The Art of Dying Well, by Joseph Alleine
Luke 12. 19, 20.
Soul thou hast much goods laid up for many years — But God said, Thou fool this night shall thy soul be required of thee.
Question: Since no man has one day’s certainty of his life, what may we do to be secured from being surprised by death?
1. Sit loose from the world, that you may be able to packup and be gone upon sudden warning. Here was the folly and misery of this rich man, that he had set his heart upon the world, his mind did run upon his barns, and upon his belly; his goods, were his gods, he wishes no other felicity, than to eat and be merry: If you would be fit for your great journey to your long home, you must lay aside every weight, and especially the encumbering and entangling, and ensnaring clog and burthen of worldly affections; you must take heed to yourselves, least at any time your hearts be over-charged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life; if you would not have that day come upon you unawares. It is said, there is a animal whose heart is in his belly; would there were no such monsters among men. Certainly, that man whose heart is in his belly, or on his money box, that idolizes his friends, or his reputation; is no more fit for the assaults of death, than the unhappy Trojans buried in sleep and wine, for the invasion of the well-appointed Greeks or the Shechamites when sore and unwieldy, for the sons of violence, and instruments of cruelty. Study to be crucified to the world, to use all earthly comforts in a mortified manner, as those that are taking their long leave, and let death find you dead beforehand; and then let it come when it will, and do its worst.
2. Entrench not on God’s prerogative, in carving out the future time. Reckon not upon hereafter; this was the unhappiness of this rich fool, he counts upon many years; God had given him much goods, and now he is so bold, as to cast upon many merry days to spend them; but God is angry at his usurpation, and since he would presume to be his own carver, God rebukes his boldness, and will show his prerogative, and will cut him short enough, this night shall thy soul be required. Remember your times are in God’s hands, improve with all possible diligence your present allowance; he gives you wealth to lay up for hereafter, but he keeps your time in his own hands; so that you shall not know one day whether you shall ever have another, or be allowed to live till the next; cast not upon tomorrow. Live this day well. When shall we learn to practice the received lesson, to live every day as if it were our last? Blessed men that we should be, if we would but live up to this short rule. Christians, why are our lives so far wide of our rules, and principles? Does conscience witness that you live up to this? If the rule be good, why do you not daily study to conform to it? is it not a shame, that a heathen should teach you? think, saith he, every morning when thou risest, I may never lie down again; and every night thou lay down, it may be I may never rise again; when thou goest out, I may never return; when thou comest in, I may never more go out. Christian, let it be thy serious thought every morning, I will spend this day for eternity.
3. Store up in Heaven, and see that you be rich towards God. It was the lack of this, that made this rich worldling to be branded for a fool. Give alms plentifully, and provide for yourselves bags, that wax not old; be sparing as to yourselves, but lay out, and spare not upon the service of God. Give yourselves unto prayer, let reading the Word, meditation, self-examination, be your daily exercises, do good to all men, serve your generation with diligence, study to be useful, fill up your relations with duties, and when you have done all, go out of yourselves, look wholly unto Jesus, and live by faith, this do, and you shall have treasure in Heaven; and let death come, when it will, it will but set you in possession of glory. But woe to them that have laid up nothing on the other side the grave; death will break them for ever, and will prove their eternal undoing.
4. Be the death of your sins, that they may not fasten like Hell-hounds upon you, when you are most helpless. Mortify your corruptions, and then the bitterness of death is past. Sin is the sting of death, that makes it dreadful, that makes it hurtful; O do not arm your enemy against you, death cannot hurt you, but by the weapons that you put into its hands by your sins; if sin be dead, death is conquered. This is the top of misery, when sin and death shall fly upon a poor creature together, when death, as the unclean spirit, taking with him seven other spirits worse than himself, shall set a man's sins all upon him, and besides the terror of its own appalling looks, shall show him the more ghastly, and affrighting faces of those fiends and furies, his unpardoned sins; this is the sting of death, and makes that the king of terrors.
5. Observe the approaches of your enemy daily, and remember that you are for what you know, more than half dead already. Let not grey hairs be here and there upon you, and you know it not; observe all the warnings of death, and consider in all your pains and infirmities, that these are but twitches, and items from death. How often is death knocking at your doors? Death hath a great part of you already in possession; whatsoever is past, is death's; and how little, how very little is to come, God knows; sure I am, nothing is yours but the present time. Christians, shall death get ground upon you every day, and be marching up towards you, and will not you provide accordingly, and make preparations for it every day? as death comes daily towards you, do you labour to make it good against death. Let your fortifications go on daily, let some breach be made up; let somewhat be mended every day, forget not that holy counsel to meditate every evening, that seeing thy days are numbered, there is one more of thy number spent, and thou art now nearer to thy end by a day.
