« AnteriorContinua »
Note, That the holy sacrament is not to be administered to dying persons, when they have no use of their reason to join with the minister in his celebration of it. For the sacraments operate not of themselves, but as they are made efficacious by the joint consent and will, and religious acts and devotion, of the party that receives them. And therefore all fools, and distracted persons, and children, and lethargical and apoplectical people, or that are any ways senseless and incapable of human and reasonable acts, are to be assisted only by prayers.
Note also, That in cases of necessity, where the sacrament cannot be so conveniently administered, the sick may be admonished to receive it spiritually, i. e. by representing the symbols of the body and blood of our Lord to his mind, and applying them to himself by faith, with the same preparations of faith and repentance, as if they were really present. For no doubt but God, in such a case, who considers all things with exact justice, and chiefly respects the sincerity of our hearts and intentions, will excuse the absence of the outward and visible sign, when necessity, and not contempt or neglect, was the occasion of it.
Of applying spiritual remedies to the unreasonable fears and dejections of the sick.
IT sometimes happens that good men, especially such as have tender consciences, impatient of the least sin, to which they are arrived by a long habit of grace, and a continual observation of their ways, overact their part, and turn their tenderness into scruples, and are too much dejected and doubtful concerning their future salvation. In such a case, the minister is to represent to them, that the man who is jealous of himself, is always in the safest condition; that if he fears on his death-bed, it is but what happens to most considering men; and that therefore to fear nothing then, is either a singular felicity, or a dangerous presumption.
But to restrain the extravagance of fear, let him be reminded of the terms of the gospel :-that it is a covenant of grace and mercy to all: that" Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners:" that he continues 26 our advocate in heaven," and daily" intercedes" with his Father for us: that the whole heavenly host rejoices at the conversion of a sinner: that the angels are deputed by God, to be our guardians against violent surprises and temptations: that there are different degrees of glory in heaven; so that, if we arrive not at the greatest, we may yet hope, by divine that mercy, we should not be excluded the less: that God hath promised to hear the" prayers of the righteous" for his servants that he labours with us by his Spirit, and as it were "beseeches us, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to him;" 2 Cor. v. 20.: that of all his attributes, he glories in none so much as in the titles of mercy and forgiveness: that therefore we do injustice to the Father of mercies, if we retain such hard thoughts and suspicions of him: that God calls upon us to forgive our brother" seventy times seven;" and yet all that is but like the forgiving" a hundred pence," for his sake who forgives us" ten thousand talents:" and therefore if we are ordered to shew such an unrestrained temper of forgiveness, it is only to animate us to trust in God's much more unbounded mercy.
By these and the like arguments, the spiritual man may raise the drooping spirits of good men, in their causeless dejections. But because there are many other cases of the like nature, which the physician of souls will meet with in visiting his neighbours, especially such as are of melancholy dispositions, it may not be improper to mark the principal of them here, and to prescribe the remedies.
Considerations to be offered to persons under religious melancholy.
1. Some truly religious persons are under sad apprehensions of not being in the favour of God, because they find their devotions to be very often cold, their prayers distracted, and their delight in spiritual mat
ters not to be so great and permanent, as their pleasure and satisfaction are in the things of the world.
Now to such as have made religion the great busi. ness of their lives, who have endeavoured to cure those distracted thoughts they complain of, and to inflame their souls with divine love, it may be offered, that the different degrees of affection with which men serve God, do very often depend upon the difference of their tempers and constitutions ; since some are naturally so dull and heavy, as to be little affected with any thing; whilst others are of such a tender make, as to be af fected almost with every thing, so as to be soon exalted with joy, or depressed with sorrow: that sickness, losses, and all afflictions, and even religion itself, in its long and continual exercise of self-denial and thoughtfulness, do naturally produce such a tenderness of spirit, that the best of men have never been able at all times to keep their affections at an equal height: that the zeal and warmth with which some are af fected, is not always an argument of their goodness: that a sensible pleasure in religious exercises, wherein the passions are affected, is not so acceptable to God as a reasonable service: that distraction of thought in the service of God is owing, for the most part, to bodily weakness; and therefore, if we do not give way to it, but do all we can to suppress those wandering thoughts, we may be assured we shall never be blamed for being subject to that which, by reason of the weakness of our nature, we cannot help: that the first motions of our mind, as it is impossible to hinder them, are reckoned by all divines not to be sinful, provided we do not encourage them.
