Why will you die?
There is no one conceit that engages us so deep, to continue in [ F] sin, that keeps us from repentance, and hinders any seasonable Re∣formation of our wicked lives, as a perswasion, that God's will is a cause of all events. Though we are not so blasphemous as to ven∣ture to define God the Author of sin; yet we are generally inclined for Page 85 [ A] a fancy, that because all things depend on God's decree, whatsoever we have done, could not be otherwise; all our care could not have cut off one sin from the Catalogue. And so being resolved, that when we thus sinned, we could not chuse, we can scarce tell how to repent for such necessary fatal misdemeanors; the same excuses which we have for having sinned formerly, we have for continuing still, and so are generally better prepared for Apologies than Reformation. Beloved, it will certainly much conduce to our edification, instead of this specu∣lation [ B] (whose grounds or truth, I will not now examine) to fix this practical theorem in our hearts, that the will of man is the principal cause of all our evil, that death either as it is the punishment of sin, eternal death, or as it is the sin it self, a privation of the life of grace, spiritual death, is wholly to be imputed to our wilful will. It is a Pro∣bleme in Aristotle, why some Creatures are longer in conceiving and bringing forth than others, and the sensiblest reason he gives for it, is 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the hardness of the Womb, which is like dry earth, [ C] that will not presently give any nourishment to either seed or plant; and so is it in the spiritual conception, and production of Christ, that is, of life in us: The hardness and toughness of the heart, the womb where he is to be born, that 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, that dry Earth, in the Philoso∣phers; or that way-side, or at best stony ground in Christs phrase, is the only stop and delay in begetting of life within us, the only cause of either barrenness or hard travail in the Spirit. Be the brain never so soft and pliable, never so waxy and capable of impressions; yet if the [ D] heart be but carnal, if it have any thing much of that lust of the flesh, 1 John ii. 15.* in its composition, it will be hard for the spiritual life to be conceived in that man. For Faith, the only means by which Christ lives and dwells in us,*Ephes. iii. 17. is to be seated in the heart, i. e. the will and affections, according to the express words, That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith. So that, be your brains never so swel∣led and puft up with perswasions of Christ our Saviour, be they so big that they are ready to ly-in, and travail of Christ, as Jove's did of Mi∣nerva [ E] in the Poem; yet if the heart have not joyned in the concepti∣on, if the seed sown have not taken root and drawn nourishment from the will, it is but an aerial or phantastical birth, or indeed rather a dis∣ease or tympany; nay, though it come to some proof, and afterward extend and increase in limbs and proportions never so speciously, yet if it be only in the brain, neither is this to be accounted solid nourishment & augmentation, but such as a Camaelion may be thought to have, that feeds on air, and it self is little better, and in sum, not [ F] growth but swellings.
So then if the will, either by nature, or custom of sinning, by fa∣miliarity and acquaintance, making them dote on sensual objects, otherwise unamiable; by business and worldly ambitious thoughts, great enemies to faith; or by pride and contentment, both very inci∣dent to noble Personages and great Wits, to Courtiers and Scholars:Page 86 In brief, if this Will, the stronger and more active part of the Soul, re∣main [ A] carnal, either in indulgence to many, or, which is the snare of judicious men in chief, of some one prime sin, then cannot all the faith in the world, bring that man to Heaven, it may work so much miracle as Simon Magus is said to have done, who undertook to raise the dead, give motion to the head, make the eyes look up or the tongue speak; but the lower part of the man, and that the heaviest, will by no charm or spell be brought to stir, but weigh & sink even into Hell, will still be carcass and corruption;*Damnation is his birth-right, Ecclus. xx. 25. [ B] And it is impossible, though not absolutely, yet ex hypothesi, the second Covenant being now sealed, even for God himself, to save him or give him life. It is not David's Musick, that exorcised and quieted Saul's evil spirit, nor Pythagoras's Spondees that tamed a man, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉set him right in his wits for ever, that can work any effect on a fleshy heart: So that Chrysostom would not wonder at the voice that cried, O Altar, Altar, hear the voice of the Lord, because Jeroboam's heart was harder than that; nor will I find fault with Bonaventure that made a solemn [ C] prayer for a stony heart, as if it were more likely to receive impressi∣on, than that which he had already of flesh.
