For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that you had heard that he had been sick.…
I. HE WAS SICK.
1. It is a salutary thing for the healthy to remember the sick. What a change does even a slight sickness make in our thoughts and feelings! What an importance does it give to things at other times trivial, and what an insignificance to things at other times engrossing! The strong man is then in the grasp of a stronger. The worldly man finds then that there is something unseen as true as things that are seen; the busy man is reminded that there will be an end of work, and the frivolous that there will be an end of pleasure.
2. What a natural incongruity there is between health and sickness! How does the very presence of a person in robust health jar upon the sensitiveness of a frame diseased? How few there are whose visit to a chamber of sickness carries with it repose and soothing! What a tenderness should we cherish towards the peculiarities, frailities, irritabilities of sickness. What care there should be in the choice of times, the control of speech, the selection of topics, and in the regard to brevity! And yet in all these things, how should art conceal art? and a delicate consideration prompt everything.
3. God gives these gifts naturally to some: and some learn it in the school of Jesus.
II. NIGH UNTO DEATH.
1. Happy are they who well use those seasons of passing indisposition, which interrupt from time to time a life of average vigour. They will find themselves the less surprised and overwhelmed by the arrival of that time when a mortal sickness shall darken the windows forever.
2. This sort of visit to the gates of the grave, and acquaintance with the preliminaries of dying, is an occurrence by no means infrequent. We are all familiar with records of perils by water, in which every stage of the process of dying has been travelled through. How remarkable are the details of those records. Words and acts long forgotten flash again upon the mind, and they have made the person able to tell from experience how it may be in the judgment, how conscience may arraign the sinner at the bar of God, and do the office of the undying worm and the unquenchable fire.
3. But sickness, too, as well as accident, may give something of the same experience. There may have been a long suspense between life and death. The physician may have destroyed hope. At last a turn has come; the sickness was close upon death, but it was not death, and all this mortal strife must be endured again. Has that person nothing to tell of those days of expected dissolution? Can he lose again the experience then acquired. We know that no such experience can, of itself, convert a soul (Luke 16:31); but it will, at least, tell how small and poor the world looked, how true God's truth appeared; and well may such be asked whether they have duly cherished the impression made upon them in those days of suspense.
III. GOD HAD MERCY ON HIM. Is this the same apostle who wrote Philippians 1:23? Does he account it a mercy which withdraws a man from immediate fruition? We may draw from this an illustration of the naturalness of the Word of God. However bright the light the gospel throws upon the world beyond still life is a blessing (Ecclesiastes 11:7), and still death is an enemy. To speak of a recovery from sickness as a misfortune is as contradictory to the language of the Bible as it is to the voice of nature within.
1. No one will doubt this in the case of one whose salvation is less than secure. That such a man is not cut off in his sins, that a new opportunity is given him for amendment, is indeed a mercy.
2. But Epaphroditus was a Christian man. To him death would have been gain, and had providence so ordered it Paul would have bidden his Philippian friends to give thanks over him as one who slept in Jesus. If God wills thus it is well for the Christian; if God wills the opposite it is well still. If he lives He can still work and gather in more souls for Christ.
Parallel VersesKJV: For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick.