And first,*The chief and most principall and necessary question which every one should seriously propound, ought to be that Luk. 18.18. What shall I do to inherit eternall life? Not indeed upon such a corrupt opinion as he did, who thought by his own works meerly to obtain this eternall life; No, that cannot be, it's the gift of God: and when we have done all, this eternall life is of grace, not merit, but in a right sense, viz. what way ought we to walk in, what is to be done that at last we may not eternally perish. This (I say) is a most noble and necessary question, if this were more studied and practised, it would ad∣vantage the soul ten thousand times more then other unnecessary and imperti∣nent disputations. The best method in morall Philosophy is to begin first with the end, because that is the chiefest, there must be first a knowledge and desire of that: Now all Divinity agreeth with morall Philosophy in this, it's wholly practicall. The first thing then in your thoughts and meditations should be, What is that end for which I was made? how may I obtain that eternall life for
which I came into this world? Oh why are we busie in unnecessary things? for what end and purpose were you made? Was it to heap up wealth? To sa∣tisfie the lusts and pleasures of the flesh? No, it was at last to injoy this eter∣nall life. The Heathen did well call man the orizon of time and eternity; for in respect of his body, he partaketh of time, in respect of his soul eternity: So then the chief and more excellent part of thee, that which makes thee differ from a beast, it is that which relateth to eternity, so that the first and the last thing thou hast to think on is, how to come to this eternall life. The Apostle useth an emphaticall word, 1 Tim. 6.12. Lay hold on eternall life; as a man that runneth in a race, at the end thereof streacheth out himself to lay hold on the garland; so that as he who runneth in a race neglects all the pleasant objects he runneth by, and hath his eye only upon the prize: Thus it ought to be with us, neither riches, honours, friends or earthly advantages ought to be inordi∣nately minded by us, but eternall life that is the prize, upon that our eye is to be, after that we are to pray and strive: But who may not blame himself, and judge himself for neglect herein? Oh how little is this eternall life in thy affe∣ctions and hopes; thy cares about thy body, about thy estate will greatly con∣demn that sluggishness about eternall life.
*2. As this ought to be the great question we are to rise with and go to bed with, so we must take the right way to answer it. It's not enough to make the question as Pilate did to Christ, What truth was? and never matter an answer; but we are to be restlesse in our souls till we have a full answer, till we know the way. Now that we can only be instructed in from Gods Word, John 6.68. Whither shall we go, thou hast the words of eternall life. The Scripture then is this Tree of Life, the fruit thereof and the leaves likewise are for eternall healing. Hence our Saviour in the next verse tels us, what is the way to have this eternall life, even by knowing of God and Jesus Christ. As all the Heathens were in dark confused thoughts about immortallity, so they were in Egyptian darknesse, or like the blinde Sodomites, groping and feeling for a way to it, but could ne∣ver get in. Wouldst thou therefore be resolved in this, How may I have this eternall life, betake thy self then to the Scriptures, make them thy counsellers; do not attend to the waies of the world, matter not what they say, or what they do, for that telleth thee the way to heaven is clean contrary to the man∣ners and practises of the world. If you do not rectifie your self by the Scri∣pture, and resolve to follow the light of this starre, though you should hear many hundred Sermons of eternall life, yet they would do you no good; say then, let me consider what way the Scripture would put me into, my life I yet live is wholly repugnant to Gods Word, whatsoever course that prescri∣beth, though never so contrary to my lusts, to my former practises, yet I will gladly renounce all. Do this and then expect eternall life.
*3. Consider this deeply, that upon this little moment we have here depends all eternity. Thou hast a short brittle life in this world, and upon the good im∣provement of this depends all eternity. Oh the searchings and turnings of heart this particular should make in you; My everlasting condition, that estate which is to be for ever and ever, it wholly hangs upon this uncertain life. It may be thou hast but a day, an hour to live longer, and all thy eternity depends on this: Oh men foolish and unwise, who will not lay these things more to heart. God hath given us a candle to work by, a short day we have to im∣prove, and if this passe over thy head, then comes unchangeable eternity. As at thy death thou art cast for eternall life or everlasting torments, so it must be without ever any recovery or alteration. Oh how precious should thy time be, how dear should every day every hour be, all this hath influence into eternity. Well might the Apostle, Ephes. 5.16. command us to redeem the time. Time is the most precious jewell in the world, eternity depends on it,
and therefore wilt thou let thy lusts or wicked companions steal away this jewel that is more worth then all the world? Oh let us so live every day, every hour as those that say, as I do now, so will eternity be to me.
