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SECTION VI. Rules for the Practice of Repentance in Sickness.
Rules for the Practice of Repentance in Sickness.
1. Let the sick man consider at what gate this sickness entered; and if he can discover the particular, let him instantly, passionately, and with great contrition, dash the crime in pieces, lest he descends into his grave in the midst of a sin, and thence remove into an ocean of eternal sorrow. But if he only suffers the common fate of man, and knows not the particular inlet, he is to be governed by the following measures.
2. Inquire into the repentance of thy former life particularly; whether it were of a great and perfect grief, and productive of fixed resolutions of holy living, and reductive of these to act; how many days and nights we have spent in sorrow or care, in habitual and actual pursuances of virtue; what instrument we have chosen and used for the eradication of sin; how we have judged ourselves, and how punished; and, in sum, whether we have by the grace of repentance changed our life from criminal to virtuous, from one habit to another; and whether we have paid for the pleasure of our sin by smart or sorrow, by the effusion of alms, or pernctations or abodes in prayers, so as the spirit hath been served in our repentance s earnestly and as greatly as our appetites have been provided for in the days of our shame and folly.
3. Supply the imperfections of thy repentance by a general or universal sorrow for thy sins, not only since the last communion or absolution, but of thy whole life; for all sins, known and unknown, repented and unrepented, of ignorance or infirmity, which thou knowest, or which others have accused thee of; thy clamorous and thy whispering sins, the sins of scandal and the sins of a secret conscience, of the flesh and of the spirit: for it would be but a sad arrest to thy soul wandering in strange and unusual regions, to see a scroll of uncancelled sins represented and charged upon thee for want of care and notices, and that thy repentance shall become invalid because of its imperfections.
4. To this purpose it is usually advised by spiritual persons, that the sick man make an universal confession, or a renovation and repetition of all the particular confessions and accusations of his whole life; that now, at the foot of his account, he may represent the sum total to God and his conscience, and make provisions for their remedy and pardon according to his present possibilities.
5. Now is the time to make reflex acts of repentance: that as by a general repentance we supply the want of the just extension of parts, so by this we may supply the proper measures of the intention of degrees. In our health we can consider concerning our own acts, whether they be real or hypocritical, essential or imaginary, sincere or upon interest, integral or imperfect, commensurate or defective. And although it is a good caution of securities after all our care and diligence still to suspect ourselves and our own deceptions, and for ever to beg of God pardon and acceptance in the union of Christ's passion and intercession: yet, in proper speaking, reflex acts of repentance, being a suppletory after the imperfection of the direct, and then most fit to be used when we cannot proceed in and prosecute the direct actions. To repent because we cannot repent, and to grieve because we cannot grieve, was a device invented to serve the turn of the mother of Peter Gratian; but it was used by her, and so advised to be, in her sickness and last actions of repentance: for in our perfect health and understanding, if we do not understand our first act we cannot discern our second; and if we be not sorry for our sins we cannot be sorry for want of sorrows: it is a contradiction to say we can; because want of sorrow, to which we are obliged, is certainly a great sin; and if we can grieve for that, then also for the rest; if not for all, then not for this. But in the days of weakness the case is otherwise; for then our actions are imperfect, our discourse weak, our internal actions not discernible, our fears great, our work to be abbreviated, and our defects to be supplied by spiritual arts: and therefore it is proper and proportionate to our state, and to our necessity, to beg of God pardon for the imperfections of our repentance, acceptance of our weaker sorrows, supplies out of the treasures of grace and mercy. And thus repenting of the evil and unhandsome adherences of our repentance, in the whole integrity of the duty it will become a repentance not to be repented of.
6. Now is the time beyond which the sick man must at no hand defer to make restitution of all his unjust possessions,125125Ou pendre, ou rendre, ou les peines d'enfers attendra. or other men's rights, and satisfactions for all injuries and violences, according to his obligation and possibilities: for although many circumstances might impede the acting it in our life-time, and it was permitted to be deferred in many cases because by it justice was not hindered, and oftentimes piety and equity were provided for; yet, because this is the last scene of our life, he that does not act it so far as he can, or put it into certain conditions and order of effecting, can never do it again, and therefore then to defer it is to omit, and leaves the repentance defective in an integral and constituent part.
7. Let the sick man be diligent and watchful that the principle of his repentance be contrition, or sorrow for sins, commenced upon the love of God. For although sorrow for sins upon any motive may lead us to God by many intermedial passages, and is the threshold of returning sinners; yet it is not good nor effective upon our death-bed; because repentance is not then to begin, but must then be finished and completed; and it is to be a supply and preparation of all the imperfections of that duty, and therefore it must by that time be arrived to contrition; that is, is must have grown from fear to love, from the passions of a servant to the affections of a son. The reason of which (besides the precedent) is this, because when our repentance is in this state it supposes the man also in a state of grace, a well-grown Christian; for to hate sin out of the love of God is not the felicity of a new convert, or an infant grace; (or if it be that love also is in its infancy;) but it supposes a good progress, and the man habitually virtuous, and tending to perfection: and therefore contrition or repentance so qualified is useful to great degrees of pardon, because the man is a gracious person, and that virtue is of good degree, and consequently a fit employment for his that shall work no more, but is to appear before his Judge to receive the hire of his day. And if his repentance be contrition even before this state of sickness, let it be increased by spiritual arts and the proper exercises of charity.
