TO THE AUTHOR OF THE GUARDIAN.
THE inclosed is a faithful translation from an old author, which if it deserves your notice, let the reader guess whether he was a Heathen or a Christian.
I am, Your most humble Servant.
|I cannot, my friends, forbear letting you know what I think of death; for, methinks, I view and understand it much better, the nearer I approach to it.1 am convinced that your fathers, those illustrious persons whom 1 so much loved and honoured, do not cease to live, though they have passed through what we call death; they are undoubtedly still living, but it is that sort of life which alone deserves truly to be called life. In effect, while we are confined to bodies, we ought to esteem ourselves no other than a sort of galley slaves at the chain, since the soul, which is somewhat divine, and descends from heaven as the place of its original, seems debased and dishonoured by this mixture of flesh and blood, and, to be in a state of banishment from its celestial country. I cannot help thinking too, that one main reason of uniting souls to bodies, was, that the great work of the universe might have spectators to admire the beautiful order of nature, the regular motion of heavenly bodies, who should strive to express that regularity in the uniformity of their lives. When I consider the boundless activity of our minds, the remembrance we have of things past, our foresight of what is to come: when I relied on the noble discoveries, and vast improvements, by which these minds have advanced arts and sciences; I am entirely persuaded, and out of all doubt, that a nature which has in itself a fund of so many excellent things cannot possibly be mortal. I observe further, that my mind is altogether simple without the mixture of any substance of nature different from its own; I conclude from thence that it is indivisible, and consequently cannot perish.
By no means think, therefore, my dear friends, when 1 shall have quitted you, that I cease to be, or shall subsist no where. Remember that while we live together you do not see my mind, and yet are sure that I have one actuating and moving my body: doubt not then but that this same mind will have a being when it is separated, though you cannot then perceive its actions. What nonsense would it be to pay those honours to great men after their deaths, which we constantly do, if their souls did not then subsist? For my own part, I could never imagine that our minds live only when united to our bodies, and die when they leave them; or that they shall cease to think and understand, when disengaged from bodies, which without them have neither sense or reason: on the contrary, I believe the soul, when separated from matter, to enjoy the greatest purity and simplicity of its nature, and to have much more wisdom and light than while it was united. We see when the body dies, what becomes of all the parts which compose it; but we do not see the mind, either in the body, or when it leaves it. Nothing more resembles death than sleep: and it is in that state that the soul chiefly shews it has something divine in its nature. How much more then must it shew it, when entirely disengaged?
-- Afflata est numine quando
Jam propiore Dei -- Virg. Æneid. VI. v.250.
When all the god came rushing on her soul.
THE following letter comes to me from that excellent man in holy orders, whom I have mentioned more than once, as one of that society who assists me in my speculations. It is a thought in sickness, and of a very serious nature, for which reason I give it a place in the paper of this day,
The indisposition which has long hung upon me, is at last grown to such a head, that it must quickly make an end of me, or of itself. You may imagine, that whilst I am in this bad state of health, there are none of your works which I read with greater pleasure than your Saturday's papers. I should be very glad if I could furnish you with any hints for that day's entertainment. Were I able to dress up several thoughts of a serious nature, which have made great impressions on my mind during a long fit of sickness, they might not be an improper entertainment for that occasion.
Among all the reflections which usually rise in the mind of a sick man, who has time and inclination to consider his approaching end, there is none more natural than that of his going to appear naked and unbodied before him who made him. When a man considers, that, as soon as the vital union is dissolved, he shall see that Supreme Being, whom he now contemplates at a distance, and only in his works; or, to speak more philosophically, when by some faculty in the soul he shall apprehend the divine Being, and be more sensible of his presence, than we are now of the presence of any object which the eye beholds: a man must be lost in carelessness and stupidity, who is not alarmed at such a thought! Dr. Sherlock, in his excellent treatise upon death, has represented, in very strong and lively colours, the state of the soul in its first separation from the body, with regard to that invisible world which every where surrounds us, though we are not able to discover it through this grosser world of matter, which is accommodated to our senses in this life. His words are as follow.
