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Of Ministering to the Sick Person by the Spiritual Man, as he is the Physician of Souls.
1. In all cases of receiving confessions of sick men, and the assisting to the advancement of repentance, the minister is to apportion to every kind of sin such spiritual remedies which are apt to mortify and cure the sin; such as abstinence from their occasions and opportunities, to avoid temptations, to resist their beginnings, to punish the crime by acts of indignation against the person, fastings and prayer, alms and all the instances of charity, asking forgiveness, restitution of wrongs, satisfaction of injuries, acts of virtue contrary to the crimes. And although, in great and dangerous sicknesses, they are not directly to be imposed unless they are not directly to be imposed unless they are direct matters of duty; yet, where they are medicinal, they are to be insinuated, and in general signification remarked to him, and undertaken accordingly; concerning which, when he returns to health, he is to receive particular advices. And this advice was inserted into the penitential of England, in the time of Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury, and afterwards adopted into the canon of the western churches.173173Caus. 26. Q. 7. ab infirmis.
2. The proper temptations of sick men, for which a remedy is not yet provided, are unreasonable fears and unreasonable confidences, which the minister is to cure by the following considerations:
Many good men, especially such who have tender consciences, impatient of the least sin, to which they are arrived by a long grace, and a continual observation of their actions, and the parts of a lasting repentance, many times overact their tenderness, and turn their caution into scruple, and care of their duty into inquiries after the event, and askings after the counsels of God and the sentences of doomsday.
He that asks of the standers-by, or of the minister, whether they think he shall be saved or damned, is to be answered with the words of pity and reproof. Seek not after new light for the searching into the private records of God: look as much as you list into the pages of revelation, for they concern your duty; but the event is registered in heaven, and we can expect no other certain notices of it, but that it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by the Father of mercies. We have light enough to tell our duty; and if we do that, we need not fear what the issue will be; and if we do not, let us never look for more light, or inquire after God's pleasure concerning our souls, since we so little serve his ends in those things where he hath given us light. But yet this I add, that as pardon of sins in the Old Testament174174Matt. ix. 6. was nothing but removing the punishment, which then was temporal, and therefore many times they could tell if their sins were pardoned; and concerning pardon of sins, they then had no fears of conscience but while the punishment was on them, for so long indeed it was unpardoned, and how long it would so remain it was matter of fear and of present sorrow; besides this, in the Gospel pardon of sins is another thing; pardon for sins is a sanctification; Christ came to take away our sins, by turning every one of us from our iniquities;175175Acts, iii. 26. and there is not in the nature of the thing any expectation of pardon, or sign or signification of it, but so far as the thing itself discovers itself. As we hate sin, and grow in grace, and arrive at the state of holiness, which is also a state of repentance and imperfection, but yet of sincerity of heart and diligent endeavour; in the same degree we are to judge concerning the forgiveness of sins: for indeed that is the evangelical forgiveness, and it signifies our pardon, because it effects it, or rather it is in the nature of the thing; so that we are to inquire into no hidden records: forgiveness of sins is not a secret sentence, a word, or a record; but it is a state of change, and effected upon us; and upon ourselves we look for it, to read it, and understand it. We are only to be curious of our duty, and confident of the article of the remission of sins;176176Est modus gloriandi in conscientia, ut noveris, fidem tuam cease sinceram, soem tuarm esse certam.—August. Psalm cxlix. and the conclusion of these premises will be, that we shall be full of hopes of a prosperous resurrection; and our fear and trembling are no instances of our calamity, but parts of duty; we shall sure enough be wafted to the shore, although we be tossed with the winds of our sighs, and the unevenness of our fears, and the ebbings and flowings of our passions, if we sail in a right channel, and steer by a perfect compass, and look up to God, and call for his help, and do our own endeavour. There are very many reasons why men ought not to despair; and there are not very many men that ever go beyond a hope till they pass into possession. If our fears have any mixture of hope, that is enough to enable and to excite our duty; and if we have a strong hope, when we