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Of the Practice of the Grace of Faith in the Time of Sickness.
Now is the time in which the faith appears most necessary and most difficult. It is the foundation of a good life, and the foundation of all our hopes; it is that without which we cannot live well, and without which we cannot die well; it is a grace that then we shall need to support our spirits, to sustain our hopes, to alleviate our sickness, to resist temptation, to prevent despair; upon the belief of the articles of our religion we can do the works of a holy life; but upon belief of the promises we can bear our sickness patiently, and die cheerfully. The sick man may practise it in the following instances.
1. Let the sick man be careful that he do not admit of any doubt concerning that which he believed and received from a common consent in his best health and days of election and religion. For if the devil can but prevail so far as to unfix and unrivet the resolution and confidence or fulness of assent, it is easy for him so to unwind the spirit, that from why to whether or no, from whether or no to scarcely not, from scarcely to absolutely not at all, are steps of a descending and falling spirit; and whatsoever a man is made to doubt of by the weakness of his understanding in a sickness, it will be hard to get an instrument strong or subtle enough to reinforce and insure: for when the strengths are gone by which faith held, and it does not stand firm by the weight of its own bulk and great constitution, nor yet by the cordage of a tenacious root, then it is prepared for a ruin, which it cannot escape in the tempests of a sickness and the assaults of a devil. Discourse and argument, the line of tradition and a never-failing experience, the Spirit of God and the truth of miracles, the word of prophecy and the blood of martyrs, the excellency of the doctrine and the necessity of men, the riches of the promises and the wisdom of the revelations, the reasonableness and sublimity, the concordance and the usefulness of the articles, and their compliance with all the needs of man, and the government of commonwealths, are like the strings and branches of the roots by which faith stands firm and unmovable in the spirit and understanding of a man. But in sickness the understanding is shaken, and the ground is removed in which the root did grapple and support its trunk;112112Non jam validis radicubus haerens, pondere fixa suo. and therefore there is no way now but that it be left to stand upon the old confidences, and by the firmament of its own weight; it must be left to stand, because it always stood there before; and as it stood all his life-time in the ground of understanding, so it must now he supported with will and a fixed resolution.113113Sanctiusque ae reverentius visum de actis Deorum credere quam scire.—Tacit. But the disputation tempts it, and shakes it with trying, and overthrows it with shaking. Above all things in the world let the sick man fear a proposition which his sickness hath put into him contrary to the discourses of health and a sober untroubled reason.
2. Let the sick man mingle the recital of his creed together with his devotions, and in that let him account his faith; not in curiosity and factions, in the confessions of parties and interests:114114Fides tua te salvum faciet: non exercitatio Scripturarum, Fides in regula posita est; (scil. in Symbolo quod jam recitaverat) habet legem, et saluterm de observatione legis; Exercitatio autem in curiositate consistit, habens gloriam solam de pertitia studio. Cedat curiositas Fidel; cedat Gloria Saluti—Tert. de pagescript St. Augustinus vocat Symbolum comprehensionem Fidei vestra atque perfectionem; Cordis signaculum, et nostrae militiae sacramentum. Amb. lib iii. de Vcland. Virgin. Aug. Serm. 115 Non per diddiciles nos Deus ad beatam vitam quaesuscitatum a mortuis per Deum credere, et ipsum esse Dominum confiteri.—St. Hilar. lib. 10 de Trinit. Haec est fides Catholica, de Symbolo suo dixit Athanasius, vel quicunque author est St. Athanas. de fide ni cena. for some over-forward zeals are so earnest to profess their little and uncertain articles, and glory so to die in a particular and divided communion, that in the profession of their faith they lose or discompose their charity. Let it be enough that we secure our interest of heaven, though we do not go about to appropriate the mansions to our sect; for every good man hopes to be saved, as he is a Christian, and not as he is a Lutheran, or of another division. However, those articles upon which he can build the exercise of any virtue in his sickness, or upon the stock of which he can improve his present condition, are such as consist in the greatness and goodness, the veracity and mercy of God through Jesus Christ; nothing of which can be concerned in the fond disputations which faction and interest hath too long maintained in Christendom.
