OF VISITING THE SICK.
IF one seriously considers how the generality of Christians go out of the world, how ill prepared for eternity, and how seldom such as recover make that good use of sickness which God designs by such visitations; one cannot but wish that such as have the cure8 of souls would think in good earnest how to improve such momentous occasions to the best advantage.
And surely a good pastor must have a great concern upon his spirits, when any of his flock are visited with sickness.
For if the sickness shall be unto death, here is a soul, in a few days, to enter upon a state of endless happiness or endless misery:--a thought which should make one's heart to tremble.
But if the sick person shall recover and is not bettered by his sickness, here is, perhaps, the last opportunity which God may ever afford that man of seeing the error of his ways, for ever lost; and where the blame will lie, God Himself has told us: He is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
Why, what could the watchman do? He could at least deliver his own soul. But he might do a great deal more: so saith the Spirit of God by Elihu: When a man is chastened with pain upon his bed, and his soul draweth near unto the grave: if there be with him an interpreter, that is, one able to explain the meaning and use of such visitations; if he say, I have sinned, and it profited me not, that is, if he is brought to true repentance; then will God be gracious unto him, and his soul shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.
In short, sickness, whether mortal or not, cometh not by chance, but is a warning for men to prepare for eternity. And it mightily concerns such as have the care of souls not to lose such occasions of doing the greatest good to the souls of men, always remembering that I was sick and ye visited Me not is one of those reasons for which men will be shut out of heaven.
Now the design of this paper is to propose a method of answering the ends of the Church in her excellent Office for visiting the sick. That such as are put into our hands by
care, the providence of God may be dealt with as their needs require; whether it be to examine the sincerity of their faith and repentance, or to receive their confession and administer absolution to such as earnestly desire it; or to awaken the consciences of the careless; to comfort dejected spirits; or lastly, to exhort such as recover to consider the mercy they have received and to dedicate the remainder of their lives to the service of God.
§ 1. And, in the first place, a good pastor will not always stay till he is sent for. He knows that the repentance of the dead comes too late, and that the fear of death, which is to determine a man's state to all eternity, will make men willing to hear reproof and to take advice: such an opportunity therefore he will not lose, if he can possibly help it.
§ 2. They that omit the salutation Peace be to this house and to all that dwell in it, or pronounce it so low as not to he heard, have not well considered the authority they have as ministers of Christ to offer peace and salvation to all that are disposed to receive it.
§ 3. If the short litany and prayers following be said with deliberation and devotion, there cannot better be made use of: besides, they are the voice of the Church, which will be sure to be heard at the throne of grace.
§ 4. After these follow two exhortations, which should never be omitted; but then they should be read with very great deliberation, that the sick person may weigh what is said, and receive instruction and comfort from it.
§ 5. And now, forasmuch as a well-grounded faith in God will be the sick person's best defence against the assaults of the devil, who will be sure to tempt him, either to despair of God's mercy, or to presume upon his own righteousness, or to be impatient and to charge God foolishly; the Church therefore in the next place directs us to examine the sick person's faith, that is, whether he believes as a Christian man ought to do, or no: and in order to that, to ask him, Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, &c.?
But lest sick people and such as are of slow understandings should profess with their lips what they are not able to apply to their soul's comfort; it will be highly charitable and useful, after repeating the Creed, to propose the use that ought to be made of it, in short questions, after some such way as this following:
Do you believe that it is God who ordereth all things both in heaven and earth?
Why then you must believe that nothing can come by chance; and that as our Lord saith, even a sparrow does not die without God's knowledge and His leave.
Do you then believe that this present visitation of yours is from God?
If God is our Father, His correction must be for our good.
Do you firmly believe this; and that this sickness is ordered by Him for some special end?
Why then consider for what ends a loving father corrects his child: either he is careless, or disobedient, or forgets his duty; or takes such ways as would ruin himself, if he were let alone.
Is not this your case?
To be sure, if it were left to your own ordering, you would never choose afflictions; but God sees that it is good for you to be in trouble; or it may be, God will try whether you will love and trust in Him as well in sickness as in health.
Will you therefore, like a dutiful child, be thankful that your heavenly Father takes so much care of you?
