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Rules for the Manner of Visitation of Sick Persons.
1. Let the minister of religion be sent to, not only against the agony or death, but be advised with in the whole conduct of the sickness; for in sickness indefinitely, and therefore in every sickness, and therefore in such which are not mortal, which end in health, which have no agony or final temptations, St. James gives the advice; and the sick man, being bound to require them, is also tied to do it, when he can know them and his own necessity. It is a very great evil both in the matter of prudence and piety that they fear the priest as they fear the embalmer or the sexton's spade; and love not to converse with him unless they can converse with no man else; and think his office so much to relate to the other world that he is not to be treated with while we hope to live in this; and, indeed, that our religion be taken care of only when we die: and the event is this, (of which I have seen some sad experience,) that the man is deadly sick, and his reason is useless, and he is laid to sleep, and his life is in the confines of the grave, so that he can do nothing towards the trimming of his lamp; and the curate shall say a few prayers by him, and talk to a dead man, and the man is not in a condition to be helped but in a condition to need it hugely. He cannot be called upon to confess his sins, and he is not able to remember them, and he cannot understand an advice, nor hear a free discourse, nor be altered from a passion, nor cured of his fear, nor comforted upon any grounds of reason or religion, and no man can tell what is likely to be his fate; or, if he does, he cannot prophesy good things concerning him, but evil. Let the spiritual man come when the sick man can be conversed withal and instructed, when he can take medicine and amend, when he understands or can be taught to understand the case of his soul, and the rules of his conscience; and then his advice may turn into advantage; it cannot otherwise be useful.
2.The intercourses of the minister with the sick man have so much variety in them that they are not to be transacted at once; and therefore they do not well that send once to see the good man with sorrow, and hear him pray and thank him, and dismiss him civilly, and desire to see his face no more. To dress a soul for funeral is not a work to be dispatched at one meeting: at first he needs a comfort, and anon something to make him willing to die; and by and by he is tempted to impatience, and that needs a special cure; and it is a great work to make his confessions well and with advantages; and it may be the man is careless and indifferent, and then he needs to understand the evil of his sin, and the danger of his person; and his cases of conscience may be so many and so intricate that he is not quickly to be reduced to peace, and one time the holy man must pray, and another time he must exhort, a third time administer the holy sacrament; and he that ought to watch all the periods and little portions of his life, lest he should be surprised and overcome, had need be watched when he is sick, and assisted and called upon and reminded of the several parts of his duty in every instant of his temptation. This article was well provided for among the easterlings; for the priests in their visitations, of a sick person did abide in their attendance and ministry for seven days together. The want of this makes the visitations fruitless, and the calling of the clergy contemptible, while it is not suffered to imprint its proper effects upon them that need it in a lasting ministry.
3. St. James advises that when a man is sick he should send for the elders;150150James, v. 14. one sick man for many presbyters; and so did the eastern churches,151151Gabriel in 4. sent. dist. 23. they sent for seven; and like a college of physicians they ministered spiritual remedies, and sent up prayers like a choir of singing clerks. In cities they might do so while the Christians were few and the priests many. But when they that dwelt in the pagi, or villages, ceased to be Pagans, and were baptized, it grew to be an impossible felicity, unless in few cases, and to some more eminent persons: but because they need it most God hath taken care that they may best have it; and they that can are not very prudent if they neglect it.
4. Whether they be many or few that are sent to the sick person, let the curate of his parish, or his own confessor, be amongst them; that is, let him not be wholly advised by strangers who know not his particular necessities; but he that is the ordinary judge cannot safely be passed by in his extraordinary necessity, which in so great portions depends upon his whole life past: and it is a matter of suspicion, when we decline his judgment that knows us best, and with whom we formerly did converse either by choice or by law, by private election or public constitution. It concerns us then to make severe and profitable judgments, and not to conspire against ourselves, or procure such assistances which may handle us softly, or comply with our weaknesses more than relieve our necessities.
5. When the ministers of religion are come, first let them do their ordinary offices, that is, pray for grace to the sick man for patience, for resignation, for health, (if it seems good to God in order to his great ends.) For that is one of the ends of the advice of the apostle. And therefore the minister is to be sent for not while the case is desperate, but before the sickness is come to its crisis or period. Let him discourse concerning the causes of sickness, and by a general instrument move him to consider concerning his condition. Let him call upon him to set his soul in order; to trim his lamp; to dress his soul; to renew acts of grace by way of prayer; to make amends in all the evils he hath done; and to supply all the defects of duty as much as his past condition requires, and his present can admit.
6. According as the condition of the sickness or the weakness of the man is observed, so the exhortation is to be less, and the prayers more, because the life of the man was his main preparatory; and, therefore, if his condition be full of pain and infirmity, the shortness and small number of his own acts is to be supplied by the acts of the ministers and standers-by, who are in such case to speak more to God for him than to talk to him. For the prayer of the righteous,152152James, v. 16. when it is fervent, hath a promise to prevail much in behalf the sick person. But exhortations must prevail with their own proper weight, not by the passion of the speaker. But yet this assistance by way of prayers is not to be done by long offices, but by frequent and fervent and holy; in which offices, if the sick man joins, let them be short and apt to comply with his little strength and great infirmities: if they be said in his behalf without his conjunction, they that pray may prudently use their liberty, and take no measures but their own devotions and opportunities, and the sick man's necessities.
When he hath made this general address and preparatory entrance to the work of many days and periods, he may descend to particulars by the following instruments and discourses.
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