It were long to insist on the wilfulness of our fleshy hearts, how they make a faction within themselves, and bandy faculties for the Devil; how when grace and life appear, and make proffer of them∣selves, all the carnal affections, like them in the Gospel, Joyn all with one consent to make excuses;* nothing in our whole lives we are so solli∣citous for, as to get off fairly, to have made a cleanly Apology to the in∣vitations [ D] of God's Spirit, and yet for a need rather than go, we will venture to be unmannerly: We have all married a Wife, espoused our selves to some amiable delight or other; we cannot, we will not come. The Devil is wiser in his generation than we, he knows the price and value of a Soul & will pay any rate for it, rather than lose his market; he will give all the riches in the world, rather than miss. And we at how low a rate do we prize it? it is the cheapest commodity we carry about us. The beggarliest content under Heaven, is fair, is rich enough [ E] to be given in exchange for the Soul. Spiritus non ponderat, saith the Philosopher; the Soul being a spirit, when we put it into the balance, weighs nothing; nay, more than so, it is lighter than vanity, lighter than nothing, i. e. it doth not only weigh nothing, but even lifts up the scale it is put into, when nothing is weighed against it. How many sins, how many vanities, how many idols, i. e. in the Scripture phrase, how many nothings be there in the world, each of which will outweigh and preponderate the Soul? [ F]
It were tedious to observe and describe the several ways that our devillish sagacity hath found out to speed our selves to damnation, to make quicker dispatch in that unhappy rode, than ever Elias his fiery Chariot could do toward Heaven, Our daily practice is too full of arguments, almost every minute of our lives, as it is an example, so is Page 87 [ A] it a proof of it: Our pains will be employed to better purpose, if we leave that as a worn, beaten, common place, and, betake our selves to a more necessary Theme, a close of Exhortation.
And that shall be by way of Treaty, as an Ambassador sent from God, that you will lay down your arms, that you will be content to be friends with God, and accept of fair terms of composition, which are, That as you have thus long been enemies to God, proclaiming hostili∣ty, [ B] & perpetually opposing every merciful will of his by that wilfulness; so now being likely to fall into his hands, you will prevent that ruine, you will come in; and whilst it is not too late, submit your selves, that you may not be forced as Rebels and outlaws, but submit as Servants. This perhaps may be your last parley for peace, and if you stand out, the battery will begin suddenly, and with it the horrendum est, Heb. x. 31. It is a fearful, hideous thing to fall into the hands of the living God: All that remains upon our wilful holding out, may be (the doom of A∣postates [ C] from Christianity) a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation that shall devour the adversaries, Vers. 27. And me∣thinks the very emphasis in my Text, notes as much; Why will you die? As if we were just now falling into the pit, and there were but one minute betwixt this time of our jollity, and our everlasting hell. Do but lay this one circumstance to your hearts, do but suppose your selves on a Bed of sickness, laid at with a violent burning Fever, such a one as shall finally consume the whole world; as it were battered [ D] with thundering and lightning, and besieged with fire, where the next throw or plunge of thy disease, may possibly separate thy soul from thy body, and the mouth of Hell just then open and yawning at thee; and then suppose there were one only minute, wherein a serious resigning up thy self to God, might recover you to Heaven. O then what power and energy! what force and strong efficacy, would there be in this voice from God, Why will you die? I am resolved, that heart that were truly sensible of it, that were prepared seasonably by all these [ E] circumstances to receive it, would find such inward vigor and spirit from it, that it would strike death dead in that one minute; this ultimus conatus, this last spring and plunge, would do more than a thousand heartless heaves in a lingring sickness, and perhaps over∣come, and quit the danger.
And therefore let me beseech you to represent this condition to your selves, and not any longer be flattered or couzened in a slow se∣curity: To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. If you [ F] let it alone till this day come in earnest, you may then perhaps heave in vain, labour and struggle, and not have breath enough to send up one sigh toward Heaven. The hour of our death we are wont to call Tempus improbabilitatis, a very improbable inch of time to build our Heaven in; as after death is impossibilitatis, a time wherein it is impos∣sible to recover us from Hell. If nothing were required to make us Page 88Saints, but outward performances; if true repentance were but to [ A] groan, and Faith but to cry, Lord, Lord; we could not promise our selves, that at our last hour we should be sufficient for that; perhaps a Lethargy may be our fate, and then, what life or spirits even for that? perhaps a Fever may send us away raving, in no case to name God, but only in oaths and curses; and then it were hideous to tell you, what a Bethlehem we should be carried to: But when that which must save us must be a work of the Soul, and a gift of God, how can we promise our selves, that God will be so merciful, whom we have till then con∣temned, [ B] or our souls then capable of any holy impression, having been so long frozen in sin, and petrified even into Adamant? Beloved, as a man may come to such an estate of grace here, that he may be most sure he shall not fall, as St. Paul in likelihood was, when he resolved that