The Practice of Piety—a Puritan devotional manual, directing a Christian how to live, that he may please God

by Lewis Bayly (1611)

Meditations for one who is likely to die

If your sickness be like to increase unto death, then meditate on three things:

First, How graciously God deals with you.

Secondly, From what evils death will free you.

Thirdly, What good death will bring unto you.

The first sort of Meditations are, to consider God's favorable dealing with you.

1. Meditate that God uses this chastisement of your body but as a medicine to cure your soul, by drawing you, who are sick in sin, to come by repentance unto Christ, your physician, to have your soul healed (Matt 9:12.)

2. That the sorest sickness or most painful disease which you can endure, is nothing, if it is compared to those dolours and pains which Jesus Christ your Savior has suffered for you, when in a bloody sweat he endured the wrath of God (Psalm 88:7; Isa 53:6), the pains of hell (Psalm 18:5), and a cursed death which was due to your sins (Heb 5:7; Gal 3:13; Lam 1:12.) Justly, therefore, may he use those words of Jeremiah, "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, with which the Lord has afflicted me in the day of his fierce wrath." Has the Son of God endured so much for your redemption, and will not you, a sinful man, endure a little sickness for his pleasure, especially when it is for your good?

3. That when your sickness and disease is at the extreme, yet it is less and easier than your sins have deserved. Let your own conscience judge whether you have not deserved worse than all that you do suffer. Murmur not, therefore, but considering your manifold and grievous sins; thank God that you are not plagued with far more grievous punishments. Think how willingly the damned in hell would endure your extreme pains for a thousand years, on condition that they had but the hope to be saved, and, after so many years, to be eased of their eternal torments. And seeing that it is his mercy that you are corrected, rather than consumed (Lam 3:22), how can you but bear patiently his temporal correction, seeing the end is to save you from eternal condemnation? (1 Cor 11:32.)

4. That nothing comes to pass in this case unto you but such as ordinarily befell others your brethren; who, being the beloved and undoubted servants of God when they lived on earth (Heb 11), are now most blessed and glorious saints with Christ in heaven, as Job, David, Lazarus, etc. (1 Pet 5:9.) They groaned for a time, as you do, under the like burden; but they are now delivered from all their miseries, troubles, and calamities. And so likewise before long, if you will patiently tarry the Lord's leisure, you shall also be delivered from your sickness and pain; either by restitution to your former health with Job; or, which is far better, by being received to heavenly rest with Lazarus.

5. Lastly, That God has not given you over into the hand of your enemy to be punished and disgraced; but, being your loving Father, he corrects you with his own merciful hand. When David had his wish to choose his own chastisement, he chose rather to be corrected by the hand of God than by any other means: "Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man." (2 Sam 24:14.) Who will not take any affliction in good part when it comes from the hand of God, from whom, though no affliction seems joyous for the present, we know nothing comes but what is good? (Heb 12:11.) The consideration of which made David endure Shimei's cursed railing with greater patience; and to correct himself another time for his impatience (2 Sam 16:9), "I should not have opened my mouth, because God is the one who has done this." (Psalm 39:9;) and Job, to reprove the unadvised speech of his wife, "You speak like a foolish woman. What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?" (Job 2:10.) And though the cup of God's wrath due to our sins, was such a horror to our Savior's human nature that he earnestly prayed that it might pass from him, yet, when he considered that it was reached unto him by the hand and will of his Father, he willingly submitted himself to drink it to the very dregs (Matt 26:39,42.) Nothing will more arm you with patience in your sickness, than to see that it comes from the hand of your heavenly Father, who would never send it but that he sees it to be to you both needful and profitable.

The second sort of Meditations are, to consider from what evils Death will free you.

1. It frees you from a corruptible body, which was conceived in the weakness of flesh; and the stain of sin—a living prison of your soul, a lively instrument of sin. Insomuch, that whereas trees and plants bring forth leaves, flowers, fruits, and sweet fragrances, man's body naturally brings forth nothing but corruption. His affections are altogether corrupted (Psalm 14:1;) and the imaginations of his heart are only evil continually (Gen 6:5.) Hence it is that the ungodly is not satisfied with profaneness, nor the voluptuous with pleasures, nor the ambitious with advancements, nor the malicious with revenge, nor the lewd with uncleanness, nor the covetous with gain, nor the drunkard with drinking. New passions and fashions grow daily; new fears and afflictions still arise: here wrath lies in wait, there vainglory vexes; here pride lifts up, there disgrace casts down; and everyone waits what shall arise on the ruin of another. Now a man is privily stung with backbiters, like fiery serpents; anon he is in danger to be openly devoured by his enemies, like Daniel's lions. And a godly man, wherever he lives, shall ever be vexed, like Lot, with Sodom's uncleanness.

2. Death brings to the godly an end of sinning (Rom 6:7), and of all the miseries which are due to sin; so that after death, "there shall be no more sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain; for God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Rev 21:4.) Yes, by death we are separated from the company of wicked men; and God "takes away merciful and righteous men from the evil to come." (Isa 57:1.) So he dealt with Josiah: "I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be put into your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring unto this place." (2 Kings 22:20.) And God "hides them for a while in the grave, until the indignation passes over." (Isa 26:20.) So that as paradise is the haven of the soul's joy, so the grave may be termed the haven of the body's rest.

3. Whereas this wicked body lives in a world of wickedness, so that the poor soul cannot look out at the eye, and not be infected; nor hear by the ear, and not be distracted; nor smell at the nostrils, and not be tainted; nor taste with the tongue, and not be allured; nor touch by the hand, and not be defiled; and every sense, upon every temptation, is ready to betray the soul: By death the soul shall be delivered from this thraldom; and this "corruptible body shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality." (1 Cor 15:53.) O blessed, thrice blessed be that death in the Lord, which delivers us out of so evil a world, and frees us from such a body of bondage and corruption!

The third sort of Meditations are, to consider what good Death will bring unto you.

1. Death brings the godly man's soul to enjoy an immediate communion with the blessed Trinity, in everlasting bliss and glory.

2. It translates the soul from the miseries of this world, the contagion of sin, and society of sinners--to the "city of the living God, the celestial Jerusalem, and the company of innumerable angels, and to the assembly and congregation of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the souls of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant." (Heb 12:22-24.)

3. Death puts the soul into the actual and full possession of all the inheritance and happiness which Christ has either promised to you in his word, or purchased for you by his blood.

This is the good and happiness to which a blessed death will bring you. And what truly pious Christian who is young, would not wish himself old, that his appointed time might the sooner approach, to enter into this celestial paradise? where you may exchange your brass for gold, your vanity for felicity, your vileness for honor, your bondage for freedom, your lease for an inheritance, and your mortal state for an immortal life. He who does not daily desire this blessedness above all things, of all others he is less worthy to enjoy it.

If Cato Uticensis, and Cleombrotus, two heathen men, reading Plato's book of the immortality of the soul, did voluntarily, the one break his neck, the other run upon his sword, that they might the sooner, as they thought, have enjoyed those joys; what a shame it is for Christians, knowing those things in a more excellent measure and manner out of God's own book, not to be willing to enter into these heavenly joys, especially when their Master calls for them there? (Matt 25:21.) If, therefore, there is in you any love of God, or desire of your own happiness or salvation, when the time of your departing draws near—that time, I say, and manner of death, which God in his unchangeable counsel has appointed and determined before you were born—yield and surrender up willingly and cheerfully your soul into the merciful hands of Jesus Christ your Savior.