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The benefits we shall receive by practising this advice, in order to a blessed death, will also add to the account of reason and fair inducements.
The Benefits of this Exercise.
1. By a daily examination of our actions, we shall the easier cure a great sin, and prevent its arrival to become habitual. For to examine we suppose to be a relative duty, and instrumental to something else. We examine ourselves, that we may find out our failings and cure them: and therefore if we use our remedy when the wound is fresh and bleeding, we shall find the cure more certain and less painful. For so a taper, when its crown of flame is newly blown off, retains a nature so symbolical to light, that it will with greediness rekindle and snatch a ray from the neighbour fire. So is the soul of man, when it is newly fallen into sin; although God be angry with it, and the state of God's favour and its own graciousness is interrupted, yet the habit is not naturally changed; and still God leaves some roots of virtue standing, and the man is modest, or apt to be made ashamed, and he is not grown a bold sinner; but if he sleeps on it, and returns again to the same sin, and by degrees grows in love with it, and gets the custom, and the strangeness of it is taken away, then it is his master, and is swelled into a heap, and is abetted by use, and corroborated by newlyentertained principles, and is insinuated into his nature, and hath possessed his affections, and tainted the will and the understanding: and by this time, a man is in the state of a decaying merchant, his accounts are so great, and so intricate, and so much in arrear, that to examine it will be but to represent the particulars of his calamity: therefore they think it better to pull the napkin before their eyes, than to stare upon the circumstances of their death.
2. A daily or frequent examination of the parts of our life will interrupt the proceeding and hinder the journey of little sins into a heap. For many days do not pass the best persons, in which they have not many idle words or vainer thoughts to sully the fair whiteness of their souls: some indiscreet passions of trifling purposes, some impertinent discontents or unhandsome usages of their own persons or their dearest relatives. And though God is not extreme to mark what is done amiss, and therefore puts these upon the accounts of his mercy, and the title of the cross; yet in two cases these little sins combine and cluster; and, we know, that grapes were once in so great a bunch, that one cluster was the load of two men; that is, 1. When either we are in love with small sins; or, 2. When they proceed from a careless and incurious spirit into frequency and continuance. For so the smallest atoms that dance in all the little cells of the world are so trifling and immaterial, that they cannot trouble an eye, nor vex the tenderest part of a wound where a barbed arrow dwelt; yet, when by their infinite numbers (as Melissa and Parmenides affirm), they danced first into order, then into little bodies, at last they made the matter of the world: so are the little indiscretions of our life: they are always inconsiderable, if they be considered, and contemptible, if they be not despised, and God does not regard them, if we do. We may easily keep them asunder by our daily or nightly thoughts, and prayers, and severe sentences; but even the least sand can check the tumultuous pride, and become a limit to the sea, when it is in a heap and in united multitudes; but if the wind scatter and divide them, the little drops and the vainer froth of the water begin to invade the strand. Our sighs can scatter such little offences; but then be sure to breathe such accents frequently, lest they knot, and combine, and grow big as the shore, and we perish in sand, in trifling instances. "He that despiseth little things, shall perish by little and little :" so said the son of Sirach °.
3. A frequent examination of our actions will intenerate and soften our consciences, so that they shall be impatient of any rudeness or heavier load: and he that is used to shrink, when he is pressed with a branch of twining osier p, will not willingly stand in the ruins of a house, when the beam dashes upon the pavement. And provided that our nice and tender spirit be not vexed into scruple, nor the scruple turn into unreasonable fears, nor the fears into superstition; he, that, by any arts, can make his spirit tender and apt for religious impressions, hath made the fairest seat
"Ecclus, xix. l.
» Qui levi comminatione pellitur, non opus est, ut fortitudine et armis inva.
for religion, and the unaptest and uneasiest entertainment for sin and eternal death, in the whole world.
4. A frequent examination of the smallest parts of our lives is the best instrument to make our repentance particular, and a fit remedy to all the members of the whole body of sin. For our examination, put off to our death-bed, of necessity brings us into this condition, that very many' thousands of our sins must be (or not be at all) washed off with a general repentance, which the more general and indefinite it is, it is ever so much the worse. And if he that repents the longest and the oftenest, and upon the most instances, is still, during his whole life, but an imperfect penitent, and there are very many reserves left to be wiped off by God's mercies, and to be eased by collateral assistances, or to be groaned for at the terrible day of judgment; it will be but a sad story to consider, that the sins of a whole life, or of very great portions of it, shall be put upon the remedy of one examination, and the advices of one discourse, and the activities of a decayed body, and a weak and an amazed spirit. Let us do the best we can, we shall find that the mere sins of ignorance and unavoidable forgetfulness will be enough to be intrusted to such a bank; and if that a general repentance will serve towards their expiation, it will be an infinite mercy: but we have nothing to warrant our confidence, if we shall think it to be enough on our deathbed to confess the notorious actions of our lives, and to say, "the Lord be merciful unto me for the infinite transgressions of my life, which I have wilfully or carelessly forgot;" for very many, of which the repentance, the distinct, particular, circumstantiate repentance of a whole life would have been too little, if we could have done more.
