The Characters of the Healthy and Sick, in a Spiritual Sense, Considered and Contrasted
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Matthew 9:12
There is no article of faith more certain than that Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient and most willing Savior, "able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him," (Heb 7:25) and that whoever comes to him, he will never cast out. (John 6:37) Those who entrust their souls in his hands he keeps, and none of them is lost. It is also certain that all the guilty descendants of Adam stand in the most absolute need of him: in vain do they look for salvation anywhere else. Without him, they are forever lost: and without him, their very existence becomes a curse, and their immortality but the duration of their misery. The disease of sin has so deeply infected their souls, that this divine Physician is the only one who can heal them.
Since this is the case, who would not expect that Jesus would be universally loved by mankind? Who would not expect that as many as are wounded, and perishing from their wounds, would all earnestly run to this Physician, and healing relief from him on any terms? Who would suspect there should be so much as one cold and disaffected heart towards him? Must not all love and desire him, since all need him so extremely, and since he is so completely qualified to be their deliverer?
But, sadly! Though this seems so natural and right, it is a striking and lamentable fact that this divine Physician receives little regard in our dying world. This all-sufficient and willing Savior is generally neglected by perishing sinners. There are thousands among and around us who have no affectionate thoughts of him, no eager longings after him, they make no strong effort to obtain a saving interest in him. They indeed profess his religion, and call themselves Christians after his name: they now and then perform the external duties of religion, and thus have high hopes they will be saved through him. But as to their hearts and affections, he has no share there: these are reserved for the world, which, as revealed by their practice, they prefer to him, whatever they profess.
Now from where does this strange and shocking phenomenon in the rational world come? Why is it, that the dying are careless about a Physician? That a Deliverer is neglected by those who are perishing? The true reason we may find in our text, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." That is, "those who imagine themselves well, however sick they are in reality, do not feel their need of a physician, and therefore will not go to him; but those who feel themselves sick, will eagerly run to him, and put themselves under his care."
This is Christ’s answer to the proud fault finding Pharisees, who criticized his free conversation with tax collectors and sinners, at a supper which Matthew had prepared for him. The tax collectors were Jews appointed by the Romans to collect the taxes or duties imposed by the government. They were generally people of bad morals, and particularly given to unjust practices in raising the taxes. Because of this, they were particularly hated by the Jews, especially by the strict sect of the Pharisees. Their very occupation would have made them hateful, even if they had behaved well in it; for it was a public badge of the slavery of the Jews to the Romans; which, to a people so proud and so fond of liberty as the Jews, was a humiliation they could not patiently bear. The tax collectors, therefore, were objects of general contempt as a lower sort of men; and the Jews, particularly the rigid and haughty Pharisees, did not even speak to them, but kept them at a distance, as though they had been excommunicated. And so says Christ, concerning a person excommunicated by the church for persistent wickedness, "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector," (Matt, 18:17) that is, have no fellowship with him, but treat him as the Jews do the tax collectors.
The condescending Jesus, who "came to seek and to save the lost," (Luke 19:10) did not treat those poor outcasts, along the rigid principles of the Pharisees. They held them in such contempt, that they did not even try to instruct and reform them. But Jesus preached to them, spoke with them freely, took condescending, friendly, and heart warming measures to reform them, and called some of them to the honor of being his disciples. Of this number was Matthew, the author of this history; once an abandoned tax collector, afterwards a disciple, an apostle, and one of the four evangelists, whose immortal writings have spread the vital knowledge of Jesus through all ages and countries.
See the gentleness, the freeness, the effectiveness of the grace of Christ! It can make a tax collector into an apostle! It can make a despised outcast into a citizen of heaven, and the companion of angels! What abundant encouragement does this give to the most abandoned sinner among you to turn to the Lord! Let tax collectors and sinners despair of mercy and salvation if they continue in their present condition; but if they rise and follow Jesus at his call, and become his humble, teachable disciples, they need not despair; rather, they may rejoice in hope of the glory of God, and be assured they will be admitted into the kingdom of God, when the self-righteous and religious are shut out.
When Matthew had heeded the call, he made a feast for his new Master, that he might show his respect and gratitude to him, and that he might let his fellow tax collectors and old friends have an opportunity of speaking with him, and being instructed by him.
How natural is it for a sinner, just brought to love Jesus, to try to allure others to him, especially his former friends! Having seen his own guilt and danger, he is deeply concerned about theirs, and would willingly lead them to that Savior who has given him so gracious a reception.
