by William Bates
The Four Last Things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell: Practically Considered and Applied
OF all affairs for the compassing whereof men are so diligent and solicitous, there is none of that absolute necessity, and high importance, as the preparation for death and judgment, and the immediate consequence of them, heaven and hell, to obtain the one, and escape the other. This requires the whole man in his best vigour, and should be the work of the day, but it is usually delayed till the melancholy evening of age, or the twilight of death. The trifles of this world divert them from that main business, to which all other things should be subordinate. It equally deserves wonder and compassion, that death which is so constantly in men's view, should be so seldom the matter of their application, when all are of the same glass, made of the same frail natural principles; and no argument is more frequently and pathetically urged upon them.
It is not strange that deep truths, which by the strength and exercise of the mind are drawn like gold out of the mines, have no efficacy upon those that are not capable of understanding them: but the doctrines of death and judgment, heaven and hell, are plain truths, by natural, moral, and divine evidence known to all; yet no more affect men, than a paradox of incredible novelty. If the doctrine of eternal judgment were but a probable opinion, controverted with equal arguments, yet it is a matter of such vast concernment, that reason requires all our possible diligence to avoid an eternal evil, that may be the loss of celestial glory, and the torments of hell: but since it is an infallible truth, as certain as the word of God, it is a miracle to astonish heaven and earth, that men live as carelessly as if they should never die, and die as securely as if they should not live in the next state, to receive the just punishment of their sins. They are fearless whilst death is far off in their thoughts: and when age has snowed upon their heads, that no marks of decaying nature should appear, make their own winter to flourish with another's spring. But it is in vain, far death knows them under their disguise, and will not stay beyond the appointed time. And in that decisive hour, infidelity or presumption hardens men to pass as quietly and boldly, in appearance, into another world, as unfeigned faith, and a regular lively hope in the promises of the gospel. But as deceitful physic stops the fit for the present, that will return more violently and fatally afterwards: so a counterfeit short peace transmits them to everlasting sorrows.
The design of the following discourse is to awaken men, that they may be wise and consider their latter end: to secure an interest in our Redeemer, who has disarmed death of its sting, and made that enemy our friend: and to practise dying every day, by withdrawing their hearts from the vanities of this transient world that have such a pernicious influence to excite the carnal appetites, and stupify the conscience, which are the true causes of their sin and misery. And what can be more powerful to render them temperate and sober in the use of present things, vigilant and serious in their preparations for their great and final change, than the remembrance that death is immediately attended with judgment, and judgment with blessedness or misery for ever? I know this argument is naturally displeasing, but the usefulness should recommend it to our most solemn and composed thoughts before all the vain entertainments of the fancy and sensual affections. As herbs of medicinal virtue, that are not pleasing to the sight or smell, yet are valued by the skilful as treasures of health; and preferred before the fairest flowers that are perfumed and painted by nature, so as to excel the richest lustre of Solomon's glory.
The body is in a continual consumption, and no art can long preserve it: but whilst the outward man is irrecoverably declining and wasting, if the inward man be ascending and renewing to perfection, the advantage is incomparable. O how comfortable is it to a holy believer in the parting hour to commit his spirit into the hands of his heavenly Father! (for thus he is authorized and encouraged by our Saviour's example) and "lay down the flesh to rest in hope:" for Christ is the guardian of the grave, "has the keys of death", and will revive the, bodies of his saints incorruptible and immortal, the copies of his own glorious body.
The immediate recompences of eternal judgment, heaven and hell, are worthy of our most attentive and applicative thoughts, that we obtain the one, and escape the other. Heaven is the true happiness of the reasonable creature, and is the first and last in the order of things desirable; the first for its attractive excellence, the last in its consummate fruition. This may be certainly and perpetually enjoyed by all who sincerely and diligently seek it. If in the very different states of life here, there were any incapable of eternal life, or that have another object for their last end, there might be some reason why they should be coldly affected towards celestial happiness, and to justify their sole pretensions to the things of time, wherein their interests are confined: but the offer of heaven regards all that upon God's terms will accept of it. The most sensible inequality, that riches, dignity, or any temporal accident makes between men here, is so true a nothing in comparison of eternal glory, that it makes no difference of one from another as to the obtaining it. For this reason it most nearly concerns every person, "first to seek the kingdom of heaven, and the righteousness thereof," as the only way to ascend to it.
