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John Flavel :: Twelfth Season - How a Christian May Encourage His Heart Against Death

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

Twelve Particular Seasons, which Especially Call for this Diligence in Keeping the Heart

Twelfth Season - How a Christian May Encourage His Heart Against Death


“The twelfth season of looking diligently to our hearts, and keeping them with greatest care, is the time of sickness: “When a child of God draws nigh to eternity, when there are but a few sands more in the upper part of his glass to run down, and when Satan busily bestirs himself; of him it may be said, as of the natural serpent, Nunquam nisi moriens producitur in longum; he is never seen at his full length till dying: and now his great design, since he cannot win the soul from God, is to discourage and make it unwilling to go to God, though the gracious soul, with Jacob, should then rouse up itself upon a dying bed, and rejoice that the marriage day of the Lamb is now almost come; though it should then say with dying Austin, Vivere renou ut Christo vivan; I despise life to be with Christ. Or as dying Milius, when one asked him whether he were willing to die? O, said he, illius est nolle mori, qui nolit ire ad Christum; let him be unwilling to die, who is unwilling to go to Christ. But O! what shrinking from death, what lothness to depart, may sometimes, indeed too frequently, be observed in the people of God? How loth are some of them to take death by the cold hand? If such a liberty were indulged to us, not to be dissolved, till we dissolve ourselves; when should we say with St. Paul, I desire to be dissolved?”
Well then, the last case shall be this,

Case 12. How the people of God in times of sickness may get their hearts loose from all earthly engagements, and persuade them into a willingness to die.

And there are seven arguments; which I shall urge upon the people of God at such a time as this, to make them cheerfully entertain the messenger of death, and die, as well as live, like saints. And the first is this:

Argument 1. First, The harmlessness of death to the people of God. Though it keeps its dart, it hath lost its sting: a saint (to allude to that, Isaiah 11:8.) may play upon the hole of this asp, and put his hand into the cockatrice’s den. Death is the cockatrice or asp, the grave is his hole or den; a saint need not fear to put his hand boldly into it: it hath left and lost its sting in the sides of Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:55. O death! where is thy sting? Why art thou afraid, O saint, that this sickness may be in thy death, as long as thou knowest, that the death of Christ is the death of death? Indeed, if thou didst die in thy sins, as John 8:21; if death, as a king, did reign over thee, Romans 5:14; if it could feed upon thee, as the lion doth upon the prey he hath taken, as Psalms 49:14; if hell followed the pale horse, as it is, Revelation 6:8, then thou mightest well startle and shrink back from it. But when God hath put away thy sins from thee, as far as the east is from the west, Psalms 103:12, as long as there is no other evil left in death for thee to encounter with, but bodily pain; as long as the scriptures represent it to thee under such harmless and easy notions as the putting off thy clothes, 2 Corinthians 5:2. And lying down to sleep upon thy bed, Isaiah 57:2, why shouldst thou be afraid? There is as much difference betwixt death to the people of God, and others, as betwixt the unicorn’s horn, when it is upon the head of the fierce beast, and when it is in the apothecary’s shops, where it is made salubrious and medicinal.

Argument 2. Thy heart may be kept from shrinking back at such a time as this, by considering the necessity of death, in order to the full fruition of God.

Whether thou art willing to die or no, I assure thee there is no other way to obtain the full satisfaction of thy soul, and to complete its happiness; till the hand of death do thee the kind office to draw aside the curtain of the flesh, thy soul cannot see God: This animal life stands betwixt him and thee, 2 Corinthians 5:6, Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. Thy body must be refined and cast into a new mould, else that new wine of heavenly glory would break it. Paul, in his highest rapture, 2 Corinthians 12:4, when he heard things unutterable, was then but as a stander-by, a looker-on, not admitted into the company as one of them; but as the angels are in our assemblies, so was Paul in that glorious assembly above, and no otherwise; and yet even for this he must, as it were, be taken out of the body, unclothed for a little time, to have a glimpse of that glory, and then put on his clothes again! O then! who would not be willing to die for a full sight and enjoyment of God? Methinks thy soul should look and sigh, like a prisoner, through the grates of this mortality; O that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away and be at rest: most men need patience to die; but a saint that understands what death admits him to, should rather need patience to live; methinks he should often look out, and listen on a death-bed for his Lord’s coming; and when he receives the news of his approaching change, should say, The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping over the mountains, skipping over the hills, Songs 2:8.

Argument 3. Another argument, persuading to this willingness, is the immediate succession of a more excellent and glorious life.

It is but wink, and you shall see God: your happiness shall not be deferred till the resurrection; but as soon as the body is dead, the gracious soul is swallowed up in life, Romans 8:10-11. When once you have loosed from this shore, in a few moments your souls will be wafted over upon wings of angels to the other shore of a glorious eternity, Philippians 1:23. I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ. Did the soul and body die together, as Berilius taught; or did they sleep till the resurrection, as others have groundlessly fancied; it had been a madness for Paul to desire a dissolution for the enjoyment of Christ, for if this were so, he enjoyed of Christ whilst his soul dwelt in its fleshly tabernacle, than he should out of it.

There are but two ways of the soul’s living known in scripture, viz. the life of faith, and the life of vision, 1 Corinthians 5:5. Those two divide all time, both present and future, betwixt them, 1 Corinthians 13:12. If when faith fails, sight should not immediately succeed, what should become of the unbodied soul? But, blessed be God, this great heart-establishing truth is evidently revealed in Scripture, Luke 23:43. You have Christ’s promise, John 14:3, I will come and receive you to myself. O what a change will a few moments make upon your condition? Rouse up, dying saint; when thy soul is come out a little farther; when it shall stand like Abraham at its tent door, the angels of God shall soon be with it: the souls of the elect are, as it were, put out to the angels to nurse, and when they die, these angels carry them home again to their father’s house: if an angel were caused to fly swiftly to bring a saint the answer of his prayer, Daniel 9:22, how much more will the angels come post from heaven to receive and transfer the praying soul itself?