The blessed Jesus, who was always ready to embrace every opportunity of doing good, whatever popular contempt it might expose him to, cheerfully complies with Matthew's invitation, and mingles with a crowd of tax collectors at his table. Like a physician, he busies himself in a hospital, among the sick and dying, and not among the healthy and cheerful.
The Pharisees now thought they were on to something solid to turn the people against Christ, and therefore criticize these freedoms, as though they had been blasphemous and inconsistent with the character of the Messiah, or even of a prophet. If he claimed this character, they thought it would be much appropriate for him to associate with them than with corrupt tax collectors. Therefore, to stumble and perplex his disciples, they come to them, and ask, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (9:11) The disciples were not as yet endowed with that speech and wisdom which all their enemies could not withstand; and, therefore, Jesus answers them, and takes upon himself his own defense. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick."
Some suppose, that by the healthy, Christ means those who were really healthy, or who were not so infected with the disease of sin, as to be in need of him as a physician. If such people actually existed this way of understanding it would appear more plausible.
But since we know that all have sinned, and stand in need of Christ as a Savior, it is much more reasonable, to suppose that, by the healthy, Christ means those who imagined themselves to be healthy, though really infected with the deadly disease of sin.
It seems that here he answers the Pharisees on their own principles, and proves his conduct to be justifiable, even supposing their high opinion of themselves, and their contemptuous idea of the tax collectors, to be true; as if he had said, "I come into the world under the character of a physician for sick souls. Such, you will admit, these despised tax collectors are; and therefore, you must also grant, that these are the people I have to deal with, and these are the most likely to make use of me. But as for yourselves, you think that you are righteous; you think you are not so far gone with the disease of sin as to need a physician sent down from heaven to heal you. Now I will not for now look into whether this high opinion you have of yourselves is just or not. Be it right or wrong, it is certain, that while you have it, you cannot consistently find fault with my conduct. If you are such, I have no business with you, as a physician. I must, therefore, rather choose to address these sinners, who now begin to see themselves such, and to be aware of their need of a physician."
And so, we see Jesus here vindicating his conduct even on the principles of the Pharisees themselves. It was not now his purpose to dispute the high opinion they had of themselves; even that opinion furnished him with a sufficient defense. But, when it was proper, he faithfully exposes their true character, as proud, self-righteous hypocrites, and denounces the most dreadful woes against them!
The scene might perhaps become clearer by another illustration. Suppose a great scholar in the company of two people: the one really ignorant, but highly conceited of his knowledge, and consequently unteachable; the other ignorant too, but aware of it, and therefore wanting to be instructed: suppose he should turn from the self-conceited one, and carry on a conversation with the other, who was likely to profit by it; and suppose the former should resent it, and say, "If he were indeed a scholar, as he pretends to be, then he would not be fond of the conversation of such an ignorant person, but would rather choose me for a companion." How properly might a teacher reply, "Oh! you are a wise man; and have no need of my instruction; and, therefore, as a teacher, I have no business with you; but this poor, ignorant creature is aware of his lack of instruction; and, therefore, it is most fit I should converse with him." Such a reply has a peculiar pointedness and humbling force in it; and such Jesus used in the case before us.
To unfold this text, and to adapt it to practical purposes, we will look into the characters of those who are healthy, and of those who are sick, in the senses here intended:
There are none of the sons of men who are really healthy. Their souls are all diseased; for all have sinned, and “none is righteous, no, not one!” (Rom 3:10) And perhaps there are none on earth so proud, and so ignorant of themselves, as to affirm in so many words, that they are healthy; that is, "perfectly righteous." Therefore, by the healthy, cannot be meant either those who are really free from all sin or those who imagine themselves entirely free from it. It does not appear that even the proud Pharisees were capable of flattering themselves to that extent.
But by the healthy, are meant those who are indeed guilty, depraved sinners, and who are ready to make a superficial confession in words that they are sinners, but continue secure and impenitent, insensible of their guilt, their corruption, their danger, and their need of a Savior. That is, those who are really sick and dangerously ill, and yet are as easy, as oblivious of the danger, as careless about seeking the physician, as if they were not sick at all. The disease makes them drowsy, and lulls the unhappy creatures, so that they are not aware of it. It makes them delirious, so that they think themselves well, when the symptoms of death are all over them.
