It was the first curse and threatening wherein God thought fit to comprehend all misery, "Thou shalt die the death in that day thou eatest." Though the sentence was not presently executed according to the letter, yet from that day forward man was made mortal, and there seemeth to be much mercy and goodness of God intervening to plead a delay of death itself, that so the promise of life in the second Adam might come to the first and his posterity, and they might be delivered from the second death, though not from the first. Always we bear about the marks of sin in our bodies to this day, and in so far the threatening taketh place, that this life that we live in the body is become nothing else but a dying life, the life that the ungodly shall live out of the body is a living death, and either of these is worse than simple death or destruction of being. The serious contemplation of the miseries of this life made wise Solomon to praise the dead more than the living, contrary to the custom of men, who rejoice at the birth of a man-child, and mourn at their death. Yea, it pressed him further, to think them which have not at all been, better than both, because they have not seen the evil under the sun. This world is such a chaos, such a mass of miseries, that if men understood it before they came into it, they would be far more loath to enter it, than they are now afraid to go out of it. And truly we want not remembrances and representations of our misery every day, in that children come weeping into the world, as it were bewailing their own misfortune, that they were brought forth to be sensible subjects of misery. And what is all our life-time, but a repetition of sighs and groans, anxiety and satiety, loathing and longing, dividing our spirits and our time between them? How many deaths must we suffer before death come? For the absence or loss of any thing much desired, is a separation no less grievous to the hearts of men, than the parting of soul and body: for affection to temporal perishing things, unites the soul so unto them, that there is no parting without pain, no dissolution of that continuity without much vexation, and yet the soul must suffer many such tortures in one day, because the things are perishing in their own nature, and uncertain. What is sleep, which devours the most part of our time, but the very image and picture of death, a visible and daily representation of the long cessation of the sensitive life in the grave? And yet, truly, it is the best and most innocent part of our time, though we accuse it often. There is both less sin and less misery in it, for it is almost the only lineament and refreshment we get in all our miseries. Job sought to assuage his grief and ease his body, but it was the extremity of his misery that he could not find it. Now, my beloved, when you find that which is called life subject to so much misery that you are constrained often to desire you had never been born, you find it a valley of tears, a house of mourning from whence all true delight and solid happiness is banished. Seeing the very officers and serjeants of death are continually surrounding us and walk alongst with us -- though unpleasant company -- in our greatest contentments, and are putting marks upon your doors, as in the time of the plague upon houses infected, "Lord have mercy upon us,"(203) and are continually bearing this motto to our view, and sounding this direction to our ears, cito, procul, diu -- to get soon our of Sodom that is appointed for destruction, to fly quickly out of ourselves to the refuge appointed of God, even one that was dead and is alive, and hath redeemed us by his blood, and to get far off from ourselves, and take up dwelling in the blessed Son of God, through whose flesh there is access to the Father, -- seeing all these, I say, are so, why do not we awake ourselves upon the sound of the promise of immortality and life, brought to our ears in the gospel? Mortality hath already seized upon our bodies, but why do you not catch hold of this opportunity of releasing your souls from the chains and fetters of eternal death? Truly, my beloved, all that can be spoken of torments and miseries in this life, suppose we could imagine all the exquisite torments invented by the most cruel tyrants since the beginning, to be combined in some one kind of torture, and would then stretch our imagination beyond that, as far as that which is composed of all torments surpasseth the simplest death, yet we do not conceive nor express unto you that death to come. Believe it, when the soul is out of the body it is a most pure activity, all sense, all knowledge. And seeing where it is dulled and dampished(204) in the body, it is capable of so much grief or joy, pleasure or pain, we may conclude, that being loosed from these stupifying earthly chains, that it is capable of infinite more vexation, or contentation, in a higher and purer strain.