cast about we shall find reason enough to have many fears. Let not this fear weaken our hands; and if it allay our gaieties and our confidences, it is no harm. In this uncertainty we must abide if we have committed sins after baptism; and those confidences which some men glory in are not real supports or good foundations. The fearing man is the safest; and if he fears on his death-bed, it is but what happens to most considering men, and what was to be looked for all his life time: he talked of the terrors of death, and death is the king of terrors; and therefore it is no strange thing if then he be hugely afraid; if he be not, it is either a great felicity or a great presumption. But if he want some degree of comfort, or a greater degree of hope, let him be refreshed by considering,
1. That Christ came into the world to save sinners.177177Ezek. xxxiii. 11. 2. That God delights not in the confusion and death of sinners. 3. That in heaven there is great joy at the conversion of a sinner. 4. That Christ is a perpetual advocate, daily interceding with his Father for our pardon. 5. That God uses infinite arts, instruments, and devices, to reconcile us to himself. 6. That he prays us to be in charity with him, and to be forgiven. 7. That he sends angels to keep us from violence and evil company, from temptations and surprises, and his Holy Spirit to guide us in holy ways, and his servants to warn us and remind us perpetually: and therefore since certainly he is so desirous of save us, as appears by his word, by his oaths, by his very nature, and his daily artifices of mercy, it is not likely that he will condemn us without great provocations of his majesty, and perserverance in them. 8. That the covenant of the Gospel is a covenant of grace and of repentance, and being established with so many great solemnities and miracles from heaven, must signify a huge favour and a mighty change of things; and therefore that repentance, which is the great condition of it is a grace that does not expire in little accents and minutes, but hath a great latitude of signification, and large extension of parts, under the protection of all which persons are safe even when they fear exceedingly. 9. That there are great degrees and differences of glory in heaven; and therefore, if we estimate our piety by proportions to the more eminent persons and devouter people, we are not to conclude we shall not enter into the same state of glory, but that we shall not go into the same degree. 10. That although forgiveness of sins is consigned to us in baptism, and that this baptism is but once, and cannot be repeated; yet forgiveness of sins is the grace of the Gospel, which is perpetually remanent upon us, and secured unto us so long as we have not renounced our baptism: for then we enter into the condition of repentance; and repentance is not an indivisible grace, or a thing performed at once, but it is working all our lives: and therefore so is our pardon, which ebbs and flows according as we discompose or renew the decency of our baptismal promises; and therefore it ought to be certain that no man despair of pardon but he that hath voluntarily renounced his baptism, or willingly estranged himself from that covenant. He that sticks to it, and still professes the religion, and approves the faith, and endeavours to obey and to do his duty, this man hath all the veracity of God to assure him and give him confidence that he is not in an impossible state of salvation unless God cuts him off before he can work, or that he begins to work when he can no longer choose. 11. And then let him consider, the more he fears the more he hates his sin that is the cause of it, and the less he can be tempted to it, and the more desirous he is of heaven; and therefore such fears are good instruments of grace, and good signs of a future pardon. 12. That God in the old law although he made a covenant of perfect obedience and did not promise pardon at all after great sins, yet he did give pardon, and declared it so to them for their own and for our sakes too. So he did to David, to Manasses, to the whole nation of the Israelites, ten times in the wilderness, even after their apostacies and idolatries. And in the prophets the mercies of God and his remissions of sins were largely preached, though in the law God put on the robes of an angry judge and a severe lord. But therefore in the Gospel, where he hath established the whole sum of affairs upon faith and repentance, if God should not pardon great sinners that repent after baptism with a free dispensation, the Gospel were far harder than the intolerable covenant of the law. 13. That if a proselyte went into the Jewish communion, and were circumcised and baptized, he entered into all the hopes of good things which God had promised or would give to his people; and yet that was but the covenant of works. If, then, the Gentile proselytes, by their circumcision and legal baptism, were admitted to a state of pardon, to last so long as they were in the covenant, even after their admission, for sins committed against Moses's law, which they then undertook to observe exactly; in the Gospel, which is the covenant of faith, it must needs be certain that there is a greater grace given, and an easier condition entered into, than was that of the Jewish law; and that is nothing else but that abatement is made for our infirmities, and our single evils, and our timely-repented and forsaken habits of sin, and our violent passions, when they are contested withal, and fought with, and under discipline, and in the beginnings and progresses of mortification. 