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TO THE READER.
person whose death did occasion this discourse was one that about five years ago removed from her ancient habitation, at Appley, in Shropshire, to Kidderminster, where she lived under
my pastoral care till I was come up to London; and before she had lived there a twelvemonth (for thither she removed) she died of the fever, then very common in the city. She lived among us an example of prudence, gravity, sobriety, righteousness, piety, charity, and self-denial, and was truly what I have described her to be, and much more ; for I use not to flatter the living, much less the dead. And though I had personal acquaintance with her for no longer a time than I have mentioned, yet I think it worthy the mentioning, which I understand by comparing her last years with what is said of her former time, by those that were then nearest to her, were at her death, that whereas (as I have said) sudden passion was the sin that she was wont much to complain of, she had not contented herself with mere complainings, but so effectually resisted them, and applied God's remedies for the healing of her nature, that the success was very much observed by those about her, and the change and cure so great herein, as was a comfort to her nearest relations that had the benefit of her converse; which I mention as a thing that shows us, 1. That even the infirmities that are found in nature and temperature of body are curable so far as they fall under the dominion of a sanctified will. 2. That even in age, when such passions usually get ground, and infirmities of mind increase with infirmities of body, yet grace can effectually do its work. 3. That to attend God in his means, for the subduing of any corruption, is not in vain. 4. That as God hath promised growth of grace, and flourishing in old age, so in his way we may expect the fulfilling of his promise. 5. That as grace increaseth, infirmities and corruptions of the soul will vanish.
This makes me call to mind that she was once so much taken with a sermon which I preached at the funeral of a holy aged woman,* and so sensibly oft recited the text itself as much affecting her—“For which eause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day,” &c. (2 Cor. iv. 16, 17 :) that I am persuaded both the text itself, and the example opened (and well known) to her, did her much good.
Her work is done, her enemies are conquered, (except the remaining fruits of death upon a corrupting body, which the resurrection must conquer,) her darger, and temptations, and troubles, and fears, are at an end. She shall no more be discomfited with evil-tidings ; nor no more partake with a militant church in the sorrows of her diseases or distresses. We are left within the reach of Satan's assaults and malice, and of the rage and violence which pride, and faction, and Cainish envy, and enmity to serious holiness, do ordinarily raise against Christ's followers in the world. We are left among the lying tongues of slanderous, malicious men, and dwell in a wilderness among scorpions ; where the sons of Belial, like Nabal, are such that a man cannot speak to them. (1. Sam. xxv. 17.) The best of them is as a briar, the most upright sharper than a thorn hedge. (Mic. vii. 4.) “ But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands; but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron, and the staff of a spear, and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.” (2 Sam. xxiii. 6, 7.) We are left among our weak, distempered, sinful, afflicted, lamenting friends; the sight of whose calamities, and participation of their sufferings, maketh us feel the strokes that fall upon so great a number, that we are never like to be free from pain. But she is entered into the land of peace, where pride and faction are shut out; where serpentine enmity, malice, and fury, never come; where there is no Cain to envy and destroy us; no Sodomites to rage against us, and in their blindness to assault our doors; no Ahithophels to plot our ruin ; no Judas to betray us; no false witnesses to accuse us; no Tertullus to paint us out as pestilent fellows, and movers of sedition among the people; no Rehum, Shimshai, or their society, to persuade the rulers that the servants of the God of heaven are hurtful unto kings, and against their interest and honour ; (Ezra iv. 9, 12, 13, 14, 22; and v. 11;) no rabble to cry“ Away with them, it is not fit that they should live;" no Demas that will forsake us for the love of present things; no such contentious, censorious friends as Job's to afflict us, by adding to our afflictions; no cursed Ham to dishonour parents; no ambitious, rebellious Absalom to molest us, or to lament; no sinful, scandalous, or impatient friends to be our grief: and, which is more than all, no earthly, sinful inclinations in ourselves; no passions or infirmities; no languishings of soul; no deadness, dulness, hard-heartedness or weakness of grace; no backwardness to God, or estrangedness from him, nor fears or doubtings of his love, nor frowns of his displeasure. None of these do enter into that serene and holy region, nor ever interrupt the joy of saints.
* Good old Mrs. Doughtv, sometime of Shrewsbury, who had long walked with God and longed to be with him, and was among us an excellent example of holiness, blamelessness, contempt of the world, coustancy, patience, humility, and (which makes it strange) a great and constant desire to die, though she was still complaining of doubtings, and weakuess of assurance.
