PSALM 89.48.—What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death, &c.
IT is very hard to determine, where all that are here shall be within thirty years; for even ere that time come, many, if not all, of us who are here, shall have taken up our everlasting lodging. And whether we shall take it up in the eternity of joy, or in the eternity of pain, is also hard to determine; only this one thing I am sure of, that all of us shall shortly be gone; and ere long the shadows of death shall be sitting upon our eye-lids, and our eye-strings shall begin to break. Therefore, I would the more seriously inquire at you, what would you think if death were approaching this night unto you? Think ye that Jesus Christ is gone up to prepare a place for you, even for you? Surely, I think we are all near to eternity, and there are some hearing me to-day, whom I defy the world to assure that ever they shall hear another sermon: therefore, I entreat you all to hear this preaching, as if it were the last preaching that ever ye should hear; and O that we would speak it, as if it were the last sermon that ever we would preach unto you. Believe me, death is another thing than we take it to be. Oh! what will many of us do in the day of our visitation, when desolation shall come from afar? Where will we flee for rest? and where will we leave our glory? Old rich men, where will ye flee when death assaults you? Old poor men, where will ye flee when death assaults you? Old women, where will ye flee when death assaults you? Young women, where will ye flee when death assaults you? It was an ancient observation of David, Psalm 39.5, that God had made his days as an hand-breadth. This either may relate to the fourfold state of man, viz.:—his infancy, his childhood, his manhood, and his old age;—or it may relate to the fourfold time of his life, viz.:—his morning, his forenoon, his afternoon, and his evening; yet all our lifetime is but a day. And O think ye not that our day is near unto a close.
Now, before that I begin to speak any thing from the words, I shall speak a few things to these two questions, which, I conceive, may not altogether be unprofitable.
Question. 1. Whether is it lawful for any to desire to die, and return unto their long and endless home? Whether it be lawful for one to cry out, O time, time, flee away, (and all my shadows let them be gone) that so long eternity may come?
Answer. I say, it is lawful in some cases for one to desire to die; for it was Paul's desire, Philip. 1.23, "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better:" and 2 Cor. 5.2, "We groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven." I long greatly till the twenty-first year of my age come, when my minority shall be overpast, that I may be entered heir to that matchless inheritance. But to clear in what cases it is lawful to desire to die.
1. I say, it is lawful to desire to die, when it floweth from a desire of uninterrupted fellowship and communion with Christ, and conjunction with him; this is clear, 2 Cor. 5.6, "Knowing that whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord." Therefore, verse 8, "We are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Also, it is clear, Philip. 1.23, "I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better." It was his great end to have near and unmixed communion with Christ. What aileth you, Paul, (might one have said) may ye not be content to stay a while here? Nay, saith Paul, I desire to be gone, and to be with Christ. Wast thou never with him here, Paul? I have been with him, saith he; but what is all my being with him here, in comparison of my being with him above:—Whilst I am present in the body, I am absent from the Lord: therefore, I will never be at rest, saith he, get what I will, until I get Christ; until I get those naked and immediate embracements of that noble plant of renown, the flower of the stock of Jesse, who is the light of the higher house,—the eternal admiration of angels.
2. It is lawful to desire to die, when it floweth from the excellencies of heaven—from a desire to partake of those excellent things that are there; this is clear, 2 Cor. 5.4, We groan, being burdened; or, as the word is, We groan, as they who are pressed under a heavy burden, that we may be clothed upon, &c. What aileth you to groan so, Paul? O! saith he, I groan that mortality may be swallowed up of life.
3. It is lawful to desire to die, when it floweth from a desire to be saved from the body of death; and from those temptations that assault us; and from those oppressions whereunto we are subject by it. Doubtless, Paul desired to die on this account, when he cried out, Rom. 7.24, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death! He longeth greatly for that day, wherein he shall be made white like the wings of a dove, covered with silver, whose feathers are of yellow gold. Oh! saith Paul, I am as one impatient till I be above, where I shall be clothed with those excellent and cleanly robes, the righteousness of Christ. Oh! saith Paul, I think every day a year till I be possessed of that kingdom where Satan cannot tempt, and the creature cannot yield, and where I shall be free from all my fears of sinning. Now, in all these respects, who would not desire to die? But to guard all these, I would give you these four cautions:—
1st Caution. Your desire to die should not be peremptory, but ye should desire to die with submission to the will of God; so that although he would fill up fifteen years more to your life, ye should be content to live it out.