What multitudes of such may we see in the world! The Word of God pronounces them dangerously ill; their friends may see the most deadly symptoms in them, but tragically! They are foolishly insensible of their own case. Jesus, the divine Physician, warns them of their danger, offers them his help, and prescribes to them the infallible path to life; but they disregard his warnings, neglect his gracious offer, and refuse to submit to his prescriptions. This is the general character of those who are healthy, in the sense of our text.
By the sick, are meant those who, like the former, are really guilty, corrupt sinners, in extreme need of a Savior, and who readily confess they are such. But here lies the difference, they are not only such in reality, and they not only acknowledge that they are such, but they are deeply aware of it, they are sorely affected with their case! Their attitude and conduct, their thoughts of themselves and of Jesus Christ, their plans and endeavors, are such as are natural to a soul sensibly sick of sin, and are very much like those of a person sick in body, and using all means for a recovery.
It is the characteristic of this class of sinners; not that they are less holy, or in more danger, than others; but that they are more aware of their condition, and more concerned and earnest about being delivered. They feel themselves disordered; they put themselves under the care of Jesus, the only Physician of souls; they submit to his prescriptions and use all means for their recovery to soundness of mind, from the deadly disease of sin! This is the general character of the sick, in the sense of our text. But let us go into particulars.
The particular characters of the healthy and the sick, in contrast, are such as these:
1. First, he who is healthy has never had a clear disturbing view and sense of sin; but he who is sick is fully convicted, and deeply aware of it.
The healthy one has only a general, superficial, dull conviction, that he is 'a sinner': that he has not been as good as he should have been; that his heart is somewhat disordered; and especially that he has been guilty of various bad actions. But, sadly; he neither sees his sinfulness in its full extent, nor is suitably affected with that little of it which he sees. He does not clearly see the entire and universal corruption of his heart, and the numberless principles and seeds of sin that are there. He does not clearly see the blindness of his mind as to divine things. He does not clearly see the secret coldness of his heart towards God and holiness. He does not clearly see the carnality of his mind, and his lukewarmness and formality in the duties of religion. He may have a transient glance, a superficial view of these things; but he does not have a deep, settled conviction of them: nor is he suitably affected with what he knows of his own sinfulness.
It does not appear to him such a mighty matter to have such a disordered heart towards God, to have dropped a forbidden word now and then, or to have committed a few bad actions; few, I say, for so they appear to him, though repeated times and ways beyond number. Sin appears to him a trifling offense, a small evil, and he has a thousand excuses to make for it. And so, he is as easy, as careless, as presumptuous in his hopes, as if he believed he did not really deserve punishment from a righteous God, and therefore was in no danger. Though the leprosy of sin spreads ever so wide and breaks out into ever so many putrid and ugly sores, yet he is easy and secure, and insensible of the disease! Thus, like a man in health, he is unconcerned, and does not see himself as sick, nor take the least steps for his recovery!
And how many multitudes of such are among us! They will confess themselves 'sinners', with as little concern as if they were quite free from sin, or as if they thought there was little or no danger in it.
But is it so with the poor sick sinner? No! Not at all! He sees; he feels that his whole head is sick, and his whole heart faint, and that from the top of the head, even to the sole of the foot, there are nothing but wounds, bruises, and open sores! He feels the plague of a hard, senseless heart, and the secret springs of wickedness within him. He feels that sin has affected all his powers, and that he is no more able to exert them in religious duties, than a sick man is to busy himself in active life. In truth, into what a consternation the sinner is struck, when he is first awakened out of his sleepy security, and his eyes are opened to see himself in a true light! He had flattered himself that he had a good constitution of soul, and that little or nothing ailed him; but now he is surprised to see the strong symptoms of spiritual death in himself!
Suppose some of you, who have come here today energetic and healthy, should suddenly discover the spots of cancer broken out all over you, how would it strike you with surprise and horror! Such is the surprise and horror of the awakened sinner; in this way he is alarmed and amazed! So clear are his views of his entire and universal depravity, and imminent danger, that he is utterly astonished he was so senseless as never to see it before.
Now, also, he has a deep sense of the evil of sin: he not only sees himself completely disordered, but he sees and he feels the disorder to be deadly! Sin now appears to him to be the greatest evil on earth, or even in hell. How worthy of the severest vengeance from a righteous God! How contrary to the divine purity! How base, how ungrateful a violation of the most strong and endearing obligations! How destructive to the soul, not only according to the penalty of the divine law, but in its own natural tendency!
