Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Life and Death
By Robert Leighton (16111684)
From A Sermon upon Present Duty
NOT only public affairs, or the private concerns of others, but even our own matters should not concern us. It was a maxim of the Stoics that the necessities of life, such as food and raiment, are to be looked after, but that all the rest are great impertinencies. Such things as rich coaches, gorgeous apparel, stately buildings, sumptuous feasts, they are but for the pleasure and show of the world. A man that hath twenty lodgings can be but in one at once; and though he have twenty different suits of attire, yet hath he but one body to cover, and can wear but one suit at a time; and he that hath twenty dishes of meat on his table has but one belly to fill; and for the rest ad supervacua sudamus, they are vain superfluities which we strain and strive after. All a rich mans furniture cannot cure a headache; he may perhaps have more physicians and drugs than others, but for that he may have the less health. As for riches, we have had amongst us lately many lectures of their uncertainty; they take wings and flee away, leaving those minds that idolised them sinking down to hell and desperation. It is an excellent posture of soul to be so fixed that although the frame of the creation should crack, it would be unmoved. The time is coming when they shall confess this, even when they are stretched upon their death-beds; believe them then, for then they shall speak truth: like that courtier who, being on his death-bed, and being asked what he would have the king do for him, answered, Nothing, except he can call back time again that I may repent.
O Death! why do we not converse more with thee? Death shall shortly hurry all away before it; yea, it shall strip the nobles and judges of their robes, and shall pull away the amorous gallant from the embraces of his beautiful mistress, and the bewitched lovers of this world from all which they either have in their possession or grasp after in their hopes. Death shall shake the lap of all men as they go out of this world suffering them to take nothing forth but what they brought into the world with them, save the guilt of their sins, and of their luxury in abusing what God bestowed upon them. That and other sins shall say to a man, Nos tua sumus, et te sequemur, we are thine, and we will follow thee. These black troops clapping an arrest upon the soul, quit her not until they have delivered her to the jailor of the bottomless pit.