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“This sickness is not unto death”

June 7, 2010

I read — but really, fairly aspirated — five lectures by Robert Murray McCheyne over the weekend: four on the parable of the ten virgins, and the first of seven in a series titled “Bethany.” A common theme threaded all of them: the veritable goodness of Christ’s promises and the futility of self-sanctification.

I constantly believe I have an integrated understanding of this, and I nonetheless constantly catch myself attributing an eruption of remaining sin to a failure of my own will. Failure would be unendurable if I weren’t in such good company. Paul’s, for instance. And Robert Murray McCheyne’s.

Lapping me on the sanctification track, McCheyne queries: “Are we not all immortal till our work is done?”

He points out that Mary and Martha did not tell Jesus what to do when they sent him word that their brother Lazarus was sick. They didn’t tell him to lay hands on him and heal him; they didn’t ask him for wisdom for Lazarus’s doctors. Their petition was simple: “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (John 11:3). McCheyne says, “They did not plead, but let their misery plead for them. ‘Let your requests be made known unto God.” — Phil. IV:6″ (The Life and Remains, p. 399)

They knew Jesus would know what to do. They knew Jesus loved them and they trusted his love and his power. And he promised them, “This sickness is not unto death.” Lazarus died. His sisters’ faith faltered, but prevailed.

Sin is a fatal illness and Christ is the only remedy: a very complete one. Without Christ, sin is surely a sickness unto death. With Christ, sin is a sickness not unto death. Those found in Christ at the end of the world will walk out of their tombs, just like Lazarus did, only they will never have to die again. Christ is my master because only he can master my sin and save me from its consequences. My will has every bit as much power over my sin as it has over the pace of my sanctification: as much power as a mountebank’s snake oil.

Do not be surprised if you suffer, but glorify God…. [Suffering] brings out graces that cannot be seen in a time of health. It is the treading of the grapes that brings out the sweet juices of the vine; so it is affliction that draws forth submission, weanedness from the world, and complete rest in God. Use afflictions while you have them. (The Life and Remains, p. 399)


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