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For the faithful discharge of which trust they will be accountable to him, their Lord and Master; which consideration ought to make them very careful—to do nothing by prejudice or partiality 1: to use the power which the Lord hath given them for edification, and not for the destruction of his people z.
Then let your people know, that our power is purely spiritual; and that when we force people by fines and imprisonments to submit to discipline, this is by the laws of the land, and we execute those laws, not properly as Christ's ministers, but as subjects to the civil power: for when princes became Christians, and were persuaded that they were answerable to God for the manners of their subjects, they endeavoured to ease themselves of that burden, by putting it into the hands of churchmen, which has had this unhappy effect, that Christians are often more afraid of worldly punishments, than of being denied the holy sacrament and other ordinances of the Christian religion, prescribed for their salvation.
Christians therefore should be made sensible, that as by baptism they are made members of Christ's church and family, children of God; that is, have a right to apply to God with the freedom of children, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven; so, by church censures, they are verily cut off from these privileges, until they sincerely repent of their sins, and are restored by Christ's ministers to the peace of the church.
If any are so foolish as to 3ay, (as some have done,) that they can go to another church, ask them, as the apostle dida, Is Christ divided? that is, is he the head of a party, and not of the whole church? Is not ours a member of that church? Have not Christ's ministers here the same authority from their Lord, as any other Christian bishops and pastors, viz. the authority of binding and loosing? And if we proceed according to the rules of the gospel, and our sentence be confirmed by Christ, what will it profit them, if, for want of being reconciled by their proper pastor, they shall be shut out of heaven?
Read therefore the commission which Jesus Christ has given us; read it to them out of his word b: Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth (proceeding according to the rules of the gospel) shall be bound in heaven, 8fc. and, He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth mec. And whoso despiseth me, or whomsoever I send, despiseth God that sent me d.
v 1 Tim. v. 21. » 2 Cor. xiii. 10. ■ 1 Cor. i. 13. b Matt, xviii. 18.
Let people know, that we take no pleasure in using our authority; that we do not desire to lord it over God's heritage. Our aim and endeavour is, to oblige sinners to change their course of life, and be converted, that their souls may be saved; and that whenever they give us hopes of a sincere repentance, we receive them with open arms and joyful hearts.
Convince them, that it is not to expose offenders that we oblige them to do public penance, but that they may give glory to God, and declare to all the world, that since they have been so unhappy as to dishonour God by breaking his laws, and despising his authority, they are heartily sorry for it, and think it no shame to own it after any manner the church shall order; believing that such a submission to God's ministers will be acceptable to God himself, and a means of obtaining his pardon through their intercession.
Assure them, that in the primitive times Christians begged, with prayers and tears to be admitted to public penance, as the only way to obtain the pardon of their sins; they looked upon it as much a favour, as if a man, who had forfeited his life or estate, could have them restored upon acknowledging his crimes, and promising amendment.
Lastly, let them know for certain, that if the church should not take notice of them, but admit them to her holy offices and sacraments, while they continue impenitent, this would be no more a blessing to them than it was to Judas, of whom the Devil took more sure possession, after he had received the sacrament from our Lord's own hands.
By taking pains to instruct penitents (and your people too out of the pulpit) in these particulars,
Offenders will be brought to a sense of their evil condition ;—they will perform penance after an edifying manner:
You will promote the honour of God, the good of sinners, the truth of religion, and the public weal, and secure the authority of the church.
c John xiii. 20. * Luke x. 16.
OF VISITING THE SICK.
IF one seriously considers how the generality of Christians go out of the world, how ill prepared for eternity, and how seldom such as recover make that good use of sickness which God designs by such visitations; one cannot but wish, that such as have the care of souls would think in good earnest how to improve such momentous occasions to the best advantage.
And surely a good pastor must have a great concern upon his spirits, when any of his flock are visited with sickness.
For if the sickness shall be unto death, here is a soul, in a few days, to enter upon a state of endless happiness or endless misery:—a thought which should make one's heart to tremble.
But if the sick person shall recover, and is not bettered by his sickness, here is, perhaps, the last opportunity (which God may afford that man of seeing the error of his ways) for ever lost; and where the blame will lie, God himself has told usd: He is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
Why, what could the watchman do? He could at least deliver his own soul. But he must do a great deal more: so saith the Spirit of God by Elihue: When a man is chastened with pain upon his bed, and his soul draweth near unto the grave: if there be with him an interpreter, that is, one able to explain the meaning and use of such visitations; if he say, I have sinned, and it profited me not, that is, if he be brought to true repentance; then will God be gracious unto him, and his soul shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.
