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are no more like your thoughts, than my condition is like yours. It is no trouble to me now to think that I am to die young, or before I have raised an estate. These things are sunk into such mere nothings, that I have no name little enough to call them by. For in a few days, or hours, I am to leave this carcass to be buried in the earth, and to find myself either for ever happy in the favor of God, or eternally separated from all light and peace; can any words sufficiently express the littleness of every thing else?
"Is there any dream like the dream of life, which amuses us with the neglect and disregard of these things? Is there any folly like the folly of our manly state, which is too wise and busy to be at leisure for these reflections ?
“When we consider death as a misery, we generally think of it as a miserable separation from the enjoyments of this life. We seldom mourn over an old man that dies rich, but we lament the young, that are taken away in the progress of their fortunes. You yourselves look upon me with pity, not that you think I am going unprepared to meet the Judge of quick and dead, but that I am to leave a prosperous trade in the flower of my life.
“This is the wisdom of our manly thoughts. And yet what folly of the silliest children is so great as this ? For what is there miserable or dreadful in death, but the consequences of it? When a man is dead, what does any thing signify to him, but the state he is then in ?
“Our poor friend Lepidus, you know, died as he was dressing himself for a feast; do you think it is now part of his trouble that he did not live till that entertainment was over? Feasts, and business, and pleasures, and enjoyments, seem great things to us, whilst we think of nothing else; but as soon as we add death to them, they all sink into littleness not to be expressed; and the soul that is separated from the body no more laments the loss of business, than the losing of a feast.
“If I am now going to the joys of God, could there be any reason to grieve that this happened to me before I was forty years of age? Can it be a sad thing to go to heaven, before I have made a few more bargains, or stood a little longer behind a counter ?
“And if I am to go among lost spirits, could there be any reason to be content, that this did not happen to me till I was old and full of riches?
“If good angels were ready to receive my soul, could it be any grief to me that I was dying on a poor bed in a garret?
« And if God has delivered me up to evil spirits, to be dragged by them to places of torment, could it be any comfort to me,
that they found me upon a bed of state ? When you are as near death as I am, you will know, that all the different states of life, whether of youth or age, riches or poverty, greatness or meanness, signify no more to you than whether you die in a poor or stately apartment.
“ The greatness of the things which follow death, makes all that goes before it sink into nothing.
* Now that judgment is the next thing which I look for, and everlasting happiness or misery has come so near to me, all the enjoyments and prosperities of life seem as vain and insignificant, and to have no more to do with my happiness, than the clothes that I wore when I was a little child.
“What a strange thing! that a little health, or the poor business of a shop, should keep us so senseless of these great things that are coming so fast upon us !
“Just as you came into my chamber, I was thinking with myself, what numbers of souls there are in the world in my condition at this very time, surprised with a summons to the other world; some taken from their shops and farms, others from their sports and pleasures; these at suits of law, those at gaming-tables; some on the road, others at their own fire-sides ; and all seized at an hour when they thought nothing of it; frightened at the approach of death, confounded at the vanity of all their labors, designs, and projects, astonished at the folly of their past lives, and not knowing which way to turn their thoughts to find any comfort; their consciences flying in their faces, bringing all their sins to remembrance, tormenting them with the deepest convictions of their own folly, presenting them with the sight of the angry Judge, and the worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched, the gates of hell, the power of darkness, and the bitter pains of eternal death.
“O my friends, bless God that you are not of this number; and take this along with you, that there is nothing but a real faith in the Lord Jesus, and a life of true piety, or a death of great stupidity, that can keep off these apprehensions.
“Had I now a thousand worlds, I would give them all for one moment's scriptural assurance that I had really received the Lord Jesus by a living faith into my heart, and for one more year's continuance in life, that I might evidence the sincerity of that faith, by presenting unto God one year of such devotion and good works as I am persuaded I have hitherto never done.
"Perhaps, when you consider that I have lived free from scandal and debauchery, and in the communion of the church, you wonder to see me so full of remorse and self-condemnation at the approach of death.