|That death, which is our leaving this world, is nothing else but our putting off these bodies, teaches us, that it is only our union to these bodies which intercepts the sight of the other world: the other world is not at such a distance from us as we may imagine: the throne of God indeed is at a great remove from this earth, above the third heavens, where he displays his glory to those blessed spirits which encompass his throne; but as soon as we step out of these bodies, we step into the other world, which is not so properly another world, (for there is the same heaven and earth still) as a new state of life. To live in these bodies is to live in this world, to live out of them is to remove into the next: for while our souls are confined to these bodies, and can look only through these material casements, nothing but what is material can affect us; nay, nothing but what is so gross, that it can reflect light, and convey the shapes and colours of things with it to the eye; so that, though within this visible world there be a more glorious scene of things than what appears to us, we perceive nothing at all of it; for this veil of flesh parts the visible and invisible world: but when we put off these bodies, there are new and surprising wonders present themselves to our views: when these material spectacles are taken off, the soul, with its own naked eyes, sees what was invisible before; and then we are in the other world, when we can see, and converse with it: thus St. Paul tells us, That when we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; but when we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord, 2 Cor. v.6.8. And, methinks, this is enough to cure us of our fondness for these bodies, unless we think it more desirable to be confined to a prison, and to look through a grate all our lives, which gives us but a very narrow prospect, and that none of the best neither, than to be set at liberty to view all the glories of the world. What would we give now for the least glimpse of that invisible world, which the first step we take out of these bodies will present us with? There are such things as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive: Death opens our eyes, enlarges our prospect, presents us with a new and more glorious world, which we can never see while we are shut up in flesh which should make us as willing to part with this veil as to take the film off our eyes which hinders our sight.
As a thinking man cannot but be very much affected with the idea of his appearing in the presence of that Being whom none can see and live, he must be much more affected when he considers that this Being whom he appears before will examine all the actions of his past life, and reward or punish him accordingly. I must confess that I think there is no scheme of religion, besides that of Christianity, which can possibly support the most virtuous person under this thought. Let a man's innocence be what it will, let his virtues rise to the highest pitch of perfection attainable in his life, there will be still in him so many secret sins, so many human frailties, so many offences of ignorance, passion, and prejudice, so many unguarded words and thoughts, and in short, so many defects in his best actions, that without the advantages of such an expiation and atonement as Christianity has revealed to us, it is impossible that he should be cleared before his sovereign Judge, or that he should be able to stand in his sight. Our holy religion suggests to us the only means whereby our guilt may be taken away, and our imperfect obedience accepted.
It is this series of thought that I have endeavoured to express in the following hymn, which I have composed during this my sickness.
WHEN rising from the bed of death,
O'erwhelm'd with guilt and fear,
I see my Maker, face to face,
O how than I appear!
If yet, while pardon may be found,
And mercy may be sought,
My heart with inward horror shrinks,
And trembles at the thought,
When thou, O Lord! shalt stand disclos'd
In majesty severe,
And sit in judgement on my soul,
O how shall I appear!
But thou hast told the troubled mind,
Who does her sins lament,
The timely tribute of her tears
Shall endless wo prevent.
Then see the sorrows of my heart,
Ere yet it is too late;
And hear thy Saviour's dying groans,
To give those sorrows weight.
For never shall my soul despair
Her pardon to procure,
Who knows thy only Son has di'd
To make her pardon sure.
-- Animæque capaces
Our lives are ever in the pow'r of death.
