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Of ministering in the Sick Mans Confession of Sins and Repentance.

The first necessity that is to be served is that of repentance, in which the ministers can in no way serve him but by first exhorting him to confession of his sins, and declaration of the state of his soul. For unless they know the manner of his life, and the degrees of his restitution, either they can do nothing at all, or nothing of advantage and certainty. His discourses, like Jonathan's arrows, may shoot short or shoot over, but not wound where they should, nor open those humours that need a lancet or a cautery. To this purpose the sick man may be reminded:—

Arguments and Exhortations to move the Sick Man to Confession of Sins.

1. That God hath made a special promise to confession of sins. ‘He that confesseth his sins, and forsaketh them, shall have mercy;' and ‘If we confess our sins, God is righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'153153John i. 9. 2. That confession of sins is a proper act and introduction to repentance. 3. That when the Jews, being warned by the sermons of the Baptist, repented of their sins, they confessed their sins to John in the susception of baptism.154154Matt. iii. 6. 4. That the converts in the days of the apostles, returning to Christianity, instantly declared their faith and their repentance by confession and declaration of their deeds,155155Acts, xix. 18. which they then renounced, abjured, and confessed to the apostles. 5. That confession is an act of many virtues together. 6. It is the gate of repentance. 7. An instrument of shame and condemnation of our sins. 8. A glorification of God, so called by Joshua, particularly in the case of Achan. 9. An acknowledgment that God is just in punishing; for by confessing of our sins we also confess his justice, and are assessors with God in this condemnation of ourselves. 10. That by such an act of judging ourselves, we escape the more angry judgment of God; St. Paul expressly exhorting us to it upon that very inducement.1561561 Cor. xi. 31. 11. That confession of sins is so necessary a duty, that, in all Scriptures, it is the immediate preface to pardon, and the certain consequence of godly sorrow, and an integral or constituent part of that grace which, together with faith, makes up the whole duty of the gospel. 12. That in all ages of the gospel it hath been taught and practised respectively, that all the penitents made confessions proportionable to their repentance, that is, public or private, general or particular. 13. That God, by testimonies from heaven, that is by his word, and by a consequent rare peace of conscience, hath given approbation to this holy duty. 14. That by this instrument those whose office it is to apply remedies to every spiritual sickness can best perform their offices. 15. That it is by all churches esteemed a duty necessary to be done in cases of a troubled conscience. 16. That what is necessary to be done in one case, and convenient in all cases, is fit to be done by all persons. 17. That without confession it cannot easily be judged concerning the sick person whether his conscience ought to be troubled or no, and therefore it cannot be certain that it is not necessary. 18. That there can be no reason against it, but such as consults with flesh and blood, with infirmity and sin, to all which confession of sins is a direct enemy. 19. That now is that time when all the imperfections of his repentance and all the breaches of his duty are to be made up, and that if he omits this opportunity he can never be admitted to a salutary and medicinal confession. 20. That St. James gives an express precept that we Christians should confess our sins to each other,157157Si tacuerit qui percussus est, et non egerit paenitentiam, nec vulnus suum fratri et magistro voluerit confiteri, magister qui linguam habet ad curandum, facile ci prodesse non poterit. Si enim erubeseat aegrotus vulnus medico coniteri, quod ignorat medicina non curat. St. Hierom. ad caput 10. Ecces. Si enim hoc fecerimus, et revelaverimus peccata nostra non sol im Deo, sed et his qui possunt mederi vulneribus nostris atque peccatis, delebuntur peccata nostra. — Orig. Hom. 17 in Lucam. that is, Christian to Christian, brother to brother, the people to their minister; and then he makes a specification of that duty which a sick man is to do when he hath sent for the elders of the church. 21. That in all this there is no more lies upon him; but ‘if he hides his sins he shall not be directed,' so said the wise man; but ere long he must appear before the great Judge of men and angels; and his spirit will be more amazed and confounded to be seen among the angels of light with the shadows of the works of darkness upon him, than he can suffer by confessing to God in the presence of him whom God hath sent to heal him. However, it is better to be ashames here than to be confounded hereafter. “Polpudere praestat quam pigere, totidem literis.158158Plaut. Trinum. 22. That confession being in order to pardon of sins, it is very proper and analogical to the nature of the thing that it be made there where the pardon of sins is to be administered; and that of pardon of sins God hath made the minister the publisher and dispenser; and all this is besides the accidental advantages which accrue to the conscience, which is made ashamed and timorous, and restrained by the mortifications and blushings of discovering to a man the faults committed in secret. 23. That the ministers of the gospel are the ministers of reconciliation, are commanded to restore such persons as are overtaken in a fault; and to that purpose they come to offer their ministry, if they may have cognizance of the fault and person. 24. That in the matter of prudence it is not safe to trust a man's self in the final condition and last security of a man's soul, a man being no good judge of his own case. And when a duty is so useful to all cases, so necessary in some, and encouraged by promises evangelical, by Scripture precedents, by the example of both Testaments, and prescribed by injunctions apostolical, and by the canon of all churches, and the example of all ages, and taught us even by the proportions of duty, and the analogy to the power of ministerial, and the very necessities of every man; he that for stubbornness or sinful shamefacedness, or prejudice, or any other criminal weakness, shall decline to do it in the days of his danger, when the vanities of the world are worn off, and all affections to sin are wearied, and the sin itself is pungent and grievous, and that we are certain we shall not escape shame for them hereinafter, unless we be ashamed of them here,159159Qui homo culpam admisit in se, nullus est tam parvi pretis quin pudent, quin purget sese.—Plaut. Aulul, act. iv. sc. 10. 60. and use all the proper instruments of their pardon; this man, I say, is very near death, but very far off from the kingdom of heaven.