During the progress of the Christian life, he feels himself recovering a little, though very slowly, while he follows the prescriptions of his divine Physician, and receives healing influences from him. He feels his enfeebled soul gathering a little strength; his corrupted taste gradually corrected; and the welcome symptoms of returning health; but he is still aware that he is sick. The cure is not complete in this world; but the remains of his old disorder hang on to him all his life, and he is subject to many dangerous relapses, in which it gathers new strength, and he is afraid it is incurable!
The second contrast between the healthy and the sick is this:
2. Those who are healthy are generally easy and secure, and unconcerned of danger; but the sick soul is alarmed and anxious, and cannot be easy, until it sees some signs of recovery. He who is healthy, is benumbed with a dazed insensibility; but he who is sick, is in pain from the disease of sin, which he sensibly feels. The one can walk about merry and thoughtless, with a hard, depraved heart within him; the other is perpetually uneasy, and, like a sick man, has no taste for anything while he feels such a heart within him. If the healthy one is anxious, it is with some worldly care; if the sick one is anxious, it is chiefly for the recovery of his dying soul.
The healthy one can give himself up to business, or pleasure, or idleness, as a man in health, and at ease; the sick one is concerned that his soul is in great danger; and, like a sick man, gives up his eager pursuits, until he sees whether he is likely to recover. He is alarmed with the deadly consequences of sin, as it exposes him to the wrath of God, the loss of heaven, and all the miseries of the infernal world. But this is not all that distresses him; he considers sin, in itself, as a repulsive disease, and is pained with its current effects on him. As a sick man is not only alarmed at the consequence of his disease, namely, death, but considers it as a current pain, and as depriving him of the present comforts of life; so, the sick soul feels sin to be a repulsive, painful disease, which now deprives it of the exalted pleasures of religion, and makes it incapable of serving its God with vigor and life.
This indisposition of soul for the exercises of religion, is, in itself, a constant uneasiness to him who is spiritually sick. How strongly does Paul picture the case, when he cries out, "wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from this body of death!" (Rom 7:24) The image seems to be that of a living man walking about with a rotten, nauseating carcass tightly tied to him, which oppresses him and he cannot, with all his efforts, throw it off; but it burdens him wherever he goes, which constrains him to cry out, "Oh! who will deliver me from this dead body?" This is the character of the soul sick of sin.
But he who is healthy has little or no such uneasiness. If he is alarmed at all, it is with the consequence of sin; his servile soul fears nothing but the punishment. As for the disease itself, it is so far from giving him uneasiness, that he is in love with it! It brings him sensations of pleasure, rather than of pain, and he rather dreads a recovery, than the continuance of the disorder! Sin has intoxicated him to such a degree, that holiness, which is the health of the soul, is distasteful to him, and he would rather continue languishing, than recover!
All of you can easily see the difference between sickness and health of body; and you are very ready to do it. And will you not inquire what state your souls are in? whether they are aware of their sickness, and on the way to recovery? or whether they are dazed, or made delirious by the disease, unaware of their danger, and unconcerned about their recovery? I beg you to examine yourselves in these things.
The third comparison is that:
3. Those who are healthy, are unwilling to go to a physician, or to follow his prescriptions; but to the sick, a physician is most welcome, and they will submit to his directions, however self-denying and mortifying. This is the point our text has particularly in view, and therefore we must take particular notice of it.
They that are in health have no regard to a physician, as such; they neither send for him, nor will they accept of his help, even if offered free of charge. They look upon the best of medicines with no interest, as of no use or importance to them: the prescriptions proper to the sick they hear with indifference, as not being their particular concern.
And so it is with thousands, who imagine themselves to be healthy in soul. The Lord Jesus reveals himself to men under the character of a physician; the gospel makes a free offer of his assistance to all sick souls who will freely accept it. And what reception does he generally meet with? Why, multitudes neglect him, as though they had no need of him. They may indeed pay him the compliment of professing his religion, because it happened to be the religion of their fathers and their country, but they have no eager desires for him; they are not eager for and do nothing to obtain his assistance; they do not invite him with earnest requests to take their case; they do not beg and cry for help from him, like blind Bartimaeus, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:47)
In short, whatever regard they may profess for him, they are not deeply aware of their absolute need of him! They are not feelingly drawn towards him, as towards a being with whom they have the greatest personal concern, a concern of the utmost importance: and the reason is, they are healthy in their own eyes. Or if they feel some qualms of conscience, some fits of painful remorse, they soon heal their own hurt superficially, crying, “'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace!" (Jer 8:11) They make a medicine of their own prayers, tears, repentance, and religious endeavors, and with this they hope to heal themselves! In this way, Jesus is neglected; they give him the name of a Savior; but in reality, they look to themselves for a cure!
