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compendium conduct and assist your pious purposes so well, as by that which is the great argument and great instrument of Holy Living, the consideration and exercises of death...
My Lord, it is a great art to die well, and to be learned by men in health, by them that can discourse and consider, by those whose understanding and acts of reason are not abated with fear or pains: and as the greatest part of death is passed by the preceding years of our life, so also in those years are the greatest preparations to it; and he that prepares not for death before his last sickness, is like him that begins to study philosophy when he is going to dispute publicly in the faculty. All that a sick and dying man can do, is but to exercise those virtues which he before acquired, and to perfect that repentance which was begun more early. And of this (My Lord) my book, I think, is good testimony; not only because it represents the vanity of a late and sick-bed repentance, but becauşe it contains in it so many precepts and meditations, so many propositions and various duties, such forms of exercise, and the degrees and difficulties of so many graces which are necessary preparatives to a holy death, that the very learning the duties requires study and skill, time and understanding in the ways of godliness: and it were very vain to say so much is necessary, and not to suppose more time to learn them, more skill to practice them, more opportunities to desire them, more abilities both of body and mind than can be supposed in a sick, amazed, timourous, and weak person; whose natural acts are disabled, whose senses are weak, whose discerning faculties are lessened, whose princi
ples are made intricate and entangled, upon whose eyes sits a cloud, and the heart is broken with sickness, and the liver pierced through with sorrows, and the strokes of death. And therefore (My Lord) it is intended by the necessity of affairs, that the precepts of dying-well be part of the studies of them that live in health, and the days of discourse and understanding, which in this case hath another degree of necessity superadded; because, in other notices, an imperfect study be supplied by a frequent exercise and a renewed experience; here if we practice imperfectly once, we shali never recover the error; for we die but once; and therefore it will be necessary that our skill be more. exact, since it is not to be mended by trial, but the actions must be for ever left imperfect, unless the habit be contracted with study and contemplation before-hand.
And indeed I were vain, if I should intend this book to be read and studied by dying persons: and they were vainer that should need to be instructed in those graces which they are then to exercise and to finish. For a sick bed is only a school of severe exercise, in which the spirit of man is tried and his graces are rehearsed: and the assistance which I have in the following pages given to those virtues which are proper to the state of sickness, are such as suppose a man, in the state of grace; or they confirm a good man, or they support the weak, or add degrees, or minister comfort, or prevent an evil, or cure the little mischiefs which are incident to tempted persons in their weakness. That is the sum of the present design, as it relates to dying persons. And therefore I have not in
serted any advices proper to old age, but such as are common to it and the state of sickness. For I suppose very old age to be a longer sickness; it is labour and sorrow when it goes beyond the common period of nature: but if it be on this side that period, and be healthful in the same degree it is so, I reckon it in the accounts of life; and therefore it can have no distinct consideration. But I do not think it is a station of advantage to begin the change of an evil life in it: it is a middle state between life and death-bed: and therefore although it hath more of hopes than this, and less than that, yet as it partakes of either state, so it is to be regulated by the advices of that state, and judged by its sentences...
Only this: I desire that all old persons would sadly consider that their advantages in that state are very few, but their inconveniences are not few; their bodies are without strength, their prejudices, long and mighty, their vices (if they have lived wicked) are habitual, the occasions of the virtues not many, the possibilities of some (in the matter of which they stand very guilty) are past, and shall never return again, (such are, chastity, and many parts of self-denial;) that they have some temptations proper to their age, as peevishness and pride, covetousness and talking, wilfulness and unwillingness to learn; and they think they are protected by age from learning a new, or repenting the old, and do not leave, but change their vices: and after all this, either the day of their repentance is past, as we see it true in very many; or it is expiring, and toward the sun-set, as it is in all: and therefore although in these to recover is very possible,
yet we may also remember, that in the matter of virtue and repentance possibility is a great way off from performance; and how few do repent, of whom it is only possible that they may? and that many things more are required to reduce their possibility to act; a great grace, an assiduous ministry, an effective calling, mighty assistances, excellent counsel, great industry, a watchful diligence, a well-disposed mind, passionate desires, deep apprehensions of danger, quick perceptions of duty, and time, and God's blessing, and effectual impression and seconding all this, that to will and to do may by him be wrought to great purposes, and with great speed.
And therefore it will not be amiss, but it is hugely necessary, that these persons who have lost their time and their blessed opportunities should have the diligence of youth, and zeal of new converts, and take account of every hour that is left them, and pray perpetually, and be advised prudently, and study the interest of their souls carefully with diligence, and with fear; and their old age, which in effect is nothing but a continual death-bed, dressed with some more order and advantages, may be a state of hope and labour, and acceptance, through the infinite mercies of God in Jesus Christ.
But concerning sinners really under the arrest of death, God hath made no death-bed covenant, the scripture hath recorded no promises, given no instructions, and therefore I had none to give, but only the same which are to be given to all men that are alive, because they are so, and because it is uncertain when they shall be otherwise. But then this advice I also am
to insert, That they are the smallest number of Christian men, who can be divided by the characters of a certain holiness, or an open villainy: and between these there are many degrees of latitude, and most, are of a middle sort; concerning which we are tied to make the judgments of charity, and possibly God may do so too. But, however, all they are such to whom the Rules of Holy Dying are useful and applicable, and therefore no separation is to be made in this world. But where the case is not evident, men are to be permitted to the unerring judgment of God; where it is evident, we can rejoice or mourn for them that die.
In the church of Rome they reckon otherwise concerning sick and dying Christians than I have done: for they make profession, that from death to life, from sin to grace, a man may very certainly be changed, though the operation begin not before his last hour: and half this they do upon his death-bed, and the other half when he is in his grave: and they take away the eternal punishment in an instant, by a schooldistinction, or the hand of the priest; and the temporal punishment shall stick longer, even then when the man is no more measured with time, having nothing to do with any thing of or under the sun; but that they pretend to take away too when the man is dead; and God knows, the poor man for all this pays them both in hell. The distinction of temporal and eternal is a just measure of pain, when it refers to this life and another; but to dream of a punishment temporai when all his time is done, and to think of repentance when the time of grace is past, are great errors-the