14. That God hath erected in his church a whole order of men, the main part and dignity of whose work it is to remit and retain sins by a perpetual and daily ministry; and this they do, not only in baptism, but in all their offices to be administered afterwards, in the holy sacrament of the eucharist, which exhibits the symbols of that blood which was shed for pardon of our sins, and therefore, by its continued mystery and repetition declares that all that while we are within the ordinary powers and usual dispensations of pardon, even so long as we are in any probable dispositions to receive that holy sacrament. And the same effect is also signified and exhibited in the whole power of the keys, which, if it extends to private sins, sins done in secret, it is certain it does also to public. But this is a greater testimony of the certainty of the remissibility of our greatest sins; for public sins, as they always have a sting and a superadded formality of scandal and ill example, so they are most commonly the greatest; such as murder, sacrilege, and others of unconcealed nature, and unprivate action; and if God, for these worst of evils, hath appointed an office of ease and pardon, which is and may daily be administered, that will be an uneasy pusillanimity and fond suspicion of God's goodness to fear that our repentance shall be rejected, even although we have committed the greatest or the most of evils. 15. And it was concerning baptized Christians that St. John said, ‘If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, and he is the propitiation for our sins;' and concerning lapsed Christians St. Paul gave instruction, that ‘if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a man in the spirit of meekness; considering lest ye also be tempted.' The Corinthian Christian committed incest, and was pardoned; and Simon Magus after he was baptized, offered to commit his own sin of simony, and yet St. Peter bid him pray for pardon; and St. James tells, that ‘if the sick man sends for the elders of the church, and they pray over him, and he confess his sins, they shall be forgiven him.' 16. That only one sin is declared to be irremissible, ‘the sin against the Holy Ghost, the sin unto death,' as St. John calls it, for which we are not bound to pray - for all others we are; and certain it is no man commits a sin against the Holy Ghost, if he be afraid he hath, and desires that he had not; for such penitential passions are against the definition of that sin. 17. That all the sermons in the Scripture written to Christians and disciples of Jesus, exhorting men to repentance, to be afflicted, to mourn and to weep, to confession of sins, are sure testimonies of God's purpose and desire to forgive us, even when we fall after baptism; and if our fall after baptism were irrecoverable, than all preaching were in vain, and our faith were also vain, and we could not with comfort rehearse the creed, in which, as soon as ever we profess Jesus to have died for our sins, we also are condemned by our own conscience of a sin that shall not be forgiven; and then all exhortations and comforts and fasts and disciplines were useless and too late, if they were not given us before we can understand them; for, most commonly, as soon as we can, we enter into the regions of sin, for we commit evil actions before we understand, and together with our understanding they begin to be imputed. 18. That if it could be otherwise, infants were very ill provided for in the church who were baptized, when they have no stain upon their brows but the misery they contracted from Adam; and they are left to be angels for ever after, and live innocently in the midst of their ignorances and weaknesses and temptations and the heat and follies of youth, or else to perish in an eternal ruin. We cannot think of speak good things of God if we entertain such evil suspicions of the mercies of the Father of our Lord Jesus. 19. That the long-sufferance and patience of God is indeed wonderful; but therefore it leaves us in certainties of pardon, so long as there is the possibility to return, if we reduce the power to act. 20. That God calls upon us to forgive our brother seventy times seven times, and yet all that is but like the forgiving a hundred pence for his sake who forgives us ten thousand talents; for so the Lord professed that he had done to him that was his servant and his domestic. 21. That if we can forgive a hundred thousand times, it is certain God will do so to us, our blessed Lord having commanded us to pray for pardon as we pardon our offending and penitent brother. 