3. Let the sick man's faith especially be active about the promises of grace, and the excellent things of the gospel; those which can comfort his sorrows and enable his patience; those upon the hopes of which he did the duties of his life, and for which he is not unwilling to die; such as the intercession and advocation of Christ, remission of sins, the resurrection, the mysterious arts and mercies of man's redemption, Christ's triumph over death and all the powers of hell, the covenant of grace, or the blessed issues of repentance; and, above all, the article of eternal life, upon the strength of which eleven thousand virgins went cheerfully together to their martyrdom, and twenty thousand Christians were burned by Diocesian on a Christman-day, and whole armies of Asian Christians offered themselves to the tribunals of Arius Antonius, and whole colleges of severe persons were instituted, who lived upon religion, whose dinner was the eucharist, whose supper was praise, and their nights were watches, and their days were labour; for the hopes of which then men counted it gain to lose their estates, and gloried in their sufferings, and rejoiced in their persecutions, and were glad at their disgraces. This is the article that hath made all the martyrs of Christ confident and glorious; and if it does not more than sufficiently strengthen our spirits to the present suffering, it is because we understand it not, but have the appetites of beasts and fools. But if the sick man fixes his thoughts, and sets his habitation to dwell here, he swells his hope, and masters his fears, and eases his sorrows, and overcomes his temptations.
4. Let the sick man endeavour to turn his faith of the articles into the love of them; and that will be an excellent instrument, not only to refresh his sorrows, but to confirm his faith in defiance of all temptations. For a sick man and a disturbed understanding are not competent and fit instruments to judge concerning the reasonableness of a proposition. But therefore let him consider and love it, because it is useful and necessary, profitable and gracious; and when he is once in love with it, and then also renews his love to it, when he feels the need of it, he is an interested person, and for his own sake will never let it go, and pass into the shadows of doubting, or the utter darkness of infidelity. And act of love will make him have a mind to it; and we easily believe what we love, but very uneasily part with our belief, which we for so great an interest have chosen and entertained with a great affection.
5. Let the sick person be infinitely careful that his faith be not tempted by any man, or any thing; and when it is in any degree weakened, let him lay fast hold upon the conclusion, upon the article itself, and by earnest prayer beg of God to guide him in certainty and safety. For let him consider that the article is better than all its contrary or contradictory, and he is concerned that it be true, and concerned also that he do believe it: but he can receive no good at all if Christ did not die, if there be no resurrection, if his creed hath deceiven him; therefore all that he is to do is to secure his hold, which he can do no way but by prayer and by his interest. And by this argument or instrument it was that Socrates refreshed the evil of his condition, when he was to drink his aconite.115115In Phaedon. “If the soul be immortal, and perpetual rewards be laid up for wise souls, then I lose nothing by my death: but if there be not, then I lose nothing by my opinion; for it supports my spirit in my passage, and the evil of being deceived cannot overtake me when I have no being.” So it is with all that are tempted in their faith. If those articles be not true, then the men are nothing; if they be true, then they are happy: and if the articles fail, there can be no punishment for believing; but if they be true, my not believing destroys all my portion in them and possibility to receive the excellent things which they contain. By faith we quench the fiery darts of the devil; but if our faith be quenched, wherewithal shall we be able to endure the assault? Therefore seize upon the article, and secure the great object, and the great instrument, that is, the hopes of pardon and eternal life through Jesus Christ; and do this by all means, and by any instrument, artificial or in artificial, by argument or by stratagem, by perfect resolution or by discourse, by the hand and ears of premises or the foot of conclusion, by right or by wrong; because we understand it; or because we love it, super totam materiam; because I will, and because I ought; because it is safe to do so, and because it is not safe to do otherwise; because if I do I may receive a good; and because if I do not I am miserable; either for that I shall have a portion of good things without it.
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