Second Branch. This evil day is unavoidable. We may as well stop the chariot of the sun, when posting to night, and chase away the shades of the evening, as escape this hour of darkness, that is coming upon us all. ‘There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death, and there is no discharge in that war,’ Ecc. 8:8. Among men it is possible to get off when pressed for the wars, by pleading privilege of years, estate, weakness of body, protection from the prince, and the like; or if all these fail, possibly the sending another in our room, or a bribe given in the hand, may serve the turn. But in this war the press is so strict, that there is no dispensation. David could willingly have gone for his son—we hear him crying, ‘Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son;’ but he will not be taken, that young gallant must go himself. We must in our own person come into the field, and look death in the face. Some indeed we find so fond as to promise themselves immunity from this day, as if they had an insuring office in their breast. They say they have made a covenant with death, and with hell they are at an agreement. When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto them. And now, like debtors that have fee’d the sergeant, they walk abroad boldly, and fear no arrest. But God tells them as fast as they bind he will loose: ‘Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand.’ And how should it, if God will not set his seal to it? There is a divine law for this evil day, which came in force upon Adam’s first sin, that laid the fatal knife to the throat of mankind, which hath opened a sluice to let out his heart-blood ever since. God, to prevent all escape, hath sown the seeds of death in our very constitution and nature, so that we can as soon run from ourselves, as run from death. We need no feller to come with a hand of violence, and hew us down. There is in the tree a worm which grows out of its own substance that will destroy it; so in us, those infirmities of nature that will bring us down to the dust. Our death was bred when our life was first conceived. And as a woman cannot hinder the hour of her travail—that follows in nature upon the other—so neither can man hinder the bringing forth of death with which his life is big. All the pains and aches man feels in his life are but so many singultus morientis naturœ—groans of a dying nature; they tell him his dissolution is at hand. Beest thou a prince sitting in all thy state and pomp, death dare enter thy palace, and come through all thy guards, to deliver the fatal message it hath from God to thee, yea, runs its dagger to thy heart. Wert thou compassed with a college of doctors consulting thy health, art and nature both must deliver thee up when that comes. Even when thy strength is firmest, and thou eatest thy bread with a merry heart, that very food which nourisheth thy life gives thee withal an earnest of death, as it leaves those dregs in thee which will in time procure the same. O how unavoidable this day of death be, when that very staff knocks us down to the grave at last, which our life leans on and is preserved by! God owes a debt to the first Adam and to the second. To the first he owes the wages of sin, to the second the reward of his sufferings. The place for full payment of both is the other world, so that except death come to convey the man thither, the wicked, who are the posterity of the first Adam, will miss of that full pay for their sins, which the threatening makes due debt, and engageth God to perform. The godly also, who are the seed of Christ, these should not receive the whole purchase of his blood, which he would never have shed but upon the credit of that promise of eternal life which God gave him for them before the world began. This is the reason why God hath made this day so sure. In it he dischargeth both bonds.
Third Branch. It behoves every one to prepare, and effectually to provide for this evil day, which so unavoidably impends us: and this upon a twofold account. 1. In point of duty. 2. In point of wisdom.
- In point of duty.
(1.) It is upon our allegiance to the great God, that we provide and arm ourselves against this day. Suppose a subject were trusted with one of his prince’s castles, and that he should hear that a puissant enemy was coming to lay siege to this castle, and yet he takes no care to lay in arms and provision for his defence, and so it is lost. How could such a one be cleared of treason? doth he not basely betray the place, and with it his prince’s honour into the enemy’s hand? Our souls are this castle, which we are every one to keep for God. We have certain intelligence that Satan hath a design upon them, and the time when he intends to come with all his powers of darkness, to be that evil day. Now as we would be found true to our trust, we are obliged to stand upon our defence, and store ourselves with what may enable us to make a vigorous resistance.
(2.) We are obliged to provide for that day, as a suitable return for, and improvement of, the opportunities and means which God affords us for this very end. We cannot without shameful ingratitude to God, make waste of those helps god gives us in order to this great work. Every one would cry out upon him that should basely spend that money upon riot in prison, which was sent him to procure his deliverance out of prison. And do we not blush to bestow those talents upon our lusts and Satan, which God graciously indulgeth to deliver us from them, and his [Satan’s] rage in a dying hour? What have we Bibles for, ministers and preaching for, if we mean not to furnish ourselves by them with armour for the evil day? In a word, what is the intent of God in lengthening out our days, and continuing us some while here in the land of the living? Was it that we might have time to revel, or rather ravel out upon the pleasure of this vain world? Doth he give us our precious time to be employed in catching such butterflies as these earthly honours and riches are? It cannot be. Masters, if wise, do not use to set their servants about such work as will not pay for the candle they burn in doing it. And truly nothing less than the glorifying of God, and saving our souls at last, can be worth the precious time we spend here. The great God hath a greater end than most think in this dispensation. If we would judge aright, we should take his own interpretation of his actions; and the apostle Peter bids us ‘account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation,’ II Peter 3:15, which place he quotes out of Paul, Rom. 2:4, as to the sense, though not in the same form of words—‘Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?’ From both places we are taught what is the mind of God, and the language he speaks to us in, by every moment’s patience and inch of time that is granted to us. It is a space given for repentance. God sees [that] as we are, death and judgment could bring no good news to us. We are in no case to welcome the evil day, and therefore mercy stands up to plead for the poor creature in God’s bosom, and begs a little time more may be added to its life, that by this indulgence it may be provoked to repent before he be called to the bar. Thus we come by every day, that is continually superadded to our time on earth. And doth not this lay a strong obligation on us to lay out every point of this time, unto the same end it is begged for?