22. That even in the case of very great sins, and great judgments inflicted upon the sinners, wise and good men and presidents of religion have declared their sense to be, that God spent all his anger, and made it expire in that temporal misery; and so it was supposed to have been done in the case of Ananias: but that the hopes of any penitent man may not rely upon any uncertainty, we find in holy Scripture that those Christians who had for their scandalous crimes deserved to be given over to Satan to be buffeted, yet had hopes to be saved in the day of the Lord. 23. That God glories in the titles of mercy and forgiveness, and will not have his appellatives so finite and limited as to expire in one act, or in a seldom pardon. 24. That man's condition were desperate, and like that of the fallen angels, equally desperate, but unequally oppressed, considering our infinite weaknesses and ignorances, (in respect of their excellent understanding and perfect choice,) if he could be admitted to no repentance after his infant baptism; and if he may be admitted to one, there is nothing in the covenant of the Gospel but he may also to a second, and so for ever, as long as he can repent and return and live to God in a timely religion. 25. That every man is a sinner - ‘in many things we offend all;'178178James, iii. 2. and ‘if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves;'1791791 John, i. 8. and therefore either all must perish, or else there is mercy for all; and so there is, upon this very stock, because ‘Christ died for sinners,'180180Rom. v. 8. and ‘God hath comprehended all under sin, that he might have mercy upon all.'181181Rom. xi. 32. 26. That if ever God sends temporal punishments into the world with purposes of amendment, and if they be not all of them certain consignations to hell, and unless every man that breaks his leg, or in punishment loses a child or wife, be certainly damned, it is certain that God in these cases is angry and loving, chastises the sin to amend the person, and smites that he may cure, and judge that he may absolve. 27. That he that will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed - will not tie us to perfection and the laws and measures of heaven upon earth; and if, in every period of our repentance, he is pleased with our duty, and the voice of our heart, and the hand of our desires, he hath told us plainly that he will not only pardon all the sins of the days of our folly, but the returns and surprises of sins in the days of repentance, if we give no way, and allow no affection, and give no place to anything that is God's enemy; all the past sins, and all the seldom-returning and ever-repented evils put upon the accounts of the cross.
To which may be added this short exercise, to be used for the curing the temptation to direct despair, in case that the hope and faith of good men be assaulted in the day of their calamity.
I consider that the ground of my trouble is my sin; and if it were not for that, I should not need to be troubled; but the help that all the world looks for is such as supposes a man to be a sinner. Indeed, if from myself I were to derive my title to heaven, then my sins were a just argument of despair; but now that they bring me to Christ, that they drive me to an appeal to God's mercies, and to take sanctuary in the cross, they ought not, they cannot, infer a just cause of despair. I am sure it is a stranger thing that God should take upon him hands and feet, and those hands and feet should be nailed upon a cross, than that a man should be partaker of the felicities of pardon and life eternal; and it were stranger yet that God should do so much for man, and that a man that desires it, that labours for it, that is in life and possibilities of working his salvation, should inevitably miss that end for which that God suffered so much. For what is the meaning, and what is the extent, and what are the significations, of the divine mercy in pardoning sinners? If it be thought a great matter that I am charged with original sin, I confess I feel the weight of it in loads of temporal infelicities and proclivities to sin; but I fear not the guilt of it, since I am baptized, and it cannot do honour to the reputation of God's mercy that it should be all spent in remissions of what I never chose, never acted, never knew of, could not help, concerning which I received no commandment, no prohibition. But, blessed be God, it is ordered in just measures that that original evil which I contracted without my knowledge; and what I suffered before I had a being was cleansed before I had an useful understanding. But I am taught to believe God's mercies to be infinite, not only in himself but to us; for mercy is a relative term, and we are its correspondent: of all the creatures which God made, we only, in a proper sense, are the subjects of mercy and remission. Angels have more of God's bounty than we have, but not so much of his mercy; and beasts have little rays of his kindness, and effects of his wisdom and graciousness in petty donatives, but nothing of