« PreviousContinue »
moved with other affections; he doth not hold the same form, nor pass the same judgment he did; and how is it possible, that without change in himself, he should thus change in his motions and affections? Certainly, he who still changes, is not the same; and he who is not the same, cannot be said to be, but, in a continual mutation, slides away like water: where shall we then find true being, but in that only which is eternal, and knows no beginning; which is incorruptible, which is not changed with time?
Man is not only thus vile and base whilst he lives, and much more being dead; but even his soul, whilst it remains in his body, is not of much greater esteem; for although the soul be of itself of a most noble substance, yet his vices do so much vilify it, that he makes it more abominable than the body; and, without doubt, the soul, when it is dead in mortal sin, is more corrupt and stinking in the sight of the angels, than a body dead eight days ago; for if that body be full of worms, this is full of sins and vices; and if a man knew himself well, he would be more affrighted at the misery of his soul, than at that of his flesh.
Amongst all evils, man is the most evil; every beast hath an evil which is peculiar unto it, but man is all evils; the devil dares not approach a just man, but man dares despise him; man is compared to the beasts of the field: it is worse to be compared to a beast, than to be one; for it is no fault to be born an unreasonable creature; but to be endowed with reason, and to be compared to a beast, is a fault of the will, so as this untamed passion makes him worse than beasts.
What sorts of deaths and torments hath not human cruelty found out! what sorts of poison hath not the passion of man invented! Orpheus, Orus, Medisius, Hesiodotus, and other authors, have found out five hundred several ways of giving poison covertly, which have since been, to the calamity of man, wonderfully increased: nothing is now secure from the malice of man, since poison hath been given even in the shaking of hands, when men were to be reconciled and made friends: only in the sense of hearing, it hath not yet found a door to enter; all the rest of the senses it hath mastered with the smell of a rose, with the sight of
a letter, with the touch of a thread, with the taste of a grape, death hath found an entrance.
And as though man were not miserable enough by nature, his very passions must contribute to make him wretched and unhappy; the proud man grieves and consumes for the felicity of another; the envious dies to see a happy man live; the covetous man loses his sleep for what he hath no need of; the choleric man ruins himself for what no ways concerns him with reason did the prophet say, "In vain doth man trouble himself; he troubles himself, and before he attains rest, is overwhelmed; he mounts on high like a tempest; and like dust is scattered and disappears; he is kindled like a flame, and vanishes like smoke; he spreads himself as a cloud, and is contracted as a drop." He is troubled to gain the filth of riches, and a little dirt; his are the troubles, others' the joys; his are the cares, others' the contents; his are the curses, others' the respect and reverence. The life of man is full of vain labours, of vexatious thoughts, thinking how to obtain what he desires, and then how to keep it; after how to increase it, then how to defend it; and lastly how to enjoy it; and yet, in conclusion, all falls to pieces in the handling, and becomes nothing: what labour doth it cost the poor spider to weave his web, passing incessantly from one part to another; and often returning to the same place where he began, consuming himself with the threads drawn from his proper entrails, for the forming of his pavilion; which, with many journeys, having placed on high, and at last finished this goodly artifice, one touch of a broom defaces and brings to ground all his labour? Just such are the employments of man, of much toil, and of little profit; spending the most part of his time in useless projects, which, of themselves, fall to nothing, and, in the end, vanish without effect.
In vain doth man trouble himself, for he enjoys a life but lent him, and that but for a short time; man is but a debt of death, which is to be paid without delay. I have considered with tears what man was made of, what he is, and what he shall be. He was made of earth, and conceived in sin, and born for punishment: O unhappy condition of human nature! O the vanity and delusions of man! Thou
which gloriest in the strength of body, thou which embracest the gifts of fortune, and thinkest not thyself her servant, but her darling; see how thou mightest have perished, even before thou wert, with so little a thing as a snuff of a candle; and mayest yet with a smaller matter, pricked with the little tooth of an adder; or, like Anacreon, the poet, choaked with the stone of a grape; or, like Fabius, the Roman senator, suffocated with a hair in a draught of milk. The life of man, compared to the continuance of the world, is but a moment; and the world's continuance is but a moment in respect of eternity.
