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FOUR LAST THINGS:
DEATH, JUDGMENT, HEAVEN AND HELL,
PRACTICALLY CONSIDERED AND APPLIED:
THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY.
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE
RACHEL LADY RUSSEL.
Of all affairs, for the compassing whereof men are so diligent and solicitous, there is none of that absolute necessity, and high importance, as the preparation for Death and Judgment, and the immediate consequence of them, Heaven and Hell, to obtain the one, and escape the other. This requires the whole man in his best vigor, and should be the work of the day; but 'tis usually delayed till the melancholy evening of age, or the twilight of death. The trifles of this world divert them from that main business, to which all other things should be subordinate. It equally deserves wonder and compassion, that death which is so constantly in men's view, should be so seldom the matter of their application, when all are of the same glass, made of the same frail natural principles; and no argument is more frequently and pathetically urged upon them.
'Tis not strange that deep truths, which by the strength and exercise of the mind are drawn like gold out of the mines, have no efficacy upon those that are not capable of understanding them: But the doctrines of Death and Judgment, Heaven and Hell, are plain truths, by natural, moral, and divine evidence known to all; yet no more affect men, than a paradox of incredible novelty. If the doctrine of eternal Judgment were but a probable opinion, controverted with equal arguments, yet 'tis a matter of such vast concernment, that reason requires all our possible diligence to avoid an eternal evil, that may be the loss of celestial glory, and the torments of Hell: But since 'tis an infallible truth, as certain as the word of God, 'tis a miracle to astonish Heaven and earth, that men live as carelessly as if they should never die, and die as securely as if they should not live in the next state, to receive the just punishment of their sins. They are fearless whilst death is far off in their thoughts; and when age has snowed upon their heads, that no marks of decaying nature should appear, make their own winter to flourish with THE EPISTLE
another's spring: But 'tis in vain, for Death knows them under their disguise, and will not stay beyond the appointed time. And in that decisive hour, infidelity or presumption hardens men to pass as quietly and boldly, in appearance, into another world, as unfeigned faith, and a regular lively hope in the promises of the gospel. But as deceitful physic stops the fit for the present, that will return more violently and fatally afterwards; so a counterfeit short peace transmits them to everlasting sorrows.
The design of the following Discourse is to awaken men, that they may be wise and consider their latter end; to secure an interest in our Redeemer, who has disarmed death of its sting, and made that enemy our friend; and to practice dying every day, by withdrawing their hearts from the vanities of this transient world, that have such a pernicious influence to excite the carnal appetites, and stupify the conscience, which are the true causes of their sin and misery. And what can be more powerful to render them temperate and sober in the use of present things, vigilant and serious in their preparations for their great and final change, than the remembrance that death is immediately attended with judgment, and judgment with blessedness or misery forever? I know this argument is naturally displeasing, but the usefulness should recommend it to our most solemn and composed thoughts, before all the vain entertainments of the fancy and sensual affections. As herbs of medicinal virtue, that are not pleasing to the sight or smell, yet are valued by the skilful as treasures of health; and preferred before the fairest flowers that are perfumed and painted by nature, so as to excel the richest lusture of Solomon's glory.
The body is in a continual consumption, and no art can longpreserve it: but whilst the outward man is irrecoverably declining and wasting, if the inward man be ascending and renewing to perfection, the advantage is incomparable. 0 how comfortable is it to a holy believer in the parting hour to commit his spirit into the hands of his heavenly father! (for thus he is authorized and encouraged by our Saviour's example) and lay down the flesh to rest in hope: for Christ is the guardian of the grave, has the keys of death, and will revive the bodies of his saints incorruptible and immortal, the copies of his own glorious body.
The immediate recompenses of eternal judgment, Heaven and Hell, are worthy of our most attentive and applicative thoughts, that we obtain the one, and escape the other. Heaven is the true happiness of the reasonable creature, and is the first and last in the order of things desirable; the first for its attractive excellence, the last in its consummate fiuition. This may be certainly and perpetually enjoyed by all who sincerely and diligently seek it. If in the very different states of life here, there were any uncapable of eternal life, or that have another object for their last end, there might be some reason why they should be coldly affected towards celestial happiness, and to justify their sole pretensions to the things of time, wherein their interests are confined: But the offer of heaven regards all that upon God's terms will accept it. The most sensible inequality that riches, dignity, or any temporal accident makes between men here, is so true a nothing in comparison of eternal glory, that it makes no difference of one from another as to the obtaining it. For this reason it most nearly concerns every person, first to seek the kingdom of heaven, and the righteousness thereof, as the only way to ascend to it.
The serious consideration of everlasting hell prepaied for unreformed sinners, is most necessary and useful, tho' carnal men are extremely averse from thinking on that terrible object. For this is the first motive that turns men from sin to holiness. The joys of heaven being spiritual and divine, have no attractive influence upon the carnal affections, would never convert and reform any; but the torment of fire being most evident and vehement to sense, is strongly represented by the imagination, and moves the aflections. How many by solemn and believing thoughts of the unquenchable fire, have felt the miracle upon the three children in the furnace renewed in themselves, their strong cords and obstinate habits of sin burnt asunder, and their powers restored to the freedom of duty, the blessed liberty of obedience? In this respect the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that directs us in the way to blessedness.
Madam, I shall not attempt the celebrating your ladyship's virtues, that render you a bright ornament of your sex, and more truly honorable than your noble descent and alliance: But direct my best desires to God, that your family may be a singular and eminent example of the divine favor; that the fading gloss of this world may not deceive you, but your heart may be above, where your treasure is; that you may live to God, and your soul, for heaven and eternity. I am, Madam,
Your Honor's very humble
And faithful servant,