In short, sickness, whether mortal or not, cometh not by chance, but is a warning for men to prepare for eternity. And it mightily concerns such as have the care of souls not to lose such occasions of doing the greatest good to the souls of men, always remembering, that I was sick, and ye visited me notf, is one of those reasons for which men will be shut out of heaven.
Now, the design of this paper is,—to propose a method of answering the ends of the church in her excellent Office for visiting the sick. That suclras are put into our hands, by the providence of God, may be dealt with as their needs require: whether it be to examine the sincerity of their faith and repentance, or to receive their confession, and administer absolution to such as earnestly desire it; or to awaken the consciences of the careless; to comfort dejected spirits; or lastly, to exhort such as recover to consider the mercy they have received, and to dedicate the remainder of their lives to the service of God.
* Ezek. xxxiii. 6. 'Job xxxiii. f Matth. xiv. 36.
And, in the first place, a good pastor will not always stay till he is sent for. He knows that the repentance of the dead comes too late, and that the fear of death, which is to determine a man's state to all eternity, will make men willing to hear reproof, and to take advice: such an opportunity, therefore, he will not lose, if he can possibly help it.
They that omit the salutation,—Peace be to this house, and to all that dwell in it, or pronounce it so low ,as not to be heard, have not well considered the authority they have, as ministers of Christ, to offer peace and salvation to all that are disposed to receive it S.
If the short litany and prayers following be said with deliberation and devotion, there cannot better be made use of: besides, they are the voice of the church, which will be sure to be heard at the throne of grace.
After these follow two exhortations, which should never be omitted; but then they should be read with very great deliberation, that the sick person may weigh what is said, and receive instruction and comfort from it.
And now, forasmuch as a well-grounded faith in God will be the sick person's best defence against the assaults of the Devilh, who will be sure to tempt him, either to despair of God's mercy, or to presume upon his own righteousness, or to be impatient, and to charge God foolishly; the church, therefore, in the next place directs us—to examine the sick person's faith, that is, whether he believes as a Christian man ought to do, or not and in order to that, to ask him,—Dost thou believe in God the Father Almighty, Sfc.?
But lest sick people, and such as are of slow understanding, should profess with their lips, what they are not able to apply to their soul's comfort; it will be highly charitable and useful, after repeating the Creed, to propose the use that ought to be made of it, in short questions, after some such way as this following:
f Matth. i. 13. h Eph. vi. 16.
Do you believe that it is God who ordereth all things both in heaven and on earth?
Then you must believe that nothing can come by chance; and that, as our Lord saith, even a sparrow does not die without God's knowledge and his leave.
Do you believe that this present visitation of yours is from God?
If God is our Father, his correction must be for our good.
Do you firmly believe this; and that this sickness is ordered by him for some special end?
Then consider for what ends a loving father corrects his child: either he is careless, or disobedient, or forgets his duty; or takes such ways as would ruin himself, if he were let alone.
Is not this your case?
To be sure, if it were left to your own ordering, you would never choose afflictions; but God sees that it is good for you to be in trouble; or it may be, God will try whether you will love and trust in him, as well in sickness as in health.
Will you therefore, like a dutiful child, be thankful that your heavenly Father takes so much care of you?
Will you endeavour to bear your sickness patiently, and submit to God's will, whether it be for life or for death?
Does not this affliction convince you, that nothing deserves our love but God, since no being else can help us in the day of adversity?
Will you therefore, in the first place, make application to God by prayer for an happy issue out of this affliction?
Jesus, you know, signifies 'a Saviour; and we all hope that he will be a Saviour to us. But this he will not be, unless we obey him as our Lord, that is, as our ruler and lawgiver.'
You must therefore consider wherein you have broke his laws, and you must repent of it, ask God's pardon, and resolve to do so no more, as you hope that he will be a Saviour to you.
You believe that he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.
Why then you are sure that he is the Son of God, he is able to save such as come unto God by him; and as he was born of a woman, and took our nature upon him, he knows, for he has felt, our weaknesses, and will pity our infirmities.