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deavour the cure of so great an evil and temptation, by the addition of the following exercise.
An exercise against despair.
Let the minister suggest to them, that God is not willing that any should perish, but desirous that all should come to his glory: that for this end we were created: that he is so far from being" extreme to mark what is done amiss," that he will not refuse the returning prodigal, nor reject the worst of criminals, upon their sincere repentance: that the thief upon the cross is a demonstrable proof of this, and a standing example to prevent the greatest sinner from despair: that if God is so merciful and condescending to the vilest transgressors, much rather may we hope to be pardoned for our weakness and infirmities; for, he "knoweth whereof we are made, he remembereth that we are but dust;" nay, he hath assured us, that he "will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax :" that all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, except one, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost; "the sin unto death," as Saint John calls it.
But that no man commits a sin against the Holy Ghost, if he be afraid he hath, or desires that he may not; for, such penitential passions are against the very nature and definition of that sin: that although forgiveness of sins is consigned to us in baptism, and baptism is but once; yet forgiveness of sins being the special grace of the gospel, it is secured to us for our life, and ebbs and flows according as we discompose or renew the performance of our baptismal vow: therefore it is certain, that no man ought to despair of pardon, but he who hath voluntarily renounced his baptism, or willingly estranged himself from that covenant: that if it were not so, then all preaching and prayers were in vain, and all the conditions of the gospel invalid, and there could be no such thing as repentance, nor indeed scarce a possibility of any one's being saved, if all were to be concluded in a state of damnation, who had committed sin after baptism.
To have any fears, therefore, on this account, were the most extravagant madness; for Christ" died for
sinners," and " God hath comprehended all under sin, that" through him " he might have mercy upon all," Rom. xi. 32. And it was concerning baptized Christians that Saint 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, Saint 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 the sin we call simony, and yet Peter bade him pray for pardon: and Saint James tells us, that," if the sick man send for the elders of the church, and they pray over him, and he confess his sins, they shall be forgiven him ;" v. 14.
That even in the case of very great sins, and great judgments inflicted upon sinners, wise and good men have declared their sense to be, that God vindicated his justice in that temporal punishment; and so it was supposed to have been done in the case of Ananias, &c. : that nothing can be more absurd than to think that so great and good a God, who is so desirous of saving all, as appears by his word, by his sending his Son, by his oaths and promises, by his very nature and daily overtures of mercy, should condemn any, without the greatest provocations of his majesty, and perseverance in them.
Upon the strength of these arguments, the despairing person may be farther taught to argue thus with himself:
I consider that the ground of my trouble is my sin; and were it not for that, I should have no reason to be troubled : but since the "whole world lieth in wickedness," and since there cannot be a greater demonstration of a man's abhorrence of sin, than to be so deeply affected with sorrow for it; I therefore will erect my head with a holy hope, and think that God will also be merciful to me a sinner, as he is to the rest of mankind. I know that the mercies of God are infinite; that he sent his Son into the world on purpose to re
sisted upon; and never, but to well-disposed persons, or reformed penitents, or to such as, in the general course of their life, have lived pretty strictly and conforma bly to the rules of religion. For if the man be a vicious person, and hath gone on in a continual course of sin, to the time of his sickness, 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 we can but entertain so much hope, as to enable him to do as much of his duty as he can for the present, it is all that can be provided for him. And the minister must be infinitely careful, that he does not attempt to comfort vicious persons with the comfort of God's elect, lest he prostitute holy things and encourage vice, and render his discourses deceitful; and the man unhappily find them to be so when he descends in to the regions of darkness.
But because very few are tempted with too great fears of miscarrying, but the generality, even of the most profligate sort, are rather inclined to unwarrantable assurances of their future salvation, it will highly concern the ministers to prevent in time so great and reigning an imposition of the devil.
Wherefore to the former considerations to awaken the careless sinner and a stupid conscience, the following may be added, upon occasion, to check the overweening thoughts of the presumptuous.
Considerations against presumption.
AND here let the bold and arrogant sinner farther know: that a man cannot think too meanly of himself, but many very easily run into the contrary extreme: that the growths in grace are long, difficult, uncertain, often interrupted, consisting of great variety, and almost innumerable parts and distinctions, which a care
less person can never discover: that the more a man presumes, the greater reason he hath to fear; because the confidence of such men is generally like that of children and young people, who have no other reason, but that they understand not the dangers and follies of their self-conceits: that "the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked:" deceiving itself, and deceiving others, in innumerable instances; and being often "in the gall of bitterness," when the man appears with the fairest outside to the world: that it is certain, all "have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" but not so certain, that any one's repentance is real, and effective to salvation: that virtue and vice are oftentimes so near neighbours, that we pass into each other's borders without observation, and think we do justice, when we are cruel; or call ourselves liberal, when we are loose and foolish in our expenses, &c.
That the self-accusing publican was justified, rather than the self-confident Pharisee: that if Adam in Paradise, David in his house, Solomon in the temple, Peter in the family of Christ, Judas among the twelve apostles, and Nicholas among the deacons, and if the angels in heaven itself, did fall so atrociously, then we have all the reason in the world" not to be high-minded, but to fear;" and when we are most confident of ourselves, "to take heed lest we fall;" there being nothing so likely to occasion it, as pride and a great opinion of ourselves, which ruined the angels, which God resists, which all men despise, and which betray us into carelessness, and a wretched, undiscerning, and unwary spirit.
These are the main parts of ecclesiastical duties and offices in the visitation of the sick; which being severally performed, as occasion requires, it remains only that the minister pray over the sick, and remind him to do all the good actions he is capable of; to call upon God for pardon, to put his whole trust in him; to be patient and resigned; and even to renounce every ill thought or word, or indecent action, which the violence of his sickness may have caused in him; to beg of God to give him his Holy Spirit, to guide him in his ago
ny, and to send his holy angels to guard him in his passage.
Whatsoever is besides this, concerns the standers-by, that they do all in their respective offices diligently and temperately: that they join in prayer with the minister, with much charity and devotion: that they make no outcries or exclamations on the departure of the soul; nor any positive judgment concerning the dying man; by his dying quietly or violently, with great fears or a cheerful confidence, with sense or without, like a lamb or like a lion, with convulsions and terrible agonies, or like the silent and well-spent flame of an expiring taper. For these may happen severally, according to the constitution of the persons, and the nature of the distemper that befals them; or else according as God pleases to dispense the grace, or the punishment, for reasons only known to himself.
Let us lay our hand upon our mouth, and adore the mysteries of the divine wisdom and providence, and pray to God to give the dying man rest and pardon; and to ourselves grace to live well, and the blessings of a holy and happy death.
VISITATION OF THE SICK.
When any person is sick, notice shall be given thereof to the minister of the parish, who, coming into the sick person's house, shall say,
PEACE be to this house, and to all that dwell in it.
When he cometh into the sick man's presence, he shall say, kneeling down,
REMEMBER not, Lord, our iniquities, nor the iniquities of our forefathers. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy peo