« AnteriorContinuar »
It is for this reason, that we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling ; because, unless our heart and passions are eagerly bent upon the work of salvation ; unless holy fears animate our endeavours, and keep our consciences strict and tender about every part of our duty, constantly examining, how we live, and how fit we are to die ; we shall in all probability fall into a state of negligence, and sit down in such a course of life, as will never carry us to the rewards of heaven.
He, who considers that a just God. can make such allowances only, as are suitable to his justice, that our works are all to be examined by fire; will find that fear and trembling are proper for those, that are drawing near so great a trial.
Indeed there is no probability, that any one will do all the duty, that is expected from him, or make that progress in piety, which the holiness and justice of God requires of him ; but he, that is constantly afraid of talling short of it.
Now this is not intended, to possess people's minds with a scrupulous anxiety, and discontent in the service of God; but to fill them with a just fear of living in sloth and idleness, and in the neglect of such virtues, as they will want at the day of judgment. It is to excite them to an earnest examination of their lives, to such zeal, and care, and concern after Christian perfection, as they use in any matter, that has gained their affections. It is only desiring them to be so apprehensive of their state, so humble in the opinion of themselves, so earnest after higher degrees of piety, and so fearful of falling short of happiness, as the great apostle was, when he thus wrote to the Philippians.
“Nót, as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things, which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things, which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Then he adds, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded."
But, if the apostle thought it necessary for those who were in his state of perfection, to be thus minded; that is, thus laboring, pressing, and aspiring after some degrees of holiness, at which they were not then arrived; surely it is much more necessary for us, who are labor. ing under great imperfections, to be thus minded; that is, thus striving after such degress of a holy and divine life, as we have not yet attained.
The best way for any one to know, how much he ought to aspire after holiness, is, to consider, not how mich will make his present life easy ; but to ask himself, how much he thinks will make him easy at the hour of death..
Now any man, that dares to be so serious, as to put this question to himself, will be forced to answer, that at death every one will wish that he had been as perfect, as human nature can be.
Is not this therefore sufficient to put us, not only upon wishing, but laboring after that perfection, which we shall then lament the want of? Is it not excessive folly, to be content with such a course of piety, when we shall so want it, as to have nothing else to comfort us ? How can we carry a severer condemnation against our. selves, than to believe that at the hour of death we shall want the virtues of the saints ; and wish that we had been among the first servants of God; and yet take no methods of arriving at their height of piety, while we live?
Though this is an absurdity, that we can easily pass over at present, while the health of our bodies, the passions of our minds, the noise and hurry, and pleasures, and business of the world, lead us on with eyes, that see not, and ears, that hear not; yet at death, it will set itself before us in a dreadful magnitude, it will haunt us, like a dismal ghost, and our conscience will never let us take
from it. We see in worldly matters, what a torment self-condemnation is ; and how hardly a man is able to forgive
himself, when he has brought himself into any calamity or disgrace, by his own folly. The affliction is made doubly tormenting, because he is forced to charge it all upon himself, as his own act and deed, against the nature and reason of things, and contrary to the advice of friends.
Now by this we may in some degree guess, how terrible the pain of that self-condemnation will be, when a man shall find himself in the miseries of death, under the severity of a self-condemning conscience; charging all his distress upon his own folly and madness, against the sense and reason of his own mind, against the doctrines and precepts of religion, and contrary to the instructions, calls, and warnings of God and man.
Penitens was a busy tradesman, and very prosperous in his dealings; but died in the thirty-fifth year of his age. A little before his death, when the doctors had given him over, some of his neighbours came one evening to see him; at which time, he spake thus to them: “I see, my friends, the tender concern, you have for me, by the grief in your countenances, and I know the thoughts, you now have about me. You think, how melancholy a case it is, to see so young a man, and in flourishing business, delivered up to death. Perhaps, had I visited any of you in my condition, I should have had the game thoughts of you. But now, my friends, my thoughts are no more like your thoughts, than my condition is like yours. It is no trouble to me now to think that I am to die young, or before I have raised an estate. These things are now sunk into such nothings, that I have no vame, little enough, to call them by. For, if in a few days, I am to leave this carcass, to be buried in the earth, and to find myself, either forever happy in the favor of God, or eternally separated from all light and peace; can any words sufficiently express the littleness of every thing else? Is there any dream, like the dream of life, which amuses us with disregard of these things? Is there any folly, like the folly of our manly
state, which is too busy, to be at leisure for these reflections ?
When we consider death, as a misery, we only think of it as a miserable separation from the enjoyments of this life. We seldom mourn over an old man, that dies rich; but we lament the young, that are taken away in the progress of their fortune. You yourselves look upon me with pity, not that I am going unprepared to meet the Judge of quick and dead; but that I am to leave a prosperous trade in the flower of
life. This is the wisdom of our manly thoughts; and yet what folly of the silliest children is so great, as this ? For what is there dreadful in death, but the consequences of it? When a man is dead, wbat does any thing signify to him, but the state, he is then in ?
Our poor friend Lepidus died, you know, as he was dressing himself for a feast; do you think it is now part of his trouble, that he did not live till that entertainment was over? Feasts, and business, and pleasures, and enjoyments, seem great things to us, while we think of nothing else; but, as soon, as we add death to them, they all sink into equal littleness; and the soul, that is separated from the body, no more laments the loss of business, than the losing of a feast.
If I am going into the joys of God; could there be any reason to grieve, that this happened to me before I was forty years of age ? Could it be a sad thing, to go to heaven, before I had made a few more bargains, or stood a little longer behind a counter ?
If I am to go among lost spirits; could there be any reason to be content, that this did not happen to me, till I was old and full of riches ?
If good angels were ready to receive my soul, could it be any grief to me, that I was dying upon a poor bed in a garret?
If God has delivered me up to evil spirits, to be dragged by them to places of torment, could it be any comfort to me, that they found me upon a bed of state ?
When you are as near death, as I am, you will know that the different states of life, whether of youth or age,
riches or poverty, greatness or meapness, signify no more to you, than whether you die in a poor or stately apartment. The greatness of those things, which follow death, makes all that goes before it sink into noth
Now, that judgment is the next thing, I look for, and everlasting happiness or misery is come so near me; all the enjoyments and prosperities of life seem as insignificant, and have no more to do with my happiness, than the clothes, I wore, before I could speak.
But, my friends, how am I surprised, that I have not always had these thoughts? For what is there in the terrors of death, in the vanities of life, or the necessities of piety, but what I might have as easily and fully seen in any part of my life? What a strange thing is it, that a little health, or the business of a shop, keeps us so senseless of these great things, that are coming so fast upon us !
Just as you came into my chamber, I was thinking with myself, what numbers of souls are now in the world, in my condition at this very time, surprised with a sumn. mons to the other world; some taken from their shops and farms, others from their sports and pleasures, these at suits at law, those at gaming tables, some on the road, others at their own fire-sides, and all seized at an hour, when they thought nothing of it; frighted at the approach of death, confounded at the vanity of all their labors, and projects; astonished at the folly of their past lives, and not knowing, which way to turn their thoughts, to find any comfort. Their consciences flying in their faces, bringing all their sins to their remembrance, tormenting them with deepest convictions of their own folly, presenting them the sight of the angry Judge; the worm, that never dies; the fire, that is neve er quenched; the gates of hell, the powers of darkness, and the bitter pains of eternal death.
Oh, my friends! bless God, that you are not of this number; that you have time and strength, to employ yourselves in such works of piety, as may bring you peace at the last. Take this along with you, that there