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RIGHT HON. AND NOBLEST
LORD RICHARD, EARL OF CARBERY,
I am treating your Lordship as a Roman gentleman did St. Augustine and his mother: I shall entertain you in a charnel-house, and carry your meditations awhile into the chambers of death, where you shall find the rooms dressed up with melancholic arts, and fit to converse with your most retired thoughts, which begin with a sigh, and proceed in deep consideration, and end in a holy resolution. The sight that St. Augustine most noted in that house of sorrow, was the body of Caesar, clothed with all the dishonours of corruption that you can suppose in a six months' burial. But I know, that, without pointing, your first thoughts will remember the change of a greater beauty, which is now dressing for the brightest immortality, and from herbed of darkness calls to you to dress your soul for that change which shall mingle your bones with that beloved dust, and carry your soul to the same quire, where you may both sit and sing for ever. My Lord, it is your dear Lady's anniversary, and she deserved the biggest honour, and the longest memory, and the fairest monument, and the most solemn mourning: and in order to it, give me leave, my Lord, to cover her hearse with these following sheets. This book was intended first to minister to her piety; and she desired all good people should partake of the advantages which are here recorded; she knew how to live rarely well, and she desired to know how to die; and God taught her by an experiment. But since her work is done, and God supplied her with provisions of his own, before I could minister to her, and perfect what she desired, it is necessary to present to your Lordship those bundles of cypress which were intended to dress her closet, but come now to dress her hearse. My Lord, both your Lordship, and myself have lately seen and felt such sorrows of death, and such sad departure of dearest friends, that it is more than high time we should thing ourselves nearly concerned in the accidents. Death hath come so near to you, as to fetch a portion from your very heart; and now you cannot choose but dig your own grave, and place your coffin in your eye, when the angel hath dressed your scene of sorrow and mediation with so particular and so near an object: and, therefore, as it is my duty, I am come to minister to your pious thoughts, and to direct your sorrows, that they may turn into virtues and advantages.
And since I know your Lordship to be so constant and regular in your devotions, and so tender in the matter of justice, so ready in the expressions of charity, and so apprehensive of religion; that you are a person whose work of grace is apt and must every day grow toward those degrees where, when you arrive, you shall triumph over imperfection, and choose nothing but what may please God; I could not by any compendium conduct and assist your pious purposes so well as by that which is the great argument and the great instrument of Holy Living, the consideration and exercises of death.
My Lord, it is a great art to die well, and to be learnt by men in health, by them that can discourse and consider, by those whose understanding and act of reason are not abated with fear or pains; and as the greatest part of death is passed by the preceeding years of our life, so also in those years are the greatest preparations to it; and he that prepares not for death before his last sickness, is like him that begins to study philosophy when he is going to dispute publicly in the faculty. All that a sick and dying man can do, is but to exercise those virtues which he before acquired, and to perfect that repentance, which was begun more early. And of this, my Lord, my book, I think, is a good testimony; not only because it represents the vanity of a late and sick-bed repentance, but because it contains in it so many precepts and meditations, so many propositions and various duties, such forms of exercise, and the degrees and difficulties of so many graces, which are necessary preparatives to a holy death, that the very learning the duties requires study and skill, time and understanding, in the ways of godliness; and it were very vain to say so much is necessary, and not to suppose more time to learn them, more skill to practise them, more opportunities to desire them, more abilities both of body and mind, that can be supposed in a sick, amazed, timorous, and weak person; whose senses are weak, whose discerning facilities are lessened, whose principles are mane intricate and entangles, upon whose eye sits a cloud, and the heart is broken with sickness, and the liver pierced through with sorrows and the strokes of death. And, therefore, my Lord, it is intended by the necessity of affairs that the pre-health, and the days of discourse and understanding which, in this case hath another degree of necessity superadded; because in other notices, an imperfect study may be supplied by a frequent exercise and renewed experience; her, if we practise imperfectly once, we shall never recover the error, for we die but once; and therefore it will be necessary that our skill be more exact, since it is not to be mended by trial, but the actions must be for ever left imperfect, unless the habit be contracted with study and contemplation beforehand.