2. The spiritual man will find in the conduct of this duty many cases and varieties of accidents which will alter his course and forms of proceedings. Most men are of a rude indifferency, apt to excuse themselves, ignorant of their condition abused by evil principles, content with a general and indefinite confession; and, if you provoke them to it by the forgoing considerations, lest their spirits should be a little uneasy, or not secured in their own opinions, will be apt to say they are sinners, as every man hath his infirmity, and he as well as any man: but, God be thanked, they bear no ill-will to any man, or are no adulterers, or no rebels, or they have fought on the right side; and God be merciful to them, for they are sinners. But you shall hardly open their breasts further; and to inquire beyond this would be to do the office of an accuser.

3. But which is yet worse, there are very many persons who have been so used to an habitual course of a constant intemperance, or dissolution in any other instance, that the crime is made natural and necessary, and the conscience hath digested all the trouble, and the man thinks himself to a good estate, and never reckons any sins but those which are the egressions and passings beyond his ordinary and daily drunkenness. This happens in the case of drunkenness and intemperate eating and idleness and uncharitableness, and in lying and vain jestings, and particularly in such evils which the laws do not punish, and public customs do not shame, but which are countenanced by potent sinners, or evil customs, or good nature and mistaken civilities.

Instruments by way of Consideration, to awaken a careless Person, and a stupid Conscience.