“But, alas! what a poor thing is it to have lived only ree from murder, theft and adultery, which is all that I can say of myself. Was not the slothful servant, that is condemned in the gospel, thus negatively good ? And did not the Savior of mankind tell the young man, who led a more blameless and moral life than I have done, that yet one thing he lacked ?
“But the thing that now surprises me above all wonders is this, that till of late I never was convinced of that reigning, soul-destroying sin of unbelief; and that I was out of a state of salvation, notwithstanding my negative goodness, my seemingly strict morality, and attendance on public worship and the holy sacrament. It never entered into my head or heart, that the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone could recommend me to the favor of a sin-avenging God, and that I must be born again of God, and have Christ formed in my heart, before I could have any well-guarded assurance that I was a christian indeed, or have any solid foundation whereon I might build the superstructure of a truly holy and pious life.
“Alas ! I thought I had faith in Christ, because I was born in a christian country, and said in my creed, that 'I believed on Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord.' I thought I was certainly regenerate and born again, and was a real christian, because I was baptized when I was young, and received the holy sacrament in my adult age. But, alas ! little did I consider that faith is something more than the world generally thinks of; a work of the heart and not merely of the head, and that I must know and feel that there is no other name given under heaven, whereby I can be saved, but that of Jesus Christ.
“It is true, indeed, you have frequently seen me at church and the sacrament; but, alas ! you little think what remorse of conscience I now feel for so frequently saying, 'the remembrance of our sins is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable,' when I never experienced the meaning of them in all my life. You have also seen me join with the minister when he said, we do not approach thy table trusting on our own righteousness;' but all this while I was utterly ignorant of God's righteousness, which is by faith in Christ Jesus, and was going about to establish a righteousness of my own. It is true, indeed, I have kept the fasts and feasts of the church, and have called Christ Lord, Lord ; but little did I think that no one could call Christ truly Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. I have attended upon ordinations, and heard the bishop ask the candidates, whether they were called by the Holy Ghost;' I have seriously attended to the minister, when he exhorted us to pray for true repentance, and God's Holy Spirit; but, alas ! I never inquired whether I myself had received the Holy Ghost,
to spinctify and purify my heart, and work a true evangelical repentance on my soul. I have prayed in the litany that I might bring forth fruits of the Spirit, but, alas! my whole life has been nothing but a dead life, a round of duties, and model of performances, without any living faith for their foundation. I have professed myself a member of the Church of England; I have cried out, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,' and in my zeal have exclaimed against Dissenters; but little did I think that I was ignorant all this while of most of her essential articles, and that my practice, as well as the want of real experience of a work of regeneration and true conversion, when I was using her offices, and reading her homilies, gave my conscience the lie.
“O my friends, a form of godliness without the power, and dead morality not founded on a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is such a dreadful delusion, so contrary to the lively oracles of God, that did not I know, (though alas how late!) that the righteousness of Jesus Christ was revealed in them, and that there was mercy to be found with God, if we venture by a real faith on that righteousness, though at the eleventh hour, I must now sink into total despair.”
Penitens was here going on, but had his mouth stopped by a convulsion, which never suffered him to speak any more. He lay convulsed about twelve hours, and then gave up the ghost.
Now if every reader would imagine this Penitens to have been some particular acquaintance or relation of his, and fancy that he saw and heard all which is here described ; that he stood by his bed-side when his poor friend lay in such distress and agony, lamenting the want of a living faith in Jesus Christ, as the cause of a dead, lifeless, indevout life; besides this, should he consider how often he himself might have been surprised in the same formal, dead state, and made an example to the rest of the world; this double reflection, both upon the distress of his friend, and that goodness of God which ought to have led him to repentance, would, in all likelihood, set him upon seeking and earnestly praying for such a faith, of which Penitens felt himself void, and constrain him to let the Lord have no rest, till he should be pleased to apply the righteousness of his dear Son to his sin-sick soul, and enable him henceforward to study, out of love, to glorify him in all the actions of his future life, as the best and happiest thing in the world.
This therefore being so useful a meditation, I shall here leave the reader, I hope, seriously engaged in it.