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General Considerations to enforce the former Practices.
These are the general instruments of preparation in order to a holy death: it will concern us all to use them diligently and speedily; for we must be long in doing that which must be done but once: and therefore we must begin betimes, and lose no time; especially since it is so great a venture, and upon it depends so great a stake. Seneca said well, “There is no science or art in the world so hard as to live and die well: the professors of other arts are vulgar and many;” but he that knows how to do this business is certainly instructed to eternity. But then let me remember this, that a wise person will also put most upon the greatest interest. Common prudence will teach us this. No man will hire a general to cut wood, or shake hay with a sceptre, or spend his soul and all his faculties upon the purchase of a cockleshell; but he will fit instruments to the dignity and exigence of the design: and, therefore, since heaven is so glorious a state, and so certainly designed for us if we please, let us spend all that we have, all our passions and affections, all our study and industry, all our desires and stratagems, all our witty and ingenious faculties, towards the arriving thither; whither if we do come, every minute will infinitely pay for all the troubles of our whole life; if we do not, we shall have the reward of fools, an unpitied and an upbraided misery.
To this purpose I shall represent the state of dying and dead men in the devout words of some of the fathers of the church, whose sense I shall exactly keep, but change their order; that by placing some of their dispersed meditations into a chain or sequel of discourse, I may with their precious stones make a union, and compose them into a jewel; for though the meditation is plain and easy, yet it is affectionate and material, and true and necessary.
When the sentence of death is decreed and begins to be put in execution, it is sorrow enough to see or feel respectively the sad accents of the agony and last contentions of the soul, and the reluctances and unwillingnesses of the body: the forehead washed with a new and stranger baptism, besmeared with a cold sweat, tenacious and clammy, apt to make it cleave to the roof of his coffin; the nose cold and undiscerning, not pleased with perfumes, nor suffering violence with a cloud of unwholesome smoke; the eyes dim as a sullied mirror, or the face of heaven when God shows his anger in a prodigious storm; the feet cold, the hands stiff, the physicians despairing, our friends weeping, the rooms dressed with darkness and sorrow, and the exterior parts betraying what are the violences which the soul and spirit suffer; the nobler part, like the lord of the house, being assaulted by exterior rudenesses, and driven from all the outworks, at last, faint and weary with short and frequent breathings, interrupted with the longer accents of sighs, without moisture but the excrescences of a split humour- when the pitcher is broken at the cistern, it retires to its last fort, the heart, whither it is pursued, and stormed, and beaten out, as when the barbarous Thracian sacked the glory of the Grecian empire. Then calamity is great, and sorrow rules in all the capacities of man; then the mourners weep, because it is civil, or because they need thee, or because they fear: but who suffers for thee with a compassion sharp as is thy pain? Then the noise is like the faint echo of a distant valley, and few hear, and they will not regard thee, who seemest like a person void of understanding and of a departing interest. Vere tremendum est mortis sacramentum. But these accidents are common to all that die; and when a special Providence shall distinguish them, they shall die with easy circumstances; but as no piety can secure it, so must no confidence expect it, but wait for the time, and accept the manner of the dissolution. But that which distinguishes them is this:
He that hath lives a wicked life, if his conscience be alarmed, and that he does not die like a wolf or a tiger, without sense or remorse of all his wildness and his injury, his beastly nature and desert and untilled manners - if he have but sense of what he is going to suffer, or what he may expect to be his portion - then we may expect to be his portion - then we may imagine the terror of their abused fancies, how they see affrighting shapes, and, because they fear them, they feel the gripes of devils, urging the unwilling souls from the kinder and fast embraces of the body, calling to the grave and hastening to judgment, exhibiting great bills of uncancelled crimes, awaking and amazing the conscience, breaking all their hope in pieces, and making faith useless and terrible, because the malice was great, and the charity was none at all. Then they look for some to have pity on them, but there is no man.6262St. Chrysostomus. No man dares be their pledge: no man can redeem their soul, which now feels what it never feared. Then the tremblings and the sorrow, the memory of the past sin, and the fear of future pains, and the sense of an angry God, and the presence of some devils, consign him to the eternal company of all the damned and accursed spirits.6363Ephraim Syrus. Then they want an angel for their guide, and the Holy Spirit for their comforter, and a good conscience for their testimony, and Christ for their advocate; and they die and are left in prisons of earth or air, in secret and undiscerned regions, to weep and tremble, and infinitely to fear the coming of the day of Christ; at which time they shall be brought froth to change their condition into a worse, where they shall for ever feel more than we can believe and understand.
But when a good man dies, one that hath lived innocently, or made joy in heaven at his timely and effective repentance, and in whose behalf the holy Jesus hath interceded prosperously, and for whose interest the Spirit makes interpellations with groans and sighs unutterable, and in whose defence the angels drive away the devils on his death-bed, because his sins are pardoned, and because he resisted the devil in his life-time, and fought successfully, and persevered unto the end; then the joys break forth through the clouds of sickness, and the conscience stands upright, and confesses the glories of God, and owns so much integrity, that it can hope for pardon, and obtain it too; then the sorrows of the sickness, and the flames of the fever, or the faintness of the consumption, do but untie the soul from its chain, and let it go forth, first into liberty, and then to glory; for it is but for a little while that the face of the sky was black, like the preparations of the night, but quickly the cloud was torn and rent, the violence of thunder parted it into little portions, that the sun might look forth with a watery eye, and then shine without a tear. But it is an infinite refreshment to remember all the comforts of his prayers, the frequent victory over his temptations, the mortification of his lust, the noblest sacrifice to God in which he most delights, that we have given him our wills and killed our appetites for the interests of his services; then all the trouble of that is gone; and what remains is a portion in the inheritance of Jesus, of which he now talks no more as a thing at distance, but is entering into the possession. When the veil is rent, and the prison-doors are open at the presence of God's angel, the soul goes forth full of hope, sometimes with evidence, but always with certainty in the thing, and instantly it passes into the throngs of spirits, where angels meet it singing, and the devils flock with malicious and vile purposes, desiring to lead it away with them into their houses of sorrow: there they see things which they never saw, and hear voices which they never heard. There the devils charge them with many sins, and the angels remember that themselves rejoiced when they were repented of. Then the devils aggravate and describe all the circumstances of the sin, and add calumnies; and the angels bear the sword forward still, because their Lord doth answer for them. Then the devils rage and gnash their teeth; they see the soul chaste and pure, and they are ashamed; they see it penitent, and they despair; they perceive that the tongue was refrained and sanctified, and then hold their peace. Then the soul passes forth and rejoices, passing by the devils in scorn and triumph, being securely carried into the bosom of the Lord, where they shall rest till their crowns are finished, and their mansions are prepared; and then they shall feast and sing, rejoice and worship, for ever and ever. Fearful and formidable to unholy persons is the first meeting with spirits in their separation. But the victory which holy souls receive by the mercies of Jesus Christ, and the conduct of angels, is a joy that we must not understand till we feel it; and yet such which by an early and a persevering piety we may secure; but let us inquire after it no further, because it is secret
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