Death’s Knell

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on.
~ James 4:14, Ecclesiastes 2:17, Luke 12:22

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
~ John 12:25, Matthew 19:29

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
~ Luke 21:36, Romans 14:10c, Revelation 20:12

Death’s Knell: or, The sicke mans passing-bell summoning all sicke consciences to prepare themselues for the comming of the great day of doome, lest mercies gate be shut against them: fit for all those that desire to arriue at the heauenly Ierusalem, by William Perkins. 1628. The following is written in Old English.

Let the memory of Death (good Christian) be euer the Looking-glasse of thy life, thy continuall Companion, and inseparable Spouse: let thy solace be ye sighes of a sorrowfull soule; and those the more bitter, the better: whilest Worme-like, thou crawlest heere below, fasten all thy faculties upon the Commandements of thy Creator; for those in thy finall passage, must be the Pylot to steere thee into the Hauen of Heauen; Thinke euery moment thou art in the waning, that the date of thy Pilgrimage is wel-nigh expired, and that the lampe of thy life lyeth twinckling upon the snuffe; and that now it stands thée upon to looke toward thy Celestiall home thy forces are enfeebled, thy sences impaired, and on euery side, the tottering and ruinous Cottage of thy faint flesh threatneth fall.

And méeting so many Harbengers of death, how cāst thou but prepare for so gastly a guest? The young man may dye quickely, but the old cannot liue long: the young mans life by casualty may be cut off, but the aged by Physicke cannot be preserued: Gréene yéeres must resolue to grow to the graue, and the meditations of old age must dwell in the same: be mindfull of things past, carefull of things present, and prouident for things to come. Use the blessings of nature to the benefit of thy soule; be wise in well-doing, and watchfull for thy end: Serue not the world; for that can possesse thee of nothing but pride, enuy, lust, anger, malice, and infinite follies: for it defileth a man with sin, disquieteth with troubles, oppresseth with labours, vexeth with temptations, vanquisheth with vaine delights, and miserably wrappeth him up in wofull calamities. The world, it is an Ambassadour of the euill, a scourge of the good, a tyrant of the truth, a breaker of peace, a worker of warre, a sweet of vices, a gall of vertues, a friend of lyes, an inuenter of nouelties, a trauell to the ignorant, a table of Gluttons, a furnace of concupiscence, a sepulcher of the dead, a prison of the liuing, a pitfall to the rich, a burthen to the poore, a Palace of Pilgrims, a Den of Deceiuers, a slanderer of the good, a commender of the wicked, and a deluder of all. Thou hast no reason to dote upon the world; for at first it affords thee but a wrangling welcome, and at last turnes thee off, with a fearefull farewell: moreouer, it doth torment thée, abuse thée, consume thee, and at length expell thee: whereas on the contrary: Heauen doth comfort thee, conserue thée, and exalt thée. On Earth, thou sowest but in a field of Flint, which bringeth foorth nothing but a Crop of care, and languishing for thy labour: it is time therefore to leaue so unthriuing a husbandry, and to sowe in Gods ground the seed of repentant sorrow, and water it with the teares of humble contrition; so shalt thou reape a plentifull haruest, and gather the fruits of euerlasting consolation. Imagine thou thy Spring to be spent, thy Summer ouer-past, and that thou art arriued at the Fall of the Leafe, and though thy louing Lord doe long forbeare offenders, yet at last he will scourge them; and that his patience lends us but respit to repent, not leysure to sinne. Hee that is tossed with sturdie stormes, and cannot come to his desired Port, rids little way, but is much turmeiled: so hee that passeth many yeeres, and purchaseth but small profit to his soule, hath had a long being, but a short life; for life is to be measured by vertuous actions, not by number of dayes. Some men by many dayes, purchase many deaths, and others in a short space attaine to life euerlasting. What is the body without the soule, but a corrupted Carkeise? and what is the soule without God, but a Sepulcher of sinne? Man was made, and sent hither, to no other purpose but onely to serue God in this life, and to enioy Heauen in that life heereafter. If our end be the Kingdome of Heauen, why are we so much enamoured on the Earth? If the end of our Creation, be eternall saluation, why hunt we after the vanities of this vaine life? If our inheritance be to raigne as Kings, why liue we like seruile slaues, in danger to be diuided from God, from Christ our Sauiour, from the Angels, from the Communion of Saints, and from the hope of our celestiall portion? If God be the way, the truth and the life; then he that walketh without him, wandreth; that is not instructed by him, erreth; and that liueth without him, dyeth: to reuolt from him, is falling; to returne to him, is rising: to stay upon him, is sure standing: Hee it is, from whom to depart, is to dye; to whom to repaire, is to reuiue: in whom to trust, is truly to liue. O be not thou like those, that beginne not to liue, untill they be ready to dye, and then (when they deserue an enemies reward) come to craue of God a friends entertainement. Some thinke to snatch Heauen in a moment, which the best can scarce attaine in many yeeres; and when they haue glutted themselues with worldly delights, would iumpe from the Dyet of Diues, to the ioyes of Lazarus; from the seruice of Satan, to the solace of a Saint. But be sure, that God is not so penurious, to make his Kingdome saleable for the refuse and reuersion of their liues, who haue sacrificed the principall and prime thereof to his enemies, and their owne brutish appetites; then onely ceasing to sinne, when the ability of offending is taken from them. What thanke is it to pardon our enemies, when wee can not hurt them? to giue away our goods, when we can kéepe them no longer? to shake hands with our pleasures, when wee can use them no more? to forsake sinne, when sinne leaueth us? God may be mercifull at the last gaspe: but most miserable is that man, who casteth the Anchor of his eternall weale or woe, on so uncertaine and sandy a point. The thiefe may be saued on the Crosse, and mercy found at the last; yet it is not likely, that hee should finde fauour at his death, whose life earned the wages of wrath; or that his penitence should be accepted, who more for feare of hell, and his owne selfe-loue, then for the loue of God, or lothsomelesse of sinne, cryeth out for mercy,