How is the gospel that makes the offer of relief from this heavenly Physician generally received in the world? Sadly! it is neglected, as the offer of unneeded help! It is heard with that indifference with which men in health give to the prescriptions of a physician to the sick, in which they have no immediate concern.
Consider, is this neglected gospel the only effective means for healing your dying souls? Then why this senselessness and inattention with which it is heard? Then why the general neglect with which it is treated? How sadly troubling it is to see a dying world rejecting the only medicine that can heal their disease and preserve their lives! But tragically! so it is all around us!
Again, Jesus prescribes to men the only cure for their disease. Particularly, he enjoins them to stop drinking poison! That is, to stop indulging themselves in sin, which is, in its own nature, the most deadly poison to the soul! And what can be more reasonable than this? Yet this is what a senseless world principally objects to, and multitudes rather die than submit to it! A disordered, empoisoned state of soul, is to them a good thing!
This divine Physician likewise requires them to use the means of grace instituted in the gospel: to meditate on their condition and get a deep sense of their disorder; to read and hear the Word with solemn attention carefully applying to themselves; to pray frequently and earnestly. These are his prescriptions to all who would recover under his hands. But how few observe them in earnest! What a general neglect of the means of grace there is in our country, or how carelessly they are carried out which is equally lamentable!
Christ also enjoins them to come to him as their Physician, to stop flattering themselves that they can heal themselves by means within their own power, but to apply his blood as the only healing ointment to their wounded souls. But, tragically! they disregard this great prescription; they will not submit to him; but, like an obstinate patient, will have their own way, though eternal death should be the consequence!
But this is not the case of the sinner who is spiritually sick: he will do anything, he will submit to anything, if it may but save him from the mortal disease of sin! How ardently does he long after Jesus! With what cheerfulness does he put himself under his care! With what joy and gratitude does he hear the offer of free salvation in the gospel! And how dear is the gospel to his heart on this account! With what eager, hopeful eyes, does he look to his Physician! How does he delight to feel himself under the operation of his hand and to feel him heal his wounds! With what anxiety does he check the symptoms, and carefully verify whether he is recovering or not!
And with what pleasure does he discover the signs of returning health! to feel a little eager appetite for spiritual food! to feel a little spiritual life in religious exercises! to feel himself able to run in the way of God's commandments! to feel the principles of sin weakened within him! How sweet this is!
How willingly does he submit to the prescriptions of his Physician, and run to the means of grace, however disagreeable they may be to a carnal mind! He makes the Word of God the rule of his life and would not indulge himself in anything which it forbids. He guards against relapses, and keeps out of the way of temptation, as far as possible, for fear of that his frail constitution should be hurt. The society of sinners is like the company of people infected with a contagious disease which he is in danger of catching, and therefore he avoids it as much as he can!
Let those who think their souls healthy and strong, boast of their strength, and what mighty things they can do in religion; but as for him, he feels his weakness; he feels he can do nothing right, but only as he receives strength day by day from Christ. He feels himself every day troubled with some disorder or another; yes, with a whole tangle of diseases! Therefore, he is constantly aware of his need of the Physician and consults him every day.
He is not reluctant to take time from his other affairs, to attend to the health of his soul. For it is clear to him that if he loses his soul, then what would the whole world profit him? In short, the sick sinner is a weak, delicate, frail creature, entirely subject to the prescriptions of Christ, and every day using Christ's means; anxious to be healed, and willing to submit to anything that may promote it. This is the man in our Christ-despising world, who gives Jesus a most willing and welcome reception, and embraces his gospel, as containing all his salvation and all his desire.
How wonderful it would be if there were many such in our world! for this man’s recovery is very hopeful. This world is one vast hospital, full of dying souls! Jesus descends from heaven, and enters among them, offering them health and eternal life, if they will only submit to his directions, which are as easy as possible. Repentance, indeed, and some other bitter ingredients, are included in a religion for sinners; and how can it be otherwise, since these are necessary for their healing, by the very nature of things? Besides, even these are sweet, when taken in the pill of a Savior's dying love; and many a soul has found more noble pleasure in sincere sorrow for sin, than it ever they found in the commission of it!