2d Caution. When your desires are hasty, and off hand, suspect them; for some, when they meet with an outward cross, without any deliberation, will cry out, O to be gone, O that I were dead! But your desire to die should be deliberate, but not hasty, or rash.
3d Caution. It is not lawful to desire to die, because of personal afflictions. Many, when they meet with bitter afflictions, will cry out, O to be gone: they long for death even upon that account; such was Job's desire, chap. 6. verses 8 & 9, O that I might have my request! even that it would please God to destroy me. This desire was very unlawful.
4th Caution. It is not lawful to desire to die, when thy predominant idol is taken away from thee; yet such was Jonah's desire, chap. 4.3, Jonah thought his credit and reputation (which was his idol) was gone, and could never be regained; therefore, he wished to die. But I would say this to you, that some will have ten desires for death, when they have not one desire for heaven. And what moveth Christians to be so desirous to die? It is not so much because of their hope, as because of their anxiety: it is not so much because of their confidence, as because of their impatience. But I say unto you, when your desires of death are not accompanied with desires of heaven, suspect them. (2.) I would say this, that there are some who will have ten desires for death, when they will not have one for the death of the body of death; but it were good for thee, who are such, to be desiring the death of the body of death, then shouldst thou be in a more suitable frame to desire to die.
3. Some will have hearty desires to die, and yet when death cometh, they will be as unwilling to die as any. It hath been observed, that some who have much desire to die, when death came, have cried out, O spare a little, that I may recover strength, &c.
There is a great difference between a desire to die, and death itself. It is an easy thing to desire to die, but it is a very great business to meet with death, and to look it in the face when it cometh. We think death (ere it come near us) to be but children's play, but when we meet with it, it maketh us change our thoughts, for it is a great business to die.
Question. 2d. Is it lawful for a Christian to desire to live when he is summoned to die?
Answer. In some cases, it is lawful for a Christian to desire to live, even when he is summoned to die, which is clear from the practice of David, Psalm 39.13, where he prayeth, that the Lord would spare him a little. It is also clear from the practice of good Hezekiah, Isa. 38.3, when he was commanded to set his house in order, for he should die, and not live, he crieth out, Remember now, O Lord, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart; and have done that which is good in thy sight; and Hezekiah wept sore; or, as the words are in the original, he wept with great weeping. But to guard this, take these two cautions:—
Caution 1st. Thy desire to live, when thou art summoned to die, should not be peremptory, but with submission to the will of God, that if it be his pleasure to remove thee presently out of time, thou shouldst be content to die.
Caution 2d. Thy desire to live should have gracious principles, and also a very gracious end; as is most clear from David, Psalm 39.13, where he saith, O spare me a little, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more. His desire to live was, that he might have victory over his idols; as if he had said, my desire to live is, that I may have strength to wrestle with, and overcome my idols. And without all controversy, Hezekiah's desire was a most precious and well-grounded desire. However, I would
say this unto thee, that thou shouldst examine thy desires to live, as much, (if not more,) as thy desires to die; for we are ready to shun death, if we could; but he is that universal King, unto whom all of us must be subject ere long.
Now in the words which are read unto you, there are these six things, which might be clearly observed from them.
1. First, That it is a most clear and infallible truth, that all persons shall once see death, as is clear in these words, who is he that liveth, and shall not see death?
2. Secondly, That this truth (that we shall once see death) is not much believed or thought upon by many: therefore it is that the Psalmist doubleth the assertion, What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul (that is his life) from the hand, that is, from the power of the grave.
3. Thirdly, That sometimes a Christian may win to the solid faith of this truth, that once he must die; this the Psalmist got unto, as it is also clear in that word—Who is he that liveth, and shall not see death?
4. Fourthly, That the certainty of this, that once we shall die, should be still kept in our mind; therefore, that note of attention, Selah, is put to it: as if he had said, take heed, that there is none living that shall not die.
5. Fifthly, That howbeit some persons put the evil day far away, as if they were not to see death; yet is the day coming when they shall see death, and death shall take them by the hand.
6. Sixthly, We shall take notice of this from the context, that the Christian, who is much in minding the brevity of his life, will believe the certainty of his death: the Psalmist was speaking of the shortness of his life in the preceding verse, and, in this verse, he speaketh of the certainty of death.
