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in the dregs of time, and labouring under great imperfections, to be thus minded; that is, thus earnest and striving after such degrees of a holy and divine life, as we have not yet attained.
The best way for any one to know how much he ought to aspire after holiness, is to consider not how much will make his present life easy, but to ask himself how much he thinks will make him easy at the hour of death.
Now any man that dares be so serious as to put this question to himself, will be forced to answer that at death, every one will wish that he had been as perfect as human nature can be.
Is not this therefore sufficient to put as not only upon wishing, but labouring after all that perfection which we shall then lament the want of ? Is it not excessive folly to be content with such a course of piety when we shall so want it as to have nothing else to comfort us ?How can we carry a severer condemnation against ourselves, than to believe that at the hour of death we shall want the virtues of the saints, and wish that we had been amongst the first servants of God, and yet take no methods of arriving at their height of piety, whilst we are alive?
Though this is an absurdity that we can easily pass over at present, whilst the health of our bodies, the passions of our minds, the noise, and hurry, and pleasures, and business of the world, lead us on with eyes that see not, and ears that hear not; yet at death, it will set itself before us in a dreadful magnitude, it will haunt us like a dismal ghost, and our conscience will never let us
from it. We see in worldly matters, what a torment self-condemnation is; and how hardly a man is able to forgive himself, when he has brought himself into any calamity or disgrace, purely by his own folly. The affliction is made doubly tormenting, because he is forced to charge it all upon himself, as his own act and deed, against the nature and reason of things, and contrary to the advice of all his friends.
Now by this we may in some degree guess how terrible the pain of that self-condemnation will be, when
take our eyes
a man shall find himself in the miseries of death, under the severity of a self-condemning conscience ; charging all his distress upon his own folly and madness, against the sense and reason of his own mind, against all the doctrines and precepts of religion, and contrary to all the instructions, calls and warnings both of God and
Penitens was a busy notable tradesman, and very prosperous in his dealings; but died in the thirty-fifth year of
A liitle before his death, when the doctors had given him over, some of his neighbours came one evening to see him; at which time, he spake thus to them:
“ I see, says he, my friends, the tender concern you have for me, by the grief that appears in your countenances, and I know the thoughts that you now have about me. You think how melancholy a case it is to see so young a man, and in such flourishing business, delivered up to death. And perhaps, had l visited any of you in my condition, I should have had the same thoughts of you.
But now, my friends, my thoughts are no more like your thoughts, than my condition is like yours.
It is no trouble to me now to think that I am to die young, or before I have raised an estate.
These things are now sunk into such mere nothings, that I have no name little enough to call them by. if in a few days, or hours, I am to leave this carcass to be buried in the earth, and to find myself either forever happy in the favour of God, or eternally separated from all light and peace, can any words sufficiently express the littleness of every thing else?
Is there any dream like the dream of life, which amuses us with the neglect and disregard of these things? Is there any folly like the folly of our manly state, which is too wise and busy to be at leisure for these reflections ?
When we consider death as a misery, we only think of it as a miserable separation from the enjoyments of this life. We seldom mourn over an old man that dies rich; but we lament the young, that are taken away in the progress of their fortune. You yourselves look upon
me with pity, not that I am going unprepared to meet the Judge of quick and dead; but that I am to leave a prosperous trade in the flower of my life.
This is the wisdom of our manly thoughts. And yet what folly of the silliest children is so great as this ?
For what is there miserable or dreadful in death, but the consequences of it? When a man is dead, what does any thing signify to him, but the state he is then in ?
Our poor friend Lepidus died, you know, as he was dressing himself for a feast; do you think it is now part of his trouble that he did not live till that entertainment was over? Feasts, and business, and pleasures, and enjoyments, seem great things to us, whilst we think of nothing else; but as soon as we add death to them, they all sink into an equal littleness; and the soul that is separated from the body, no inore laments the loss of business than the losing of a feast.
If I am going into the joys of God, could there be any reason to grieve, that this happened to me before I was forty years of age ? Could it be a sad thing to go to heaven before I had made a few more bargains, or stood a little longer behind a counter?
