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The second Temptation proper to the state of Sickness, Fear of Death, with its Remedies.
There is nothing which can make sickness unsanctified, but the same also will give us cause to fear death. if, therefore, we so order our affairs and spirits that we do not fear death, our sickness may easily become our advantage; and we can then receive counsel, and consider, and do those acts of virtue, which are, in that state, the proper services of God, and such which men in bondage and fear are not capable of doing, or of advices how they should, when they come to the appointed days of mourning. And, indeed, if men would but place their design of being happy in the nobleness, courage, and perfect resolutions of doing handsome things, and passing through our unavoidable necessities, in the contempt and despite of the things of this world, and in holy living and the perfective desires of our natures, the longings and pursuances after heaven; it is certain they could not be made miserable by chance and change, by sickness and death. But we are so softened and made effeminate with delicate thoughts, and meditations of ease, and brutish satisfactions that if our death come before we have seized upon a great fortune, or enjoy the promises of the fortune-tellers, we esteem ourselves to be robbed of our goods, to be mocked, and miserable. Hence it comes that men are impatient of the thoughts of death; hence come those arts of protraction and delaying the significations of old age: thinking to deceive the world, men cozen themselves,9595mentiris juvenem tinietis Lentine, capillis, Tam subito corvus, qui modo cygnus eras. Non omnes fallis, scit te Proserpina canum; Personam capiti detrahet illa tuo.—Mart. 1.iii ep. 42. and by representing themselves youthful, they certainly continue their vanity, till Proserpina pull the peruke from their heads. We cannot deceive God and nature; for a coffin is a coffin, though it be covered with a pompous veil; and the minutes of our time strike on, and are counted by angels, till the period comes which must cause the passing-bell to give warning to all the neighbours that thou art dead, and they must be so; and nothing can excuse or retard this. And if our death could be put off a little longer, what advantage can it be, in thy accounts of nature or felicity? They that three hundred years agone died unwillingly, and stopped death two days, or stayed it a week, what is their gain? Where is that week? And poor-spirited men use arts of protraction, and make their persons pitiable, but their condition contemptible, being like the poor sinners at Noah's flood; the waters drove them out of their lower rooms; then they crept up to the roof, having lasted half a day longer, and then they knew not how to get down; some crept upon the top-branch of a tree, and some climbed up to a mountain, and stayed, it may be, three days longer; but all that while they entered a worse torment than death: they lived with amazement, and were distracted with the ruins of mankind, and the horror of a universal deluge.
1. God having in this world placed us in a sea, and troubled the sea with a continual storm, hath appointed the church for a ship, and religion to be the stern; but there is no haven or port but death. Death is that harbour, whither God hath designed every one, that there he may find rest from the troubles of the world. How many of the noblest Romans have taken death for sanctuary, and have esteemed it less than shame or a mean dishonour? and Caesar was cruel to Domitius, captain of Corfinium, when he had taken the town from him, that he refused to sign his petition of death. Death would have hid his head with honour, but that cruel mercy reserved him to the shame of surviving his disgrace.9696Heu, quanto melius vel caede peracta Parccre Romano potuit fortina pudori!—Lucanus. The holy Scripture, giving an account of the reason of the Divine providence taking godly men from this world, and shutting them up in a hasty grave, says, ‘that they are taken away from the evils to come:' and concerning ourselves it is certain, if we had ten years agone taken seizure of our portion of dust, death had not taken us from good things, but from infinite evils, such which the sun hath seldom seen. Did not Priamus weep oftener that Troilus?9797Haec omnia vidit inflammari, Jovis aram sanguine turpari and happy had he been, if he had died when his sons were living, and his kingdom safe, and houses full, and his city unburnt. It was a long life that made him miserable, and an early death only could have secured his fortune. And it hath happened many times, that persons of a fair life and a clear reputation, of a good fortune, and an honourable name, have been tempted in their age to folly and vanity,9898Sic longius aevum Destruit ingentes animos, et vita superstes Imperio; nisi summa dies cum fine bonorum Adfuit, et celeri praevertit trista leto, Dedecori est fortuna prior.—Lucan. lib. viii. have fallen under the disgrace of dotage, or into an unfortunate marriage, or have besotted themselves with drinking, or outlived their fortunes, or become tedious to their friends, or are afflicted with lingering and vexatious diseases, or lived to see their excellent parts buried, and cannot understand the wise discourses and productions of their younger years. In all these cases, and infinite more, do not all the world say, that it had been better this man had died sooner?9999Mors illi medius quam tu consuluit quidem.-Quisquam ne secundis tradere se fatis audet nisi morte parata?—Luc. lib. viii. But so have I known passionate women to shriek aloud when their nearest relatives were dying, and that horrid shriek hath stayed the spirit of the man awhile to wonder at the folly, and represent the inconvenience; and the dying person hath lived one day longer full of pain, amazed with an indeterminate spirit, distorted with convulsions, and only come again to act one scene more of a new calamity, and to die with less decency. So also do very many men; with passion and a troubled interest they strive to continue their life longer; and it may be, they escape this sickness, and live to fall into a disgrace; they escape the storm, and fall into the hands of pirates; and instead of dying with liberty, they live like slaves, miserable and despised servants to a little time, and sottish admirers of the breath of their own lungs. Paulus Emilius did handsomely reprove the cowardice of the king of humanity, that having conquered him and taken his kingdom from him, he would be content with that, and not lead him in triumph a prisoner to Rome. Emilius told him he need not be beholden to him for that; himself might prevent that in despite of him. But the timorous king durst not die. But certainly every wise man will easily believe, that it had been better the Macedonian kings should have died in battle than protract their life so long, till some of them came to be scriveners and joiners at Rome: or that the tyrant of Sicily better had perished in the Adriatic than to be wafted to Corinth safely, and there turn schoolmaster. It is a sad calamity, that the fear of death shall so imbecile man's courage and understanding, that he dares not suffer the remedy of all his calamities; but that he lives to say as Laberius did, “I have lived this one day longer than I should.” Either, therefore, let us be willing to die, when God calls, or let us never more complain of the calamities of our life, which we feel so sharp and numerous. And when God sends his angel to us with the scroll of death, let us look on it as an act of mercy, to prevent many sins and many calamities of a longer life, and lay our heads down softly, and go to sleep without wrangling like babies and forward children. For a man (at least) get this by death, that his calamities are not immortal.100100Hoc homo morte lucratur, ne malum esset immortale.—Naz.
