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AT THE FUNERAL OF SIR JOHN BUCKWORTH, AT THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. PETER LE POOR IN BROAD
STREET, DECEMBER 29, 1687.
ECCLESIASTES xi. 8. But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all ; yet
let him remember the days of darkness ; for they shall be
many I SHALL not trouble you with the various renderings of these words; which (with a very little difference) do all amount to the same sense, viz. that supposing it should be a man's good fortune to live very long, and exceeding happy in this world; yet he ought to have great care, that the joys of this life do not so wholly take up and engross his thoughts, as to make him forget those days of darkness which must ere long succeed this delightsome sunshine : which days will be many more, and of much longer continuance, than the longest life of happiness we can promise ourselves in this world. So that all the difficulty in these words is, what we are to understand by the days of darkness, which are here opposed to a long life of joy and rejoicing in this world. And this difficulty will be easily resolved, by considering the foregoing verse: Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eye to behold the sun. Upon which it follows, But if a man live many years, i. e. supposing he should for many years enjoy this pleasant spectacle of the light of the sun; yet let him remember those days of darkness wherein his eyes shall behold the sun and light no more; wherein he shall be laid up in a dark and silent grave, whence the light of the sun is excluded, and where the sight of the eyes is extinguished; or, as he expresses it in the third verse of the next chapter, wherein those that look out at the windows are darkened. So that we shall have neither visible objects nor visive organs, but be buried out of sight in deep darkness and insensibility.
By the days of darkness therefore is evidently meant all that space of time between our death and our resurrection; wherein our bodies shall lie mouldering in a dark grave, utterly insensible of good or evil; till by the powerful call of God they shall at length be roused up out of this fatal slumber into a state of everlasting life and activity: and these days, saith he, shall be many; though they shall not run out to an infinite duration, but at length conclude in a general resurrection, yet they shall be many, many more, in all probability, than any man now alive can hope to live in this world.
The words thus explained resolve into this sense ; that how long and happily soever men live in this world, they ought to entertain their thoughts with frequent remembrances and considerations of their approaching mortality. Which is a duty so obvious to the consciences of all men, as being founded on the plainest and most conspicuous reasons, that the men of all ages, and nations, and religions have owned and acknowledged it. Thus the heathen philosophers teach that our lives ought to be a constant meditation of death; and that even in our most pleasant and healthful moments, we ought to look upon ourselves as borderers upon eternity; that we should still take care to mingle our delights with the sad remembrance of our mortality; and not suffer the joys of this life to divert our thoughts from that impending fate, which ere long will set an everlasting period both to them and that. But the necessity of entertaining our minds with frequent remembrances of our latter end is founded upon far more powerful motives than a company of fine sentences and pretty sayings of philosophers. For,
First, It is necessary to moderate our affections to the world,
Secondly, It is necessary to allay the gayety and vanity of our minds.
Thirdly, It is necessary to put us upon improving our present enjoyments to the best purposes.
Fourthly, It is necessary to forearm our minds against the terrors of death.
Fifthly, It is necessary to excite and quicken us in our preparations for eternity.
I. It is necessary to moderate our affections to the world. While we are encompassed round with the pleasures and delights of this world, they commonly so engross our minds, that we shut our eyes against all futurities, and are impatient to think of any thing to come, unless it be the continuance of this happy scene of things which is at present before us; with which continuance we are exceeding apt to flatter ourselves, that so thereby we may heighten the gust of our present enjoyments; to which the consideration of their leaving us, or our leaving them, would be apt to give a very ungrateful farewell: and when our thoughts are wholly intent upon these present
goods, and upon the prospect of their continuance, our affections must necessarily run out towards them with an immoderate ardour and greediness. For now our flattering imaginations represent them to us as standing and permanent things, as a kind of immortal heaven upon earth; and accordingly, our affections pursue and embrace them as the best of goods, , and are for dwelling upon them, and building tabernacles in them, there to make their final abode, as in their highest and ultimate happiness. Now there is no more effectual way to rouse men's minds out of this flattering dream of happiness, (from which, if they persist in it, the dire experience of a woful eternity will ere long awake them,) than frequently to entertain their minds with the thoughts of their departure hence. For when I set myself seriously to think of my dying hour, that fairly represents to my deluded mind the true state and condition of all worldly happiness. Here I plainly see, that I am a tenant at will to a thousand contingencies; in every one of whose power it is to turn me out of the world and out of my happiness together every moment of my life; and that when I have erected this childish castle of cards, and housed myself in it, as in an imaginary fortress of impregnable security, it is in the power of every puff of wind to blow it down about my ears, and bury me in its ruins. In every serious prospect of my mortality, I behold all my worldly enjoyments, which promised me such mountains of happiness, standing round my death-bed, mocking at all my foolish hopes, and exposing my baffled expectations to scorn and derision: and whilst in the anguish of my soul I cry out to them, O ye helpless impotent things, what are now become of
all your boasted comforts? You that promised to be a heaven upon earth to me, why do not ye now help me in this my last extremity? Why do not ye quench my raging thirst? Why do not ye cool my feverish blood? Why do not ye ease my labouring heart, and quiet my convulsed and tormented bowels? All the answer they return is this : Alas, poor deluded fool it is not in us to relieve or succour thee. But what, will ye then forsake and abandon me? and shall I have nothing left of all the mighty goods you promised, but only a grave, a coffin, and a winding-sheet? Alas, poor deceived wretch! we leave not thee, but thou must leave us; being summoned away by a fatal power, which we can neither bribe nor resist: thy body must go down into a cold dark grave, and there lie utterly insensible till the resurrection; thy soul must pass into the region of spirits, whither we are not permitted to follow thee, and where thou wilt have nothing to live upon to all eternity, but only the graces and virtues of thy own mind. Farewell then, ye treacherous cheats and impostors, that promised so much, and now perform so little; miserable comforters are ye all, and physicians of no value. Such thoughts as these the remembrance of our mortality will be frequently suggesting to us; and if such thoughts do not cool and allay the heat of our affections to the world, we are incurably fond of being deceived and abused by it.
II. Frequently to remember our departure hence is very necessary to allay the vanity and gayety of our own minds. Whilst we are encompassed with the delights of this world, our minds are generally too frolic and jovial to admit of any serious impressions: and if at any time any good thoughts come in to visit us,