And indeed I were vain if I should intend this book to be read and studied by dying persons; and they were vainer that should need to be instructed in those graces, which they are then to exercise and to finish. For a sick bed is only a school of severe exercise, in which the spirit of a man is tried and his graces are rehearsed; and the assistances which I have, in the following pages, given to those virtues, which are proper to the state of sickness, are such as suppose a man in the state of grace; or they confirm a good man, or they support the weak, or add degrees, or minister comfort, or prevent an evil, or cure the little mischiefs which are incident to tempted persons in their weakness. That is the sum of the present design, as it relates to dying persons. And therefore I have not inserted any advices proper to old age, but such as are common to it and the state of sickness, for I suppose very old age to be a longer sickness; it is a labour and sorrow when it goes beyond the common period of nature; but if it be on this side that period, and be healthful, in the same degree it is so I reckon it in the accounts of life, and therefore it can have no distinct consideration. But I do not think it is a station of advantage to begin the change of an evil life in; it is a middle state between life and death-bed; and, therefore, although it hath more of hopes than this, and less than that, yet as it partakes of either state, so it is to be regulated by the advices of that state, and judged by its sentences.
Only this; I desire that all old persons would sadly consider that their advantages in that state are very few; their bodies are without strength, their prejudices long and mighty, their vices (if they have lived wicked) are habitual, the occasions of the virtues not many, the possibilities of some (in the matter of which they stand very guilty) are past, and shall never return again (such are chastity and many parts of self-denial;) that they have some temptations proper to their age, as peevishness and pride, covetousness and talking, wilfulness and unwillingness to learn: and they think they are protected by age from learning anew, or repenting the old, and do not leave but change their vices; and after all this, either the day of their repentance is past, as we see it true in very many, or it is expiring and towards the sunset, as it is in all; and, therefore, although in in these to recover is very possible, yet we may also remember that, in the matter of virtue and repentance, possibility is a great way off from performance; and how few do repent of whom it is only possible that they may! and that many things more are required to reduce their possibility to act; a great grace, an assiduous ministry, an effective calling, mighty assistances, excellent counsel, great industry, a watchful diligence, a well-disposed mind, passionate desires, deep apprehensions of danger, quick perceptions of duty, and time, and God's good blessing, and effectual impression, and seconding all this, that to will and do may, by him, be wrought to great purposes and with great speed.
And, therefore, it will not be amiss, but it is hugely necessary, that these persons who have lost their time and their blessed opportunities should have the diligence of youth, and the zeal of new converts, and take account of every hour that is left them, and pray perpetually, and be advised prudently, and study the interest of their souls carefully, with diligence, and with fear; and their old age, which, in effect, is nothing but a continual death-bed, dressed with some more order and advantages, may be a state of hope, and labour, and acceptance; through the infinite mercies of God, in Jesus Christ.
But concerning sinners really under the arrest of death, God hath made no death-bed covenant, the Scriptures hath recorded no promises, given no instructions; and therefore I had none to give, but only the same which are to be given to all men that are alive, because they are so, and because it is uncertain when they shall be otherwise. But then this advice I also am to insert, that they are the smallest number of Christian men who can be divided by the characters of a certain holiness or an open villainy; and between these there are many degrees of latitude, and most are of a middle sort, concerning which we are tied to make the judgments of charity, and possibly God may do too. But, however, all they are such to whom the rules of Holy Dying are useful and applicable, and therefore no separation is to be made in this world. But where the case is not evident, men are to be permitted to the unerring judgment of God; where it is evident we can rejoice or mourn for them that die.
In the church of Rome they reckon otherwise concerning sick and dying Christians than I have done. For they make profession, that from death to life, from sin to grace, a man may very certainly be changed, though the operation begin not before his last hour; and half this they do upon his death-bed, and the other half when he is in his grave; and they take away the eternal punishment in an instant, by a school-distinction, or the hand of the priest; and the temporal punishment shall stick longer, even then, when the man is no more measured with time, having nothing to do with any thing of or under the sun; but that they pretend to take away too, when the man is dead; and, God knows, the poor man for all this pays them both in hell. The distinction of temporal and eternal is a just measure of pain when it refers to this life and another; but to dream of a punishment temporal, when all his time is done, and to think of repentance when the time of grace is past, are great errors, the one in philosophy and both in divinity, and are a huge folly in their pretence, and infinite danger if they are believed being a certain destruction of the necessity of holy living, when men dare trust them, and live at the rate of such doctrines. The secret of these is soon discovered; for by such means, though holy life be not necessary, yet a priest is; as if God did not appoint the priest to minister to holy living, but to excuse it; so making the holy calling not only to live upon the sins of the people, but upon their ruin, and the advantages of their function to spring from their eternal dangers. It is an evil craft to serve a temporal end upon the death of souls; that is an interest not to be handled but with nobleness and ingenuity, fear and caution, diligence and prudence, with great skill and great honesty, with reverence, and trembling, and severity; a soul is worth all that, and the need we have requires all that; and therefore those doctrines that go less than all this are not friendly, because they are not safe.