Put not off repentance therefore to the last point: take Dauids early in the morning: stay not till to morrow; though thou sufferedst the Bud to be blasted, the Flowres to fade, the Fruit to perish, the Leaues to wither. the Boughes to dry up, and the body of the Tree to decay; yet still keepe life in the Root, for feare lest the whole become fuell for Hell fire: for where the tree falleth there it lyeth. Imagine that Time hath flied off the better part of thy naturall forces, and left thee in the Lees of thy dying dayes: and that thou art onword in thy voyage, and not farre from the period of thy last harbour: bee not therefore disfurnished of necessaries required in so perrillous a iourney. O how men doe carefully beginne, industriously prosecute, and effectually end their labours, in attaining to this transitory trash upon earth! but of that great affaire of winning Heauen, or falling into hell, there is had no respect: Nay, they doe not so much as remember, that there is a Hell for sinners, a Heauen for good liuers, a dreadfull day of Iudgement, or a strict reckoning to be made. Death in its owne property is sufficiently fearefull, but far more terrible, in respect of the Iudgement whereto it summoneth.

If thou wert now laid on thy departing Pillow, wearied with waiting, pinched with paine, drowned in dolour, oppressed with the heauy load of thy fore-past committed sinnes, wounded with the sting of a guilty crying conscience: if thou feltst the force of death cracking thy heart-strings asunder, ready to make the sad diuorce of thy soule and body: if thou layest panting for shortnesse of breath, sweating a fatall sweat, and tyred with strugling against deadly pangs; O, how much then wouldst thou giue for a dayes contrition, an houres repentance, or a minutes amendment of life? Then worlds would be worthlesse in comparison of a little time, which now by whole moneths and yeeres thou lauishly mis-spendest. How déeply would it wound thy soule, when looking backe into thy life, thou shouldst espy many faults cōmitted, but none amended; many good workes omitted, but none recouered; thy duty to God promised, but not performed! How disconsolable would thy case bee, thy friends being fled, thy senses affrighted, thy minde amazed, thy memory decayed, thy thoughts agast, and euery part disabled in its proper faculty sauing onely thy guilty conscience crying out against thée? What wouldst thou doe, when stripped and turned out of thy house of Clay, into the World of Wormes, the Den of dust, and Cabine of corruption; from thence to be conuented before a most seuere Iudge, carrying in thy owne bosome, thy Inditement ready written, and a perfect Register of all thy mis-deedes; when thou shouldest behold the glorious Maiestie of Iesus Christ, (clothed in white linnen, through which, his body shining like precious stones, his eyes like burning Lampes, his face like lightning, his Armes and Legs like flaming Brasse, and his Uoice as the shout of a multitude) prepared to passe the sentence upon thée; when thou shouldest sée the great Iudge offended aboue thee, hell open beneath thee; the Furnace flaming, the Deuils waiting, the World burning, thy conscience accusing, and thy selfe standing as a forlorne wretch, to receiue thy fearefull and irrecouerable sentence of condemnation?