The great work is yet upon our hands, to fight out the good fight, to finish our course, to run with patience the remainder of the race that is before us; and as we must look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, as our great exemplar, so must we look to his saints and martyrs as our encouraging examples under him. Put the case you were now dying, (and oh, how near is it, and how sure !) what would you need most, if the day were come? That is it that you need most now. Look after it speedily while you have time. Look after it seriously, if you have the hearts of men, and sin have not turned
into idiots or blocks. What a disgrace is it to mankind, to hear men commonly at death cry out, “Oh! for a little more time.' And Oh ! for the opportunities of grace again. And Oh ! how shall I enter upon eternity thus unprepared ?' as if they had never heard or known that they must die till now. not a life's time to put these questions? And should you not long ago have got them satisfactorily resolved? And justly doth God give over some to that greater shame of human nature, as not to be called to their wits, even by the approach of death itself; but as they contemned everlasting life in their health, God justly leaveth them to be so sottish as to venture presumptuously with unrenewed souls upon death, and the conceit that they are of the right church, or party, or opinion; or that the priest hath absolved them, doth pass with them for the necessary preparation; and well were it for them if these would pass them currently into heaven. But, oh, what heart can
now conceive how terrible it is for a new departed soul to find itself remedilessly disappointed, and to be shut up in flames and desperation, before they would believe that they were in danger of it.
Reader, I beseech thee, as ever thou believest that thou must shortly die, retire from the crowd and noise of worldly vanity and vexation. Oh, bethink thee, how little a while thou must be here, and have use for honour, and favour, and wealth; and what it is for a soul to pass into heaven or hell, and to dwell among angels or devils for ever; and how men should live, and watch, and pray, that are near to such a change as this. Should I care what men call me (by tongue or pen) ?
Should I care whether I live at liberty or in prison, when I am ready to die, and have matters of infinite moment before me to take me up? Honour or dishonour, liberty or prison, are words of no sound or signification, scarce to be heard or taken notice of, to one of us that are just passing to God, and to everlasting life. The Lord have mercy upon the distracted world! How strangely doth the devil befool them in the daylight, and make them needlessly trouble themselves about many things, when one thing is needful; and heaven is talked of, (and that but heartlessly and seldom,) while fleshly provision only is the prize, the pleasure, the business of their lives. Some are diverted from their serious preparation for death by the beastly avocations of lust, and gaudiness, and meats, and drinks, and childish sports ; and some by the businesses of ambition and covetousness, contriving how to feather their nests, and exercise their wills over others in the world! And some that will seem to be doing the work, are diverted as dangerously as others, by contending about formalities and ceremonies, and destroying charity and peace; rending the church, and strengthening factions, and carrying on interests hypocritically under the name of religion, till the zeal that St. James describeth, (James iii. 13, 14, &c.) having consumed all that was like to the zeal of love and holiness in themselves, proceed to consume the servants and interest of Christ about them, and to bite and devour, till their Lord come and find them in a day that they looked not for him, smiting their fellow-servants, and eating and drinking with the drunken, and cut them asunder, and appoint them their portion with the hypocrites, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. xxiv. 49-51.)
Oh, study, and preach, and hear, and pray, and live, and use
your brethren that differ from you in some opinions, as you would do if you were going to receive your doom, and as will then be most acceptable to your Lord! The guilt of sensuality, worldliness, ambition, of uncharitableness, cruelty, and injustice, of losing time, and betraying your souls by negligence, or perfidiousness, and wilful sin, will lie heavier upon a departing soul, than now, in the drunkenness of prosperity, you can think. Christ will never receive such souls in their extremity, unless upon repentance, by faith in his blood, they are washed from this pollution. It is unspeakably terrible to die, without a confidence that Christ will receive us ; and little knows the graceless world what sincerity and simplicity in-holiness is necessary to the soundness of such a confidence.
Let those that know not that they must die, or know of no life hereafter, hold on their chase of a feather, till they find what they lost their lives, and souls, and labour for. But if thou be a Christian, remember what is thy work : thou wilt not need the favour of man, nor worldly wealth, to prevail with Christ to receive thy spirit. Oh, learn thy last work before thou art put upon the doing of it! The world of spirits, to which we are passing, doth better know than this world of fleshly, darkened sinners, the great difference between the death of a heavenly believer and of an earthly sensualist. Believe it, it is a thing possible to get that apprehension of the love of Christ, that confidence of his receiving us, and such familiar, pleasant thoughts of our entertainment by him, as shall much overcome the fears of death, and make it a welcome day to us when we shall be admitted into the celestial society: and the difference between one man's death and another's dependeth on the difference between heart and heart, life and life, preparation and unpreparedness.
If you ask me, “How may so happy a preparation be made? I have told you in this following discourse, and more fully elsewhere formerly. I shall add now these few directions following.
1. Follow the flattering world no further; come off from all expectation of felicity below; enjoy nothing under the sun, but only use it in order to your enjoyment of the real, sure delight; take heed of being too much pleased in the creature. Have you houses, and lands, and offices, and honours, and friends, that are very pleasing to you? Take heed, for that is the killing snare! Shut your eyes, and wink them all into nothing; and cast by your contrivances, and cares, and fears, and remember you have another work to do,