Will you endeavour to bear your sickness patiently and submit to God's will, whether it be for life or for death?
Does not this affliction convince you that nothing deserves our love but God, since no being else can help us in the day of adversity?
Will you therefore, in the first place, make application to God by prayer for a happy issue out of this affliction?
JESUS, you know, signifies a Saviour; and we all hope that He will be a Saviour to us. But this He will not be, unless we obey Him as our Lord, that is, as our ruler and lawgiver.
You must therefore consider wherein you have broke His laws, and you must repent of it, ask God's pardon and resolve to do so no more, as you hope that He will be a Saviour to you.
You believe that He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.
Why then, you are sure that as He is the Son of God, He is able to save such as come unto God by Him; and as He was born of a woman and took our nature upon Him, He knows, for He has felt, our weaknesses, and will pity our infirmities.
You believe that He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.
Are not you then hereby convinced what a sad state man was in, when God could not be reconciled to him till His own Son had suffered what man had deserved to suffer?
And don't you see, at the same time, that no true penitent need despair, since here is a sufficient price paid for our redemption?
Neither ought you to doubt that God will deny us any thing, since He spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all.
Do you therefore place all your hopes of mercy in Christ's death, and in the promises of God for His sake made to us?
Will you endeavour to follow the example of your Lord and Saviour, who bore with submission and patience whatever God thought fit to lay upon Him?
And will you remember that He did so, though His very judge found no fault in Him? But we suffer justly, for we receive the due rewards of our deeds.
And lastly, you will do well to remember the dying words of your Saviour; and when you come to die, commend your spirit into the hands of God.
You believe that Jesus Christ rose again the third day from the dead.
Why then you are sure that His sufferings and death were well pleasing to God, who otherways would not have raised Him to life again.
And though your soul, when you die, shall go into an unknown world; yet, if you die in the favour of God, you will have the same God to take care of you that Jesus Christ had.
And lastly, you are hereby assured that God, who raised Christ from the dead, will also quicken our mortal bodies; for so He has declared in His Word.
Since you believe that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, you must conclude that all power in heaven and in earth is committed unto Him.
And can there be greater comfort for a sinner than this; that He who died for us is ever with God, pleading the cause of His poor creatures that come unto God by Him?
Though therefore for your own sake you cannot look for favour, yet for Jesus' sake you may, who ever liveth to make intercession for us.
Will you therefore endeavour to set your heart above, where your Saviour is?
And that you may do so more earnestly, remember your Saviour's words when He was leaving the world: I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, ye may be also.
You believe that Jesus Christ shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.
If you believe this so truly as you ought to do, you will take care to judge yourself beforehand, that you may not be condemned of the Lord, when He cometh to judge the world in righteousness.
Will you therefore examine your life and see wherein you have offended, that you may repent and make your peace with God, remembering that as death leaves you judgment will find you?
However, you have this to comfort your soul, if you are sincerely penitent, that He who knows our infirmities, He who died to redeem us, is to be our judge.
And God grant that you may find mercy in that great day.
You profess to believe in the Holy Ghost, to whom you were dedicated in baptism, and by whom you were sealed to the day of redemption.
Now, if you have grieved this Holy Spirit and by wicked works have driven Him from you, you must sadly repent of it and earnestly pray God to restore Him, without whose aid you can never be sanctified, never be happy.
And when you call yourself to an account, consider whether you have lived in obedience to those whom the Holy Ghost hath set over you; that is, the ministers of the Gospel.
Do you propose to live and die in the communion of this Church, in which you were baptized?
Our Lord tells you what a blessing it is to be a member of that Church of which He is the head.
I am (saith He) the vine, ye are the branches; as the branches cannot bear fruit unless they abide in the vine, no more can ye unless ye abide in Me.
In short, a member of Christ's Church has a right to the forgiveness of sins--to the favour of God--to the merits of Christ--to the assistance of the Holy Ghost--and to the ministry of the holy angels:--blessings, which you can never be sufficiently thankful for.
Do you firmly believe that God, in consideration of Christ's sufferings, will forgive all such as with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto Him?
