He had lost;--that all these works of power were so many indications of the Mind of God towards the whole race, and towards each outcast of the race, for which He came to die.
Hence the human sympathies of our Lord come out, not as separate from His Divine and Universal Love, but as the inevitable effluence of it. "So were the words fulfilled," says St. Matthew, speaking of a time when he healed great multitudes," Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses." Each cure implied an inward fellowship and participation in the misery which it relieved. The feeling for the multitude, who were as sheep without a shepherd, did not interfere with, but involved, an intense community with individual anguish.
The principle, of addressing every sick person as under God's Fatherly correction, is the principle of the Church. There are those, who can say what it has been to them, in hours of unspeakable despondency, to know that they might act upon that rule, when they were dealing with their own consciences, and with the consciences of those to whom they were ministering. They can tell how the burden of remorse has been rolled from them,--how they have been able to exchange it for a healthy and humble repentance, when they felt that it was a Father, against Whom they had sinned in being careless of His children, and when they believed that the same Father, Who blotted out their transgressions, and accepted them in His Son, looked down with an eye of love upon the most fallen and abject of their brothers and sisters, and was seeking by severe chastisements to make them partakers of His holiness. And, whether they understand His purpose or not, whether they arise and go to Him or not, the fact is the same. God is True, though every man be a liar.
It is a despicable cowardice, which shrinks from proclaiming His Character and Love at all times, in all places, to all persons, because many of those, to whom we speak, may harden themselves against it. If we know ourselves, we cannot wonder at such hardness, or be ignorant of the cause of it, or be driven to despair by it.
But, if we know ourselves, we shall know also how only that ice is thawed, how only human hearts are delivered from the thraldom of the evil spirit. We may speak of Duties, and the will groans under its incapacity, and then returns to its slumbers. We may speak of Doctrines, and the intellect, dulled by bodily pain, confused by vague teaching, or never awakened at all, may give our propositions any meaning or none. Worse still, the man may persuade himself that the duties have been performed, that the doctrines have been comprehended, while he remains a heartless hypocrite. It is another thing, when we assure him, that he is the member of a Family;--that a Father is gracious to His children,--that His Son, Who gave Himself for them, is near them, inviting them to trust Him,--that His Spirit is near, to quicken and restore that, which has been decayed through the fraud and malice of the devil, or their own carnal will and frailness. It is another thing, when acts of confession, prayer, absolution, are presented to the sick man, not as parts of an ecclesiastical system, but as means of returning to the house of a Parent, Who meets him when he is a great way off, falls upon his neck, and kisses him, puts the best robe upon him, prepares a feast for him, makes chastisement, which seemed the sign of hopeless displeasure, to be the very pledge and seal of his adoption.--The Church a Family, p. 111.