Comfort is not desirable only as it pleases us, but also as it strengthens us, and helps us in our greatest duties. And when is it more needful than in sickness, and the approach of death? I shall therefore add such directions as are necessary to make our departure comfortable or peaceful at the least, as well as safe.
Direction I Because I would make this treatise no longer than I must; in order to overcome the fears of death, and get a cheerful willingness to die, I desire the sick to read over those twenty considerations, and the following directions, which I have laid down in my book of "Self-Denial." And when the fears of death are overcome, the great impediment of their comfort is removed.
Direction II Misunderstand not sickness, as if it were a greater evil than it is; but observe how great a mercy it is, that death has so suitable a harbinger or forerunner: that God should do so much before he takes us hence, to wean us from the world, and make us willing to be gone; that the unwilling flesh has the help of pain; and that the senses and appetite languish and decay, which did draw the mind to earthly things: and that we have so loud a call, and so great a help to true repentance and serious preparation!
I know to those that have walked very close with God, and are always ready, a sudden death may be a mercy; as we have lately known divers holy ministers and others, that have died either after a sacrament, or in the evening of the Lord's day, or in the midst of some holy exercise, with so little pain, that none about them perceived when they died. But ordinarily it is a mercy to have the flesh brought down and weakened by painful sickness, to help to conquer our natural unwillingness to die.
Direction III Remember whose messenger sickness is, and who it is that calls you to die. It is he, that is the Lord of all the world, and gave us the lives which he takes from us; and it is he, that must dispose of angels and men, of princes and kingdoms, of heaven and earth; and therefore there is no reason that such worms as we should desire to be excepted. You cannot deny him to be the disposer of all things, without denying him to be God: it is he that loves us, and never meant us any harm in any thing that he has done to us; that gave the life of his Son to redeem us; and therefore thinks not life too good for us.
Our sickness and death are sent by the same love that sent us a Saviour, and sent us the powerful preachers of his word, and sent us his Spirit, and secretly and sweetly changed our hearts, and knit them to himself in love; which gave us a life of precious mercies for our souls and bodies, and has promised to give us life eternal; and shall we think, that he now intends us any harm? Cannot he turn this also to our good, as he has done many an affliction which we have complained about?
Direction IV Look by faith to your dying, buried, risen, ascended, glorified Lord. Nothing will more powerfully overcome both the poison and the fears of death, than the believing thoughts of him that has triumphed over it. Is it terrible as it separates the soul from the body? So it did by our Lord, who yet overcame it. Is it terrible as it lays the body in the grave? So it did by our Saviour; though he saw not corruption, but quickly rose by the power of his Godhead. He died to teach us believingly and boldly to submit to death. He was buried, to teach us not overmuch to fear a grave. He rose a again to conquer death for us, and to assure those who rise to newness of life, that they shall be raised at last by his power unto glory; and being made partakers of the first resurrection, the second death shall have no power over them. He lives as our head, that we might live by him; and that he might assure all those that are here risen with him, and seek first the things that are above, that though in themselves they are dead, "yet their life is hid with Christ in God; and when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory," Col. 3:1,2,4,5. What a comfortable word is that, John 14:19, "Because I live, you shall live also." Death could not hold the Lord of life; nor can it hold us against his will, who has the "keys of death and hell," Rev. 1:18.
He loves every one of his sanctified ones much better than you love an eye, or a hand, or any other member of your body, which you are not willing to lose if you are able to save it. When he ascended, he left us that message full of comfort for his followers, John 20:17, "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God." Which, with these two following, I would have written before me on my sick bed. "If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be," John 12:26. And, "Verily, I say unto you, to-day shall you be with me in paradise," Luke 23:43. Oh what a joyful thought should it be to a believer, to think when he is dying, that he is going to his Saviour, and that our Lord is risen and gone before us, to prepare a place for us, and take us in season to himself, John 14:2-4. "As you believe in God, believe thus in Christ; and then your hearts will be less troubled," ver. 1. It is not a stranger that we talk of to you; but your Head and Saviour, that loves you better than you love yourselves, whose office it is there to appear continually for you before God, and at last to receive your departing souls; and into his hand it is, that you must then commend them, as Stephen did, Acts 7:59.
Direction V Choose out some promises most suitable to your condition, and roll them over and over in your mind, and feed and live on them by faith. A sick man is not (usually) fit to think of very many things; and therefore two or three comfortable promises, to be still before his eyes, may be the most profitable matter of his thoughts; such as those three which I named before.
