A Word to the Reader

By Matthew Mead, 1665

To you, reader, let me take myself. What have the workings of your soul been, while you have been reading these lines? And what influence have they had on you? What, has not your conscience struck you, spoken the truth, and told you plainly that you have been a troubler of the land, and have helped to bring the plague on us? In the sight of God, I demand of you: have you not been guilty of some of the sins described in this book—covetousness or pride, luxury or oppression, or the like?

And what now? Do you condemn yourself for your folly? Will you make all speed to get peace confirmed between God and your soul—and a separation made between your soul and sin? Or on the other hand, are you in a rage that your sin has been too plainly displayed, and you are too much disgraced? Are you bothered at your darling sin which you are resolved to keep—though you have Hell with it? Are you not framing excuses, and saying: I cannot believe that such and such things which I have a mind to, are heinous matters, and so displeasing to God. Or else are you remiss and stupid, never thinking this or that, only tossing over this book, and passing this censure on it, and throwing it down without any more regard? Truly this is what I most fear; for this is the general prevailing temper. O, therefore that I could but rouse you to an apprehension of yourself, and your own soul's estate before God!

Reader, surely you are one that would not willingly be damned. Will you then hearken to a most reasonable request I shall make to you, before I conclude? You have now been reading these pages awhile, which have been as a bill of indictment against our land, and have deciphered what our special, crying sins are. Will you now, when you shut the book, get alone, and spend but as much time in reading your own heart and life, and search and see whether none of these sins are yours? It may be that soul examination is a work which you never did in your life as of yet—but will you now bring your heart to it? It is in vain to ask you whether you will forsake your sin—if you will not set on examining yourself to find it out.

What will you say then before God, to my earnest request? What, shall I be denied? Is it a great matter I ask of you, to withdraw yourself from the noise and bustle of the world, and of your own vain thoughts, and to make a diligent search into the state of your own soul—that being sensible of your sin and danger, you may yet get help? Will it do you so much good—or tell me plainly whether you had rather be damned? For I will assure you, your damnation is never likely to be prevented without serious consideration—and that is what I beg you to do.

Which will you choose? To set on your duty—or to venture on eternal Hell? Surely your mind must answer one way or other. Reader, be awakened, do not take these for passing words. I speak this from God to you. It is God who looks on you; he knows the thoughts and intentions of your heart, on your reading these demands. And whatever course you take, whether you will examine yourself, and forsake your sins, or not—yet you cannot say but God has given you fair warning. He now stands over you with his rod in his hand, and asks you whether yet you will seek and serve him?

If your self-examinations shall have made way at all for such a demand, I would like to know in the next place: whether you will strive to put away sin, every sin from you—or will you not? Are you yet willing to be reconciled to God? Let it be known to you, O sinner, whoever you are—that there is yet hope from the Lord your Maker and Redeemer.

What would the damned give for such a word? If you will but impartially consider your ways, and bewail your sin, and loath it, and turn from it, and from the world—to the Lord your God, with all your heart, resting on his mercy in and through his Son, setting on a course of serious holiness, and continuing in it to the end; doing this, be assured that your soul shall live. Something of this I spoke at the beginning, and cannot say more on it now. Here is enough to inform you (if you did not know it) what your duty is. But are you willing to perform it? One would think you would soon be resolved as to what to do.

The question is whether you will do your utmost to change your heart and life, that you may be saved? Or whether you will go in sin, and be damned? I have told you on what terms you may yet escape your ruin.

You know that this must be done. It must be done speedily—or perhaps never at all. If you delay one hour—you may be in Hell the next! God has born with you long, now he is making shorter work; he will not always wait for you. He demands your heart quickly. He will have this—or your heart's blood.

Away with your sin then with all possible speed; if you retain it, it will be your damnation. A cry has gone out from Heaven against it, and the man in whose hands it is found, shall surely die. Then cast it away, if you love your life, your everlasting life.

But what are you? Are you one of those senseless, brutish, blockish souls, that a man had almost as good spend his breath talking to a stone wall, as talk to you! Are you not moved with all you read or hear, or do you forget as soon as the noise is out of your ears? Do you now lay aside the bible, and go about your accustomed business, as if you had not been reading for life or death? Do you think that the bible is a mere story which in no way concerns you? Will you now rise up, and go to your worldly cares, your company, or vain discourse—instead of getting alone with God having humble acknowledgments of your sin, and earnest cries for mercy?

If you were infected with the plague, and had been reading what medicines you should use—would you lay aside that book, and never mind it anymore, as if you had done enough to read about your illness, without taking care to apply the remedies? And will you now be guilty of a madness as much greater than this—as sin and Hell are worse than the plague and death? Are you resolved though Christ himself should kneel to you, and implore you (as he does through me) to search your heart, and review your ways—and detest your sins, that he might save you? Would you not grant his desire, nor ever put yourself to so much labor as conversion will cost you?

If you are such a stupid, resolute sinner who will remain in your old ways—then do what you will. Yes, and believe all shall be well enough with you for all that. What can I say to you more? God be judge between you and me; you are destroyed, not because you could have no help, nor because it was not offered to you—but because you willfully refuse it. But, poor creature, my heart even aches for you, and I am hesitant to leave you in this wretched, dull, distracted temper. If death, which is now so busy abroad, should find you—then you are undone forever. O, that yet I could speak something that would make you feel and fear.

