By Lewis Bayly
If thy sickness be like to increase unto death, then meditate on three things:-First, How graciously God dealeth with thee. Secondly, From what evils death will free thee. Thirdly, What good death will bring unto thee.
The first sort of Meditations are, to consider God's favourable dealing with thee.
1. Meditate that God uses this chastisement of thy body but as a medicine to cure thy soul, by drawing thee, who art sick in sin, to come by repentance unto Christ, thy physician, to have thy soul healed (Matt. ix. 12.)
2. That the sorest sickness or most painful disease which thou canst endure, is nothing, if it be compared to those dolours and pains which Jesus Christ thy Saviour hath suffered for thee, when in a bloody sweat fie endured the wrath of God (Psal. lxxxviii. 7; Isa. liii. 6), the pains of hell (Psal. xviii. 5), and a cursed death which was due to thy sins (Heb. v. 7; Gal. iii. 13; Lam. i. 12.) Justly, therefore, may he use those words of Jeremiah, "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce wrath." Hath the Son of God endured so much for thy redemption, and wilt not thou, a sinful man, endure a little sickness for his pleasure, especially when it is for thy good?
3. That when thy sickness and disease is at the extremest, yet it is less and easier than thy sins have deserved. Let thine own conscience judge whether thou hast not deserved worse than all that thou dost suffer. Murmur not, therefore, but considering thy manifold and grievous sins, thank God that thou are not plagued with far more grievous punishments. Think how willingly the damned in hell would endure the extremest pains a thousand years on condition that they had but the hope to be saved, and, after so many years, to be eased of their eternal torments. And seeing that it is his mercy that thou art not rather consumed than corrected (Lam. iii. 22), how canst thou but bear patiently his temporal correction, seeing the end is to save thee from eternal condemnation? (1 Cor. xi. 32.)
4. That nothing cometh to pass in this case unto thee but such as ordinarily befel others thy brethren; who, being the beloved and undoubted servants of God when they lived on earth (Heb. xi), are now most blessed and glorious saints with Christ in heaven, as Job, David, Lazarus, &c. (1 Pet. v. 9.) They groaned for a time, as thou dost, under the like burden; but they are now delivered from all their miseries, troubles, and calamities. And so likewise ere long, if thou wilt patiently tarry the Lord's leisure, thou shalt also be delivered from thy sickness and pain; either by restitution to thy former health with Job; or, which is far better, by being received to heavenly rest with Lazarus.
5. Lastly, That God hath not given thee over into the hand of thine enemy to be punished and disgraced; but, being thy loving Father, he corrects thee with his own merciful hand. When David had bis wish to choose his own chastisement, he chose rather to be corrected by the hand of God than by any other means: "Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man." (2 Sam. xxiv. 14.) Who will not take any affliction in good part when it cometh from the hand of God, from whom, though no affliction seemeth joyous for the present, we know nothing cometh but what is good? (Heb. xii. 11.) The consideration of which made David endure Shimei's cursed railing with greater patience; and to correct himself another time for his impatience (2 Sam. xvi. 9;) "I should not have opened my mouth because thou didst it." (Psal. xxxix. 9;) and Job, to reprove the unadvised speech of his wife," Thou speakest like a foolish woman. What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?" (Job ii. 10.) And though the cup of God's wrath due to our sins, was such a horror to our Saviour's human nature that he earnestly prayed that it might pass from him, yet, when he considered that it was reached unto him by the hand and will of his Father, he willingly submitted himself to drink it to the very dregs (Matt. xxvi. 39, 42.) Nothing will more arm thee with patience in thy sickness than to see that it comes from the hand of thy heavenly Father, who would never send it but that he sees it to be to thee both needful and profitable.
The second sort of Meditations are, to consider from what evils Death will free thee.
