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THE most learned and pious JEREMY TAYLOR, D.D., late Lord Bishop of Down and Connor, in Ireland, having left these holy Contemplations in the hands of a worthy friend of his, with a full purpose to have printed them, if he had lived; but since it hath pleased God to take that devout and holy person to himself, -the better to advance devotion and sanctity of life, and to make men less in love with this frail life, and more with that which is eternal, it is thought fit to make them public. I beseech God to conduct us all, by the many helps and assistances, which he hath been graciously pleased to afford us, to further us in piety and holiness of life, is the prayer of
THE STATE OF MAN.
Contemplations on Time, and of the State of Man in this Life. ALL philosophers which have thought of the nature of time, and which, with much subtlety, have disputed what it was; at length come to conclude, That they knew not what it is; the most they can reach unto is, That no time is long; and that can only be called time which is present, the which is but a moment; and how can that be said to be, since the only cause why it is, is because it shall not be, but is to pass into the preterit; so as we cannot affirm it to have a being. The being of time consists only of a succession of instants, or transitory being, subsisting only by a flux of moments, and changes as many faces as it contains instants; it slides out of his hands that strives to hold it in naming of it, we lose it; so subtle it is by nature, that it were to weigh the fire, and measure the wind, to strive to stay this Proteus; in an instant he vanisheth; and while you think to show him with your finger, he is gone. We have only a moment in our power, and a moment which is lost, in the very instant in which we think to grasp it. See then, what it is to trust unto human life, since it is a member of that which is so unconstant and rapid as time, which runs and passes away according to the course of the sun, and revolutions of the stars in the firmament. Know then, that death follows thee not with leaden feet; it runs after thee with a motion equal to that of the stars, whose swiftness is so prodigious, that, according to the more moderate account of Clavius, they run in one day more than a
thousand seventeen millions and a half of leagues; and in one hour, more than forty-two millions. After this rate doth death pursue thee; how is it that thou tremblest not? How comes it that thou fearest not? Even life itself is given to us but by pieces, and mingles as many parts of death as there are of life; the age of infancy dies, when we enter into that of childhood; and that of childhood, when we become youths; that of youth, when we come to age of manhood; that, when we are old; and even old age itself expires, when we become decrepit: so that, during the same life, we find many deaths, and yet can hardly persuade ourselves that we shall die once. Let us cast our eyes upon our life past; let us consider what is become of our infancy, childhood, and youth; they are now dead in us: in the same manner shall those ages of our life, which are to come, die also. Neither do we only die in the principal times of life, but every hour, every moment, includes a kind of death in the succession and change of things. What content is there in life, which dies not by some succeeding sorrow? What affliction of pain, which is not followed by some equal, or greater grief than itself? Why are we grieved for what is absent, since it offends us being present? What we desire with impatience, being possessed, brings care and solicitude, grief and affliction.
The short time which any pleasure stays with us, it is not to be enjoyed wholly, and all at once, but tasted by parts; so as, when the second part comes, we feel not the pleasure of the first, lessening itself every moment, and we ourselves still dying with it; there being no instant of life, wherein death gains not ground of us; the motion of the heavens is but the swift turn of the spindle, which rolls up the thread of our lives; and a most fleet horse, upon which death runs post after us. There is no moment of life, wherein death hath not equal jurisdiction; and there is no point of life, which we divide not with death; so as, if well considered, we live but only one point, and have not life but for the present instant. Our years past are now vanished; and we enjoy no more of them, than if we were already dead; the years to come we live not, and possess no more of them, than if we were not yet born; yesterday is gone, to-morrow we know not what shall be; of to-day many hours are past, and we
live them not; others are to come, and whether we shall live them or no, is uncertain; so that, all counts cast up, we live but this present moment; and in this also we are dying; so that we cannot say, that life is any thing but the half of an instant, an indivisible point, divided betwixt it and death.
With reason may this life be called the shadow of death, since, under the shadow of life, death steals upon us; and as at every step the body takes, the shadow takes another, so at every pace our lives move forward, death equally advances with it; and as eternity is ever in beginning, and is, therefore, a perpetual beginning; so life is ever ending and concluding, and may, therefore, be called a perpetual end, and a continual death. There is no pleasure in life, which although it should last twenty continued years, that cannot be present with us longer than an instant; and with such counterpoise, that in it death no less appeareth, than life is enjoyed.
If a man were lord of infinite worlds, and possessed infinite riches; if they were at last to end, and he to leave them, they were to be valued as nothing; and if all things temporal have this evil property, to fade and perish, they ought to have no more esteem, than if they were not.
O miserable condition of human nature! vain is all that we live without Christ; "all flesh is grass, and all the glory of it as the flower of the field." Where is now that comely visage? Where is now the dignity of the whole body, with which, as with a fair garment, the beauty of the soul was once clothed? Ah! pity! the lily is withered, the purple of the violet turned into paleness; therefore let us consider, what in time must become of us, and what, will we, or will not, cannot be far off; for should our lives exceed the term of nine hundred years, and that the days of Methusalem were bestowed upon us; yet all the length of life once past, (and pass it must,) were nothing; and betwixt him who lives but ten years, and him who lives a thousand, the end of life, and the unavoidable necessity of death once come, all is the same, save only he who lives longer, departs heavier laden with sins.
Vain are all honours. Vain are the applauses, the riches and pleasures of life, which, being itself so short and so frail, makes all things vain which depend upon it, and so becomes itself a vanity of vanities, and an universal vanity. What account wouldest thou make of a tower founded upon a EE