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General Rules and Exercises whereby our Sickness may become safe and sanctified.
1. Take care that the cause of thy sickness be such as may not sour it in the principal causes of it. It is a sad calamity to pass into the house of mourning through the gates of intemperance, by a drunken meeting, or the surfeits of a loathed and luxurious table; for then a man suffers the pain of his own folly, and he is like a fool smarting under the whip which his own viciousness twisted for his back: then a man pays the price of his sin, and hath a pure and an unmingled sorrow in his suffering; and it cannot be alleviated by any circumstances, for the whole affair is mere process of death and sorrow. Sin is in the head, sickness is in the body, and death and eternity of pains in the tail; and nothing can make this condition tolerable unless the miracles of the divine mercy will be pleased to exchange the eternal anger for the temporal. True it is, that in all sufferings the cause of it makes it noble or ignoble, honour or shame, tolerable or intolerable. For when patience is assaulted by a ruder violence, by a blow from heaven or earth, from a gracious God or an unjust man, patience looks forth to the doors, which way she may escape. And if innocence or a cause of religion keep the first entrance, then, whether she escapes at the gates of life or death, there is a good to be received greater than the evils of a sickness; but if sin thrust in that sickness, and that hell stands at the door, then patience turns into fury, and, seeing it impossible to go forth with safety, rolls up and down with a circular and infinite revolution, makes its motion not from but upon its own centre; it doubles the pain, and increases the sorrow, till by its weight it breaks the spirit and bursts into the agonies of infinite and eternal ages. If we had seen St. Polycarp burning to death, or St. Laurence roasted upon his gridiron, or St. Ignatius exposed to lions, or St. Sebastian pierced with arrows, or St. Attalus carried about the theatre with scorn unto his death, for the cause of Jesus, for religion, for God, and a holy conscience - we should have been in love with flames, and have thought the gridiron fairer than the spondae, the ribs of a martial bed; and we should have chosen to converse with those beasts, rather than those men that brought those beasts forth; and estimated the arrows to be rays of light brighter than the moon; and that disgrace and mistaken pageantry were a solemnity richer and more magnificent than Mordecia's procession upon the king's horse, and in the robes of majesty: for so did these holy men account them; they kissed their stakes, and hugged their deaths, and ran violently to torments, and counted whippings and secular disgraces to be the enamel of their persons, and the ointment of their heads, and the embalming their names, and securing them for immortality. But to see Sejanus torn in pieces by the people, or Nero crying or creeping timorously to his death, when he was condemned to die more majorum; to see Judas pale and trembling, full of anguish, sorrow, and despair; to observe the groanings and intolerable agonies of Herod and Antiochus - will tell and demonstrate the causes of patience and impatience to proceed from the causes of the suffering; and it is sin only that makes the cup bitter and deadly. When men, by vomiting, measure up the drink they took in, and sick and sad do again taste their meat turned into choler by intemperance, the sin and its punishment are mingled so that shame covers the face and sorrow puts a veil of darkness upon the heart; and we scarce pity a vile person that is haled to execution for murder or for treason, but we say he deserves it, and that every man is concerned in it that he should die. If lust brought the sickness or the shame, if we truly suffer the rewards of our evil deeds, we must thank ourselves; that is, we are fallen into an evil condition, and are the sacrifice of the divine justice. But if we live holy lives, and if we enter well in, we are sure to pass on safe, and to go forth with advantage if we list ourselves.
2. To this relates that we should not counterfeit sickness; for he that is to be careful of his passage into a sickness will think himself concerned that he fall not into it through a trap-door: for so it hath sometimes happened that such counterfeiting to light and evil purposes hath ended in a real sufferance. Appian tells of a Roman gentleman who, to escape the proscription of the trinmvirate, fled, and to secure his privacy, counterfeited himself blind on one eye, and wore a plaister upon it; till, beginning to be free from the malice of the three prevailing princes, he opened his hood, but could not open his eye, but for ever lost the use of it, and with his eye paid for his liberty and hypocrisy. And Caelius counterfeited the gout, and all its circumstances and pains, its dressings and arts of remedy and complaint, till at last the gout really entered and spoiled the pageantry. His arts of dissimulation were so witty, that they put life and motion into the very image of the disease: he made the very picture to sigh and groan.