6. Dare not to live in such a case or course, that you would not dare to die in. How know you but your next step may be into the grave? and would you be found in your sins? how do you know, but death may meet you at the next turning? and O how unwelcome a meeting will it be, if you be found by it laden with the gains of unrighteousness, or with lusts, and pleasures! would you have death to find you out of your harnesses? would you meet your enemy, without a weapon? or be found by him in a careless, secure, and sleeping posture? If not, how dare you live at such a rate? are you at an agreement with death.
7. Be always in your Father’s business, that death may not be able to find you doing evil, or doing nothing; the holy Calvin would not forbear his labours in his dying sickness; but, when persuaded to give over, replied, what shall my Lord come and find me idle? it was said of the laborious Willet, who was always very early at his work, that he was half way on his journey before others did set out. Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when he cometh, shall find so doing. Remember in what you undertake, that death may overtake you before you have ended: therefore see that you do nothing without God’s warrant, carry this with you, and you need not fear death's surprisal. Woe unto you if death find you, with your work to do. How holily, how happily, ended that blessed saint Mr. Lovo, who could dare to say in his last prayer, Father, I have glorified thee on Earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do, and now, O Father glorify me with thy own self? Surely the end of that man was peace. The last words that ever he spake, were Blessed be God for Jesus Christ. Blessed be God for peace of conscience. He lived a life of exemplary diligence, and the comfort of his death, answered the holy painfulness of his life. This was Paul's joy, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, henceforth is laid up for me the crown of life.
8. Get conscience to be your friend, least that should set death upon you, to worry you, when you come to die. Beware you mistake not the slumber of conscience, for a settled peace; the serpent may be but frozen in your bosoms, when you think him dead. Death will rouse the sleeping lion, and then oh fearful work that he will make! his roaring will shake the heart of rock, and apale the countenance of Kings, and loose their joints, and break all their bones. If you be wise, get and keep a good conscience; carry it to the fountain opened for sin, and for uncleanness, get it sprinkled with the blood of Christ. Exercise yourselves to keep a conscience void of offence towards God towards all men. In all your undertakings, let conscience have the casting voice, ask counsel of it diligently, hear its rebukes patiently, thankfully, as a precious balm that will not break your heads; make it to give in its judgment about your estates: If it be confident, be sure it be upon Scripture evidence; if it be doubtful, get it well settled in time; if it condemn you, away with speed to your Redeemer; sue out your pardon, get it purified, and pacified. Follow after peace and holiness, but accept of no peace but of God's speaking. Please conscience, rather than all the world; keep her, and she shall keep you; they that are careless of defending conscience, are preparing for their own torment at death.
9. Remember your sick-bed resolutions, and set a mark upon those things that did make death look most ghastly. Woe to you if sickness find you again in the same sins which formerly stung you. What will you say to conscience, or how will you look death in the face, if you be found at last to have been false to your sick-bed vows? Alphonsus King of Aragon, sent to the Bishop, to know how he should do to become a good man; he answered, he should be the man he promised to be, when last sick of the gout.
10. Keep no long reckonings, but let conscience bring you in the accounts every day before you sleep. Keep a day book in your own hearts, speedily make up any controversies that may fall out between God and your souls, it will be sad to find old things to reckon for, when you come to die: you cannot imagine the torment that one sin unrepented of, or unhumbled for, may cost you; study to keep all clear, and even daily within: This made dying Oecolampadias clap his hand upon his breast, saying, hic sat est lucis, 'tis all light within; daily self-examination will make you to live holily, and die comfortably; but if you let things run long, you will be all at a loss.
11. Set your houses in order that you may not have your estates in the world to settle, when God requires your souls: Make your wills in your health and vigour, and therein be sure so to settle your estates, as that God and good uses be not shut out, nor forgotten. Wretched men that have so many hundreds to settle upon their children, can scarce find in their hearts to settle one in the hundred upon God’s special service.