Now, as for the First of these things observed, viz.:—That it is certain and sure that we shall all once die, I hope there are none of you here who will deny; although I confess, some of you believe what was said by the woman of Tekoah, 2 Sam. 14.14, We must all die, and be like water spilt upon the ground, that cannot be gathered up again. God doth not except the person of any. And Job 30.23, I know that thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all living. And it is very clear, Eccles. 8.8, There is no man that hath power over the spirit, to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war, neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it. It is clear, Heb. 9.27, It is appointed unto men once to die. So that it is most clear that we must die. I remember of one Philip, king of Macedonia, who had a substitute for this very end, to cry at his chamber-door every morning, Memento mori, memento mori, memento mori, Remember thou art to die. And it is reported to have been the practice of the nobles of Greece, in the day whereon their emperor was crowned, that they presented a marble stone unto him; and he was asked, after what fashion he would have his tomb-stone made?—which practice speaks forth this unto us, that although these were most destitute of the light of the Scripture, they were very mindful of death. Believe me, death may surprise us before we be aware: for it is most certain that we must die; but there is nothing more uncertain than the way how, and the time when, we shall die.
Death will surprise some, as it did Abel in the open field, Gen. 4.8. Death will surprise some, as it did Eglon in his parlour, Judges, 3.21. And death will surprise some, as it did Saul and Jonathan in the fight, 1 Sam. 31.
Now, in speaking to this point, I shall, First, speak a little to those advantages which attend those that live within continual sight of death. Secondly, I shall give you some considerations to press you to prepare for death. Thirdly, I shall give you some directions to help you to prepare for death; and then we shall proceed unto the Second point of doctrine, which we observed from the text; and I shall speak a few things from it unto you, and so come to a close for this time.
First then, We conceive there are these seven advantages which attend those who live within the continual sight of this truth, that they must die.
1. First, The faith of approaching death will make a soul exceedingly diligent in duty; this was our blessed Lord's divinity, John 9.4, I must work the work of him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work; that is, death is approaching, therefore, I must work. It is clear also, 2 Pet 1.12, compared with verse 14. In the 12th verse, Peter is exceedingly diligent in his duty, and the ground of his diligence in the 14th verse, Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle &c. Yea, it is even the epicure's argument, Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall die. And should not the Christian much more cry out, Let me watch and pray, for to-morrow I may die? I say, if the epicures did make use of this notion, to make them vigorous in the pursuit of their pleasures, O how much more should a Christian improve it, for making him vigorous in the pursuit of his duty? Therefore, I say unto you all, O be ye diligent, for your night is drawing near. O Christians, and expectants of heaven, are ye not afraid lest ye be benighted before ye have walked the half of your journey? For if ye be benighted on your journey to heaven, before ye come to the end of your race, there is no retiring place whereunto ye may turn aside to lodge. Therefore, O work, work, work, while it is day; for behold death is approaching, and then we shall all be called to an account.
2. The faith of approaching death, will make a Christian exceedingly active in duty; he will not only be diligent, but also exceedingly serious, and zealous in the exercise of his duty: this is clear from that notable exhortation, Eccles. 9.10, Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; and the reason is, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. Wherefore, O be active, while ye are alive, for ye shall never work any more after ye are dead; and if ye leave but one work undone, there is no doing of it after death. There is no work (saith Solomon) in the grave: therefore, O be active.
3. The faith of this truth, that we must all die, will help a Christian to be exceedingly mortified to the things of a present world. Oh! covetous men and women, would ye shake hands with cold death but once every morning, I should defy you to pursue the world so much as ye do. Paul was much in the meditation of his change, which made him. 2 Cor. 4.18, to overlook those things that are temporary, While we look not (saith he) at the things which are seen, which are temporal; but at the things which are not seen, which are eternal: therefore, chapter 5.1,2, Knowing, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens: therefore, in this, we groan earnestly, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. What aileth you, Paul, (might one have said) may ye not take a look of the world? No, saith he, for I know that if the earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, I have a house with God, not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens: that is, I know that ere long the pins of my tabernacle will be loosed, and it will fall down about my ears; therefore, I must look for another dwelling house. And 1 Cor. 7.31, The fashion of this world passeth away: therefore, saith he, verse 32, I would have you without carefulness, caring how to please the Lord: and Philip 4.5, Let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand;—as if he had said, death is approaching, and at hand; therefore, I entreat you, be sober. But I think many of us will be found like Saul, hid among the stuff; that is, we will be lying amongst the midst of the pleasures of this passing world. But I say unto thee, who art such a one, that death will break the strings of thy harp—thy music will quickly cease. O but death will make thee have a low esteem of the world. O blessed is the person who hath these thoughts of the world all along his way, which he shall have of it at death! Have not the most cursed wretches been forced to cry out, Oh! I would give ten thousand worlds for Christ? Have not some persons (who have had the moon upon their head, and who have made their belly their god,) been forced to cry out at death, O cursed person that I am, that ever made the world my God? Alas! that I contented myself with the world. Therefore, I say unto thee, who art such a one, O stay thy pursuit after the world, for death is approaching, that will cause all thy worldly comforts to evanish.