In these and the like cases the spiritual man must awaken the lethargy, and prick the conscience, by representing to him, 1. That Christianity is a holy and a strict religion. 2. That many are called, but few are chosen. That the number of them that are to be saved is but a very few in respect of those that are to descent into sorrow and everlasting darkness. That we have covenanted with God in baptism to live a holy life. That the measures of holiness in the Christian religion are not to be taken by the evil proportions of the multitude and common fame of looser and less severe persons; because the multitude is that which does not enter into heaven, but the few, the elect, the holy servants of Jesus. That every habitual sin does amount to a very great guilt in the whole, though it be but in a small instance. That if the righteous scarcely be saved, then there will be no place for the unrighteous and the sinner to appear in but places of horrow and amazement. That confidence hath destroyed many souls, and many have had a sad portion who have reckoned themselves in the calendar of saints. That the promises of heaven are so great that it is not reasonable to think that every man and every life and an easy religion shall possess such infinite glories. That although heaven is a gift, yet there is a great severity and strict exacting of the conditions on our part to receive that gift. That some persons who have lived strictly for forty years together, yet have misearned by some one crime at last, or some secret hypocrisy, or a latent pride, or a creeping ambition, or a fantastic spirit; and therefore much less can they hope to receive so great portions of felicities, when their life hath been a continual declination from those severities which might have created confidence of pardon and acceptation through the mercies of God and the merits of Jesus. That every good man ought to be suspicious of himself, and in his judgment concerning his own condition to fear the worst that he may provide for the better. That we are commanded to work our out salvation with fear and trembling. That this precept was given with great reason, considering the thousand thousand ways of miscarrying. That St. Paul himself, and St. Arenius and St. Elzearius and divers other remarkable saints, had at some times great apprehensions of the dangers of failing of the mighty price of their high calling. That the stake that is to be secured is of so great an interest that all our industry and all the violatences we can suffer in the prosecution of it are not considerable. That this affair is to be done but once, and then never any more unto eternal ages. That they who profess themselves servants of the institution, and servants of the law and discipline of Jesus, will find that they must judge themselves by the proportions of that law by which they were to rule themselves. That the laws of society and civility, and the voices of my company are as ill judges as they are guides; but we are to stand or fall by his sentence who will not consider or value the talk of idle men or the persuasion of wilfully-abused consciences, but of him who hath felt our infirmity in all things but sin, and knows where our failings are unavoidable, and where, and in what degree they are excusable; but never will endure a sin should seize upon any part of our love and deliberate choice or careless cohabitation. That if our conscience accuse us not, yet are we not hereby justified; for God is greater than our consciences. That they who are most innocent have their consciences most tender and sensible. That scrupulous persons are always most religious; and that to feel nothing is not a sign of life, but of death. That nothing can be hid from the eyes of the Lord, to whom the day and the night, public and private, words and thoughts, actions and desires, are equally discernible. That a lukewarm person is only secured in his own thoughts, but very unsafe in the event, and despised by God. That we live in an age in which that which is called and esteemed a holy life, in the days of the apostles and holy primitives would have been esteemed indifferent, sometimes scandalous, and always cold. That what was a truth of God then is so now; and to what severities they were tied, for the same also we are to be accountable; and heaven is not now an easier purchase than it was then. That if he will cast up his accounts, even with a superficial eye, let him consider how few good works he hath done; how inconsiderable is the relief which he gave to the poor; how little are the extraordinaries of his religion; and how inactive and lame, how polluted and disordered, how unchosen and unpleasant were the ordinary parts and periods of it; and how many and great sins have stained his course of life; and till he enters into a particular scrutiny, let him only revolve in his mind what his general course hath been; and, in the way of prudence, let him say whether it was landable and holy or only indifferent and excusable; and if he can think it only excusable, and so as to hope for pardon by such suppletories of faith and arts of persuasion which he and others used to take in for auxiliaries to their unreasonable confidence, then he cannot but think it very fit that he search into his own state, and take a guide, and erect a tribunal, or appear before that which Christ hath erected for him on earth, that he may make his access fairer when he shall be called before the dreadful tribunal of Christ in the clouds.160160Illi mers gravis incubat, qui notus nimis omuibus, igortus moritur sihi.—Thyest. 401. For if he can be confident upon the stock of an unpraised or a looser life, and should dare to venture upon wild accounts, without order, without abatements, without consideration, without conduct, without fear, without scrutinies and confessions and instruments of amends or pardon, he either knows not his danger or cares not for it, and little understands how great a horror that is that a man should rest his head for ever upon a cradle of flames, and lie in a bed of sorrows, and never sleep, and never end his groans or the gnashing of his teeth.

