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Whence proceed the Fears of Death.
AS a wise and skilful physician carefully examines the causes of the disease before he prescribes a remedy; and as an experienced surgeon scratches the wound before he pours in the balsam; so I think it highly necessary to examine, with care and exactness, whence the Fears of Death proceed, before we begin to apply those Consolations with which we hope to fortify the christian soul, for when we shall once understand the causes and nature of the disease, we shall, without difficulty, be able to assign the proper remedies. When we shall have scratched and washed the wound, we will, with God's assistance, pour into it the true balm of Gilead.
In the first place we think too seldom upon death, and meditate too little upon the misery and frailty of our poor decaying nature. We confess indeed with our lips, that our life is but a breath in our nostrils, a vapour that soon passes away, a shadow that quickly vanishes; but we flatter ourselves at the bottom of our hearts, and, with Herod, take a pleasure that men should look upon us as so many little gods, Acts xii. Because death approaches us, having its feet shod with wool, and without noise, we foolishly imagine, that it will never come near us: like that wicked servant mentioned in the gospel, who because the Lord delayed his coming, concluded that he would not come at all, Matth. xxiv. We suffer ourselves to be deluded by the flattering suggestions of our own corrupted flesh, and by the deceitful insinuations of the old serpent, that whispers to us, as to our first parents, Ye shall not die, Gen. iii. 4.
2. We all say, that Death is inexorable, and that it is deaf, and hath no ears ; nevertheless we live, for the most part as if we had made a covenant with death, and were at agreement with the grave, Is. xxviii. as if we were well assured, that death was afar off, and that it would not come of a long season. We trustin our youth, our vigour, and our health, and persuade ourselves that we shall see all our acquaintance go before us, and when we follow them it would be at a great distance. We have in abhorrence every thing that represents death unto us, or calls it to our remembrance; and if at any time its image comes in our way, we turn from it our eyes, and banish it from our thoughts, as an hideous dream, and a deceitful illusion. Death seizes upon us before we have so much as seriously reflected that we are mortal; therefore we tremble with horror, and are dismayed at the approaches of Death; and are become like the Israelites, who trembled and fled before the face of the giant Goliah, because they were not accustomed to behold him.
3. We lay too much stress upon second causes; we look upon death as accidental, as a thing that happens by chance, and confine our considerations to the means that produce it; whereas we should be fully persuaded, that God hath not only determined and appointed death itself, but also all the causes and means which usually attend it. Hence we are perplexed and disquieted with a thousand vain and useless anxieties, and even tempted to murmur and repine against God. We curse the dart that pierces us, instead of adoring, in all humility, the hand from whence it capie. In a word, whenever death comes upon us, we are ready to say to it, as the devils did to our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
Art thou come hither to torment us before the time? Matt. viii. 29.
4. We are too deeply rooted here below; we are so fastened and attached to this world, that we would willingly abide here for ever, and cannot bear the thought that death will remove us. Our lusts have no bounds, and we often kill ourselves in pursuing the most worthless vanities. When we draw pear the end of our mortal race, and our voyage of life is almost finished, we are the most solicitous to make large provisions of worldly vanities. We build stately houses and magnificent palaces when we should think of nothing but of building our tomb, and preparing our winding sheet. In *short, we have so strong a passion for all the things of this life, that to separate us from them, is to pull out our hearts, and to tear in pieces our bowels. When death
. approaches our pillow, and offers to pull us from it, we are ready to say with the sluggard mentioned in the book of Proverbs, Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep, ch. vi. 10. When our heavenly bridegroom knocks at the gate, we cannot persuade ourselves to leave our repose, any more than the spouse spoken of in the Canticles, ch. v. What, says the worldling, must I forever abandon my sumptuous palaces, my houses of pleasure, and my magnificent gardens ? Must I leave this fine tapestry; these costly moveables, and all these rare and precious ornaments, with which my halls, my chambers, and my closets are enriched ? Must this cruel death degrade me so soon from all my offices and honours, and deprive me of the enjoyment of all these possessions and treasures ? Must it snatch me in a moment from all my pleasures and delights ? Must I be torn from the embraces of my beloved wife, the sight of my dear children, and the sweet society of my friends ? And must I for ever renounce the flattering services of my domestics ? When we are in this wretched, unprepared state, it is no wonder if death seems terrible to us, and if it causes us to feel all the sharpness of its sting. For as, when Absalom was hanged by the hair of the head on an oak in the forest, Joab took three darts, and thrust them through his heart, 2 Sam. xviii. So, when our affections are too much entangled with the world, and with vain expectations of earthly contentment, we are exposed in the most miserable manner, to all the darts and violences of death.
5. Another principal cause of the fear of death, is, a Sinful Life. We abandon ourselves to all the vice and debauchery of a dissolute age. We suffer ourselves to be seduced by bad company, and carried away by torrent of pernicious customs. It is therefore no wonder if death appears terrible to us, because it comes against us armed with our own sins, and has for its harbingers the stings of our own consciences. Whence do you think, proceeded that horrible dismay which seized upon king Belshazzar, when he saw the hand writing upon the wall of his palace ? Dan. v. It was because he had profaned the holy vessels of God's house, and was rioting in the company of lascivious women. Why did Felix tremble, when he heard St. Paul reason of rightcousness, temperance, and judgment to come ? Acts xxiv. It was because he was a wicked man, given over to all mannerof uncleanness and unjust living. Thus, because we profane the members of our body, which are as it were, the vessels of God's sanctuary, and because our lives are wicked and disorderly, we cannot endure
to hear the mention of death ; and when it comes upon us, we are ready to say to it, as Felix did to St. Paul, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee. The love of sin, and the fear of death are like two sisters, who hold one another by the hand; or rather they are twins, that are born and die together. As the prophet Amos said to the Israelites of old, You put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near, Amos vi. 3. So we may say to the greatest part of the men of this age : You put as far from you as possibly you can, the day of death, and cause to coine near unto you all manner of uncleanness, covelousness, ambition, pride, vanity, usury, rapine, violence, envy, hatred, and such like plagues of the soul.
You notonly cause these abominable vices to come near unto you ; but, what is worse, you root them in your hearts, and foster them in your bowels. Certainly we may very well apply to all vicious and profane people, what the prophet Jeremiah said beretofore of the city of Jerusalem, Her filthiness is in her skirts, she remembereth not her last end, Lam. i. 9.
6. I have also remarked another defect; and that is, we distrust the providence of God, and know not how to place our confidence in his Fatherly care ;.we have too good an opinion of ourselves, and of our own abilities; we cannot resolve to die, because we fancy corselves to be of very great importance to the world, and that our death would make an irreparable breach in the church of God, the state, or our family.
7. Because the soul and body are joined together in so strict an union, we cannot imagine how they can be separated without the greatest and most exquisite pains. Nay, so great is our infidelity, that we cannot rely upon