But then you must consider that forgiveness of sins is to be hoped for only in God's own way, that is, by the ministry of those to whom God has committed the word of reconciliation.
And that the promise of forgiveness of sin should be no pretence for continuing in sin in hopes of pardon.
Do you believe that we shall all rise again, some to everlasting happiness and some to everlasting misery?
If this faith be in you of a truth, it will convince you of the vanity of this world, its profits, pleasures, honours, fame, and all its idols; so that you will not, as unbelievers do, look for your portion here.
Don't you see what a mercy it is, when God punisheth sinners in this life, since those whose punishment is deferred till the next life must suffer everlastingly?
And if the difficulties of repentance and a holy life affright you, consider this one thing, Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?
Remember the words of Jesus Christ to the penitent thief--This day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.
And let the expectation of that happy day, and a faith and hope full of immortality, make you diligent to make your calling and election sure, and sweeten all the trouble and difficulties of doing it.
And may almighty God strengthen and increase your faith, that you may die in this belief and in the peace and communion of the Church. Amen.
§ 6. The sick Christian having thus professed his faith in God, the next thing necessary to be inquired into is the truth of his repentance. The Church therefore orders that now the minister shall examine (not exhort him to it only) whether he repent him truly of all his sins.
And verily the Church in this consulted the necessities of sick persons, who are not able to attend to long exhortations, and are too apt to forget what is said to them after that manner; and may be brought to know the true state of their souls by examining them, that is, by short, plain and proper questions; of which hereafter.
In the mean time, a prudent pastor will find himself obliged here to consider more particularly the circumstances of the person with whom he has to do, that he may examine his repentance accordingly.
For instance, Christians are not always sensible of their own ailments.
First, Some are very ignorant and know not why they live, or what will become of them when they die.
Secondly, Some are vainly confident and must be humbled.
Thirdly, Some are too much dejected and must be comforted.
Fourthly, Some are hardened and must be awakened.
Fifthly and lastly, Such as hope to recover will be apt to put off their repentance and reject the counsel of God for their good.
Now something in all these cases should be said, to dispose the sick to a sincere repentance.
1. To such as are very ignorant.
Such as are ignorant should be made sensible that this life is a state of trial and a passage only to another.
That God has given men reason and conscience, and has also given them laws to walk by.
That after this life we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, who will render to every man according to his deeds.
That such as have done good shall go into life everlasting, and such as have done evil into everlasting misery. And that thus it will be, whether men lay these things to heart or not.
And the only comfort a sinner has is this, that God for Christ's sake will accept his sincere repentance.
I require you therefore, as you value your soul, to make your peace with God speedily. And that you may know wherein you have offended, I will set before you the law of God, to the end you may judge yourself and call on God for mercy, as often as I shall put you in mind of any sin you have been guilty of.
2. To such as are vainly confident.
Such as are confident of their own righteousness, or depend upon an outward profession of Christianity, should be put in mind of our Lord's words to the Pharisees: ye are they that justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts.
They should be told that the publican who durst not lift up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful unto me a sinner, returned justified before him who thought too well of himself.
And that our Lord invited such only as were weary and heavy laden to come to Him, because these only are prepared to become His true disciples.
Thou sayest that thou art rich and hast need of nothing (saith our Lord to the Church of Laodicea), and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
You see how sad a thing it is to have too good an opinion of one's self.
And it is only because Christians do not consider the many duties that they have omitted and the many sins they have been guilty of, that makes them speak peace to their souls.
In the law of God, therefore, which I am going to set before you, you will see, as in a glass, the charge that is against you; and I require you to judge yourself, as you expect favour from God.
3. To such as want comfort, being dejected.
And first, if the sick person is under agonies of mind, on account of some great sin or wickedness long lived in, a prudent pastor will not too hastily speak peace to him; he will rather endeavour that he may continue to sorrow after a godly sort: that is, not so much for having offended against a God who can destroy both body and soul in hell, but as having offended a gracious Father, a merciful Saviour and a Holy Spirit.
Such a sorrow as this will not lessen a Christian's horror for sin, but will make him more humble, more fearful of offending;--acknowledging God's justice and his own un-worthiness, but yet resolving to lay hold of the promises of mercy, for Christ's sake, to penitent sinners.