It is easy to tell upon the interest of what virtue such counterfeiting is to be reproved. But it will be harder to snatch the politics of the world from following that which they call a canonised and authentic precedent; and David's counterfeiting himself mad before the king of Gath, to save his life and liberty, will be sufficient to entice men to serve an end upon the stock and charges of so small an irregularity, not in the matter of manners, but in the rules and decencies of natural or civil deportment: I cannot certainly tell what degrees of excuse David's action might put on. This only; besides his present necessity, the laws whose coercive and directive power David lived under had less of severity, and more of liberty, and towards enemies had so little of restraint and so great a power, that what amongst them was a direct sin, if used to their brethren the sons of Jacob, was lawful and permitted to be acted against enemies. To which also I add this general caution, that the actions of holy persons in Scripture are not always good precedents to us Christians, who are to walk by a rule and a greater strictness, with more simplicity and heartiness of pursuit. And amongst them sanctity and holy living did, in very many of its instances, increase in new particulars of duty; and the prophets reproved many things which the law forbad not, and taught many duties which Moses prescribed not; and as the time of Christ's approach came, so the sermons and revelations too were more evangelical and like the patterns which were fully to be exhibited by the Son of God. Amongst which it is certain that Christian simplicity and godly sincerity are to be accounted; and counterfeiting of sickness is a huge enemy to this: it is an upbraiding the Divine Providence, a jesting with fire, a playing with a thunderbolt, a making the decrees of God to serve the vicious or secular ends of men; it is a tempting of a judgment, a false accusation of God, a forestalling and antedating his anger; it is a cozening of men by making God a party in the fraud; and, therefore, if the cozenage returns upon the man's own head, he enters like a fox into his sickness, and perceives himself catched in a trap, or earthed in the intolerable dangers of the grave.
3. Although we must be infinitely careful to prevent it, that sin does not thrust us into a sickness; yet, when we are in the house of sorrow, we should do well to take physic against sin, and suppose that it is the cause of the evil; if not by way of natural causality and proper effect, yet by amoral influence, and by a just demerit. We can easily see when a man hath got a surfeit; intemperance is as plain as the handwriting upon the wall, and easier to be read; but covetousness may cause a fever as well as drunkenness, and pride can produce a falling-sickness as well as long washings and dilutions of the brain, and intemperate lust; and we find it recorded in Scripture that the contemptuous and unprepared manner of receiving the holy sacraments caused sickness and death; and sacrilege and vow-breach in Ananias and Sapphira made them to descend quick into their graves. Therefore, when sickness is upon us, let us cast about; and, if we can, let us find out the cause of God's displeasure; that, it being removed, we may return into the health and securities of God's loving-kindness. Thus, in the three years' famine, David inquired of the Lord what was the matter: and God answered, ‘It is for Saul and his bloody house;' and then David expiated the guilt, and the people were full again of food and blessing. And when Israel was smitten by the Amorites, Joshua cast about, and found out the accursed thing, and cast it out; and the people after that fought prosperously. And what God in that case said to Joshua he will also verify to us: ‘I will not be with you any more, unless you destroy the accursed thing from among you.'107107Josh. vii. 12. But in pursuant of this we are to observe, that although in case of loud and clamorous sins the discovery is easy, and the remedy not difficult; yet, because Christianity is a nice thing, and religion is as pure as the sun, and the soul of man is apt to be troubled from more principles than the intricate and curiously-composed body in its innumerable parts, it will often happen that iffy go to inquire into the particular we shall never find it out; and we may suspect drunkenness when it may be also a morose delectation in unclean thoughts, or covetousness, or oppression, or a crafty invasion of my neighbour's rights, or my want of charity, or my judging unjustly in my own cause, or my censuring my neighbours, or a secret pride, or a base hypocrisy, or the pursuance of little ends with violence and passion, that may have procured the present messenger of death. Therefore, ask no more after any one, but heartily endeavour to reform all: ‘Sin no more, lest a worst thing happen;' for a single search or accusation may be the design of an imperfect repentance; but no man does heartily return to God but he that decrees against every irregularity; and then only we can be restored to health or life, when we have taken away the causes of sickness and a cursed death.
