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ble reformation of their lives. We know what disputes there were about this matter in the primitive church ; the ancient discipline allowed but of one repentance after baptism ; and some would not allow of that in the case of adultery, murder, and idolatry, but denied the authority of the church to receive such sinners to communion again : this was the repentance of Novatus's schism : and Tertullian, after he turned Montanist, said many bitter things against the catholics upon this argument, which seemed to question the validity of repentance itself after baptism, though it did reform men's lives : but though this was a great deal too much, and did both lessen the grace of the gospel, and the authority which Christ had given to his church, yet it is evident that all this time, they were very far from thinking, that some dying vows after a wicked life, would carry men to heaven ; and the judgment of those first and purest ages of the church, ought at least to make men afraid of relying on such a death bed repen• tance, as they thought very ineffectual to save sinners.
Concerning the fear of death, and the remedies
DEATH is commonly and very truly called the king of terrors, as being the most formidable thing
to human nature ; the love of life, and the natural principle of self preservation, begets in all men a natural aversion against death, and this is the natural fear of dying; this is very much increased by a great fondness and passion for this world, which makes such men, especially while they are happy and prosperous, very unwilling to leave it ; and this is still encreased by a sense of guilt, and the fear of punishment in the next world : all these are of a distinct nature, and require suitable remedies, and therefore I shall distinctly consider them :
1. The natural fear of death results from self preservation and the love of our own being; for light is sweet and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun, Eccles. xi. 7. All men love life, and the necessary consequence of that is to fear death ; though this is rather a natural instinct, than the effect of reason and discourse.
There are great and wise reasons why God should imprint this aversion to death on human nature, because it obliges us to take care of ourselves, and to avoid every thing which will destroy or shorten our lives ; this in many cases is a great principle of virtue, as it preserves us from all fatal and destructive vices; it is a great instrument of government, and makes men afraid of committing such villanies, as the laws of their country have made capital ; and therefore since the natural fear of death is of such great advantage to us, we must be contented with it, though it makes the thoughts of dying a little unea. sy ; especially if we consider, that when this natural fear of death is not encreased by other cases, (of which more presently) it may be conquered or allayed by reason and wise consideration : for this is not so strong an aversion, but it may be conquered; the miseries and calamities of this life very often reconcile men to death, and make them passionately de sire it: Wherefore is light given to him that is ir misery, and life to the bitter in soul? Which long for death, but it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures :. which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave, Job. iii. 20,22. My soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than life: I loathe it, I would not live always ; let me alone, for my days are vanity, Job. vii. 15, 16, And if the sense of present sufferings can conquer the fears of death, there is no doubt but the hope of immortal life may do it also ; for the fear of death, is not an original and primitive passion, but results from the love of ourselves, from the love of life, and our own being ; and therefore when we can separate the fear of death from self love, it is easily conquered: when men are sensible, that life is no kindness to them, but only serves to prolong their misery, they are so far from being afraid of death, that they court it; and were they as thoroughly convinceil, that when they die, death will translate them to a more happy life, it would be as easy a thing to put
off these bodies, as to change their clothes, or to leave an old and ruinous house for a more beautiful and convenient habitation.
If we set aside the natural aversion, and enquire into the reasons of this natural fear of death, we can think of but these two ; either men are afraid, that when they die they shall cease to be, or at least they know not what. But now both these reasons of fear are taken away by the revelation of the gospel, which has brought life and immortality to light; and when the reasons of our fear are gone, such an unaccountable aversion and reluctancy to cleath, signifies little more than to make us patient of living, rather than unwilling to die ; for a man who has such a rew glorious world, such a happy immortal life in his view, could not very contentedly delay his removal thither, were not death in the way, which he naturally startles at, and draws back from, though his reason sees nothing frightful or terrible in it.
The plain and short account then of this matter is this : we must not expect wholly to conquer our natural aversion to death ; St. Paul himself did not desire to be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life, 2 Cor. iii. 4. * Were there not some remaining aversions to death mixed with our hopes and desires of immortality, martyrdom itself, excepting the patient enduring the shame and the torments of it, would be no virtue ; but though this natural aversion to death cannot be whol.
ly conquered, it may be extremely lessened, and brought next to nothing, by the certain belief and expectation of a glorious immortality; and therefore the only way to arm ourselves against these natural fears of dying, is to confirm ourselves in this belief, that death dose not put an end to us, that our souls shall survive in a state of bliss and happiness, when our bodies shall rot in their graves, and that these mortal bodies themselves shall, at the sound of the last trump, rise again out of the dust immortal and glorious. A man who believes and expects this, can have no reason to be afraid of death ; nay he has great reason not to fear death ; and that will reconcile ; him to the thoughts of it, though he trembles a little under the weaknesses and aversions of nature:
II. Besides the natural aversions to death, most men have contracted a great fondness and passsion for this world, and that makes them so unwilling to leave it : whatever glorious things they hear of another world, they see what is to be had in this, and they like it so well, that they do not expect to mend themselves, but if they were at their choice, would stay where they are ; and this is a double death to them to be snatched away from their admired enjoyments, and to leave whatever they love and delight in behind them; and there is no remedy that I know of for these men to cure their fears of death, but only to rectify their opinions of things, to open their