« PreviousContinue »
The Right Honourable and Noblest Lord,
EARL OF CARBERY, &c.
My LORD, IS
AM treating your Lordship as a Roman Gentleman did
Saint Augustine and his mother; I shall entertain you in a charnel-house, and carry your meditations awhile into the chambers of Death, where you shall find the rooms dressed up with melancholic arts, and fit to converse with your most retired thoughts, which begin with a sigh, and proceed in deep consideration, and end in a holy resolution. The sight that S. Augustine most noted in that house of sorrow, was the body of Cæsar clothed with all the dishonours of corruption that you can suppose in a six months' burial. But I know that, without pointing, your first thoughts will remember the change of a greater beauty, which is now dressing for the brightest immortality, and from her bed of darkness calls to you to dress your Soul for that change which shall mingle your bones with that beloved dust, and carry your Soul to the same quire, where you may both sit and sing for ever. My Lord, it is your dear lady's anniversary, and she deserved the biggest honour, and the longest memory, and the fairest monument, and the most solemn mourning : and in
from your very
order to it, give me leave (my Lord) to cover her hearse with these following sheets. This book was intended first to minister to her piety; and she desired all good people should partake of the advantages which are here recorded : she knew how to live rarely well, and she desired to know how to die; and God taught her by an experiment. But since her work is done, and God supplied her with provisions of His own, before I could minister to her, and perfect what she desired, it is necessary to present to your lordship those bundles of cypress which were intended to dress her closet, but come now to dress her hearse. My Lord, both your Lordship and myself have lately seen and felt such sorrows of Death, and such sad departure of dearest friends, that it is more than high time we should think ourselves nearly concerned in the accidents. Death hath come so near to you as to fetch a portion
and now you cannot choose but dig your own grave, and place your coffin in your eye, when the Angel hath dressed your scene of sorrow and meditation with so particular and so near an object: and therefore, as it is my duty, I am come to minister to your pious thoughts, and to direct your sorrows, that they may turn into virtues and advantages.
And since I know your Lordship to be so constant and regular in your Devotions, and so tender in the matter of Justice, so ready in the expressions of Charity, and so apprehensive of Religion, and that you are a person whose work of grace is apt, and must every day grow towards those degrees, where when you arrive you shall triumph over imperfection, and choose nothing but what may please God; I could not by any compendium conduct and assist your pious purposes so well, as by that which is the great argument and the great instrument of Holy Living, the consideration and exercises of Death.
My Lord, it is a great art to die well, and to be learnt by men in health, by them that can discourse and consider, by those whose understanding and acts of reason are not abated with fear or pains: and as the greatest part of Death is passed by the preceding years of our life, so also in those years are the greatest preparations to it; and he that prepares not for Death before his last sickness, is like him that begins to study philosophy when he is going to dispute publicly in the faculty. All that a sick and dying man can do, is but to exercise those virtues which he before acquired, and to perfect that repentance which was begun more early. And of this (my Lord) my book, I think, is a good testimony; not only because it represents the vanity of a late and sick-bed repentance, but because it contains in it so many precepts and meditations, so many propositions and various duties, such forms of exercise, and the degrees and difficulties of so many graces which are necessary preparatives to a holy Death, that the
learning the duties requires study and skill, time and understanding in the
ways of godliness : and it were very vain to say so much is necessary, and not to suppose more time to learn them, more skill to practise them, more opportunities to desire them, more abilities both of body and mind, than can be supposed in a sick, amazed, timorous, and weak person ; whose natural acts are disabled, whose senses are weak, whose discerning faculties are lessened, whose principles are made intricate and entangled, upon whose eye sits a cloud, and the heart is broken with sickness, and the liver pierced through with sorrows and the strokes of Death. And therefore (my Lord) it is intended by the necessity of affairs, that the precepts of dying well be part of the studies of them that live in health, and the days of discourse and understanding, which in this case hath another degree of necessity superadded ; because in other notices an imperfect study may be supplied by a frequent exercise and a renewed experience; here if we practise imperfectly once, we shall never recover the error: for we die but once; and therefore it will be necessary that our skill be more exact, since it is not to be mended by trial,
but the actions must be for ever left imperfect, unless the habit be contracted with study and contemplation beforehand.
And indeed I were vain, if I should intend this book to be read and studied by dying persons : and they were vainer that should need to be instructed in those graces which they are then to exercise and to finish. For a sick-bed is only a school of severe exercise, in which the spirit of a man is tried, and his
graces are rehearsed: and the assistances which I have in the following pages given to those virtues which are proper to the state of sickness, are such as suppose a man in the state of grace; or they confirm a good man, or they support the weak, or add degrees, or minister comfort, or prevent an evil, or cure the little mischiefs which are incident to tempted persons in their weakness. That is the sum of the present design as it relates to dying personis. And therefore I have not inserted
advices proper to old age, but such as are common to it and the state of sickness; for I suppose very old age to be a longer sickness ; it is labour and sorrow when it goes beyond the common period of nature : but if it be on this side that period, and be healthful, in the same degree it is so, I reckon it in the accounts of life ; and therefore it can have no distinct consideration. But I do not think it is a station of advantage to begin the change of an evil life in : it is a middle state between life and death-bed; and therefore although it hath more of hopes than this, and less than that; yet as it partakes of either state, so it is to be regulated by the advices of that state, and judged by its sentences.
Only this : I desire that all old persons would sadly consider that their advantages in that state are very few, but their inconveniences are not few; their bodies are without strength, their prejudices long and mighty, their vices (if they have lived wickedly) are habitual, the occasions of the virtues not many, the possibilities of some in the matter of which they stand very guilty) are past, and shall never return again, (such