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foam and fury; till by their vain attempts they have wearied themselves into smaller waves, and are at last composed into a calm. For which end, grant, Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so ordered by thy governance, that thy church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
AT THE FUNERAL OF SIR JOHN CHAPMAN, LORD MAYOR OF LONDON, AT ST. LAWRENCE'S CHURCH,
MARCH 27, 1689.
ECCLESIASTES vii. 1. - And the day of death, than the day of one's birth. In the former part of this book, the Preacher treats of the many false ways men take to their own happiness; and now he comes to describe the true way and method of attaining it. In general, he all along supposes that the best state of happiness in this world is exceeding imperfect; and that therefore, in order to our being in any measure happy, it is necessary we should not expect more from things than their nature and circumstances will afford, but content ourselves to take men and things as we find them : the former with all their uncertainty and inconstancy, the latter with all their faults and miscarriages; since it is not in our power to alter their nature, and render them as we would have them.
And as for the particular directions he gives, they are reducible to this general, that in order to our being in any degree happy in this world, it is necessary we should change our mind, and thoughts, and opinions of things, and embrace some such propositions, for the truest and most indubitable maxims, which we have hitherto looked upon as the wildest paradoxes ; namely, that mourning is in many cases to be preferred before feasting, ver. 2, 3, 4. rebukes before commendations, ver. 5, 6. the end, or final issue of things, before the beginning, ver. 8. a patient and constant endurance of injuries and affronts before a peevish and haughty mind, ver. 9. wisdom before riches, ver. 11, 12. and, to name no more, that a good name is better than precious ointment ; and the day of death than the day of one's birth, as you have it in the text.
I shall not trouble you with any account of the connection between these two comparisons, A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death is better than the day of one's birth : the latter of which I have chosen for the subject of my ensuing discourse, The day of death is better than the day of one's birth: which, though it may seem a very odd paradox at first view, (to men who place all their hopes in this life, and act as if all the consequents of their death were as indifferent to them as the antecedents of their birth,) is yet a very apparent and momentous truth; a truth that hath not only evidence enough in it to challenge our belief, but also moment enough to be one of the principles of our practice. Nor is it the peculiar sentiment of our Preacher ; for, as Valerius Maximus tells us, (ii. 6.) the whole nation of the Thracians, which justly challenged the praise of wisdom, was wont to celebrate the birth of men with mourning, and their death with joy; and this they did without being instructed by teachers, purely upon their own observation of the state and circumstances of human life. And accordingly Euripides proposes this custom to the world as just and reasonable ;
Τον φύντα θρηνεϊν όσ' είς έρχεται κακά,
Χαίροντας ευφημούντας εκπέμπειν δόμων. i.e. To lament those that are born, upon the account of the many evils among which they enter at their birth : but when they die, and rest from their labour, to celebrate their funerals with rejoicing and praises: all which proceeds upon the truth of this maxim, That the day of death is better than the day of one's birth. For the proof of which, it will be needful to consider our birth and death under a threefold notion, or respect :
I. Simply as an entrance into and exit out of human life.
II. As an entrance into a vicious and impenitent life here, and an exit into a miserable life hereafter.
III. As an entrance into a pious and virtuous life here, and an exit into a happy immortality hereafter. In all which respects and considerations I shall endeavour to shew, that our death is preferable before our birth and life.
I. We will consider our birth simply as an entrance into human life, and consequently our death as an exit out of it: for birth and death are the two boundaries of the race of human life: the former is the post from whence it starts, the latter the goal at which it stops : and as thus considered, death is preferable upon three accounts.
1. Upon account of the evils from which it delivers
2. Upon account of the goods in which it instates 3. Upon account of the hopes and fears arising from both.
1. Upon account of the evils from which it delivers us: for life considered barely in itself, or under the simple notion of self-activity, is neither good nor evil; but only as it is the principle of our sense of good and evil. A plant hath life as well as we; but its life being wholly insensible, it is never the better or the worse for it; because it neither perceives any good, nor feels any evil in living. To those creatures therefore that have sense with life, it is good or evil for them to live in proportion to the goods and evils which they are sensible of, and do feel and perceive. If they are sensible of more good than evil, it is good for them to live; but if they perceive more evil than good, it is evil for them to live. If therefore it be made appear that human life hath generally more evils than goods, more pains than pleasures in it, our reason may justly pronounce what Jonas's passion did, that it is better for us to die than to live. And that this is our case is evident by too many woful experiments. For from those very seeds of mortality that are sown in our natures, there spring up an infinite number of diseases, that frequently render our whole life a continued torment to us. Sometimes we are drowned in dropsies; sometimes scorched with fevers; sometimes torn with catarrhs and phthisicks; sometimes racked with gout, or stone, or strangury. To-day we are weary; to-morrow hungry or thirsty ; next day either pinched with cold, or smothered with intemperate heat. Now we are tortured with some acute disease; anon we are forced to torture ourselves for prevention. Thus griefs, and troubles, and