Oh, bethinke thy selfe, how these visions would affright thee: to behold the gnashing of téeth, the horrour of the place, the rigour of the paine, the uglinesse of the company, and the eternity of these punishments; where the fire is unquenchable; the torments insupportable, hopelesse, helplesse, easelesse, and endlesse! For our fire may be endured; that intolerable; ours for comfort; that, for torment; ours, if not fed, extinguisheth; that, without féeding, neuer goeth out; ours giueth light; that, none: ours consumes the matter, and ends the paine; that torments, but neuer wasteth, to make the paine perpetuall. In Hell, the lazie Loyterer must bee pricked with flaming Forkes; the Glutton fed with hunger and thirst; the Drunkard quaffe bowles of burning Brimstone; the Couetous pine in penurie; the lustfull embrace ugly…; and the proud apparelled with shame and confusion and further, to aggrauate their griefe, and up heape the measure of their unmeasurable miserie, they shall turne up their affrighted eyes, and behold the méeke triumphing, the Godly reioycing: then shall they perceiue base apparell to bee glorious; gawdy attire infamous; the humble Cottage commended; the guilded Palace despised; simple obedience shew fairer then subtill policie; a cleere conscience better accepted, then profound and abstruce Philosophie; zealous prayers farre worthier then fine tales; good workes preferred before swéet words. Is not he more then mad, that will play away his time allotted to preuent these intolerable calamities? Is it not a senselesse security, to hug in thy bosome so many serpents as sinnes? or to foster in thy soule so many malicious accusers, as mortall faults? wouldst thou not then thinke one life too little, to repent for so many iniquities, the least whereof is strong enough to hurle thee irrecouerably into these unspeakable torments? Betimes then deuote the residue of thy dayes, to make an atonement with Iehouah, the generall Iudge, and so endeuour to set free thy soule from such confusion, as by sinne thou art sure to fall into. What canst thou purchase by being so long a customer to the World, but false ware, sutable to such a Marchants Shop, where trafficke is toyle; wealth, woe; gaine, losse? what interest canst thou recouer, that can equall thy detriments in grace and goodnesse? or what canst thou find in this vale of vanities, that is comparable to the fauour of God? Let not thy youthfull affections ouersway thee; for time will tell thee, they are but bubbling follies. Let not temporall feare misleade thee; for the force of reason will rather draw thee to feare God then man, and to stand more in awe of perpetuall then temporall punishments. Who would fasten his eternall affaires upon the slipperinesse of uncertaine life? or who (but one of distempered wits) would offer to put tricks upon him, who is the strict searcher out of the closest secrets with whom he may dissemble to his cost, but to deceiue him, tis impossible? Wilt thou account it a craft to steale time from God, & to bestow it on his enemies who keepes tale of the least minute of thy life, and at thy ending will call thee to question, how thou hast employed euery moment? Is it not preposterous policie to fight against God, till our weapons bee blunted, our forces enfeebled, our strength made impotent, our best spent; and at last when wee are falne into fainting, and fought our selues wel-nigh dead; then so presume of his mercy, whom wee haue to much offended, so long opposed? Would it not be held an exorbitant course, that while the Ship is sound, the Pylot well, the Saylors strong the Gale fauourable, and the Seas calme, to lie carelesly idle at rode, losing so seasonable weather, and then when the Ship leakes, the Pilot sicke, the Mariners féeble, the winds aloft the stormes boysterous, and the waues outragious, to lanch forth, hoist sayle, and set out for a farre Iourney? Such are our euening-repenters, who in the soundnesse of health, and perfect use of reason, cannot abide to cut Cables, and weigh those Anchors that with-hold them from GOD but when their Senses are benummed, their Reason distracted, their Understanding dulled, and both soule and Body tormented with pangs of paines, and sorrowfull sicknesse, then will cast backe their memory on these waighty affaires; then will they needs become sudden Saints, that are scarce reasonable creatures.

