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And if we can do nothing for ourselves hereafter, to help and relieve us in that state to which Death consigns us, much less can we think it can be done for us by others, by ordering of masses and prayers for the dead, and by applying the merits of others, and the indulgences of Popes, to our use and benefit in another world; as is the shameful practice of those in the church of Rome; by which innumerable poor souls, in that abominably corrupt church, have been deluded, and I am afraid have been lost and undone for ever, while they have been persuaded by their priests to put their confidence in them for their salvation.
It infinitely therefore concerns all of us to exercise our best wisdom in this present life; and what we have to do for the salvation of our souls to all eternity, to do it with all our might. Here let our main care be, as much as possibly we can, to live a religious and holy life, a life of unspotted purity, and great temperance in the use of sensual pleasures, of sincere piety and devotion towards GOD, of strict justice and integrity, and of great goodness and charity towards men. Let us take care to use the best means we can to be happy hereafter, while the opportunity of doing it is still in our hands; that is, while GOD is so gracious as to afford us life and strength. Let us remember, that we may easily let the proper time for it slip away; which if we should be so unhappy as to do, no care, no wisdom, no diligence, no repentance, can be able to retrieve it afterwards. When it is once lost, it is lost for
"It is appointed unto men," as the apostle tells us, Heb. ix. 27. once to die, but after this the judgment;" and St. Luke xiii. 25. "When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door," there is no more admission. "This argument is represented to us under a very fit similitude, by one of the most eminent writers
next to the apostles' times; "As the Potter," says he, "while the clay is moist and soft, moulds it over and over again, if it pleases him not at first; but after it has been once hardened in the fire, its shape can be mended no more; so in the present life GoD affords men from time to time space and means of repentance, but after Death and Judgment have once passed upon them, and they be cast into the fire, there is no more remedy for ever." Most excellent therefore is the advice of the wise man to every one of us, Eccles. ix. 10. and they are truly wise, and they only so that follow it: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest."
By this word, the grave, is often understood, the state of the dead, the condition of separate souls of good or bad men, after they are departed this life, and entered into another world. In which state, as a learned prelate of our church has observed, Solomon does not mean that departed souls have no knowledge or sense of any thing; as if the next world were an idle and inactive state, where we shall know nothing, and have nothing to do; but only, that Death puts an end to our working for another world. There will then be no place for counsel and design, for repentance, or any other work of that kind, in order to undo what we have done amiss in this life; and so to amend it, as it may not be any hindrance to our future happiness.' Whatever we do for this end and purpose, must be done whilst we are in this world; it will be too late, when we are in the state of the Dead, to think of altering or bettering our condition. This life is the only proper season for doing those things, whereby our future happiness is to be secured.
When this life is at an end, there will be no farther opportunity of working for eternity. Nothing will then remain for us to do, but to reap the fruit, and to receive the just recompence for ever, of what we
have done and deserved by our actions in this life. Agreeable to this is what our Saviour tells us, That the time limited by God Almighty for our working for eternity, that is, for an eternity of happiness or misery hereafter, is the day of this life only: "We must work while it is day," that is, the day of this life; "the night," that is, Death, "cometh, when no man can work." St. John ix. 4.
This matter indeed is so clearly revealed to us every where in the Gospel, that our state of trial ends with this life, and that the next life is for reward or punishment, as to admit of no reasonable doubt about it. All the promises and threatenings made therein concerning the next life, do all plainly relate to our behaviour in this life. But there is not the least shadow or glimpse of comfort given to those that shall lose this opportunity, of ever having any other: nor the least ground given them of thinking, that they may escape by any repentance after they are once dead.
I shall mention but one thing more, which is this, that as there is no repentance in the grave, no altering there what we have done amiss in this life, nor any atonement then to be made for it; the time for that being then entirely past and gone; (which makes it exceeding foolish, or rather great madness, for any one to rely upon any such thing) so likewise is it of the greatest consequence to us to remember always that we do not put off our repentance till we are in a manner just ready to descend into our graves; as the way, I am afraid, of too many is, to defer their repentance to their death-beds, which is a very dangerous thing.
The exceeding great danger of putting off our
Now that this is a very dangerous thing, is evident from hence:
First, Because of the great uncertainty there is, whether we shall then have time for it, to do it as we ought to do. And,
Secondly, Because it is very uncertain whether it
will be available or no to the pardon of our sins. First, A death-bed repentance is very dangerous, because of the great uncertainty there is, whether we shall then have time for it, to do it as we ought to do. I believe, indeed, that a great many wicked men are sensible enough that they ought to repent of their sins in this life, in order to their being happy in the next; and therefore do really intend to do so. But here is the great mischief of all, they are willing to put it off as long as possibly they can; and hope that they shall have time enough to do it once for all, when they shall be cast upon the bed of sickness, and the time of their Death seems to be approaching. But this is to depend upon a very great uncertainty, which no wise man in the whole world should do, in a matter of such great importance as this is, his eternal happiness or misery depending upon it.
True repentance is a very serious thing, and requires some time, and withal, great composedness of mind, to render it such as it should be, to qualify it for God's acceptance. It must, especially in great sinners, such as they are wont to be, who put off their repentance wholly to the last; In such, I say, it must be attended with a very hearty and unfeigned sorrow, with great anguish of soul, with earnest indignation against themselves for their sins, and with a terrible sense of the desert of them. They
ought to call to mind all the particular acts of their more heinous, wilful, and deliberate sins, at least, as far as they can, and more expressly to ask God's pardon for them; and at the same time be most heartily sorry for them, and to condemn themselves, as unworthy to find favour with God for them; as having been so wickedly ungrateful to their greatest benefactor. They ought to recollect the injuries they may have done to others, and to contrive how to make them all the reparation that is in their power for them and to forgive from their hearts all those that have injured them.' These things, and abundance more, would a true and sincere repentance suggest to a man's mind, as fit, and even necessary to be done by him, when he does not trifle with GOD and his own soul; enough certainly to employ all his powers, when he is at the freshest, and has health and vigour, and time to do them.
But can a man be fit to do all these things as he ought on a death-bed? 'How can he then be able to do the greatest and most momentous work of all his whole life, when all the powers of life are either quite decayed in him, or in such great disorder and confusion, that he knows not well what he has to do, or how to go about to do it? How can he attend with seriousness to the great work of repentance, when he is distracted with bodily pains, lies languishing under the faintness of a disease, is afflicted with the grief of parting with all that he has in the world, all his dear relations, all his beloved enjoyments; when his head aches, and his heart faints; and especially when his mind is in such disorder and confusion, with the fears and apprehensions of approaching Death, and the terrors of GOD, which are now round about him, and press him so sorely, that he knows not where to look for help; when his conscience reproaches him with numberless sins, and upbraids him with being a fool, for leaving what should have been the chief business of his whole