« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
which she rests her petition, the belief that God is a "most merciful God?" Strong is the ground upon which she so prays: what meaneth else St. Paul's instructive monition to Titus, that "God hath saved us, according to his mercy1?" A supplication is added, that whatever weakness of faith and hope may have been caused by the severity of trial during sickness,-when the spiritual enemy specially tempts the soul to impatience, and murmuring, and repining-may be removed, and their wasted strength so renewed, that henceforth, not tossed about with every wind of doctrine, but remembering all the comfort derived throughout their trial, from the ministrations of the Church, men may rejoice to abide evermore in the unity of the same; continued therein by his grace, who founded it, with authority to teach all nations; and with the promise, that as his Spirit was to abide with her ministers, a comforter, for ever, so He would himself never leave them, never "forsake them;" but "be with them always, even to the end of the world." Emboldened by these considerations, the minister entreats his merciful God, with yet added compassion to behold this sick brother to consider his contrition, now that he is convinced of sin; to accept his tears of penitence, as he stands at the foot of the cross, weeping his own shame, and his Saviour's sufferings; and to assuage his pain, not of body only, but of soul; not of sickness only, but of remorse, when he thinks what share of these sufferings his own sin did cause. So great is the care of our Church that this part of her service should not, for an instant, be misunderstood, that
1 Titus iii. 5.
she again reminds the sick person and others who may be gathered round him, that as her authority in pronouncing the absolution of sins to the penitent, so his hope in the absolution so pronounced, rests not on the merit of his own act in repenting, or on the virtues of her act in absolving, but on the mercy, in which " only they" severally "put their full trust.” And it is because his faith is there fixed, that Christ's ministers still hopefully appeal on his behalf, both for the remission of past sins, and for the strength of divine grace to overcome sin for the future. Thus the soul is prepared either for a holy life or a peaceful death. The close of the prayer speaks altogether the language of a firm trust in the mercy of this forgiving God; beseeching him that “ whenever He shall please to take the sick man hence"-whether immediately upon this sickness, or after added intervals of renewed life and health he would take the penitent into his favour, "through the merits of his most dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."
With what fer
vour must each heart respond to that supplication ! With what hope may it adopt that trust!
THAT the sick be more encouraged to receive these consolations of the Church, a Psalm is added, every way appropriate to the occasion. Its language, admirably expressive of the grounds upon which the soul animates afresh its faith and its hope, breathes the most entire dependence upon the great Creator and Preserver of his creatures; and with every higher and
more exalted motive to holiness, mingles the tenderest and most affecting. Thus, when with David we trust that God, as supreme over all, will "be our stronghold, whereunto we may alway resort"-in all changes and chances; in all seasons of youth and age, health and sickness; in all sorrows our refuge, in all joys our safety-we pray hopefully, because we remember that already He has in fact been to us that stronghold. His gracious goodness hath, so to speak, prevented our petition. He has been "our hope, even "from our youth, Through Him we have been holden
up, ever since we were born; and He it is who did "take us from our mother's womb." As the heart, softened by these reflections, recurs to the earliest recollections of life, what thousand hidden memories start from their hiding places, and array themselves in all the freshness of childhood, as though years had never touched them. Looking back, too, at that childhood and the season of youth which followed it, how readily do we trace, what at the time were perhaps unheeded, evident marks of the immediate superintendence of a gracious Providence, sheltering us during the helpless years of the one period, and the heedless, often reckless, course of the other. Indeed, we can recollect, perhaps, how, in many a childish sorrow, all unconscious as we were at the time what causes acted upon us, when our young lips spake their evening prayer, commending father and mother, brethren and sisters, relations and friends, neighbours and fellow-creatures to the care and love of our heavenly Father-a calm came o'er the spirit of our minds; our sobbing hearts were soothed; a holy peace stole upon us; and we sunk to sleep in smiles, because we were "gathered under
the shadow of his wing." These reflections, aided by the awakening influence of hours of sickness, still further remind us of the debt of gratitude which we all owe to the Church, who as an anxious watchful mother did herself remember us in those unconscious hours of childhood and infancy. What if she leads her assembled multitudes to pour forth their united voices in supplication for all estates of men; for nations, and kings, and princes, and governors? What if with one holy accord the congregation open their hearts in prayer that the counsels of empires be prospered with the blessings of peace and godly quietness! -surely the same voices, following her guidance, raise no less earnest supplication, send up no less fervent prayers" for young children!" We now, perhaps, think-and who shall gainsay the thought, or doubt the well-founded hope from which it springs?that to the supplications and prayers so offered our heavenly Father did graciously vouchsafe to hearken; and, fulfilling the desires and petitions on our behalf, as seemed to Him most expedient for us, "did in mercy grant his favour, and preserve the young children," for whom his people prayed. But owe we no grateful recognition of the spiritual mother, who thus tenderly cared for us? Have we no gratitude either for her tender love which felt our helplessness, or her pious care which strove to provide protection and strength in the prayers of others, when we lay cradled in all the helplessness of unconscious infancy! And what if when called in due course to the several duties of active life, troubles have compassed us; and with added years have come added trials? What even if fortune, fame, and health all lost, the once ready
smiles of the world have given place to its frowns; and the wicked and the worldly view us, like some stricken hart upon the mountains, fit subjects either of neglect or of enmity; and, glorying in the bitter thought that "God hath forsaken us," rouse themselve to "persecute and take us," because, as they vainly suppose, "God hath forsaken us, and there is none to deliver us?" Even then, "shall not our heart be afraid." "We know in whom we have believed; " even in Him, whose unfailing word hath assured us, that "the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever." We, each, adopt the faith and language of David, "As for me, I will patiently abide, alway." Nay, we can add with him the resolve so worthy of a christian courage, which ever rises higher as danger more fiercely threatens; "I will" even "praise thee more and more. It may be, that the sick is aged also; yet is he aware that even so the Christian must let his light shine before men to the glory of God. His then is the sure and animating consolation, that never perhaps could example shine brighter than now. True! activity may be past, the bodily powers be gone, and the mind too weak to express all it feels; but the influence of a christian bearing never fails: the authority of a holy life never dies. Every way, "the hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness;" and it is so found, where its last days are passed in guiding others into the same righteous way; "showing forth God's strength and his power" to the generations which follow them. And since counsel never comes with greater weight than from the voice of experience, so never does the faith of others gather to itself more strength than