But then, there being a sorrow that worketh death, making sinners impatient, doubting God's goodness, questioning His promises, neglecting repentance;--such a sorrow is to be resisted and discouraged, as a temptation of the devil, being the effect of pride and of an unwillingness to submit to God.
But if the sick person's sorrow proceeds, as it too often does, from mistakes concerning God: the extent of Christ's sufferings; the unpardonableness of some sins and some states; the sincerity of his own faith and repentance; he is then to be comforted with such truths as these:
That God delighteth in mercy.
That He is gracious and merciful, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin.
That the devil, knowing this, uses all his arts and endeavours to tempt sinners to despair.
That therefore God Himself bids us to call upon Him in time of trouble, and He will hear us.
Nay, He calls Himself a father, on purpose that sinners may consider how a father would deal with his own child, when he saw him truly sensible of his errors.
That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even such as were lost: that He ever liveth to make intercession for us.
And we have His own promise for it; He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out; and, He that believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.
That the Gospel is a most gracious dispensation, requiring only such an obedience as a poor frail creature can pay.
That that faith is not to be questioned which purifieth the heart; which worketh by love; that is, makes us do what we can to please God; and which resisteth temptations and enables us to overcome them.
That wherever amendment of life followeth such a faith as this, there is true repentance: and that where there is sincerity, there our obedience will be accepted, though it is not perfect as the law requires.
In short, no man will have reason to despair, if he considers that God doth nothing in vain: and that if He visits a sinner; if He exhorts him by His ministers; if He touches his heart; if He gives him time to consider his ways, when He might have taken him away without warning; why, it is because He designs to be gracious, if the sinner is not wanting to himself.
I will therefore set before you the law of God, not to affright you, but that you may know and confess and forsake your sin, and find mercy, as God hath promised.
4. To such as are hardened in wickedness and must be awakened.
This is indeed a melancholy case; but a good pastor, while God continues life, will continue his endeavours, for he does not know but this is God's time.
He will therefore try what the sword of the Spirit will do, that word which, the same Spirit tells us, is profitable for correction as well as for instruction.
He will therefore put him in mind that if he dies in his sins unrepented of, he will go out of the world a professed enemy to that God who can destroy both body and soul in hell; who will, as the Holy Scriptures assure us, take vengeance on all them that know not God and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who shall be punished with everlasting destruction.
He will let him know that this may be his condition in a few days; for our Lord assures us that, as soon as ever the wicked rich man died, he was carried to hell.
That this is the last time, perhaps, that ever God will afford you to beg His pardon; and you will be desperately mad to neglect it.
It is true, God is not willing that any should perish, and He can conquer the stubbornest heart, but He will not do it by force.
He has shewn His mercy in afflicting your body and in taking from you the power to do evil.
What is this for, but that you may open your eyes and see your danger and ask His pardon and beg His assistance and be delivered from the severity of His wrath, which you must certainly feel without a speedy repentance?
It may be you do not know the charge that is against you; I will therefore repeat to you the substance of those laws which you have broken and by which you must be judged.
If you have any concern for your soul, if you have any fear of God in your heart, you will hear and judge and condemn yourself, that you may escape in the dreadful judgment of the last day.
5. To such as, in hopes of recovery, put off their repentance.
Such should be made sensible that sickness is not only the punishment, but the remedy of sin.
That it is the chiefest of those ways by which God shews men their sin, by which He discovers to them the vanity of the world that bewitches them, by which He takes down the pride of the heart and the stubbornness of the will, which has hindered their conversion.
In short, it is God's time: so that not to repent in sickness is in effect to resolve never to repent.
For what shall incline a man to repent when he recovers, which does not move him now?
His hopes of heaven and his fears of hell will not be greater then than now.
And it would be the utmost presumption to expect that God will give that man an extraordinary degree of grace, who despises the most usual means of conversion.
A pastor therefore will set before him the law of God which he has transgressed, that he may see the need he has of repenting, and that he may not provoke God to cut him off before his time, because there is no hope of amendment.
Examination of the sick person's repentance.
DEARLY beloved, you are, it may be, in a very short time to appear before God.