4. When a Christian believeth this truth, that he must die, it will be an exceeding great restraint to keep him from sinning, as is clear, Job. 31.13, compared with verse 14, where Job, reckoning over many good deeds done by himself, saith, What then shall I do when God ariseth up? and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? As if he had said, sirs, mistake me not, I am not boasting much of myself, for I could not have done otherwise, else what should I do when God riseth up? How could I answer to God, if I had done otherwise? I think it were a notable practice of each of you to say, O temptation, what will I answer to God when he riseth up to reprove me, if I should yield unto thee? likewise, Eccles. 11.9, where Solomon, dissuading young men to pursue after their vanity, bringeth this as a reason, know ye, that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Therefore, I say unto thee, who art often tempted to sin, let death and reckoning with God be still in thy sight, and I defy thee to embrace half so many temptations, as now thou doest. I entreat you to answer all your temptations with that word, What shall I do when God riseth up? and what shall I answer when he visiteth me?
5. When a Christian liveth within the sight of this truth, that he shall once see death, it will make him exceedingly patient under every cross wherewith he meeteth. Such a Christian will hardly meet with a cross, but he will quiet himself with this:—death will put me beyond this cross,—this is but a cloud that will quickly pass away: and for this cause did David so composedly put up that desire, Psalm 39.4, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days. He was sure that the knowledge of his end would put him in a sober and patient frame.
6. The Sixth advantage is this—the faith of approaching death will teach the person that hath it, to study saving wisdom; this is clear, Psalm 90.12, where Moses putteth up his request, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom: as if he had said, I will never think myself wise, till I know that blessed part of arithmetic, how to number my days. I desire every one of you all to think with yourself every morning when you rise, Now I am a day nearer unto eternity than I was before; and at the end of every hour, Now I am an hour nearer unto eternity than I was before. I say, think often, yea, always thus—I was never so near my death as I am now; for, oh! are we not all nearer unto eternity today, than we were yesterday?
7. The Seventh advantage attending the faith of approaching death, is this, that it will make a Christian very careful in preparing for death. It is impossible for one to believe really that death is approaching, and not to prepare for it. Say what ye will, if ye be not careful in preparing for death, ye have not the solid faith of this truth, that ye shall die. Believe me, it is not every one that thinketh he believeth this truth, that believeth it indeed. And O how dreadful is it for an unprepared man to meet with death? He desireth not to die, yea, he would give a world for his life; but die he must, whether he will or not: for death will not be requested to spare a little when he cometh. And therefore, I say unto you all, set your house in order, for ye shall surely die. All men and women, set your house in order, for to-morrow ye mall die, and be cut off in the flower of your age. Think not that there are many can sell time; for I say, ye shall never get time sold unto you. Alas! I fear that the most part of persons that die now, death findeth them at unawares; for indeed the persons that die amongst us, when we come to visit them, we may give you a sad account of them, for we think they are comprehended under these four sorts:
1. First, When we go to visit some persons on their death-beds, they are like unto Nabal,—their heart is dying and sinking (like unto a stone) within them; they are no more affected with death, than if it were a fancy;—alas! for the great stupidity that hath overtaken many: therefore, I entreat you, delay not your repentance till death, lest the Lord take away your wit, so that ye cannot repent for your senselessness, and stupid frame of spirit.
2. A Second sort we find in a presumptuous frame, saying, they have had a good hope all their days, and they will not quit it now; they will go down to their grave with their hope in their right hand, or rather they will go down to the grave with a lie in their right hand; they live in a presumptuous frame, and they die in the same delusion. For when we tell them, by all probability they are going down to hell, they answer, God forbid, I was all my time a very honest man, or woman; but I love not that confession, for there are many such honest men and women in hell this day.
