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Courting Temptation. We read a story of a virtuous lady that desired of St Athanasius to procure for her, out of the number of the widows fed from the ecclesiastical corban, an old woman, morose, peevish, and impatient, that she might, by the society of so ungentle a person, have often occasion to exercise her patience, her forgiveness, and charity. I know not how well the counsel succeeded with her; I am sure it was not very safe : and to invite the trouble, to triumph over it, is to wage a war of an uncertain issue, for no end but to get the pleasures of the victory, which oftentimes do not pay for the trouble, never for the danger.
The Life of Man.-As when the sun, approaching towards the gates of the morning, he first opens a little eye of heaven, and sends away the spirits of darkness, and gives light to a cock, and calls up the lark to matins, and by and by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and peeps over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns, like those which decked the brows of Moses when he was forced to wear a veil, because himself had seen the face of God; and still while a man tells the story, the sun gets up higher, till he shews a fair face and a full light, and then he shines one whole day, under a cloud often, and sometimes weeping great and little showers, and sets quickly: so is a man's reason and his life. He first begins to perceive himself to see or taste, making little reflections upon his actions of sense, and can discourse of flies and dogs, shells and play, horses and liberty : but when he is strong enough to enter into arts and little institutions, he is at first entertained with trifles and impertinent things, not because he needs them, but because his understanding is no bigger, and little images of things are laid before him, like a cockboat to a whale, only to play withal : but before a man comes to be wise, he is half dead with gouts and consumption, with catarrhs and aches, with sore eyes and a worn-out body. So that if we must not
THE DROWNED SHIP-MASTER.
reckon the life of a man but by the accounts of his reason, he is long before his soul be dressed : and he is not to be called a man without a wise and an adorned soul, a soul at least furnished with what is necessary towards his well-being: but by that time his soul is thus furnished, his body is decayed ; and then you can hardly reckon him to be alive, when his body is possessed by so many degrees of death.
Death in all Seasons.—Death reigns in all the portions of our time.
The autumn with its fruits provides disorders for us, and the winter's cold turns them into sharp diseases, and the spring brings flowers to strew our hearse, and the summer gives green turf and brambles to bind upon our graves. Calentures and surfeit, cold and agues, are the four quarters of the year, and all minister to death; and you can go no whither but you tread upon a dead man's bones.
The wild fellow in Petronius that escaped upon a broken table from the furies of a shipwreck, as he was sunning himself upon the rocky shore, espied a man rolled upon his floating bed of waves, ballasted with sand in the folds of his garment, and carried by his civil enemy the sea towards the shore to find a grave : and it cast him into some sad thoughts that peradventure this man's wife, in some part of the continent, safe and warm, looks next month for the good man's return; or it may be his son knows nothing of the tempest; or his father thinks of that affectionate kiss which still is warm upon the good old man's cheek ever since he took a kind farewell, and he weeps with joy to think how blessed he shall be when his beloved boy returns into the circle of his father's arms. These are the thoughts of mortals, this the end and sum of all their designs : a dark night and an ill guide, a boisterous sea and a broken cable, a hard rock and a rough wind, dashed in pieces the fortune of a whole family, and they that shall weep loudest for the accident, are not yet entered into the storm, and yet have suffered shipwreck. Then looking upon the carcase he knew it, and found it to be the master of the ship, who the day before cast up the accounts of his patrimony and his trade, and named the day when he thought to be at home. See how the man swims who was so angry two days since ; his passions are becalmed by the storm, his accounts cast up, his cares at an end, his voyage done, and his gains are the strange events of death ; which, whether they be good or evil, the men that are alive seldom trouble themselves concerning the interest of the dead.
The Rose.—But so have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and, at first, it was fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven, as a lamb's fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk; and at night, having lost some of its leaves, and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and out-worn faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman; the heritage of worms and serpents, rottenness and cold dishonour, and our beauty so changed, that our acquaintance quickly know us not; and that change mingled with so much horror, or else meets so with our fears and weak discoursings, that they who, six hours ago, tended upon us either with charitable or ambitious services, cannot, without some regret, stay in the room alone, where the body lies stripped of its life and honour.
Pruning.–For so have I known a luxuriant vine swell into irregular twigs and bold excrescences, and spend itself in leaves and little rings, and afford but trifling clusters to the winepress, and a faint return to his heart which longed to be refreshed with a full vintage ; but when the lord of the vine had caused the
THE FANTASTIC OLD WOMAN.
dressers to cut the wilder plant, and made it bleed, it grew temperate in its vain expense of useless leaves, and knotted into fair and juicy bunches, and made accounts of that loss of blood by the return of fruit. So is an afflicted province cured of its surfeits, and punished for its sins, and bleeds for its long riot, and is left ungoverned for its disobedience, and chastised for its wantonness; and when the sword hath let forth the corrupted blood, and the fire hath purged the rest, then it enters into the double joys of restitution, and gives God thanks for his rod, and confesses the mercies of the Lord in making the smoke to be changed into fire, and the cloud into a perfume, the sword into a staff, and his anger
mercy. The Use of Hope and Fear.–St Lewis, the king, having sent Ivo, bishop of Chartres, on an embassy, the bishop met a woman on the way, sad, fantastic, and melancholic, with fire in one hand, and water in the other. He asked what those symbols meant. She answered, “My purpose is with fire to burn Paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God without the incentives of hope and fear, and purely for the love of God.” But this woman began at the wrong end : the love of God is not produced in us after we have contracted evil habits, till God with his fan in his hand hath thoroughly purged the floor, till he hath cast out all the devils, and swept the house with the instrument of hope and fear, and with the achievements and efficacy of mercies and judgments.
Faith.-Faith is a certain image of eternity; all things are present to it; things past, and things to come, are all so before the
eyes of faith, that he in whose eyes that candle is enkindled, beholds heaven as present, and sees how blessed a thing it is to die in God's favour, and to be chimed to our grave with the music of a good conscience. Faith converses with the angels, and antedates the hymns of glory; every man that
hath this grace is as certain that there are glories for him, if he persevere in duty, as if he had heard and sung the thanksgiving song for the blessed sentence of doomsday.
Love.—Love is the greatest thing that God can give us, for himself is love ; and it is the greatest thing we can give to God, for it will also give ourselves, and carry with it all that is ours. The apostle calls it the band of perfection; it is the old, and it is the new, and it is the great commandment, and it is all the commandments, for it is the fulfilling of the law. It does the work of all other graces, without any instrument but its own immediate virtue.
Power of Prayer.—Prayer can obtain everything : it can open the windows of heaven, and shut the gates of hell; it can put a constraint upon God, and detain an angel till he leave a blessing; it can open the treasures of rain, and soften the iron ribs of rocks, till they melt into tears and a flowing river : prayer can unclasp the girdles of the north, saying to a mountain of ice, Be thou removed hence, and cast into the bottom of the sea ; it can arrest the sun in the midst of his course, and send the swift-winged winds upon our errand ; and all those strange things, and secret decrees, and unrevealed transactions which are above the clouds and far beyond the regions of the stars, shall combine in ministry and advantages for the praying man.
A Prayer.—Let no riches make me ever forget myself, no poverty ever make me to forget Thee. Let no hope or fear, no pleasure or pain, no accident without, no weakness within, hinder or discompose my duty, or turn me from the ways of Thy commandments. Olet Thy Spirit dwell with me
and make my soul just and charitable, full of honesty, full of religion, resolute and constant in holy purposes, but inflexible in evil. Make me humble and obedient, peaceable and pious ; let me never envy any man's good, nor deserve