How can a man, disanimated with inward Garboyles of unsettled conscience, maimed in all his faculties, and surrounded with such strange incombrances, be fit to dispose of his choysest Iewell, his soule, in so short a spurt? They that will loyter in Séed-time; and beginne to sow, when others reape: They that will haue their Weapons to prouide, when their fellow-Souldiers goe foorth to fight: They that will lauish in health, and cast their accounts when they cannot speake: They that will sleepe out the day, and stumblingly trauell in the night; O let them thanke their owne folly, if they dye in debt, and finally fall headlong into the pit of perdition. Let the griefe of the sore be then the measure of thy sorrow: let a wide wound haue a carefull cure: let thy contrition be agreeable to thy crime, and thy repentance equall to thy transgressions. Thou must spend the day in mourning, the night in watching and wéeping, and thy whole time in praying, and practice of repentance. Not euery short sigh will be a sufficient satisfaction; nor euery little knocke, a warrant to get in: for many cry, Lord, Lord, yet are not admitted. The foolish virgins knocked, yet stood without. Iudas conceiued a sorrow for sinne, yet dyed desperately. Linger not thy conuersion, nor put off thy repentance from day to day, lest the Almighty come upon thee in a minute, and in his wrath suddenly destroy thee; neither soiourne thou long in sinfull securitie, nor shift off thy repentance till feare inforce thee to it: for then it will be bootlesse for thee to striue to stand, when thou art already falne. Frame out thy beginning as thou meanest to end, and endeuour to liue as thou desirest to dye. Wilt thou sacrifice the Fattlings to the Fiend of darknesse, and offer the carion Karkeises to the Father of Light? Wilt thou present the maine Crop to the Deuill, and leaue God the Gleanings? Wilt thou cramme the Deuill with thy fairest fruits, and turne God to feede upon thy wind-fals and after-gatherings? If Hell was prepared for the Deuill, and Heauen purchased for man, why should not hee then prouide for himselfe, but wilfully lose his inheritance by persisting in sinne? While we draw healthfull breath, hope strongly perswades us, that by teares euer-flowing from the Sea of a sorrowfull soule, wee may wash away our sinnes pollution, how foule soeuer; but being once at deaths doore, notwithstanding our téeth gnash, our eyes cry out, our throats become hoarse with howling, our eyes gush Riuers of teares, and our hearts send out sighes as loud as Thunder, yet will it not auaile us; for then none shall heare us, none assist us; no, nor so much as comfort us: Then, O then, shalt thou finde, though (alas) too late, that thou hast lost thy labour, hast trifled away thy time, and let slip the opportunity of thine own gaine. Thou shalt then perceiue thine errour irrecouerable, thy punishment insupportable, thy penitence unprofitable, thy griefe, sorrow, and calamitie irrecouerable: Let thy soule then enioy her lawfull Soueraignty, and thy body follow the footings of her directions: let not thy seruile senses, and lawlesse appetites ouercome her, and make her a Uassall in her owne Dominions. Doest thou desire to haue all good necessaries: as good house, good furniture, good fare, good apparell? and yet wilt thou suffer thy poore soule, thy principall charge, and aboue all these worthy the best respect, to lye cankering and custing in all kind of euils? O unspeakable blindnesse, that thou wilt bee nice in wearing a bad shoo, yet carest not to carry an ugly & betattered soule! Alas, doe not thou set so light by that Iewell, which thy Maker sets at so high a price; nor rate thou thy soule at so base a penniworth, being of so péerelesse worth. If the soule be so inestimable, that neither gold, nor treasure, nor any thing of lesse price, then the precious blood of that immaculate Lambe Christ Iesus was able to buy it; if not all the Delicacies that Heauen and earth could afford, but onely the glorious Body of our Sauiour, were deemed a fit repast to feed it; If not all the Creatures of this, or millions of new worlds, if they were, but onely the unlimitable goodnesse and Maiesty of God, can satisfie the desire, or fill the compass• and capacity of it (for who is so unsensible, that finds not the insaciety of his soule?) Who then, but one of peruerse will, incredulous minde, or pittilesse spirit, would set more by the world then his soules worthinesse; or suffer so peerelesse a Paragon, so many houres, dayes, moneths and yéeres, to lye enchannelled in the filthy mire of sinne? Thou wilt trudge to a Physician for thy sicke Seruant, and looke out for a Leach to cure thy diseased Horse, and be very busie to patch up thy worne garments, and yet wilt suffer thy soule to languish for want of looking to, and dye for want of cure; and seeing it mangled with millions of vices, neuer seekest to bind it up, and restore it to its primatiue integrity. Is thy Seruant more néere thy Horse more deare, and thy Coate to be more cared for then thine own soule? How long, O how long wilt thou hunt after vanities, and rush violently and wilfully into thine owne ruine? Darest not thou suffer a Spider or a Toad to come neere thee; & wilt thou nestle in thy bosome so many Uipers as Uices, so many Serpents as Sins; and permit thy silly soule to be gnawed upon with the poisonous tuskes of Satan? Is thy soule so slight a substance, as to be held in so small estéeme? Did Christ come downe from Heauen, and become a wandring Pilgrime upon Earth, exiling himselfe from the comfort of his Godhead, and wearing out thirty yeeres in paine and penurie for our soules? Did he suffer the Tragedy of his Passion to bee bloodily acted, and patiently accepted? Did he make his Body as a Cloud, to dissolue into shewres of unblemished blood, and yeelded the dearest Ueines of his heart to bee cut asunder, that from thence might issue the precious price of our soules redemption? Why doe wee then sell our soules to the Deuill for euery delight and poore pittance of worldly pelfe? O that a Creature of so incomparable a worth should be in the custody of so unnaturall Iaylors; and that, which in it selfe is so gracious and ami¦able, that the Angels and Saints delight to behold it, should by sinne be made a horror to heauen, and a fit play-féere for the fowlest Fiends! Let us remember that our soule is not onely a part of us, but also the Temple, the Paradise of Almighty God; by him in Baptisme garnished, furnished, and endowed with most glorious Ornaments: How will he take it, to see his Temple prophaned, and turned into a Den of Deuils? His Paradise displanted, and made a Wildernesse of Serpents? His Spouse deflowred, and become an Adultresse to his Enemies? Durst we commit such outrage against our earthly Princes? Would not the terrour of the Law, and popular shame curbe us from it? and shall not the glorious Maiestie of Iehouah, and the unrebated kéennesse of his flaming double-edged Sword, deterre us from offering the like to his dearest Spouse? Will he that keepes Register of euery singuler haire, suffer himselfe to be wronged, and ouer-passe it unpunished? Remember that it is a thing full of horrour, to fall into the hands of God, who is able to crush the proudest spirit, and to make his face his Foot-stoole. O wrastle not against the cares and cryes of thine owne Conscience, but so keepe and conserue it, as that at the last it may gladly goe with thee, and be ioyfully prepared before the Throne of God to answer for thee.

