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Remedies against Impatience, by way of Exercise.
1. The fittest instrument of esteeming sickness easily tolerable is, to remember that which indeed makes it so; and that is, that God doth minister proper aids and supports to every of his servants whom he visits with his rod. He knows our needs, he pities our sorrows, he relieves our miseries, he supports our weakness, he bids us ask for help, and he promises to give us all that, and he usually give us more; and indeed it is observable, that no story tells of any godly man who, living in the fear of God fell into a violent and unpardoned impatience in his natural sickness, if he used those means which God and his holy church have appointed. We see almost all men bear their last sickness with sorrows indeed, but without violent passions; and unless they fear death violently, they suffer the sickness with some indifferency: and it is a rare thing to see a man who enjoys his reason in his sickness to express the proper signs of a direct and solemn impatience. For when God lays a sickness upon us, he seizes commonly on a man's spirits, which are the instruments of action and business; and when they are secured from being tumultuous, the sufferance is much the easier: and therefore sickness secures all that which can do the man mischief; it makes him tame and passive, apt for suffering, and confines him to an inactive condition. To which, if we add, that God then commonly produces fear, and all those passions which naturally tend to humility and poverty of spirit, we shall soon perceive by what instruments God verifies his promise to us, (which is the great security for our patience, and the easiness of our condition,) that God will lay no more upon us than he will make us able to bear it, but together with the affliction, he will find a way to escape.75751 Cor. x. 13. Nay, if anything can be more than this, we have two or three promises in which we may safely lodge ourselves, and roll from off our thorns, and find ease and rest; God hath promised to be with us in our trouble, and to be with us in our prayers, and to be with us in our hope and confidence.7676Psalm ix. 9; Matt. vii. 7; James, v. 13; Psalm xxxi. 19, 24; xxxiv. 22.
2. Prevent the violence and trouble of thy spirit by an act of thanksgiving; for which in the worst of sickness thou canst not want cause, especially if thou rememberest that this pain is not an eternal pain. Bless God for that: but take heed, also, lest you so order your affairs that you pass from hence to an eternal sorrow. If that be hard, this will be intolerable: but as for the present evil, a few day will end it.
3. Remember that thou art a man and a Christian: as the covenant of nature hath made it necessary, so the covenant of grace hath made it to be chosen by thee, to be a suffering person: either you must renounce your religion or submit to the impositions of God and thy portion of sufferings. So there here we see our advantages, and let us use them accordingly. The barbarous and warlike nations of old could fight well and willingly, but could not bear sickness manfully. The Greeks were cowardly in their fights, as most wise men are; but because they were learned and well taught, they bore their sickness with patience and severity. The Cim rians and Celtiberians rejoice in battle, like giants; but in their diseases they weep like women. These according to their institution and designs had unequal courages and accidental fortitude. But since our religion hath made a covenant of sufferings, and the great business of our lives is sufferings, and most of the virtues of a Christian are passive graces, and all the promises of the gospel are passed upon us through Christ's cross, we have a necessity upon us to have an equal courage in all the variety of our sufferings; for without an universal fortitude we can do nothing of our duty.
4. Resolve to do as much as you can; for certain it is, we can suffer much if we list; and many men have afflicted themselves unreasonably by not being skilful to consider how much their strength and state could permit; and our flesh is nice and imperious, crafty to persuade reason that she hath more necessities than indeed belong to her, and that she demands nothing superfluous. Suffer as much in obedience to God as you can suffer for necessity or passion, fear or desire. And if you can for one thing, you can for another; and there is nothing wanting but the mind. Never say, I can do no more; I cannot endure this; for God would not have sent it if he had not known thee strong enough to abide it; only he that knows thee well already would also take this occasion to make thee know thyself; but it will be fit that you pray to God to give you a discerning spirit, that you may rightly distinguish just necessity from the flattery and fondness of flesh and blood.
