By Lewis Bayly
The sick Person ought now to send for some godly and religious Pastor.
In any wise remember, if conveniently it may be, to send for some godly and religious pastor, not only to pray for thee at thy death-for God in such a case hath promised to hear the prayers of the righteous prophets, and elders of the church (Gen. xx. 7; Jer. xviii. 20; xv. 1; 1 Sam. xii. 19, 23; James v. 14, 15, 16)-but also upon thy unfeigned repentance to declare to thee the absolution of thy sins. For as Christ hath given him a calling to baptize thee unto repentance for the remission of thy sins (Mark i. 4; Acts xix. 4), so hath he likewise given him a calling, and power, and authority, upon repentance, to absolve thee from thy sins (1 Cor. v. 4; 2 Cor. x. 8.) "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. xvi. 19.) And again, "Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye bind in earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye loose in earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. xviii. 18.) And again, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John xx. 22, 23.) This doctrine was as ancient in the church of God as Job; for Elihu tells him, That when God strikes a man with malady on his bed, so that his soul draweth near the grave, and his life to the buriers, if there be any messenger with him, or an interpreter, one of a thousand, to declare unto man his righteousness, then will he have mercy upon him, &c. (Job xxxiii. 19, 22, 23, 24.) And answerable hereunto, saith St. James, If the sick have committed sins, upon his repentance, and the prayers of the elders, they shall be forgiven him. (Jam. v. 15.) These have power to shut heaven (Rev. xi. 6), and to deliver the scandalous impenitent sinner to Satan (1 Cor. v. 5;) for the weapons of their warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to cast down, &c., and to have vengeance in readiness against all disobedience. They have the key of loosing, therefore the power of absolving. (2 Cor. x. 4, &c.)
The bishops and pastors of the church do not declare the forgiveness of sin by any absolute power of their own (1 Cor. v. 4), for so only Christ their master forgiveth sins, but ministerially, as the servants of Christ, and stewards (1 Cor. iv. 1, 2; Acts xiii. 38), to whose fidelity their Lord and Master hath committed his keys, and that is when they do declare and pronounce, either publicly or privately, by the word of God, what bindeth, what looseth, and the mercies of God to penitent sinners, or his judgments to impenitent and obstinate persons; and so do apply the general promises or threatenings to the penitent or impenitent. For Christ from heaven doth by them, as by his ministers on earth, declare whom he remitteth and bindeth, and to whom he will open the gates of heaven, and against whom he will shut them. And therefore it is not said, whose sins ye signify to he remitted; but, whose sins ye remit. They than do remit sins, because Christ by their ministry remitteth sins, as Christ by his disciples loosed Lazarus (John xi. 44.) And as no water could wash away Naaman's leprosy but the waters of Jordan, though other rivers were as clear, because the promise was annexed unto the water of Jordan, and not to other rivers; so though another man may pronounce the same words, yet have they not the like efficacy and power to work on the conscience, as when they are pronounced from the mouth of Christ's ministers, because the promise is annexed to the word of God in their mouths, for them hath he chosen, separated, and set apart for this work, and to them he hath committed the ministry and word of reconciliation; by their holy calling and ordination they have received the Holy Ghost, and the ministerial power of binding and loosing. They are sent forth of the Holy Ghost for this work, whereunto he hath called them (John xx. 22, 23; Acts i. 24; xiii. 2, 4; Rom. i. 1; 2 Cor. v. 18, 19; 1 Cor. i. 1; Heb. v. 4; Tit. i. 5.)
And Christ gives his ministers power to pronounce the forgiveness of sins to the penitent in the same words that he teacheth us in the Lord's prayer to desire God to forgive us our sins; to assure all penitent sinners, that God by his minister's absolution doth fully, through the merits of Christ's blood, forgive them all their sins, so that what Christ decreeth in heaven, in foro judicii, the same he declares on earth by his reconciling ministers, in foro pnitenti; so that as God hath reconciled the world to himself by Jesus Christ, so hath he, saith the apostle, given unto us the ministry of this reconciliation (2 Cor. v. 18.)
