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It is a great satisfaction to me that it has been so well received by the public, and that it has been useful not only to the sick, and to some of their attendants, but particularly to my own son, and to others of the younger clergy, who have not been much conversant in the important duty of talking on spiritual subjects either with the sick, or others.
To be regardless of a future state, and unmindful of a sick bed, is, I fear, a common and fatal mistake; for we are all too apt to put such thoughts far from us. To avoid therefore this dangerous rock, on which so many have split, and shipwrecked their hopes of heaven, I must observe, that there is an habitual and an actual preparation for death and eternity. The habitual preparation is providing "oil for our lamps," or grace for our souls; and is the business of our whole lives in the days of health and vigour. The actual preparation is" the trimming of our lamps," or the exercise of these graces; and this is particularly expected from us in the time of sickness, and at the hour of death.
It is much to be wished, that mankind in general were more desirous of the good of fices of Ministers, and of others, who are seriously disposed, than they too generally appear to be. Some however, especially sinners under conviction, and real Christians, are very thankful for them. Now in order to suggest a few leading circumstances, by which others may be benefited, I have proposed several
Helps for self-examination, by which their consciences may be searched either by themselves, their Ministers, or others; I have suggested various consolations, and I have added suitable Prayers to these Helps for conversation, which may be used at different times, as the occasion shall require. Spiritual conversation, whether with such as are in sickness, or in health, should frequently be varied according to their different dispositions. The heads of these conversations were most of them originally penned from time to time by way of memorandum after the first visit had been paid; and altered suitable to the person I attended. The discretion of the Minister, or of any other, who converses on spiritual subjects, must supply whatever deficiencies he may here find; for it is impracti cable to prescribe helps, or devise any method, which shall answer all the emergencies relative to the sick, or to any other person, with whom we may be required to converse on the state of the soul, and "the things "which accompany salvation." (Heb. vi. 9.)
I am aware of the folly and danger of endeavouring to deceive the sick by a smooth discourse on a false foundation; which was so much the practice of the Jewish priests, that God declared by the prophet Jeremiah, "they have healed the hurt of the daughter "of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, "when there is no peace." (Jer. vi, 14.) This practice is too prevalent in our days.
Some who visit the sick are more solicitous to please than to profit them, and to gain the good word of the by-standers, than to run the risk of incurring their censure; which they probably might do, were they to search the heart deeply, and to be faithful in the discharge of so important a duty. I have therefore addressed myself closely to the conscience in a plain and practical manner; knowing that a declaration of simple and unaffected truth is the best proof of our regard for any one with whom we converse on his spiritual concerns; especially with the sick, or dying.
I am very sensible of the imperfections of what is here submitted to the public eye; yet there are none, I hope, so great, but what will be overlooked, when it is considered, that the only motive for its publication was the good of my fellow-creatures, particularly of some of my parishioners, when I can no longer be their instructor.
I have now within a few months completed my seventy-eighth year. May this my last attempt as an author be blessed, and afford help and comfort to many, who may seriously read it under the various calamities of life, and fortify them and myself, especially on the bed of sickness, and at the hour of death.
HOT-WELLS, near BRISTOL,
March 20, 1794.
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