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LETTER XXII. The fear of death not taken away by our own courage, but by the grace of God.

I am not in the least surprised to learn that your impression of death becomes more lively, in proportion as age and infirmity bring it nearer. I experience the same thing. There is an age at which death is forced upon our consideration more frequently, by more irresistible reflections, and by a time of retirement in which we have fewer distractions. God makes use of this rough trial to undeceive us in respect to our courage, to make us feel our weakness, and to keep us in all humility in his own hands.

Nothing is more humiliating than a troubled imagination, in which we search in vain for our former confidence in God. This is the crucible of humiliation, in which the heart is purified by a sense of its weakness and unworthiness. In his sight shall no man living be justified (Psalm cxliii. 2); yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight, (Job xv. 15,) and in many things we offend all. (James iii. 2.) We behold our faults and not our virtues; which latter it would be even dangerous to behold, if they are real.

We must go straight on through this deprivation without interruption, just as we were endeavoring to walk in the way of God, before being disturbed. If we should perceive any fault that needs correction, we must be faithful to the light given us, but do it carefully, lest we be led into false scruples. We must then remain at peace, not listening to the voice of self-love, mourning over our approaching death, but detach ourselves from life, offering it in sacrifice to God, and confidently abandon ourselves to Him. St. Ambrose was asked, when dying, whether he was not afraid of the judgments of God; “We have a good master,” said he, and so must we reply to ourselves. We need to die in the most impenetrable uncertainty, not only as to God’s judgment upon us, but as to our own characters. We must, as St. Augustine has it, be so reduced as to have nothing to present before God but our wretchedness and his mercy. Our wretchedness is the proper object of his mercy, and his mercy is all our merit. In your hours of sadness, read whatever will strengthen your confidence and establish your heart. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Psalm lxxiii. 1.) Pray for this cleanness of heart, which is so pleasing in his sight, and which renders Him so compassionate to our failings.

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