But after all, the great majority of people die in their sins, amidst the full means of their recovery: and the great reason is, they will not be convinced of their danger, nor be persuaded to go to the Physician. How truly tragic and disturbing a case this is! And what may make it the more so to us is, that it is most likely the case of some of us her in this small assembly!
And though I am reluctant to harbor one hard thought of any of you, yet I cannot avoid concluding that there are some souls in this assembly, who are not really aware of their dangerous disease, and their need of Christ as a Physician, and therefore are in danger of perishing without him! Sin, like a strong dose of opium, has put you to sleep, and you feel easy and quiet, as if you were fine, when the symptoms of death are clearly upon you!
We can weep and lament over the sick-bed of a dying friend, and we even drop our tears after him into the grave. But shall we drop no tears this day over dying souls, that are so close us!
What makes the case even sadder is that they perish by their own willful obstinacy, under the hands of an all-healing Physician! You secure and healthy-hearted sinners, must it not shock you to think that Jesus Christ, the only Physician, abandons up? You see, in our text, he looks upon you as people that he has no business with. He had rather speak with tax collectors and sinners than with you, as having more hopes of succeeding among them.
And let tax collectors and sinners take the hint, and be encouraged to go to Jesus. Come, you open sinner, sinners of the most abandoned characters, run to this Physician! He is willing to heal you: he offers you healing. "Will you be made whole?" is his question to you this day. He is perfectly able, able to save to the uttermost, however hardened your disease may be! If the children of the kingdom shut themselves out: if self-righteous Pharisees reject this Physician, and die in their sin, you 'sinners' may certainly come in; put yourselves under his care, submit to his prescriptions, and you shall yet live, and be restored to perfect health and eternal life! As vile as you are, you are very proper materials for the temple of God!
If you are aware of being sick, it should not discourage you from entering yourselves into Christ's hospital, and putting yourselves into his care; more that that, this should even encourage you. Your being sick of sin is a necessary qualification to make you his patients. Those who are such, he loves to speak with; and they are the only ones who are recovered by him. Therefore, this day give yourselves up to him as his willing patients. Cry to him to take on your case in the words of Jeremiah: "Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed!" (Jer 17:14) Submit to his prescriptions, and follow his directions, and you shall certainly live forever!
As we come to a close, let us look into some questions that may arise in your minds on this topic.
What is the reason that the world around us lies dead in such a carnal security? Why is it there is so much sin in the world, and so little fear of punishment? Why is it that men will have such hopes of heaven, resting on such small evidences; or rather with the full evidence of the Word of God against them? Sadly! the reason is, they are healthy in their own imagination: they think they are well, and so they see no danger, but lie in a dead, inactive sleep!
Why is it that so many neglect the means of grace in public and private? Why is it that there are so many prayerless families and so little private prayer among us? Why is the Bible thrown aside by some as just another book? Why is Christian conversation so unfashionable? And why are there so few inquiries from sinners as to what they must do to be saved? The reason is, they imagine themselves well; and, therefore, it is no wonder they are not seeking the means to be healed! They think they have no more to do with them, than people in health with a physician and his remedies. The only way to bring them to earnestly use those means, is to make them aware of their dangerous disease.
What is the reason that the means of grace are attended upon by others, with so much formality and indifference? Why is it, that there are so many lukewarm, spiritless prayers, and solemn mockeries of the great God? Why is it, that there are so many wandering eyes and wandering hearts during worship, and in hearing the most solemn and moving truths. Sadly! the same reason returns, they are healthy in their own eyes, and have no need for the physician of souls. And how can they, while they flatter themselves with this imagination, earnestly use those means, which are intended for the recovery of the sick? The sick will earnestly use them; but to others they are mere customary formalities.
What is the reason that the gospel, which reveals and offers life and salvation to the world, meets with so cold a reception? Why does the way of salvation revealed in it, not spread joy and praise over all the earth? Why do we not hear every human being echoing the song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased?” (Luke 2:14) Why does the Christian world in general practically despise that religion which they profess? It is because they are healthy in their own imaginations, though dying by the thousands all over the world. It is because they are not aware of their need of the gospel and its blessings. If they were only made aware of how dangerously ill they are, they would quickly change their opinion!
