The human race is sick. It is a fallen race, and evidences of the fall are apparent. This is a salient fact. While the body, mind, and soul today face greater possibilities of destruction than did those of any other generation, they also stand upon the threshold of greater possibilities of healing and restoration. Al though a multiplicity of forces are busy doing their nefarious work, as evidenced by weakened bodies and distorted minds, the Christian minister has at his command a wealth of Christ's principles and teachings to meet the powers of degeneration and decay. If total depravityispossible, so also is total restoration. Armed with this knowledge, fortified with the power of Christ's presence, the minister may enter the sickroom with a radiant hope. He comes as the physician of the soul, ever conscious that the success of his mission lies in his faith in theim mediate presence of the Great Physician.
Paul's command, "Examine yourselves," may have a far wider application than it is given. A periodic examination of the well-being of the body is desirable, but an "examination" of the inner life is vital.
Many people manifest an unwillingness to conduct an investigation of self. A lack of training, confusion of objectives, and not infrequently an unwillingness to face the findings of such an inventory are possible explanations for man's unwillingness to examine himself. Here is where the Christian minister can be of untold help. While the physician traces the germ that ravages the body, the minister traces the germ of sin. This is the minister's business. This is where his experience and expert theological training, come into focus. Exploratory work and diagnostic observations of the outer man are the work of the physician; exploratory work and diagnostic observations of the inner man are the work of the minister. As the work of the physician has a definite scope and extent, with a clearly denned field of practice, so the minister has a definite field. Generally the physician does not go beyond the outer man in his diagnosis; never does the minister go beyond the inner man in his diagnosis. Both have a starting and a stopping point in their work.
Minister Not a Psychiatrist
The pastor does well to remember that he is not a medical doctor and not a psychiatrist. While the alert minister has an "acquaintance" knowledge of both professions, he does well to bear in mind that his work is that of neither. The laying on of hands is not given to either the physician or the psychiatrist, as such. That the ministry has been raised up for a special and vital purpose should never be lost sight of. Nothing could bring disrepute more effectively upon the ministry than that God's servants should allow themselves to be moved out of their sphere and orbit of training, thus making their call null and void. The minister works and counsels within the framework of a heavenly mission. He has, in addition to a dignified training, the assurance of a "call." He has been called of God to bring to the bedside of the sick, not an attempt at medical diagnosis, not psychiatric measures, but a reasonable answer from God for man's suffering and earthly humiliation. Many a patient has entered the sickroom with SEPTEMBER, 1954 both the outer and the inner man suffering. Many a patient has come forth with the outer man restored but the inner man still afflicted. Many people need to understand that afflictions of the inner man are the work of sin, and that the breakdown of the inner man is the fore runner of the breakdown of the outer man.
Challenge and Opportunity
Every sick call is a challenge and an opportunity for the Christian minister. Every such mission to the bedside carries with it the prospects of two major accomplishments. First, the minister may help the patient to find himself. Second, the minister has the opportunity of increasing his skill in dealing with the very roots of man's wholesale afflictions.
"While the world needs sympathy, while it needs the prayers and assistance of God's people, while it needs to see Christ in the lives of His followers, the people of God are equally in need of opportunities that draw out their sympathies, give efficiency to their prayers, and develop in them a character like that of the divine pattern. "It is to provide these opportunities that God has placed among us the poor, the unfortunate, the sick, and the suffering. They are Christ's legacy to His church, and they are to be cared for. as He would care for them. In this way God takes away the dross and purifies the gold, giving us that culture of heart and character which we need." Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 261.
In the presence of the sick and the dying the pastor must be very strong. Compassion makes it tempting to offer the suffering one, whose body lies ravaged and wasting, unwarranted and sometimes un-Biblical promises of restoration. In times of duress the minister must bring into the sickroom a stanch hope and positive testimony of faith, guarding judiciously against falling under the impact of the patient's intense suffering, or even his murmurings, if such be the case. The pastor's heavenly mission is best carried out in a firm, quiet, dignified manner.
Lessons to Be Learned
Submission to a higher Power is one of the earliest lessons that the patient may learn. The patient soon learns the art of submitting him self to the methods of the physician. The astute pastor can successfully lead his patient to learn the deeper and fuller meaning of the Scriptural command, "Submit yourselves therefore to God." Lying upon his bed of affliction, the patient may make great strides in learning the real meaning of submission. While the physician sets the broken bone, the patient can be taught that the work of healing is of God. He can thus be quickly taught the limitations of the physician and the vast dependence of the human family upon God. Submission is not only a virtue but an art that needs thorough understanding. Who is better qualified to teach such a lesson than the pastor whose daily strength is received by submitting himself to God? In a kind and charitable spirit the minister stands before his patient with a message much as the prophets of old stood before their kings. While the way of the transgressor is hard and often merciless, yet the patient may be brought to the place of humble submission, once he sees clearly the error of his way.
