You've probably heard the one about the Calvinist that fell down the stairs, who, after finding himself bruised but alive at the bottom, praised God and said, "Well, I'm glad that's over." I don't know who that joke was modeled on, but it certainly wasn't the Puritan, Lewis Bayly...
Honestly, the Puritans are so helpful. Whenever I read them invariably I come away thinking that I’ve never prayed a prayer, I’ve never preached a sermon, I’ve never thought a thought before. I mean, who in our spiritually vapid age would ever take their illness as an opportunity for offering a prayer of humble thanksgiving like this one...
A Prayer When One Begins to Be Sick
By Lewis Bayly, Bishop of Bangor
O most righteous Judge, yet in Jesus Christ my gracious Father! I, wretched sinner, do here return unto thee, though driven with pain and sickness, like the prodigal child with want and hunger. I acknowledge that this sickness and pain comes not by blind chance or fortune, but by thy divine providence and special appointment. It is the stroke of thy heavy hand, which my sins have justly deserved; and the things that I feared are now fallen upon me (Job 3:25). Yet do I well perceive that in wrath thou rememberest mercy (Habakkuk 3:2), when I consider how many and how heinous are my sins, and how few and easy are thy corrections. Thou, mightest have stricken me with some fearful and sudden death, whereby I should not have had either time or space to have called upon thee for grace and mercy; and so should have perished in my sins, and have been for ever condemned in hell.
But thou, O Lord, visitest me with such a fatherly chastisement, as thou usest to visit thy dearest children whom thou best lovedst; giving me, by this sickness, both warning and time to repent, and to sue unto thee for grace and pardon. I take not, therefore, O Lord, this thy visitation as any sign of thy wrath or hatred, but as an assured pledge and token of thy favour and loving-kindness, whereby thou dost with thy temporal judgments draw me to judge myself, and to repent of my wicked life, that I should not be condemned with the godless and unrepentant world. For thy holy word assures me, that “whom thou lovest, thou thus chastenest; and that thou scourgest every son that thou receivest.” That if I endure thy chastening, thou offerest thyself unto me as unto a son; and that all that continue in sin, and yet escape without correction, whereof all thy children are partakers, are bastards and not sons; and that thou chastenest me for my profit, that I may be a partaker of thy holiness. O Lord, how full of goodness is thy nature, that hast dealt with me so graciously in the time of my health and prosperity; and now, being provoked by my sins and unthankfulness, hast such fatherly and profitable ends in inflicting upon me this sickness and correction!
I confess, Lord, that thou dost justly afflict my body with sickness, for my soul was sick before of a long prosperity, and surfeited with ease, peace, plenty, and fullness of bread. And now, O Lord, I lament and mourn for my sins; “I acknowledge my wickedness, and my iniquities are always in my sight.” Oh what a wretched sinner am I, void of all goodness by nature, and full of evil by sinful custom! Oh what a world of sin have I committed against thee, whilst thy long-sufferance expected ray conversion, and thy blessings wooed me to repentance! Yet, O my God, seeing it is thy property more to respect the goodness of thy own nature than the deserts of sinners, I beseech thee, O Father, for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the merits of that all-saving death which he hath voluntarily suffered for all who believe in him, have mercy upon me, according to the multitude of thy mercies; turn thy face away from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities: cast me not out of thy presence, neither reward me according to my deserts: for if thou dost reject me, who will receive me? Or who will succour me, if thou dost forsake me? But thou, O Lord, art the helper of the helpless, and in thee the fatherless findeth mercy (Hosea 14:3:) for though my sins be exceeding great, yet thy mercy, O Lord, far exceedeth them all; neither can I commit so many as thy grace can remit and pardon.
Wash, therefore, O Christ, my sins with the virtue of thy precious blood, especially those sins which from a penitent heart I have confessed unto thee; but chiefly, O Lord, forgive me. And seeing that of thy love thou didst lay down thy life for my ransom, when I was thine enemy, O save now the price of thine own blood, when it shall cost thee but a smile upon me, or a gracious appearance in thy Father’s sight in my behalf. Reconcile me once again, O merciful Mediator, unto thy Father; for though there be nothing in me that can please him, yet I know that in thee, and for thy sake, he is well pleased with all whom thou acceptest and lovest. And if it be thy blessed will, remove this sickness from me, and restore to me my former health again, that I may live longer to set forth thy glory, and to be a comfort to my friends who depend upon me, and to procure to myself a more settled assurance of that heavenly inheritance which thou hast prepared for me.
And then, Lord, thou shalt see how religiously and wisely I shall redeem the time, which heretofore I have so lewdly and profanely spent. And to the end that I may the sooner and the easier be delivered from this pain and sickness, direct me, O Lord, I beseech thee, by thy divine providence, to such a physician and helper, as that, by thy blessing upon the means, I may recover my former health and welfare again. And, good Lord, vouchsafe, that as thou hast sent this sickness, to me, so thou wouldst likewise be pleased to send thy Holy Spirit into my heart, whereby this present sickness may be sanctified unto me; that I may use it as thy school, wherein I may learn to know the greatness of my misery and the riches of thy mercy; that I may be so humbled at the one, that I despair not of the other; and that I may so renounce all confidence of help in myself, or in any other creature, that I may only put the whole rest of my salvation in thy all-sufficient merits. And forasmuch as thou knowest, Lord, how weak a vessel I am, full of frailty and imperfections, and that by nature I am angry and froward under every cross and affliction, O Lord, who art the giver of all good gifts, arm me with patience to endure thy blessed will and pleasure, and of thy mercy lay no more upon me than I shall be able to endure and suffer.
Give me grace to behave myself in all patience, love, and meekness, unto those that shall come and visit me; that I may thankfully receive, and willingly embrace all good counsels and consolations from them; and that they may likewise see in me such a good example of patience, and hear from me such godly lessons of comfort as may be arguments of my Christian faith and profession, and instructions unto them how to behave themselves when it shall please thee to visit them with the like, affliction of sickness.
I know, O Lord, I have deserved to die; and I desire not longer to live, than to amend my wicked life, and in some better measure to set forth thy glory. Therefore, O Father, if it be thy blessed will, restore me to health again, and grant me a longer life. But if thou hast, according to thy eternal decree, appointed by this sickness to call for me out of this transitory life, I resign myself into thy hands, and holy pleasure; thy blessed will be done, whether it be by life or by death. Only I beseech thee of thy mercy forgive me all my sins, and prepare my poor soul, that by a true faith and unfeigned repentance, she may be ready against the time that thou shalt call for her out of my sick and sinful body.
O heavenly Father, who art the hearer of prayer, hear thou in heaven this my prayer, and in this extremity grant me these requests, not for any worthiness that is in me, but for the merits of thy beloved Son Jesus, my only Saviour and Mediator, for whose sake thou hast promised to hear us, and to grant whatsoever we shall ask of thee in his name. In his name, therefore, and in his words, I conclude this my imperfect supplication:—“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” &c.
Brothers and sisters, our devotional lives, our prayers, should be more like the old Puritans. Not in their impressively highfalutin vocabulary and syntax. That would be the wrong lesson to learn, and anyway, pastors like Bayly were undoubtedly far simpler in speech than the proud sophisticates of their day.
No, what we need is to imitate these godly men in their humility, their reverence, their studied self-deprication. If we could get hold of some of their piety, then maybe we too would have something profitable to offer our Maker when sitting under His fatherly discipline.