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MINISTERS TO VISIT THE SICK. .
Wh E N any person is dangerously sick in any parish, the minister or curate, having knowledge thereof, shall resort unto him, or her, (if the disease be not known, or probably suspected, to be infectious), to instruct and comfort them in their distress, according to the order of Communion, if he be no preacher, or, if he be a preacher, then as he shall think most needful and convenient.
It is recommended to the Clergy to write out the prayers, which are to be used by the Sick themselves, or by the persons whose devotions they wish to assist, and to leave the copies with them.
VISITING THE SICK;
THE ASSISTANCE THAT IS TO BE GIVEN TO SICK AND DYING PERSONS BY THE MINISTRY OF THE CLERGY.
In all the days of our spiritual warfare, from our baptism to our burial, God has appointed his servants the ministers of the church, to supply the necessities of the people, by ecclesiastical duties; and prudently to guide, and carefully to judge concerning, souls committed to their charge.
And, therefore, they who all their lifetime derive blessings from the Fountain of Grace, by the channels of ecclesiastical ministers, ought then more especially to do it in the time of their sickness, when their needs are more prevalent, according to that known apostolical injunction, "Is any man sick among you, let him send for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him," &c.
The sum of the duties and offices, respectively implied in these words, may be collected from the following rules:
SECTION II. U?iles for the Manner of Visiting the Sick.
1. Let the minister be sent to, not when the sick is in the agonies of death, as it is usual to do, but before his sickness increases too much upon him; for when the soul is confused and disturbed by the violence of the distemper, and death begins to stare the man in the face, there is little reason to hope for any good effect from the spiritual man's visitation. For how can any regular administration take place, when the man is
all over in a disorder? how can he be called upon to confess his sins, when his tongue falters, and his memory fails him J how can he receive any benefit by the prayers which are offered up for him, when he is not able to give attention to them? or how can he be comforted upon any sure grounds of reason or religion, when his reason is just expiring, and all his notions of religion together with it? or when the man, perhaps, had never any real sentiments of religion before?
It is, therefore, a matter of sad consideration, that the generality of the world look upon the minister, in the time of their sickness, as the sure forerunner of death; and think his office so much relates to another world, that he is not to be treated with, as long as there is any hope of living in this. Whereas it is highly requisite the minister be sent for, when the sick person is able to be conversed with and instructed; and can understand, or be taught to understand, the case of his soul, and the rules of his conscience, and all the several bearings of religion, with respect to God, his neighbour, and himself. For to prepare a soul for its change is a work of great difficulty; and the intercourses of the minister with the sick have so much variety in them, that they are not to be transacted at once. Sometimes there is need of special remedies against impatience, and the fear of death; not only to animate, but to make the person desirous and willing to die. Sometimes it is requisite to awaken the conscience by "the terrors of the Lord;" to open by degrees nil the labyrinths of sin (those innumerable windings and turnings which insensibly lead men into destruction), which the habitual sensualist can never be able to discover, unless directed by the particular grace of God, and the assistance of a faithful and judicious guide. Sometimes there is need of the balm of comfort, to pour in "oil and wine" (with the good Samaritan) into the bleeding wound, by representing the tender mercies of God, and the love of his Son Jesus Christ, to mankind; and at other times it will be necessary to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine:" so that a clergyman's duty, in the visitation of the sick, is not over at once: but at one time he must pray; at another he must assist, advise, and direct; at another, he must open to him the nature of repentance, and exhort him to a confession of his sins, both to God and man, in all those cases which require it; and, at another time, he must give him absolution, and the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord.
And, indeed, he that ought to watch all the periods of his life, in the days of his health, lest he should be surprised and overcome, had need, when he is sick, be assisted and called upon, and reminded of the several parts of his duty in every instant of his temptation.
The want of this makes the visitations of the clergy fruitless, because they are not suffered to imprint those proper effects upon the sick, which are needful in so important a ministration.
2. When the minister is come, let him discourse concerning the causes of sickness, and by a general argument move him to a consideration of his condition. Let him call upon him first, in general terms, "to set his house in order," "to trim and adorn his lamp," and "to prepare himself for another world;" and then let him perform the customary duties of prayer, and afterwards descend to all other particulars, as occasion shall offer, and circumstances require.