If he be most troubled with the greatness of his sin, let it be such as these. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," John 3:16. "And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses," Acts 13:39. "For I will be merciful unto their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more," Heb. 8:12.
If it be the weakness of his grace that troubles him, let him choose such passages as these: "He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young," Isa. 40:11. "The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other; so that you cannot do the things that you would," Gal. 5:17. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," Matt. 26:41. All that the Father gives me, shall come to me and him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out," John 6:37. "The apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith," Luke 17:5.
If it be the fear of death, and strangeness to the other world, that troubles you, remember the words of Christ before cited, and 2 Cor. 5:1-6,8, "For we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan being burdened, not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord." "For I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better," Phil. 1:23. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yet, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them," Rev. 14:13. "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" 1 Cor. 15:55. "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," Acts 7:59. Fix upon some such word or promise, which may support you in your extremity.
Direction VI Look up to God, who is the glory of heaven, and the light, and life, and joy of souls, and believe that you are going to see his face, and to live in the perfect, everlasting fruition of his fullest love among the glorified. If it be delectable here to know his works, what will it be to see the cause of all? All creatures in heaven and earth conjoined, can never afford such content and joy to holy souls, as God alone! Oh if we knew him whom we must there behold, how weary should we be of this dungeon of mortality! and how fervently should we long to see his face!
The chicken that comes out of the shell, or the infant that newly comes out of the womb, into this illuminated world of human converse, receives not such a joyful change, as the soul that is newly loosed from the flesh, and passes from this mortal life to God. One sight of God by a blessed soul, is worth more than all the kingdoms of the earth. It is pleasant to the eyes to behold the sun; but the sun is darkness and useless compared to his glory. "And the city had no need of the sun, nor of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof," Rev. 21:23. "And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads: and there shall be no night there: and they need no candle, nor light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign for ever and ever," Rev. 22:3-5.
If David in the wilderness so impatiently thirsted to appear before God in his sanctuary at Jerusalem, Psalm 42, then how earnestly should we long to see his glory in the heavenly Jerusalem! The glimpse of his back parts, was as much as Moses might behold, Exod. 34, yet that much put a shining glory upon his face, ver. 9 and 30. The sight that Stephen had when men were ready to stone him, was a delectable sight, Acts 7:55, 56. The glimpse of Christ in his transfiguration ravished the three apostles that beheld it, Matt. 17:2, 6. Paul's vision which rapt him up into the third heavens, did advance him above the rest of mankind! But our beatific sight of the glory of God, will very far excel all this.
When our perfected bodies shall have the perfect glorious body of Christ to see, and our perfected souls shall have the God of truth, the most perfect uncreated light to know, what more is a created understanding capable of? And yet this is not the top of our felicity; for the understanding is but the passage to the heart or will, and truth is but subservient to goodness: and therefore though the understanding be capable of no more than the beatific vision, yet the man is capable of more; even of receiving the fullest communications of God's love, and feeling it poured out upon the heart, and living in the returns of perfect love; and in this intercourse of love will be our highest joys, and this is the top of our heavenly felicity. Oh that God would make us foreknow by a lively faith, what it is to behold him in his glory, and to dwell in perfect love and joy, and then death would no more be able to dismay us, nor should we be unwilling of such a blessed change! But having spoken of this so largely in my "Saints' Rest," I must stop here, and refer you thither.
Direction VII Look up to the blessed society of angels and saints with Christ, and remember their blessedness and joy, and that you also belong to the same society, and are going to be numbered with them. It will greatly overcome the fears of death, to see by faith the joys of them that have gone before us; and withal to think of their relation to us; as it will encourage a man that is to go beyond sea, if the far greatest part of his dearest friends be gone before him, and he bears of their safe arrival, and of their joy and happiness.
Those angels that now see the face of God are our special friends and guardians, and entirely love us, better than any of our friends on earth do! They rejoiced at our conversion, and will rejoice at our glorification; and as they are better, and love us better, so therefore our love should be greater to them, than to any upon earth, and we should more desire to be with them. Those blessed souls that are now with Christ, were once as we are here on earth; they were compassed with temptations, and clogged with flesh, and burdened with sin, and persecuted by the world, and they went out of the world by sickness and death, as we must do; and yet now their tears are wiped away, their pains, and groans, and fears are turned into inexpressible blessedness and joy: and would we not be with them? Is not their company desirable? And their felicity more desirable?
