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Three Precepts preparatory to a Holy Death, to be practised in our whole Life.
1. He that would die well must always look for death, every day knocking at the gates of the grave; and then the gates of the grave shall never prevail upon him to do him mischief.4040Propera vivere, et singulos die singulas vitas puta. Nihil interest inter diem et seculum. This was the advice of all the wise and good men of the world, who, especially in the days and periods of their joy and festival egressions, chose to throw some ashes into their chalices, some sober remembrances of their fatal period.4141Si sapis, utaris totis, Colme, diebus; Extremumque tibi semper adese putes.—Martial. Such was the black shirt of Saladine; the tombstone presented to the Emperor of Constantinople on his coronation-day; the Bishop of Rome's two reeds with flax and a fax-taper; the Egyptian skeleton served up at feasts; and Trimalcion's banquet in Petronius, in which was brought in the image of a dead man's bones of silver, with spondyles exactly returning to every of the guests,4242Heu, heu, nos miseros! quam totus homuncio nil est! Sic erimus cunci. postquam nos auferet Orcus: Ergo vivamus, dum licet esse, bene. and saying to every one, that you and you must die, and look not one upon another, for every one is equally concerned in this sad representment. These in fantastic semblances declare a severe counsel and useful meditation; and it is not easy for a man to be gay in his imagination, or to be drunk with joy or wine, pride or revenge, who considers sadly, that he must, ere long, dwell in a house of darkness and dishonour, and his body must be the inheritance of worms, and his soul must be what he pleases, even as a man makes it here by his living good or bad. I have read of a young hermit, who, being passionately in love with a young lady, could not, by all the arts of religion and mortification, suppress the trouble of that fancy, till at last, being told that she was dead, and had been buried about fourteen days, he went secretly to her vault, and, with the skirt of his mantle, wiped the moisture from the carcass, and still at the return of his temptation laid it before him, saying, Behold this is the beauty of the woman thou didst so much desire: and so the man found his cure. And if we make death as present to us, our own death, dwelling and dressed in all its pomp of fancy and proper circumstances - if anything will quench the heats of lust, or the desires of money, or the greedy passionate affections of this world, this must do it. But withal, the frequent use of this meditation, by curing our present inordinations, will make death safe and friendly, and by its very custom will make, that the king of terrors shall come to us without his affrighting dresses; and that we shall sit down in the grave as we compose ourselves to sleep and do the duties of nature and choice. The old people that lived near the Riphaean mountains4343Certe populi quos despicit Arctos Felices errore suo, quos ille timorum Maximus haud urget, lethi metus Inde ruendi In ferrum mens prona viris, animaque capaces Mortis, et ignavum rediture parcere vitae.—Lucan. i. 458. were taught to converse with death, and to handle it on all sides, and to discourse of it as of a thing that will certainly come, and ought so to do. Thence their minds and resolutions became capable of death, and they thought it a dishonourable thing with greediness to keep a life that must go from us, to lay aside its thorns, and to return again circled with a glory and a diadem.
2. “He that would die well must, all the days of his life, lay up against the day of death,”4444Qui quotidie vit suae manum imposuit, non indiget tempore.—Seneca. not only by the general provisions of holiness and a pious life indefinitely, but provisions proper to the necessities of that great day of expense, in which a man is to throw his last cast for an eternity of joys or sorrows, ever remembering, that this alone well performed is not enough to pass us into paradise, but that alone, done foolishly, is enough to send us to hell, and the want of either a holy life or death makes a man to fall short of the mighty price of our high calling. In order to this rule we are to consider what special graces we shall then need to exercise, and by the proper arts of the spirit, by a heap of proportioned arguments, by prayers and a great treasure of devotion laid up in heaven, provide beforehand a reserve of strength and mercy.4545insere nunc, Melibae, pyros, pone ordine vites. Men in the course of their lives walk lazily and incuriously, as if they had both their feet in one shoe; and when they are passably revolved to the time of their dissolution, they have no mercies in store, no patience, no faith, no charity to God or despite of the world, being without gust or appetite for the land of their inheritance, which Christ with so much pain and blood had purchased for them. When we come to die indeed, we shall be very much put to it to stand firm upon the two feet of a Christian, faith and patience. When we ourselves are to use the articles, to turn our former discourses into present practice, and to feel what we never felt before, we shall find it to be quite another thing to be willing presently to quit this life and all our present possessions for the hopes of a thing which we were never suffered to see, and such a thing of which we may fail so many ways, and of which, if we fail any, we are miserable for ever. Then we shall find how much we have need to have secured the Spirit of God and the grace of faith, by an habitual, perfect, unmovable