4. Consider this, that the most of men even called and injoying the means of grace,*shall misse of this eternall life. What is a thunderbolt if this be not, Luk. 13.24. There are few that enter into the strait gate, and many are called, but few chosen; our Saviour used that apothegm more then once. How formidable and dread∣full should these words many and few be unto us! Many perish in the broad way, few enter in the strait way: What will make thee cast off presumption, security and negligence, if this do not? The number of those who shall have this eternall life is very few, a little flock they are comparatively to those many millions that are cast into everlasting flames. Oh how long shall we hear these things and yet be void of all spirituall understanding. If such an asseveration should be used concerning any temporall misery or calamity, Many shall dye of the plague, few shall escape; Many shall be cut off by famine or the sword, and a very few shall be preserved, who would not fear lest he should be one of the many? And yet in these things many are as idle, having ears they hear not, and hearts they understand not.
5. Desire to have such thoughts and resolutions now,*as if thou wert already in eternity: For if the damned in hell that see no escape from those everlasting flames were asked, what they thought of their sinne, how they loved it? would they not make miserable howlings, it's that which hath undone us, oh that is the sting that enters into the very bowels, that's the scorpion which pierceth to the very heart: Oh we mad men and void of all understanding, who though forewarned of this, and threatned about it, yet regarded nothing, beleeved nothing; but now, oh now, after millions of years in this tormented place, we are as unlikely to come out, as at the first. Think you they are not then altered and changed, do they not cry out of those bitter sinnes which were once so sweet? Should God give them leave to be here again upon the earth, would they not repent in sackcloth and ashes? would they not day and night mourn after God and his forgivenesse? Oh that every wicked man, who findes pleasure and delight in his sinnes, would think and say, Do the damned in hell judge it so? Do they feel sinne so sweet? And thus also desire to have the same inlarged affections and delight in God, as those glorified Saints in heaven have. Dost thou finde thy heart worldly, unruly, distempered, say, Do those in eternall life rejoyce no more? have they no more enlivened flames of zeal for God then I have? Thus to judge as those who are in eternity, would be an excellent spurre to all piety.
6. Remember this likewise,*that it's farre better thou hadst never been born then to misse of this eternall life. It had been farre more easie to have been an abortive, or that the womb had been thy sepulchre and grave, then to live here, and at last to dye thus eternally. Shall Job and Jeremiah so passionately curse the time of their lives, and wish there had been no day or sunne, and only because of some temporall extremity, which yet did not endure very long? what outcries and wishes shall these have who are to dye eternally, and yet shall never dye? Job speaks of some that desire death, Job 3.21. but can∣not have it; thus shall all those deprived of eternall life call to mountains and hils to cover them, bite the tongue with madnesse, and call for death to de∣vour them, but it cannot be. Though Judas could make away himself out of this hell he had here, yet he cannot out of the hell afterwards.
7. Consider with thy self, how unable thou art to bear any extream pain,*though it be but for a night or day: what tossings and tumblings, when it's night wish∣ing for day, and when it's day wishing for night: Now if a moments pain be so grievous, what is eternall? If thou art not able to endure the sudden scorch
of fire, what then to be in everlasting fire, Isa. 33.14. Who amongst us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings. Oh how should this meditation even swal∣low us up; If we are not able to endure the rod, how shall we the scorpion? If the gout, the stone be thus grievous, what is everlasting torment? Should not we judge him a mad man, that to have one night of quiet rest and sweet sleep, would all his life after be tormented with restlesse nights and terrifying dreams? such folly is in all wicked men, They to have this short life of plea∣sures and jollity, which is but a dream, will undo themselves for ever in this endlesse and easelesse wo: Oh remember this eternity is so incomprehensible by thee, that when thou hast thought and thought ten thousand millions of imaginary years, yet it is to hold as long as at the first beginning. Some have represented it thus, Imagine, say they, that all that vast space which is between heaven and earth were full of sand, and once in every thousand year, no oftner, a bird carry away one crum of it in her bill, what a long while would it be ere this vast huge heap would be carried quite away; yet if the damned in hell might have ease at the period of such a time, though so infinitely long, yet there would be some hope; but now it's everlasting fire, it's a fire that can∣not be quenched, but as long as God is God, so long shall they be in their chains of darknesse. God you heard was properly eternall, because he had neither beginning or end; therefore he was said by the Heathens to be a circle, whose center was every where, his circumference no where. Hence the Heathens represented his eternity by a snake, or a ring, that hath no begin∣ning or end. The Romans built their Temples round, and Pythagoras rule was when to worship, turn thy self round: Here they had confused notions about eternity; but the Scripture doth most clearly affirm his eternity: Now our life is eternall only because it shall have no end, and so for the future it will abide for ever, and never change: What a great word is this, never to change; thy happinesse will never change, thy misery will never change. These things duly pondered will be of great use. But thou wilt say, this subject is indeed very necessary, this eternity is a wonderfull and transcendent point, oh that I could rise with it and walk with it;* how then shall I possesse my self with it, how shall I be affected with it?
'Christ's Prayer Before His Passion' Anthony Burgess