There was a man had three friends; two whereof hee loued entirely, the third hee made no great reckoning of. This man being conuented before the King, upon the accusation of some committed crime, solemnly came unto his best friend, and intreated him to goe with him, but hee would not, yet went hee with him some part of his way: Bethinking himselfe better he returned to his second friend, and desired him to goe with him; but he made him this flat answer, that by reasō of his more important affaires he could not go with him; yet gaue him a token of his remembrance. Being driuen to this hard exigent hee trudged to his third friend, of whom hee made slight account, and hee at the first word went with him to the King, and there stucke to him in all his dangers. So fares it with a man being sent for by death, comes to his Wife Children or Friends, and intreats them to go along with him; but they slip their necks of the C•l•ar, and will not, onely beare his company to his graue: then he perswades goods and gold to goe along with him, but cannot; and so turnes him off with a simple sheete lapt about him: then, when all these shrinke backe and faile him, at the last point, his bosome-friend, his Conscience, will not forsake him, but goe along and make an answer for him. Labour then to keepe a good Conscience: for in the vtmost of extremities, That will neuer faile thee. There was a countrey, where the Commons used to elect their King, and againe to banish him at their pleasure, into a far Countrey, almost naked: But one, (more prouident than the rest) so soone as he was chosen King, he dayly sent before-hand some prouision into that far Countrey; so that when the people banished him from them, hee was (hauing made a prouident preparation of wealth before) most royally there entertained. So must euery cantelous Christian prouide upon Earth, as he may be ioyfully receiued into Heauen.

