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Remedies against fear of Death, by way of Exercise.
1. He that would willingly be fearless of death, must learn to despise the world: he must neither love any thing passionately, nor be proud of any circumstance of his life. ‘O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, to a man that hath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things; yea, unto him that is yet able to receive meat,' said the son of Sirach. But the parts of this exercise help each other. If a man be not incorporated in all his passions to the things of this world he will less fear to be divorced from them by a supervening death; and yet because he must part with them all in death; it is but reasonable he should not be passionate for so fugitive and transient interest. But if any man things well of himself for being a handsome person, or if he be stronger and wiser than his neighbours, he must remember that what he boasts of will decline into weakness and dishonour; but that very boasting and complacency will make death keener and more unwelcome, because it comes to take him from his confidence and pleasures, making his beauty equal to those ladies that have slept some years in charnel-houses, and their strength not so stubborn as the breath of an infant, and their wisdom such which can be looked for in the land where all things are forgotten.
2. He that would not fear death must strengthen his spirits with the proper instruments of Christian fortitude. All men are resolved upon this, that to bear grief honestly and temperately, and to die willingly and nobly, is the duty of a good and valiant man; and they that are not so are vicious and fools and cowards. All men praise the valiant and honest; and that which the very heathen admired in their noblest examples is especially patience and contempt of death. Zeno Eleates endured torments rather than discover his friends, or betray them to the danger of the tyrant; and Calanus, the barbarous and unlearned Indian, willingly suffered himself to be burnt alive; and all the women did so, to do honour to their husbands funeral, and to represent and prove their affections great to their lords. The religion of a Christian does more command fortitude than ever did any institution; for we are commanded to be willing to die for Christ, to die for the brethren, to die rather than to give offence or scandal: the effect of which is this, that he that is instructed to do the necessary parts of his duty, is, by the same instrument, fortified against death; as he that does his duty need not fear death, so neither shall he; the parts of his duty are parts of his security. It is certainly a great baseness and pusillanimity of spirit that makes death terrible, and extremely to be avoided.
3. Christian prudence is a great security against the fear of death. For if we be afraid of death, it is but reasonable to use all spiritual arts to take off the apprehension of the evil; but therefore we ought to remove our fear, because fear gives to death wings and spurs and darts. Death hastens to a fearful man; if therefore you would make death harmless and slow, to throw off fear is the way to do it; and prayer is the way to do that. If therefore you be afraid of death, consider you will have less need to fear it by how much the less you do fear it: and so cure your direct fear by a reflex act of prudence and consideration. Fannius had not died so soon102102Hostem cum fugeret, se Fannius ipse peremit.—Mart. if he had not feared death; and when Cneius Carbo begged the respite of a little time, for a base employment, of the soldiers of Pompey, he got nothing, but that the baseness of his fear dishonoured the dignity of his third consulship; and he chose to die in a place where none but his meanest servants should have seen him. I remember a story of the wrestler Polydamus, that, running into a cave to avoid the storm, the water at last swelled so high that it began to press that hollowness to a ruin; which when his fellows espied, they chose to enter into the common fate of all men, and went abroad; but Polydamus thought by his strength to support the earth, till its intolerable weight crushed him into flatness and a grave. Many men run for shelter to a place, and they only find a remedy for their fears by feeling the worst of evils; fear itself finds no sanctuary but the worst of sufferance; and they that fly from a battle are exposed to the mercy and fury of the pursuers, who, if they faced about, were as well disposed to give laws of life and death as to take them, and at worst can but die nobly; but now, even at the very best, they live shamefully, or die timorously. Courage is the greatest security; for it does most commonly safeguard the man, but always rescues the condition from an intolerable evil.
4. If thou wilt be fearless of death endeavour to be in love with the felicities of saints and angels, and be once persuaded to believe that there is a condition of living better than this; that there are creatures more noble than we; that above there is a country better than ours; that the inhabitants know more and know better, and are in places of rest and desire; and first learn to value it, and then learn to purchase it, and death cannot be a formidable thing, which lets us into so much joy and so much felicity. And, indeed, who would not thing his condition mended if he passed from conversing with dull tyrants and enemies of learning, to converse with Homer and Plato, with Socrates and Cicero, with Plutarch and Fabricius? So the heathens speculated, but we consider higher. ‘The dead that die in the Lord' shall converse with St. Paul, and all the college of the apostles, and all the saints and martyrs, with all the good men whose memory we preserve in honour, with excellent kings and holy bishops, and with the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ, and with God himself. For Christ died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we might live together with him. Then we shall be free from lust and envy,103103Beati erimus, cum, corporibus relictis, et cupiditatum et amulationum erimus expertes, quodque nunc facimus, cum laxati curis sumus, ut speciare aliquid velimus et visere.—Tuscal. Q. from fear and rage, from covetousness and sorrow, from tears and cowardice; and these, indeed, properly, are the only evils that are contrary to felicity and wisdom. Then we shall see strange things, and know new propositions, and all things in another manner and to higher purposes. Cleombrotus was so taken with this speculation, that, having learned from Plato's Phaedon the soul's abode, he had not patience to stay nature's dull leisure, but leaped from a wall to his portion of immortality. And when Pomponius Atticus resolved to die by famine, to ease the great pains of his gout, in the alistnence of two days be found his foot at ease; but when he began to feel the pleasures of an approaching death, and the delicacies of that ease he was to inherit below, he would not withdraw his foot, but went on and finished his death; and so did Cleapthes. And every wise man will despise the little evils of that state, which indeed is the daughter of fear, but the mother of rest and peace and felicity.
