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prepare for death and judgment. They should prepare by prayer for God's help; by using their own endeavours; by inquiring how far their faith and practice have agreed with the Gospel, with their baptismal covenant and Christian profession; by judging and condemning themselves for all their faults with that hearty repentance and true faith, to which God has promised forgiveness of sins through the merits of his Son, that their sins may be blotted out by Divine mercy and the Redeemer's blood, and their pardon sealed in heaven before they go hence, and be no more seen.
He who visits the sick, if he should not be sufficiently acquainted with them, should make what prudent inquiries he can of others, who are well acquainted with them, what their character and lives have been. He should inquire likewise of themselves
What their views have been, and what they now are?
What are their views of sin: of their own guilt and danger; of Christ and the Gospel; of the terms of acceptance; of eternity?
Whether they have been accustomed to secret prayer, and how they have conducted it?
Such other questions may be added, as may be suitable to their state of mind and circumstances.
There are some who through ignorance cannot, or stupidity will not, give proper answers to such questions. They will assent to what is said, but drop nothing of themselves by which one can form a judgment of their state, as I have frequently experienced to my great concern in an attendence on the sick and dying. This is the most perplexing part of a Minister's work. Allowances however must be made for a bad education, small advantages, and their being unaccustomed to talk on these subjects. It is better to err perhaps on the suspicious or doubtful side, than to give flattering hopes.
Some may die in transports and raptures, and yet be far from making a good end. Deep humility, repenting, and believing, are surer evidences of salvation*, than confidence and transports. Notwithstanding the preceding caution not to give flattering hopes, the attendants on the sick should be very careful to animate and encourage those who appear to have been sincere in religion, though their capacities are weak.
An enquiry into the temporal affairs of the Sick.
It may sometimes be necessary to take notice of this, especially if the sickness be of an alarming nature. Advise therefore a proper disposition of their affairs to be immediately made by will, if it be not already done. This perhaps may be of great importance to their relations, and others. If there be a reasonable suspicion that they have obtained any part of their property by fraud, urge them to restitution, as absolutely necessary. If they refuse to do this, little can be done farther than by praying for them.
* See the latter part of the ninety-seventh of the folio edition of Abp. Tillotson's Sermons, on Ecclesiastes viii. 12.
HELPS FOR CONVERSING WITH THE SICK IN DIFFERENT STATES, AND UNDER DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES.
Conversations on their spiritual state.
As to their spiritual concerns, advice must be given according to the state of the sick, whether bad, doubtful, or good.
Helps for conversing with one in a bad state.
1. Endeavour to convince him that his state is very dangerous indeed. In doing this, the arguments should be rested chiefly on the authority of Scripture, with his own representation of the case. If you find any one sin prevalent in his character, then rest your charge particularly on that. If a drunkard, liar, swearer, sabbath-breaker, &c. bring such texts as will shut him out of the kingdom of heaven. Represent the aggravation of his sin, his many religious advantages, &c.
2. Seem rather to lament over such an unhappy person than to upbraid him, Severity may produce hatred; and he will not care to have any thing more to do with you.
3. Be solicitous that you do not drive him into despair, especially when you see him begin to be awakened. While unawakened, urge the most dreadful things. Represent the wrath of God as inexpressibly dreadful. Take images from present circumstances; such as the burnings of a fever, tossings of a restless night, &c. how much more in hell! But (as I said before) do not drive him to despair, nor yet raise him up to vain and unreasonable confidences. Represent the mercy of God in Christ to penitent sinners; mention proper texts of comfort; and let him see it is your design
to bring him to a better state, which makes you thus represent his danger.
4. When you see something which looks like true repentance, be not too ready to admit personal consolation any otherwise than as conditional. There is great danger in authoritative absolution. Let him know, that, if he does not rest his soul on the mercy of God in Christ, there will be no room for hope. Remind him of what treachery he has found in his own heart, and what he has seen in others, who have appeared hopeful on a sick bed, but after their recovery returned to their former
One of the chief cares of a Minister about the sick (says Bishop Burnet, page 176, of the Pastoral Care) ought to be to exact of them solemn promises of a renovation of life, in case God should raise them up again; and these promises ought to be demanded not only in general words, but if they have been guilty of any scandalous disorders, or any other ill practices, there ought to be special promises made with relation to those. And on the recovery of such persons, the Minister ought to put them in mind of their engagements, and use all the due freedom of admonition and reproof on their breaking loose from them. In such a case he ought to leave a terrible denunciation of the judgments of God on them, and so at least the Minister acquits himself.
Other helps for conversing with one in a bad state.
1. You should pray to God beforehand, that you may be enabled to say something which may be the means of awakening him to a proper sense of his danger.
2. When you enter the chamber, let him see that you are concerned for him, and that you are more sensible of his danger than he is of his own.
3. Then, in order to bring him to a proper sense
of his state and danger, 1. put some close questions to him relating to the holy and righteous nature of God; 2. to his infinite hatred of sin; 3. to the absolute impossibility of being happy hereafter but in his favour; 4. the certainty of future judgment, "where God will render to every man according "to his works;" and, 5. the unspeakable importance of the soul's being safe for eternity.
4. Then instruct him not to deceive himself with vain hopes; but be willing to see the truth of his case, as it is represented to him in the unerring word of God, and, though he may shut his eyes against the danger, there is no possibility of escaping it.
5. If his distemper is likely to be fatal, let him know it. Tell him, that all which can be done to escape everlasting misery must be done immediately; that there is as yet some hope (though small) that this may possibly be done; that on this present time depends his future condition for
6. If by these means his conscience should be awakened, and you observe some genuine relentings of heart, take that occasion to assist its workings, enforce its reproofs, and urge its convictions, till you see something like a true penitential remorse.
7. Then earnestly pray with him and for him, that God would continue to give him a just sense of his sin and danger, and that his grace and spirit may come on these convictions, till they end in a real change of heart.
8. Then take your leave of him in a tender and affectionate manner; not without giving him some hope, that, if the same feeling and penitent frame should continue, there may be mercy in reserve for him; but beg him, whilst he has the use of his reason, not to omit any opportunity of praying earnestly to God for mercy through the merits of his Son Jesus Christ.
9. In your next visit, (which should be soon after