5. Propound to your eyes and heart the example of the holy Jesus upon the cross; he endured more for thee than thou canst either for thyself or him: and remember, that if we be put to suffer, and do suffer in a good cause, or in a good manner, so that in any sense your sufferings be conformable to his sufferings, or can be capable of being united to his, we shall reign together with him. The highway of the cross, which the King of sufferings hath trodden before us, is the way to ease, to a kingdom, and to felicity.
6. The very suffering is a title to an excellent inheritance; for God chastens every son whom he receives; and if we be not chastised, we are bastards, and not sons. And be confident, that although God often sends pardon without correction, yet he never sends correction without pardon, unless it be thy fault: and therefore take every or any affliction as an earnest-penny of thy pardon; and upon condition there may be peace with God, let anything be welcome that he can send as its instrument or condition. Suffer, therefore, God to choose his own circumstances of adopting thee, and be content to be under discipline, when the reward of that is to become the son of God: and by such inflictions he hews and breaks thy body, first dressing it to funeral, and then preparing it for immortality. And if this be effect of the design of God's love to thee, let it be occasion of thy love to him; and remember, that the truth of love is hardly known but by somewhat that puts us to pain.
7. Use this as a punishment for thy sins; and so God intends it most commonly; that is certain: if therefore thou submittest to it, thou approvest of the Divine judgment; and no man can have cause to complain of anything but himself, if either he believes God to be just or himself to be a sinner. If he either thinks he hath deserved hell, or that this little may be a means to prevent the greater and bring him to heaven.
8. It may be, that this may be the last instance and the last opportunity that ever God will give thee to exercise any virtue, to do him any service, or thyself any advantage: be careful that thou losest not this; for to eternal ages this never shall return again.
9. Or if thou, peradventure, shalt be restored to health, be careful that in the day of thy thanksgiving thou mayst not be ashamed of thyself for having behaved thyself poorly and weakly upon thy bed. It will be a sensible and excellent comfort to thee, and double upon thy spirit, if, when thou shalt worship God for restoring thee, thou shalt also remember that thou didst do him service in thy suffering, and tell that God was hugely gracious to thee in giving thee the opportunity of a virtue at so easy a rate as a sickness from which thou didst recover.
10. Few men are so sick but they believe that they may recover; and we shall seldom see a man lie down with a perfect persuasion that it is his last hour; for many men have been sicker, and yet have recovered; but whether thou dost or no, thou hast a virtue to exercise which may be a handmaid to thy patience. Epaphroditus was sick, sick, unto death; and yet God had mercy upon him: and he hath done so to thousands to whom he found it useful in the great order of things and the events of universal providence. If, therefore, thou desirest to recover, here is cause enough of hope; and hope is designed in the arts of God and of the Spirit to support patience. But if thou recoverest not, yet there is something that is matter of joy naturally, and very much spiritually, of thou belongest to God; and joy is as certain a support to patience as hope: and it is no small cause of being pleased, when we remember that, if we recover not, our sickness shall the sooner sit down in rest and joy. For recovery by death, as it is easier and better than the recovery by a sickly health, so it is not so long in doing: it suffers not the tediousness of a creeping restitution, nor the inconvenience of surgeons and physicians, watchfulness and care, keepings in and suffering trouble, fears of relapse, and the little relics of a storm.
11. While we hear, or use, or think of these remedies, part of the sickness is gone away, and all of it is passing. And if by such instruments we stand armed and ready dressed beforehand, we shall avoid the mischiefs of amazements and surprise;7777Nulla mihi nova nune facies inopinave surgit: Omnia praecepi atque animo mecum ante peregi. Virgil. lib. vi. while the accidents of sickness are such as were expected, and against which, we stood in readiness, with our spirits contracted, instructed, and put upon the defensive.
12. But our patience will be the better secured if we consider that it is not violently tempted by the usual arrests of sickness; for patience is with reason demanded while the sickness is tolerable, that is, so long as the evil is not too great; but if it be also eligible, and have in it some degrees of good, our patience will have in it the less difficulty and the greater necessity. This therefore will be a new stock of consideration: sickness is in many degrees eligible to many men and to many purposes.
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