Article of the Month
by John Willison
DIRECTION 1. It is very proper, both under sickness and after it, to examine if the affliction be sanctified to you, and hath come from the love of God.
IT would be very comforting for us to know that the afflictions which God visits us with, are not the punishment of a judge, but the chastisement of a father that they do not proceed from wrath, but from love that they are not curses, but blessings to us. Now the best way of knowing this, is by the effects which they produce in us, through the blessing of God.
1. Canst thou say that thy affliction hath humbled thee in the sight of God, and made thee confess and bewail thy sins and strayings from God as the procuring cause thereof? Hath it been like Moses’ rod that smote the rock and drew out much water? Did you water your couch with tears, and mourn humbly before God for all thy God-provoking sins? Then it is a good sign that sickness is sanctified.
2. Doth thy affliction drive thee nearer God, and cause thee to aim at closer communion with God in duty than formerly, saying, “However careless and formal I have been in duty in time past, it is surely good for me now to draw near to God?”
Then thy sickness is a blessing to thee.
3. Affliction is sanctified when the corruption and deceitfulness of the heart is the more discovered and laid open to the view of the soul, so that the man is made to abhor himself in dust and ashes, and cry out like the leper, ‘“Unclean, unclean!’ I never could have thought my heart was so wicked as now I see it.”
4. It is a sanctified sickness, that purgeth the heart and changeth the life, and gives a death-stroke to thy sins and idols, and makes thee to loathe and abhor them more than ever, saying with Ephraim, “What have I to do any more with idols?”
5. It is a blessed rod when graces are more quickened and stirred up thereby, and the man turns more fruitful in holy duties and good works; then it is a budding and blossoming rod like to Aaron’s. Numbers 17. It is recorded there of Aaron’s rod, that it brought forth buds, blooming blossoms, and yielding almonds. So it is happy with us when our rods and sickness not only produce in us the buds of a profession, and the blossoms of some beginnings of a reformation, but even cause us to yield fruits savory to God. Is conscience become more tender with respect to sin? Are we more jealous over our hearts? Are we more fervent in prayer, more lively in praise, more mortified to the world, more desirous of communion with God? Then may we say with David, “It is good for us that we have been afflicted;” and with Hezekiah, “Thou hast, in love to my soul, delivered it from the pit of corruption.”
DIRECTION 2. Make conscience of offering to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, upon his recovering thee from sickness or any distress.
The psalmist gives us this direction from God, Psalm 50:14, 15; and he shows us that it was his own practice in such a case, Psalm 116:17, and 103:1, 2, 3. The command is just, let us obey it; the example is excellent, let us imitate it. Praise is comely for the upright. Here I shall give some motives to thanksgiving.
1. God, who is the author of all thy mercies and deliverances, gives you tongues for this very end, that you may bless and praise him for these mercies. James 3:9. Hence man’s tongue is called his glory above the rest of the creatures. Psalm 57:8. There is none in the earth so endued and qualified for praising God as man is. Beasts have tongues, but without speech or reason to use them; but man hath both reason and speech, that he may both admire God’s goodness, and with his tongue sound forth God’s praise. See then, believer, that you use your tongue to answer the end of your creation. God expects his due revenue of praise from his children, whom he hath formed for this end, and on whom he hath bestowed many distinguishing favors.
2. The sacrifice of thanksgiving is most pleasing and acceptable to God. He loves your tears and prayers, believer, but much more your praises. How well pleased was our Lord with the poor Samaritan leper that returned and gave him thanks for curing his bodily distemper. Luke 17:19. He dismissed him with a special blessing, and cured him of his soul’s diseases as well as of his body’s. And therefore,
3. Consider that thankfulness for thy mercies received is a most profitable course for yourself; for it is the way to get more and better blessings bestowed upon you, according to Psalm 67:5, 6: “Let the people praise thee, God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.” Thanksgiving for former mercies is a kindly way of petitioning for new favors, and God will understand it in this sense.
4. God is so well pleased with the duty of thanksgiving, that he honors it to be the eternal work of heaven; whereas other graces, such as faith, hope, and repentance, will then be melted into love and joy for ever; so other duties of worship, such as reading, hearing, and prayer, will then be changed into that of praise and thanksgiving. The glorified company above will never be weary of this work; and shall not we delight in it now, when God is calling us to it by so many new mercies?
