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The Consideration reduced to Practice.
It will be very material to our best and noblest purposes, if we represent this scene of change and sorrow a little more dressed up in circumstances; for so we shall be more apt to practice those rules, the doctrine of which is consequent to this consideration. It is a mighty change that is made by the death of every person, and it is visible to us who are alive. Reckon but from the sprightfulness of youth, and the fair cheeks and full eyes of childhood, from the vigorousness and strong flexure of the joints of five-and-twenty, to the hollowness and dead paleness, to the loathsomeness and horror, of a three days' burial, and we shall perceive the distance to be very great and very strange. But so have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and, at first, it was fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven, as a lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk; and at night, having lost some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman; the heritage of worms and serpents, rottenness and cold dishonour, and our beauty so changed that our acquaintance quickly knew us not; and that change mingled with so much horror, or else meets so with our fears and weak discoursings, that they who, six hours ago, tended upon us, either with charitable or ambitious services, cannot, without some regret, stay in the room alone where the body lies stripped of its life and honour. I have read of a fair young German gentleman, who, living, often refused to be pictured, but put off the importunity of his friends' desire by giving way, that, after a few days' burial, they might send a painter to his vault, and, if they saw cause for it, draw the image of his death unto the life. They did so, and found his face half eaten, and his midriff and backbone full of serpents; and so he stands pictured among his armed ancestors. So does the fairest beauty change,1212Anceps forma bonum mortalibus, Exigui donum breve temproris; Ut fulgor, teneris qui radiat genis, Momento rapitur, nullaque non dies Formosi spolium corporis abstulit.—Sence. Hipp. 770. and it will be as bad with you and me; and then what servants shall we have to wait upon us in the grave? what friends to visit us? what officious people to cleanse away the moist and unwholesome cloud reflected upon our faces from the sides of the weeping vaults, which are the longest weepers for our funeral?
This discourse will be useful, if we consider and practise the following rules and considerations respectively:
1. All the rich and all the covetous men in the world will
perceive, and all the world will perceive for them, that it is but an ill recompense
for all their cares, that, by this time all that shall be left will be this,1313Rape, congere, aufer, posside; relinquendum est.— Martial
that the neighbours shall say, “He died a rich man;” and yet his wealth will not
profit him in the grave, but hugely swell the sad accounts of doomsday. And he that
kills the Lord's people with unjust or ambitious wars, for an unrewarding interest,
shall have this character;1414Annos omnes prodegit, ut ex eo annus unus numeretur, et per mille indignitates
laboravit in titulum sepulchri.—Sen.
that he threw away all the days of his life, that one year might be reckoned with
his name, and computed by his reign or consulship: and many men, by great labours
and affronts, many indignities and crimes, labour only for a pompous epitaph, and
a loud title upon their marble; whilst those into whose possessions their heirs
or kindred are entered are forgotten, and lie unregarded as their ashes, and without
concernment or relation, as the turf upon the face of their grave.1515 Jam eorum prabendas alii possident, et nescio utrum
de its cogitant.—Gerson.
Me veterum frequens - Memphis Pyramidum docet, Me pressae tumulo lacryma glorie, Me projecta jacentium Passim per polulos busta Quiritium, Et vilis Zephyro jocus Jactati cineres et procerum rogi, Fumantumque cadvarea Regnorum tacito, Fufe silentio Mestum multa monent.—Cas.1.ii.Od. 27. A man may read a sermon, the best and most passionate that ever man preached, if he shall but enter into the sepulchres of kings. In the same Escurial where the Spanish princes live in greatness and power, and decree war or peace, they have wisely placed a cemetery, where their ashes and their glory shall sleep till time shall be no more; and where our kings have been crowned their ancestors lie interred, and they must walk over their grandsire's head to take his crown. There is an acre sown with royal seed, the copy of the greatest change, from rich to naked, from ceiled roofs to arched coffins, from living like gods to die like men. There is enough to cool the flames of lust, to abate the heights of pride, to appease the itch of covetous desires, to sully and dash out the dissembling colours of a lustful, artificial, and imaginary beauty. There the warlike and the peaceful, the fortunate and the miserable, the beloved and the despised princes mingle their dust, and pay down their symbol of mortality, and tell all the world that when we die our ashes shall be equal to kings', and our accounts easier, and our pains for our crowns shall be less. To my apprehension, it is a sad record which is left by Atheneus concerning Ninus, the great Assyrian monarch, whose life and death are summed up in these words: “Ninus, the Assyrian, had an ocean of gold, and other riches, more than the sand in the Caspian Sea; he never say the stars, and perhaps he never desired it; he never stirred up the holy fire among the Magi, nor touched his god with the sacred rod according to the laws; he never offered sacrifice, nor worshipped the deity, nor administered justice, nor spake to his people, nor numbered them; but he was most valiant to eat and drink, and having mingled his wines, he threw the rest upon the stores. This man is dead; behold his sepulchre; and now hear where Ninus is. Some time I was Ninus, and drew the breath of a living man; but now am nothing but clay. I have nothing but what I did eat, and what I served to myself in lust; that was and is all my portion. The wealth with which I was esteemed blessed, my enemies meeting together shall bear away, as the mad Thyades carry a new goat. I am gone to hell; and when I went thither I neither carried gold, nor horse, nor silver chariot. I that wore a mitre am now a little heap of dust.” I know not anything that can better represent the evil condition of a wicked man, or a changing greatness.1616Αφανασιας ο ουκ εστιν, ουο αν συναψαψξς Τα Τανταλου ταλαντ εκεινα λεψοηενα. Αλλ αν αποφανξς, ταυτα καταλειψεες τισιν. Menand. Clcrc. p. 214. From the greatest secular dignity to dust and ashes his nature bears him; and from thence to hell his sins carry him, and there he shall be for ever under the dominion of chains and devils, wrath and an intolerable calamity. This is the reward of an unsanctified condition, and a greatness ill-gotten or ill-administered.
