July 10th On the death of the wicked
Consider first, that as nothing is more desirable than the death of the just man, by which he puts a happy conclusion to all the labours and miseries of that life which we are leading here below, and enters into the never-ending joys of the Lord; so on the other hand, nothing can be conceived more wretched, more dismal and deplorable than the death of the wicked. ‘The death of the wicked is very evil,’ saith the Holy Ghost, Ps xxxiii. 22. It is very evil indeed, as often as they are unexpectedly hurried away in their sins, and go down in a moment into hell; it is very evil also, as often as they die hard, and with little or no sense of God or eternity. But supposing neither the one nor the other to be the case, the death of the wicked is still every evil, from the torture of their conscience, from the sense of present misery, and the dreadful apprehensions of a miserable eternity; and whatever way they look, all things seem to conspire against them; to denounce the judgments of God to them, and to set before their eyes a dismal scene of woe. Ah, how feelingly do they now experience that of the Psalm (cxiv.) ‘The sorrow of death have compassed me, and the perils of death have found me!’
Consider 2ndly, more in particular, the principal ingredients of his bitter cup, which the wicked, who will not think of it during life, are so often constrained to drink of in death. And first the remembrance of their past sins, appearing now in quite other colours than they had represented them to themselves before; all staring them now in the face, in their most ugly shapes, and with their united forces making a vehement assault upon them, to push them down headlong into the bottomless pit of despair. O how gladly would the dying sinner rid himself now of this odious company! What would he not give to shake off from his breast this viper’s brood of his own offspring? But all in vain, they will not be shaken off. O how sensibly do they make him feel the gripes of their gnawing; not unlike those of that never-dying worm, which is one of the worst of the torments of hell! Then the remembrance of the races they have so long resisted; of the opportunities of good they have so often neglected; of the talents they have buried; of the time they have squandered way, (one hour of which they cannot now recall, though they would give ten thousand words for it); of their past abuses of the sacraments, of the Word of God, and of prayer these great means of salvation; and the little good they can find in their whole lives to put in the scales against so much evil, must add very much to their unspeakable anguish and distress, coming in upon them at this sad time, when they have so little presence of mind, so little leisure, opportunity or ability of doing anything themselves, and have too much reason to apprehend that God has forsaken them.
Consider 3rdly, what anguish it is also to the dying sinner to see himself violently torn away from all those things he had set his heart upon in this world. ‘O cruel death,’ shall he then say ‘dost thou make so bitter a separation?’ (I Sam. xv. 32.) What sad farewells will he be then constrained to bid to his honours, riches, pleasures, and all other worldly enjoyments; to his friends, kindred, house, and family, together with the whole world; and his own body too; in order to depart into an unknown country, and to take nothing with him thither but his works, which he would gladly leave behind him. O how does the sight of all about him, his wife, his children, and his worldly goods, which he has loved more than his God, now serve for nothing but to increase his misery? And if, to change the melancholy scene, he endeavours to divert his thoughts from the remembrance of his past extravagances and present miseries, and to look forward, he meets there with still more frightful objects, from the just apprehension of what will follow after death; what hands he shall fall into then, what a severe trial he must immediately go through; and what the sad consequence must be, if he be there cast. Alas! he sees himself just now launching forth with all his evil into eternity, an immense ocean, to whose further shore the poor sailor can never reach, and which he has too much reason to fear will be to him an eternity of woe.
Conclude to lead a virtuous life, and thou shalt have no share in this dismal scene of evils which attend the death of the wicked.