He that sent them to baptize, saying, "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them," &c., sent them also to remit sins, saying, "As my Father sent me, so send I you; whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them," &c. (John xx. 21, 23.) As therefore none can baptize, though he use the same, water and words, but only the lawful minister which Christ hath called and authorized to this divine and ministerial function, so though others may comfort with good words, yet none can absolve from sin but only those to whom Christ hath committed the holy ministry and word of reconciliation (2 Cor. ii. 7, 10; Heb. v. 1, 4; 2 Cor. v. 18, 19;) and of their absolution Christ speaketh, "He that heareth you, heareth me" (Luke x. 16.) In a doubtful title thou wilt ask the counsel of a skilful lawyer; in peril of sickness thou wilt know the advice of the learned physician; and is there no danger in dread of damnation for a sinner to be his own judge?
Judicious Calvin teaches this point of doctrine most plainly, "Et si omnes mutuo nos debeamus consolari,"&c. "Although," saith he, "we ought to comfort and confirm one another in the confidence of God's mercy, yet we see that the ministers are appointed as witnesses and sureties to ascertain our consciences of the remission of sins; insomuch as they are said to remit sins, and to loose souls. Let every faithful man, therefore, remember, that it is his duty, if inwardly he be vexed and afflicted with the sense of his sins, not to neglect' that remedy which is offered unto him by the Lord; to wit, that, for the easing of his conscience, he may make private confession of his sins unto his pastor; and that he desire his private endeavour for the application of some comfort unto his soul, whose office it is, both publicly and privately, to administer evangelical consolation to God's people."
Beza highly commendeth this practice; and Luther saith, That he had rather lose a thousand worlds, than suffer private confession to be thrust out of the church. Our church hath ever most soundly maintained the truth of this doctrine; but most justly abolished the tyrannous and antichristian abuse of popish auricular confessions, which they thrust upon the souls of Christians as an expiatory sacrifice, and a meritorious satisfaction for sin; racking their consciences to confess, when they feel no distress, and to enumerate all their sins, which is impossible: that by this means they might dive into the secrets of all men, which oft-times hath proved pernicious, not only to private persons, but also to public estates. But the truth of God's word is, that no person having received orders in the Church of Rome, can truly absolve a sinner; for the keys of absolution are two; the one is the key of authority, and that only Christ hath (Rev. iii. 7; Mark ii. 7; Luke v. 21;) the other is the key of ministry, and this he gives to his ministers (Matt. xvi. 19), who are therefore called the ministers of Christ, the stewards of God's mysteries (1 Cor. iv. 1), the ambassadors of reconciliation, bishops, pastors, elders, &c. (2 Cor. v. 20.) But Christ never ordained, in the New Testament, any order of sacrificing priests; neither is the name which properly signifieth sacerdos, or sacrificing priest, given to any officer of Christ, in all the New Testament; neither do we Tead in all the New Testament of any who confessed himself to a priest, but Judas ( Matt. xxvii. 4;) neither is there any real priest in the New Testament, but only Christ (Heb. vii. 24, 27, 28;) neither is there any part of his priesthood to be now accomplished on earth, but that which he fulfilleth in heaven by making intercession for us (Heb. viii. 4; vii. 15.) Seeing, therefore, Christ never ordained any order of sacrificing priests; and that popish priests scorn the name of minister of the gospel, to whom only Christ committed his keys, it necessarily followeth, that no popish priests can truly either excommunicate or absolve any sinner, or have any lawful right to meddle with Christ's keys. But the antichristian abuse of this divine ordinance should not abolish the lawful use thereof between Christians and their pastors in cases of distress of conscience, for which it was chiefly ordained.
And, verily, there is not any means more excellent to humble a proud heart, nor to raise up an humble spirit, than this spiritual conference between the pastors and the people committed to their charge. If any sin, therefore, troubleth thy conscience, confess it to God's minister; ask his counsel, and if thou dost truly repent, receive his absolution. And then doubt not in foro conscienti but thy sins be as verily forgiven on earth, as if thou didst hear Christ himself in foro judicii pronouncing them to be forgiven in heaven, "Qui vos audit, me audit;" he that heareth you, heareth me (Luke x. 16.) Try this, and tell me whether thou shalt not find more ease in thy conscience, than can be expressed in words. Did profane men consider the dignity of this divine calling, they would the more honour the calling and reverence the persons.
