Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
The family of the afflicted is a large one, and a wide-spread one. It forms a great nation on the earth; and its members are to be found in every country, and in every rank and condition of life. It is an old nation. The first human beings were the first members of it; and an unbroken succession has kept it up ever since. This is the one nation in the world that shows no symptom of decline or fall. It is an honourable nation. There was One belonged to it whose name hallows it: our Blessed Redeemer was a Man of sorrows. The wisest of men found that in much wisdom is much grief. Great forms of majesty: the just whose memory is blessed, the kind whose memory is loved, the ancient seer, the inspired apostle, the crowned martyr rise before the mind as it recalls the past, and reads the long roll of afflicted men. It is our own nation. Affliction is the birthright of all. Some of you feel it is so at this moment. Many have found it so, in the experience of departed days. All will find it so, sooner or later. "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray." This is not the prescription of mere worldly wisdom, for the cure of great grief. There is no difficulty in this world in finding people who will give you advice as to what you ought to do, when great sorrow comes your way; Try change of scene, they will say; Go to places that suggest no sad associations and call up no bitter thoughts: Open your heart to the tide of cheerfulness that is flowing all around you. Or perhaps they may say, Go into society. Mix with your fellow-men. Or they will bid you trust to time — time the never-failing comforter. Or, if nothing else will do — if your affliction be one that clings to your life, and makes the condition of your being — then the worldly counsel would be to bear your grief like a man. Now I do not mean to say, nor did the apostle mean to say, but what there is some wisdom and some good in all these things. Still, the good man did not think that any of these ways of meeting affliction was the best. His way is very shortly named. "Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray!" No matter what be the cause of your affliction: no matter what be the particular pang with which it rends your heart: no matter what be the constitution of your body, or the complexion of your mind: here is a remedy which the apostle prescribes, without explanation or restriction, for all sorts and conditions of men. Surely then, if the apostle be right, there must be something very strange about prayer. The diseases of the body are many; but then the remedies which physicians prescribe for their cure are very various. But it seems that St. James was of opinion that no afflicted man could ever do wrong when he turned to prayer. And probably we may find the reason why the apostle attached such a mighty efficacy to prayer, when we consider two things about it.
1. First, the afflicted person should pray, because prayer is the best way to bring about the removal of his affliction. In speaking to Christian people, it is needless to say that prayer does not consist of words vaguely cast adrift with no clear end: prayer is a real speaking to a God who hears: a real asking Him for something, about which He will consider whether or not it be good for us: and then our asking, if it be good for us, will truly induce Him to give it us. And yet, I fear that all of us are often very far from properly feeling what a great reality there is in the power of prayer. When a friend you loved lay sick of some dangerous malady, tossing restlessly on a sleepless pillow; and when you had mixed the composing draught and given it to his feverish lips, and then lifted up your heart to God on his behalf, did you feel that that prayer might be just as real a cause of repose or of convalescence as anything that medical skill could suggest, or careful love supply? When you were involved in some perplexing entanglement, were you sure that the silent moments you spent in prayer to your Maker, were just as useful towards clearing up the way before you, as all the address and prudence you were master of? Or, when sickness came your way, and you counted weary days of unrest and suffering, were you then sure that the morning and evening supplication might stand you in better steal than all your physician's skill? Do you, in short, remember every day of your life, that prayer is the best step towards any end you are aiming at; and that, of all the means that tend to bring about the purpose you are seeking to accomplish, prayer is the very last that you can in prudence omit? If you fail to do all tiffs, you are showing by your practice that you do not truly feel the power of the agency which by prayer you can set in motion.
2. But I dare not say that prayer will certainly take away the affliction for the removal of which you ask. It will do so only if it be God's will it should; and He knows best whether your prayer should be directly granted. It cannot be, then, that St. James would have the afflicted pray, merely because by prayer they might reasonably expect to get quit of their affliction: there must be something about prayer even more salutary than its virtue to change the natural course of events: and apart altogether from the hope that thus he may find escape from the cause of his sorrow, there must be good reason in the nature of things why the afflicted man should pray. And such reason there is. Prayer has been the talisman that has made years of constant pain to be remembered as the happiest period of life; prayer is that which has made many a poor sufferer tell that it was good for him or her to be afflicted, for affliction had been the sharp spur to turn those feet into the narrow way, which otherwise might have trodden the broad road to perdition. Prayer, earnest prayer offered in the Saviour's name, never yet went for nothing. If it did not bring the thing it asked for, it brought the grace to do without it: but it never went to the winds. These sufferers found it so. Day by day, gentle resignation kept stealing into their soul, till not a thought ever disturbed their quiet, of what they might have been and were not: and till, from the bottom of their heart, they could pity the worldling that pitied them. For their affliction had been the severe discipline by which God had schooled them for a better country, and weaned their affections from the things of time and sense.
(A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.