Argument 4. Farther, It may much conduce to thy willingness to die, to consider, that by death, God oftentimes hides his people out of the way of all temptations and troubles upon earth, Revelation 14:13, Write, from henceforth, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. It is God’s usual way, when some extraordinary calamities are coming upon the world, to set his people out of harm’s way before-hand, Isaiah 57:1-2. Merciful men are taken away from the evil to come. See, Micah 7:1-2; when such an evil time comes as is there described, that they all lie in wait for blood, and every man hunts his brother in a net; God by an act of favour houses his people before-hand. Dost thou know what evil may be in the earth which thou art so loth to leave? Thy God removes thee from thy great advantage; thou art disbanded by death, and called off the field; other poor saints must stand to it, and endure a great fight of afflictions.

It is observed, that Methuselah died the very year before the flood; Augustine, a little before the sacking of Hippo; Pareus, just before the taking of Heidelburgh: Luther observes that all the apostles died before the destruction of Jerusalem: and Luther himself before the wars broke out in Germany. It may be the Lord sees thy tender heart cannot endure to see the misery, or bear the temptations that are coming, and therefore will now gather thee to thy grave in peace; and yet wilt thou cry, O spare me a little longer?

Argument 5. If yet thy heart hang back, consider the great advantage you will have by death, above all that ever you enjoyed on earth; and that, 1. As to your communion with God: 2. As to your communion with saints.

1. For your communion with God: the time of perfecting that is now come: thy soul shall shortly stand before the face of God, and have the immediate emanations and beamings forth of his glory upon it; here thy soul is remote from God, the beams of his glory strike it but obliquely and feebly, but shortly it will be under the line, and there the sun shall stand still, as it did in Gibeon; there shall be no cloudings nor declinings of it: O how should this fill thy soul with desires of being unclothed!

2. As for the enjoyment of saints, here indeed we have fellowship with them of the lower form; but that fellowship is so dissweetened by remaining corruptions, that there is no satisfaction in it: as it is the greatest plague that can befall an hypocrite, to live in a pure church; so it is the greatest vexation to the spirit of a saint, to live in a corrupt and disordered church; but when death hath admitted you into that glorious assembly of the spirits of just men made perfect, you shall have the desire of your hearts: here you cannot fully close one with your own souls. O what discords, jarrings, censurings are here? What perfect blessed harmony there! In heaven each saint loves another as himself, they are altogether lovely. O my soul haste thee away from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of Bether, from divided saints, to those mountains of myrrh, and hills of frankincense: thou art now going to thine own people, as the apostle’s phrase imports, 2 Corinthians 5:8.

Argument 6. If this will not do, consider what heavy burdens death will ease thy shoulders of.

In this tabernacle we groan, being burthened. 1. With bodily distempers; how true do we find that of Theophrastus, the soul pays a dear rent for the tenement it now lives in? But glorified bodies are clogged with no indispositions; death is the best physician; it will cure thee of all diseases at once. 2. With the indwelling of sin; this makes us groan from the very bowels, Romans 7:24. But he that is dead, is free from sin, Romans 6:7. Hath justification destroyed its damning power, and sanctification its reigning power? So glorification destroys its very being and existence. 3. We groan under temptations here, but as soon as we are out of the body, we are out of the reach of temptation: when once thou art got into heaven, thou mayest say, now Satan, I am there where thou canst not come; for as the damned in hell are malo obsormati, so fixed in sin and misery that their condition cannot be altered; so glorified saints are bono confirmati, so fixed in holiness and glory, that they cannot be shaken. 4. Here we groan under various troubles and afflictions, but then the days of our mourning are ended. God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes: O then let us haste away, that we may be at rest.

Argument 7. If still thou linger like Lot in Sodom, then, lastly, examine all pleas and pretences for a longer time on earth, why art thou unwilling to die?

Objection 1. O I have many relations in the world, I know not what will become of them when I am gone.

Solution. If thou art troubled about their bodies, and outward condition, why should not that word satisfy thee, Jeremiah 49:11. Leave thy fatherless children to me, I will keep them alive, and let thy widows trust in me? Luther in his last will and testament hath this expression, “Lord, thou hast given me wife and children, I have nothing to leave them, but I commit them unto thee. O Father of the fatherless and judge of widows, Nutri, serva, doce; nourish, keep, and teach them.” Or art thou troubled for their souls? Thou canst not convert them, if thou shouldst live; and God can make thy prayers and counsels to live, and take place upon them when thou art dead.

Objection 2. I would fain live, to do God more service in the world.

Solution. Well, but if he have no more service for thee to do here, why shouldst thou not say with David, If he have no delight to use me any further, here am I, let him do what seemeth him good. In this world thou hast no more to do, but he is calling thee to an higher service and employment in heaven; and what thou wouldst do for him here, he can do that by other hands.

Objection 3. I am not yet fully ready, I am not as a bride completely adorned for the bridegroom.

Solution. Thy justification is complete already, though thy sanctification be not so; and the way to make it so, is to die: for till then, it will have its defects and wants.

Objection 4. O but I want assurance: if I had that, I could die presently.

Solution. Yea, there it sticks indeed; but then consider, that an hearty willingness to leave all the world to be freed from sin, and be with God, is the next way to that desired assurance; no carnal person was ever willing to die upon this ground.

And thus I have finished those cases which so nearly concern the people of God, in the several conditions of their life, and taught them how to keep their hearts in all. I shall next apply the whole.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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