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nounce their pardon, if they find them qualified; for this is their commission from Christ's own mouth, Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them.
But then we dare not take upon us to exercise this authority, until sinners give such signs of a sincere faith and true repentance, as may persuade one charitably to believe, that amendment of life will follow, if God shall think fit to grant them longer time.
At the same time, therefore, that we are bound to encourage penitents earnestly to desire absolution, and to exhort them to receive the Lord's supper, as a pledge to assure them of pardon; we must sincerely admonish them not to hope for any
benefit either from the one or the other, but upon condition of their sincere repentance.
It will be proper, therefore, before absolution, and for more satisfaction, to ask the sick person some such questions as these:
Have you considered the sins which you have been most subject to?
Åre you convinced that it is an evil thing and bitter to forsake the Lord ? Are
you resolved to avoid all temptations, and occasions of the sins you have now repented of?
Do you verily believe that you shall not fall into any of these sins again?
If you should do so, will you immediately beg God's pardon, and be more watchful over yourself? Will
you strive with all your might to overcome the corruptions of your nature, by prayers, by fasting, and by self-denial ? Do
you purpose, if God shall prolong your days, to bring forth fruits meet for repentance ?
Are you in perfect charity with all the world ?
Every Christian, whose life has been, in the main, unblameaþle, and whose repentance has thus been particularly examined, and who has given a satisfactory answer to these questions, ought not to leave the world without the benefit of absolution, which he should be earnestly pressed to desire, and exhorted to dispose himself to receive, as the church has appointed.
CONCERNING HABITUAL SINNERS. If a person of this character be visited with sickness, a prudent pastor will not presently apply comfort, or give him assurances of pardon; he will rather strive to increase his sorrow to such a height, as, if God should spare him, might produce a repentance not to be repented of.
It was thus (as Dr. Hammond observes) that God himself dealt with such kind of sinners,
The children of Israel did evil again; that is, they went on in their wickedness, upon which God sorely distresses them. They cried unto God, but he answers them, I will deliver
you no more. However, this did not make them utterly to despair ; for they knew that his mercy had no bounds; they therefore still went on to apply to him for pardon and help, and resolved to do what was at present in their power towards a reformation ;--at last God was prevailed on to accept and deliver them.
And thus should we deal with habitual sinners :-we should not break the bruised reed ;-we should indeed give them assurances of pardon, upon their sincere repentance : but forasmuch as it is very hard, even for themselves to know, whether their sorrow and resolutions are such as would bring forth fruit answerable to amendment of life: all that a confessor can do is, to exhort such persons to do all that is in their present power ;-to take shame to themselves ;-to give glory to God in a free confession of their crimes, (which St. James saith is of great use towards obtaining their pardon ;)—to pray without ceasing ;-to warn others to beware of falling into the same sad condition ; and to consider, that a wicked life, to which God has threatened eternal fire, cannot be supposed to be forgiven by an easy repentance.
And though the church has no rules in this case to go by, but such as are very afflicting, yet God is not tied to rules ; he sees what is in man, and may finally absolve one whom his ministers dare not, until after a long probation they have reason, in the judgment of charity, to believe that his repentance is sincere,
And this a prudent pastor will be careful to observe, both to prevent the scandal of an hasty absolution, and - because he knows such ministrations do no good to those that receive them.
TO SUCH AS HAVE RECOVERED FROM
AND, in the first place, a pastor should be very careful to put his people in mind, that the first fruits of health should always be offered to God.
And forasmuch as there is nothing more common, nor more to be lamented, than for people in sickness to make very solemn promises of better obedience, and upon their recovery to forget all, and to return to their former careless life;-a pastor will warn them betimes how God hates such backslidings, how unthankful, how provoking it is, and the readiest way to draw down a worse evil, or to be given over to a reprobate mind.
And indeed a man that has received the sentence of death in himself, that has seen the hazard of a death-bed repentance,—that has felt the horror of sin, when it is most frightful;—for such a person to grow secure, is an amazing instance of the corruption of our nature; and therefore it will require a pastor's greatest care to prevent a relapse. Especially to guard his people against general purposes of amendment, which lull the mind asleep; and before people are aware, they are just where they were before sickness seized them.
Ą love for sin returns ;—God is provoked, and grace withdrawn ;--and every relapse makes a Christian's case more desperate.
A Christian, therefore, who is in good earnest, must be put upon rectifying the errors of his life immediately, as he hopes for mercy, whenever God visits him again.
If an idle life has been his fault, he must take to business; -if intemperance, he must at his peril be sober ;if he has been given to appetite, to ease, and to luxury, he must deny himself, and labour to mortify these corrupt affections ;-if he has observed no method of living, he must for the future fix proper times for prayer, for fasting, for retirement, and for calling himself to an account. In short, he must avoid, as much as possible, all occasions and temptations to sin;—if he is overtaken in a fault, he must immediately repent of it, and be more careful; he must not be discouraged with the difficulties he will meet with, for the power of God is sufficient to make a virtuous life possible, easy, and pleasant, to the weakest Christian that depends upon his grace.
Let him therefore be exhorted to persevere in his good
resolutions ;-to depend upon God's power and promises, to assist him to pray daily for light to discover, and for strength to overcome the corruptions of his nature ; and lastly, to be always afraid of backsliding :-and then sickness and death, whenever they come, will be a blessing
And as a faithful discharge of this duty will give a curate of souls the greatest comfort at the hour of death, so there is nothing doth more preserve the authority which a faithful pastor ought to have over his flock.