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II A DISCOURSE ON

IMMORTALITY AND THE COVENANT WITH DEATH

Court not death in the error of your life;
Neither draw upon yourselves destruction by the works of your hands.

Because God made not death: neither delighteth he when the living perish. For he created all things that they might have being; and the generative powers of the world are healthsome, and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor hath Hades royal dominion upon earth: for righteousness is immortal. But ungodly men by their hands and their words called death unto them; deeming him a friend they consumed away, and they made a covenant with him because they are worthy to be of his portion.

For they said within themselves, reasoning not aright: |Short and sorrowful is our life; and there is no healing when a man cometh to his end, and none was ever known that gave release from Hades. Because by mere chance were we born, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and while our heart beateth reason is a spark, which being extinguished, the body shall be turned into ashes, and the spirit shall be dispersed as thin air. And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall remember our works; and our life shall pass away as the traces of a cloud, and shall be scattered as is a mist, when it is chased by the beams of the sun, and overcome by the heat thereof. For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and our end retreateth not; because it is fast sealed, and none turneth it back. Come therefore and let us enjoy the good things that now are; and let us use the creation with all our soul as youth's possession. Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass us by; let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they be withered; let none of us go without his share in our proud revelry; everywhere let us leave tokens of our mirth: because this is our portion, and our lot is this. Let us oppress the righteous poor: let us not spare the widow, nor reverence the hairs of the old man gray for length of years, but let our strength be to us a law of righteousness; for that which is weak is found to be of no service. But let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is of disservice to us, and is contrary to our works, and upbraideth us with sins against the law, and layeth to our charge sins against our discipline. He professeth to have knowledge of God, and nameth himself servant of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold, because his life is unlike other men's, and his paths are of strange fashion. We were accounted of him as base metal, and he abstaineth from our ways as from uncleannesses. The latter end of the righteous he calleth happy; and he vaunteth that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true, and let us try what shall befall in the ending of his life: for if the righteous man is God's son, he will uphold him, and he will deliver him out of the hand of his adversaries. With outrage and torture let us put him to the test, that we may learn his gentleness, and may prove his patience under wrong. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for he shall be visited according to his words.|

Thus reasoned they, and they were led astray. For their wickedness blinded them; and they knew not the mysteries of God, neither hoped they for wages of holiness, nor did they judge that there is a prize for blameless souls. Because God created man for incorruption, and made him an image of his own proper being; but by the envy of the devil death entered into the world, and they that are of his portion make trial thereof.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died; and their departure was accounted to be their hurt, and their journeying away from us to be their ruin: but they are in peace. For even if in the sight of men they be punished, their hope is full of immortality; and having borne a little chastening, they shall receive great good. Because God made trial of them, and found them worthy of himself; as gold in the furnace he proved them, and as a whole burnt offering he accepted them. And in the time of their visitation they shall shine forth, and as sparks among stubble they shall run to and fro. They shall judge nations, and have dominion over peoples; and the Lord shall reign over them for evermore. They that trust on him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are to his chosen.

But the ungodly shall be requited even as they reasoned, they which lightly regarded the righteous man, and revolted from the Lord: for he that setteth at nought wisdom and discipline is miserable. And void is their hope and their toils unprofitable, and useless are their works. Their wives are foolish, and wicked are their children; accursed is their begetting. For good labours have fruit of great renown; and the root of understanding cannot fail. But children of adulterers shall not come to maturity, and the seed of an unlawful bed shall vanish away. For if they live long they shall be held in no account, and at the last their old age shall be without honour; and if they die quickly they shall have no hope, nor in the day of decision shall they have consolation. For the end of an unrighteous generation is alway grievous. Better than this is childlessness with virtue. For in the memory of virtue is immortality, because it is recognised both before God and before men; when it is present men imitate it, and they long after it when it is departed; and throughout all time it marcheth crowned in triumph, victorious in the strife for the prizes that are undefiled. But the multiplying brood of the ungodly shall be of no profit, and with bastard slips they shall not strike deep root, nor shall they establish a sure hold. For even if these put forth boughs and flourish for a season, yet, standing unsure, they shall be shaken by the wind, and by the violence of winds they shall be rooted out. Their branches shall be broken off before they come to maturity; and their fruit shall be useless, never ripe to eat, and fit for nothing. For children unlawfully begotten are witnesses of wickedness against parents when God searcheth them out.

[Footnote 3: Because happy is the barren that is indefiled, she who hath not conceived in transgression; she shall have fruit when God visiteth souls. And happy is the eunuch which hath wrought no lawless deed with his hands, nor imagined wicked things against the Lord; for there shall be given him for his faithfulness a peculiar favour, and a lot in the sanctuary of the Lord more delightsome than wife or children.]