3. According to the condition of the man, and the nature of his sickness, every act of the visitation is to be proportioned. If his condition be full of pain and infirmity, the exhortation ought to be shortened, and the minister more "instant in prayer ;" and the little service the sick man can do for himself should be supplied by the charitable care of his guide, who is in such a case to speak more to God for him than to talk to him: "prayer of the righteous," when it is "fer
vent," hath a promise to "prevai1 much in behalf of the sick" persons :bat exnortations must prevail by their own proper weight, and not by the passion of the speaker; and, therefore, should be offered when the sick is able to receive them. And even in this assistance of prayer, if the sick man joins with the mimster, the prayers should be short, fervent, and ejaculatory, apt rather to comply with his weak condition, than wearisome to his spirits, in tedious and long offices. But in case it appears he hath sufficient strength to go along with the minister, he is then more at liberty to offer up long petitions for him.
After the minister hath made this preparatory entrance to this work of much time and deliberation, he may descend to the particulars of his duty, in the following method.
Of instructing the sick Man in the Nature of Repentance, and Confession of his Sins.
The first duty to be rightly stated to the sick man, is that of repentance ; in which the minister cannot be more serviceable to him, than by laying before him a regular scheme of it, and exhorting him at the same time to a free and ingenuous declaration of the state of his soul. For unless they know the manner of his life, and the several kinds and degrees of those sins which require his penitential sorrow or restitution, either they can do nothing at all, or nothing of advantage and certainty. Wherefore the minister may move him to this in the following manner:
Arguments and Exhortations to move the sick Man to Repentance, and Confession of his Sins,
1. That repentance is a duty indispensably necessary to salvation. That to this end, all the preachings and endeavours of the prophets and apostles are directed. That our Saviour "came down from heaven," on purpose "to call sinners to repentance."* That as it is a necessary duty at all times, so more especially in the time of sickness, when we are commanded in a particular manner to "set our house in order." That it is a work of great difficulty, consisting in
• Matt. ix. 13.
general of a "change of mind," and a "change of life." Upon which account it is called in Scripture, " a state of regeneration, or new birth; " a " conversion from sin to God;" a " being renewed in the spirit of our minds;" a "putting off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts of the flesh," and a "putting on the new man, which is created in righteousness and true holiness." That so great a change as this, is not to be affected at once, but requires the utmost self-denial and resolution to put it in execution, consisting in general of the following particulars :—1. A sorrowful sense of our sins: 2. An humble confession of them: 3. An unfeigned abhorrence and forsaking of them, and turning to the Lord our God with all our hearts: 4. A patient continuance in well-doing to the end of our lives.
These are the constituent and essential parts of a true repentance; which may severally be displayed from the following motives of reason and Scripture, as opportunity shall serve, and the sick man's condition permit.
The first part of a true repentance is a sorrowful sense of our sins, which naturally produceth this good effect, as we may learn from St. Paul (2 Cor. vii. 10.) where he tells us, that "godly sorrow worketh repentance." Without it, to be sure, there can be no such thing; for, how can a man repent of that which he is not sorry for? or, how can any one sincerely ask pardon and forgiveness for what he is not concerned or troubled about?
A sorrowful sense, then, of our own sins, is the first part of a true repentance, the necessity whereof may be seeu from the grievous and abominable nature of sin; as, 1. That it made so wide a separation betwixt God and man, that nothing but the blood of his onlybegotten Son could suffice to atoue for its intolerable guilt: 2. That it carries along with it the basest ingratitude, as being done against our heavenly Father, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being:" 3. That the consequence of it is nothing less than eternal ruin, in that " the wrath of God is revealed against all impenitent sinners;" and "the wages of sin is death,"—not only temporal but eternal.
From these and the like considerations, the penitent may further learn, that to be sorry for our sins is a great and important duty. That it does not consist in a little trivial concern, a superficial sigh, or tear, or calling ourselves sinners, &c.; but in a real, ingenuous, pungent, and afflicting sorrow: for, tan that which cast our parents out of
Paradist at first, that brought down the Son of God afterwards from heaven, and put him at last to such a cruel and shameful death, be now thought to be done away by a single tear or a groan? Can so base a piece of ingratitude, as rebelling against the Lord of glory, who gives us all we have, be supposed to be pardoned by a slender submission? Or can that which deserves the torment of hell, be sufficiently atoned for by a little indignation and superficial remorse 1
True repentance, therefore, is ever accompanied with a deep and afflicting sorrow ; a sorrow that will make us so irreconcileable to sin, as that we shall choose rather to die than to live in it. For so the bitterest accents of grief are all ascribed to a true repentance in Scripture; such as a " weeping sorely," or "bitterly;" a " weeping day and night;" a "repenting in dust and ashes;" a "putting on sackcloth;" "fasting and prayer," &c. Thus holy David: "I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly, I go mourning all the day long, and that by reason of mine iniquities, which are gone over my head, and, as a heavy burden, are too heavy for me to bear:" Ps. xxxviii. 4. 6. Thus Ephraim could say: "After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh : I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth:" Jer. xxxi. 19.
