What is happiness that will expire, but misery at a distance?
(Eugene Delacroix, Lion Rending Apart a Corpse)
The two estates of this and the other world are measured by time and by eternity as their just and proper measures, there being nothing in this world which is not as transient as time, nor in the other which is not as fixed and lasting as eternity. How inexpressibly then must be the good and evil, the happiness in the misery of those two estates differ from each other? [How different must good and evil, happiness and misery be in those two worlds].
What is the duration of all earthly greatness in respect of the stability heavenly glory, but as a flash of lightning to a standing sun in the firmament; or is a spark ascending from the furnace to a never setting star? What are the most fiery trials of this life, either for intention [intensity] or length, onto the everlasting burnings and torchings of hell; but as the soft and gentle heat of a blushing face, onto the constant flames and torments of the bowels?
What are racks, stone, colic, strangury [a slow painful discharge of urine], convulsions, heaped together in an extreme horror, but as the simple grudgings of an ague to the desperate rage and anguish which the least bite of that worm that dies not [Mark 9:48] creates in the lowest faculty of the soul?
There are additions to things which are limited and diminuent [lessening] terms of that to which they are annexed and contain in them (as logicians speak) oppositum in oppsito one opposition in another. He that says, a dead man or a painted lion, by saying more, says less than if he had said but a man, or a lion only, without any such additions; it is all one in effect as if he had said no man, no lion. For a dead man is not a man, neither is a painted lion a lion. Such are the additions of time, which [when] put to good or evil, express less then if nothing had been added.
He that says, happiness for a season, or sorrow for a time, says less than if he instead happiness or sorrow only: for perfect happiness or sorrow cannot be circumscribed in the narrow limits of time, no more than immensity in the points of a space. What is happiness that will expire, but misery at a distance? Or what is sorrow that endures only for a time, but an evil supported by hope? But add eternity to good or evil, it makes the good to be infinitely better and and the evil to be infinitely worse.
Can I then do less than wonder that men, who carry eternal souls in their bosoms, such as are kin to Seraphim’s, yea, advanced to the participation of the divine nature, that are the immediate subjects of endless well or bless, should yet so live, Ac fi esset omnis eternitatas, as if Eternity were a fable; as if they had neither God to serve nor souls to save? May I not say, Be astonished O heavens at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate as the Lord himself did at Israel’s folly?
What greater stupidity can there be, than this which most are guilty of, to busy themselves, like Martha, about perishing trifles, and to neglect the one thing which is necessary? To be thoughtful of things below, and seldom think of Heaven, till death summon them to leave Earth? To make salvation the by-work [incidental, unimportant task] of their lives, and fulfilling of the appetites of the flesh their chiefest task and care?
Were it not a strange thing if a man, who is to be judged on the morrow, and to receive the sentence either of a cruel death or of a rich and honorable estate, could not keep in mind the concernments of the next approaching day, without tying some scarlet thread up on his finger as a significant ceremony to remember him? Or the writing of some caveats up on the posts of the prison, which might hint on to him what danger his life is in?
Is it not more strange that the weighty matters of eternal life or eternal death should not by their own greatness press the heart of man unto a constant remembrance of them, especially when he knows not what a day may bring forth?
Can a miscarriage of such a person be other than dreadful, when their follies as well as their pains show makes them to gnash their teeth and to curse themselves for the neglect of that great salvation which has been often tendered them in the Gospel? When they shall feel everlastingly what they could never be persuaded for to fear? When they shall be convinced that at a far cheaper rate they might have been Saints in Heaven rather than salamanders in hell?
Oh that I could therefore awaken and excite all those whom the present enjoyments of the world serve as opium to cast them into a deep sleep and will happily be angry with those that seek to raise them out of it, though they keep them from perishing in it.
How can I do better then in St. Chyrsostom’s expressions to this purpose: suppose a man, says he, much desirous of sleep and in his perfect mind, had an offer made of one night sweet rest up on the condition to be punished 100 years for it, would he accept of his sleep up on such terms?
Now, do they (who would be loath to be reputed fools) do far worse, that for the short fruition of a transient delights, hazard a double eternity, the loss of an eternity of blessedness and the sustaining of an eternity of miseries? For what other proportion can all earthly things bear to heavenly, in respect of the duration, and a few beatings of the pulse or twinklings of the eye onto myriads of ages?
Be then timely wise ye wordings in a frequent consideration of your eternal being, that you may not pass away your life and a dream of happiness and awake in the horror of a begun eternity in misery. Say onto yourself, are we not in the world the child conceived is in the womb, not to abide there but to come out in a due time to a more full and free life?
Why then do we fondly think of building tabernacles here? Why do we so please ourselves in our present condition, as to be wholly regardless of our future? Is not death such a combat as we never entering to but once, and therein are either saved or slain eternally?
Do we think that our glory shall ascend after us and screen us from God’s fiery indignation? Will our riches purchase heaven or bribe hell? Will the first born of our body be accepted for this sin of our soul? What is it that makes our cares and fears so preposterous, are we anxious for tomorrow and thoughtless of eternity? We fear the grave and mock at hell, we dread the lightning, and slight the thunderbolt.
O methinks such pungent interrogations should startle the most secure if they would but put conscience up on an answer and not, like Pilate, only asked the question and then go their way. It is men’s living by sense that is the stone of stumbling upon which they ruin themselves: some surfeit and overcharge themselves with sensual delights, as that their intellectuals are wholly lost to all acts of reason; others who have jealousies concerning their future estates, are more willing to venture what the issue will be, then undergo an impartial trial; they fear more what sentence conscience will pass, and the condemnation that God will inflict.
Few there be that put time and eternity in the balance, and weigh them one against the other, or consider that life, is a vapor, a wind, a span, at most, which the further it is stretched, the more painful it is. And that eternity is a bottomless gulf which no line can fathom, no time can reach, no tongue can express. It is a duration always present, a being always in being, an everlasting now; it swallows up all revolution of ages, as Pharaoh’s lean kine did you eat up the fat, which when they had eaten them up, you could not be known that they had eaten them, but were still as at the beginning.
What strange thing can we imagine that in its duration would not be affected? A tear let fall from the damned once in 10,000 years would fill the earth with far more water than it was covered with in the Deluge. A dust taken from the mountains, and even parts of the world, were in that like intervals level of the universe [the slow accumulation of dust throughout the entire world would eventually fill in every canyon and ocean], and turn into a plain, and yet there would be still an eternity behind.
Never, never, is the killing word that breaks the heart of all these hopeless prisoners that library in the flames of hell. Suppositions and possibilities which I tremble to think of, if they might be but turned into promises on to them of the termination of their anguish and torment, O how would their hearts revive within them and how thankful he would they acknowledge God’s goodness onto them.
Oh glorious Lord, who art the Ancient of Days,
the Rock of Ages,
the Father of Eternity,
teach me to number my days that I may apply my heart unto true wisdom,
that I may walk in the way of life which is above to the wise,
and depart from hell beneath.