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Sick and Suffering
HE heart knoweth his own bitterness, and
a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." These touching words apply both to the greater and also to the lesser and more frequent trials of life. We never fully understand how heavily even daily and common griefs press upon the hearts of others, nor how keenly troubles may be felt by them which we should think easy to bear.
Nor are we always ready to admit, what is yet most true, that of each of these sorrows, a far greater portion is hidden from our view, than that which lies open before us. And if this be so in ordinary measures of pain or sorrow, much more must it be, in those instances of acute suffering, or deep affliction which sometimes occur. The isolation of spirit, expressed in this remarkable passage, is certain then to make itself felt, even amidst all the tender sympathy of those who best love the sufferer, and the unlooked-for kindnesses which so often spring up around him in the hour of his distress. No other can read the secrets of his inner life, nor measure his capacities for sorrow. It
be that the outward aspect of his trial gives but the faintest indication of its real power; but even when it is plainly seen to be one of the most grievous which can afflict man, the bitterness of his anguish can be tasted by no other ; we are divided from him by the necessary condition of our separate existence, and though we too bear about with us the incommunicable joys and sorrows which belong to our own individual being, we do not and cannot know how deeply the iron is entering into his soul. When we are grieved at his griefs, and do most truly feel for and with him, there is still very much in which we cannot share; the heaviness that clouds many long hours of every day, the burthen of the night-watches, the protracted aching of the heart; much that is too deeply felt to be told, and can be fully known only to God.
None should be more ready to confess that their acquaintance with the peculiarities of others' sufferings is limited and imperfect, than those who address the sick and afflicted. It were grievous, did we seem to them intrusive, insensible to the sacredness of affliction, or yet unprepared to offer that true sympathy which, with all its imperfections, is most soothing, which they may well claim, and which we have known too much of suffering ourselves to withhold.
If we would trace the history of suffering, we must first look back to its origin.
We know that as our unfallen nature was created in the beginning, every faculty and affection was so ordered as to minister only to happiness, and that the wonderful connexion between soul and body contributed to the perfectness of both. It was not until Adam sinned by putting self in the place of God, the will of the creature above the will of the Creator, that death came into the world. Had there been no transgression, there would have been no pain; which is not known among the sinless, and has no place in heaven.
Hence it is that all forms of suffering are evidences of man's fall; those which wear down the physical strength, and make the course of life a protracted dying ; such also as are occasioned by the loss of those we love; the griefs which spring from crushed affections; and still more evidently the pain which follows actual wrong-doing, and the fearful throes of impenitent remorse.
In these thoughts there is, alas! no comfort ; for if by nature we are prone to evil, and by character are actually sinful, and if therefore suffering be what we both inherit and also deserve, what is there to hinder every new sin from bringing fresh suffering, and then increased suffering from lashing us into the madness of more aggravated transgression ? This indeed were frightful to contemplate; for who could endure to be abandoned here to pain, to be searched through and through by anguish, without seeing either a limit to its duration, or a purpose for it to accomplish? Yet if we consider only man's deservings, how should he look for better things, who at the first revolted from God, and has ever since been ready to widen the breach between himself and his Maker?
The compassion of God Himselt could alone deliver us from so fearful a condition. And the name which we all bear suggests the means of this deliverance. We are called Christians because we belong to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He, the eternal Son of God, graciously took the burthen of humanity upon Him to redeem us through His life, death, and resurrection, from sin, and from its necessary consequence, suffering. By His one oblation of Himself once offered, He made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. For His merit only, are we, through faith, counted righteous before God. The power both of sin and of suffering is thus broken for us. Of sin, since if we are living members of Him to whom we were joined in our baptism, we are ever receiving through Him, from the Father, the gift of the Holy Ghost, to enlighten and sanctify us, and mould us into conformity with His blessed image; so that we may continually in this strength put sin away, as that which can no longer claim dominion over us.—Of suffering too; for our Lord in our place, and as our representative, suffered for us, that He might deliver us from the bitter pains of eternal death; and that, to them that are truly His, there should remain no condemnation.
1 Communion Service.
2 XIth Article.