And this is the proper satisfaction for sin which God expects, and hath promised to accept; as, Ps. li. 17. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
2. The next thing requisite in a true repentance, is confession of sins, which naturally follows the other; for if a man be so deeply afflicted with sorrow for his sins, he will be glad to be nd of them as soon as he can; and the way for this, is humbly to confess them to God, who hath promised to forgive us if we do. "I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord," saith the Psalmist; "and so thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin;" Ps. xxxii. 6. So, Prov. xxviii. 13. and 1 John i. 9. "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So the returning prodigal went to his father with an humbie confession of his baseness, and was received into favour again. Luke xv. 18, 19.
And because the number of our sins are like the hairs of our head, or the sand of the sea, and almost as various too in their kinds as their numbers; confession must needs be a very extensive duty, and require the strictest care and examination of ourselves: for "who can tell how oft he offendeth ?" saith David; "O, cleanse thou me from my secret faultsf"
The penitent, therefore, should be reminded, that his confession be as minute and particular as it can; since the more particular the confession is, to be sure, the more sincere and safe the repentance.
3. A third thing requisite in a true repentance, is an unfeigned abhorrence and forsaking of sin, and turning to the Lord our God with all our hearts.
For so we find them expressly joined toge ther by St. Paul, when he charges those whom by vision he was sent to convert, to change * their mind, and " turn to God, and do works meet for repentance :" Acts xxvi. 20. And a little before he says, he was sent "to open their eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins: " ver. 18. And we shall always find, when we are commanded to cease from evil, it is in order to do good.
The penitent, therefore, must be reminded, not only to confess and be sorry for his sins, but likewise to forsake them. For it is he only " who confesseth and forsaketh his sins, that shall have mercy:" Prov. xxviii. 13. And this forsaking must not be only for the present, during his sickness, or for a week, a month, or a year; but for his whole life, be it never so protracted ; which is the
4. Last thing requisite in a true repentance, viz. "a patient continuance in welldoing to the end of our lives." For as the holy Jesus assures us, that " he that endureth unto the end shall be saved;" so does the Spirit of God profess, that "if any man draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in him:" Heb. x. 38. Hence we are said to "be partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end," Heb. iii. 14. but not else; for it is to "him only that overcometh, and keepeth his works to the end," that our Saviour hath promised a reward: Rev. ii. 26. Hence our religion is said to be a continual warfare, and we must be constantly "pressing forward toward the mark of our high calling," with the apostle, lest we fail of the prize.
And this it is which makes a death-bed repentance so justly reckoned to be very full of hazard ; such as none who defer it till then, can depend upon with any real security.
* airrryytWov iinavouv.
For let a man be never so seemingly penitent in the day of his visitation, yet none but God can tell whether it be sincere or not; since nothing is more common than for those who expressed the greatest signs of a lasting repentance upon a sick-bed, to forget aU their vows and promises of amendment, as soon as God had removed the judgment, and restored them to their former health. "It happened to them according to the true proverb," as St. Peter says, " The dog is turned to his own vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire:" 2 Pet. ii. 22.
The sick penitent, therefore, should be often reminded of this:—that nothing will be looked upon as true repentance, but what would terminate in a holy life: that, therefore, he ought to take great heed, that his repentance be not only the effect of his present danger, but that it be lasting and sincere, "bringing forth works meet for repentance," should it please God mercifully to prove him by a longer life.
But here it is much to be feared, that after all his endeavours to bring men to a sight of themselves, and to repent them truly of their sins, the spiritual man will meet with but very little encouragement: for if we look round the world, we shall find the generality of men to be of a rude indifference, and a seared conscience, and mightily ignorant of their condition with respect to another world, being abused by evil customs and principles, apt to excuse themselves, and to be content with a certain general and indefinite confession; so that if you provoke them never so much to acknowledge their faults, you shall hardly ever extort any thing farther from them than this, viz. "That they are sinners, as every man hath his infirmity, and they as well as any; but, God be thanked, they have done no injury to any man, but are in charity with all the world. And, perhaps they will tell you, "they are no swearers, no adulterers, no rebels, &c. but that, God forgive them, they must needs acknowledge themselves to be sinners in the main," &c. And if you can open their breast so far, it will be looked upon as sufficient: to go any farther, will be to do the office of an accuser, not of a friend.
But, which is yet worse, there are a great many persons who have been so used to an habitual course of sin, that the crime is made natural and necessary to them, and they have no remorse of conscience for it, but think themselves in a state of security very often when they stand upon the brink