Closely associated with the lesson of submission is the lesson of repentance. Arrogant hu man nature often becomes very pliable during illness. With skill the pastor can teach the lesson of godly repentance and sorrow for sins that have had such dominion over life. The pastor is obligated to teach this lesson even to the ill. Often he finds the patient in an already repentant frame of mind, a condition which makes it that much easier to lead him to God. Some of mankind's most fervent decisions have been made upon the sickbed, and some of man kind's greatest acts of repentance come from there.
The sickbed is often the ideal place to teach the patient spiritual graces. Such vital factors as prayer can be taught here. With an abundance of time upon his hands, the patient can be taught such spiritual exercises as Bible reading, meditation, devotional themes, trust, et cetera. In fact, the patient can be taught to exercise a measure of missionary spirit, by bringing to his ward mate the ideals and principles he has been shown and taught. Recuperation is always hastened for the one who allows himself constructive habits and exercises. Illness affords the pastor a splendid opportunity to teach the lesson of humility. A haughty, bitter, "why-did-it-happen-to-me" attitude can often be turned to a "humble-with- Christ" attitude.
For many people, to be suddenly humbled to the^ sickbed is quite a trying experience. By careful leadership the Christian minister can teach such a patient humility. God must give many of His creatures forced periods of rest and retirement, for man's misguided pride often does not allow him to come to the knowledge of this truth. The human feeling, "They can't get along without me," receives a rude pinprick when illness strikes. God makes no exceptions. No man is indispensable. At this point the Christian minister can lead such a person to see himself in earth's true perspective just one of the brethren. From this humbling experience the pastor may lead him to true humility in Christ. The sickbed affords the minister many opportunities to teach the deeper things of Christ's ministry. The matter of suffering—Christ's suffering—is little understood or appreciated by the masses. A great many people look upon His sufferings from a rather detached point of Idew, They reason that Christ suffered, but it must have been in some different way, quite remote from the reality of man's own. Though Christ's suffering was to a great extent mental anguish, yet the physical must not be ruled out. It too was intense. Upon the sickbed the patient can be taught in clearer symbols Christ's anguish. Very wisely the pastor may lead his patient to associate himself in this way with his Lord and thus be drawn to Him.
Indeed, the doctrine of Christ's suffering cannot be understood except in such surroundings.
The sickbed is the pastor's golden opportunity to teach the principle of patience. This is an impatient world. It may be God's wish that certain ones be placed upon beds of illness to exemplify the promise, "Here is the patience of the saints." Or could it be that God tests some men's patience in this manner? Surely God could not place a man into a more fit frame work to teach him patience than by placing him upon the sickbed. This seems like an opportune moment for the pastor to lead his patient into an exploration of the deeper meanings of patience. The sick one, rightly guided, may come forth from the sickroom having learned one of life's major lessons.
The Christian minister should, of course, not overlook the opportunity to teach the lesson, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Many are ill because of the violation of simple laws of health. Some are on beds of illness because of deliberate transgression. Where such is the case, a Christlike lesson is not only in order but is a pastoral duty. There is a common temptation to side-step this obligation. The pastor's failure to teach the patient that a violation of the laws of the body brings upon him nature's penalty, would be but another way of encouraging him to continue to transgress should he be raised up.
Probably the greatest lesson the pastor may teach at the bedside is the lesson of courage. For many people the word is meaningless. On the bed of illness, hovering between life and death, the patient may be taught to call into focus, not words, but courage hidden power, hidden resources that will lift him above his immediate crisis. Faced with the stark reality of life and death, the patient may be led to exercise fortitude and courage hardly dreamed of before. Step by step he may be led to-a pinnacle of hope, courage, and determination. Human determination, fortified with the power of Christ, can keep many a patient from an un timely grave. The chief sources of unhappiness, frustration, and sickness, arise from human relationships which maim and dwarf the inner man. The devastating effects of hatred, resentment, bitterness, and fear have a definite part in promoting illness. To counteract these powerful agencies, Jesus called forth such virtues as peace, joy, love, courage, et cetera. The Christian minister who comes to the bedside fortified with these life-giving principles of good cannot help being a servant of God and a friend to man.