To which purpose the sick man may consider, and is to be reminded (if he does not) that there are in God all the motives and causes of amiability in the world: that God is so infinitely good, that there are some of the greatest and most excellent spirits of heaven, whose work, and whose felicity and whose perfections, and whose nature it is, to flame and burn in the brightest and most excellent love: that to love God is the greatest glory of heaven: that in him there are such excellences, that the smallest rays of them, communicated to our weaker understandings, are yet sufficient to cause ravishments, and transportations, and satisfactions, and joys unspeakable and full of glory: that all the wise Christians of the world know and feel such causes to love God, that they all profess themselves ready to die for the love of God, and the apostles and millions of the martyrs did die for him: and although it be harder to live in his love than to die for it, yet all the good people that ever gave their names to Christ did, for his love, endure the crucifying their lusts, the mortification of their appetites, the contradictions and death of their most passionate natural desires: that kings and queens have quitted their diadems, and many married saints have turned their mutual vows into the love of Jesus, and married him only, keeping a virgin chastity in a married life, that they may more tenderly express their love to God: that all the good we have derives from God's love to us, and all the good we can hope for is the effect of his love, and can descend only upon them that love him: that by his love we feel peace and joy within our spirits, and by his love we receive the mysterious sacrament. And what can be greater than that from the goodness and love of God we receive Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and adoption, and the inheritance of sons, and to be coheirs with Jesus, and to have pardon of our sins, and a Divine nature, and restraining grace and the grace of sanctification, and rest and peace within us, and a certain expectation of glory? Who can choose but love him who, when we had provoked him exceedingly, sent his Son to die for us, that we might live with him? who does so desire to pardon us and save us, that he hath appointed his holy Son continually to intercede for us? that his love is so great, that he offers us great kindness, and entreats us to be happy, and makes many decrees in heaven concerning the interest of our soul, and the very provision and support of our persons, that he sends an angel to attend upon every of his servants, and to be their guard and their guide in all their dangers and hostilities: that for our sakes he restrains the devil, and put his mightiness in fetters and restraints, and chastises his malice with decrees of grace and safety: that he it is who makes all the creatures serve us, and takes care of our sleeps and preserves all plants and elements, all minerals and vegetables, all beasts and birds, all fishes and insects, for food to us and for ornament, for physic and instruction, for variety and wonder, for delight, and for religion: that as God is all good in himself, and all good to us, so sin is directly contrary to God, to reason, to religion, to safety, and pleasure, and felicity: that it is a great dishonour to a man's spirit to have been made a fool by a weak temptation and an empty lust; and to have rejected God who is so rich, so wise, so good, and so excellent, so delicious, and so profitable to us: that all the repentance in the world of excellent men does end in contrition, or a sorrow for sins preceeding from the love of God; because they that are in the state of grace do not fear hell violently, and so long as they remain in God's favour, although they suffer the infirmities of men, yet they are God's portion; and therefore all the repentance of just and holy men, which is certainly the best, is a repentance not for lower ends, but because they are the friends of God, and they are full of indignation that they have done an act against the honour of their pardon, and their dearest Lord and Father: that it is a huge imperfection and a state of weakness to need to be moved with fear or temporal respects; and they that are so, as yet are either immerged in the affections of the world or of themselves; and those men that bear such a character, are not et esteemed laudable persons, or men of good natures, or the sons of virtue: that no repentance can be lasting that relies upon any thing but the love of God; for temporal motives may cease, and contrary contingencies may arise, and fear of hell may be expelled by natural or acquired hardnesses, and is always the least when we have most need of it, and most cause for it; for the more habitual our sins are, the more cauterized our conscience is, the less is the fear of hell, and yet our danger is much the greater: that although fear of hell or other temporal motives may be the first inlet to a repentance, yet repentance , in that constitution and under those circumstances, cannot obtain pardon, because there is in that no union with God, no adhesion to Christ, no endearment of passion or of spirit, no similitude or conformity to the great instrument of our peace, our glorious Mediator: for as yet a man is turned from his sin, but not converted to God; the first and last of our returns to God being love, and nothing but love: for obedience is the first part of love, and fruition is the last; and because he that does not love God cannot obey him, therefore he that does not love him cannot enjoy him.
