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hopes; but we cannot call a man a Christian who has lived just as he pleased, and who has never tried to follow the directions of Christ. A Christian is one who believes in Christ, and who seeks to do his will.
W. Undoubtedly : but yet, if a man has not lived as a Christian ought to do, we would not cut him off from his hopes of acceptance, if he really desires to repent and forsake his sins, and is earnestly seeking for pardon through the merits of Christ.
T, I hope I have not said any thing which can lead you to think that I would doubt the mercy of God, or the sufficiency of the merits of Christ; for these are so unbounded, that the greatest sinner is invited to repentance, and is told that, by the atonement made for his sins on the cross,
may be received into favour. To deny this, or to doubt it, or to refuse to hold out such gracious promises to a repenting sinner, seems to me, to be keeping back an offer which the Almighty himself has, in his
mercy, given us. But yet a repentance, begun only when death seems to threaten, is so hazardous, and its sincerity so doubtful, that we ought all of us to dread the putting off this great work to such an hour; and we ought all to try to give the best of our days to the service of God.
W. To be sure. I agree with you entirely there. In a Christian, we ought to expect some Christian fruit, some Christian works, I mean—both to prove the sincerity of his faith, and as a preparation for his eternal abode. The employment of the saints in heaven is to do the will of God; this then is the right preparation of Christians upon earth, and it ought therefore to be their work.
T. To be sure. The Almighty can judge whether a man's repentance and faith he sincere, though there should be no opportunity allowed of proving this before men. But yet I do think, that, on a death-bed, a fear of punishment may lead a man to tremble for his past sins ; and he may think he repents; whereas, if he were to recover, he would be as bad again as ever; and this is therefore no true repentance. Besides, we may be cut off suddenly, without even this opportunity of reflecting on our past lives ; and, moreover, sin gains so much strength by habit, that, the longer a man puts off his repentance, the harder the work is : he has also more to repent of, and less time to do it in. And these reasons, and many more, shew us the danger of putting off the time for considering our latter end, and warn us against the danger of a death-bed repentance.
W. O yes ; and, if even a Jong sickness does give us time to think of these things, how grievous it is to be harassed in our minds with the thoughts of a life of rebellion against God, at the very time when we want all the comfort and support which religion can give us. When a Minister comes to visit a sick sufferer, what a blessing it is when he can, from his conscience, afford him those consolations, and hold up to him those glorious hopes, which belong to the faithful followers of Jesus Christ? But what a painful thing it must be for a Minister of Christ, to visit the sick-bed of one who has never appeared, till then, to have thought seriously of his latter end! I have often thought that this must be the most distressing part of a Minister's duty.
T. I think it must. But what a very important one it is! And what a beautiful service the Church provides for the visitation of the sick. You and I have often talked of the prayers which we offer up in the Church : but when we are prevented, by sickness, from attending at Church, we have an opportunity given us of worshipping at home; and the Minister of Christ holds out to the sick members of his flock that wholesome medicine which the Gospel affords. Our good Minister called on my poor the
father yesterday, and I assure you, it was a great comfort to us all to bring our griefs before the throne of grace, and to unite with the olą man in our prayers and praises to our all-merciful Father who is in heaven. W. O
yes, prayers of the sick make a beau. tiful service. How can we help being comforted, and how can we help putting our trust in our heavenly Father, and looking to him for help, whilst we offer up such a prayer as this? “O Lord, look down from heaven; behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy, give him sure confidence in Thee, defend him from the danger of the enemy, and keep him in perpetual peace and safety, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”. In such a prayer as this, one can hardly help looking up to that great and merciful Being, who will dispose of us, and all that belongs to us, in the way which he knows to be best. Indeed the whole of this service is just what we could wish for at such a time. There is a beautiful address to the sick person, to exhort him to think rightly of the purpose for which his sickness was sent, and to shew him how it is to be turned to his spiritual “profit, and to help him forward in the way that leadeth unto everlasting life.”
T. Yes, and the priest is then directed to ask the sick person some questions as to his belief, to see whether he places his hopes on the right foundation. As soon as we are admitted into the flock of Christ by baptism, our faith is declared. We worship the Father who made us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Holy Ghost, the sanctifier of the people of God. The Minister, therefore very properly asks, whether the sick man continues true to his Christian profession, and his Christian faith.
W. Yes. But many, I fear, when they are asked whether they believe these things, answer, that they do ; or that they « stedfastly believe them," without considering what is meant by the questions that are asked.
T. I am afraid so. It is an easy thing at a baptism, or a marriage, or a confirmation, or on a sick bed, to say, “I do,” or “ I will,” or “ all this I stedfastly believe :” but it is quite another thing to have that faith and sincerity which, on all such occasions, is required.
W. But I think, Thomas, we may see how consistent and how right it is for the Church to lay before us these necessary questions; and if we don't answer them with a right mind, nobody is to blame but ourselves.
T. That is very true. But many people do not know what questions are to be asked, and they therefore do not know what to answer. That is the reason why we see people, at a christening, just nod their head instead of giving the right answer, as it is written in the book.
W. Why these things are not studied enough. If we belong to the Church, we ought to study the services of the Church. It would do us no harm to look at the Service for the Sick whilst we are well;we do not know how soon we may want it !-and we should then join in it with more benefit, in our time of need.
T. I think we should. Sometimes, however, a sick man is in that state that he is hardly able to attend to the service, and listen to the questions, and give the answers as he should do.
W. Very true. And this shews us the need of attending to the care of the soul whilst we are in health, instead of putting it off till it is out of our power.
T. To be sure: but, as to those people who do answer all these questions in the right words, how is the Minister to know whether their faith be sincere or not?
W. He cannot know. But he is to ask such questions as are needful : and the true faith of a Christian is contained in the Apostles' Creed. This is the profession of faith that a Christian makes at his baptism. But whether the answers are given in sincerity and truth, must be left to the judgment of HIM who knoweth the hidden things of the heart.
T. It must be so. The Minister, however, commonly puts some questions to the sick person, by which he may be enabled to judge of the state of his mind; and, at such a time, he can generally find this out; and he can then act accordingly. Our Minister, to be sure, did talk very comfortably to my father before we went to prayers yesterday; and his words, I hope, were a benefit to us all, and prepared us to join, with more advantage, in the prayers which followed. How beautiful is the prayer which begins thus! and what a call upon us all to repentance ! “ O most merciful God, who, according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent, that thou rememberest them no more ; open
eye of mercy upon this thy servant," &c. 'The whole of this prayer is very beautiful, and I could not help being greatly affected by it.
W. I do not wonder at it, indeed, Thomas.
T. And then, how suitable and how full of comfort is the psalm which is chosen; the 71st it is, I think. It is indeed what may be considered as a very fine prayer; and we can all join in it and make it a petition.
W. O yes, it may, and ought to be used in that
T. And then how very solemn, and Christian-like is that short prayer: “O Saviour of the world, who, by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us; save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.”
W. Yes, this is a noble address to Him who bath