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certainly follow this life? without once enquiring whether we are fitted to enjoy the one, or must suffer the other?
Now since things shall certainly be so, the apostle's inference is very proper to be made by every one of us, 1 Pet. iii. 11." What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" How should we watch continually, and be always upon our guard against the temptations of the world; lest they should at any time divert our thoughts from considering our main concern, and should betray us into the commission of such follies, as will be the occasion of inexpressible vexation, torment, and trouble to us for ever and ever hereafter?
The vast Consequence of being prepared for Death.
THIRDLY, Another thing which should engage us frequently to think of Death, is, not only because it will produce a vast alteration in us from what we were before, while our souls and bodies were united together; and therefore it must needs be our highest prudence to be so well prepared for it, that we may not be in a worse condition after Death, than we were before; but also because the time is very uncertain, when this great alteration may happen, that "GOD may require our souls of us."
Were it a thing fixed and settled to a certain time for every one of us, we might then so order our affairs, as not to be surprised with it unawares; but when we foresaw the time of Death approaching, we might set ourselves more steadily to prepare ourselves for it. But this is by no means our case. GOD Almighty, in whose power alone our lives and souls are, has thought fit, in his great wisdom, and indeed, in his great goodness likewise towards mankind, to conceal from every man the exact time of his dissolution.
He has plainly enough declared to all men, that it shall certainly be at some time or other; but he has no where told us what the certain time is, which he has determined for every man; on purpose that we might every one of us, so carefully, and prudently, and religiously demean ourselves in this world, that we might be always prepared for it, whenever it comes.
GOD, knowing of what great consequence it is to all of us to die well, has for that reason left the time of it very uncertain to every man; and moreover, has added another consideration to put us in mind of preparing for it as soon as possibly we can, without delay: and that is, by appointing the time of our stay in this world to be very short. He has not only shewn us by innumerable instances, almost every day of our lives, how abundance of accidents, which we can neither foresee nor prevent, may cut us off suddenly, and put an end to our being in this world, almost in a moment; but he has fixed it by a law not to be altered, that the life of man should be but short. If now and then, for the very wise and good ends of his providence, he permits some men to live a few years longer than their neighbours, yet are their days at the best but of "a short continuance;" For "the days of man are but as grass; for he flourisheth as a flower of the field, which as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more." Psalm ciii. 15, 16.
Now these two things considered together, the uncertainty of the time when we must die, and how short that time may be before it comes to pass to any of us; should (one would think) be a never-failing argument to persuade us to keep the time of death frequently in our thoughts, and to make all the haste that possibly we can, to be prepared for it.
The general fault of Men, is not taking care to prepare for Death as they ought to do.
AND yet if we observe the way of the world, how few are there that ever consider so seriously of it, as they ought to do! A thousand other things take up all their thoughts and engross all their cares; but as for dying, that is usually the last thing which the generality of men ever employ their thoughts about till they feel themselves approaching towards it, by some severe fit of sickness giving them warning, that the time of their departure out of this world is drawing nigh.
While men are young, and healthful, and vigorous, the thoughts of death are then esteemed a little unseasonable: and when they begin to grow into years, then they are so much engaged in the business of this world, and are so taken up with the cares of this life, or the pleasures of it, with their families and their friends, that they can hardly find in their hearts to think of so serious and melancholy a thing as dying is. They rather choose to put a cheat upon themselves, and are apt to flatter themselves with long life, by computing the whole duration of the life of man, with-out considering how much of this is past already with them, and how little of it is still to come. They reckon upon living threescore and ten, or fourscore years, or more; but seldom consider that it may be thirty or forty, or fifty of these are spent; that is, the best part of their lives is already gone. Whereas they ought to consider how their life shortens every day; and this would make them look upon every moment as more precious, and put them upon thinking of living in the best sense; that is, of minding the true ends and purposes of life, of doing the work for which they came into the world, and which they must do before they die, or they will be miserable for ever.
This would put them upon looking back upon their lives and actions while they are well in health, and upon considering what they have done, or left undone, in the world; how they have spent that time which God has given them here, and what they have still to do to make their peace with GOD and their own consciences, "before they go hence, and be no more seen:" whether there be any sin, which they have committed, and have not yet thoroughly repented of, and heartily begged God's pardon for; whether there be any injuries which they have done to their neighbour, for which they have not yet made sufficient restitution and reparation; whether there be any duties which they have grossly neglected, or sins and follies which they have often committed; and apply themselves to the diligent discharge of the one, and use their best endeavours to amend the others whether there be any graces which want to be improved in their souls; what evil inclinations and unruly passions to be mortified; and to apply proper remedies to them.' Such as this would be our best preparation for death; for indeed nothing else can give us hope and assurance in dying, and create true peace and satisfaction in our minds in a dying hour, but a thorough knowledge of our own state; and that we have used our sincere and utmost endeavours, with the assistance of God's grace, to rectify whatever has been amiss in the conduct of our whole lives?
This is the only way to deliver our consciences from those dreadful fears which will otherwise, at that solemn time of dying, most certainly spring up in our minds, if we have led lawless, wicked, and ungodly lives and have not been so wise as to prepare ourselves for it beforehand, by a hearty repentance of all our past errors, and to make our peace with GOD, through the merits of our Saviour. This indeed would disarm Death of its sting and terrors, " for the sting of death is sin ;" and when this sting is pulled
out, we have nothing else to contend with; but some little natural aversions to dying, which would then be more easily conquered.
The Happiness or Misery of Men in the next world entirely depends upon their Behaviour in this.
FOURTHLY, Another thing which we ought frequently to consider, and fix very well upon our minds, is this, that our happiness or misery in the next world does entirely depend upon our behaviour while we live in this world only. GOD has placed us in this world as in a state of trial and probation for that which is to come. According as we behave ourselves here, so will our lot be hereafter. This the wise man is generally thought to intend by those remarkable words of his, Eccles. xi. 3. "As the tree falls, so it shall lie;" meaning thereby, that such as a man is, when he goes out of this world, good or bad, fitted for happiness or misery, such will be his fate unchangeably to all eternity. There is no altering or bettering our condition, when we are once passed from hence. Death concludes and determines our state one way or other; and therefore it is very rightly said, that "as Death leaves us, judgment will find us." This life is the only time to work, and prepare ourselves for a future state; and what we do towards it in this world will redound to our great advantage in the next. But if this opportunity be once neglected and lost, there is nothing to be done by us afterwards, but to inherit the fruit of our own folly and neglect, to sit down in everlasting sorrow, and to be immutably fixed in that miserable state, which, whilst we were in this world, we could never be persuaded to take any tolerable care to avoid.