mercy; for they have no laws, and therefore no sins, and need no mercy, nor are capable of any. Since, therefore, man alone is the correlative, or proper object and vessel of reception of an infinite mercy, and that mercy is in giving and forgiving, I have reason to hope that he will so forgive me that my sins shall not hinder me of heaven; or because it is a gift, I may also, upon the stock of the same infinite mercy, hope he will give heaven to me; and if I have it either upon the title of giving or forgiving, it is alike to me, and will alike magnify the glories of the divine mercy. And because eternal life is the gift of God,182182Rom. vi. 23. I have less reason to despair; for if my sins were fewer, and my disproportions towards such a glory were less, and my evenness more, yet it is still a gift, and I could not receive it but as a free and a gracious donative, and so I may still: God can still give it me; and it is not an impossible expectation to wait and look for such a gift at the hands of the God of mercy; the best men deserve it not, and I, who am the worst, may have it given me. And I consider that God hath set no measures of his mercy, but that we be within the covenant, that is, repenting persons, endeavouring to serve him with an honest, single heart; and that within this covenant there is a very great latitude and variety of persons and degrees and capacities; and therefore that it cannot stand with the proportions of so infinite a mercy that obedience be exacted to such a point, which he never expressed, unless it should be the least, and that to which all capacities, though otherwise unequal, are fitted and sufficiently enabled. But, however, I find that the Spirit of God taught the writers of the New Testament to apply to us all in general, and to every single person in particular, some gracious words which God in the Old Testament spake to one man upon a special occasion in a single and temporal instance. Such are the words which God spake to Joshua; ‘I will never fail thee, nor forsake thee:' and upon the stock of that promise St. Paul forbids covetousness and persuades contentedness,183183Heb. xiii. 5. because those words were spoken by God to Joshua in another case. If the gracious words of God have so great an extension of parts, and intention of kind purposes, then how many comforts have we upon the stock of all the excellent words which are spoken in the prophets and in the Psalms? and I will never more question whether they be spoken concerning me, having such an authentic precedent so to expound the excellent words of God; all the treasures of God which are in the Psalms are my own riches, and the wealth of my hope; there will I look, and whatsoever I can need, that I will depend upon. For certainly, if we could understand it, that which is infinite (as God is) must needs be some such kind of thing: it must go whither it was never sent, and signify what was not first intended, and it must warm with its light, and shine with its heat, and refresh when it strikes, and heal when it wounds, and ascertain where it makes afraid, and intend all when it warns one, and mean a great deal in a small word. And as the sun, passing to its southern tropic, looks with an open eye upon his sun-burnt Ethiopians, but at the same time sends light from its posterns, and collateral influences from the back side of his beams, and sees the corners of the east when his face tends towards the west, because he is a round body of fire, and hath some little images and resemblances of the Infinite; so is God's mercy when it looked upon Moses: it relieved St. Paul, and it pardoned David, and gave hope to Manasses, and might have restored Judas if he would have had hope, and used himself accordingly. But as to my own case, I have sinned grievously and frequently;184184Vixi, peccavi, paenitui, natuae cessi. but I have repented it; but I have begged pardon; I have confessed it and forsaken it. I cannot undo what was done, and I perish if God hath appointed no remedy, if there be no remission; but then my religion falls together with my hope, and God's word fails as well as I. But I believe the article of forgiveness of sins; and if there be any such thing I may do well, for I have and do and will do that which all good men call repentance, that is, I will be humbled before God, and mourn for my sin, and for ever ask forgiveness, and judge myself, and leave it with haste, and mortify it with diligence, and watch against it carefully. And this I can do but in the manner of man; I can but mourn for my sins, as I apprehend grief in other instances, but I will rather choose to suffer all evils than to do one deliberate act of sin. I know my sins are greater than my sorrow, and too many for my memory, and too insinuating to be prevented by all my are; but I know also that God knows and pities my infirmities, and how far that will extend I know not, but that it will reach so far as to satisfy my needs is the matter of my hope. But this I am sure of, that I have in my great necessity prayed humbly and with great desire, and sometimes