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deem such as myself; and that he hath repeatedly promised" to give to them that ask, and to be found of them that seek him ;" and therefore I will not distrust his goodness, nor look upon the great God of heaven and earth to be worse than his word. Indeed, if from myself I were to derive my title to heaven, then my sins were a just argument of despair; but now that they bring me to Christ, that they drive me to an ap peal to God's mercy, they cannot infer a just cause of despair. I am sure it is a stranger thing, that the Son of God should come down from heaven, and take upon him our nature, and live and die in the most ignominious state of it, than that a sinful man, washed by the blood of Christ, and his own tears and humiliation, should be admitted to pardon and made " partaker of the kingdom of heaven:" and it were stranger yet, that he should do so much for man, and that a man that desires, that labours after it to the utmost of his power, that sends up strong cries and prayers, and is still within the covenant of grace, should inevitably miss that end for which our Saviour did and suffered so much.
It is certain, that of all the attributes that belong to God, there is none more essential to his nature, and which he takes more delight in, than his mercy; and it is as certain also, there must be proper objects for this boundless and immense attribute of God; and the most proper, if not only, objects of mercy in the creation, are the children of men; and of men, surely those who are most grieved and wearied with the burden of their sins. I, therefore, who am as pitiful an object of mercy as any, will cheerfully hope, that God will both for give me here, and give me the blessing of eternal life hereafter: for I know that eternal life is purely the gift of God, and therefore have less reason still to despair. For if my sins were fewer, and my unworthiness of such a glory were less, yet still I could not receive it but as a free gift and donation of God, and so I may now; and it is not expectation beyond the hopes of possibility, to look and wait for such a gift at the hands of the God of mercy. The best of men deserve it not; and I, who am the worst, may have it given me. I know that I have sinned grievously and fre
quently against my heavenly Father: but I have repented, I have begged pardon, I have confessed and forsaken my sins, and have done all that is possible for me, to make atonement. I cannot undo what is done : and I perish, if there be no such thing as a remedy, or remission of sins. But then I know my religion must perish together with my hope, and the word of God itself must fail as well as I. But I cannot, I dare not, entertain such a thought. I firmly believe that most encouraging article of faith, the remission of sins; and since I do that which all good men call repentance, I will also humbly hope for a remission of mine, and a joyful resurrection.
I know that the devil is continually lying in wait to seduce and destroy the souls of men; wherefore I will fortify my spirits, and redouble my guard, and call upon God to enable me to resist all the fiery darts of this malicious adversary.
Or perhaps this exceeding dejection, or malady of mind, may arise from the distemper and weakness of my body or at most, I hope, it is only a disease of judgment, not an intolerable condition, I am fallen into: and since I have heard of a great many others who have been in the same condition with myself, and yet recovered, I will also take courage to hope that God will relieve me in his good time, and not leave my soul for ever in this hell of depraved fancy and wicked imagination. In fine, I will raise up my dejected spirits, and cast all my care upon God, and depend upon him for the event, which I am sure will be just; and I cannot but think, from the same reason, full of mercy. However, now I will use all the spiritual arts of reason and religion, to make me more and more desirous of loving God; that if I miscarry, charity also shall fail, and something that loves God shall perish and be damned: which if it be impossible (as I am sure it is), then I may have just reason to hope I shall do well.
These considerations may be of service to " bind up the broken-hearted," and to strengthen the "bruised reed" of a good man's spirit, in so great and terrible a dejection. But as cases of this nature are very rare, so the arguments here made use of are rarely to be in
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 conformably 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 Para dise, 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 an-gels 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
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