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rhetoric will never obtain for them their suit against death, nor procure for them a moment of delay.
And let the greatest philosophers learn, “ 'That the “soundest philosophy is the meditation of death."
In short, of whatever age or condition we be, let us lift up our hands and hearts, without ceasing unto God, and say unto him with the royal Psalmist, “Lord, make
me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, “ what it is; that I may know how frail I am," Psal. xxxix. 4; and with the prophet Moses, “So teach us to “ number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto “wisdom," Psal. xc. 12.
O My God, and heavenly Father, since it hath pleased Thee that I should be born of a mortal and perishable nature, and that this poor body should return to the dust from whence it came, grant me grace to be always mindful of my frail condition. Let the revolutions of time, which consumes all things, the variety of the seasons, the inconstancy of the world, and all the various changes which I observe upon the face of the earth ; make me remember the great change which I myself must undergo. Let me consider my natural infirmities, and the frequent maladies that attend me, as so many messengers sent to warn me, that I must shortly leave this earthly tabernacle. Let the bed
Let the bed upon which I lie, put me in mind, that when I have finished my days of labour here, my body shall rest in a bed of dust. When I put off my garments, let me recollect, that in a few days i must put off this mortal and corruptible body. Let me consider the sleep that locks up my senses, as a representative of death, which shall entirely put a stop to all the animal functions of this life ; and let me look upon the coffins and sepulchres of my relations and friends, as a lively image of the house which I must shortly go to inhabit. O Lord, grant me thy grace, so osten to look. upon death and the grave, that they may no longer terrify and affright me. Let me so much accustom myself : to meditate upon them, that the thoughts of them may become familiar and pleasing to me, and, instead of afflicting, comfort and rejoice me. I am born to die ; but I shall die to live eternally with God, who alone, is the author of my life, the fountain of my happiness. Amen.
The second remedy against the Fears of Death, is, to
live under a continual expectalion of it.
IT is not sufficient to think often upon death, and to make fine harangues upon it. There are a great many persons who talk of it perpetually, with all the eloquence imaginable, and yetcannot boastof being exempt from its terrors. They are always ready to discourse upon Death ; but their hearts are never disposed to expect it. They know very well that Death will seize upon them; but they are foolish enough to believe it will not be of a long time. They acknowledge, that they are indebted to God and nature ; but they put off the payment of the debt from day to day, as if they could corrupt the sergeants of Death, and obtain a farther respite at pleasure. There is not any man so old, so feeble and decrepit, but flatters himself, that he has at least, another
year to live ; nay, the very last, we fancy we perceive death at a vast distance; and that we may prepare at our leisure to receive it as we ought: Whence it comes to pass, that at whatever time, or in whatever place, death comes to take us out of the world, itsurprises and astonishes us.
To remedy this evil, we should always have in our thoughts, not only that we are mortal, but also that our lives are short, and of small duration ; we must continually say with Job, Are not my days few ? ch. x. 20; and imprint upon our minds this sentence of David, “The “Lord hath made my days as an hand-breadth, and mine "age is as nothing before him," Psal. xxxix. 5; and this divine saying of Moses, “The best of our days are la“bour and sorrow; they are soon cut off, and we fly "away,” Psal. xc. 10.
The ancients painted time with wings, an emblem very expressive of its incredible swiftness; and the Holy Spirit compares our life to a weaver's shuttle, an hired servant, a post that runs apace, a swift ship, and an eagle that hasteneth to the prey. It speaks of it as of a flood of waters, a cloud, a vapour, a wind, and a breath. It tells us, that our days fade away as a dream, that they fly like a shadow, vanish as a word in the air, and perish as a thought. In a word, all the lightest and most inconstant things in the world, and those whose motions are the most sudden and rapid, are employed in the holy scriptures, to represent to us the vanity of our life, and the shortness of our days.
But the short continuance of our life is not all ; it likewise slides away insensibly. It is like a clock, the wheels of which move without ceasing, although the hand seems to us to stand still ; or like a plant that
grows continually, although the motion of its growth cannot be discerned. As a man who is on board a ship under sail, goes forward, let him employ himself as he will ; so whether we wake or sleep, walk or sit, eat or fast, labour or take our rest, we still advance insensibly towards the grave. Our body is like a tree, continually devoured by two worms ; for day and night prey upon it without intermission. In vain you banish out of your
. minds the thoughts of death ; although you forget it, it will not forget you ; the more you fly from it, the more it follows and pursues you ; and when you imagine it the farthest off, you have often hold of it.
As a cancer that infects the breast, eats it away perpetually, so time never ceases to consume us. The very food that nourishes us, brings us by degrees, into the embraces of death; as the oil that causes a lamp to burn brings it to its end. As, when a torch is lighted, it begins to decay the moment it begins to burn; so I may truly say, without being thought to exaggerate, that the first moment of this animal and corporal life, is also the first moment of our death; for the natural heat that is in us, which is our principle of life, is also the principle of our death, by means of its continual acting upon the radical moisture, which it never ceases to consume, as the flame never ceases to consume the wax of the torch. So that we have within ourselves the cause of our corruption, and the decay of our life. And as we are used to say to all sublunary bodies, that the generation of one is the destruction of another; so it is with time: the birth of an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year, is the death of that which went before. It is like a wheel that mounts, to no other end but to fall down again.
Since, therefore, our life, properly speaking, is nothing
else but a continual death, we express ourselves amiss, to call that only the hour of death, in which the soul is separated from the body. For as when many cannon shot are discharged against a strong castle, we by no means say, that it was the last shot only that opened the breach; or as when an hard stone is cut with a chissel and hammer, or insensibly hollowed and worn away by water, we give not the glory of the performance to the last blow that was struck, or the last drop that distilled; so when the bodies decay and fall into rottenness, we must not consider alone the last assaults of death. As in a ladder, when we go up or down it, we take notice of every round, from the top to the bottom ; or as in an hourglass we look at every grain of sand that passes; as in a journey we reckon the first mile as well as the last ; and in a race consider the moment we set out as well as that in which we come in; so we should reckon the hour of our death from the first moment that we drew in our breath, to the last wherein we give up the ghost.
Besides what happens of course to this poor miserable body, there are an infinite number of strange and unexpected accidents which interrupt and shorten its race. The taper is not always burnt out by its own flame; many contrary blasts and unkind showers extinguish it. If our life is short, it is no less frail and uncertain. The body in which we languish during this life, is like Jonah's gourd, chapter iv; for if it be but touched by an unwholesome wind, or smote by a worm, it presently withers and dies away. This was the opinion of Eliphaz, when he said, “We dwell in houses of clay, “whose foundation is in the dust; we are crushed be “fore the moth,” Job iv. 19.