Sometimes we can learn spiritual lessons by making comparisons with natural and spiritual realities. We can even do this with the symptoms of Covid-19. This is merely an illustration, the fact someone contracts this virus is not directly connected to their spiritual state. Nor is this meant to diminish the reality of the illness experienced by those who have suffered badly from it and even died. It is certainly not meant to replace sound health advice either (see www.nhs.uk). The fact is, however, that the Bible uses the metaphor of disease when talking about sin (Mark 2:17; Psalm 38:3; Psalm 103:2-3; Isaiah 1:5-7 and 53:6). This shows that we can think in these terms. How can we identify the symptoms of a spiritual virus and where can we find the remedy?
How might we diagnose spiritual Covid? We might think about symptoms such as a loss of taste for spiritual things, the oxygen of prayer running low in our souls and excessive temperature in spiritual things which might be charging God foolishly or a zeal not according to knowledge. We may pass spiritual disease to others without being aware of it because we can easily stir up sin in others through our words and actions.
But we can think more generally about spiritual diseases also. David Dickson helps us to do this through an extensive book he wrote (Therapeutica Sacra or Sacred Healing) about how to deal with spiritual disease, especially diseases of the conscience. This article seeks to summarise some of the spiritual diseases that can afflict the soul, together with the remedy which is to be found in Christ.
1. We can have spiritual disease without being aware
The condition in which the convert is best pleased with themselves is not always the best. Neither is the condition in which they are least pleased with themselves always the worst. The best condition is that in which the Holy Spirit prevails most against the power of sin and advances the work of holiness. The worst condition is where sin prevails most. It is possible to abuse divine comforts and become complacent and negligent in spiritual duties just as it is not to be truly humbled for grieving the Spirit. But the worst conditions of the regenerate can by the wisdom, mercy and power of God be turned to God’s glory and our deliverance (Psalm 116:3-4).
2. We need to distinguish spiritual disease
We need to distinguish between:
- sinful diseases in themselves as opposed to conviction of sin that drives us to Christ
- experience temptation or testing as opposed to yielding to temptation under affliction
- grief of mind, or heaviness in affliction as opposed to anguish of conscience for having committed sin
3. We need to understand the causes of spiritual disease
There are a variety of things that cause our spiritual condition to change:
- whether grace or sin prevails
- whether Satan’s temptations are successful or resisted
- whether the Lord hides His face from us for His own sovereign reasons
4. We can have spiritual disease in our conscience
Conscience may be mistaken when it fails to assess our spiritual condition accurately. It can take a bad condition for a good one, or a good one for a bad one. Or it may not discern a condition partly good and partly bad or is confused about its state.
5. We can have spiritual disease in our love
It is possible that we and others may identify outward fruit in our Christian life, even when our love for Christ has actually cooled. Either we do not observe this cooling of love to Christ, or we are pleased enough with our condition as enough to carry us to heaven. Christ reproves Ephesus because they had left their first love and did not take this sin to heart to repent of it and seek to recover the first love (Revelation 2:4-5). This condition is very dangerous, as is manifest in the experience of the Galatians, who falling from their first love left themselves open to superstition and error by their defection from the faith of the gospel.
We must firstly see how reasonable it is that we should return to our first love. Secondly, we must consider how necessary it is to have love for Christ fresh and growing. Love to Christ makes us think and frequently of Him and seek closer fellowship with Him. Thirdly, we need to remember the delight we had in our first love an see how may spiritual comforts we have deprived ourselves of and what miseries we have brought on ourselves. Christ, Himself tells us the remedy, we need to humble ourselves before Him and flee to His rich grace as a true penitent (Revelation 2:5,7).
6. We Can cause spiritual disease in Others
It is not loving to indulge the sins of others (Leviticus 19:17). Yet some of the Lord’s people sometimes think have done their duty sufficiently as long as they themselves profess the truth and in their own personal conduct do what they conceive to be right. If we have influence over others and do not seek to curb those who lay a stumbling block before others, we not only permit the infection of error and wickedness. we protect and advance its spread. We must lament the sins of those who destroy themselves and infect others, and mourn for the sins of those who should repress the contagion. If we do not, we make ourselves an accessory to this evil being spread. This was the sin of the Church of Pergamos and the Church of Thyatira, which did not take action against those who promoted evil (Revelation 2:14-15 and 20).
To avoid causing spiritual disease in others we must:
- know what God forbids and requires, lest we mistake virtue for a vice, or vice for a virtue
- beware of censuring rashly the failings of others (James 3:1)
- earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) so that the Lord’s people are not drawn away from the truth of Christ
- consider our responsibilities and opportunities to seek to amend the faults of others wisely
- confront with resolution any difficulties in curbing error and sin. It is much better to displease others for their good than to displease Christ and make ourselves partakers of the sins of others.
