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Of the Practice of Patience.
Now we suppose the man entering upon his scene of sorrows and passive graces. It may be he went yesterday to a wedding, merry and brisk, and there he felt his sentence that he must return home and die; (for men very commonly enter into the snare singing, and consider not whither their fate leads them;) nor feared that then the angel was to strike his stroke, till his knees kissed the earth and his head trembled with the weight of the rod which God put into the hand of an exter minating angel. But whatsoever the ingress was, when the man feels his blood boil, or his bones weary, or his flesh diseased with a load of dispersed and disordered humour, or his head to ache, or his faculties discomposed, then he must consider that all those discoursed he hath heard concerning patience and resignation, and conformity to Christ's sufferings, and the melancholy lectures of the cross, must all of them now be reduced to practice, and pass from an ineffective contemplation to such an exercise as will really try whether we were true disciples of the cross, or only believed the doctrines of religion when we were at ease, and that they never passed through the ear to the heart, and dwelt not in our spirits. But every man should consider God does nothing in vain; that he would not to no purpose send us preachers and give us rules, and furnish us with discourse, and lend us books, and provide sermons, and make examples, and promise his Spirit, and describe the blessedness of holy sufferings, and prepare us with daily alarms, if he did not really purpose to order our affairs so that we should need all this, and use it all. There were no such thing as the grace of patience if we were not to feel a sickness or enter into a state of sufferings; whither, when we are entered, we are to practise by the following rules:
1. At the first address and presence of sickness stand still and arrest thy spirit, that it may, without amazement or affright, consider that this was that thou lookedst for and wert always certain should happen; and that now thou art to enter into the actions of a new religion, the agony of a strange constitution; but at no hand suffer thy spirits to be dispersed with fear, or wildness of thought, but stay their looseness and dispersion by a serious consideration of the present and future employment. For so doth the Libyan lion, spying the fierce huntsman, first beats himself with the strokes of his tail, and curls up his spirits, making them strong with union and recollection, till being struck with a Mauitanian spear, he rushed forth into his defence and noblest contention; and either ‘scapes into the secrets of his own dwelling, or else dies the bravest of the forest. Every man, when shot with an arrow from God's quiver, must then draw in all the auxiliaries of reason, and know that then is the time to try his strength, and to reduce the words of his religion into action, and consider that, if he behaves himself weakly and timorously, he suffers nevertheless of sickness; but if he returns to health, he carries along with him the mark of a coward and a fool; and if he descends into his grave, he enters into the state of the faithless and unbelievers. Let him set his heart firm upon this resolution: “I must bear it inevitably, and I will, by God's grace, do it nobly.”
2. Bear in thy sickness all along the same thoughts, propositions, and discourses, concerning thy person, thy life and death, thy soul and religion, which thou hadst in the best days of thy health, and when thou didst discourse wisely concerning things spiritual. For it is to be supposed (and if it be not yet done, let this rule remind thee of it, and direct thee) that thou hast cast about in thy health, and considered concerning thy change and the evil day, that thou must be sick and die, that thou must need a comforter, and that it was certain thou shouldst fall into a state in which all the cords of thy anchor should be stretched, and the very rock and foundation of faith should be attempted; and whatsoever fancies may disturb you, or whatsoever weaknesses may invade you, yet consider when you were better able to judge and govern the accidents of your life you concluded it necessary to trust in God and posses your souls with patience. Think of things as they think that stand by you, and as you did when you stood by others; that it is a blessed thing to be patient; that a quietness of spirit hath a certain reward; that still there is infinite truth and reality in the promises of the gospel; that still thou art in the care of God, in the condition of a son, and working out thy salvation with labour and pain, with fear and trembling; that now the sun is under a cloud, but it still sends forth the same influence: and be sure to make no new principles upon the stock of a quick and an impatient sense or too busy an apprehension: keep your old principles, and upon their stock discourse and practise on towards your conclusion.
3. Resolve to bear your sickness like a child, that is, without considering the evils and the pains, the sorrows and the danger; but go straight forward, and let thy thoughts cast about for nothing but how to make advantages of it by the instrument of religion. He that from a high tower looks down upon the precipice, and measures the space through which he must descend, and considers what a huge fall he shall have, shall feel more by the horrow of it than by the last dash on the pavement: and he that tells his groans and numbers his sighs, and reckons one for every gripe of his belly or throb of his distempered pulse, will make an artificial sickness greater than the natural. And if thou beest ashamed that a child should bear an evil better than thou, then take his instrument and allay thy spirit with it; reflect not upon thy evil, but contrive as much as you can for duty, and in all the rest inconsideration will ease your pain.