3. The Third sort we find having some convictions that they have been playing the fool all their days; but we can get them no further. I shall only say to such, to go down to the grave with convictions in their breasts, not making use of Christ, is to go down to hell with a candle in their hand, to let them see the way; and truly the greatest part that die, die in that manner.
4. Fourthly, There are some whom we find in a self-righteous frame, resting upon the covenant of works, and their own merits, and trusting by these to go to heaven; yet neglecting the offer of Christ's righteousness. But, alas! we find not one of a thousand of this frame—I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ, which is best of all; and scarce do we find any in such a frame—O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Therefore, I say this unto you all who are here, O! will ye mind death, before it take hold on you? Oh! mind your work now; for ye will find that death will be work enough for itself, though ye leave no work till then.
8. The Eighth advantage that attendeth the Christian in believing this truth, that once he must die, is this, death will not be so terrible to him as it is unto many when it cometh. What, think ye, maketh death a king of terrors? What maketh many to shake as the leaf of a tree, when they are summoned to appear before God's tribunal? It is even because of this,—they have not been thinking of death before it came, so as to prepare for it. And I fear many in this place may be afraid of death, and that, when it cometh to them, they will say unto death, as Ahab said to Elijah, hast thou found me, O mine enemy? Surely death will take you, and bring you to the judgment-seat of Christ; therefore, study by all means to think often upon it, and make ready for it; believe me, death is a very big word, for it will once make you stand with horror in your souls, if your peace be not made up with God. I know not a more dreadful dispensation than death and a guilty conscience meeting together.
The Second thing that I shall speak unto from this first observation, viz., This is a most certain and infallible truth, that all persons shall once see death—shall be to give you some considerations for pressing you to prepare for death.
The first consideration is this, to die well and in the Lord, is a most difficult work; therefore I entreat you to prepare for death. It is a difficult work to communicate aright; it is a difficult work to pray aright; and it is a difficult work to confer aright; but I must tell you, it is a still more difficult work to die aright than any of these. It is true, it is more difficult to communicate aright than to pray aright, yet it is much more difficult to die aright than to communicate aright, for it is a more difficult work to die in the Lord. Death will put the most accurate Christian that is here to a wonderful search: and therefore I will tell you of nine things that death will try in thee; (1.) Death will try both the reality and strength of thy faith. It may be easy for thee to keep up faith under many difficulties, but death will put thy faith to the greatest stress that ever it did meet with. Yea, know this, that the faith of the strongest believer may get (and ordinarily doth get) a set at death, the like whereof it never got before: therefore prepare for death. (2.) Death will try thy love to God: some persons pretend much love to him, but death will propose this question to such a person, Lovest thou him more than these? Lovest thou him more than thy wife, more than thy house, more than thy friends? But your unwillingness to die, giveth much ground to fear that many have little love to Christ, but much to the world, and so dare not answer the question, Lord thou knowest that I love thee. (3.) Death will try thine enjoyments; some of you may be ready to think that ye meet with many enjoyments, so that ye may reckon (as you think) to forty enjoyments and sweet out-lettings; but beware that death bring them not down to twenty: I have known some, who thought they have met forty times with God, but when death came, it made them take down the account to the half; therefore seeing death will try the reality of thine enjoyments, O prepare for it. (4.) Death will try thy patience. Thou mayest seem to have much patience now, but when death cometh (and thou art put to die) it will put thy patience to a great trial; therefore prepare for it. (5.) Death will try the reality of thy duties, yea, even those duties wherein thou had most satisfaction, as thy communicating aright in such a place, thou hopest that is sure; thy reading the scripture at such a time aright, thou hopest that is sure; thou prayedst at such a time aright, and hopest that is sure; thou didst meditate in such a place aright, and hopest that is sure; but (believe me) death may make thee change thy thoughts; for there are some persons who have communicated, and prayed, &c. as right as any in this generation, who (for all that) will not find six duties wherein they can find satisfaction at death; therefore our need is great to prepare for it. (6.) Death will exceedingly try thy sincerity when it cometh—an hypocrite may go all along his whole way undiscovered, yet death may bring him to light, and make him appear what man he is. (7.) Death will discover unto thee many hid and secret sins of which thou never hadst a thought before; yet, albeit thou thoughtest these had been forgotten, death will let thee see them standing between thee and the light of His countenance. (8.) Death will accurately try thy mortification—some will think they have come a great length in mortification; but (believe me) death will try it, and put it to the touch-stone. (9.) Death will try thy hope, whether it be real or not. I shall only say this, that all the other graces must lower the sail to faith, and so it is faith must carry us through, being that last triumphing grace, which must fit us for the field, when all the other graces will faint and lie by. It is faith that must enter us fairly within the borders of eternity; it is faith must gain-stand all the temptations of death, yea, all the other graces must (as it were) stand by, and see faith strike the last stroke in the war.