In the next place, that thou mayest offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for thy recovery with gracious acceptance, I shall lay before you the following advices:
1. See that your heart be touched with a sense of the greatness of the mercy, and of the goodness of God manifested therein. We must put a due value upon our mercies, and have our hearts affected with God’s kind dealing towards us in them, if we would be rightly thankful to God the author of them. Hence it was that David called upon his heart, and all within him, to bless the Lord for his benefits Psalm 103:1; and in Psalm 138:1, he saith, “I will praise thee with my whole heart.” As an instrument of music is the sweeter the more full and rich its volume of sound, so our praise is the more acceptable to God when the heart is full of gracious affections.
2. Let your praise be the result of genuine faith and love in your soul, otherwise it will be an empty sound. Faith is necessary to draw the veil, and show us the perfections of the invisible God, who is the spring and author of all our mercies; love gives a deep sense of his goodness, enlarges the heart towards God, and opens the lips to show forth his praise.
3. Study to have a deep sense of your own unworthiness and ill desert at the Lord’s hand on account of your sins, and ill improvement of former deliverances, saying with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies.” Gen. 32:10.
4. Look above instruments and second causes, and do not ascribe your recovery to physicians or outward means, but to the Lord, the prime author of it, whose blessing alone it is that gives efficacy and success to the appointed means, and by whose mercy only we are spared, and brought back from the gates of the grave. To this the apostle attributes Epaphroditus’ recovery: “Indeed, he was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him.” Phil. 2:27. Hence we are told, “The Lord bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” 1 Sam. 2:6.
5. Observe closely the remarkable circumstances of the Lord’s goodness, and the sweet ingredients of thy mercies. As, for instance, how discernible the Lord’s hand was in thy deliverance, which obligeth thee to say, Surely this is the finger of God; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in mine eyes: how thy deliverance came to thee as the return of prayer, that makes thee say, Surely he is a prayer-hearing God: how deliverance came when there was but little ground to hope for it. See how Hezekiah observed this ingredient in his recovery from sickness: “I said, in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the residue of my years. I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living;
I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world.” Isa. 38:10, 11. “What shall I say? he hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath done it,” Verse 15. Sometimes God sends deliverances to his people when they are most hopeless, and saying, with the captives of Babylon, “Behold, our bones are dried, and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts.” Ezek. 37:11. Remember, also, how the extremity of thy distress was God’s opportunity of sending relief. Abraham never forgot the seasonableness of God’s appearing for him in his extreme need upon mount Moriah, when he called the name of the place Jehovahjireh, for preserving the memorial of it: “In the mount of the Lord it will be seen.” So doth David, “I was brought low, and he helped me.” Psalm 116:6.
6. Let the present deliverance bring all former mercies to thy remembrance, that so thou mayest praise God for them all, whether they be national or personal mercies, public or private, spiritual or temporal. New mercies should revive the memory of the old, and all of them should be remembered at such a time; so doth the psalmist direct, “Sing unto the Lord; talk ye of all his wondrous works.” Psalm 105:2. And what he directs others to, he himself practises: ““What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” Psalm 116:12.
7. Be ready to communicate to others an account of the Lord’s kind dealings towards you, and the sweet ingredients of his mercies; and particularly of his sending spiritual deliverance to your soul, as well as outward deliverance to your body, when he is pleased to do so. And do this in order to recommend the service of God to others, and to invite and engage them to assist you in blessing and praising the Lord. We see how David observed his soul deliverances, Psalm 116:7, 8, and declares his experience to others: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” Psalm 22:22. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16.
Lastly. Remember always to give thanks for mercies to the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, as directed in Eph. 5: 20. Your spiritual sacrifices are only acceptable to God when you offer them up by Jesus Christ. 1 Peter, 2:5. As we must seek all our mercies in Christ’s name, so we must give thanks for them also in his name. He is the Mediator of our praises, as well as our prayers: believers have not one mercy but what comes swimming to them in Christ’s blood, and is the fruit of his death and purchase to them; and therefore he is to be owned and looked to in the receiving of every mercy. And as Christ is the only mediator for conveying blessings and mercies from God to us, so he is the sole mediator for conveying all our services and spiritual sacrifices to God. God accepts of them only as they are perfumed by Christ’s meritorious sacrifice and potent intercession.
DIRECTION 3. When the Lord is pleased to grant thee any signal mercy or deliverance from trouble, beware of forgetting the Lord’s kindness towards thee.
Forgetting of God’s remarkable kind providences is an evil we are naturally prone to when we are in a prosperous state. Hence it is that the Spirit of God gives so many cautions against it in his word; and the saints of God do so solemnly charge their own souls to beware of it, as in Psalm 103:2: “Bless the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction.” Forget not his benefits, but carefully preserve and treasure them up in thy memory.
