Page images
PDF
EPUB

will, and religious acts and devotion, of the party that receives them. And therefore all fools, and distracted persons, and children, and lethargical and apoplectical people, or that are any ways senseless and incapable of human and reasonable acts, are to be assisted' only by prayers.

Note also, That in cases of necessity, where the sacrament cannot be so conveniently administered, the sick may be admonished to receive it spiritually, i. e. by representing the symbols of the body and blood of our Lord to his mind, and applying them to himself by faith, with the same preparations of faith and repentance as if they were really present. For no doubt but God, in such a case, who considers all things with exact justice, and chiefly respects the sincerity of our hearts and intentions, will excuse the absence of the outward and visible sign, when necessity, and not contempt or neglect, was the occasion of it.

SECT. IV.

Of applying Spiritual Remedies to the unreasonable Fears and Dejections of the Sick.

IT sometimes happens that good men, especially such as have tender consciences, impatient of the least sin, to which they are arrived by a long habit of grace and a continual observation of their ways, overact their part, and turn their tenderness into scruples, and are too much dejected and doubtful concerning their future salvation. In such a case, the minister is to represent to them, that the man who is jealous of himself is always in the safest condition; that if he fears on his deathbed, it is but what happens to most

considering men; and that therefore to fear nothing then is either a singular felicity or a dangerous presumption.

But to restrain the extravagance of fear, let him be reminded of the terms of the gospel :—that it is a covenant of grace and mercy to all: that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners:" that he continues" our Advocate in heaven," and daily "intercedes" with his Father for us: that the whole heavenly host rejoices at the conversion of a sinner: that the angels are deputed by God to be our guardians against violent surprises and temptations: that there are different degrees of glory in heaven; so that, if we arrive not at the greatest, we may yet hope, by divine mercy, that we should not be excluded the less that God hath promised to hear the "prayers of the righteous" for his servants: that he labours with us by his Spirit, and as it were "beseeches us, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to him;" 2 Cor. v. 20: that, of all his attributes, he glories in none so much as in the titles of mercy and forgiveness: that therefore we do injustice to the Father of mercies, if we retain such hard thoughts and suspicions of him: that God calls upon us to forgive our brother "seventy times seven;" and yet all that is but like the forgiving "a hundred pence" for his sake, who forgives us "ten thousand talents:" and therefore if we are ordered to show such an unrestrained temper of forgiveness, it is only to animate us to trust in God's much more unbounded mercy.

By these and the like arguments the spiritual man may raise the drooping spirits of good men in their causeless dejections. But because there are many

other cases of the like nature, which the physician of souls will meet with in visiting his neighbours, especially such as are of melancholy dispositions, it may not be improper to mark the principal of them here, and to prescribe the remedies.

Considerations to be offered to Persons under Religious Melancholy.

1. Some truly religious persons are under sad apprehensions of not being in the favour of God, because they find their devotions to be very often cold, their prayers distracted, and their delight in spiritual matters not to be so great and permanent as their pleasure and satisfaction are in the things of the world.

Now to such as have made religion the great business of their lives, who have endeavoured to cure those distracted thoughts they complain of, and to inflame their souls with divine love, it may be offered, that the different degrees of affection with which men serve God do very often depend upon the difference of their tempers and constitutions; since some are naturally so dull and heavy as to be little affected with any thing; whilst others are of such a tender make as to be affected almost with every thing, so as to be soon exalted with joy or depressed with sorrow: that sickness, losses, and all afflictions, and even religion itself, in its long and continual exercise of self-denial and thoughtfulness, do naturally produce such a tenderness of spirit that the best of men have never been able at all times to keep their affections at an equal height that the zeal and warmth with which some are affected is not always an argument of their good

ness that a sensible pleasure in religious exercises, wherein the passions are affected, is not so acceptable to God as a reasonable service: that distraction of thought in the service of God is owing, for the most part, to bodily weakness; and therefore, if we do not give way to it, but do all we can to suppress those wandering thoughts, we may be assured we shall never be blamed for being subject to that which, by reason of the weakness of our nature, we cannot help: that the first motions of our mind, as it is impossible to hinder them, are reckoned by all divines not to be sinful, provided we do not encourage them.

2. Some are extremely dejected, because, upon strict examination of themselves, they find, as they think, all their religion to be owing to their fears; and fear being a slavish and sordid passion, they are apt to conclude, that all those services which are not the result of a more noble principle will be rejected by God, since, as he is all love, and goodness, and perfection, he will not be pleased, they think, with any sacrifice but what is offered by love.

And to this sad purpose some have interpreted Rev. xxi. 8. to belong to them, where the fearful are joined together with the most abominable, who shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.

To cure the depraved and unhappy notions of such as these, it may be argued; that it is plain from Scripture, that the first beginnings of or movements towards a holy life are usually owing to the passion of fear that to this, both our Saviour and his apostles do all along address themselves in their earnest entreaties of mankind to turn from the ways of sin to

[ocr errors]

God." Fear him," saith our Saviour, "who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," Matth. x. 28; so chap. vi. 15; Mark xvi. 16. And to this purpose the apostle says, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," Phil. ii. 12; and 2 Cor. v. 11. "Knowing the terrors of the Lord," saith he, "we persuade men." And in most of the Scripture proofs we shall find the chief argument of religion to be urged from a fear of punishment for the neglect thereof: so that to be dejected and render our lives comfortless on this account were the most unreasonable extravagance; since this were to suppose that God hath implanted the passion of fear in us in vain; or, what is worse, only to vex and torment us; and that our Saviour and his apostles, persuading us to be religious from the terrors of the Lord, had deceived and misled us.

And as for that text, Rev. xxi. 8,-"The fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," &c.; it is plain, that by the fearful in this place is meant, either such as refuse to embrace the Christian religion, or who, having embraced it, are afraid to continue steadfast to the end, on account of the cross; and therefore cannot be supposed to have any reference to those who are "working out their salvation with fear and trembling,” according to the direction of the gospel. Not but that we are to intermix with this fear an entire love and affection to God, to the utmost of our powers.

3. Some very pious but unhappy persons are grievously tormented with wicked and blasphemous

« PreviousContinue »