I have been heard in kind, and sometimes have had a bigger mercy instead of it; and I have the hope of prayers, and the hope of my confession, and the hope of my endeavour, and the hope of many promises, and of God's essential goodness; and I am sure that God hath heard my prayers, and verified his promises in temporal instances, for he ever gave me sufficient for my life; and although he promised such supplies, and grounded the confidences of them upon our last seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, yet he hath verified it to me who have not sought it as I ought; but therefore I hope he accepted my endeavour, or will give his great gifts and our great expectation even to the weakest endeavour, to the least, so it be a hearty piety. And sometimes I have had some cheerful visitations of God's Spirit, and my cup hath been crowned with comfort, and the wine that made my heart glad danced in the chalice, and I was glad that God would have me so; and therefore I hope this cloud may pass; for that which was then a real cause of comfort is so still if I could discern it, and I shall discern it when the veil is taken from mine eyes. And, blessed be God, I can still remember that there are temptations to despair; and they could not be temptations if they were not apt to persuade, and had seeming probability on their side; and they that despair think they do it with the greatest reason; for if they were not confident of the reason, but that it were such an argument as might be opposed or suspected, then they could not despair. Despair assents as firmly and strongly as faith itself; but because it is a temptation, and despair is a horrid sin, there it is certain those persons are unreasonably abused, and they have no reason to despair, for all their confidence; and, therefore, although I have strong reasons to condemn my despair, which therefore is unreasonable, because it is a sin, and a dishonour to God, and a ruin to my condition, and verifies itself if I do not look to it. For as the hypochondriac person that thought himself dead made his dream true when he starved himself because dead people eat not; so do despairing sinners lose God's mercies by refusing to use and to believe them. And I hope it is a disease of judgment, not an intolerable condition, that I am falling into; because I have been afflicted, because they see not their pardon sealed after the manner of this world; and the affairs of the Spirit are transacted by immaterial notices, by propositions and spiritual discourses, by promises which are to be verified hereafter: and here we must live in a cloud, in darkness under a veil, in fear and uncertainties; and our very living by faith and hope is a life of mystery and secrecy, the only part of the manner of that life in which we shall live in the state of separation. And when a distemper of body or an infirmity of mind happens in the instances of such secret and reserved affairs, we may easily mistake the manner of our notices for the uncertainty of the thing; and therefore it is but reason I should stay till the state and manner of my abode be changed before I despair: there it can be no sin nor error, here it may be both; and if it be that, it is also this, and then a man may perish for being miserable, and be undone for being a fool. In conclusion, my hope is in God, and I will trust him with the event, which I am sure will be just, and I hope full of mercy. However now I will use all the spiritual arts of reason and religion to make me more and more to love God, that if I miscarry, charity also shall fail, and something that loves God shall perish and be damned, which if it be possible than I may do well.
These considerations may be useful to men of little hearts and of great piety; or if they be persons who have lived without infamy, or begun their repentance so late that it is very imperfect, and yet so early that it was before the arrest of death. But if the man be a vicious person, and hath persevered in a vicious life till his death-bed, these considerations are not proper. Let him inquire, in the words of the first disciples after Pentecost, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?' and if they can but entertain so much hope as to enable them to do so much of their duty as they can for the present, it is all that can be provided for them: an inquiry, in their case, can have no other purposes of religion or prudence. And the minister must be infinitely careful that he do not go about to comfort vicious persons with the comforts belonging to God's elect, lest he prostitute holy things, and make them common, and his sermons deceitful, and vices be encouraged in others, and the man himself find that he was deceived, when he descends into his house of sorrow.
But because very few men are tempted with too great fears of failing, but very many are tempted by confidence and presumption, the ministers of religion had need be instructed with spiritual armour to resist this firey dart of the devil, when it operates to evil purposes.
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