This is that which some spiritual persons call a wakening of the sinner by the terrors of the law, which is a good analogy or tropical expression to represent the threatenings of the Gospel, and the dangers of an incurious and a sinning person; but we have nothing else to do with the terrors of the law, for, blessed be God, they concern us not. The terrors of the law were the intermination of curses upon all those that ever broke any of the least commandments once or in any instance; and to it the righteousness of faith is opposed. The terrors of the law admitted no repentance, no pardon, no abatement, and were so severe that God never inflicted them at all according to the letter, because he admitted all to repentance that desired it with a timely prayer, unless in very few cases, as of Achan, or Korah the gatherer of sticks upon the Sabbath day, or the like; but the state of threatenings in the Gospel is very fearful, because the conditions of avoiding them are easy and ready, and they happen to evil persons after many warnings, second thoughts, frequent invitations to pardon and repentance, and after one entire pardon consigned in baptism. And in this sense it is necessary that such persons as we now deal withal should be instructed concerning their danger.

4. When the sick man is, either of himself or by these considerations, set forward with purposes of repentance and confession of his sins, in order to all its holy purposes and effects then the minister is to assist him in the understanding the number of his sins, that is, the several kinds of them, and the various manners of prevaricating the divine commandments: for, as for the number of the particulars in every kind, he will need less help; and if he did he can have it nowhere but in his own conscience and from the witnesses of his conversation. Let this be done by prudent insinuation, by arts of remembrance, and secret notices, and propounding occasions and instruments of recalling such things to his mind, which either by public fame he is accused of, or by the temptations of his condition it is likely he might have contracted.

5. If the person be truly penitent, and forward to confess all that are set before him, or offered to his sight at a half face, then he may be complied withal in all his innocent circumstances, and his conscience made placid and willing, and he be drawn forward by good-nature and civility, that his repentance in all the parts of it, and in every step of its progress and emanation, may be as voluntary and chosen as it can. For by that means, if the sick person can be invited to do the work of religion, it enters by the door of his will and choice, and will pass on toward consummation by the instrument of delight.

6. If the sick man be backward and without apprehension of the good-natured and civil way, let the minister take care that by some way or other the work of God be secured; and if he will not understand when he is secretly prompted, he must be hallowed to, and asked in plain interrogatives concerning the crime of his life. He must be told of the evil things that are spoken of him in markets and exchanges, the proper temptations and accustomed evils of his calling and condition, of the actions of scandal; and in all those actions which are public, or of which any notice is come abroad, let care be taken that the right side of the case of conscience be turned toward him, and the error truly represented to him by which he was abused, as the injustice of his contracts, his oppressive bargains, his rapine and violence; and if he hath persuaded himself to think well of a scandalous action, let him be instructed and advertised of his folly and his danger.

7. And this advice concerns the minister of religion to follow without partiality, or fear, or interest, in much simplicity, and prudence, and hearty sincerity; having no other consideration but that the interest of the man's soul be preserved, and no caution used but that the matter be represented with just circumstances and civilities, fitted to the person with prefaces of honour and regard; but so that nothing of the duty be diminished by it, that the introduction do not spoil the sermon, and both together ruin two souls, of the speaker and the hearer. For it may soon be considered, if the sick man be a poor or an indifferent person in secular account, yet his soul is equally dear to God, and was redeemed with the same highest price, and therefore to be highly regarded; and there is no temptation but that the spiritual man may speak freely without the allays of interest, or fear, or mistaken civilities. But if the sick man be a prince, or a person of eminence or wealth, let it be remembered it is an ill expression of reverence to his authority, or of regard to his person, to let him perish for the want of an honest, and just, and free homily.