7. We can have spiritual disease through carelessness
Sometimes remaining sin prevails against the work of the Spirit in converts that they are not only overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1) but also are taken captive for a time by the lusts of the flesh. It is possible for them to lie sleeping in this condition until God awakens them. Many things can cause this but usually, it is neglected duty and sinning against conscience without true repentance. We fall into this by various degrees. At first, we engage in God’s worship and obedience in a formal way within earnest desires. We read Scripture without seeking to profit from it and make a profession without zeal and fruit. We then go on to be careless in our speech and do not care about edifying or corrupting others with our tongues (James 1:26). Sin may then break out openly with schism, contention, envy, drunkenness, lasciviousness or other things. This seems to have been the condition of the Church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-2).
This deadly sickness of carelessness may be cured in these ways:
- the conscience must be awakened with a sense of sin
- any spark of faith, hope, repentance, or desire of returning to God, and resisting sin must be encouraged so that it is not extinguished
- remember the word by which you were first moved to turn unto God and strive for nearer fellowship with God
- be on your guard and watch over your heart, lest you are enticed by the world, flesh and devil to provoke God again
- consider the rich promises Christ makes to overcomers (Revelation 3:5).
8. We can have the spiritual disease of lukewarmness
We can become lukewarm through being negligent and at ease. This was the condition into which some converts in the Church of Laodicea fell (Revelation 3:15-19). The conscience must be awakened to see how
the Majesty and excellent worth of Christ hath been slighted by this lukewarmness. The spiritual riches of Christ have been despised. They must see how Christ hates lukewarmness and will spew such out of his mouth unless they repent. They must be humbled for glorying in their self-sufficiency when they are really devoid of all they need. They must lay hold on Christ’s love in calling them to repentance and take the offer of renewed, more intimate communion with him in the precious promises made to the victorious overcomer (Revelation 3:17-18).
9. We can have the spiritual disease of delusion
Delusion is when an error is embraced, especially some dangerous error tending to the damage of the Church and endangering souls. Satan is active in using all possible means to obscure and darken the truth and spread the most pernicious errors. Meantime he is not idle in sowing and spreading lesser errors that stir up contention in the Church. Through this means precious time which should be spent for mutual edification is idly wasted in needless disputes, and the minds of some prepared to receive worse errors. There may be pride, folly, schism and obstinacy in such errors.
It is possible for true Christians to be delivered from such delusions (Galatians 5:10). It requires patient teaching of sound doctrine to do so (1 Timothy 4:6 and 2 Timothy 4:1-2). The deluded person should be exhorted to examine their own conscience to see how much of the flesh is in their maintaining such errors. They should be exhorted to be humbled for the sins they acknowledge and to flee to Christ for pardon, pity and help against them. If they do not repent of known sins, how can they expect to have any light on their errors? They should be solemnly reminded of how the Lord gives those in error over to further sins (2 Timothy 4:1).
10. We can have the spiritual disease of mistaking vice for virtue
It is possible to mistake our covetousness for diligence neglecting dependence on God. We may also mistake our vengefulness for a concern for truth and honour. We can also mistake our excess in outward things for lawful provision and enjoyment.
11. We can have the spiritual disease of deceiving ourselves
Many think their souls to be in a good condition when they can pray much and with freedom of spirit even though they do not watch over their hearts and ways as they should. They find a sort of eloquence in their prayers and assume they have this because God is well pleased with them and their prayers. Many go on confidently in maintaining schism and error, persuading themselves that their conduct and condition are good because they find freedom in prayer.
But it is one thing to pray much, and another thing to be heard and to have our prayers and persons accepted (Isaiah 1:15). The flesh can easily creep in and stir up a fervency in prayer (James 4:3). We may pray earnestly for that which God will not grant (1 Samuel 16:1). Prayers expressed from a heaviness of spirit and difficulty are no less pleasing unto God than when there is freedom (Psalm 61:1). We may not know what to pray for as we ought and express ourselves in words but the Spirit can help (Romans 8:26). If we have a sense of our sins and needs, are daily going to Christ, are careful to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, are praying for what is promised, with submission to God’s time and wisdom we may be sure our person and prayers are acceptable (1 John 5:14-15).
We need to be able to diagnose spiritual disease in order to treat it. We also need to be on our guard against the things that cause spiritual disease such as being run down and careless in relation to our spiritual health. It is dangerous to neglect it. The remedy for spiritual disease in general and for what we might call spiritual Covid in particular is Christ. His grace and promises together with fellowship with Him through His Word.
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