CHAP.  8.

The divers kinds of Death in Wicked Men.


OF the wicked, and those who were ever strangers to the mystery of Christ and truth of godliness, —

(1.) Some die desperately. Though thousands perish by presumption to one of those who despair, yet some there are, to whom, upon their beds of death, all their sins are set in order before them, and represented to the eye of their awaked consciences in such grisly forms and so terribly, that at the very first and fearful sight they are presently struck dead in soul and spirit, utterly overwhelmed and quite swallowed up with guilty and desperate horror. So that afterward no counsel nor comfort; no consideration of the immeasurableness of God's mercy, of the invaluableness and omnipotency, if I may so speak, of Christ's bloodshed, of the variety and excellency of gracious promises, of the loss of their own immortal souls, can possibly drive and divert from that infinitely false conceit and cursed cry, “My sins are greater than can be pardoned.” Whereupon, most miserable and forlorn wretches! they very wickedly and wilfully throw themselves into hell, as it were, upon earth, and are damned above ground. Thus the Lord sometimes for the terror of others, glorifying his own justice, and bringing exemplary confusion upon impenitent obstinacy in sin, and wilful opposition to grace, doth in greatest indignation by the hand of divine vengeance unclasp unto them [[160]] the book of their own conscience and of his own holy law. In one of which they find now at length all their innumerable iniquities, transgressions, and sins engraven with the point of a diamond, enraged with God's implacable wrath, aggravated with the utmost malice of Satan, and never to be razed out or remitted but by the blood of the Son of God, in which they peremptorily profess themselves to have no part. In the other they see the fierceness and fulness of all the curses, plagues, and torments denounced there, and due unto all impenitent sinners, ready to be poured upon their bodies and souls for ever; and no possibility to prevent them, no way to decline them, but by God's infinite bounty through Jesus Christ, in which they also utterly disclaim all right and interest; and therefore they are now finally and desperately resolved to look for no mercy; but in their own judgment and by their own confession stand reprobates from God's covenant, and void of all hope of his inheritance, expecting with unspeakable terror and amazement of spirit the consummation of their misery and fearful sentence of eternal damnation. They are commonly such as have been gross hypocrites like Judas, and lie in some secret abomination against the knowledge of their hearts all their life long; that have followed still their own sensual ways and course of the world against the light of the ministry, standing like an armed man in their consciences to the contrary; who have been scorners and persecutors of the power of godliness and the good way; who have abjured the gospel of Jesus Christ and forsaken the truth for honour, wealth, or worldly happiness; to whom the Lord in their lifetime vouchsafed many mercies, much prosperity, great means of salvation, long forbearance, &c. And yet they stood out still, they still hated to be reformed, “set at nought all his counsel, and would none of his reproof.” Wherefore the day of gracious visitation being once expired, a thousand worlds will not purchase it again: heaven and earth cannot recall it. No mercy, no comfort, no blessing can then be had, though they seek it with tears and yelling. They shall never more be heard, though with much violence they throw their shrieks into the air, they cry with sighs and groans as piercing as a sword. Not but that the gates of heaven and arms of mercy may stand wide open until their last breath. But, alas! they have already so hardened their hearts that they cannot repent. “After thine hardness, saith Paul (Rom. ii, 5), and heart that cannot repent.” They now but howl upon their beds, they do not cry unto God with their hearts, as the prophet speaks (Hos. vii, 14). Their earnest and early crying in this last [[161]] extremity is only because their “fear is come upon them as desolation, and their destruction as a whirlwind.” When they cast out their considerations for comfort, it is not the whole creation can possibly help them; for they must stand or fall to the tribunal of the “everlasting God, mighty and terrible, and Creator of the ends of the earth.” If they look up to God the Father, that scripture, Prov. i, 24, 26, comes presently into their head with much horror, and quite kills their hearts; because he hath called all our life long, and all that goodly time we refused, he will laugh now at our calamity, and mock when our fear is come. Jesus Christ, as they strongly conceive, and immoveably conclude against themselves, hath now to them for ever closed up his wounds as it were, and will not afford them one drop of his blood; because they have so often by coming unworthily spilt it in the sacrament, persecuted him in his members, and despised him in the ministry. The blessed Spirit, because in the day of visitation they repelled all his inward warnings and holy motions, preferring Satan's impure suggestions before his sacred inspirations, doth now in their own acknowledgment, by the equity of a just proportion, in this day of vexation leave them to eat the fruit of their former wilfulness, and reap the reward of their own ways. Thus these forlorn wretches are disclaimed, forsaken, and abandoned of heaven and earth, God and man; of all the comforts in this life and blessings of the world to come. And so by final despairing of God's mercy, the greatest of sins, they most unhappily and cursedly follow Judas, the worst of men, into the darkest and most horrible cavern in hell.