It was usual for saints under the Old Testament to set up some visible monument to remind them of God’s singular favors to them; they erected stones and built altars to be memorials of the mercies they received, and put names on the places for this end. Let all this teach you to guard against this evil of forgetting the Lord’s kind providence in recovering you from sickness.
You are guilty of this evil when you do not duly value the mercy, but let it pass as a turn of common providence. When you let the impression of the mercy soon wear off from your hearts; when you make a bad use of it, or do not rightly improve it to God’s glory and your own soul’s good; when you do not put on new resolutions to walk more exactly, live more fruitfully, and serve God more holily and humbly, then are you guilty of forgetting his benefits.
This is an evil most grievous and provoking to a good and gracious God, as is evident from the many complaints he makes of his people for it, as in Judges 8:34; Psalm 78:11; 106:13. Wherefore watch and pray against it.
DIRECTION 4. Inquire after those fruits of righteousness which are the genuine effects of affliction in the children of God, who are duly exercised thereby.
The apostle speaks of these fruits as naturally following upon sanctified afflictions, and a kindly exercise of spirit under them. Heb. 12:11. And therefore it is your duty to inquire if they be produced in you.
1. The increase of true repentance is one of these fruits which is the product of sanctified trials. Job found it in himself on the back of his affliction: “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:6. It would be happy if we could find our hearts more soft and melting on the view of sin, after we have been in the furnace of affliction.
2. Another fruit is the improvement of faith. The afflicted believer is taught to look to, and depend more upon God for help in time of need, and less upon the creature. He now sees that vain is the help of man in the day of calamity, and that God in Christ is the only proper object of the soul’s trust. This was the fruit of the apostle’s affliction: “We were pressed out of measure, above strength, in somuch that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead; who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in whom we trust that he will yet deliver.” 2 Cor. 1:8-10.
3. Humility and low thoughts of ourselves is another of the fruits of righteousness which sanctified affliction doth yield. How proud and lofty was Nebuchadnezzar before he was afflicted. Dan. 4:29, 30. But afterwards he is made to own God, and humbly submit to him as his supreme and almighty Sovereign, and to acknowledge that those who walk in pride he is able to abase. Verse 37. This was God’s design in the various trials of his people Israel in the wilderness: “That he might humble thee, that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end.” Deut. 8:16. See then, believer, if this fruit be produced in thee.
4. Another fruit is the spirit of prayer and supplication. This was visible in the psalmist’s case, after God had delivered him from the sorrows of death, and heard his voice: “Therefore,” says he, “will I call upon him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:2. O, saith the true believer, God’s mercy to me in trouble, and his sending me relief when I cried to him, will make me love prayer the better, and engage me to be more diligent in it all my days; for I still see I have daily need of his helping hand.
5. Heavenly-mindedness is also a fruit of sanctified affliction. Before, the man was inclined to say, It is good for us to be here; let us build tabernacles in this lower world. But now he changeth his language and his thoughts, and saith, “It is good for me to draw nigh to God. Arise, let us depart; this is not our rest. This world is nothing but the house of our pilgrimage; heaven only is our home.”
6. Another fruit of sanctified trials is greater love to God than formerly. How much was David’s heart warmed with love and gratitude to God after his affliction, so that he wants words to express the affections of his soul. “I will love the Lord because he hath heard my voice. I was brought low, and he helped me. Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?” Psalm 116:1, 6, 8, 12.
7. Learning and keeping of God’s word is likewise a fruit of sanctified affliction. Psalm 119:67, 71. Let us inquire if this fruit be produced in us after sickness. Do we attend to the word more closely; do we believe it more firmly; do we embrace its offers more earnestly; and do we live more in the expectation of that glory which the word doth reveal to us? Then it is good for us that we have been afflicted; for we have learned more of God’s word.
8. Tenderness of conscience is a happy fruit of sanctified trouble; when the believer, after it, becomes exceedingly afraid of sin, and of making new wounds in his conscience. He cannot think of adventuring again upon any known sin; for the smart of former wounds, and the pain they occasioned in his soul, when distress lay upon him, makes a deep and lasting impression on his mind, as it did on the afflicted church, Lam 3:19, 20 “Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall: my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. Now such fruits of righteousness are an evidence that we have been suitably exercised under affliction. O to find them produced in us after sickness is over.