Now that this may be reduced to practice, the sick man may be advertised, that in the actions of repentance, he separate low, temporal, sensual, and self-ends from his thoughts, and so do his repentance that he may still reflect honour upon God, that he confess his justice in punishing, that he acknowledge himself to have deserved the worst of evils; that he heartily believe and profess that if he perish finally, yet that God ought to be glorified by that sad event, and that he hath truly merited so intolerable a calamity: that he also be put to make acts of election and preference, professing that he would willingly endure all temporal evils, rather than be in the disfavour of God or in the state of sin; for, by this last instance, he will be quitted from the suspicion of leaving sin for temporal respects, because he, by an act of imagination or feigned presence of the object to him, entertains the temporal evil that he may leave the sin; and therefore, unless he be a hypocrite, does not leave the sin to be quit of the temporal evil. And as for the other motive of leaving sin out of the fear of hell, because that is an evangelical motive conveyed to us by the Spirit of God, and is immediate to the love of God, if the schoolmen had pleased, they might have reckoned it as the handmaid, and of the retinue of contrition; but the more the considerations are sublimed above this, of the greater effect and the more immediate to pardon will be the repentance.
5. Let the sick persons do frequent actions of repentance, by way of prayer for all those sins which are spiritual, and in which no restitution or satisfaction material can be made, and whose contrary acts cannot in kind be exercised. For penitential prayers in some cases are the only instances of repentance that can be. An envious man, if he gives God hearty thanks for the advancement of his brother, hath done an act of mortification of his envy, as directly as corporal austerities are an act of chastity, and an enemy to uncleanness: and if I have seduced a person that is dead or absent, if I cannot restore him to sober counsels by my discourse and undeceiving him, I can only repent of that by way of prayer: and intemperance is no way to be rescinded or punished by a dying man but by hearty prayers. Prayers are a great help in all cases; in some they are proper acts of virtue, and direct enemies to sin: but although alone and in long continuance they alone can cure some one or some few little habits, yet they can never alone change the state of a man: and therefore are intended to be a suppletory to the imperfections of other acts: and by that reason are the proper and most pertinent employment of a clinic or death-bed penitent.
6. In those sins whose proper cure is mortification corporal, the sick man is to supply that part of his repentance by a patient submission to the rod of sickness: for sickness does the work of penances, or sharp afflictions and dry diet, perfectly well: to which if we also put our wills, and make it our act by an after-election, by confessing the justice of God, by bearing it sweetly, by begging it may be medicinal, there is nothing wanting to the perfection of this part, but that God confirm our patience and hear our prayers. When the guilty man runs to punishment126126Quid debent laesi facere, ubi rei ad paenam confugiunt? the injured person is prevented, and hath no whither to go but to forgiveness.
7.I have learned but of one suppletory more for the perfection and proper exercise of a sick man's repentance; but it is such an one as will go a great way in the abolition of our past sins and making our peace with God, even after a less severe life; and that is, that the sick man do some heroical actions in the matter of charity or religion, of justice or severity. There is a story of an infamous thief who, having begged his pardon of the emperior Mauricius, was yet put into the hospital of St. Sampson, where he so plentifully bewailed his sins in the last agonies of his death, that the physician who attended found him unexpectedly dead, and over his face a handkerchief bathed in tears; and soon after, somebody or other pretended to a revelation of this man's beatitude. It was a rare grief that was noted in this man, which begot in that age a confidence of his being saved: and that confidence (as things then went) was quickly called a revelation. But it was a stranger severity which is related by Thomas Cantipratanus, concerning a young gentleman condemned for robbery and violence, who had so deep a sense of his sin, that he was not content with a single death, but begged to be tormented, and cut in pieces joint by joint, with intermedial senses, that he might, by such a smart, signify a great sorrow. Some have given great estates to the poor and to religion; some have built colleges for holy persons; many have suffered martyrdom: and though those that died under the conduct of the Maccabees, in defence of their country and religion, had pendants on their breasts consecrated to the idols of the Mamnenses; yet that they gave their lives in such a cause with so great a duty, (the biggest things they could do or give,) it was esteemed to prevail hugely towards the pardon and acceptation of their persons. An heroic action of virtue in a huge compendium of religion: for if it be attained to by the usual measures and progress of a Christian from inclination to act, from act to habit, from habit to abode, from abode to reigning, from reigning to perfect possession, from possession to extraordinary emanations, that is, to heroic actions, then it must needs do the work of man, by being so great towards the work of God: but if a man comes thither per saltum, or on a sudden, (which is seldom seen,) then it supposes the man always well inclined, but abused by accident or hope, by confidence or ignorance; then it supposes the man for the present in a great fear of evil, and a passionate desire of pardon; it supposes his apprehensions great and his time little; and what the event of that will be no man can tell; but it is certain that to some purposes God will account for our religion on our death-bed, not by the measures of our time, but the eminency of affection; (as said Celestine the First;127127Vera ad Deum conversio in ultimis positorum mente potius est aestimanda quam tempore. Cel. P. ep ii. c. 9. Vera conversio scil. ab infidelitate ad finem Christi per bapts) that is, supposing the man in the state of grace, or in the revealed possibility of salvation, then an heroical act hath the reward of a longer series of good actions in an even and ordinary course of virtue.
8. In what can remain for the perfecting of a sick man's repentance, he is to be helped by the ministries of a spiritual guide.
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