2. Let no man extend his thoughts, or let his hopes wander towards future and far-distant events and accidental contingencies. This day is mine and yours, but ye know not what shall be on the morrow and every morning creeps out of a dark cloud, leaving behind it an ignorance and silence deep as midnight, and undiscerned as are the phantasms that make a chrisom-child to smile; so that we cannot discern what comes hereafter,1717Quid sit futurum cras, fuge querere, et Quem fors dierum cunque debit, lucro Appone.—Horat. 1.ix.15. unless we had a light from heaven brighter than the vision of an angel, even the spirit of prophecy. Without revelation we cannot tell whether we shall eat to-morrow, or whether a squinancy shall choke us: and it is written in the unrevealed folds of Divine predestination, that many who are this day alive shall to-morrow be laid upon the cold earth, and the women shall weep over their shroud, and dress them for their funeral. St. James, in his Epistle, notes the folly of some men, his contemporaries, who were so impatient of the event of to-morrow, or the accidents of next year, or the good or evils of old age, that they would consult astrologers and witches, oracles and devils, what should befall them the next calends—what should be the event of such a voyage—what God had written in his book concerning the success of battles, the election of emperors, the heirs of families, the price of merchandise, the return of the Tyrian fleet, the rate of Sidonian carpets: and as they were taught by the crafty and lying demons, so they would expect the issue; and oftentimes, by disposing their affairs in order towards such events, really did produce some little accidents according to their expectation; and that made them trust the oracles in greater things, and in all. Against this he opposes his counsel, that we should not search after forbidden records,1818Tentaris numeros, ut melius, quicquid erit, pati, Seu plures hyemes, seu tribuit Jupiter ultimam. Horat.1.ii.2. much less by uncertain significations: for whatsoever is disposed to happen by the order of natural causes or civil counsels, may be rescinded by a perculiar decree of Providence, or be prevented by the death of the interested persons; who, while their hopes are full, and their causes conjoined, and the work brought forward, and the sickle put into the harvest, and the first-fruits offered and ready to be eaten, even then, if they put forth their hand to an event that stands but at the door, at that door their body may be carried forth to burial before the expectation shall enter into fruition. When Richilda, the widow of Albert earl of Ebersberg, had feasted the emperor Henry III. and petitioned, in behalf of her nephew Welpho, for some lands formerly possessed by the earl her husband, just as the emperor held out his hand to signify his consent, the chamber-floor suddenly fell under them, and Richilda, falling upon the edge of a bathing-vessel, was bruised to death, and staid not to see her nephew sleep in those lands which the emperor was reaching forth to her, and placed at the door of restitution.