II. The second consideration to press you to mind death, is this, that ye are to die but once, and the wrong doing of which can never be helped; if ye pray not aright, ye may get that mended; if ye meditate not aright, ye may get that mended; and if ye communicate not aright, ye may get that mended: but alas! if ye die not aright, there is no mending of that; therefore O prepare for death, that ye may die well, seeing ye are to die but once.
III. The third consideration to press you to mind death, is this, that they are pronounced blessed who die in the Lord, Rev. 14.13, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. O let that provoke you to prepare for death, that so ye may die in the Lord; that is the only way to make you eternally happy. I confess it is a question difficult to determine, whether it be more difficult to die well or to live well? I shall not answer it, but rather desire you to study both.
IV. The fourth consideration to press you to prepare for death, is this, viz. That though thou put all thy works by thy hand before death, yet shalt thou find that death shall have work enough for itself, yea, as much as thou shalt get done. It will then be much for thee to win to patience; it will be much for thee to win to the sight of thy justification; and then it will be much more for thee to win to assurance. O! then is it not needful for thee to put all thy work by hand before thy latter end come? Wherefore I may say to you, as Moses said in his song, Deut. 32.29, O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! O that ye had this piece of divine wisdom! I pray you consider that sad word, Lam. 1.9, She remembereth not her last end; and what of it? therefore she came down wonderfully. So will the down-coming of many in this generation be wonderful, who consider not their last end.
V. The fifth consideration for pressing you to prepare for death, is this, viz. That their labour shall end, but their works shall not be forgotten, as is clear from that forecited place, Rev. 14.13. They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them: and is not that a glorious advantage.
VI. The sixth consideration to press you to prepare for death, is this, viz. That death may come upon you ere ye be aware; ye know not but death may surprise you this night before ye go home to your houses; and therefore let that press you to study a constant preparation for death.
VII. The seventh consideration to press you to prepare for death, is this, viz. That as death leaveth you, so will judgment find you; If death shall leave you strangers to Christ, ye shall appear before him strangers to him: therefore I entreat you all to prepare for it. I think that noble practice of Paul exceeding worthy of imitation, 1 Cor. 15.31, I die daily. Which, I think, doth comprehend these three things:—(l.) That Paul had death always in his sight. (2.) It comprehendeth this, that he endeavoured to keep such a frame as every moment he should be ready to die; so that whensoever death should put a summons in his hand, he would be content to answer. (3.) It comprehendeth this, that he laboureth to lay aside and remove all things out of the way, that might detain him from laying down his tabernacle. O! saith Paul, I labour to clear myself from all hindrances, as that whenever I shall be summoned to remove out of time, I may willingly lay down my life. Therefore I would ask you this question, viz. When shall you make your last testament? I think it were suitable for us to be renewing our latter-will every day: for in so doing, Paul made an excellent testament, the better of which none that died since have made, 2 Tim. 4.7,8, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: these are very sweet articles; and then he added, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day. And think ye not that very sweet, that he would leave something unto you in Christ's name? viz. And that not for me only, but for all them that wait for his appearance. Now I come to the third thing proposed, viz. To give some directions for helping you to prepare for death.
Direction. 1. I entreat you be much in preparation for death every day, for it is even a preparation for heaven, to be taking a sight of your grave and latter-end every day.
Direction. 2. I entreat you be much in these duties; First, In self-examination; that your counts may be clear with God, for many a ragged count shall we have when death and we shall meet. Secondly, Be much in the exercise of repentance, that so ye may have every fault and corruption in you mourned for, before death and you meet. Thirdly, Be much in the exercise of faith, making your calling and election sure. Fourthly, Be much in the exercise of mortification, and that will help you to keep a loose grip, not only of the world, but also of your idols; and if ye be much in these, ye shall undoubtedly be prepared for death.