8. Let the sick man, in the scrutiny of his conscience and confession of his sins, be carefully reminded to consider those sins which are only condemned in the court of conscience, and nowhere else. For there are certain secresies and retirements, places of darkness and artificial veils, with which the devil uses to hide our sins from us, and to incorporate them into our affections by a constant uninterrupted practice before they be prejudiced or discovered. 1. There are many sins which have reputation and are accounted honour; as fighting a duel, answering a blow with a blow, carrying armies into a neighbour-country, robbing with a navy, violently seizing upon a kingdom. 2. Others are permitted by law, as usury in all countries; and because every excuse of it is a certain sin, the permission of so suspected a matter makes it ready for us, and instructs the temptation. 3. Some things are not forbidden by laws, as lying in ordinary discourse, jeering, scoffing, intemperate eating, ingratitude, selling too high, circumventing another in contracts, importunate entreaties, and temptation of persons to many instances of sin, pride, and ambition. 4. Some others do not reckon they sin against God if the laws have seized upon the person; and many that are imprisoned for debt think themselves disobliged from payment, and when they pay the penalty think they owe nothing for the scandal and disobedience. 5. Some sins are thought not considerable, but go under the title of sins of infirmity, or inseparable accidents of mortality; such as idle thoughts, foolish talking, looser revellings, impatience, anger, and all the events of evil company. 6. Lastly, many things are thought to be no sins; such as mispending of their time, whole days or months of useless and impertinent employment, long gaming, winning men's money in greater portions, censuring men's actions, curiosity, equivocating in the prices and secrets of buying and selling, rudeness, speaking truths enviously, doing good to evil purposes, and the like. Under the dark shadow of these unhappy and fruitless yew-trees the enemy of mankind makes very many to lie hid from themselves, sewing before their nakedness the fig-leaves of popular and idol reputation and impunity, public permission, a temporal penalty, infirmity, prejudice, and direct error in judgment and ignorance. Now in all these cases the ministers are to be inquisitive and observant, lest the fallacy prevail upon the penitent to evil purposes of death or diminution of his good; and that those things, which in his life passed without observation, may now be brought forth, and pass under saws and harrows, that is, the severity and censure of sorrow and condemnation.

9. To which I add, for the likeness of the thing, that the matters of omission be considered, for in them lies the bigger half of our failings; and yet, in many instances, they are undiscerned, because they very often sit down by the conscience but never upon it; and they are usually looked upon as poor men's do upon their not having coach and horses, or as that knowledge is missed by boys and hinds which they never had; it will be hard to make them understand their ignorance - it requires knowledge to perceive it, and therefore he that can perceive it hath it not. But by this pressing the conscience with omissions, I do not mean recessions or distances from states of eminency or perfection; for although they may be used by the ministers as an instrument of humility, and a chastiser of too big a confidence, yet that which is to be confessed and repented of is omission of duty in direct instances and matters of commandment, or collateral and personal obligations, and is especially to be considered by kings and prelates, by governors and rich persons, by guides of souls and presidents of learning in public charge, and by all other in their proportions.

10. The ministers of religion must take care that the sick man's confession be as minute and particular as it can, and that as few sins as may be, be entrusted to the general prayer of pardon for all sins; for by being particular and enumerative of the variety of evils which have disordered his life, his repentance is disposed to be more pungent and afflictive, and therefore more salutary and medicinal; it hath in it more sincerity, and makes a better judgment of the final condition of the man; and from thence it is certain the hopes of the sick man can be more confident and reasonable.

11. The spiritual man that assists at the repentance of the sick must not be inquisitive into all the circumstances of the particular sins, but be content with those that are direct parts of the crime and aggravations of the sorrow; such as frequency, long abode, and earnest choice in acting them; violent desires, great expense, scandal of others, dishonour to the religion, days of devotion, religious solemnities, and holy places; and the degrees of boldness and impudence, perfect resolution, and the habit. If the sick person be reminded or inquired into concerning these, it may prove a good instrument to increase his contrition, and perfect his penitential sorrows, and facilitate his absolution and the means of his amendment. But the other circumstances, as of the relative person in the participation of the crime, the measures or circumstances of the impure action, the name of the injured man or woman, the quality or accidental condition; these and all the like are but questions springing from curiosity, and producing scruple, and apt to turn into many inconveniences.