Tell me then, you who are now so bold and resolute, so careless: do you not think that you shall die? What will you do then? Think on it, and think again, I implore you. Is it not some great odds that the physical plague may shortly reach you? What course will you then take, when you shall see those tokens of God on you? Which way will you look, or what will you do for help? Then go to the sins you have loved so dearly, and see what comfort they will afford. Now call for a beer, or a whore—never be daunted. Shall one like you quail, who has mocked the threatenings of the Almighty God?

Here's a sudden change indeed! Where are your companions? All fled? Where are your darling pleasures? All forsaken you! What, will your money and bonds, do you no good? Why should you be dejected? Go cheer yourself, review your good purchases, think of your high titles and rich revenues! Go gentlemen—get to your mirror; powder and curl, paint and spot, deck and adorn yourselves, as you were accustomed. What, do you take no pleasure to view your pale faces? Do your hearts sink within you like a stone? Poor creature, what has the world left you? The world you so dearly loved, that Heaven was but a trifle to it! What, have you misplaced your heart on a treacherous friend, which fails you in your greatest need?

Must you now in sadness groan forth your wretched soul into another world? Now, now wretch—what has your sin and carelessness brought you to? Now where is your life of mirth and sport? What will you do now, when your own comforts have left you—and God loathes you, and rolls out your death-bed with howlings and disdain? What, are you going to begin to call on him now? Can you think up a few good words that might serve your turn? Read Jeremiah 2:28, "Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble!" Go get your own gods. See whether they can help and deliver you. Do not say that I would drive you to despair; no, I would gladly prevent it; and so may you, if you will but hear in time. And that time is just now, for death is even at your back, and perhaps will take you up as soon as this book is laid down!

But perhaps you are one who thinks that you are safe, and that none of this belongs to you, because you may be recovered from the sickness, or are able to get out of its reach. Maybe it is so abated, that you do not fear it, therefore you are ready to foolishly cry with Agag, that the bitterness of death is past. O, be convinced of your lamentable depravity, for you may yet be sawn in pieces for all that. Read Amos 9:1-4, "I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people; those who are left I will kill with the sword. Not one will get away, none will escape. Though they dig down to the depths of the grave, from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down. Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from me at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them. Though they are driven into exile by their enemies, there I will command the sword to slay them. I will fix my eyes upon them for evil and not for good."

Tell me whether God will not find you out or not. You have run away from the city perhaps—but not from your sin. You therefore you carry the plague along with you, which sooner or later will break out. But though you escape the plague, are you then secure? If you can but outlive this mortality, do you think all is well then? Is all the danger over? No! Stop there, sinner. God is not done with you. Believe it, the worst is yet to come! Alas, man—death, judgment and Hell are still following behind you. But they are coming quickly, and they will overtake you at last, all of them, if you do not turn to God in time. You may patch and piece up your moldering carcass as long as you can; and shift here and there from this disease or that; but after all, be assured that you shall die. And after death has done its work on you—the judgment will come, and the sentence will be executed.

If yet you are fully bent to keep your sin, let me beg you to think a little of what that Hell is, which you are leaping into. O, think what the wrath, the flaming, unquenchable wrath of God is! Do you make a joke of it? It is because you are an infidel, or have lost your mind. I know that you cannot ponder what Hell is—because you have more pleasant things to take up your thoughts. You don't want to think about death and Hell. Therefore you laugh and sing, and merrily throw away your hours, as if no hurt was near you.

But you are standing and tottering on the very brink of the bottomless pit! And all this while, how many devils whom you do not see, stand gaping to receive you, and some of them are even laboring to make sure you come there! And multitudes of deaths are waiting for a commission—any one of them can thrust you into Hell, and then farewell all hope forever. O, spend but one hour, or half an hour—in the sober thoughts of eternity, and go on in sin if you can.

Good reader, let me entreat you to this course. But if you answer: "I have something else to do!" Then know that you shall shortly have nothing else to do but to feel that which now you will not be brought to think of, that you might avoid it. One moment's experience in Hell shall at length convince you more than all your hearing or reading would.

You count the plague, famine, sword, earthquakes, thunder and lightning—to be terrible things. O, then what is Hell, the very ocean of that fury of which these are but small drops? It is there that God will make the very power of his hottest intolerable wrath to appear! In those rivers of brimstone, those scorching flames of his anger must you lie down forever! O, forever, and ever! Man, think but awhile how long that is!

Might but one damned soul's return to describe this place of torments to their old companions—what a language would we hear! Might but the Rich Man himself have been sent to his jovial brethren, who little thought where their departed brother was, nor what they themselves were hastening to—in what a passionate manner would he have begged them to forsake their sin, which leads to endless woe! How would he have disturbed them in the midst of their merriments and feastings, and even have made their hearts quake, and their hair stand on end—with his terrible account of Hell?

But, reader, if you are one who will be frightened from Hell by no descriptions, but from those that have seen it—then you will never escape that place of endless punishment. What do you say after all this? Are you yet resolved to prepare for death, and prevent damnation—or not? I can say no more.

If you desire this course to escape eternal death—then turn to God in sincere faith, and sound repentance, and a holy life. Such is not cheap and easy, but it is a gainful and happy way to have prevented everlasting misery! May the good Lord have mercy on you, and work these convictions with power on your soul, while they may do you any good.