Direction. 3. Be much in minding the excellent things of heaven. A Christian that would be prepared for death, would have all his thoughts and conversation there. I think it should be an excellent help (in preparation for death) to take a sight of the crown every day.
Direction. 4. Labour always to keep a good conscience void of offence towards God and man: I say, labour to keep thy conscience clear, and that shall be a continual feast unto thee.
Direction. 5. Slight not any known duty, do not crucify any conviction, neither break any resolution; put these three together, and that will exceedingly help you to prepare for death: I say, see that ye adventure not to slight any known duty; see that ye adventure not to crucify any conviction, and see that ye adventure not to break your resolutions.
Now we come to the Second thing which we observed from the words, viz. That this truth, that we shall once see death, is not much believed by any of us. And to make this appear, we shall only give some evidences unto you, to prove that we are not as yet prepared for death.
I. Evidence. Doth not the unspeakable stupidity that hath overtaken many, say, that we are not a people prepared for death? Alas! many of us would find ourselves in a most stupid temper, if we were presently to die; for many of us are no more moved with the threatenings and terrors of God, than if they did not belong unto us; and this saith, we are not as yet prepared for death.
II. Evidence. That we are not prepared for death, is our pursuing so much after the vain and passing delights of a present world. Many of us rise up early, and go late to bed at night, and eat the bread of sorrow all the day, and load ourselves with the thick clay; and I am sure that such a person (being night and day taken up with the world) is not prepared for death. I remember a word recorded of such a wretched one, who was exceedingly rich; said he, I would give so many thousands of money, if death will give me but one day; yet he got it not. And, O! how suddenly will death surprise many of us, as it did him.
III. Evidence. Which speaketh forth our unpreparedness for death, is our impatience under every petty cross that we meet with; for the prepared Christian will be patient under very sharp crosses.
IV. Evidence. That we are not prepared, is our not endeavouring to live within sight of our interest in God. O! if we were prepared for death, durst we live in so much uncertainty of our interest in God, and of our assurance of heaven?
V. Evidence. Some of us can let our idols lie in our breast six years without repentance, and will never study to mortify them, nor to repent for them; and surely such are not prepared for death.
Now I entreat you seriously to mind what hath been said; and that ye may the more seriously think upon it, I will tell you some material challenges that your conscience at death will present unto you; therefore take heed, that ye may know how ye will answer.
1. Challenge, Is the slighting of much precious time, and sinning away the precious offers of grace. O! what will ye answer to that challenge when death shall present it unto you? Death will say (or rather thine own conscience at death) what ailed thee to sin so many hours, without either praying, reading, or meditating? Now, have ye any thing to answer when death shall present his challenge to you? I entreat you to premeditate what ye will say: I entreat you to prevent death, by presenting it first seriously to yourselves.
2. Challenge, That death will present unto you, will be for the killing of many precious convictions which we have had. What will each of you answer at death, when your conscience proposeth this challenge unto you? You met with such a challenge at such a time, and went home and crucified it: when at another time you met with another challenge, and went home and crucified it; these challenges will be laid to thy door, therefore think on them.
3. Challenge. Death will challenge you for a formal hypocritical way of going about duties; I say, your conscience will then tell you that ye went to such a communion with a selfish end; and at another time ye prayed hypocritically and formally. And what will ye have to answer when ye meet with these challenges? I confess, I know not what ye can answer to these; but I charge you, be thinking what ye will answer, for it may be that these convictions shall lie on your consciences, that even this day ye have heard two searching sermons, and did meet with some convictions, but made no good use of them? yea, and it may be ye did sleep all the time. O! what shall ye answer, when it shall be said to you, ye went to such a sermon, and slept all the time? and ye went to such a communion, with no other end before your eyes, but to be seen of men? I entreat you consider presently what ye will answer to these.
4. Challenge, Will be for your breaking of many precious resolutions. It will be said to some of you, that at the communion, in this place, ye took on vows, and did break them; I am sure ye cannot question the justice of the challenge, therefore see what ye will answer.