3. As our hopes must be confined, so must our designs;1919Certa amittimus, dum incerta petimus; atque hoe evenit in labore atque in dolore, ut mors obrepat interim—Plaut. Pseud. Act ii. Seen.3. let us not project long designs, crafty plots, and diggings so deep that the intrigues of a design shall never be unfolded till our grandchildren have forgotten our virtues or our vices. The work of our soul is cut short, facile, sweet, and plain, and fitted to the small portions of our shorter life; and as we must not trouble our iniquity, so neither must we intricate our labour and purposes with what we shall never enjoy. This rule does not forbid us to plant orchards, which shall feed our nephews with their fruit; for by such provisions they do something towards an imaginary immortality, and do charity to their relatives: but such projects are reproved which discompose our present duty by long and future designs;2020Quid brevi fortes jaculamur evo Multa? 2. 16. Jam te premet nox, fabuleque Manes, Et domus exillis Plutonia. I.4.—Horat. such which, by casting our labours to events at distance, make us less to remember our death standing at the door. It is fit for a man to work for his day's wages, or to contrive for the hire of a week, or to lay a train to make provisions for such a time as it is within our eye, and in our duty, and within the usual periods of man's life; for whatsoever is made necessary is also made prudent; but while we plot and busy ourselves in the toils of an ambitious war, or the levies of a great estate, night enters in upon us, and tells all the world how like fools we lived, and how deceived and miserably we died. Seneca tells of Senecio Cornelius, a man crafty in getting, and tenacious in holding, a great estate, and one who was as diligent in the care of his body as of his money, curious of his health as of his possessions, that he all day long attended upon his sick and dying friend; but when he went away, was quickly comforted, supped merrily, went to bed cheerfully, and on a sudden being surprised by a squinancy, scarce drew his breath until the morning, but by that time died, being snatched from the torrent of his fortune, and the swelling tide of wealth, and a likely hope bigger than the necessities of ten men. This accident was much noted then in Rome, because it happened in so great a fortune, and in the midst of wealthy designs; and presently it made wise men to consider how imprudent a person he is who disposes of ten years to come, when he is not lord of tomorrow.
4. Though we must not look so far off, and pry abroad, yet we must be busy near at hand; we must, with all arts of the spirit, seize upon the present,2121Ille enim ex futuro suspenditur, cui irritum est praens.—Seneca. because it passes from us while we speak, and because in it all our certainty does consist. We must take our waters as out of a torrent and sudden shower, which will quickly cease dropping from above, and quickly cease running in our channels here below: this instant will never return again, and yet it may be, this instant will declare or secure the fortune of a whole eternity. The old Greeks and Romans taught us the prudence of this rule; but Christianity teaches us the religion of it. They so seized upon the present, that they would lose nothing of the day's pleasure.2222Etate fruere; mobili cursu fugit.—Seneca. “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die;” that was their philosophy; and at their solemn feasts they would talk of death to heighten the present drinking, and that they might warm their veins with a fuller chalice, as knowing the drink that was poured upon their graves would be cold and without relish. “Break the beds, drink your wine, crown your heads with roses, and besmear your curled locks with nard; for God bids you to remember death:” so the epigrammatist speaks the sense of their drunken principles.2323Martial. 1.ii.Epig.59. Something towards this signification is that of Solomon, “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour; for that is his portion; for who shall bring him to see that which shall be after him?2424Eccles. iii. 22; ii. 24. But although he concludes all this to be vanity, yet because it was the best thing that was then commonly known, that they should seize upon the present with a temperate use of permitted pleasures, I had reason to say2525Amici, dum vivimus, vivamus. πινε, λεγει το γλυμρρα, και εσφιε, και περικεισο Ανφεα τοτοντοτ γιγνομεφ εζαρινμς. Hoc etiam faciunt, ubi discubuere, tenentque Pocula sape homines, et inumbrant ora coronis, Ex animo ut dicant, brevis est hic fructus homullis; Jam fuerit, neque post unquam revocare licebit. Lucret. lib. iii. 925. that Christianity taught us to turn this into religion. For he that by a present and constant holiness secures the present, and makes it useful to his noblest purposes, he turns his condition into his best advantage, by making his unavoidable fate become his necessary religion.
To the purpose of this rule is that collect of Tuscan hieroglyphies which we have from Gabriel Simeon: “Our life is very short; beauty is a cozenage; money is false and fugitive; empire is adious, and hated by them that have it not, and uneasy to them that have; victory is always uncertain, and peace, most commonly, is but a fraudulent bargain; old age is miserable, death is the period, and is a happy one, if it be not sorrowed by the sins of our life: but nothing continues but the effects of that wisdom which employs the present time in the acts of a holy religion and a peaceable conscience.” For they make us to live even beyond our funerals, embalmed in the spices and odours of a good name, and entombed in the grave of the holy Jesus, where we shall be dressed for a blessed resurrection to the state of angels and beatified spirits.
5. Since we stay not here, being people but of a day's abode, and our age is like that of a fly and contemporary with a gourd, we must look somewhere else for an abiding city, a place in another country to fix our house in, whose walls and foundation is God, where we must find rest, or else be restless for ever. For whatsoever ease we can have or fancy here, is shortly to be changed into sadness or tediousness;2626Quis sapiens bono Confidat fragili? dum licet, utere: it goes away too soon, like the periods of our life, or stays too long, like the sorrows of a sinner; its own weariness, or a contrary disturbance, is its load; or it is eased by its revolution into vanity and forgetfulness; and where either there is sorrow, or an end of joy, there can be no true felicity; which, because it must be had by some instrument, and in some period of our duration, we must carry up our affections to the mansions prepared for us above, where eternity is the measure, felicity is the state, angels are the company, the Lamb is the light, and God is the portion and inheritance.
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