The glory of the New Jerusalem is not described to us in vain, Rev. 21 and 22. God will be all in all there to us, as the only sun and glory of that world; and yet we shall have pleasure, not only to see our glorified Redeemer, but also to converse with the heavenly society, and to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and to love and praise him in consort and harmony with all those holy, blessed spirits. And shall we be afraid to follow, where the saints of all generations have gone before us? And shall the company of our best, and most, and happiest friends, be no inducement to us? Though it must be our highest joy to think that we shall dwell with God, and next that we shall see the glory of Christ, Yet is it no small part of my comfort to consider, that I shall follow all those holy persons, whom I once conversed with, that are gone before me; and that I shall dwell with such as Enoch and Elias, and Abraham and Moses, and Job and David, and Peter and John, and Paul and Timothy, and Ignatius and Polycarp, and Cyprian and Nazianzen, and Augustine and Chrysostom and Bernard and Gerson, and Savonarola and Mirandula, and Taulerus and Kempisius, and Melancthon and Alasco, and Calvin and Bucholtzer, and Bullinger and Musculus, and Zanchy and Bucer, and Grynaeus, and Chemnitius and Gerhard, and Chamier and Capellus, and Blondel and Rivet, and Rogers and Bradford, and Hooper and Latimer, and Hildersham and Amesius, and Langley and Nicolls, and Whitaker and Cartwright, and Hooker and Bayne, and Preston and Sibbes, and Perkins and Dod, and Parker and Ball, and Usher and Hall, and Gataker and Bradshaw, and Vines and Ash, and millions more of the family of God.. [I name these for my own delight and comfort; it being pleasant to me to remember what companions I shall have in the heavenly joys and praises of my Lord. Reader, bear with this mixture: for God will own his image when peevish contenders do deny it, or blaspheme it; and will receive those whom faction and proud domination would cast out, and vilify with scorn and slanders.] How few are all the saints on earth, in comparison of those that are now with Christ! And, alas, how weak, and ignorant, and corrupt, how selfish, and contentious, and troublesome, are God's poor infants here in flesh, when above there is nothing but holiness and perfection! If knowledge, or goodness, or any excellency do make the creatures truly amiable, all this is there in the highest degree; but here, alas, how little have we! If the love of God, or the love of us, do make others lovely to us, it is there and not here that these and all perfections flourish. Oh how much now do I find the company of the wise and learned, the godly and sincere, to differ from the company of the ignorant, brutish, the proud and malicious, the false-hearted and ungodly rabble! How sweet is the converse of a holy, wise, experienced Christian! Oh then what a place is the New Jerusalem; and how pleasant will it be with saints and angels to see and love and praise the Lord.
Direction VIII That sickness and death may be comfortable to you, as your passage to eternity, take notice of the seal and earnest of God, even the Spirit of grace which he has put into your heart. That which emboldened Paul and such others to groan after immortality, and to "be most willing to be absent from the body and present with the Lord," was because God himself "wrought or made them for it, and given them the earnest or pledge of his Spirit," 2 Cor. 5:4,5,8. For this is God's mark upon his chosen and justified ones, by which they are "sealed up to the day of their redemption," Eph. 4:33: 1:13, "In whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise." 2 Cor. 1:21, 22, "God has anointed us, and sealed us, and given us the pledge or earnest of his Spirit into our hearts." "This is the ledge or earnest of our inheritance," Eph. 1:14. And what a comfort should it be to us, when we look towards heaven, to find such a pledge of God within us!
If you say, I fear I have not this earnest of the Spirit; whence then did your desires of holiness arise. what weaned you from the world, and made you place your hopes and happiness above? Whence came your enmity to sin, and opposition to it, and your earnest desires after the glory of God, the prosperity of the gospel, and the good of souls? The very love of holiness and holy persons, and your desires to know God and perfectly love him, do show that heavenly nature or spirit within you, which is your surest evidence for eternal life: for that spirit was sent from heaven, to draw up your hearts, and fit you for it; and God does not give you such natures, and desires, and preparations in vain. This also is called "The witness of the Spirit with (or to) our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ," Rom. 8:15-17. It witnesses our adoption, by evidencing it; as a seal or pledge gives witness to our title to that which is so confirmed to us. The nature of every thing is suited to its use and end; God would not have given us a heavenly nature or desire, if he had not intended us for heaven.