2. Some are extremely dejected, because, upon strict examination of themselves, they find, as they think, all their religion to be owing to their fears; and fear being a slavish and sordid passion, they are apt to conclude, that all those services which are not the result of a more noble principle, will be rejected by God, since, as he is all love, and goodness, and perfection, he will not be pleased, they think, with any sacrifice, but what is offered by love.
And to this sad purpose, some have interpreted Rev.
xxi, 8. to belong to them, where the fearful are joined together with the most abominable, who shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.
To cure the depraved and unhappy notions of such as these, it may be argued; that it is plain from Scripture, that the first beginnings of, or movement towards, a holy life, are usually owing to the passion of fear: that to this, both our Saviour and his apostles do all along address themselves in their earnest entreaties of mankind to turn from the ways of sin to God.-" Fear him," saith our Saviour," who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," Matt. x. 28.; so vi. 15.; Mark xvi. 16. And to this purpose the apostle says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," Phil. ii. 12.; and 2 Cor. v. 11. Knowing the terrors of the Lord," saith he, "we persuade men." And in most of the Scripture proofs, we shall find the chief argument of religion to be urged from a fear of punishment for the neglect thereof: so that to be dejected, and render our lives comfortless on this account, were the most unreasonable extravagance; since this were to suppose, that God hath implanted the passion of fear in us in vain; or, what is worse, only to vex and torment us: and that our Saviour and his apostles, persuading us to be religious from the terrors of the Lord, had deceived and misled us.
And as for that text, Rev. xxi. 8." The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," &c.; it is plain, that by the fearful in this place is meant, either such as refuse to embrace the Christian religion, or who, having embraced it, are afraid to continue steadfast to the end, on account of the cross; and therefore cannot be supposed to have any reference to those who are " working out their salvation with fear and trembling," according to the direction of the gospel. Not but that we are to intermix with this fear an entire love and affection to God, to the utmost of our powers.
3. Some very pious but unhappy persons, are griev
ously tormented with wicked and blasphemous thoughts, so as to fall under the greatest agonies of mind; and often to be so near distraction, as to choose death rather than life.
For the relief and comfort of these, the minister should suggest to them, that such horrid and frightful thoughts are either occasioned through melancholy prevailing over their spirits, and disordering the frame of their minds; or else from the malice of the devil, and the spirits of darkness, who do all they can to shake our faith, and to imbitter the Christian life.
If to the former we ascribe such horrid thoughts, they may be comforted upon assurance, that they will not be imputed to them as their sin, any more than a fever or any bodily distemper will, which they did not willingly procure, and which they have tried all means
If to the latter, they may be encouraged rather to rejoice; as nothing is a greater sign of their being high in the favour of God, than when they are under the most violent temptations of the devil. "My brethren, count it all joy," saith Saint James, "when ye fall into divers temptations:" (i. 2.) To that effect, they may be taught to consider, that the way to heaven is justly said to be by the gates of hell; that the " same afflictions are accomplished in their brethren which are in the world," who in various kinds are tempted of the tempter; 1 Pet. v. 9.: that Satan" desired to have Saint Peter to sift him as wheat;" (Luke xxii. 31.) that our Saviour himself was tempted by him, and the best of men have always been most obnoxious to his malice; and that to live in carnal security, without any molestations from him, is the most dangerous state: that the being so much concerned and afflicted at such evil thoughts, is a certain argument of a good disposition, since the wicked and profane are rather pleased than tormented with them.
Arguments of this kind are the most proper to be offered to such unhappy persons: but in case their faith and hope be totally overcome by the devil, and they fall into direct despair, it will be necessary then to en