And if I am to go amongst lost spirits, could there be any reason to be content, that this did not happen to me till I was old and full of riches ?
If good angels were ready to receive my soul, could it be any grief to me, that I was dying upon a poor bed in a garret ?
And if God has delivered me up to evil spirits, to be dragged by them to places of torments, could it be any comfort to me, that they found me upon a bed of state ?
When you are as near death as I am, you will know that all the different states of life, whether of youth or age, riches or poverty, greatness or meanness, signify no more to you, than whether you die in a poor or stately apartment.
The greatness of those things which follow death, makes all that goes before it sink into nothing.
Now that judgment is the next thing that I look for, and everlasting happiness or misery is come so near me, all the enjoyments and prosperities of life seem as vain and insignificant, and to have no more to do with my happiness, than the clothes that I wore before I eould speak.
But, my friends, how am I surprised that I have not always had these thoughts? For what is there in the terrors of death, in the vanities of life, or the necessities of piety, but what I might have as easily and fully seen in any part of my life?
What a strange thing is it, that a little health, or the poor business of a shop, should keep us so senseless of these great things that are coming so fast upon us !
Just as you came into my chamber, I was thinking with myself, what numbers of souls there are now in the world in my condition at this very time, surprised with a summons to the other world : some taken from their shops and farms, others from their sports and pleasures, these at suits at law, those at gaming tables, some on the road, others at their own fire-sides, and all seized at an hour when they thought nothing of it: frighted at the approach of death, confounded at the vanity of all their labours, designs, and projects, astonished at the folly of their past lives, and not knowing which way to turn their thoughts, to find any comfort. Their consciences flying in their faces, bringing all their sins to their remembrance, tormenting them with deepest convictions of their own folly, presenting them with the sight of the angry Judge, the worm that never dies, the. fire that is never quenched, the gates of hell, the powers of darkness, and the bitter pains of eternal death.
Oh my friends! bless God that you are not of this number, that you have time and strength to employ yourselves in such works of piety as may bring you peace at the last.
And take this along with you, that there is nothing but a life of great piety, or a death of great stupidity, that can keep off these apprehensions.
Had I now a thousand worlds, I would give them all for one year more, that I might present unto God one year of such devotion and good works, as I never before so much as intended.
You, perhaps, when you consider that I have lived free from scandal and debauchery, and in the communion of
the church, wonder to see me so full of remorse and self-condemnation at the approach of death.
But alas ! what a poor thing is it to have lived only free from murder, theft and adultery, which is all that I can say of myself.
You know indeed, that I have never been reckoned a sot, but you are at the same time witnesses, and have been frequent companions of my intemperance, sensuality, and great indulgence.
And if I am now going to a judgment, where nothing will be rewarded but good works, I may well be concerned, that though I am no sot, yet I have no Christian sobriety to plead for me.
It is true, I have lived in the communion of the church, and generally frequented its worship and service on Sundays, when I was neither too idle, or not otherwise disposed of by my business and pleasures. But then, my conformity to the public worship has been rather a thing of course, than any real intention of doing that, which the service of the church supposes ; had it not been so, I had been oftener at church, more devout when there, and more fearful of ever neglecting it.
But the thing that now surprises me above all wonders, is this, that I never had so much as a general intention of living up to the piety of the gospel. This never so much as entered into my head or my heart. I never once in my life considered whether I was liv. ing as the laws of religion direct, or whether my way of life was such as would procure me the mercy of God at this hour:
And can it be thought that I have kept the gospel terms of salvation, without ever so much as intending in any serious and deliberate manner either to know them or keep them? Can it be thought that I have pleased God with such a life as he requires, though I have lived without ever considering what he requires, or how much I have performed? How easy a thing would salvation be, if it could fall into my careless hands, who bad never had' so many serious thoughts about it, as about any one common bargain that I have made ?
In the business of life I have used prudence and refection, I have done every thing by rules and methods,