5. Challenge. Ye slighted many precious offers of the gospel. O men and women in this city, what will ye answer to this? I was often exhorted to take Christ, and yet never would take him. What will conscience say to that, when death shall table it before you? I tell you what ye must then answer: O cursed I, that ever I refused Christ in the gospel! And ye shall then be confounded because this is your sin; believe me, there was never an offer of this everlasting gospel, and of Christ in it, made unto you, that shall not at death (before or after) be brought to your remembrance. And O! how sad and doleful will it be to you, when Christ shall open the book wherein all your sins are written, and begin with the sin of slighting the great salvation? Thus I invited you, when you were twelve years old, but you would not come. What will ye answer to this? Have ye any thing to say? Or must ye not stand speechless before your Judge, when he shall put home this challenge unto you? Therefore think seriously upon it, how ye will answer it.
6. Challenge, Will be for your sinning oftentimes against light; and O! how painful and sad a challenge will that be at the day of death, when it will be said, thou sinnedst with a witness in thy bosom that thou wast doing wrong? Thy conscience will say, oftentimes did I tell thee, this was sinful, yet wouldst thou not abstain from it; and what will ye answer to this?
7. Challenge. Oftentimes ye sinned upon very small temptation, and what wilt ye answer to that? Must ye not then confess it, and say, O! how often have I deserted Christ, and embraced my idols upon a small temptation? Now, I entreat you, be thinking what ye will answer to these seven most material challenges, which certainly shall be presented to you at death. I assure you, ye must either answer all your challenges in Christ, else ye will not get them well answered. Therefore, I would exhort you to embrace the gospel, and Christ in it; and so let death propose never so many challenges unto you, ye may answer them all as David did, viz., God hath made with me an everlasting covenant, (and that will answer all your challenges) though my house be not so with God, yet I have the everlasting covenant to build my salvation upon.
Now, to press you to make use of Christ, I shall give you these four considerations:—
Consideration 1. If ye embrace not Christ now, death will be very unpleasant unto you. O what else can comfort thee, when going through the region of the shadow of death, but this, I am Christ's, I am Christ's? Is there any other thing can comfort thee in that day, but only this, I am Christ's, and he is mine?
Consideration 2. If ye embrace not Christ, and the great salvation now, it will be a hundred to one if ever ye get time or liberty to do it, when ye are going to die. For although many delay their closing with Christ till death, yet scarcely one of a hundred getteth favour to lay hold on Christ at death; therefore, think on it, for ye will not get your mind so composed at death as ye imagine, nor all things done as ye suppose; therefore, now, embrace the great salvation.
Consideration 3. If ye delay your closing with Christ till death seize upon you, ye shall never be able to make up that loss: for will the dead rise and praise God? or shall any come from the land of forgetfulness, to take hold upon a crucified Saviour? Therefore, O! will you take him for your salvation?
Consideration 4. If ye will take Christ now, he shall be your guide, when ye are going through the valley and shadow of death. And O how blessed is the person that can sing that song, Psalm 48.14, This is my God, he will be my guide even unto death. If ye can sing that pleasant song, O how may ye be comforted, when your eye-strings shall begin to break? O how happy is he who can say, though I walk through the shadow of death, yet will I fear no ill; for I know the Lord is with me? Now this is the acceptable day, and the year of salvation; therefore, do not delay, but embrace Christ, lest death surprise you ere ye be aware, and so that acceptable day be lost. But unto those who think they may delay till death, I say, surely there are many damned atheists in hell that sometimes did think as ye think:—I will make all wrongs right when death and I shall meet; I hope that three days' repentance will satisfy for all my wrong. For I am sure, there are many in hell who did never get three days to think upon their former ways; therefore, O come, come, and embrace Christ presently. Now, are ye all persuaded of this truth, that ye shall once see death? Then study a tender walking; for, believe me, there are many of us who shall go through death with many bruised bones, because of untender walking before God. We know it is not the multitude of words can persuade you to embrace Christ; for many of you never minded the thing. But, believe me, death will preach these things to you in a more terrible manner than we can do at this time. Therefore, I say to each of you, O prepare to meet thy God; for if death find you in an estranged state from God, I defy the angels in heaven to free you out of that estate: and the day is coming, wherein thou shalt cry out, O slighter of the great salvation that I am, I would give ten thousand worlds for one sermon again that I once heard, wherein Christ was freely offered to me, when thou shalt be tormented without hope of remedy. Therefore, while it is today, harden not your hearts, for your late wishes shall not be granted, (when ye are gone) if ye make not haste. O therefore, haste, haste in time, and come out from the land of your captivity, and from the house of your bondage, and take Christ for your Redeemer, the guide of your youth and old age.—Now unto Him, who can lead you through all the steps betwixt you and heaven, be eternal praise. Amen.