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Were it fit that a soldier, in the time of battle, should stand disarmed, passing away his time at dice upon a drum-head? This doth he who seeks his ease in this life, and sets his affections upon things of the earth; not endeavouring those of heaven, nor thinking upon death, where he is to end.
A peregrination is this life; and what passenger is so besotted with the pleasures of the way, that he forgets the place whither he is to go? How camest thou, then, to forget death, whither thou travellest with speed; and canst not, though thou desirest, rest one small minute by the way? For time, although against thy will, will draw thee along with it. The way of this life is not voluntary, like that of travellers; but necessary, like that of condemned persons, from the prison unto the place of execution. To death thou standest condemned, whither thou art now going; how canst thou laugh?
A malefactor, after sentence past, is surprised with the apprehension of death, that he thinks of nothing but dying. We are all condemned to die; how come we, then, to rejoice in these things, which we are to leave so suddenly?
Death is compared unto a thief, who not only robs us of our treasure and substance, but bereaves us of our lives. Since, therefore, thou art to leave all, why dost thou load thyself in vain? What merchant, knowing that so soon as he arrived unto the port, his ship and goods should be sunk, would charge his vessel with much merchandise? Arriving at death, thou, and all thou hast, are to sink and perish; why dost thou, then, burden thyself with that which is not needful, but rather a hinderance to thy salvation?
This is the salary, which the goods of the earth bestow on those who serve them; that if they do not leave or ruin them before their death, they are then certain at least to leave them, and often hazard the salvation of those that dote upon them. O vain man! this short life is bestowed upon thee for gaining the goods of heaven, which are to last eternally; and you spend it in seeking those of the earth, which are to perish instantly.
Besides all this, though one should die the most happy death that can be imagined, yet behold the dead body; how ugly and noisome doth the miserable carcass remain, that even friends fly from it, and scarce dare stay one night alone
with it the nearest and most obliged kindred procure it in all haste to be carried forth a-doors; and, having wrapped it in some coarse sheet, throw it into the grave, and within two days forget it. And he, who in life could not be contained in great and sumptuous palaces, is now content with the narrow lodging of seven foot of earth; he, who used to lodge in rich and dainty beds, hath for his couch the hard ground; for his mattress, moths; and for his covering, worms; his pillows, at best the bones of other dead persons; then heaping upon him a little earth, and perhaps a grave-stone, they leave his flesh to be feasted upon by worms, whilst his, heirs triumph in his riches.
He who gloried in the exercise of arms, and was used to revel at balls, is now stiff and cold, his hands and feet without motion, and all his senses without life; he who with his power and pride trampled upon all, is now trod under foot by all; consider him eight days dead, drawn from his grave, how ghastly and horrible a spectacle he will appear! Behold then what thou pamperest, a body, which, perhaps within four days, may be eaten by loathsome vermin: whereon dost thou found thy vain pretensions, which are but castles in the air, founded upon a little earth, which turning into dust, the whole fabric falls to the ground. See where all human greatness concludes; and that the end of man is no less loathsome and miserable than his beginning!
The memory of the loathsomeness of a dead body may serve to make us to despise the beauty of that which is living; therefore, if, at any time, thou shalt be surprised with the temptation of the frail beauty of the flesh, send thy thoughts presently unto the sepulchre of the dead, and let them there see what they can find agreeable to the touch, or pleasing to the sight. Consider that dust and dry ashes were once soft and lively flesh, and, in its youth, was subject to the like passions as thou art. Consider those rigid, nerves, those naked teeth, the disjointed disposition of the bones and arteries, and that horrible dissipation of the whole body; by this means thou mayest take from thy heart those vain deceits and illusions.
All this is certainly to happen unto thyself; wherefore dost thou not amend thy evil conditions? This is to be thy end; unto this, therefore, direct thy life and actions. With
reason had the Brahmins their sepulchres still placed open' before their doors, that, by the memory of death, they might learn to live. Wisdom is the meditation of death; therefore ever have in thy thoughts that meditation, "Remember, thou art to die."
Therefore, whatsoever misery or affliction shall fall upon thee, say, "By the Divine assistance, I will bear it patiently; Lord Jesu, stand by me, and comfort me: Lord Jesu, be present with thy servant, that putteth his trust in thee; receive my spirit, and lead me through the valley and shadow of death; lead me, and forsake me not, until thou hast brought my soul into the land of the living, O thou which art my light, life, and salvation!"
Of Death, and the Certainty of it.
