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nature. We acknowlege it, I confess, with our tongues, that our life is but a breath in our nostrils, a vapour that soon disappears, a shadow that quickly vanishes away ; but in the mean time we flatter ourselves in our hearts with more pleasant thoughts and desires, as Herod, that men should look upon us as so many little gods, Acts xii. We suffer ourselves to be deceived by the flattering insinuations of our corrupted flesh, and, by the delusive suggestions of the old serpent, that whispers to us, as to our first parents, " You shall not die,” Gen. iii.
2. We commonly affirm, that Death is inexorable ; nevertheless, for the most part, we live as if we had made an agreement with Death, and had secret intelligence with the grave, Isa. xxii. Death approaches with feet of wool, without noise; we imagine, therefore, that it never will come near us; as that wicked servant in the Gospel, Matt. xxiv. who concluded, from his master's delays of coming, that he would not come at all. We hate and abominate the sight of all things that represent unto us any appearance of Death, or that call to our minds its remembrance. If at any time its image come in our way, we turn from it our eyes, and banish out of our fancy all imaginations of it, as of a most odious and deceitful illusion. Death seizes upon us before we have well thought whether we be mortal or no. Therefore we are surprised and astonished at its approaches ; and we become like the foolish Israelites, who trembled and fled before Goliath, because they were not accustomed to behold him.
3. We depend too much upon second causes. We look upon death as a thing that happens by chance, or as an evil that may be prevented, or at least put away for a time; whereas we should be fully persuaded, that God hath determined and appointed, not only death itself, but also all the causes and means by which it commonly bappens. Therefore we are often filled with displeasure, and seduced to murmur and repine against God. We grin and bite the stone, instead of adoring with all humility that wise hand that cast it. In a word, whenever Death comes to us, we are ready to say to it, as the devils to our Saviour,“ Wherefore art thou come to torment us before the time ?” Matt. viii.
4. We are too much tied to this earth; we are so united to the world, that we would willingly make here our abode for ever; and cannot abide to hear that Death will remove us. Our lusts have no bounds, and we often spend ourselves in the pursuance of these miserable advantages. When we draw nearest to the end of our life, and of our mortal race, it is then that many are most earnest to make large provisions of worldly vanities. We build stately dwellings, and sumptubus palaces, at the very moment when we should think of nothing but building our tomb, and repairing our windingsheet. We have so violent a passion for all the enjoyments of this life, that to separate us from them is to pluck out our hearts, and to tear in pieces our tender bowels. When Death comes to our bed-side, and offers to pull us out, we are ready to say, as the sluggard in the Proverbs, " A little sleep, a little slumber, and a little folding of the hands,” ch. vi. When our divine Bridegroom knocks at our gates, we are scarce willing to abandon our delights, as the spouse in the Canticles. What ! saith the worldling, must I leave my sumptuous palaces, my pleasant dwellings, and my delightful gardens ? Must I relinquish all this rich tapestry, these precious moveables, and all these rare and exquisite ornaments, that enrich my parlours, chambers, and closets? Must this unmerciful Death divest me so soon of all offices and dignities, and hinder me from a full and peaceable enjoyment of all these riches and treasures ? Must it ravish from me in an instant all my delights and satisfactions ? Is there no remedy ? but must I be plucked from the embraces of my beloved wife, from the sight of my dear children, and from the 2
sweet company of my friends ? Must I receive no more the services of my domestics? When we are in this unprepared state, it is no wonder if Death is so terrible to us, and if it causes us to feel the sharpness of its sting: for as of Absalom, when he was hanged by the hair of the head in a tree of the forest, Joab took three darts, and stuck him through the heart; thus, when our affections are too much entangled with the world, and with the expectation of earthly contentments, it is then that they are miserably exposed to all the darts and violent attempts of Death.