5. After the enumeration of these advantages, I shall not need to add, that if we decline or refuse to call ourselves frequently to account, and to use daily advices concerning the state of our souls, it is a very ill sign, that our souls are not right with God, or that they do not dwell in religion. But this I shall say, that they, who do use this exercise frequently, will make their conscience much at ease, by casting out a daily load of humour and surfeit, the matter of diseases and the instruments of death. ". He that does not frequently search his conscience, is a house without a window," and like a wild untutored son of a fond and undiscerning widow.
But if this exercise seem too great a trouble, and that bysuch advices religion will seem a burden; I have two things to oppose against it.
1. One, is that we had better bear the burden of the Lord, than the burden of a base and polluted conscience. Religion cannot be so great a trouble as a guilty soul; and whatsoever trouble can be fancied in this or any other action of religion, it is only to inexperienced persons. It may be a trouble at first, just as is every change and every new accident: but if you do it frequently and accustom your spirit to it, as the custom will make it easy.q, so the advantages will make it delectable; that will make it facile as nature, these will make it as pleasant and eligible as reward.
2. The other thing I have to say is this; that to examine our lives will be no trouble, if we do not intricate it with businesses of the world and the labyrinths of care and impertinent affairs'. A man had need have a quiet and disentangled life, who comes to search into all his actions, and to make judgment concerning his errors and his needs, his remedies and his hopes. They that have great intrigues of the world, have a yoke upon their necks, and cannot look back: and he that covets many things greedily, and snatches at high things ambitiously, that despises his neighbour proudly, and bears his crosses peevishly, or his prosperity impotently and passionately; he that is prodigal of his precious time, and is tenacious and retentive of evil purposes, is not a man disposed to this exercise; he hath reason to be afraid of his own memory, and to dash his glass in pieces, because it must needs represent to his own eyes an intolerable deformity. He therefore that resolves to live well, whatsoever it costs him; he that will go to heaven at any rate, shall best tend this duty by neglecting the affairs of the world in all things, where prudently he may. But if we do otherwise, we shall find that the accounts of our death-bed and the examination made by a disturbed understanding will be very empty of comfort and full of inconveniences.
< Elige vitam optimum, consuetude faciet jucundissimam.—Seneca. "Securse et quietae mentis est in omnes vita partes discurrcre; occupatorum animi velut sub jugo sunt, respicere non possunt.—Seneca.
6. For hence it comes, that men die so timorously and uncomfortably, as if they were forced out of their lives by the violences of an executioner. Then, without much examination, they remember, how wickedly they have lived, without religion, against the laws of the covenant of grace, without God in the world: then they see sin goes off like an amazed, wounded, affrighted person from a lost battle, without honour, without a veil, with nothing but shame and sad remembrances: then they can consider, that if they had lived virtuously, all the trouble and objection of that would now be past, and all that had remained, should be peace and joy, and all that good, which dwells within the house of God, and eternal life. But now they find, they have done amiss and dealt wickedly, they have no bank of good works, but a huge treasure of wrath, and they are going to a strange place, and what shall be their lot is uncertain (so they say, when they would comfort and flatter themselves): but in truth of religion their portion is sad and intolerable, without hope and without refreshment, and they must use little silly arts to make them go off from their stage of sins with some handsome circumstances of opinion: they will in civility be abused, that they may die quietly, and go decently to their execution, and leave their friends indifferently contented, and apt to be comforted; and by that time they are gone awhile, they see, that they deceived themselves all their days, and were by others deceived at last.
Let us make it our own case: we shall come to that state and period of condition, in which we shall be infinitely comforted, if we have lived well; or else be amazed and go off trembling, because we are guilty of heaps of unrepented and unforsaken sins. It may happen, we shall not then understand it so, because most men of late ages have been abused with false principles, and they are taught (or they are willing to believe) that a little thing is enough to save them, and that heaven is so cheap a purchase, that it will fall upon them, whether they will or no. The misery of it is, they will not suffer themselves to be confuted, till it be too late to recant their error. In the interim, they are impatient to be examined, as a leper is of a comb, and are greedy of the world, as children of raw fruit; and they hate a severe reproof, as they do thorns in their bed; and they love to lay