THE prospect of death is so gloomy and dismal, that if it were constantly before our eyes it would imbitter all the sweets of life. The gracious Author of our being hath therefore so formed us, that we are capable of many pleasing sensations, and reflections, and meet with so many amusements and solicitudes, as divert our thoughts from dwelling upon an evil, which by reason of its seeming distance, makes but languid impressions upon the mind. But how distant soever the time of our death may be, since it is certain that we must die, it is necessary to allot some portion of our life to consider the end of it; and it is highly convenient to fix some stated times to meditate upon the final period of our existence here. The principle of self-love, as we are men, will make us inquire, what is ike to become of us after our dissolution; and our conscience, as we are Christians, will inform us, that according to the good or evil of our actions here, we shall be translated to the mansions of eternal bliss or misery. When this is seriously weighed, we must think it madness to be unprepared against the black moment; but when we reflect, that, perhaps, that black moment may be tonight, how watchful ought we to be!
I was wonderfully affected with a discourse I had lately with a clergyman of my acquaintance upon this head, which was to this effect: |The consideration, said the good man, that my being precarious, moved me many years ago to make a resolution, which I have diligently kept, and to which I owe the greatest satisfaction that a mortal man can enjoy. Every night before I address myself in private to my Creator, I lay my hand upon my heart, and ask myself, Whether if God should require my soul of me this night, I could hope for mercy from him? The bitter agonies I underwent, in this my first acquaintance with myself, were so far from throwing me into despair of that mercy which is over all God's works that they rather proved motives to greater circumspection in my conduct. The oftener I exercised myself in meditations of this kind, the less was my anxiety: and by making the thoughts of death familiar, what was at first so terrible and shocking is become the sweetest of my enjoyments. These contemplations have indeed made me serious, but not sullen; nay, they are so far from having soured my temper, that as I have a mind perfectly composed, and a secret spring of joy in my heart, so my conversation is pleasant, and my countenance sincere. I taste all the innocent satisfactions of life pure and serene; I have no share in pleasures that leave a sting behind them; nor am I cheated with that kind of mirth, in the midst of which there is heaviness.|
Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum.
Hor. lib. I. epist.4. v.13.
Think ev'ry day, soon as the day is past,
That thou hast liv'd, of thy short life the last.
THE following letter was really written by a young gentleman in a languishing illness, which both himself and those who attended him thought it impossible for him to outlive. If you think such an image of the state of a man's mind in that circumstance be worth publishing, it is at your service, and take it as follows:
You formerly observed to me, that nothing made a more ridiculous figure in a man's life, than the disparity we often find in him sick and well. Thus, one of an unfortunate constitution is perpetually exhibiting a miserable example of the weakness of his mind, or of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to consider myself in these different views, and hope I have received some advantage by it. If what Mr. Waller says be true, that
The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Lets in new light thro' chinks that time has made,
then surely sickness, contributing no less than old age to the shaking down this scaffolding of the body, may discover the inclosed structure more plainly. Sickness is a sort of early old age; it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly state, and inspires us with the thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philosophers and divines. It gives so warning a concussion to those props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is so little dependence on our out-works. Youth, at the very best, is but a betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age: It is like a stream that nourishes a plant upon its bank, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me; it has afforded several prospects of my danger, and given me an advantage not very common to young men, that the attractions of the world have not dazzled me very much; and I began, where most people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures.
When a smart fit of sickness tells me this scurvy tenement of my body will fall in a little time I am even as unconcerned as was that honest Hibernian, who, being in bed in the great storm some years ago, and told the house would tumble over his head, made answer, What care I for the house? I am only a lodger. I fancy it is the best time to die when one is in the best humour; and so excessively weak as I now am, I may say with conscience, that I am not at all uneasy at the thought that many men, whom I never had any esteem for, are likely to enjoy this world after me. When I reflect what an inconsiderable little atom every man is, with respect to the whole creation, methinks, it is a shame to be concerned at the removal of such a trivial animal as I am. The morning after my exit, the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green, the world will proceed in its old course, people will laugh as heartily, and marry as fast as they were used to do. |The memory of man (as it is elegantly expressed in the wisdom of Solomon) passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but one day.| There are reasons enough in the fourth chapter of the same book to make any young man contented with the prospect of death. |For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, or is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair to men, and an unspotted life is old age.|
He was taken away speedily, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul.
I am your's.