« PreviousContinue »
against the Fears of Death.
85. Forks not always miracles in the waters, as when he drowned Pharaoh and his Egyptian host in the waters of the Red Sea. He prepares not always whales to devour us, as he did Jonah. He sends not always burning serpents, as to the murmuring generation of the Israelites in the deserts. He commands not always the earth to open and swallow us up, as he did Corah, Dathan, and Abiram. He sends not always from above great hailstones, as when he knocked down the Amorites; he destroys not always by flames, that proceed from his presence, as he did Nadab and Abihu, who offered un-, hallowed fire upon his altar. He commands not always the lions and bears of the forest to issue out and devour us, as he did when the rebellious prophet was killed, and when the ill-tutored children of Bethel mocked Elisha. In short, God employs not always the plagues and judgments of pestilence, of war, and of famine ; the unpleasant smell of a fuming snuff, a flying vapour of a malignant smokę, is able to choak us, or kill us in a moment; a fly, the kernel of an apple, the hair of the head, or the seed of a grape, or ashes, or sand, or some other atom, may stop the breath of our life. Therefore God adviseth us by the prophet Isaiah, “ Cease ge from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of ?” Isa: ii.
It is to be considered, that these contingencies happen very frequently, and in every place Death lays for us his snares, as well in the bosom of our tender-hearted parents, and in the embraces of our dearest friends, as amongst our most mortal enemies. Its invisible darts fly every where, and, as the psalmist informs us, “ The pestilence walketh in darkness, and destruction wasteth at noon-day,” Psa. xci. Death is busy on the solemn festivals as well as on the working-days, it drags us as easily from the table where we take our de. lights, as from the bed of sorrow, where we sigh and groan. There is no secret retreat where we may find a refuge; it
hath no more regard of the temples dedicated to God's service than of the common houses. All the riches of America, and the power of the greatest monarch, are not able to protect us from its pursuits ; it requires a present payment of the debts that we owe, and it is not possible to appear by deputy at the summons that it sends to us.
Death claps the summons on the posts of the door, it trusts them not in the hands of the messengers or lacquies ; there is no warning, but it may write down upon it these words, « speaking to him in prison.” It surprises us at home and abroad, in our closets and in the streets, in our beds, in our sedans, in the midst of our feasts and all our pomps. It offers violence to the sacred persons of the greatest kings in their most sumptuous palaces, in their most foarishing cities, in their strongest fortifications, in the midst of their most faithful subjects, and most victorious armies ; upon their thrones, and in their triumphant chariots. As king Ahab, when he was going to take possession of Naboth's vineyard, told the prophet Elijah in a rage, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy ?” 1 Kings xxi. Thus when the profane worldlings dream of nothing but the pleasant enjoyment of their unjust possessions, and swimming in the blood and sweat of the meaner people, they meet unexpected Death, which they curse in their hearts; and if it did not stop their mouths, they would say also in a rage, “ Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?”.
This holy meditation caused the best king upon earth to tell us, “ Man knoweth not his time; as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in a snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them,” Eccles. ix. This same consideration caused this excellent sentence to be written in the book of Job, “ In a moment they shall die, and the people shall be troubled at midnight, and pass away, and the mighty
shall be taken without hand,” Job xxxiv. that is, that to destroy kingdoms and whole nations, and to carry away the most lusty and mighty men, Death has no need of any other assistance but his own arm.
Do you desire, Christian reader, to understand the result of this discourse ? Let me tell you, that since death is certain, and not to be avoided, and that there is nothing so uncertain as the hour of its arrival, we ought so to live, as if we were to breathe forth the last gasp at every moment. We should belave ourselves as if we had always our souls upon our lips, ready to yield them into the hands of our great Creator, and to speak in Job's language,“ Having our flesh between our teeth, and our souls in our hands,” Job xiii. In regard we know not at what time nor in what place Death intends to come upon us, let us expect it at every moment, and in every place; and as we lodge in this earthly tabernacle, without any term prefixed, let us be ready to depart at the first warning: for it will be far better for us to go out willingly, than to be dragged out against our will. It is not convenient that Death should carry us away in the same manner as the sea beats and tosses a dead corpse upon its waves : but we must on this occasion imitate the discreet mariner, that trims his alls, and helps by his art the winds and the tide to carry him o his desired haven. We should not follow Death as the
alefactor follows the executioner who drags him to suffer; but as the child follows his father, who conducts him to a ist. We should not engage in a combat with Death by conaint, as the ancient slaves with the wild beasts in the Ro
amphitheatres ; but we should imitate David's courage, o of his own accord marched out of the camp of Israel to Rt with Goliath : it is better for us to attack and seize upon ath, than to be surprised and devoured by it unawares.
come when thou wilt, O Death ! thou shalt never sur
prise me; for I wait for thee at every moment with my weapons ready in my hand. Thou shalt never drag me forcibly; for I will follow thee willingly and joyfully. Though thou art my enemy, yet will I speak to thee in the language of the spouse in the Canticles to her beloved, “ Draw me, and I will run afıer thee.” Nay, I will meet thee in the way, and receive thee with hearty embraces; for instead of dreading thy coming, I desire it passionately, and hope for it; for at the first arrival, as soon as I have seen thee, I shall overcome thee. O blessed and happy day, that promiseth me such a glorious victory, and such an eternal triumph.
A Prayer and MEDITATION upon the continual Expectatica
GRACIOUS God, in whose power alone, and at whose
pleasure, are the times and seasons; I know it is appointed for all men once to die, and that the grave is the dwelling which thou hast prepared to receive all mankind. We understand sufficiently by the experience of former ages, that none is able to say, “ I shall live, and shall not see death.” Thou, O Almighty God, our supreme judge, hast pronounced our irrevocable sentence in the earthly paradise, that we must die ; so that I should be guilty of the greatest folly, if I did not firmly believe that I must die as others, and follow at my turn in the way of all flesh. But, Lord, thou hast been pleased to hide from us the issues of thy providence, and dost not suffer us to see the hand that marks out the last hours of our life. We can perceive no shadow to discover to us, with certainty, what shall be the going down of our sun: we know not at what hour of the day, or of the night, thou wilt call us to appear before thy great tribunal. Give me therefore grace, O most merciful God, to be always
ready ready to answer to thy call, and to obey thy holy commands; that I may be as a ship at anchor, that stays only for a wind to set sail; or as a soldier, who waits only for a signal to march to the encounter. Give me grace, O good Lord, that I. may be like the good and faithful servant, who expects his master's coming, and hears his voice as soon as he calls ; or like the wise virgins, who are ready to meet the bridegroom, and to follow him to the marriage chamber. Since I am not to know either the time or the place when Death will come to me, that I may expect and wait for it every mo-' ment, and at every place! "O that I might live in such a manner, that I may be always ready to die! that my soul were always upon my lips, prepared to fly away ! that I were continually in readiness to commit it into thy hands, O my God, my faithful and merciful Creator! By this means I wall receive Death with joy, when it comes as thy servant and messenger; and I shall follow it willingly, being certainly persuaded that it will lead me into eternal life, and transport e into thy glorious and immortal palace. Amen.
wholly to it “ Thy will
third Remedy against the Fears of Death is, to consider that
our lips, and honour him with our tongues, whilst heart is far from him, Matt. xiv. or we must desire the omplishment of the will of God, and resign ourselves
19 to it; for every day we say to him in our prayers, "y will be done on earth, as it is in heaven;" therefore cannot abhor nor fly from Death so cowardly, if we be 'y persuaded as we ought, that God hath limited the and appointed the manner of our death. That which M
rightly pers time, and ap