Home Outreach Leaders J.C. Ryle: Why Do Christians Get Sick?

J.C. Ryle: Why Do Christians Get Sick?


“Lord, he whom you love is sick.” (John 11:3

The chapter from which this text is taken is well known to all Bible readers. In life-like description, in touching interest, in sublime simplicity, there is no writing in existence that will bear comparison with that chapter. A narrative like this is to my own mind one of the great proofs of the inspiration of Scripture. When I read the story of Bethany, I feel, “There is something here which the infidel can never account for. This is nothing else but the finger of God.”

The words which I specially dwell upon in this chapter are singularly affecting and instructive. They record the message which Martha and Mary sent to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was sick: “Lord, behold he whom Thou lovest is sick,” That message was short and simple. Yet almost every word is deeply suggestive.

Notice the child-like faith of these holy women. They turned to the Lord Jesus in their hour of need, as the frightened infant turns to its mother, or the compass–needle turns to the Pole. They turned to Him as their Shepherd, their almighty Friend, their Brother born for adversity. Different as they were in natural temperament, the two sisters in this matter were entirely agreed. Christ’s help was their first thought in the day of trouble. Christ was the refuge to which they fled in the hour of need. Blessed are all they that do likewise!

Notice the simple humility of their language about Lazarus. They call Him, “He whom you love.” They do not say, “He who loves you, believes in you, serves you,” but “He whom you love.” Martha and Mary were deeply taught of God. They had learned that Christ’s love towards us, and not our love towards Christ, is the true ground of expectation, and true foundation of hope. Blessed, again, are all they that are taught likewise! To look inward to our love towards Christ is painfully unsatisfying: to look outward to Christ’s love towards us is peace.

Notice, lastly, the touching circumstance which the message of Martha and Mary reveals: “He whom you love is sick.” Lazarus was a good man, converted, believing, renewed, sanctified, a friend of Christ, and an heir of glory. And yet Lazarus was sick! Then sickness is no sign that God is displeased. Sickness is intended to be a blessing to us, and not a curse. “All things work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.” “All things are yours–life, death, things present, or things to come: for you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 3:22-23). Blessed, I say again, are they that have learned this! Happy are they who can say, when they are ill, “This is my Father’s doing. It must be well.”

I invite the attention of my readers to the subject of sickness. The subject is one which we ought frequently to look in the face. We cannot avoid it. It needs no prophet’s eye to see sickness coming to each of us one day. “In the midst of life, we are in death.” Let us turn aside for a few moments, and consider why Christians get sick. The consideration will not hasten its coming, and by God’s blessing may teach us wisdom.

In considering the subject of sickness, three points appear to me to demand attention.

1. The universal prevalence of sickness and disease.
2. The general benefits which sickness confers on mankind.
3. The special duties to which sickness calls us.

1. The universal prevalence of sickness.

I need not dwell long on this point. To elaborate the proof of it would only be multiplying truisms, and heaping up common-places which all allow.

Sickness is everywhere. In Europe, in Asia, in Africa, in America; in hot countries and in cold, in civilized nations and in savage tribes–men, women, and children get sick and die.

Sickness is among all classes. Grace does not lift a believer above the reach of it. Riches will not buy exemption from it. Rank cannot prevent its assaults. Kings and their subjects, masters and servants, rich men and poor, learned and unlearned, teachers and scholars, doctors and patients, ministers and hearers, all alike go down before this great foe. “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city.” (Prov. 18:11.) The Englishman’s house is called his castle, but there are no doors and bars which can keep out disease and death.