(2.) Others die senselessly and blockishly. They demean themselves upon their dying beds as though there were no immortality of the soul, no tribunal above, no strict account to be given up there for all things done in the flesh, no everlasting estate in the world to come, wherein everyone must either he in unspeakable pains, or live in unutterable pleasures. In their lifetime they were never wont to tremble at God's judgments, or rejoice in his promises, or much trouble themselves with the ministry of the word, or about the state of their souls. All was one to them, what minister they had, whether a man “taught to the kingdom of Christ,” or a general teacher, or an ignorant mangler of the word, or a dissolute fellow, or a dauber with untempered mortar, or a dumb dog. If they were neither prostitutes nor thieves, but well accounted of amongst their neighbours, thrived in the world, prospered in their outward state, provided for posterity, slept in a whole skin, were [[162]] not vexed on the Lord's day with any of these precise trouble-towns; they were well enough, and had all they looked for, either in this world or the world to come. Wherefore at their death, by reason of their former dis-acquaintance with spiritual things, and God not opening their eyes, they are neither afflicted with any fear of hell, or affected with any hope of heaven; they are both unapprehensive of their present danger, and fearless of the fiery lake into which they are ready to fall. In these regards they are utterly untouched, die most quietly, and without any trouble at all. And it is their ordinary answer, when they are questioned about their spiritual state, and how it stands with them between God and their own consciences, “I thank God, nothing troubles me;” which though they think it makes much for their own credit, yet, alas! it is a small comfort to judicious by-standers, and such as wish well to their souls; but rather a fearful confirmation that they are finally given over to the spirit of slumber, and sealed up by divine justice in the sottishness and security of their own senseless hearts for most deserved condemnation. Thus these men, as one speaks, “live like stocks and die like blocks.” “And yet the ignorant people,” saith Greenharn, “will still commend such fearful deaths, saying, He departed as meekly as a lamb; he went away as a bird in a shell, when they might as well say (but for their feather bed and their pillow) he died like a beast, and perished like an ox in a ditch.”

(3.) Others die formally. I mean, they make very goodly shows and representations of much confidence and comfort. Having formerly been formal professors, and so furnished with many forms of godly speeches, and outward Christian behaviours; and the spirit of delusion and spiritual self-cozenage, which in their life-time detained them in constancy of security and self-conceitedness about the spiritual safety of their souls, without any such doubts, troubles, fears, temptations, as are wont to haunt those who are true of heart (for ordinarily such is the peace of unsound professors), continuing their imaginary groundless persuasion and presumption in the height and strength unto the end, for their very last breath may be spent in saying “Lord, Lord, open unto us,” as we see in the foolish virgins and those Mat. vii; I say such men as these, thus woefully deluded and fearfully deceiving others, may east out upon their last beds many glorious speeches, intimating much seeming confidence of a good estate to God-ward, contempt of the world, willingness to die, readiness to forgive all the [[163]] world, hope to be saved, desire to be dissolved and go to heaven, &c. They may cry aloud with a great deal of formal confidence, “Lord, Lord; Mercy, mercy in the name of Christ; Lord Jesus receive our spirits,” &c.; and yet all these goodly hopes, and earnest ejaculations, growing only from a form, and not from the power of godliness, are but, as 1 said somewhere before, as so many catchings and scramblings of a man over head in water. He struggles and strives for hold to save himself, but he grasps nothing but water, it is still water which he catches, and therefore sinks and drowns. They are all but as a spider's web, upon which, one falling from the top of a house lays hold by the way for stay and support. “He shall lean upon his house, but it shall not stand; he shall hold it fast, but it shall not endure” (Job viii, 14, 15). “Oh, how many descend,” saith an ancient father, “with this hope to eternal travails and torment?” “How many,” saith another worthy doctor[1], “go to hell with a vain hope of heaven, whose chiefest cause of damnation is their false persuasion and groundless presumption of salvation!” Of all the four kinds of death which ordinarily befall such as are not saved, this is the fairest in show, but yet of greatest imposture to those about them, and of most pestilent consequence to harden especially all of the same humour that hear of it.

