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UPON ANY THING ÎN THIS PRESENT WORLD; a world, which we must shortly leave. Death will, within a while, pluck us from it; and it will
prove a violent rending to us, if our affections be inordinately glued unto it. Consider, that all things in this present world are but fading and perishing; but your precious souls are ever living and immortal. Be not unequally yoked: do not join an ever living soul to dying comforts. This were a tyranny, worse than that of Mezentius; who, as the poet tell us *, bound the living to dead carcases.
It was a perverse use, which the old heathens made of the necessity of dying, when, in their feasts, their custom was to bring in a skeleton to their guests; thereby exciting them to mirth and voluptuousness, while they could relish such delights, because shortly they must be as much dust and bones as what they saw. This is the common theme of Horace, Anacreon, and all the Epicurean Stye t. Like those, 1 Cor. xv. 32. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall dic.
How much better improvement doth the Apostle make of it, 1. Cor. vii. 29, 30, 31! The time is short : it remaineth, therefore, that both they, that have wives, be as though they had none ; And they, that weep, as though they wept not; and they, that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they, that buy, as though they possessed not; And they, that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. What folly is it, to toil and wear out our lives in the pursuit of those vain things, from which we may be snatched before we can cast another look at them!
Go, Fool, and dote upon thy own or others' beauty: but know, withal, that shortly a nest of worms will breed there; and suck corruption and nastiness out of that face, which hath been thy pride, and the beholders' sin and shame.
Go, Worldling, rake together thy wealth, and hoard up thy treasures : but know, withal, that, of all thy possessions, thou
* Virg. Æneid. l. viii.
+ Potantibus ergò Lardam argenteam attulit servus, sic aptam ut articuli ejus vertebræque locatæ in omnem partem flecterentur. Hanc cùm super mensam semel iterúmque abjecisset, et catenatio mobilis aliquot figuras exprimeret, Trimalcio adjecit, Heu, heu, nos miseros, quàm totus homuncio nil est ! Sic erimus cuncti postquam nos auferet Orcus. Ergò vivamus, dum licet esse,
shalt shortly need no more than will but suffice to bury thee. Gold and silver are too heavy lading to be carried into the other world: nothing of them shall go with thee, unless it be their rust to witness against thee. If there be any difference, whether thou live rich or poor, honourably or despised, in pain or in pleasure; yet, certainly, there is none when thou comest to die. What is it to a dying man, whether his chamber be richly furnished or not? whether he breathe out his soul in a palace or in a cottage? We shall not take pleasure in summing up our estates, and counting how much worth we shall die, and how many hundreds or thousands we shall leave behind us: these things will be then as far from being our care, as they are now from being our concernments.
Let the Voluptuous man pursue his delights and pastimes : but let him know, withal, that he doth but thrust away his days to make way for death. That hour is coming, when he will more earnestly wish to gain time, than ever he studied to spend it.
Let the Ambitious court honours and preferments: but, withal, let him know, that it will be no great comfort to him in death, that he falls under a bigger name and title than others. What are they, when they stand upon the highest pinnacle of worldly dignities, but bladders swelled up with the breath of the popular rout ? Nothings, set a strut? Chess-men, that, on the board, play the king and nobles; but, in the bag, are of the same ma, terials and rank with others?
Though now it be hard to persuade men of these things, yet powerful and eloquent death will certainly persuade them, better than all the sermons or demonstrations that ever they heard. At high-noon, things cast but a short and little shadow; but, in the declining evening, these shadows are extended to a huge length and vast dimensions. So it is with us: in the high-noon of our age, in the heat and vigorous warmth of our blood, the world seems to cast but little shadow; all things in it appear to us bright and orient; but, when our evening begins to decline and our days to shut in, when our eyes shall swim in night and darkness, then the shadows are extended, and all the bright and glittering things of the world will appear to us nothing but gloominess and horror.
Use ii. Since we all know that we shall die, let this serve TO EXHORT US SERIOUSLY TO PREPARE FOR OUR DEATH.
That our souls are immortal and must live for ever, is a dictate of nature itself, if we had not Scripture to confirm it: and those, who have ever ventured to deny it, have rather spoken their wishes than their belief. They are divine sparks kindled only by the breath of God; and the same breath, which kindled them, hath likewise pronounced that they shall never die. Shortly they must launch forth into eternity; and know by experience the truth of those impressions, which God hath stamped upon them concerning their own endless duration.
It will not be many years nor days hence, before every one of us be in our eternal state. There stands nothing between us and it, but this thin mud-wall of our bodies: a weak fence against so many diseases and casualties, as may every day and hour assault us. What Anacharsis said * of those who sailed, that they were but four inches removed from death, is true of us all: we are but four inches removed from death and eternity. Nay, a wound, that digs not half so deep, may dispatch us. Our souls are in our bodies only as a little air included in a thin bubble; and, when that breaks, oh what or where are we? gone, in an instant, out of all the businesses and pleasures of this present life, into an estate for ever' unchangeable.
