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DE A TH.
HEBREWS ix. 27.
It is appointed unto men once to die.
THERE is not a more effectual way to revive the true spirit of christianity in the world, than seriously to meditate on what we commonly call the four last things, death, judgment, heaven and hell; for it is morally impossible men should live such careless lives, should so wholly devote themselves to this world, and the service of their lusts, should either cast off the fear of God, and all reverence for his laws, or satisfy themselves with some cold and formal devotions, were they possest with a warm and constant sense of these things. For what manner of men ought we to be, who know that we must shortly die, and come to judgment, and receive according
to what we have done in this world, whether it be good or evil ; either eternal rewards in the kingdom of heaven, or eternal punishments with the devil and his angels.
That which first presents itself to our thoughts, and shall be the subject of this following treatise, is death, a very terrible thing, the very naming of which is apt to chill our blood and spirits, and to draw a dark veil over all the glories of this life. And yet this is the condition of all mankind, we must as surely die, as we are born : for it is appointed unto men once to die. This is not the original law of our nature; for though man was made of the dust of the earth, and therefore was by nature mortal, (for that which is made of dust is by nature corruptible, and may be resolved into dust again) yet had he not sinned, he should never have died ; he should have been immortal by grace, and therefore had the sacrament of immortality, the tree of life, planted in paradise ; but now by man sin entered into the world, and death by sin ; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned, Rom. v. 12. And thus it is decreed and appointed by God, by an irreversible sentence, dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.
Now to improve this meditation to the best advantage, I shall, I. Consider what death is, and what wisdom that should teach us. II. The certainty of our death, That it is appointed unto men once to die,
III. The time of our death, it must be once, but when we know not. IV. The natural fears and terrors of death, or our natural aversion to it, and how they may be allayed and sweetened.
The several notions of death, and the improvement of
I. WHAT death is ; and I shall consider three things in it: 1. That it is our leaving this world. 2. Our putting off these earthly bodies. 3. Our entrance into a new and unknown state of life ; for when we die, we do not fall into nothing, or into a profound sleep, into a state of silence and insensibile ity till the resurrection; but we only change our place, and our dwelling; we remove out of this world, and leave our bodies to sleep in the earth till the resurrection, but our souls and spirits live still in an invisible state. I shall not go about to prove these things, but take it for granted, that you all believe them; for that we leave this world, and that our bodies rot and putrify in the grave, needs ro proof, for we sce it with our eyes ; and that our souls cannot die, but are by nature immortal, has been the belief of all mankind; the Gods, which the heathens worshiped, were most of them no other but dead men, and therefore they did believe, that the soul survived the funeral of the body, or they could never have made Gods of them : nay, there is such a strong sense of immortality imprinted on our natures, that very few men, how much soever they have debauched their natural sentiments, can wholly deliver themselves from the fears of another world. But we have a more sure word of prophecy than this ; since life and immortality is now brought to light by the gospel. - For this is so plainly taught in scripture, that no man, who believes that, needs any other proof. My business therefore shall only be to shew you, how such thoughts as these should affect our minds : what that wisdom is, which the thoughts of death will naturally teach us ; how that man ought to live, who knows, that he must die, and leave his body behind him to rot in the grave, and go himself into a new world of spirits.
Sect. I. The first notion of death, that it is our leav.
ing this world, with the improvement of it.
I. FIRST, then, let us consider death only as our leaving this world : a very delightful place you will say, especially when our circumstances are easy and prosperous ; here a man finds whatever he most naturally loves, whatever he takes pleasure in ; the supply of all his wants, the gratification of all his senses, whatever an earthly creature can wish for or desire : The truth is, few men kno:v any other happiness, inuch less any thing above it ; they feel what strikes upon their senses ; this they think a real and substantial good, but as for more pure and intellectual joys, they know no more what to make of them, than of ghosts and spirits ; they account them thin vanishing things, and wonder what men mean who talk so much of them : Nay, good men themselves are apt to be too much pleased with this world, while they are easy here ; something else is necessary to wean them from it, and to cure their fondness of it, besides the thoughts of dying, which makes the sufferings and afflictions and disappointments of this life, so necessary for the best of men.
This is one thing which makes the thoughts of death so terrible; men think themselves very well as they are, and most men think that they cannot be better, and therefore very few are desirous of a change : extreme miseries may conquer the love of life, and some few divine souls may long with St. Paul to be dissolved and to be with Christ, which is best of all, but this world is a beloved place to the generality of mankind, and that makes it a very troublesome thing to leave it : whereas did we rightly consider this matter, it would rectify our mistakes about things, and teach us how to value, and how to use theni. For,
1st, If we must leave this world, how valuable soever these things are in themselves, they are not so valuable to us. For besides the intrinsic worth of things, there is something more required to engage the affections of wise men, viz. propriety ard a se