1. It frees thee from a corruptible body, which was conceived in the weakness of flesh, and the stain of sin-a living prison of thy soul, a lively instrument of sin. Insomuch, that whereas trees and plants bring forth leaves, flowers, fruits, and sweet smells, man's body naturally brings forth nothing but corruption. His affections are altogether corrupted (Psal. xiv. 1;) and the imaginations of his heart are only evil continually (Gen. vi. 5.) Hence it is that the ungodly is not satisfied with profaneness, nor the voluptuous with pleasures, nor the ambitious with preferments, nor the curious with preciseness, nor the malicious with revenge, nor the lewd with uncleanness, nor the covetous with gain, nor the drunkard with drinking. New passions and fashions grow daily; new fears and afflictions still arise: here wrath lies in wait, there vain-glory vexeth; here pride lifts up, there disgrace casts down; and every one waiteth who shall arise on the ruin of another. Now a man is privily stung with back-biters, like fiery serpents; anon he is in danger to be openly devoured of his enemies, like Daniel's lions. And a godly man, wherever he liveth, shall ever be vexed, like Lot, with Sodom's uncleanness.
2. Death brings to the godly an end of sinning (Rom. vi. 7), and of all the miseries which are due to sin; so that after death, "there shall be no more sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain; for God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev. xxi. 4.) Yea, by death we are separated from the company of wicked men; and God "taketh away merciful and righteous men from the evil to come." (Isa. lvii. 1.) So he dealt with Josiah: "I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be put into thy grave in peace; and thy eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring unto this place." (2 Kings xxii. 20.) And God "hides them for a while in the grave, until the indignation pass over." (Isa. xxvi. 20.) So that as paradise is the haven of the soul's joy, so the grave may be termed the haven of the body's rest.
3. Whereas this wicked body lives in a world of wickedness, so that the poor soul cannot look out at the eye, and not be infected; nor hear by the ear, and not be distracted; nor smell at the nostrils, and not be tainted; nor taste with the tongue, and not be allured; nor touch by the hand, and not be defiled; and every sense, upon, every temptation, is ready to betray the soul: By death the soul shall be delivered from this thraldom; and this "corruptible body shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality." (1 Cor. xv. 53.) O blessed, thrice blessed be that death in the Lord, which delivers us out of so evil a world, and frees us from such a body of bondage and corruption!
The third sort of Meditations are, to consider what good Death will bring unto thee.
1. Death brings the godly man's soul to enjoy an immediate communion with the blessed Trinity, in everlasting bliss and glory.
2. It translates the soul from the miseries of this world, the contagion of sin, and society of sinners, to the "city of the living God, the celestial Jerusalem, and the company of innumerable angels, and to the assembly and congregation of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the souls of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant." (Heb. xii. 22, 23, 24.)
3. Death puts the soul into the actual and full possession of all the inheritance and happiness which Christ hath either promised to thee in his word, or purchased for thee by his blood.
This is the good and happiness to which a blessed death will bring thee. And what truly religious Christian that is young, would not wish himself old, that his appointed time might the sooner approach, to enter into this celestial paradise? where thou mayest exchange thy brass for gold, thy vanity for felicity, thy vileness for honour, thy bondage for freedom, thy lease for an inheritance, and thy mortal state for an immortal life. He that doth not daily desire this blessedness above all things, of all others he is less worthy to enjoy it.
If Cato Uticensis, and Cleombrotus, two heathen men, reading Plato's book of the immortality of the soul, did voluntarily, the one break his neck, the other run upon his sword, that they might the sooner, as they thought, have enjoyed those joys, what a shame it is for Christians, knowing those things in a more excellent measure and manner out of God's own book, not to be willing to enter into these heavenly joys, especially when their Master calls for them thither? (Matt. xxv. 21.) If, therefore, there be in thee any love of God, or desire of thine own happiness or salvation, when the time of thy departing draweth near-that time, I say, and manner of death, which God in his unchangeable counsel hath appointed and determined before thou wast born-yield and surrender up willingly and cheerfully thy soul into the merciful hands of Jesus Christ thy Saviour. And to this end, when the time is come, as the angel, in the sight of Manoah and his wife, ascended from the altar up to heaven in the flame of the sacrifice (Judges xiii. 19, 20}, so endeavour thou that thy spirit, in the sight of thy friends, may from the altar of a contrite heart ascend up to heaven, in the sweet perfume of this, or the like spiritual sacrifice of prayers:-