The sick man having thus eased his conscience, and received a full assurance of forgiveness, may do well, having a convenient number of faithful Christians joined with him, to receive the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper, to encourage him in his faith, and to discourage the devil in his assaults. In this respect the council of Nice termed this sacrament viaticum, the soul's provision for her journey. And albeit the Lord's Supper be an ecclesiastical action, yet forasmuch as our Lord, the first institutor, celebrated it in a private house (Matt. xxvi. 18; Luke xxii. 12), and that St. Paul terms the houses of Christians, the churches of Christ (Rom. xvi. 5; Philem. i. 2;) and that Christ himself hath promised to be in the midst of the faithful, where but two or three are gathered together in his name (Matt. xviii. 20;) I see no reason, but if Christians desire it, when they are not, through sickness, able to come to the church but that they should receive, and pastors ought to administer, the sacrament unto them at home. He sheweth more simplicity than knowledge, who thinks that this savours of a private mass; for a mass is called private, not because it is said in a private house, but because, as Bishop Jewel teacheth out of Aquinas, the priest receiveth the sacrament himself alone, without distribution made unto others; and then it is private, although the whole parish be present and look upon him. There is as much difference between such a communion, and the antichristian idol of a private mass, as there is between heaven and hell. For at a communion in a private family, upon such an extraordinary occasion, Christ's institution is observed. Many faithful brethren meet together, and tarry one for another; Christ's death is remembered and shewed, and the minister, together with the faithful and the sick party, do communicate. Master Calvin saith, "That he doth very willingly admit administering of the communion to them that are sick, when the case and opportunity so requireth." And in another place he saith, "That he hath many weighty reasons to compel him not to deny the Lord's Supper unto the sick." Yet I would wish all Christians to use, to receive often, in their health especially, once every month with the whole church; for then they shall not need so much to assemble their friends upon such an occasion, nor so much to be troubled themselves for want of the sacrament. For, as Mr. Perkins saith very well, "The fruit and efficacy of the sacrament is not to be restrained to the time of receiving, but it extends itself to the whole time of man's life afterwards;" the efficacy whereof, did men thoroughly understand, they should not need to be so often exhorted to receive it.
"Pastores omnes hic exoratos vellem, ut in hujus controversi statum penitius introspiciant; nec fideles ex hac vita migrantes, et panem vit petentes, viatico suo fraudari sinant, ne lugubris ista in iis ad impleatur lamentatio. Parvuli panem petunt, et non sit qui frangat eis." (Lam. iv. 4.)
As, therefore, when a wicked liver dieth, he may say to death as Ahab said to Elijah, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" (1 Kings xxi. 20;) so, on the other side, when it is told a penitent sinner that death knocks at the door, and begins to look him in the face, he may say of death, as David said of Ahimaaz, "Let him come and welcome, for he is a good man, and cometh with good tidings" (2 Sam. xviii. 27:) he is the messenger of Christ, and bringeth unto me the joyful news of eternal life. And as the Red Sea was a gulf to drown the Egyptians to destruction, but a passage to the Israelites to convey them to Canaan's possession, so death to the wicked is a sink to hell and condemnation, but to the godly the gate to everlasting life and salvation. And one day of a blessed death will make an amends for all the sorrows of a bitter life. "Summum hominis bonum, bonus ex hac vita exitus."
When, therefore, thou perceivest thy soul departing from thy body, pray with thy tongue if thou canst, else pray in thy heart and mind these words, fixing the eyes of thy soul upon Jesus Christ thy Saviour:-
A Prayer at the yielding up of the Ghost.
O Lamb of God, which by thy blood hast taken away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me a sinner. Lord Jesus receive my spirit. Amen.
When the sick party is departing, let the faithful that are present kneel down and commend his soul to God in these or the like words:-
O Gracious God and merciful Father, who art our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble, lift up the light of thy favourable countenance at this instant upon thy servant that now cometh to appear in thy presence; wash away, good Lord, all his sins by the merits of Christ Jesus' blood, that they may never be laid to his charge. Increase his faith, preserve and keep safe his soul from the danger of the devil and his wicked angels. Comfort him with thy Holy Spirit; cause him now to feel that thou art his loving Father, and that he is thy child by adoption and grace. Save, O Christ, the price of thy own blood, and suffer him not to be lost whom thou hast bought so dearly. Receive his soul, as thou didst the penitent thief, into thy heavenly paradise; let thy blessed angels conduct him thither as they carried the soul of Lazarus; and grant unto him a joyful resurrection at the last day. O Father, hear us for him, and hear thy own Son, our only mediator, that sits at thy right hand, for him and us all, even for the merits of that bitter death and passion which he hath suffered for us: in confidence whereof, we now recommend his soul into thy fatherly hands, in that blessed prayer which our Saviour hath taught us in all times of our troubles to say unto thee:-"Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name," &c.
Thus far of the practice of piety in dying in the Lord.