I know no other difference in the visitation and treating of sick persons than what depends upon the article of late repentance; for all churches agree in the same essential propositions, and assist the sick by the same internal ministries. As for external, I mean unction, used in the church of Rome, since it is used when the man is above half dead, when he can exercise no act of understanding, it must needs be nothing; for no rational man can think that any ceremony can make a spiritual change, without a spiritual act of him that is to be changed; nor work by way of nature, or by charm, but morally, and after the manner of reasonable creatures; and therefore I do not think that ministry at all fit to be reckoned among the advantages of sick persons. The fathers of the Council of Trent first disputed, and after this manner at last agreed, that extreme unction was instituted by Christ. But afterwards, being admonished by one of their theologues, that the apostles ministered unction to inform people before they were priests, (the priestly order, according to their doctrine being collated in the institution of the Last Supper,) for fear that it should be taught that this unction might be administered by him that was no priest, they blotted out the word instituted, and put in its stead insinuated, this sacrament, and that it was published by St. James. So it is in their doctrine; and yet in their anathomatisms, they curse all them that shall deny it to have been instituted by Christ. I shall lay no more prejudice against it, or the weak arts of them that maintain it, but add this only, that there being but two places of Scripture pretended for this ceremony, some chief men of their own side have proclaimed these two invalid as to the institution of it; for Suarez says, that the unction used by the apostles, in St. mark, vi.13, is not the same with what is used in the church of Rome; and that it cannot be plainly gathered from the Epistle of St. James, Cajetan affirms, and that it did belong to the miraculous gift of healing, not to a sacrament. The sick man's exercise of grace formerly acquired, his perfecting repentance began in the days of health, the prayers and counsels of the holy man that ministers, the giving the holy sacrament, the ministry and assistance of angels, and the more mercies of God, the peace of conscience, and the peace of the church, are all the assistances and preparatives that can help to dress his lamp. But if a man shall go to buy oil when the bridegroom comes, if his lamp be not first furnished and then trimmed, that in this life, this upon his death-bed, his station will be without doors, his portion with unbelievers; and the unction of the dying man shall no more strengthen his soul than it cures his body; and the prayers for him after his death shall be of the same force, as if they should pray that he should return to life again the next day, and live as long as Lazarus in his return. But I consider that it is not well that men should pretend any thing will do a man good when he dies; and yet the same ministries, and ten times more assistances, are found for forty or fifty years together to be ineffectual. Can extreme unction at last cure what the holy sacrament of the eucharist, all his life-time, could not do? Can prayers for a dead man do him more good than when he was alive? If all his days the man belonged to death and the dominion of sin, and from thence could not be recovered by sermons, and counsels, and perpetual precepts, and frequent sacraments, by confessions and absolutions, by prayers and advocations, by external ministries and internal acts, it is but too certain that his lamp cannot then be furnished: his extreme unction is only then of use when it is made by the oil that burned in his lamp in all the days of his expectation and waiting for the coming of the bridegroom.