But I do not only consider death by the advantages of comparison; but if we look on it in itself, it is no such formidable thing, if we view it on both sides and handle it, and consider all its appendages.
2. It is necessary, and therefore not intolerable: and nothing is to be esteemed evil which God and nature have fixed with eternal sanctions.101101Nihil in malis ducamus, quod si a Diis immortalibus vel a Natura parente omnium, constitutum. It is a law of God, it is a punishment of our sins, and it is the constitution of our nature. Two differing substances were joined together with the breath of God, and when that breath is taken away, they part asunder, and return to their several principles; the soul to God our Father, the body to the earth our mother: and what in all this is evil? Surely nothing, but that we are men; nothing, but that we are not born immortal: but by declining this change with great passion, or receiving it with a huge natural fear, we accuse the Divine Providence of tyranny, and exclaim against our natural constitution, and are discontent that we are men.
3. It is a thing that is no great matter in itself; if we consider, that we die daily, that it meets us in every accident, that every creature carries a dart along with it and can kill us. And therefore when Lysimachus threatened Theodorus to kill him, he told him, that was so great matter to do, and he could do no more than the cantharides could: a little fly could do as much.
4. It is a thing that every one suffers, even persons of the lowest resolution, of the meanest virtue, of no breeding, of no discourse. Take away but the pomps of death, the disguises and solemn bugbears, the tinsel, and the actings by candlelight, and proper and fantastic ceremonies, the minstrels and the noise makers, the women and the weepers, the swoonings and the shriekings, the nurses and the physicians, the dark room and the ministers, the kindred and the watchers; and then to die is easy, ready, and quitted from its troublesome circumstances. It is the same harmless thing that a poor shepherd suffered yesterday, or a maid-servant to-day; and at the same time in which you die, in that very night a thousand creatures die with you, some wise men, and many fools; and the wisdom of the first will not quit him, and the folly of the latter does not make him unable to die.
5. Of all the evils of the world which are reproached with an evil character, death is the most innocent of its accusation. For when it is present, it hurts nobody, and when it is absent, it is indeed troublesome, but the trouble is owning to our fears, not to the affrighting and mistaken object: and besides this, if it were an evil, it is so transient that it passes like the instant or undiscerned portion of the present time; and either it is past, or it is not yet; for just when it is, no man hath reason to complain of so insensible, so sudden, so undiscerned a change.
6. It is so harmless a thing that no good man was ever thought the more miserable for dying but much the happier. When men saw the graves of Calatinus, of the Servilii, the Scipios, the Metlli, did ever any man among the wisest Romans think them unhappy? And when St. Paul fell under the sword of Nero, and St. Peter died upon the cross, and St. Stephen from a heap of stones was carried into an easier grave, they that made great lamentation over them, wept for their own interest, and after the manner of men; but the martyrs were accounted happy, and their days kept solemnly, and their memories preserved in never-dying honours. When St. Hilary, bishop of Poictiers, in France, went into the East to reprove the Arian heresy, he heard that a young noble gentleman treated with his daughter Abra for marriage. The bishop wrote to his daughter, that she should not engage her promise, nor do countenance to that request, because he had provided for her a husband fair, rich, wise, and noble, far beyond her present offer. The event of which was this: she obeyed; and when her father returned from his eastern triumph to his western charge, he prayed to God that his daughter might die quickly: and God heard his prayers, and Christ took her into his bosom, entertaining with antepasts and caresses of holy love, till the day of the marriage-supper of the Lamb shall come. But when the bishop's wife observed this event, and understood of the good man her husband what was done, and why, she never let him alone, till he obtained the same favour for her; and she also, at the prayers of St. Hilary, went into a more early grave and a bed of joys.
7. I is a sottish and an unlearned thing to reckon the time of our life, as it is short or long, to be good or evil fortune; life in itself being neither good nor bad, but just as we make it; and therefore so is death.
8. But when we consider death is not only better than a miserable life, not only an easy and innocent thing in itself, but also that it is a state of advantage, we shall have reason not to double the sharpnesses of our sickness by our fear of death. Certain it is, death hath some good upon its proper stock; praise, and a fair memory, a reverence and religion towards them so great, that it is counted dishonest to speak evil of the dead; then they rest in peace and are quiet from their labours, and are designed to immortality. Cleobis and Biton, Trophonius and Agamedes, had an early death sent them as a reward; to the former, for their piety to their mother; to the latter, for building of a temple. To this all those arguments will minister, which relate the advantages of the state of separation and resurrection.
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