4. He that means to have his sickness turn into safety and life, into health and virtue, must make religion the employment of his sickness, and prayer the employment of his religion. For there are certain compendiums or abbreviatures and shortenings of religion fitted to several states. They that first gave up their names to Christ, and that turned from Paganism to Christianity, had an abbreviature fitted for them; they were to renounce their false worshippings, and give up their belief, and vow their obedience unto Christ; and in the very profession of this they were forgiven in baptism. For God hastens to snatch them from the power of the devil, and therefore shortens the passage and secures the estate. In the case of poverty, God hath reduced this duty of man to an abbreviature of those few graces which they can exercise; such as are patience, contentedness, truth, and diligence; and the rest he accepts in good will, and the charities of the soul, in prayers, and the actions of a cheap religion. And to most men charity is also an abbreviature. And as the love of God shortens the way to the purchase of all virtues; so the expression of this to the poor goes a huge way in the requisites and towards the consummation of an excellent religion. And martyrdom is another abbreviature; and so is every act of an excellent and heroical virtue. But when we are fallen into the state of sickness, and that our understanding is weak and troubled, our bodies sick and useless, our passions turned into fear, and the whole state into suffering, God, in compliance with man's infirmity, hath also turned our religion into such a duty which a sick man can do most passionately, and a sad man and a timorous can perform effectually, and a dying man can do to many purposes of pardon and mercy; and that is prayer. For although a sick man is bound to do many acts of virtue of several kinds, yet the most of them are to be done in the way of prayer. Prayer is not only the religion that is proper to a sick man's condition, but it is the manner of doing other graces, which is then left and in his power. For thus the sick man is to do his repentance and his mortifications, his temperance and his chastity, by a fiction of imagination, bringing the offers of the virtue to the spirit, and making an action of election: and so our prayers are a direct act of chastity, when they are made in the matter of that grace; just as repentance for our cruelty is an act of the grace of mercy; and repentance for uncleanness is an act of chastity, is a means of its purchase, an act in order to the habit. And though such acts of virtue, which are only in the way of prayer, are ineffective to the entire purchase, and of themselves cannot change the vice into virtue, yet they are good renewings of the grace, and proper exercise of a habit already gotten.
The purpose of this discourse is, to represent the excellency of prayer, and its proper advantages which it hath in the time of sickness. For besides that it moves God to pity, piercing the clouds, and making the heavens, like a pricked eye, to weep over us and refresh us with showers of pity; it also doth the work of the soul, and expresses the virtue of his whole life in effigy, in pictures and lively representments, so preparing it for a never-ceasing crown, by renewing the actions in the continuation of a never-ceasing, a never-hindered affection. Prayer speaks to God when the tongue is stiffened with the approachings of death: prayer can dwell in the heart, and be signified by the hand or eye, by a thought or a groan; prayer of all the actions of religion is the last alive, and it serves God without circumstances, and exercises material graces by abstraction from matter, and separation, and makes them to be spiritual; and therefore best dresses our bodies for funeral or recovery, for the mercies of restitution or the mercies of the grave.
