Upon Going to Bed
How like is the frail life of Man to a day, as well for the inequality of its length, as the mixture that it has both of clouds and sunshine? What a kind of exact parallel are sleep and death: the one being a state of ligation of the senses; and the other, the privation of them? And how near a kin is the grave to the end, when the Scripture calls it by the same name?
When the clothes that do cover us do the like office the mould [of the grave], that must be cast spread over us. When therefore the day and the labors which Man goes forth unto are ended and the darkness of night dispose unto rest; what though can any better take into his bosom to lie down with?
Then to think that death, like the beasts of the forest may creep forth to seek its prey, and that when it comes there is no resistance to be made or delay to be obtained. It spares no rank of men, but flies to the rich as well as the poor, the prince as well as the peasant. The glass that has the king’s face painted on it is not the less brittle; neither are kings, that God’s image represented in them, less moral. And whether it comes in at the window or at the door, whether in some common or in some unwonted manner, who can tell?
Many oft times fall asleep in this world and awake in the other, and have no sums at all to acquaint them whither they are going. And yet though every man’s condition be thus uncertain, and that his breath in his nostrils, where there is as much room for it go out as to come in; how few do make their night’s repose to serve as memorial for their last rest? Or their bed to stand for a model of their coffin?
Some pervert the night, which was ordained to be a cessation of the evils of labor, to make it a season for their activity in the evils of sin. They devise (as the prophet says) inquiry upon their beds, when the morning is light they practice it, because it is in they power of their hand. [Micah 2:1]
Others are easily brought asleep, by the riot and intemperance of the day, owning their unhappy rest not to the dew of nature but unto the gross and foul vapors of sin, which more darken and eclipse their reason than their sleep. Their dreams having more of it in them than their discourse.
Others again by their youth and health seem to be seated in such an elevation above death; as that they cannot look down from their bed into the grave without growing dizzy, such a steep precipice they apprehend between life and death. Though this distemper does not arise from the distance between the two terms, but from the imbecility of their sense, which cannot bear the least thoughts of a separation form those delights and pleasures to which their souls are firmly wedded.
When therefore most of men are such unthrifts [wasters] of time, and like carless navigators keep no journal or diary of their motions, and other occurrences that fall out. What need have others to make the prayer of Moses the man of God, their prayer? So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. [Ps. 90:12] He who was learned in all the sciences of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22] desires to be taught this point of arithmetic of God: so to number, as not to mistake or make any error in the account of life, in setting down days for minutes and years for days.
A man would think that a little arithmetic would serve to cast up so small a number as the days of him, whose days are as the days of a hireling, few and evil. [Job 7:1] And yet it is such a mystery that Moses begs of God to be instructed in it, as that which is the chief and only knowledge. Yea, God himself earnestly wishes this wishes this wisdom to Israel, his People, O that they were wise; that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!
Can we then render the night more senseless? Or keep the bed unspooled from those impurities that are neither few nor small, then by practicing duly this divine art of numbering our days; which is not done by speculation, or prying into the time or manner of our death: but by meditating and thinking with ourselves what our days are, and for what end our life is given to us; by reckoning our day by our work, and not by our time; by what we do, and not by what we are: By remembering that we are in a continual progress to the chambers of death; no man’s life being so long at the evening as it was in the morning.
Night and day are as two axes at the root of our life, when one is lifted up, the other is down, without rest: every day a chip flies off, and every night a chip, and so at length we are hewn down and fall at the grave’s mouth. O what a wide difference is there between those that lie down with these considerations in their bosoms, and others, who pass their time in pleasures, and allow not the leasts portion fit to think what issues are that a day or night may bring forth?
How free are their conversations from those sensualities and lusts, which others commit in the day, and lie down with the guilt of them in the night? How profitably do they improve their time who count only the present to be theirs, and the future to be God’s? above those, that fancy youth and strength to be a security of succeeding proportions of their life?
Yea, how comfortable is the date of those who are in daily preparation for it, as well as in expectation of it; above what it is to others, who are surprised by it in the midst of those delights in which they promised themselves a continuance for many years?
In what a differing frame and figure does it appear to the one and to the other? The one behold it as a bridge lying under their feet to pass them over the Jordan of this life, into the Canaan of eternal blessedness; and the other as a torrent roaring and frighting them with its hasty downfall: Gladly, therefore would I counsel Christians, who enter the Church Militant by a mystical death, being buried with Christ by baptism; and cannot pass into the Triumphant but by a natural death, to duly bear daily in their minds, the cogitations of their inevitable end, as the best means to allay the fear of death, in what dress soever it comes, and to make it an inlet into happiness whensoever it comes.
As Joseph of Arimathea [Matt. 27:57-60] made his sepulcher in his garden, that in the midst of his delights he might think of death; so let us in our chamber make such schemes and representations of death to ourselves as may make it familiar to us in the emblems of it, and then it will be less ghastly when we behold its true visage.
That shortly (as St. Peter says) we must put off this our Tabernacle. [2 Pet. 1:14] I, and think again, what a likeness there is between our night-clothes and our grave-clothes, between the bed and the tomb. What little distance there is between life and death, the one being as an eye open, and the other as an eye shut. In the twinkling of an eye we will be living and dead men. [1 Cor. 15:52]
O what ardors of lusts would such thoughts chill and damp? What sorrows for sins past? What diligence for time to come to watch against the first stirrings of sin would such thoughts beget? It being the property of sin to divert us rather from looking upon our end, then embolden us to defy it.
Lord then make me to know my end
And the measure of my days,
That I in my own generation serve the will of God
And then fall asleep as David did
And not as others
Who fall asleep before they have done their work,
And put off their bodies before they have put off their sins.