resolution. The same also is the case of patience, which will be assaulted with sharp pains, disturbed fancies, great fears, want of a present mind, natural weaknesses, frauds of the devil, and a thousand accidents and imperfections. It concerns us therefore highly, in the whole course of our lives, not only to accustom ourselves to a patient suffering of injuries and affronts, of persecutions and loses, of cross accidents and unnecessary circumstances; but also by representing death as present to us, to consider with what arguments then to fortify our patience, and by assiduous and fervent prayer to God all our life long to call upon him to give us patience, and great assistances, a strong faith, and a confirmed hope, the Spirit of God and his holy angels assistants at that time, to resist and to subdue the devil's temptations and assaults; and so to fortify our heart, that it break not into intolerable sorrows and impatience, and end in wretchedness and infidelity. But this is to be the work of our life, and not to be done at once; but, as God gives us time, by succession, by parts and little periods. For it is very remarkable, that God who giveth plenteously to all creatures, he hath scattered the firmament with stars, as a man sows corn in his fields, in a multitude bigger than the capacities of human order; he hath made so much variety of creatures, and gives us great choice of meats and drinks, although any one of both kinds would have served our needs, and so in all instances of nature; yet in the distribution of our time God seems to be straighthanded, and gives it to us, not as nature gives us rivers, enough to drown us, but drop by drop, minute after minute, so that we never can have two minutes together, but he takes away one when he gives us another. This should teach us to value our time, since God so values it. and, by his so small distribution of it, tells us it is the most precious thing we have. Since, therefore, in the day of our death we can have still but the same little portion of this precious time, let us in every minute of our life, I mean in every discernible portion, lay up such a stock of reason and good works, that they may convey a value to the imperfect and shorter actions of our death-bed, while God rewards the piety of our lives by his gracious acceptation and benediction upon the actions preparatory to our death-bed.
3. He that desires to die well and happily, above all things, must be careful that he do not live a soft, a delicate, and voluptuous life; but a life severe, holy, and under the discipline of the cross, under the conduct of prudence and observation, a life of warfare and sober counsels, labour and watchfulness. No man wants cause of tears and a daily sorrow. Let every man consider what he feels, and acknowledge his misery; let him confess his sin, and chastise it; let him bear his cross patiently, and his persecutions nobly, and his repentances willingly and constantly; let him pity the evils of all the world, and bear his share of the calamities of his brother; let him long and sigh for the joys of heaven; let him tremble and fear, because he hath deserved the pains of hell; let him commute his eternal fear with a temporal suffering, preventing God's judgment by passing one of his own; let him groan for the labours of his pilgrimage and the dangers of his warfare; and by that time he hath summed up all these labours and duties and contingencies, all the proper causes, instruments, and acts of sorrow, he will find that for a secular joy and wantonness of spirit there are not left many void spaces of his life. It was St. James's advice,4646Chap. iv. 9. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into weeping;” and Bonaventure, in the life of Christ, reports that the holy virgin-mother said to St. Elizabeth, that grace does not descend into the soul of a man but by prayer and affliction.4747Neque enim Deus ulla re perinde atque corporis arumna concilliatur.—Naz. Orat. 18. Certain it is, that a mourning spirit and an afflicted body are great instruments of reconciling God to a sinner, and they always dwell at the gates of atonement and restitution. But besides this, a delicate and prosperous life is hugely contrary to the hopes of a blessed eternity. ‘Woe be to them that are at ease in Sion,'4848Amos, vi.1. so it was said of old; and our blessed Lord said, ‘Woe be to you that laugh, for ye shall weep;'4949Luke, vi.25. Here or hereafter we must have our portion of sorrows. ‘He that now goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed with him, shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him.'5050Matt. v.4. And certainly he that sadly considers the portion of Dives, and remembers that the account which Abraham gave him for the unavoidableness of his torment was, because he had his good things in this life, must, in all reason, with trembling run from a course of banquets and faring deliciously every day, as being a dangerous estate, and a consignation to an evil greater than all danger, the pains and torments of unhappy souls. If, either by patience or repentance, by compassion or persecution, by choice or by conformity, by severity or discipline, we allay the festival follies of a soft life, and profess under the cross of Christ, we shall more willingly and more safely enter into our grave; but the death-bed of a voluptuous man upbraids his little and cozening prosperities, and exacts pains made sharper by the passing from soft beds and a sober mind. He that would die holily and happily, must in this world love tears, humility, solitude, and repentance.
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