With good reason then is the life of man to be valued as nothing; since nothing is more frail, nothing more perishing; and, in conclusion, is little more than if it had no being at all. Glass, without violence, may last long; but the life of man ends of itself: Glass may, with care, be preserved for many ages; but nothing can preserve the life of
All this king David well understood, who was the most powerful and happy prince the Hebrews ever had; yet, when he considered that his greatness was to have an end, valued it as nothing; and not only esteemed his kingdoms and treasures as vanity, but even his life itself; wherefore he says, "Thou hast put, Lord, a measure unto my days, and my substance is as nothing." All my kingdoms, all my trophies, all my treasures, all which I possess, all is nothing: and presently adds, " doubtless all is vanity;" all which living man is, all his whole life is vanity, and nothing that belongs to him so frail as himself.
O if we could but frame a true conception of the shortness of this life, how should we despise the pleasures of it! This is a matter of such importance, that God commanded the principal of his prophets, that he should go into the streets and market-places, and proclaim aloud, that "all flesh is grass, and all the glory of it as the flowers of the field;" for as the grass, which is cut in the morning, withers before night, and as the flower is quickly faded, so is the life of all flesh, the beauty and splendor of it withering in a day: he who shall look upon the frailty of our flesh, and that every
a Psal. xxxvii.
moment of an hour we increase and decrease without ever remaining in the same state; and even what we now speak, dictate, or write, flies away with some part of our life, will not doubt to say, "his flesh is grass, and the glory of it as the flower of the field:" he that was yesterday an infant, is now a boy, and will suddenly be a youth, and even until old age runs changing through uncertain conditions of life, and perceives himself first to be an old man, before he begins to admire that he is not still a boy; nay, seeing death seizeth upon others, yet he will not believe that it shall happen to him; and although he hear of it hourly, yet it appears unto him as a hidden mystery, which he cannot understand. God, therefore, commanded his prophet Isaiah, that he should proclaim it with a loud voice, as a thing of great importance, and that it might sink into the heart of man: receive, therefore, this truth from God himself, "All flesh is grass," all age is short, all time flies, all life vanishes; and a great multitude of years are but a great nothing.
Let us hear how true this is, from those who lived the longest, and have had the experience of what it is to live; perhaps thou mayest promise thyself to live a hundred years, as though this were a long life: hearken then unto holy Job, who lived two hundred and forty years, who knew best what it was to live; what says he of all his years? "My days,” saith he," are nothing;" nothing, he calls them, although they lasted almost three ages. In other places, he says the life of man is like the flower, which springs up to-day, and to-morrow is trodden under foot; and that it flies like a shadow, without ever remaining in the same state: how poor a thing then is life, since holy Job calls it but a shadow, though then three or four times longer than at present! Those who lived more than eight hundred years, esteemed their life but as a shadow; and in the instant when they died, judged they were scarce born. How can we think to live long in a time, wherein it is much to make the age of sixty years! A life then of eight hundred years being no more than the flirting up and down of a little sparrow, the flight of an arrow, or to say better, the passage of a shadow: what then are fifty years, unto which, perhaps, thou mayest attain? certainly the longest term whereunto human life extends, was compared by Homer, but unto the leaves of the
tree, which, at most, endure but a summer's season. Euripides judged that too much, and said, that human felicity was to be valued but at the length of a day and Demetrius Phalereus allowed it but a moment's space. Consider, then, how vile are all things temporal, and how frail is all the glory of the world, being grounded upon so feeble a foundation the goods of the earth can be no greater than is life, which give them their value; and if that be so poor and short, what shall they be? what good can be of value, which is sustained by a life so contemptible and full of misery? A figure of this was the statue of Nebuchadnezzar, which, although made of rich metal, as of gold and silver, yet was founded on feet of clay; so as a little stone falling upon it, overthrew it unto the earth. All the greatness and riches of the world have, for foundation, the life of him who enjoys them, which is so frail and slippery, that not a little stone, but even the grain of a grape hath been able to ruin and overthrow it.
I shall not, therefore, be ambitious of a rich mausoleum after my death, for the repose of my body; nor do I desire a stately sepulchre, a beautiful urn, or that my name or actions should be engraven in marble: I know this, that if I shall be miserable and unhappy hereafter, they will be but for my greater shame and reproach. Out of this life I can carry nothing but my good works; I will not add unto my evil ones that of vain glory; I will take heed whereon I set my heart; since the accomplishing of what I wish, may be a punishment of my desires; if those things of the earth which I most love and desire should continue, if they be taken from me, it is a chastisement of my earthly affection; and if I be permitted to enjoy them, I am fearful that they may be the temporal reward of some good work, which may either diminish or deprive me of the eternal.
The Miseries of Temporal Life.
IF man, before he was born, knew what he was to suffer in his life, he would not be born at all; therefore, Silenus being