Neither can any supply be made in this case by their practice of praying for the dead; though they pretend for this the fairest precedents of the church and of the whole world. The heathens, they say, did it, and the Jews did it, and the Christians did it; some were baptized for the dead in the days of the apostles, and very many were communicated for the dead for so many ages after. It is true they were so, and did so; the heathens prayed for any easy grave, and a perpetual spring, that saffron would rise from their beds of grass. The Jews prayed that the souls of their dead might be in the garden of Eden, that they might have their part in Paradise, and in the world to come; and that they might hear the peace of the fathers of their generation, sleeping in Hebron. And the Christians prayed for a joyful resurrection, for mercy at the day of judgment, for hastening of the coming of Christ, and the kingdom of God; and they named all sorts of persons in their prayers, all, I mean, but wicked persons, all but them that lived evil lives; they named apostles, saints and martyrs. And all this is so nothing to their purpose, or so much against it, that the prayers for the dead used in the church of Rome are most plainly condemned, because they are against the doctrine and practices of all the world, in other forms, to other purposes, relying upon distinct doctrines, until new opinions began to arise, about St. Augustine's time, and changed the face of the proposition. Concernment from the Lord; and therefore concerning it we can have no rules nor proportions, but from those imperfect revelations of the state of departed souls, and the measures of charity, which can relate only to the imperfection of their present condition, and the terrors of the day of judgment; but to think that any suppletory to an evil life can be taken from such devotions, after the sinners are dead, may encourage a bad man to sin, but cannot relieve him when he hath.
But, of all things in the world, methinks, men should be most careful not to abuse dying people; not only because their condition is pitiable, but because they shall soon be discovered, and, in the secret regions of souls, there shall be an evil report concerning those men who have deceive them: and if we believe we shall go to that place where such reports are made, we may fear the shame and the amazement of being accounted impostors in the presence of angels, and all the wise holy men of the world. To be erring and innocent, is hugely pitiable, and incident to mortality; that we cannot help; but to deceive or to destroy so great an interest as is that of a soul, or to lessen its advantages, by giving it trifling and false confidences, is injurious and intolerable. And therefore it were very well if all the churches of the world would be extremely curious concerning their offices and ministries of the visitation of the sick: that their ministers they send be holy and prudent; that their instructions be severe and safe; that their sentences be merciful and reasonable, that their offices be sufficient and devout; that their attendances be frequent and long; that their deputations be special and peculiar; that the doctrines upon which they ground their offices be true, material and holy; that their ceremonies be few, and their advices wary; that their separation be full of caution, their judgments not remiss, their remissions not loose and dissolute; and that all the whole ministration be made by persons of experience and charity. For it is a sad thing to see our dead go out of our hands: they live incuriously, and die without regard; and the last scene of their life, which should be dressed with all spiritual advantages, is abused by flattery and easy propositions, and let go with carelessness and folly.
My Lord, I have endeavoured to cure some part of the evil as well as I could, being willing to relieve the needs of indigent people in such ways as I can; and, therefore, have described the duties which every sick man may do alone, with such in which he can be assisted by the minister; and am the more confident that these my endeavours will be the better entertained because they are the first entire body of directions for sick and dying people that I remember to have been published in the church of England. In the church of Rome there have been many; but they are dressed with such doctrines, which are sometimes useless, sometimes hurtful, and their whole design of assistance, which they commonly yield, is at the best imperfect, and the representment is too careless and loose for so severe an employment. So that, in this affair, I was almost forced to walk alone; only that I drew the rules and advices from the fountains of Scripture, and the purest channcla of the primitive church, and was helped by some experience in the cure of souls. I shall measure the success of my labours, not by popular noises or the sentences of curious persons, but by the advantage which good people may receive. My work here is not to please the speculative part of men, but to minister, to practice, to preach to the weary, to comfort the sick, to assist the penitent, to reprove the confident, to strengthen weak hands and feeble knees, having scarce any other possibilities left me of doing alms, or exercising that charity by which we shall be judged at doomsday. It is enough for me to be an under-builder in the house of God, and I glory in the employment; I labour in the foundations; and therefore the work needs no apology for being plain, so it be strong and well laid. But, my Lord, as mean as it is, I must give God thanks for the desires and the strength; and, next to him, to you, for that opportunity and little portion of leisure which I had to do it in: for I must acknowledge it publicly (and, besides my prayers, it is all the recompense I can make you,) my being quiet I owe to your interest, much of my support to your bounty, and many other collateral comforts I derive from your favour and nobleness. My Lord, because I much honour you, and because I would do honour to myself, I have written your name in the entrance of my book: I am sure you will entertain it because the design related to your dear Lady, and because it may minister to your spirit in the day of visitation; when God shall call for you to receive your reward for your charity and your noble piety, by which you have not only endeared very many persons, but in great degrees have obliged me to be.
My noblest Lord,
Your Lordship's most thankful
and most humble servant,
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