Direction IX Look also to the testimony of a holy life, since grace has employed you in seeking after the heavenly inheritance. It is unlawful and perilous to look after any works or righteousness of your own, so as to set it in whole or in part instead of Christ, or to ascribe to it any honour that is proper to him; as to imagine that you are innocent, or have fulfilled the law, or have made God a compensation by your merits or sufferings, for the sin you have committed; but yet you must judge yourselves on your sick beds as near as you can as God will judge you. And "he will judge every man according to his work;" and will recompense and reward men according to their works. Matt. 25:21,34, &c. "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a little, I will make you ruler over much. Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you --for I was hungry and you fed me," &c.--Heb. 5:9, "He is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him." Matt. 7:24,25, "Whosoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man that built his house upon a rock--." Rev. 22:11 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gate into the city, for without are dogs," &c. "Thus must you rejoice in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," not only is he was crucified on it for you, but also as you are "crucified by it to the world, and the world to you," Gal. 6:14. He that as a benefactor will give you that glory which you could never deserve of him, on terms of commutative justice, (for so no creature can deserve any thing of God,) will yet, as a righteous governor and judge, deliver it you only on the terms of his paternal, governing, distributive justice; and all shall receive according to what they have done in the body.
And therefore you may take comfort in that evangelical righteousness, which consists in your fulfilling the conditions of the new covenant, though you have no legal righteousness, (which consists in innocency, or freedom from the curse of the law,) but only in the merits and sacrifice of Christ. If you are accused as being impenitent, unbelievers, or hypocrites, Christ's righteousness will not justify you from that accusation; but only your repentance, faith, and sincerity (wrought in you by the Spirit of Christ). But if you can but show the evidence of this evangelical righteousness, Christ then will justify you against all the other accusations of guilt that can be charged on you. (Of which more anon.) Seeing therefore the Spirit has given you these evidences, to difference you from the wretched world, and prove your title to eternal life, if you overlook these, you resist your Comforter, and can see no other ground of comfort, than every graceless hypocrite may see. Imitate holy Paul: 2 Cor. 1:12, "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world--." 2 Tim. 4:7, 8, "I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing."
To look back and see that in sincerity you have gone the way to heaven, is a just and necessary ground of assurance, that you shall attain it. If you say, But I have been a grievous sinner! I answer, so was Paul that yet rejoiced after in this evidence! Are not those sins repented of and pardoned? If you say, But I cannot look back upon a holy life with comfort, it has been so blotted and uneven! I answer, has it not been sincere, though it was imperfect.? Did you not "first seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness?" Matt. 6:33. If you say, My whole life has been ungodly, till now at last that God has humbled me; I answer, it is not the length of time, but the sincerity of your hearts and service, that is your evidence. If you came in it the last hour, if now you are faithfully devoted to God, you may look with comfort on this change at last, though you must look with repentance on your sinful lives.
Direction X When you see any of this evidence of your interest in Christ appeal to him to acquit you from all the sin that can be charged on you; for all that believe in him are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses. "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, that walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," Rom. 8:1. Whatever sin a penitent believer has committed, he is not chargeable with it; Christ has undertaken to answer for it, and justify him from it; and therefore look not on it with terror, but with Penitent shame, and believing thankfulness, as that which shall tend to the honour of the Redeemer, and not to the condemnation of the sinner. He has borne our transgressions and we are healed by his stripes.
Direction XI Look back upon all the mercies of your lives, and think whence they came and what they signify. Love tokens are to draw your hearts to him that sent them; these are dropped from heaven, to entice you thither! If God has been so good to you on earth, what will he be in glory! If he so blessed you in this wilderness, what will he do in the land of promise! It greatly emboldens my soul to go to that God, that has so tenderly loved me, and so graciously preserved me, and so much abounded in all sorts of mercies to me through all my life. Surely he is good that so delights to do good! And his presence must be sweet, when his distant mercies have been so sweet! What love shall I enjoy when perfection has fitted me for his love, who has tasted of so much in this state of sin and imperfection! The sense of mercy will banish the fears and misgivings of the heart.
Direction XII Remember (if you have attained to a declining age) what a competent time you have had already in the world. If you are grieved that you are mortal, you might on that account have grieved all your days; but if it be only that you die so soon, if you have lived well, you have lived long. When I think how many years of mercy I have had, since I was near to death, and since many younger than I are gone, and when I think what abundance of mercy I have had in all that time, candour forbids me to grudge at the season of my death, and makes me almost ashamed to ask for longer life. How long would you stay, before you would be willing to come to God? If he desired our company no more than we do his, and desired our happiness in heaven no more than we desire it ourselves, we should linger here as Lot in Sodom! Must we be snatched away against our wills, and carried by force to our Father's presence?