I must therefore put you in mind that your salvation depends upon the truth of your repentance.
Now forasmuch as you became a sinner by breaking the laws of God, you have no way of being restored to God's favour, but by seeing the number and the greatness of your sins, that you may hate them heartily, lament them sorely, and cry mightily to God for pardon.
I will therefore set before you the laws of God, by which God will judge you; and I will ask you such questions as may be proper to call your sins to your remembrance; and you will do well, wherever you shall have reason, to say with the publican, God be merciful unto me, for I have offended in this and this thing.
And be not too tender of yourself, but remember that the more severe you are in accusing and condemning yourself, the more favour you may expect from God.
Your duty to God, you know, is to fear Him, to love Him, to trust in Him, to honour and to obey Him.
Consider therefore, seriously,--Have you not lived as if there were no God to call you to an account?
Has the knowledge of God's almighty power and His severe justice made you fearful of offending Him?
Are you convinced that you have not loved God so much as His goodness and care of you deserved?
Has the love of God made you desirous to please Him?
Have you so put your trust in God as to be content with what He has appointed, without murmuring and without questioning the wisdom of His choices?
Have you not been unthankful for God's mercies?
Have you never, as you know of, taken any false oath?
Have you never been accustomed to swear, to curse, or to take God's name in vain?
Have you not very often spent the Lord's Day idly?
Have you not been careless and irreverent in God's house?
Have you been careful to pray to God daily for His pardon, His grace, and His protection?
Have you constantly received the Lord's Supper, when you have had an opportunity?
Have you never gone profanely to the sacrament, without examining yourself and without purposing to lead a new life?
Have you not despised God's Word, His ministers, or His house?
Your duty to your neighbour is to love him as yourself. Consider therefore,
Have you so loved all men as to wish and pray sincerely for their welfare?
Have you not hated your enemies?
Have you paid due reverence in heart, in word, in behaviour, to your parents and to all such as were over you in place and authority?
Have you not been subject to sinful, unadvised anger?
Have you never done anything to shorten the life of your neighbour?
Have you not lived in malice or envy, or wished any man's death?
Have you not been accustomed to sow strife and dissension amongst your neighbours?
Have you not fallen into the sins of drunkenness, gluttony, tippling, or an idle life?
Have you kept yourself free from the sins of whoredom, impurity and uncleanness?
Have you none of the sins of injustice, extortion, or of any way wronging your neighbour, to answer for?
Have you not been unfaithful in any matters of trust committed to you?
Have you not been subject to the evil habits of lying, slandering, or talebearing?
Have you never given false evidence, outfaced the truth, or countenanced an evil cause?
Have you not been pleased with evil reports, and have you not been too forward to propagate them?
Have you not been vexatious to your neighbour and grieved him without cause?
Have you not been dissatisfied with the condition which God allotted you?
Have you not coveted your neighbour's goods, envied his prosperity or been pleased with his misfortunes?
Have you done to others as you wish they should have done to you?
Can you call to mind any injury or injustice, for which you ought to ask pardon or make restitution?
And remember you are told the truth, that the unrighteous and unjust shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Is there anybody that has grievously wronged you, to whom you ought to be reconciled?
Remember that if you forgive not, you will not be forgiven; and that he will receive judgment without mercy, who hath shewed no mercy.
Are you therefore in charity with all the world?
Have you been kind to the poor according to your ability?
And remember that the moment Zacchaeus resolved to do right to everybody and to be kind to the poor, our Lord tells him that salvation was then come to his house.
You would do well therefore, as a proof of your thankfulness to God, to be liberal to the poor according to your ability.
And if you have not already settled your worldly concerns, and declared what you owe and what is owing to you, it is fit you do so now, for the discharging of a good conscience, and for preventing mischief after your death.
And be very careful that in making your will you do no wrong, discover no resentment, that the last act of your life may be free from sin.
And now I will leave you for a while to God and to your own conscience; beseeching Him to discover to you the charge that is against you; that you may know and confess, and bewail and abhor the errors of your life past; that your may be done away by His mercy, and your pardon sins sealed in heaven, before you go hence and be no more seen.