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Of the Sick Mans Practice of Charity and Justice, by way of Rule
1. Let the sick man set his house in order before he die; state his cases of conscience, reconcile the fractures of his family, reunite brethren, cause right understandings, and remove jealousies; give good counsels for the future conduct of their persons and estates, charm them into religion by the authority and advantages of a dying person; because the last words of a dying man are like the tooth of a wounded lion, making a deeper impression in the agony than in the most vigorous strength.145145Magnifica verba mors prope admota excutit.
2. Let the sick man discover every secret of art or profit, physic or advantage to mankind, if he may do it without the prejudice of a third person.146146Nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo Ejiciuntur — Lucret. iii. 57. Some persons are so uncharitably envious, that they are willing that a secret receipt should die with them, and be buried in their grave, like treasure in the sepulchre of David. But this, which is a design of charity, must therefore not be done to any man's prejudice; and the mason of Herodotus, the king of Egypt, who kept secret his notice of the king's treasure, and when he was a dying told his son, betrayed his trust then, when he should have kept it most sacredly for his own interest. In all other cases let thy charity outlive thee, that thou mayst rejoice in the mansion of rest, because, by thy means, many living persons are eased or advantaged.
3. Let him make his will with great justice and piety, that is, that the right heirs be no defrauded for collareral respects, fancies, or indirect fondnesses; but the inheritances descend in their legal and due channel; and in those things where we have a liberty, that we take the opportunity of doing virtuously, that is, of considering how God may be best served by our donatives, or how the interest of any virtue may be promoted; in which we are principally to regard the necessities of our nearest kindred and relatives, servants and friends.
4. Let the will or testament be made with ingenuity, openness, and plain expression, that he may not entail a lawsuit upon his posterity and relatives, and make them lose their charity, or entangle their estates, or make them poorer by the gift. He hath done me no charity, but dies in my debt that makes me sue for a legacy.
5. It is proper for the state of sickness, and an excellent annealing us to burial, that we give alms in this state, so burying treasure in our graves that will not perish, but rise again in the resurrection of the just. Let the dispensation of our alms be as little intrusted to our executors as may be, excepting the lasting and successive portions; but with our own present care, let us exercise the charity and secure the stewardship. It was a custom amongst the old Greeks to bury horses, clothes, arms, and whatsoever was dear to the deceased person, supposing they might need them, and that without clothes they should be found naked by their judges; and all the friends did use to bring gifts, by such liberality thinking to promote the interest of their dead. But we may offer our εντσφτα ourselves best of all: our doles and funeral meals, if they be our own early provisions, will then spend the better; and it is good so to carry our passing penny in our hand, and, by reaching that hand to the poor make a friend in the everlasting habitations. He that gives with his own hand shall be sure to find it, and the poor shall find it; but he that trusts executors with his charity, and the economy and issues of his virtue, by which he must enter into his hopes of heaven and pardon, shall find but an ill account when his executors complain he died poor. Think on this. To this purpose, wise and pious was the counsel of Salvian:147147Contra avaritiam. “Let a dying man, who hath nothing else of which he may make an effective oblation, offer up to God of his substance; let him offer it with compunction and tears, with grief and mourning, as knowing that all our oblations have their value not by the price, but by the affection; and it is our faith that commendeth the money, since God receives the money by the hands of the poor, but at the same time gives and does not take the blessing, because he receives nothing but his own; and man gives that which is none of his own, that of which he is only a steward, and shall be accountable for every shilling. Let it, therefore, be offered humbly, as a creditor pays his debts; not magnifically, as a prince gives a donative; and let him remember that such doles do not pay for the sin, but they ease the punishment; that are not proper instruments of redemption, but instances of supplication and advantages of prayer; and when we have done well, remember that we have not paid our debt, but shown our willingness to give a little of the vast sum we owe; and he that gives plentifully according to the measure of his estate, is still behindhand according to the measure of his sins. Let him pray to God that this late oblation may be accepted; and so it will, if it sails to him in a sea of penitential tears or sorrows that it is so little, and that is is so late.
6. Let the sick man's charity be so ordered that it may not come only to deck the funeral and make up the pomp; charity waiting like one of the solemn mourners; but let it be continued, that, besides the alms of health and sickness, there may be a rejoicing in God for his charity long after his funeral, so as to become more beneficial and less public; that the poor may pray in private, and give God thanks many days together. This is matter of prudence, and yet in this we are to observe the same regards which we had in the charity and alms of our lives; with this only difference, that, in the funeral alms also of rich and able persons, the public customs of the church are to be observed, and decency and solemnity, and the expectations of the poor, and matter of public opinion, and the reputation of religion; in all other cases let thy charity consult with humility and prudence, that it never minister at all to vanity, but be as full of advantage and usefulness as it may.
7. Every man will forgive a dying person; and therefore let the sick man be ready and sure, if he can, to send to such persons whom he hath injured, and beg their pardon, and do them right; for in this case he cannot stay for an opportunity of convenient and advantageous reconcilement; he cannot then spin out a treaty, nor beat down the price of composition, nor lay a snare to be quit from the obligation and coercion of laws; but he must ask forgiveness downright, and make him amends as he can, being greedy of making use of this opportunity of doing a duty that must be done, but cannot any more, if not now, until time returns again and tells the minutes backwards, so that yesterday shall be reckoned in the portions of the future.
8. In the intervals of sharper pains, when the sick man amasses together all the arguments of comfort and testimonies of God's love to him and care of him, he must needs find infinite matter of thanksgiving and glorification of God; and it is a proper act of charity and love to God, and justice too, that he do honour to God on his death-bed for all the blessings of his life, not only in general communications, but those by which he hath been separate and discerned from others, or supported and blessed in his own person; such as are, “In all my life-time I never broke a home; I never fell into the hands of robbers, never into public shame, nor into noisome diseases; I have not begged my bread, nor been tempted by great and unequal fortunes: God gave me a good understanding, good friends, or delivered me in such a danger, and heard my prayers in such particular pressures of my spirit.” This or like enumeration and consequent acts of thanksgiving are apt to produce love to God, and confidence in the day of trial; for he that gave me blessings in proportion to the state and capacities of my life, I hope also will do so in proportion to the needs of my sickness and my death-bed. This we find practised, as a most reasonable piece of piety, by the wisest of the heathens. So Antipater Tarsensis gave God thanks for his prosperous voyage into Greece; and Cyrus made a handsome prayer upon the tops of the mountains when, by a phantasm, he was warned of his approaching death. “Receive, O God my Father, these holy rites, by which I put an end to many and great affairs; and I give thee thanks for thy celestial signs and prophetic notices, whereby thou hast signified to me what I ought to do, and what I ought not. I present also very great thanks that I have perceived and acknowledged your care of me, and have never exalted myself above my condition, for any prosperour accident. And I pray that you will grant felicity to my wife, my children, and friends, and to me a death such as my life hath been.” But that of Philagrius, in Gregory Nazianzen, is eucharistical, but it relates more especially to the blessings and advantages which are accidentally consequent to sickness. “I thank thee, O Father and maker of all my children, that thou art pleased to bless and to sanctify us even against our wills, and by the outward man purgest the inward, and leadest us through cross-ways to a blessed ending, for reasons best known unto thee.” However, when we go from our hospital and place of little intermedial rest in our journey to heaven, it is fit that we give thanks to the major-domo for our entertainment. When these parts of religion are finished according to each man's necessity, there is nothing remaining of personal duty to be done alone, but that the sick man act over these virtues by the renewings of devotion and in the way of prayer; and that is to be continued as long as life, and voice, and reason dwell with us.
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