Prayers for priuate Households at all times. O Lord prepare our hearts to pray.

O Most mighty and eternall God, who art the Creator, Guider, Gouernour, and Preseruer of all things, both in Heauen and Earth; vouchsafe, we humbly beseech thee, to looke downe with the eye of pittie and compassion upon us miserable and wretched sinners; who at this time are prostrate heere before thee, to offer up this our Sacrifice of Prayer and Thanks-giuing unto thee. And although we be unworthy, by reason of our manifold transgressions, to present our selues before thee: yet we humbly beseech thee, for thy Sonne. Christ Iesus, our blessed Lord and Sauiours sake, to accept of us, and to grant these our prayers and petitions which we doe make unto thee.

O mercifull Lord, and louing Father, remember the infirmities of thy fraile seruants, assisting our weake soules with thy grace, that in all things we may loue, honour, and obey thy heauenly will and Maiesty, waking and walking in the paths of righteousnesse to the scope of perfect Holinesse, contemning this witching world, with all her foolish illusions, for the true glorifying of thy Name, through Christ Iesus our Lord, Amen.
Another Prayer.

O Mercifull Lord, and louing Father, that of the incomprehensible riches of thy mercy toward the disobedient and lost children of Adam, (who seruing Satan after the blinde and unbridled lusts of the vile flesh, were carried away through sinne and ignorance to damnation,) hast reconciled us to thy fauour, through grace and adoption in Christ Iesus the righteous by faith and holy conuersation: in whom we are deliuered from eternall death and destruction: Haue mercy upon us, yea (Lord) haue mercy upon us, and for loue of thy sweet Sonne, our Redeemer, defend us against the power of the Destroyer, and with thy mighty hand lift us up out of the puddle, and deathfull corruptions of this abominable world: purifying our hearts with thy grace, that wee being wholly inclined to thy heauenly desires, may grow perfect in holinesse, and abounding in the good works which thou hast prepared for thy Saints to walke in, for the glorifying of thy Name: we may grow an acceptable Temple, for thy continuall dwelling in us, O Lord; to the unspeakable peace and comfort, and to the euerlasting blisse and saluation of our soules: through Christ our Sauiour, Amen.

Lord, let not the darknesse of ignorance comprehend us.

Leade us by the continuall light of thy grace to worke righteousnesse.

Let us not sleepe in sinne, O God.

Quicken our weake soules against earthly sluggishnesse.

Giue us the heauenly rest of thy unspeakable peace, O Lord:

And nourish us with thy grace to saluation.

Lord comfort the needy, the sicke, the prisoned, the tormented, the distressed and helplesse, with the presence of thy grace: and haue mercy upon them, and us.

Pittifully heare our complaints, O deare Father, and grant our requests, for thy sweet Sonnes sake, our Sauiour.