The serious consideration of the everlasting hell prepared for unreformed sinners, is most necessary and useful, though carnal men are extremely averse from thinking on that terrible object. For this is the first motive that turns men from sin to holiness. The joys of heaven being spiritual and divine, have no attractive influence upon the carnal affections, would never convert and reform any; but the torment of fire being most evident and vehement to sense, is strongly represented by the imagination, and moves the affections. How many by solemn and believing thoughts of the unquenchable fire, have felt the miracle upon the three children in the furnace renewed in themselves, their strong cords, the obstinate habits of sin, burnt asunder, and their powers restored to the freedom of duty, the blessed liberty of obedience? In this respect the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," that directs us in the way to blessedness.
Madam, I shall not attempt the celebrating your Ladyship's virtues, that render you a bright ornament of your sex, and more truly honourable than your noble descent and alliance: but direct my best desires to God, that your family may be a singular and eminent example of the divine favour; that the fading gloss of this world may not deceive you, but "your heart may be above, where your treasure is;" that you may live to God, and your soul for heaven and eternity. I am,
Your Honour's very humble
and faithful Servant,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Dedication to Lady Russel
I. Proofs of Christ's deity. How the devil is said to have the power of death. An account of death's entrance into the world
II. What the fear of death includes. The passion of fear in general. The special causes that make death so fearful. The bondage of men from the fear of death. Reasons why men do not always feel this fear
III. How the death of Christ frees us from the tormenting, fear of death. It redeems us from the curse, makes death a blessed advantage, frees the saints from afflictions, and obtains for them the highest positive good
IV. Why believers are subject to death since the sting of it is taken away. They die that sinful frailties may be abolished, that their graces may be exercised, and because the natural body is incapable of a celestial divine life. Their resurrection is delayed till the coming of Christ. Proofs of the certainty of their resurrection
V. The qualifications of those who have a right to this privilege. Union with Christ is absolutely requisite. The Spirit is the bond of this union. He illuminates the understanding, inspires love to God, and communicates power to do the divine will
VI. Application of the subject. How great are our obligations to the Redeemer. It should be our great business to overcome the fear of death. Necessity of reconciliation with God. The danger of delaying repentance
VII. Application continued. The desperate hazard of trusting to sick-bed and death-bed repentances. Such instances very few, and extremely uncertain
VIII. Application concluded. Rules how death may be rendered comfortable. The duties of dying saints
ON ETERNAL JUDGMENT
I. The coherence of the text. Divine prerogative to judge the world. Qualifications of Christ for that office. Why the day of Judgment is called the great day
II. The equity of the divine law which will be the rule of judgment
III. The wisdom and justice of God in ordaining eternal death to be the punishment of sin
IV. The evidence of facts produced as the reason of judgment. The books will be opened, divine omniscience will give evidence, conscience will bear testimony, and numerous witnesses will appear. The impartiality of the sentence
V. Application of the subject. The certainty of a future judgment. It is a vindication of the proceedings of providence, a comfort to the saints under persecution, a restraint from secret sins, a remedy for sensual temptations, and a motive of terror to the wicked
VI. Application concluded. Preparatives for the last judgment. Faith in Christ. Sincere obedience. Self-examination. Improvement of talents. Zeal for the cause of Christ. Love to the saints
I. The divine presence is the felicity of the saints. The glory of the place described. The happiness of heaven illustrated by sensible representations
II. In heaven there is an exemption from all evils, and the enjoyment of all blessings
III. The vision of God in heaven. His works and word, his decrees and counsels will be revealed to the blessed
IV. Effects of the vision of God. A glorious likeness. Humble veneration of His excellencies. Ardent love to Him
V. Union with God and its effects. Perfect knowledge. Pure love. Supreme joy
VI. Communion with saints and angels. The felicity of heaven is everlasting
VII. The felicity of heaven is not diminished by number of its possessor. If continues for ever. The application. The woful folly of sinners in refusing this happiness. It originates in the mercy of God, and is obtained obedience of Christ
VIII. The qualifications of those who shall obtain heaven. The nature and necessity of regeneration, and sanctification
IX. The necessity of faith in Christ. We must choose heaven as our supreme happiness. This choice must be sincere
X. Our choice of heaven must be lasting. The properties of saving perseverance
XI. Directions how to fix our choice aright upon the felicity of heaven
XII. On the steadfast belief, and serious consideration of eternal realities
XIII. Objects which give vigour to the serious consideration of the soul, and determine it to choose heaven
XIV. Additional motives to encourage us to seek the kingdom of heaven
I. Exposition of the text. The dreadful nature of future punishment
II. The eternal duration of future punishment
III. Practical inferences. The mercy of God in salvation. The depravity of sinners. The wages of sin. Our infinite obligations to Jesus Christ