But a righteous man, though he die before his time, shall be at rest. For honourable old age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor is its measure given by number of years: but understanding is gray hairs unto men, and an unspotted life is ripe old age. Being found well pleasing unto God he was beloved of him, and while living among sinners he was translated. He was caught away lest wickedness should change his understanding, or guile deceive his soul; for the bewitching of naughtiness bedimmeth the things which are good, and the giddy whirl of desire perverteth an innocent mind. Being made perfect in a little while he fulfilled long years: for his soul was pleasing unto the Lord; therefore hasted he out of the midst of wickedness.

But as for the peoples, seeing and understanding not, neither laying this to heart, that grace and mercy are with his chosen, and that he visiteth his holy ones: they shall see, and they shall despise; but them the Lord shall laugh to scorn. And after this they shall become a dishonoured carcase, and a reproach among the dead for ever. Because he shall dash them speechless to the ground, and shall shake them from the foundations, and they shall lie utterly waste, and they shall be in anguish, and their memory shall perish. They shall come, when their sins are reckoned up, with coward fear; and their lawless deeds shall convict them to their face. Then shall the righteous man stand in great boldness before the face of them that afflicted him, and them that make his labours of no account. When they see it, they shall be troubled with terrible fear, and shall be amazed at the marvel of God's salvation.

[Footnote 4: But a righteous man that is dead shall condemn the ungodly that are living, and youth that is quickly perfected the many years of an unrighteous man's old age; for the ungodly shall see a wise man's end, and shall not understand what the Lord purposed concerning him, and for what he safely kept him.]

They shall say within themselves, repenting, and for distress of spirit shall they groan: |This was he whom aforetime we had in derision, and made a parable of reproach; we fools accounted his life madness and his end without honour. How was he numbered among sons of God? and how is his lot among saints? Verily we went astray from the way of truth; and the light of righteousness shined not for us, and the sun rose not for us. We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction, and we journeyed through trackless deserts; but the way of the Lord we knew not. What did our arrogancy profit us? and what good have riches and vaunting brought us? Those things all passed away as a shadow, and as a message that runneth by; as a ship passing through the billowy water, whereof, when it is gone by, there is no trace to be found, neither pathway of its keel in the billows; or as when a bird flieth through the air, no token of her passage is found, but the lightwind, lashed with the stroke of her pinions, and rent asunder with the violent rush of the moving wings, is passed through, and afterwards no sign of her coming is found therein; or as when an arrow is shot at a mark, the air disparted closeth up again immediately, so that men know not where it passed through: so we also, as soon as we were born, ceased to be; and of virtue we had no sign to shew, but in our wickedness we were utterly consumed.|

Because the hope of the ungodly man is as chaff carried by the wind, and as foam vanishing before a tempest; and is scattered as smoke is scattered by the wind; and passeth by as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day. But the righteous live for ever, and in the Lord is their reward, and the care for them with the Most High. Therefore shall they receive the crown of royal dignity and the diadem of beauty from the Lord's hand; because with his right hand shall he cover them, and with his arm shall he shield them. He shall take his jealousy as complete armour, and shall make the whole creation his weapons for vengeance on his enemies; he shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and shall array himself with judgement unfeigned as with a helmet: he shall take holiness as an invincible shield, and he shall sharpen stern wrath for a sword. And the world shall go forth with him to fight against his insensate foes. Shafts of lightning shall fly with true aim, and from the clouds, as from a well-drawn bow, shall they leap to the mark; and as from an engine of war shall be hurled hailstones full of wrath; the water of the sea shall be angered against them, and rivers shall sternly overwhelm them; a mighty blast shall encounter them, and as a tempest shall it winnow them away. And so shall lawlessness make all the land desolate, and their evil-doing shall overturn the thrones of princes.

Hear therefore, ye kings, and understand; learn, ye judges of the ends of the earth; give ear, ye that have dominion over much people, and make your boast in multitudes of nations. Because your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High, who shall search out your works, and shall make inquisition of your counsels; because being officers of his kingdom ye did not judge aright, neither kept ye law, nor walked after the counsel of God. Awfully and swiftly shall he come upon you, because a stern judgement befalleth them that be in high place: for the man of low estate may be pardoned in mercy, but mighty men shall be searched out mightily. For the Sovereign Lord of all will not refrain himself for any man's person, neither will he reverence greatness, because it is he that made both small and great. And alike he taketh thought for all; but strict is the scrutiny that cometh upon the powerful. Unto you, therefore, O princes, are my words, that ye may learn wisdom and fall not from the right way. For they that have kept holily the things that are holy shall themselves be hallowed; and they that have been taught them shall find what to answer. Set your desire therefore on my words; long for them, and ye shall be trained by their discipline.

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