4. If thou fearest thou shalt need, observe and draw together all such things as are apt to charm thy spirit and ease thy fancy in the sufferance. It is the counsel of Socrates: “It is (said he) a great danger, and you must, by discourse and arts of reasoning, enchant it into slumber and some rest.”109109Καλος γαρ ο κινσυ[ομεγαηατ]ος χαι ξρυ τα τοιαντα ωσπερ ιξασυειν εαυτω. It may be, thou wert moved much to see a person of honour to die untimely; or thou didst love the religion of that death-bed, and it was dressed up in circumstances fitted to thy needs, and hit thee on that part where thou wert most sensible; or some little saying in a sermon or passage of a book was chosen and singled out by a peculiar apprehension, and made consent lodge awhile in thy spirit, even then when thou didst place death in thy meditation, and didst view it in all its dress of fancy. Whatsoever that was which at any time did please thee in thy most passionate and fantastic part, let not that go, but bring it home at that time especially; because, when thou art in thy weakness, such little things will easier move thee than a more severe discourse and a better reason. For a sick man is like a scrupulous: his case is gone beyond the cure of arguments, and it is a trouble that can only be helped by chance, or a lucky saying: and Ludovico Corbinelli was moved at the death of Henry the Second more than if he had read the saddest elegy of all the unfortunate princes in Christendom, or all the sad sayings of Scripture, or the thrones of the funeral prophets. I deny not but this course is most proper to weak persons; but it is a state of weakness for which we are now providing remedies and instruction; a strong man will not need it; but when our sickness hath rendered us weak in all senses, it is not good to refuse a remedy because it supposes us to be sick. But then, if to the catalogue of weak persons we add all those who are ruled by fancy, we shall find that many persons in their health, and more in their sickness, are under the dominion of fancy, and apt to be helped by those little things which themselves have found fitted to their apprehension, and which no other man can minister to their needs, unless by chance, or in a heap of other things. But therefore every man should remember by what instruments he was at any time much moved, and try them upon his spirit in the day of his calamity.
5. Do not choose the kind of thy sickness, or the manner of thy death, but let it be what God please, so it be no greater than thy spirit or thy patience; and for that you are to rely upon the promise of God, and to secure thyself by prayer and industry; but in all things else let God be thy chooser, and let it be thy work to submit indifferently and attend thy duty. It is lawful to beg of God that thy sickness may not be sharp or noisome, infectious or unusual, because these are circumstances of evil which are also proper instruments of temptation: and though it may well concern the prudence of thy religion to fear thyself, and keep thee from violent temptations, who hast so often fallen in little ones, yet, even in these things, be sure to keep some degrees of indifferency; that is, if God will not be entreated to ease thee, or to change thy trial, then be importunate that thy spirit and its interest be secured, and let him do what seemeth good in his eyes. But as in the degrees of sickness thou art to submit to God, so in the kind of it (supposing equal degrees) thou art to be altogether incurious whether God call thee by a consumption or an asthma, by a dropsy or a palsy, by a fever in thy humours, or a fever in thy spirits; because all such nicety of choice is nothing but a colour to a legitimate impatience, and to make an excuse to murmur privately, and for circumstances, when in the sum of affairs we durst not own impatience. I have known some persons vehemently wish that they might die of a consumption, and some of these had a plot upon heaven, and hoped by that means to secure it after a careless life; as thinking a lingering sickness would certainly infer a lingering and a protracted repentance; and by that means they thought they should be safest: others of them dreamed it would be an easier death, and have found themselves deceived, and their patience hath been tired with a weary spirit and a useless body, by often conversing with healthful persons and vigorous neighbours, by uneasiness of the flesh and the sharpness of their bones, by want of spirits and a dying life; and, in conclusion, have been directly debauched by peevishness and a fretful sickness: and these men had better have left it to the wisdom and goodness of God; for they both are infinite.