5. If God should say to us, Cast thyself into the sea, (as Christ did to St. Peter, or as God concerning Jonas,) I have provided for thee a dolphin or a whale, or a port, a safety or a deliverance, security or a reward, were we not incredulour and pusillanimous persons if we should tremble to put such a felicity into act, and ourselves into possession? The very duty of resignation and the love of our own interest are good antidotes against fear. In forty or fifty years we find evils enough, and arguments enough, to make us weary of this life; and to a good man there are very many more reasons to be afraid of life than death, this having in it less of evil and more of advantage. And it was a rare wish of that Roman,104104Mors utinam pavidos wita subducere nolles, Sed virtus te sola daret.——Lucan. that death might come only to wise and excellent persons, and not to fools and cowards; that it might not be a sanctuary for the timorous, but the reward of the virtuous: and indeed they only can make advantage of it.
6. Make no excuses to make thy desires of life seem reasonable; neither cover thy fear with pretences, but suppose it rather with arts of severity and ingenuity. Some are not willing to submit to God's sentence and arrest of death till they have finished such a design,105105Pendent spera interrupta, minaeque murorum ingentes. or made an end of the last paragraph of their book, or raised such portions for their children, or preached so many sermons, or built their house, or planted their orchard, or ordered their estate with such advantages. It is well for the modesty of these men that the excuse is ready; but if it were not, it is certain they would search one out: for an idle man is never ready to die, and is glad of any excuse; and a busied man hath always something unfinished, and he is ready for every thing but death. And I remember that Petronius brings in Eumolpus composing verses in a desperate storm, and being called upon to shift for himself when the ship dashed upon the rock, cried out to let him alone till he had trimmed and finished his verse, which was lame in the hinder led: the man either had too strong a desire to end his verse, or too great a desire not to end his life. But we must know, God's times are not to be measured by our circumstances; and what I value, God regards not; or if it be valuable in the accounts of men, yet God will supply it with other contingencies of his providence; and if Epaphroditus had died when he had his great sickness St. Paul speaks of, God would have secured the work of the gospel without him: and he could have spared Epaphroditus as well as St. Stephen, and St. Peter as well as St. James. Say no more; but when God calls, lay aside thy papers; and first dress thy soul, and then dress thy hearse.
Blindness is odious, and widowhood is sad, and destitution is without comfort, and persecution is full of trouble, and famine is intolerable, and tears are the sad ease of a sadder heart; but these are evils of our life, not of our death. For the dead that die in the Lord are so far from wanting the commodities of this life, that they do not want life itself.
After all this, I do not say it is a sin to be afraid of death: we find the boldest spirit that discourses of it with confidence, and dares undertake a danger as big as death, yet doth shrink at the horror of it when it comes dressed in its proper circumstances. And Brutus, who was as bold a Roman to undertake a noble action as any was since they first reckoned by consuls, yet when Furius came to cut his throat, after his defeat by Anthony, he ran from it like a girl, and being admonished to die constantly, he swore by his life that he would shortly endure death. But what do I speak of such imperfect persons? Our blessed Lord was pleased to legitimate fear to us by his agony and prayers in the garden. It is not a sin to be afraid, but it is a great felicity to be with fear; which felicity our dearest Saviour refused to have, because it was agreeable to his purposes to suffer anything that was contrary to felicity, every thing but sin. But when men will by all means avoid death, they are like those who at any hand resolve to be rich. The case may happen in which they will blaspheme and dishonour Providence, or do a base action, or curse God and die; but, in all cases, they die miserable and ensnared, and in no case do they die the less for it. Nature hath left us the key of the churchyard, and custom hath brought cemeteries and charnel-houses into cities and churches, places most frequented, that we might not carry ourselves strangely in so certain, so expected, so ordinary, so unavoidable an accident. All reluctancy or unwillingness to obey the divine decree is but a snare to ourselves, and a load to our spirits, and is either an entire cause or a great aggravation of the calamity. Who did not scorn to look upon Xerxes when he caused three hundred stripes to be given to the sea, and sent a chartel of defiance against the mountain of Athos? We did not scorn the proud vanity of Cyrus, when he took so goodly a revenge upon the river Cyndus for his hard passage over it? or did not deride or pity the Thracians for shooting arrows against heaven when it thunders? To be angry with God, to quarrel with the divine providence, by repining against an unalterable, a natural, an easy sentence, is an argument of a huge folly, and the parent of a great trouble; a man is base and foolish to no purpose; he throws away a vice to his own misery, and to no advantages of ease and pleasure. Fear keeps men in bondage all their life, saith St. Paul; and patience makes him his own man, and lord of his own interest and person. Therefore posses yourselves in patience with reason and religion, and you shall die with ease.106106Non levat miseros dolor.
If all the parts of this discourse be true, if they be better than dreams, and unless virtue be nothing but words, as a grove is a heap of trees; if they be not the phantasms of hypochondriacal persons, and designs upon the interest of men, and their persuasions to evil purposes; then there is no reason but that we should really desire death, and account it among the good things of God, and the sour and laborious felicities of man. St. Paul understood it well when he desired to be dissolved: he well enough knew his own advantages and pursued them accordingly. But it is certain that he that is afraid of death, I mean with a violent and transporting fear, with a fear apt to discompose his duty or his patience, that man either loves this world too much or dares not trust God for the next.
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