ON REMEMBERING THE FOUR LAST THINGS
Consider first, those words of the wise man, (Eccles. vii. 40,) ‘In all thy works remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin;’ and reflect how true it is that the memory of the four last things has a wonderful efficacy to restrain the soul from sin, and to take off the heart from the affections to it. The remembrance of death, the view of the grave, of the coffin, of the shroud, of the worms, and the maggots, and of the speedy corruption of that carcass of ours; the serious and frequent consideration of the necessity of our quickly parting with all that we love in this world, and of our being forsaken and presently forgotten by all, must needs humble our pride and vain-glory, abate our fondness for this world and its deluding toys, check our sensual and carnal inclinations, and keep all our passions under. ‘O! the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,’ can never endure the sight of the grave. But then when we look beyond the grave, and meditate on leisure on the strict account we must one day give to an all-wise, all-powerful, and most just Judge, who cannot endure iniquity; when we consider that his eye is ever upon all our thoughts, words, and works, and that they are all to be weighed in the sales of his divine justice, and according as they are there found we are to be rewarded or punished for endless ages, and to be either infinitely happy, or infinitely miserable – how is it possible that in the midst of such considerations as these we should dare to sin!
Consider 2ndly that the remembrance of the four last things wonderfully serves to correct the errors of worldlings, to open their eyes to truth, and to shut them to vanity. The transitory things of this world, its goods, and its evils, as we call them, are apt to make a great impression upon our poor souls, shut up as they are in this earthly prison. We take them for something; we are fond of honour, riches, and pleasures, as if they were solid goods; and we are afraid of contempt, poverty, and pain, as if they were real evils. but the meditating on our last end undeceives us; it quickly convinces us that all is nothing that passes with time; that nothing is truly great but what is eternal; that those things deserve not the name of goods that contribute nothing to make us either good here or happy hereafter; and that those are no evils which help to bring us to an infinite good. In fine, as to all the false maxims of the world, and the prevailing opinions and practices of its unhappy slaves and their abettors, this kind of consideration on the last things exposes the folly and madness of them all, and sets them in such a light as to determine the soul to adhere no longer to such perverse and erroneous notions as will certainly be changed at death, condemned at the last judgment, and if not recalled in time, punished in hell for all eternity.
Consider 3rdly, the manifold fruits which have been heretofore and are daily produced by the serious consideration of the four last things. Even the most hardened sinners have often been converted from their wicked ways to a penitential life by the terror of these thundering truths, death, judgment, hell, eternity. The preaching, the reading, and meditating on these truths has sent numbers into deserts or religious houses, there to secure their eternal salvation by a saintly life; and such considerations as these have generally laid the first foundations even of the most eminent sanctity. O what lessons may we not learn among the silent monuments of the dead, who made some noise heretofore in the world, but now are thought of no more! What lectures, what instructions, what exhortations, may we not daily receive, by attending in spirit to the trials at the great bar; by going down while we are alive into the darksome dungeons below, and viewing at leisure what is doing there, and by ascending up into heaven and contemplating those happy mansions of eternal bliss, prepared for the reward of the momentary labours and sufferings of the servants of God? O let us daily frequent these schools.
Conclude to make it thy practice to think often on these important subjects, which so nearly concern thy everlasting welfare. It will be a sovereign means to prevent an unprovided death; it will teach thee to be always in readiness for judgment; it will keep thee out of hell, and bring thee to heaven