« AnkstesnisTęsti »
and can scarce see a death's head but through a pair of spectacles. But what becomes of these resolutions? when age hath snowed upon them, and frost-bitten all their former pleasures; yet, even then, they find the dalliances, which pass between their souls and bodies, so sweet, that they are very loth they should be broken off: and this prompts them to think (as we are apt to believe what we desire) that as yet they shall not: they hope they have some time more to live, and so drive their death from year to year before them; and never think of dying, so long as they have life enough left to think of any thing. This is the veriest dotage imaginable: for if it be true, what the naturalists affirm, that no grown person carrieth to the grave with him the same flesh which he brought into the world, that the revolution of a few years gradually wears away the former body and brings a new one in its stead; it is strangely gross, that they should think of living much longer, who have already outlived several generations of themselves; or that they should not at length prepare for death, who have already buried themselves, it may be eight or nine times over: diseases and natural decays have, for many years, laid close siege to them, routing their guards, battering the walls of their flesh, and forcing the soul to quit the outworks and retire into the heart; yet the mad desire of living makes them hope they shall hold out these ruins of life yet a while longer, though they see many hundred others, better manned and fortified than themselves, taken in upon the first assault.
We scarce so wretchedly mistake about any thing, as about old age.
1. We reckon it a vast while thither.
What a shew do threescore or fourscore years make, at a distance! How numerous do the days and hours appear! But those, who have attained to them, find that they all glide away insensibly from them, and hardly know they have lived so long, but that they have bought so many almanacks. Certainly, long life is like an evening mist; and seems far greater to us at a distance, than when we are in it. It is strange how the different situating of ourselves will mightily alter the prospect of our years: while we look forward upon them from youth, they all are repre sented to us long and happy; but when we look back upon them from age, they then appear to have been short and trouble
some: a day to come, shews far longer to us than a year that is gone. It is high time for us, to mend our accounts; and to estimate the years that are to come, by those that are already past. Those thirty or forty years, which were judged by thee in thy childhood an unattainable age, how short do they seem now, when thou hast outlived them! What remains of them all, but that thou are grown bigger than thou wert; and hast the remembrance of some inconsiderable actions, which were done in that time? Why then should we think thirty or forty years yet to come, such a huge gulf as can never be waded through? Remembrance can, with one glance, review what is past; and why should hope and expectation look upon what is to come as boundless and infinite? Are all our winter days spent, and none but our summer in reserve? Are none remaining for us but the fairest and the longest? Surely both hemispheres of our lives have equal horizons; and we shall find, that our past and future years have but just the same measure. 2. Most men presume that they shall live to extreme age.
A vain confidence! as if God would turn the world into a hospital, and fill it with the old and decrepit. We have a proverb, that young men may, but old men must die? whereas observation will inform us, that incomparably fewer die old than young and those, too, are so worne out with crazy and languishing distempers, so tired with following the funerals of their families, that they detest the age which they formerly desired, and execrate their grey hairs, made such as well by griefs as years. This world is God's nursery for eternity, and he will not cumber it with too many old trunks. Death lies every where in ambush for us. The Jews reckon up nine hundred and three diseases; but the casualties, to which we are subject, are certainly innumerable: a tile may brain us: a pestilential vapour out of the earth may stifle us: our houses may bury us under their ruins: our very meat and drink may choke us; and the means to preserve life may become the instruments of our death. We read of some, whom a fly or a grape-stone has dispatched; or who have died by plucking of a hair from their breasts, God turning a very hair into a spear to destroy them. Our souls may leak out at some small crack in those hidden pipes of life, the veins. It is a strange folly, that we, who are subject to such various diseases and accidents, should yet dream of dying of no other but old age. Did we but seriously con
sider by what small pins this frame of man is held together, it would appear no less than a miracle to us, that we live one day or hour to an end.
3. Men think a few of their latest days and thoughts are enough to prepare them for death.
They account it extreme folly to lose the delights of life, by still jarring upon this ungrateful remembrance, that they must shortly die; and therefore delay it till those unwelcome monitors, age and grey-hairs, call loudly upon them; till they can read deep emblems of their graves in their hollow eyes and furrowed brows; and if something must be done for their souls, it shall be only a small courtesy at parting. Thus they devote the flower and spirit of their years to sin and pleasure; and think, when their time runs low, to put off God with the dregs of it, and content him with the Devil's refuse. Alas! the only thing worth living for, is, to die well: it is not to eat, or drink, or sleep, or sport, or talk: it is not to grow rich, or honourable; but to learn how we may, by a severe mortification, die first to the world, and then out of it. And is it not, (as Seneca speaks*), a shame, that thou shouldest destine to this great business of life, only those relics of thy time, which can be employed about nothing else? Is it never time to become new men, till you are ceasing to be; or to reform your lives, till you are ending them? Believe it, the vast concernments of your everlasting state require your freshest strength and spirits: it is not a dying sigh, which will waft your souls over into a blessed eternity: it is not to leave somewhat behind for pious uses; nor, at the last gasp, to recommend yourselves into God's hands, when you have been all your life long in the Devil's: it is not some chimney-prayer nor blanket-devotion, nor the name of God brought up in a cough, that will suffice: heaven were a cheap prize could it be so lazily obtained. No; repentance is quite another thing: it is to ransack the soul, to rend the heart, to demolish strong-holds, to rout those legions by which we are possessed: in a word, it is to take heaven by a holy force and violence. And what stupendous folly is it, to defer this great work, (a work, that will strain every nerve of your souls to perform it well) till the sluggishness and infirmities of old age
* Non pudet te reliquias vitæ tibi reservare, et id solum tempus bonæ menti destinare quod in nullam rem conferri possit ? Sen. de Brev. Vitæ. cap. 4.