5. Another principal cause of the fear of Death is a wicked life. We are plunged in the vices and debaucheries of the age. We suffer ourselves to be corrupted by ill company, and carried away with the torrent of vicious customs. It is therefore no wonder if Death fills our souls with apprehensions, because it comes to us armed with our sins, and is pressed by the remorse of conscience, and horror of our crimes. How comes it to pass that such a terrible astonishment fell upon king Belshazzar, when he saw the fingers of an hand writing upon the wall of his palace the sentence of his doom? Dan. v. It was because he had profaned the holy vessels of God's house, and was rioting in the company of lascivious women. Wherefore did Felix tremble when he heard St. Paul discourse of justice, temperance, and of judgment to come ? Acts xxiv.' It was, because he was a wicked varlet, given over to all manner of filthy and unjust living. Thus because we profane the members of our body, which are as the vessels of God's sanctuary; and because our lives are vicious and disorderly, we cannot abide to hear Death mentioned'; and when it cometh to us, we are ready to speak to it in Felix's language to St. Paul, “ Depart for this time.” So that the love of sin and the fear of Death are as two sisters, who hold one another by the hands; or rather they atë twin's, that are born and die together. As the prophet 2. I
Amos said to the Israelites, “ Ye put far the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near," Amos vi. so we may say of the men of this age, You put as far from you as you can the day of death, and draw near to all manner of impurity, covetousness, ambition, pride, vanity, usury, rapine, violence, envy, malice, and such like soul plagues. You do not only draw near to these abominable vices, but what is worse, you lodge them in your bowels, and harbour them in your hearts. Certainly we may well apply to all vicious persons what the prophet Jeremiah says of Jerusalem, “Her filthiness is in her skirts, she remembereth not her last end,” Lam. i.
6. I have taken notice of another defect in us: We mistrust the providence of God, and know not how to repose ourselves upon his fatherly care. We have a too worthy esteem of ourselves, and of our own sufficiency. We cannot resolve to die, because we fancy ourselves very useful in the world, and that our death would be a considerable loss to the church of God, to the state, or to our family.
7. Because the soul and body are linked together in a very strict union, we cannot imagine how they can be separated without great and unspeakable convulsions. Our infidelity is so great, that we cannot rest satisfied upon the promises of God, who engages to succour us in our distress, and to deliver us from all our troubles, Isa. 1. It is true, Jacob's ladder, that reaches from earth to heaven, may ravish us; but it seems very uneasy to ascend : paradise is rich, glorious, and delightful to the uttermost; but its gate is strait, and choaked up with thorns and briers.
8. I judge that one of the chief causes of the fear of Death is, because we look upon God as a most severe and merciless judge, inflamed with anger and fury against us, and armed with vengeance; whereas we should consider and acknow.
ledge him to be a merciful Father, full of compassion and kindness for mankind. Every slave trembles at the sight of his lord, and there is no malefactor but is afraid when he appears before his judge to be put to the rack; and can I, who am all spotted with sin, and blackened with crimes, can I appear before that glorious throne, that causes the seraphims to cover their faces with their wings ? Isa. vi. How can I, that am but stubble, subsist in the presence of the God of vengeance, who is a consuming fire?" Heb. x.
9. There is another visible fault in us: We do not eme brace, with a true and lively faith, the death and passion of our Lord and Saviour. We all speak of Jesus Christ crucified: but we do not know the divine virtue of his crucifixion, nor feel its efficacy. We do not consider, that his death hath broken down the partition that shuts us out of the heavenly sanctuary; and that his blood hath tracked us a way to paradise, and procured us an entrance into that place of eternal bliss.
10. Now, to prevent the horror of the grave, we do not consider as we ought, our Lord Jesus Christ in the tomb, and that he hath sanctified it with his holy and divine presence. We do not imprint in our imaginations, that it is just and reasonable that we should be conformable to Christ in his abasement, if we will have any share with him in glory and exaltation.
11. Besides, that which entertains in our souls the fear of Death, is this: We look upon it as if it were in its fuli strength and vigour; whereas we should remember, that Jesus Christ hath overcome and disarmed Death by his powerful resurrection, and that for our parts, we need but follow the footsteps of his glorious victories, and fasten that furious beast to his triumphant chariot.