nothing could separate him: So may a man be engaged so far in sin, that there is no rescuing from the Devil. There is an irreversible estate in evil, as well as good, and perhaps I may have arrived to that be∣fore my hour of death; for I believe Pharaoh was come to it, Exod. [ C] ix. 34. after the seventh Plague hardning his heart; and then I say, it is possible, that thou that hitherto hast gone on in habituate, stupid, customary rebellions, mayest be now at this minute, arrived to this pitch, That if thou run on one pace farther, thou art engaged for ever past recovery. And therefore at this minute, in the strength of your age and lusts, this speech may be as seasonable, as if death were seizing on you, Why will you die? At what time soever thou repent∣est, God will have mercy; but this may be the last instant wherein [ D] thou canst repent, the next sin may benumb or fear thy heart, that even the pangs of death shall come on thee insensibly; that the rest of thy life shall be a sleep, or lethargy, and thou lie stupid in it, till thou findest thy self awake in flames. Oh, if thou shouldst pass away in such a sleep! Again, I cannot tell you whether a death-bed re∣pentance shall save you, or no. The Spouse sought Christ on her bed, but found him not, Cant. iii. 1. The last of Ecclesiastes would make a man suspect,* that remembring God when our feeble impotent [ E] age comes on us, would stand us in little stead. Read it, for it is a most learned powerful Chapter. This I am sure of, God hath chosen to himself,*a people Zealous of good works, Tit. ii. 14. And they that find not some of this holy fire alive within them, till their Souls are going out, have little cause to think themselves of God's election: So that perhaps there is something in it,* that Matth. iii. 8. the Exhorta∣tion, bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, is exprest by a tense that ordinarily signifies time past, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, have brought forth fruits. [ F] It will not be enough upon an exigence, when there is no way but one with me, to be inclinable to any good works, to resolve to live well, when I expect to die. I must have done this, and more too in my life, if I expect any true comfort at my death. There is not any point we err more familiarly in, and easily, than our spiritual condition;Page 89 [ A] what is likely to become of us after death? Any slight phansie that Christ died for us in particular, we take for a Faith that will be sure to save us.
Now there is no way to preserve our selves from this Error, but to measure our Faith and Hopes by our Obedience; that if we sincerely obey God, then are we true believers: And this cannot well be done by any that begins not till he is on his death-bed; be his inclinations to good then never so strong, his faith in Christ never [ B] so lusty; yet how knows he, whether it is only fear of death, and a conviction, that in spight of his teeth, he must now sin no longer, that hath wrought these inclinations, produced this faith in him?
Many a sick man resolves strongly to take the Physicians dose, in hope that it will cure him; yet when he comes to taste its bitter∣ness, will rather die than take it. If he that on his death-bed hath made his solemnest, severest Vows, should but recover to a possibi∣lity [ C] of enjoying those delights which now have given him over, I much fear his fiercest resolutions would be soon out-dated. Such in∣clinations that either hover in the Brain only, or float on the Sur∣face of the Heart, are but like those wavering, temporary thoughts, Jam. i. 6. Like a wave of the Sea, driven by the wind and tost; they have no firmness or stable consistence in the Soul; it will be hard to build Heaven on so slight a foundation.
All this I have said, not to discourage any tender, languishing [ D] Soul, but by representing the horrors of death to you now in health, to instruct you in the doctrine of Mortality betimes, so to speed and hasten your Repentance: Now, as if to morrow would be too late, as if there were but a small Isthmus or inch of ground between your present mirth and jollity, and your everlasting earnest.
To gather up all on the Clue: Christ is now offered to you as a Jesus: The times and sins of your Heathenism and unbelief, God winketh at,*Acts xvii. 30. The Spirit proclaims all this by the Word [ E] to your hearts; and now (God knows if ever again) commands all men every where to repent.
Oh that there were such a Spirit in our hearts, such a zeal to our eternal bliss, and indignation at Hell; that we would give one heave and spring before we die; that we would but answer those invitati∣ons of mercy, those desires of God, that we should live with an incli∣nation, with a breath, with a sigh toward Heaven.
Briefly, if there be any strong, violent, boisterous Devil within [ F] us, that keeps possession of our hearts against God; if the lower sen∣sual part of our Soul; if an habit of sin, i. e. a combination or legion of Devils, will not be over-topped by reason or grace in our hearts; if a major part of our carnal faculties be still canvasing for Hell; if for all our endeavors and pains it may appear to us, that this kind of evil spirit will not be cast out, save only by Fasting and Prayer:Page 90 Then have we yet that remedy left, First, To fast and pine, and [ A] keep him weak within, by denying him all foreign, fresh Provision, all new occasions of sin, and the like, and so to block, and in time, starve him up: And then secondly, To pray that God will second and fortifie our endeavours; that he will force, and rend, and ravish this carnal Devil out of us; that he will subdue our wills to his will; that he will prepare and make ready life for us, and us for life; that he will prevent us by his grace here, and accomplish us with his glory hereafter. [ A]
Now to him, &c.