12. The minister in this duty of repentance must be diligent to observe concerning the person that repents, that he be not imposed upon by some one excellent thing that was remarkable in the sick man's former life.161161Nune si depositum non inficiatur amicus, So reddat veterem cum tota aerugine follem, Prodigicsa fides et Thuscis digna libellis. Juven. Sat. xiii. 62. For there are some people of one good thing. Some are charitable to the poor out of kind-heartedness; and the same good nature makes them easy and compliant with drinking persons; and they die with drink but cannot live with charity; and their alms, it may be, shall deck their monument, or give them the reward of loving persons, and the poor man's thanks for alms, and procure many temporal blessings; but it is very sad that the reward should be soon spent in this world. Some are rarely just persons and punctual observers of their word with men, but break their promises with God, and make no scruple of that. In these and all the like cases, the spiritual man must be careful to remark, that good proceeds from an entire and integral cause, and evil from every part; that one sickness can make a man die, but he cannot live and be called a sound man without an entire health; and therefore, if any confidence arises upon that stock, so as that it hinders the strictness of the repentance, it must be allayed with the representment of this sad truth “that he who reserves one evil in his choice hath chosen an evil portion,” and coloquintida and death is in the pot; and he that worships the God of Israel with a frequent sacrifice, and yet upon the anniversary will bow in the house of Venus, and loves to see the follies and the nakedness of Rimmon, may eat part of the flesh of the sacrifice and fill his belly, but shall not be refreshed by the holy cloud arising from the alter, or the dew of heaven descending upon the mysteries.

13. And yet the minister is to estimate, that one or more good things is to be an ingredient into his judgment concerning the state of his soul, and the capacities of his restitution, and admission to the peace of the church; and according as the excellency and usefulness of the grace hath been, and according to the degrees and the reasons of its prosecution, so abatements are to be made in the injunctions and impositions upon the penitent. For every virtue is one degree of approach to God; and though in respect of the acceptation it is equally none at all, that is, it is as certain a death if a man dies with one mortal wound as if he had twenty: yet in such persons who have some one or more excellences, though not an entire piety, there is naturally a nearer approach to the estate of grace than in persons who have done evils and are eminent for nothing that is good. But in making judgment of such persons, it is to be inquired into and noted accordingly, why the sick person was so eminent in that one good thing; whether by choice and apprehension of his duty, or whether it was a virtue from which his state of life ministered nothing to dehort or discourse him, or whether it was only a consequent of his natural temper and constitution. If the first, then, it supposes him in the neighbourhood of the state of grace, and that in other things he was strongly tempted. The second is a felicity of his education, and an effect of Providence. The third is felicity of his nature, and a gift of God in order to spiritual purposes. But yet of every one of these advantages is to be made. If the conscience of his duty was the principle, then he is ready formed to entertain all other graces upon the same reason, and his repentance must be made more sharp and penal; because he is convinced to have done against his conscience in all the other parts of his life; but the judgment concerning his final state ought to be more gentle, because it was a huge temptation that hindered the man and abused his infirmity. But if either his calling or his nature were the parents of the grace, he is in the state of a moral man, (in the just and proper meaning of the word,) and to be handled accordingly; that virtue disposed him rarely well to many other good things, but was no part of the grace of sanctification; and therefore the man's repentance is to begin anew, for all that, and is to be finished in the returns of health, if God grants it; but if he denies it, it is much, very much, the worse for all that sweet-natured virtue.

14. When the confession is made, the spiritual man is to execute the office of a restorer and a judge in the following particulars and manner.

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