12. Look often into your coffins, and behold your bones and dust, as shortly others shall, when turned out of your graves: Be not strangers to the thoughts of death; expect it, wait all the days of your appointed time when your change shall come; familiarise the thoughts of death to yourselves, that you may be always safe, you must never be secure; you must pray, and set a watch, and be always upon your guard; walk every day some serious turns with death, let it never come unlooked for; God forbid death should come upon you, and you say, I did not think of it: You must daily think of it, and look for it. How holy and happy a man was he, that could say, I have not known what tomorrow meant this twenty years? Consider your latter end, learn to number your days: God does number them, why should not you? if the man of the house had known what hour of the night the thief would have come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken up; but it is too late to think of it, when the house is robbed: Be not of them that put far off the evil day; he that remembers not his end, remembers nothing as he should: It is the remembrance of death puts life into our prayers, into our graces, and all our motions. He that puts off the thoughts of death, gives his enemy unspeakable advantages: Death comes upon the sleeping and secure sinner, as Jael upon Sisera, and strikes the fatal nail through his temples, and fastens him to the earth: or as David upon the Amalikites, when he and his mighty men came upon them, chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps, when they found them spread abroad upon the earth, eating, drinking, dancing, and smote them from the twilight to the evening of the day.
13. Above all speed to the City of Refuge:
First, Get into it, close soundly with Jesus Christ. O dreadful work that death makes with those, that are not found in him; it tears the body and soul asunder, it drags the soul to Hell, and locks up the dust in prison, till the terrible Judgment, it puts an eternal end to all comforts, and enters the sinner upon unchangeable misery, and delivers over the prisoners to the tormentors; but if you give up yourselves entirely, before-hand, and accept Christ by believing, on his own terms; this will secure you in him, then the danger of this is over. Look to this, whatsoever you neglect, once in Christ, and you have the victory; you may send a challenge to death, and with Paul triumph before the battle, and make the bonfires, and ring out the bells, as sure of the conquest, and go with shouts of joy, and palms of victory, and garments of salvation to encounter with, or rather to make spoil upon your already conquered enemy.
Second, Keep you in it, when you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, you must walk in him; wander from him, and you betray your safety; O look to it that death find you not venturing out of your refuge, by loose walking. God bespeaks you here as Solomon did Shimei, 1 Kings 2. 36, 37. And the King sent for Shimei, and said unto him, build thee an house in Jerusalem, and dwell there, and go not forth thence any whither, for on the day thou goest out thou shalt know for certain thou shalt surely die.
14. Lay in a stock of promises now in time against the assaults of death; that come when it will, thou mayst have a cordial ready, and be provided with an antidote. Delight thy soul in meditating on the 6th of John, and 1 Cor. 15, and the fifth chapter of the Second Epistle of the Corinthians.
15. My last, but not my least advice is, that you suffer not the state of your immortal souls to lie any longer at uncertainties. Put to it with all your might for assurance, try an hundred times, and make diligent search into the state of your hearts. What blessed helps have you in Mr. Baxter's Works, Mr. Richard Alleines, and others, to put all out of doubt? there you have sure marks, ply your hearts with them, be diligent observers of the workings of your souls; lie at God's door night and day, and put yourselves on God’s trial; if all this will not do it, apply yourselves to some faithful and experienced Minister, and above all close with Christ anew, solemnly engage yourselves in covenant with him, according to the directions in Mr. Richard Alleine's Book Vindication of Godliness, to this purpose; how can you live one day, or die without some evidence that it shall be well with you for ever? Ah the woeful case that the poor trembling soul must needs be in, when it thrusts out into the ocean of eternity, not knowing whither it is going, whether it shall be landed in the region on of eternal darkness, or the land of light, when it must go forth it knows not whether into the arms of angels, or the teeth and talons of cursed fiends and harpies; my soul has often relented at the thoughts of that pathetic moan of dying Adrian, who thus bespeaks his anxious soul, when ready to be delivered up (I cannot but spoil it by Englishing it) ah my poor, little, trembling, wandering soul, whether art thou going, into I know not what rough and horrid places? and it is a heart piercing complaint of poor Beringarius, who was one of the first lights in the time of the thickest Anti-Christian darkness; who having often dallied with conscience, recanting over and over to avoid death (though he did afterwards still return to the preaching, and practice of the truth), has bemoaned himself on his death bed: Now I am going to appear before my Judge, not knowing whether I shall be saved, as I hope; or damned, as I fear.
Brethren, if you would not be surprised by Death, with these uncertainties put all out of question now, without delay in your health and strength.