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LETTER ON THE CONTINUAL EXERCISE OF A
How he may keep his heart from hardness, and his
ways from error. To keep the heart habitually with God, is the highest task of a Christian. Good motions are not frequent; but the constancy of good disposi tion is rare and hard. This work must be continual, or else speedeth not: like as the body, from a settled and habitual distemper, must be recovered by long-continued diet; and so much the rather, for that we cannot intermit here, without relapses. If this field be not tilled every day, it will run out into thistles. The evening is fittest for this work : when retired into ourselves, we must cheerfully and constantly both look up to God and into our hearts; as we have to do with both : to God, in thanksgiving first, then in request. It shall be therefore expedient for the soul duly to recount to itself all the specialties of God's favours : a con. fused thanks savours of carelessness, and neither doth affect us, nor win acceptance above. Bethink yourself, then, of all these external, inferior, earthly graces : that your being, breathing, life, motion, reason, is from him; that he hath given you a more noble nature than the rest of the creatures, excellent faculties of the mind, perfection of senses, soundness of body, competency of estate, seemliness of condition, fitness of calling, preserv. ation from dangers, rescue out of miseries, kindness of friends, carefulness of education, honesty of reputation, liberty of recreations, quietness of life, opportunity of well-doing, protection of angels.
Then rise higher to his spiritual favours, though here on earth, and strive to raise your affections with your thoughts. Bless God that you were born in the light of the gospel, for your profession of the truth, for the honour of your vocation, for your incorporating into the church, for the privilege of the sacraments, the free use of the Scriptures, the communion of saints, the benefit of their prayers, the aid of their counsels, the pleasure of their conversation ; for the beginnings of regeneration, any footsteps of faith, hope, love, zeal, patience, peace, joy, conscientiousness, for any desire of more. Then let your soul mount highest of all, into her heaven; and acknowledge those celestial graces of her election to glory, redemption from shame and death, of the intercession of her Saviour, of the preparation of her place; and there let her stay awhile upon the meditation of her future joys.This done, the way is made for your request: sue now to your God; as for grace to answer these mercies, so to see wherein you have not answered them. From him therefore cast your eyes down upon yourself: and as some careful justice doth a suspected felon, so do you strictly examine your heart, of what you have done that day; of what you should have done; inquire whether your thoughts have been sequestered to God, strangers from the world, fixed on heaven; whether just, charitable, lowly, pure, Christian; whether your senses have been holily guided, neither to let in temptations, nor to let out sins; whether your speech has not been offensive, vain, rash, indiscreet, unsavoury, unedifying ; whether your actions have been warrantable, expedient, comely, profitable. Thence, see if you have been negligent
in watching your heart, and expense of your time, exercises of devotion, performance of good works; resistance of temptations, good use of good examples: and compare your present estate with the former. Look jealously, whether your soul hath gained or lost; lost aught of the heat of her love, tenderness of conscience, fear to offend, strength of virtue; gained more increase of grace, more assurance of glory. And when you find (alas ! who can but find?) either holiness decayed, or evil done, or good omitted, cast down your eyes; strike your breasts, humble your soul, and sigh to Him whom you have offended ; sue for pardon as for life, heartily, yearningly : enjoin yourself careful amendment, redouble your holy resolutions, strike hands with God in a new covenant:—my soul for your safety. Much of this good counsel I confess to have learned from the table of an unknown author at Antwerp. It contented me: and therefore I have thus made it (by many alterations) my own for form, and yours for the use: our practice shall both commend it and make us happy.
be bleedet tremble.
LETTER ON THE FEAR OF DEATH. You complain that you fear death: he is no man that doth not. Besides the pain, nature shrinks the thought of parting: if you would learn the remedy, know the cause : for that she is ignorant and faithless. She would not be cowardly, if she were not foolish. Our fear is from doubt, and our doubt is from unbelief; and whence is our unbelief, but chiefly from ignorance? She knows not what good is elsewhere : she believes not her part
our cour exempted
in it. Get once true knowledge and true faith, your fear shall vanish alone. Assurance of heavenly things makes us willing to part with earthly. He cannot contemn this life, who knows not the other. If you would despise earth therefore, think of heaven. If you would have death easy, think of that glorious life which follows it. Certainly, if we can endure pain for health, much more should we abide a few pangs for glory.
Think how foolish it is to fear a vanquished enemy. Lo, Christ hath triumphed over death : he bleedeth and gaspeth under us: and yet we tremble. It is enough to us that Christ died : neither would he have died, but that we might die with safety and pleasure.
Think that death is necessarily annexed to na. ture. We are for a time, on condition that we shall not be; we receive life, but upon the terms of re-delivery. Necessity makes some things easy, as it usually makes easy things difficult. It is a foolish injustice to embrace the covenant and shrink at the condition.
Think, there is but one common road to all flesh: there are no by-paths of any fairer or nearer way; no, not for princes. Even company abateth miseries; and the commonness of an evil makes it less fearful. What worlds of men are gone before us ; yea, how many thousands out of one field ! How many crowns and sceptres lie piled up at the gates of death, which their owners have left there, as spoils to the conqueror! Have we been at so many graves, and so often seen ourselves die in our friends; and do we shrink when our course cometh ? Imagine you alone were exempted from the common law of mankind, or
were condemned to Methuselah's age; assure yourself, death is not now so fearful, as your life would then be wearisome.
Think not so much what death is, as from whom he comes, and for what. We receive even homely messengers from great persons, not without respect to their masters : and what matters it who he be, so that he bring us good news? What news can be better than this, that God sends for you, to take possession of a kingdom? Let them fear death, who know him but as a messenger sent from hell; whom their conscience accuseth of a life wilfully filthy, and binds over secretly to condemnation. We know whither we are going, and whom we have believed : let us pass on cheerfully through these black gates unto our glory.
Lastly, know that our improvidence only adds terror unto death. Think of death, and you shall not fear it. Do you not see, that even bears and tigers seem not terrible to those that live with them? How have we seen their keepers sport with them, when the beholders durst scarce trust their chain! Be acquainted with death; though he look grim upon you at first, you shall find him (yea, you shall make him) a good companion. Familiarity cannot stand with fear. These are receipts enough. Too much store doth rather overwhelm than satisfy. Take but these, and I dare promise you security.