(4.) Some die penitently. But I mean seemingly so, not savingly. Many. having served their appetites all their lives and lived in pleasure; now, when the sun of their sensual delights begins to set, and the dark midnight of misery and horror to seize upon them, would very gladly be saved. And I blame them not, if they might first live the life of the wicked, and then die the death of the righteous: if they might have the earthly heaven of the world's favourites here, and the heaven of Christ's martyrs in the world to come. These men are wont in this last extremity to grieve extremely but it is but like their “howling upon their beds,” Hos. vii, 14. Because they are pinched with some sense of present horror and expectation of dreadful things, they cry out mightily for mercy; but it is no other than their early seeking, Prov. i, 28. Because distress and anguish is come upon them, they inquire eagerly after God, and would now be gladly acquainted with him; but just like them, Psalm lxxviii, 34, “When he slew them, then they sought him and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did [[164]] flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto! him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him.” They promise very fair, and protest gloriously what mended men they will be if the Lord restore them. But all these goodly promises are but as a morning cloud, and as the early dew. They are like those of a thief or murderer at the bar, who being now cast, and seeing there is now no way but one, O what a reformed man would he be, if he might be reprieved! Antiochus, as the apocryphal book of the Maccabees reports (2 Maccab. ix), when the hand of God was upon him horribly, vowed excellent things. O what he would do: so and so extraordinarily for the people of God! yea, and that “he himself also would become a Jew; and go through all the world that was inhabited and declare the power of God.” But what was it, think you, that made this raging tyrant to relent and thus seemingly repent? “A pain of the bowels that was remediless came upon him, and sore torments of the inner parts; so that no man could endure to carry him for his intolerable stench and he himself could not abide his own smell.” Many may thus behave themselves upon their beds of death with very strong shows and many boisterous representations of true turning unto God, whereas in truth and trial they are . as yet rotten at heart-root; and as yet no more comfort upon good ground belongs unto them than to those in the fore-cited places; and if any spiritual physician in such a case do press it hand over head, or such a patient presume to apply it, it is utterly misgrounded, misapplied. Hear what one of the worthiest divines in Christendom saith[2]: “Now put the case, one cometh to his ghostly father with such sorrow of mind as the terrors of a guilty conscience usually do produce, and with such a resolution to cast away his sins as a man hath in a storm to cast away his goods; not because he doth not love them, but because he feareth to lose his. life if he part not with them: doth not he betray this man's soul, who putteth into his head that such an extorted repentance as this, which hath not one grain of love to season it withal, will qualify him sufficiently for the receiving of an absolution?” &c. And another, excellently instructed unto the kingdom of heaven[3]: “Repentance at death is seldom sound. For it may seem rather to arise from fear of judgment, and a horror of hell, than for any grief for sin. And many seeming to repent affectionately in dangerous sickness, when they have [[165]] recovered, have been rather worse than before. It is true, that true repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom true:” for here our sins rather leave us than we them, as Ambrose says, and as he adds, “Woe be unto them whose sin and life end together.” This received principle among the ancient fathers, that late repentance is rarely true, implies that it is often false and unsound, and so by consequence confirms the present point. Too manifold experience also makes it good. Amongst many, for my part I have taken special notice of two. The one being laboured with in prison, was seemingly so extraordinarily humbled, that a reverend min of God was moved thereby to be a means of his reprieve, whereupon a pardon was procured. And yet this so extraordinary a penitent while death was in his eye, having the terror removed, returned to his vomit, and some two years after to the same place again, as notorious a Belial as he was before. Another, having upon his bed of sickness received in his own conceit the sentence of death against himself; and being pressed to humiliation and broken-heartedness, for he had formerly been a stranger and an enemy to purity and the power of godliness, answered thus: “My heart is broken; “ and so broke out into an earnest confession of particular sins; he named uncleanness, stubbornness, obstinacy, vain-glory, hypocrisy, dissimulation, uncharitableness, covetousness, lukewarmness, &c. He compared himself to the thief upon the cross. “And if God,” saith he, “restore me to health again, the world shall see what an altered man I will be.” When he was pressed to sincerity and true heartedness in what he said; he protested that he repented with all his heart and soul, and mind, and bowels, &c.; and desired a minister that stood by to be a witness of these things between the world and him. And yet this man upon his recovery became the very same, if not worse than lie was before.



[1] Dr. Featly.

[2] Dr. Usher, in his Answer to a Jesuit's Challenge.

[3] Dyke, of Repentance, chap. xvi.