« AnteriorContinuar »
when Death has cast them all into their graves together, then they appear without any distinction.
All these witty expressions, and others of the like nature, are pleasant and true; they teach well, and flatter the fancy; but they afford no real comforts. Therefore to all these learned doctors we may say, as Job by the way of reproach to his friends that added sorrow to his affliction, “ You are all physicians of no value. How then comfort ye me in vain ?” Job xiii. 9. When a patient is afflicted with the tortures of an unmerciful gout, or of the stone in the kidneys, that force from him every moment most grievous sighs and groans, if any should offer to paint before him his looks and grimaces, or sbould counterfeit them ingeniously in his presence, he would bring him little ease to his torments, but rather increase his vexation and trouble. The most beautiful flower also can give no delight to such as are racked in the executioner's hand, or tied to four horses that are ready to tear him to pieces. Thus it is with the most eloquent and florid discourse ; it can bring no comfort to a soul that is departing: David's harp alone can drive away evil spirits, and appease the troubles of a wounded conscience.
But some may imagine, in this general survey of the wise follies and vanity of the Heathen philosophers, I should except the Stoicks. I confess, in this particular, they express more gravity, but they proceed with no better success; nay, when I have well considered them, I find them to be far more insufferable and impertinent than the rest; for besides that they treat of the immortality of the soul in a very doubtful and inconsistent manner, the pretended comforts that they offer render Death more dreadful.
They tell us, that death is the end and centre where all human aMictions and miseries cease ; therefore it is rather
to be desired, than avoided or feared. They might have some colourable reason for this conclusion, if they did but discover beyond the grave an happiness which they might now expect and hope ; for Death assures them of no other comfort, but only to put a period to all the miseries of this wretched life. Therefore such kind of discourses are not properly conforts; and the resolution that they beget in us is but a silly passion, much like that of a criminal upon the rack, who impatiently wishes for Death, that he might be delivered from the cruel hands of the executioner ; and longs, to be put out of these torments, to get on the scaffold where he is to be broken upon the wheel. O miserable wretch' the change of tortures will bring no ease to thy pains. If thou canst not endure patiently the ropes that unjoint thy limbs, how wilt thou suffer the bars of iron that shall crack all thy bones in pieces ? O blind philosopher! if thou canst not bear the miseries of this life, how wilt thou endure the agonies of death!
Moreover they tell us, that the most cruel and painful death is a noble occasion to exercise our virtue, and to cause our constancy and resolution to appear with admiration. This discourse seems to be plausible, but in reality is nothing but wind: for what availeth this apparent virtue? It hinders us not from falling into the deepest abyss of torment and misery, but perishes and dies with its idolaters : therefore such as have most admired it, have at last acknowledged it to be but a shadow ; witness that famous and worthy general, who fancied that his virtue would procure him the victory over all the enemies of the Commonwealth, in whose quarrel he took up arms. When the battle was lost, and all his ambitious hopes had deceived him, being ready to stab himself with his own sword, he cried out, “O miserable virrue! what art thou but a vain unprofitable word, a name without a body!" He thus exclaimed against his virtue, that he had formerly
adored, because it could yield him no comfort in the day of his distress, nor free him from falling into utter despair.
The most ordinary and useful comforts they commonly bring, are these: That death is inevitable ; that we all enter into the world, upon condition to go out ; that we have as much cause to be afflicted with the day of our birth, as with the day of our death; that humanity and immortality are not consistent; that death is a tribute we all owe to nature ; that the kings and greatest monarchs are forced to pay it, as well as the meanest subjects; and that this is such an universal law, that it admits of no exception.
But these kinds of comforts increase our trouble, and add to our aflliction. I have therefore good reason to speak to these grave philosophers in Job's - language to his troublesome friends, “ Miserable comforters are ye all:” for, in truth, they do not only search the wound to the quick, without any application of an healing plaster, but they also tear and widen it, inflame and render it far more grievous. When we are in hopes of seeing an end to our calamities, our mind is comforted, and arms itself with constancy, and a patient resolution ; but when we see ourselves cast into an abyss of evil, and that no hopes appear of getting out, we are then overwhelmed with grief and despair. It is a lamentable thing to be born to die ; but it is far more lamentable and grievous to know that death is not to be avoided, that all the treasures of the world cannot free us from it; for his affliction is greatest whose misery cannot be cured.
This also is a false and deceitful maxim, that the comfort of the miserable is to have companions in misery. Though many thousands drink together of the waters of Narah, they seem no less bitter ; and although thou shouldest be burnt in a fire where many are consumed, thou shalt not find there a more easy abode. Thy neighbour's grief does not lessen thy affliction: their sickness cannot restore to thee health, nor their death comfort thee against the approaches of thine own. On the contrary, if thou hast any sense of humanity, thou wilt weep for their misery and thine together. It is that which great Xerxes, king of Persia, practised: for upon a review of his numerous army, in which there were 1,700,000 men, he, considering that within an hundred years so many brave captains and soldiers would be rotting in their graves, was moved with compassion, and wept. I mention not here the brutish and foolish opinion of such who imagine that man's soul is mortal, and perishes with the body. This consideration brings no comfort, but brings us into an irrecoverable despair; for, besides the torments of hell-fire, there is nothing that can be imagined more dreadful than a reducement to non-entity.
It is also needless to mention the Platonists, who have discoursed of the soul's immortality, and of its blessedness after this life. They imagine themselves very acute and subtile: but their discourses of this matter are so gross and extravagant, that instead of persuading to the truth, they expose it to scorn and contempt. Let their fond and imaginary description of the Elysian fields be witnesses ; for whatsoever hath been invented of this kind hath been reckoned among the fables and poetical fictions. Those chimerical gardens and grounds contain nothing like to the divine excellencies and unspeakable pleasures of the paradise of God.
In a word, seek amongst the rarest and most precious treasures of wit and learning of the Heathen antiquity ; turn over the writings of the most eloquent orators, of the subtilest philosophers, of the most famous poets ; examine the secrets of the most experienced physicians, consider. their practice, and all the remedies they prescribe to the I.
soul, and you shall find them too unskilful to perform the least cure. They do but charm and flatter the disease; they harden us against evil; they furnish us with a good exterior, and teach us to bear a good mien ; but they have no real antidote against the venom that kills the principle of life; nor the remedy that reaches to the heart: and as torrents, that dry up in the hottest seasons, such consolations that flow not from the fountain of life, vanish away without effect, and dry up to nothing, when a deep sorrow, fear, and affliction, seize upon a sinful soul.
· It seems the compilers of the Heathen religion were sensible of this truth; for they dedicated temples, and erected altars, to all manner of gods and goddesses ; not only to vir. tues and health, but also to vices and diseases, to fear, cowardice, anger, the fever, the pestilence, and an infinite number more ; but they left Death out of their devotions. This is an open declaration, that they knew not how to strike acquaintance with Death, and win its esteem and favour. They had no sacrifice nor incense that could allay its fury; they looked upon it as their most inhuman and irreconcileble enemy. The very name of Death terrified them: áherefore it was one of their most unfortunate omens.
Adrian the emperor is a witness of what I say: he was one of the greatest princes in former ages; he made most parts of the habitable world yield to his sceptre, and put to death an infinite number of men; but at last he trembled, and was astonished himself at the approaches of Death: he had overcome the most barbarous nations, and tamed the most savage beasts, but when he came to his last enemy, he had no weapon fit for the encounter. Therefore, on this occasion, he discovers the weakness and inconstancy of his mind, far more disturbed than his body was with the disease. Sometimes he employed the magic art to retard