DIRECTION 5. Be careful to perform those resolutions, engagements or vows you have come under in the time of sickness, and walk suitably to them.
As a time of sickness and affliction is a proper season for making vows to God, and binding our souls with resolutions to mortify sin in the heart, and purge it away from the life, to be diligent in duty, and to walk more humbly with God; so a time of recovery from sickness is a proper season for paying and performing these vows. This was the royal psalmist’s practice in such a case. “I was brought low, and he helped me. Truly I am thy servant, I am thy servant. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving. I will paying vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people.” Psalm 116:6, 16-18. Now, for your assistance in this matter, I offer you these few advices.
1. Defer not to pay your vows, but be speedy, and takethe first opportunity to pay them. Delays in this case are most dangerous. Solomon, that wise man, was sensible of this, which made him give thee this advice: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it.” Eccles. 5:4.
2. Be still jealous of thy heart, which is prone to deal treacherously with God after affliction is over. The Israelites’ practice is a sad instance of this truth: “When he slew them, then they sought him; and they returned and inquired early after God. Nevertheless, they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues; for their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.” Psalm 78:34-37. The purposes of many in affliction are like the vows of mariners in a storm: they are the first things which they forget and break when once they win safe to the shore. However patient some may seem to be in sickness, yet when they recover from it, they soon return to their old sins again. They are like metals in a furnace, that melt and turn liquid while in it, but when out soon return to their old hardness. There is good reason for that caution the Lord gives us in Mal. 2:16: “Therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.”
3. Cry continually for strength from above to enable you to perform your vows. The psalmist took this course, and found it successful: “In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” Psalm 138:3. And forget not, believer, that God has treasured up strength for thee in thy head and surety Christ Jesus; wherefore be still receiving from him, for the performing of all thy engagements. “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 2:1. Put thy treacherous heart in thy Surety’s hand; for though thou art weak, yet thy Redeemer is strong. “Whenever therefore you perceive your heart begin to start aside from God, be sure to check it, and look up to God in Christ for strength to secure you against its treachery and perfidious dealing: cry with the psalmist, “Be surety for thy servant for good.”
4. Guard diligently against thy predominant sin, the sin that hath most easily beset thee, the sin that was most bitter and uneasy to thee in the day of distress. Keep a narrow eye upon it now; for if once that sin be vanquished, the rest will the more easily be put to flight.
5. Be frequently meditating on thy vows, and on the condition thou wast in when they were made; and study to keep alive in thy heart the same apprehension of things after sickness, which thou hadst in the time of it. How vain and comfortless did the world and its vanities then appear to thee; how awful were the truths of God on thy spirits; how far preferable was the loving-kindness of God to thee than life; how precious was Christ then in thy eyes! O that your judgment, thoughts, and impressions of these things may continue still the same.
6. Keep vivid your impressions of the preciousness of time, that you may diligently improve it; and shake off sloth and idleness. Remember what a view you got in the time of sickness of long-lasting eternity; and what a trouble it was to you to look back and see how much time you had lost in sin and vanity. When sometimes we are brought to the brink of eternity, the near views we then get of its vastness and unchangeableness are frequently so awful and amazing to us, that we are ready to think, though we had Methuselah’s years to live, it would be unreasonable willfully to misspend one hour of them all. Well, then, is sickness over, our time so short, and so little of it remaining behind: will we be so foolish as to be lavish of it still, and trifle it away as before?
7. Set a special mark upon all those sins, whether of omission or commission, that made death look grim and ghastly upon you in the time of sickness, and against which you resolved; and see to get every one of them amended and removed. Remember and consider how sad it will be for you, if sickness find you again in the very same sins which formerly stung you. What will you say to conscience, when it shall challenge you? How will you look death in the face, if it should find you living in the very same sins you formerly mourned for, and promised against? Death would then be the king of terrors to thy soul indeed. then mind thy vows, and say with the psalmist, “Thy vows are upon me, God; I will render praises unto thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?” Psalm 56:12, 13.
John Willison was born in the year 1680, in the neighborhood of Stirling, Scotland. Not much is know about his personal and private life, but soon after he competed his academic career, he received a unanimous call to serve as pastor from a parish in Brechin in 1703. About the year 1718 he was transferred to Dundee where he remained for the remainder of his life, serving a large congregation. He served as a faithful minister of the gospel for 47 years until his death on the 3rd of May, 1756. John Willison was a man of great piety and a staunch defender of the faith. We are indeed fortunate to have extant copies of his sermons and his polemical works, from which the above article is derived.
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