Therefore, we may conclude with the apostle, that all men by nature are miserable in life, but infinitely more miserable in death. Only the man who is in Jesus Christ, in whose spirit Christ dwells, and hath made a temple of his body for offering up reasonable service in it, that man only is happy in life, but far happier in death, happy that he was born, but infinitely more happy that he was born mortal, born to die, for "if the body be dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness." Men commonly make their accounts and calculate their time so, as if death were the end of it. Truly, it were happiness in the generality of men that that computation were true, either that it had never begun, or that it might end here, for that which is the greatest dignity and glory of a man -- his immortal soul -- it is truly the greatest misery of sinful men, because it capacitates them for eternal misery. But if we make our accounts right, and take the right period, truly death is but the beginning of our time, of endless and unchangeable endurance either in happiness or misery, and this life in the body, which is only in the view of the short sighted sons of men, is but a strait and narrow passage into the infinite ocean of eternity, but so inconsiderable it is that, according as the spirit in this passage is fashioned and formed, so it must continue for ever, for where the tree falleth, there it lieth. There may be hope that a tree will sprout again, but truly there is no hope that ever the damned soul shall see a spring of joy, and no fear that ever the blessed spirits shall find a winter of grief. Such is the evenness of eternity, that there is no shadow of change in it.
O then, how happy are they in whose souls this life is already begun, which shall then come to its meridian, when the glory of the flesh falls down like withered hay into the dust! The life as well as the light of the righteous is progressive. It is shining more and more till that day come, the day of death, only worthy to be called the present day, because it brings perfection, it mounts the soul in the highest point of the orb, and there is no declining from that again. The spirit is now alive in some holy affections and motions, breathing upwards, wrestling towards that point. The soul is now in part united to the Fountain of life, by loving attendance and obedience, and it is longing to be more closely united. The inward senses are exercised about spiritual things, but the burden of this clayey mansion doth much dull and damp them, and proves a great remora(205) to the spirit. The body indisposes and weakens the soul much. It is life, as in an infant, though a reasonable soul be there, yet overwhelmed with the incapacity of the organs. This body is truly a prison of restraint and confinement to the soul, and often loathsome and ugly through the filthiness of sin, but when the spirit is delivered from this necessary burden and impediment, O how lively is that life it then lives! Then the life, peace, joy, love, and delight of the soul surmounts all that is possible here, further than the highest exercise of the soul of the wisest men surpasses the brutish like apprehensions of an infant, and indeed then the Christian comes to his full stature, and is a perfect man when he ceaseth to be a man.
How will you not be persuaded, beloved in the Lord, to long after this life, to have Christ formed in your hearts, for truly the generality have not so much as Christ fashioned in their outward habit, but are within darkness and earthiness and wickedness, and without, impiety and profanity. Will you not long for this life? For now you are dead while you live, as the apostle speaks of widows that live in pleasure. The more the soul be satisfied with earthly things, it is the deeper buried in the grave of the flesh, and the further separated from God. Alas! many of you know no other life, than that which you now live in the body, you neither apprehend what this new birth is, nor what the perfect stature of it shall be afterwards. But truly while it is thus, you are but walking shadows, breathing clay, and no more. A godly man used to calculate the years of his nativity from his second birth, his conversion to God in Christ; and truly, this is the true period of the right calculation of life, of that life which shall not see death. True life hath but one period, that is, the beginning of it, for end it hath none. I beseech you, reckon your years thus, and I fear that you reckon yourselves, many of you, yet dead in sins and trespasses. Is that life, I pray you, to eat, to drink, to sleep, to play, to walk, to work? Is there any thing in all these worthy of a reasonable soul, which must survive the body, and so cease from such things for ever? Think within yourselves, do you live any other life than this? What is your life but a tedious and wearisome repetition of such brutish actions which are only terminate on the body? O then, how miserable are you, if you have no other period to reckon from than your birth-day! If there be not a second birth-day before your burial, you may make your reckoning to be banished eternally from the life of God.
As for you, Christians, whom God hath quickened by the Spirit of his Son, be much in the exercise of this life, and that will maintain and advance it. Let your care be about your spirits, and to hearten you in this study, and to beget in you the hope of eternal life, look much and lay fast hold on that life giving Saviour, who, by his righteous life and accursed death, hath purchased by his own blood both happiness to us and holiness. Consider what debtors you are to him who loved not his own life and spared it not, to purchase this life to us. Let our thoughts and affections be occupied about this high purchase of our Saviour's, which is freely bestowed on them that will have it, and believe in him for it. If we be not satisfied with such a low and wretched life as is in the body, he will give a higher and more enduring life, and only worthy of that name.