5. In every sickness, whether it will or will not be so in nature and in the event, yet in thy spirit and preparations resolve upon it, and treat thyself accordingly, as if it were a sickness unto death. For many men support their unequal courages by flattery and false hopes; and because sicker men have recovered, believe that they shall do so; but therefore they neglect to adorn their souls, or set their house in order: besides the temporal inconveniences that often happen by such persuasions and putting off the evil day, such as are dying intestate, leaving estates entangled and some relatives unprovided for, they suffer infinitely in the interest and affairs of their soul, they die carelessly and surprised, their burdens on and their scruples unremoved, and their cases of conscience not determined, and, like a sheep without any care taken concerning their precious souls. Some men will never believe that a villain will betray them, though they receive often advices from suspicious persons and likely accidents, till they are entered into the snare; and then they cannot return; but so the treason entered, and the man was betrayed by his own folly, placing the snare in the regions and advantages of opportunity. This evil looks like boldness and a confident spirit, but it is the greatest timorousness and cowardice in the world. They are so fearful to die, that they dare not look upon it as possible; and think that the making of a will is a mortal sign, and sending for a spiritual man an irrecoverable disease: and they are so afraid lest they should think and believe now they must die, that they will not take care that it may not be evil in case they should. So did the eastern slaves drink wine, and wrapped their heads in a veil, that they might die without sense or sorrow, and wink hard that they might sleep the easier. In pursuance of this rune, let a man consider that whatsoever must be done in sickness ought to be done in health; only let him observe, that his sickness, as a good monitor, chastises his neglect of duty, and forces him to live as he always should; and then all these solemnities and dressings for death are nothing else but the part of a religious life, which he ought to have exercised all his days; and if those circumstances can affright him, let him please his fancy by this truth, that then he does but begin to live. But it will be a huge folly if he shall think that confession of his sins will kill him; or receiving the holy sacrament will hasten his agony, or the priest shall undo all the hopeful language and promises of his physician. Assure thyself thou canst not die the sooner; but by such addresses thou mayest die much the better.
6. Let the sick person be infinitely careful that he do not fall into a state of death upon a new account: that is, at no hand commit a deliberate sin, or retain any affection to the old; for in both cases he falls into the evils of a surprise, and the horrors of a sudden death; for a sudden death is but a sudden joy, if it takes a man in the state and exercises of virtue; and it is only then an evil when it finds a man unready. They were sad departures when Tigillinus, Cornellius Gallus the pretor, Lewis the son of Gonzaga duke of Mantua, Ladislaus king of Naples, Speusippus, Giachetius of Geneva, and one of the popes, died in the forbidden embraces of abused women; or if Job had cursed God, and so died; or when a man sits down in despair, and in the accusation and calumny of the Divine mercy: they make their night sad, and stormy, and eternal. When Herod began to sink with the shameful torment of his bowels, and felt the grave open under him, he imprisoned the nobles of his kingdom, and commanded his sister that they should be a sacrifice to his departing ghost. This was an egress fit only for such persons who meant to dwell with devils to eternal ages; and that man is hugely in love with sin who cannot forbear in the week of the assizes, and when himself stood at the bar of scrutiny, and prepared for his final, never-to-be-reversed sentence. He dies suddenly to the worse sense and event of sudden death who so manages his sickness that even that state shall not be innocent, but that he is surprised in the guilt of a new account. It is a sign of a reprobate spirit, and an habitual prevailing ruling sin, which exacts obedience when the judgment looks him in the face. At least go to God with the innocence and fair deportment of thy person in the last scene of thy life, that when thy soul breaks into the state of separation, it may carry the relishes of religion and sobriety to the places of its abode and sentence.108108Whoso him bethoft Inwardly oft how hard it were to flit From heaven to pit, From pit unto pain That nere shall cease again, It would not be one sin All the world to win. Inscript. marmori in eccles. paroch. de Feversham in agro Cantiano.
7. When these things are taken care for, let the sick man so order his affairs that he have but very little conversation with the world, but wholly (as he can) attend to religion, and antedate his conversation, in heaven, always having intercourse with God, and still conversing with the holy Jesus, kissing his wounds, admiring his goodness, begging his mercy, feeding on him with faith, and drinking his blood: to which purpose it were very fit (if all circumstances be answerable) that the narrative of the passion of Christ be read or discoursed to him at length, or in brief, according to the style of the four gospels. But in all things let his care and society be as little secular as is possible.
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