BESIDES the misery wherein all the felicity of this world is to determine, there are other considerations of the end of our life to be considered; by which we may perceive, how vain and contemptible are all the goods of it. We will principally speak of three.
1. That death is most certain, and no ways to be avoided. 2. That the time is most uncertain; because we know neither when, or how it will happen.
3. That it is but only one, and but once to be experienced; so that we cannot, by a second death, correct the errors of the first.
Concerning the certainty of death, it imports us much to persuade ourselves of it; for, as it is infallible that the other life shall be without end, so it is as certain that this shall have it. God hath not made a law more inviolable than that of death; thou art to die, assure thyself of that; an irrevocable law is this; and, without remedy, thou must die. I pray, tell me, where is Adam now? where is Cain? where is long-lived Methusaleh? where is Noah? where is Shem? where is Abraham? where is Jacob? They are dead and
gone, their time is past; we may say of them, “ Vixerunt, fuerunt Tröes;" once they were, now they are not and be assured, that "mortuus est" shall be every man's epitaph; for 66 we must needs die, and are as water spilt upon the ground."
The time will come, when those eyes, with which thou readest this, shall be burst, and lose their sight; those hands which thou now employest, be without sense or motion; this mouth, which now discourses, shall be mute, without breath or spirit; and this flesh, which thou now pamperest, shall be consumed and eaten by worms and vermin; the time will come, when thou shalt be covered with earth, thy body stink and rot; the time will come, when thou shalt be forgotten as if thou never hadst been, and those that pass, shall walk over thee, without remembering that such a man was born. Consider this, and persuade thyself, that thou must die as well as others; that which hath happened to so many, must happen also to thee; think upon this seriously, and reflect with thyself soberly, how thou shalt look when thou art dead; and this consideration will give thee a great knowledge what thy life is, and make thee despise the pleasures of it.
If death were only contingent, and not certain, yet because it might happen, it ought to make us very careful and solicitous. If God should say, that only one of all those in the world should die, but did not declare who that one were, yet all would fear: why, then, dost thou not now fear, when all men must infallibly die, and perhaps thou the first?
Now is the bow drawn; now the arrow let loose, and already in the way to hit thee; why dost thou strive to shun it, and dost not rather humble and prepare thyself to receive it? If one should tell thee, that a whole tire of artillery were immediately to be discharged at thee, and no way left to avoid the strokes; how wouldst thou be amazed? but if thou perceivedst that fire were already given, the very noise perhaps would kill thee; know then, that the artillery of death with much more fury is already shot, and there is no quarter of an hour, wherein it flies not more than ten millions of leagues to overtake thee, and yet from whence it parted, and where it now is, thou knowest not; wert thou certain it were far off,
a 2 Sam. xiv. 14.
yet it runs with so precipitate a course, that it will not fail in a short time to reach thee. Therefore, thou being ignorant at what distance it is, thou oughtest every moment to expect it, since every moment it may be with thee.
Let every man therefore say within himself: It is I who am to die, and resolve into dust; I have nothing to do with this world; the other was made for me, and I am only to care for that; in this I am only a passenger, and am therefore to look upon the eternal, whither I am going, and am there to make my abode for ever; certain it is, that death will come and hurry me along with him; all the business therefore I have now, is to dispose myself for so hard an encounter; and since it is not in the power of man to free me from it, I will only serve the Lord, who is able to save me in so certain and imminent a danger.
2. As it is most certain that we are to die, so it is most uncertain when, or in what manner we shall die: who knows whether he is to die in his old age, or in his youth; if by sickness, or struck by a thunderbolt; if a year hence, or to-day? The doors of death are ever open; and the enemy continually lies in ambush, and, when we least think of him, will assault us.
He who suspected that thieves were to enter his house, would wake all night, because they should find him at no hour unprovided; it being, then, not a suspicion, but an apparent certainty, that death will come, and we know not when, why do we not always watch? We are in a continual danger, and therefore ought to be continually prepared : it is good ever to have our accounts made with God, since we know not but he may call us in such haste as we shall have no time to perfect them; it is good to play a sure game, and be ever in the grace of God.
Who would not tremble to hang over some vast precipice, wherein if he fell, he were certain to be dashed in a thousand pieces, and that by so weak a supporter as a thread? This, or, in truth, much greater, is the danger of him, who is in mortal sin, who hangs over hell by the thread of life, a twist so delicate, that not a knife, but the wind, and the least fit of sickness, breaks it: wonderful is the danger where he stands, who continues but one minute in mortal sin. Death hath time enough to shoot his arrow, in the speaking of a word;