oppress you! Think you, your souls can then vigorously bestir themselves, when they are grown stiff with age; when your faculties are benumbed, and your spirits congealed past the thaw of a fire? Are they then fit for action, when they lie wrapped about with tough and clammy phlegm, and buried under sloth and sleep? Be persuaded, therefore, instantly to break off all delays, and from this very moment to provide in good earnest for your souls; lest, as the blandishments of the flesh and the world make you now think it is too soon, so the sudden surprise of death, and the dreadful sight of a boundless eternity rushing in upon you, make you hereafter cry out, "It is too late, too late!"
iii. MEN GENERALLY PUT OFF SERIOUS THOUGHTS OF DYING, BECAUSE OF THE TERRORS AND INSUPPORTABLE DREAD WHICH SUCH APPREHENSIONS BRING WITH THEM.
And therefore death is called by Job, ch. xviii. 14. the king of terrors; a king, that comes attended with a thousand phantoms and frightful apparitions. Who can, without a shivering horror, think of the separation of those dear companions, the soul and body, of the debasement and dishonours of the grave; that we must lie in a bed of stench and rottenness, under a coverlet of crawling worms, there mouldering away to dust in oblivion? shortly, we shall be no more ourselves: we must change this substantial life; a life, which is really felt, and hath real comforts in it: we must change it, to live only in the inscription of a tombstone, or the memory of a friend: our eyes must no more behold this dear and pleasant light: we must no more relish the delights of this world: all our fair-laid projects will be disappointed, and we in a moment snatched away from whatever we enjoyed or designed. Now these are too gloomy meditations for the jovial and frolic world: such melancholy thoughts of dying prove little less than executioners themselves, and leave death but half its work. Human nature abhors them: we find that Christ himself, in whom it was most pure and spotless, not gastered by any of those weak fears or fancies that pervert our reason; yet even he, as man, recoils at that death, which, as God, he was assured to conquer: Luke xxii. 42. The fullest assurance of heaven is scarce sufficient to disarm the terrors of death, or reconcile us to it. St. Paul, to whom God gave the unexampled sight of heaven, and discovered
the ineffable glories, light, and lustre of that blessed place, is yet troubled to think that the eternal possession of these can be no otherwise obtained than by dying. Loth he was to descend into heaven through the grave; and, having been once caught up into paradise, can scarce think of going thither any other way: 2 Cor. xii. 4. We, that are in this tabernacle, saith he, do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon; that mortality might be swallowed up of life: 2 Cor. v. 4. Though his fleshly clothing, like theirs that travel in foul weather, become burdensome with mire and wet, with sin and tears; though he groan under the weighty pressure, and would be glad to be eased and cleansed at any rate: yet nature itself startles, when it sees the rude hand of death stretched out ready to undress him; and, rather than this garment should be taken off, would have it dipped in light and glory upon him.
Thus dreadful is death to us, as men; but, much more, as sinners. It is the guilt which deserves it, and the hell which follows it, that give death its most hideous shape. We are not so much affrighted at the grim and meagre looks of this officer, who is to arrest us, as at the ireful countenance of the Judge, who is to pass sentence upon us. It is not the unfelt rotting in the grave; or those worms, which must shortly feed upon their carcases: but the burning in hell; and the restless stingings of that tormenting worm, which breeds in a putrid conscience. From these death receives its power and anguish. And therefore the Apostle tells us, that the sting of death is sin: 1 Cor. xv. 56. And, indeed, well may it be the sting of the first death, since it carries in it the venom and poison of the second. No wonder then, if those, who are conscious to themselves of guilt, dare not think of standing before the dreadful tribunal of God: they cannot bear the thoughts of eternal wrath and vengeance, to be for ever inflicted by the almighty power of an incensed God. No wonder at all, that they thrust far from them the thoughts of their dying day, because they presage, that that day, whensoever it comes, must needs be an evil day to them.
III. I shall add no more; but only make some APPLICATION of what hath been spoken.
USE i. If we all certainly know, that we must die, this might teach us so much wisdom, as NOT TO SET OUR AFFECTIONS EAGERLY