Let me bring this matter still nearer home. Why is it that the gospel, even with all the weakness with which it comes from this pulpit, does not receive a warmer welcome among you? There are some, I may fear, who regularly come to hear the gospel, who yet despise it in their hearts, or do not warmly embrace it. And what is the reason of this? Is it not true that the gospel has been dear to some, who have sat under no better ministry? Must not this be the reason, that there are some healthy-hearted sinners, even among us, in this small assembly! Some do not feel their disease, and consequently do not feel their need of a physician! Do examine yourselves and ask whether this is not the true reason why the gospel does not receive a warmer reception among us!
Would you know why so many hate faithful preaching, and resent it if any means are used for their recovery? It is because they imagine themselves well; and such do not like to be bothered with the inconveniences of a physician, nor to have unpleasant medicines forced on them. If only they were aware of their condition, they would willingly submit to the bitter prescriptions!
And would you know where you should begin your religion; or what is the main thing needed for your believing the gospel in such a way as to be saved by it? To this interesting question you may come to an answer from what has been said. Begin your religion in a deep sense of sin; Work hard to get a deep sense of your disease, for only then you will so give yourselves up to the physician, that he may apply to you what he thinks proper and cure you.
Some of you perhaps have wondered why you see poor mourning creatures here and there, who cannot live as you do, thoughtless, careless, and unaffected. You ascribe it perhaps to depression, to preciseness, to hypocrisy, or a pretentious righteousness. But I will tell you the true reason. They are sick, whereas you imagine yourselves well; and you should not be surprised that the sick and the healthy behave in a different way. Why do they not neglect Jesus Christ as you do? It is because they are sick, heart-sick, and therefore must long and cry for a physician! Why do they not indulge themselves in sin as you do? Is it because they are sick of it! They see it to be a deadly poison, and they cannot be easy while they feel it working through their bodies.
Why do they use the means of grace with so much earnestness? Why do they pray, and hear, and apply themselves to every religious ordinance with so much zeal and earnestness? Why can they not, like you, just do them in a careless, formal way, or entirely ignore and neglect them? The reason is, they are sick, heart-sick, and they are using these means to get well! And if you saw yourselves in the same just light, you would use them too! Yes, you would certainly be as strict, as earnest, as diligent as any of them!
Why do they not, like you, abandon themselves, and devote all their time to some worldly pursuit? It is because they are sick, and must take time to recover, whatever else they must omit. Why are they so much afraid of temptation, and keep out of its way? It is because they are afraid of a relapse, and that sin, their old disease, will renew its strength! Why are they so often filled with doubts, and fears, and anxious perplexities? It is because they feel the symptoms of the sickness and are not sure whether they are recovering or not. When they are satisfied in this point, then they can rejoice, and that with a joy more noble than you are able to imagine.
And as for you, poor, sick souls, take heart; you shall yet be healed! Jesus can heal you; and, blessed be his name, he is as willing as he is able. Steadfastly continue in the use of the means appointed for your recovery, and he will make them effective. These sick souls of yours will certainly yet be healthy and vigorous; and you will before long be brought to the place of immortal health, where the inhabitants never again say, "I am sick"; where you will breathe a pure, healthful air, and be strong and lively forever!
Don’t be surprised, that sin, a disease so inveterate and mortal, should be painful and difficult to cure. The operation will not last long; and if only it succeeds, the pain and self-denial will be infinitely more than compensated for!
The deep sense of your sickness is often discouraging to you. You are afraid it will at last overcome you. But this very thing ought to encourage you. Those people whom I cannot speak one encouraging word to, are not like you; they are the secure, healthy-hearted sinners. But for you there is strong consolation; so strong that it can overcome all your fears. The awareness of your sickness qualifies you for the Physician and makes you proper objects of his never-failing care. The poor, the maimed, the blind, the broken-hearted, are the character of the people that he has to do with, and who are recovering under his hands. And are not these your characters? They are, indeed, humbling and mortifying; but they are encouraging, as they prepare you for Christ's healing care!
But as for you, healthy-hearted sinners, I must pronounce you to be lost and dead souls! Jesus himself has declared that he has no business with such as you. And if he casts you off, what other physician can you find! Tragically! you will die in your sins! And truly, what can be more terrifying that that: to die in your sins! Therefore, work now to become aware of your disorder, while it is curable; for all who are not healed in this life, are given up as incurable forever!
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Run now to Christ as a Physician, for he is willing to cure you!