Direction XIII Remember that all mankind are mortal, and you are to go no other way than all that ever came into the world have gone before you (except Enoch and Elias). Yea, the poor brute creatures must die at your pleasure, to satisfy your hunger or delight. Beasts, and birds, and fishes, even many to make one meal, must die for you. And why then should you shrink at the entrance of such a trodden path, which leads you not to hell, as it does the wicked, nor merely to corruption, as it does the brutes: but to live in joy with Christ and his church triumphant?
Direction. XIV Remember both how vile your body is, and how great an enemy it has proved to your soul; and then you will the more patiently bear its dissolution. It is not your dwelling-house, but your tent or prison, that God is pulling down. And yet even this vile body, when it is corrupted, shall at last be changed "into the likeness of Christ's glorious body, by the working of his irresistible power," Phil. 3:20,21. And it is a flesh that has so rebelled against the spirit, and made your way to heaven so difficult, and put the soul to so many conflicts, that we should more easily submit it to the will of justice, and let it perish for a time, when we are assured that mercy will it last recover it.
Direction XV Remember what a world it is that you are to leave, and compare it with that which you are going to; and compare the life which is near an end, with that which you are next to enter upon. Was it not Enoch's reward when he had walked with God, to be taken to him from a polluted world?
1. While you are here, you are yourselves defiled; sin is in your natures, and your graces are all imperfect; sin is in your lives, and your duties are all imperfect; you cannot be free from it one day or hour. And is it not a mercy to be delivered from it? Is it not desirable to you to sin no more? And to be perfect in holiness? To know God and love him as much and more than you can now desire? You are here every day lamenting your darkness, and unbelief, and estrangedness from God, and lack of love to him. How oft have you prayed for a cure of all this! And now would you not have it, when God would give it you? Why has God put that spark of heavenly life into you, but to fight against sin, and make you weary of it? And yet had you rather continue sinning, than have the victory and be with Christ?
2. It is a life of grief as well as sin; and a life of cares, and doubts, and fears! When you are at the worst, you are fearing worse! If it were nothing but the fears of death itself, it should make you the more willing to submit to it, that you might be past those fears.
3. You are daily afflicted with the infirmities of that flesh, which are so unwilling to be dissolved. To satisfy its hunger and thirst, to cover its nakedness, to provide it a habitation, and supply all its wants, what care and labour does it cost you! Its infirmities, sicknesses, and pains, do make you oft weary of yourselves so that you "groan, being burdened," as Paul speaks, 2 Cor. 5:3,4,6. And yet is it not desirable to be with Christ?
4. You are compassed with temptations, and are in continual danger through your weakness: and yet would you not be past the danger? Would you have more of those horrid and odious temptations?
5. You are purposely turned here into a wilderness, among wild beasts; you are as lambs among wolves, and through many tribulations you must enter into heaven. You must deny yourselves, and take up your cross, and forsake all that you have; and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution. In the world you must have trouble: the seed of the serpent must bruise your heel, before God bruise Satan under your feet! And is such a life as this more desirable than to be with Christ? Are we afraid to land after such storms and tempests? Is a wicked world, a malicious world, a cruel world, an implacable world, more pleasing to us, than the joy of angels, and the sight of Christ, and God himself in the majesty of his glory? Has God on purpose made the world so bitter to us, and permitted it to use us unjustly and cruelly, and all to make us love it less, and to drive home our hearts unto himself? And yet are we so unwilling to be gone? Direction XVI Settle your estates early, that worldly matters may not distract or discompose you. And if God has endowed you with riches, dispose of a due proportion to such pious or charitable uses, in which they may be most serviceable to him that gave them you. Though we should give what we can in the time of life and health, yet many that have but so much as will serve to their necessary maintenance, may well part with that to good uses at their death, which they could not spare in the time of their health: especially they that have no children, or such wicked children, as are like to do hurt with all that is given them above their daily bread.
Direction XVII If it may be, get some able, faithful guide and comforter to be with you in your sickness, to counsel you, and resolve your doubts, and pray with you, and discourse of heavenly things, when you are disabled by weakness for such exercises yourselves. Let not carnal persons disturb you with their vain babblings. Though the difference between good company and bad, be very great in the time of health, yet now in sickness it will be more discernible. And though a faithful friend and spiritual pastor be always a great mercy, yet now especially in your last necessity. Therefore make use of them as far as your pain and weakness will permit.
Direction XVIII Be fortified against all the temptations of Satan by which he uses to assault men in their extremity: stand it out in the last conflict, and the crown is yours.