6. Be patient in the desires of religion; and take care that the forwardness of exterior actions do not discompose thy spirit, while thou fearest, that by less serving God in thy disability thou runnest backward in the accounts of pardon and the favour of God. Be content that the time which was formerly spent in prayer be now spent in vomiting and carefulness and attendances; since God hath pleased it should be so, it does not become us to think hard thoughts concerning it. Do not think that God is only to be found in a great prayer, or a solemn office: he is moved by a sigh, by a groan, by an act of love; and therefore, when your pain is great and pungent, lay all your strength upon it, to bear it patiently: when the evil is something more tolerable, let your mind think some pious, though short, meditation; let it not be very busy, and full of attention; for that will be but a new temptation to your patience, and render your religion tedious and hateful. But record your desires, and present yourself to God by general acts of will and understanding, and by habitual remembrances of your former vigorousness, and by verification of the same grace, rather than proper exercises. If you can do more, do it; but if you cannot, let it not become a scruple to thee. We must not think man is tied to the forms of health, or that he who swoons and faints is obliged to his usual forms and hours of prayer: if we cannot labour, yet let us love. Nothing can hinder us from that but our own uncharitableness.
7. Be obedient to thy physician in those things that concern him, if he be a person fit to minister unto thee. God is he only that needs no help, and God hath created the physician for thine: therefore use him temperately without violent confidences, and sweetly without uncivil distrustings, or refusing his prescriptions upon humours or impotent fear. A man may refuse to have his arm or leg cut off, or to suffer the pains of Marius's incision; and if he believes that to die is the less evil, he may compose himself to it without hazarding his patience, or introducing that which he thinks a worse evil; but that which in this article is to be reproved and avoided is, that some men will choose to die out of fear of death, and send for physicians, and do what themselves list, and call for counsel and follow none. When there is reason they should decline him, it is not to be accounted to the stock of a sin; but where there is no just case there is a direct impatience.
Hither is to be reduced, that we be not too confident of the physician, or drain our hopes of recovery from the fountain through so imperfect channels, laying the wells of God dry, and digging to ourselves broken cisterns. Physicians are the ministers of God's mercies and providence in the matter of health and ease, of restitution or death; and when God shall enable their judgments, and direct their counsels, and prosper their medicines, they shall do thee good, for which you must give God thanks, and to the physician the honour of a blessed instrument. But this cannot always be done: and Lucius Cornelius,110110L. Cornel. Legatus sub Fabio Consule vividam naturam et virilem animum servavi, quoad animam effiavi; et tandem desertus ope medicorum et Escalapii Dei ingrati, cui me voveram sodalem perpetuo futurum, si fila aliquantulum optata prorulisset.—Vetus Inscripton in Lusitania. the lieutenant in Portugal under Fabius the consul, boasted in the inscription of his monument, that he had lived a healthful and vegete age till his last sickness, but then complained he was forsaken by his physician and railed upon Esculapius for not accepting his vow and passionate desire of preserving his life longer; and all the effect of that impatience and folly was, that it is recorded to folling ages that he died without reason and without religion. But it was a sad sight to see the favour of all France confined to a physician and a barber, and the king (Louis XI.) to be so much their servant, that he should acknowledge and own his life from them, and all his ease to their gentle dressing of his gout and friendly ministries; for the king thought himself undone and robbed if he should die; his portion here was fair; and he was loath to exchange his possession for the interest of a bigger hope.
8. Treat thy nurses and servants sweetly, and as it becomes an obliged and a necessitous person. Remember that thou art very troublesome to them; that they trouble not thee willingly; that they strive to do thee ease and benefit, that they wish it, and sigh and pray for it, and are glad if thou likest their attendance; that whatsoever is amiss is thy disease, and the uneasiness of thy head or thy side, thy distemper or thy disaffections; and it will be an unhandsome injustice to be troublesome to them because thou art so to thyself; to make them feel a part of thy sorrows, that thou mayest not bear them alone; evilly to requite their care by thy too curious and impatient wrangling and fretful spirit. That tenderness is vicious and unnatural that shieks out under the weight of a gentle cataplasm; and he will ill comply with God's rod that cannot endure his friends; greatest kindness; and he will be very angry (if he durst) with God's smiting him that is peevish with his servants that go about to ease him.
9. Let not the smart of your sickness make you to call violently for death; you are not patient unless you be content to live;111111Αποκαρτερειν Gτπεσι vocant, cum mors propter impatientiam petitur. God hath wisely ordered that we may be the better reconciled with death, because it is the period of many calamities; but wherever the general hath placed thee, stir not from thy station until thou beest called off, but abide so, that death may come to thee by the design of him who intends it to be thy work, and do not impatiently long for evening, lest at night thou findest the reward of him that was weary of his work; for he that is weary before his time is an unprofitable servant, and is either idle or diseased.
10. That which remains in the practice of this grace is, that the sick man should do acts of patience by way of prayer and ejaculations; in which he may serve himself of the following collection.
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