Now what is your care, and what do you chiefly busy yourselves about? Death is approaching you, ärmed with ten thousand woes and plagues; and is it time for you to trifle away your precious moments, moments on which depends your eternity, in sports, or compliments, or impertinent employments? Is it time for you to muse what garb you will wear; what visit you will make, whether at this house or the next; what recreation shall pass away to-morrow, whether the hawk or the hound; when, all this while, death hath you in full chase? While you are contriving your profits and pleasures, your recreations and employments, and sharing out your lives among them, a sudden,
unseen, and unthought of hand of God snatcheth you from them all, and all these vain thoughts perish with you. Is this providing for eternity ? is this improving your short time, and few minutes for heaven? Pity it is, that ever a precious and immortal soul should be entrusted to the care and management of such brutes; who, by minding nothing but their sensual ease and delights, their food and fodder, degrade it in this world, and destroy it in the next, Now, to provide for eternity, I know no better rule, than to do nothing but what thou mightest be contented to be found doing when Christ shall come to judge thee: to live so, as if every day were thy last, and the very next to eternity. If it be not so, it is more than you or I know. Since we have no assurance of a day or hour longer, it is but reason and wisdom to look upon every one as the last.
* Laertius in vità Anachars.
Suppose now your chambers darkened, your friends standing round your beds mourning over you, a sad silence filling all the place, nothing heard but your groans, or theirs to answer yours ; when your souls, sitting on your lips, shall look over into eternity and Autter to be gone; when they shall, like the flame of an expiring lamp, vibrate and catch at the exhausted body; how would you then spend that small scantling of remaining time? would you be laying up for years ? would you be contriving for your vain pleasures? or would you send for your idle and debauched companions, to laugh and jest away that last hour, as well as the rest ? No: these designs and this mirth are now dashed; now, the necessities of the soul begin to crowd hard upon you: the sight of a severe Judge and dreadful tribunal, the worryings of an accusing conscience, the fearful review of past sins, and expectation of attending torments, now shake out all such, once so delightful and contenting thoughts; and, now, when your souls are departing out of your bodies, they begin to come into your remembrance.
Hearken to the voice of dying men. What say they? Oh, that God would pardon and accept them! Oh, that he would spare them a little to repent and reform ! Or, else, oh, that he would assure them of his favour, and receive them to his mercy! This is the language, and these are the cares of the sick-bed, when death comes nigh to them, and looks them in the face.
And why is it not your care now, in your health and strength ? What assurance have
you are not now as nigh death, as those, who lie thus languishing, and complaining of their folly for neglecting their souls till this last hour? God doth not always give warning, but some he strikes suddenly; and, for ought we know, we may be as near our deaths, as those, whom their friends and physicians have given over. However, should God spare you longer, yet the duration of your life is most uncertain ; and, to delay our preparations for death upon the uncertain continuance of life, is such stupendous madness and folly, that certainly were there not witchcraft and sorcery used upon us by the Devil, a man, who hath the free command of
his wits and reason, could never be guilty of it. Night is hastening, and spreading its wings over us: the grave expects us, and bids its other corpses make room: death is grasping us in its cold arms, and ready to carry us to the dreadful tribunal; and, yet, how little of our great work is done! We burn away our precious days, and miserably waste our light and our life: we exbaust our strength, and lavish out our affections upon toys and fond nothings: and that life of ours, which the Psalmist calls a tale, for its shortness, we make a tale for its vanity. We spend it most frivolously, till the days of darkness, which are many, come upon us; and then think to prepare for eternity, when we are fit for nothing else, and least of all for that.
Some sad instances there have been, of those, who, having neglected this great work till the end of their life, have then spent that little remnant of time which they had, in crying out for more. It may be so with you, if your consciences be not awakened sooner, than by the pain and disquiet of your sickbeds: you will then, with horror, cry out, “ More time, Lord, more time!" but it will not be granted: the term is fixed : the last hour hath struck: the last sand is run : and, as you and your works are then found, so must you go into eternity.
Methinks, this is such a consideration, as must needs prevail with all the world. Our time is but short and momentary: we are but of yesterday, and possibly may not be to-morrow; and God hath suspended eternity upon the improvement of this moment; a few hours will determine our everlasting condition; and, according as they are spent, so must our doom be, either eternal happiness or eternal misery. And why should our precious souls be so vile in our eyes, as to lose' them for very sloth and carelessness? Why should we hearken to the suggestions of the flesh, or the allurements of the world ? Stand off: we are working for eternity: an eternity, that is but a few days hence; a boundless, a bottomless, and endless state, into which we know not how soon we may enter, This is a motive, which cannot but prove effectual, with all, who have their right understandings about them. But many are so strangely besotted by the Devil, that, though they hear these truths, truths which they cannot deny, which they cannot doubt of; yet they live at such a rate of sin and security, as if their eternity were to be expected here, or none to be expected hereafter.
Now if we have carefully prepared ourselves for death, it will þe to us a repose, instead of a terror. The Scripture dath