But the ancient martyrs were not encouraged by such fallacies; who, though they feared not death, were afraid to be their own executioners; and therefore thought it more wisdom to crucify their lusts than their bodies, to circumcise than stab their hearts, and to mortify than kill themselves.
His willingness to leave this world about that age, when most men think they may best enjoy it, though paradoxical unto worldly ears, was not strange unto mine, who have so often observed, that many, though old, oft stick fast unto the world, and seem to be drawn like Cacus's oxen<12>, backward, with great struggling and reluctancy unto the grave. The long habit of living makes mere men more hardly to part with life, and all to be nothing, but what is to come. To live at the rate of the old world, when some could scarce remember themselves young, may afford no better digested death than a more moderate period. Many would have thought it an happiness to have had their lot of life in some notable conjunctures of ages past; but the uncertainty of future times have tempted few to make a part in ages to come. And surely, he that hath taken the true altitude of things, and rightly calculated the degenerate state of this age, is not like to envy those that shall live in the next, much less three or four hun- dred years hence, when no man can comfortably imagine what face this world will carry: and therefore since every age makes a step unto the end of all things, and the Scripture affords so hard a character of the last times; quiet minds will be content with their genera- tions, and rather bless ages past, than be ambitious of those to come.
Though age had set no seal upon his face, yet a dim eye might clearly discover fifty in his actions; and therefore, since wisdom is the grey hair, and an un- spotted life old age; although his years come short, he might have been said to have held up with longer livers, and to have been Solomon's* old man. And surely if we deduct all those days of our life which we might wish unlived, and which abate the comfort of those we now live; if we reckon up only those days which God hath accepted of our lives, a life of good years will hardly be a span long: the son in this sense may outlive the father, and none be climacterically old. He that early arriveth unto the parts and pru- dence of age, is happily old without the uncomfortable attendants of it; and 'tis superfluous to live unto grey hairs, when in precocious temper we anticipate the virtues of them. In brief, he cannot be accounted young who outliveth the old man. He that hath early arrived unto the measure of a perfect stature in Christ, hath already fulfilled the prime and longest inten- tion of his being; and one day lived after the perfect rule of piety, is to be preferred before sinning immor- tality.
Although he attained not unto the years of his prede- cessors, yet he wanted not those preserving virtues which confirm the thread of weaker constitutions. Cau- telous chastity and crafty sobriety were far from him; those jewels were paragon, without flaw, hair, ice, or cloud in him; which affords me a hint to proceed in these good wishes, and few mementoes unto you.
Tread softly and circumspectly in this funambulous<13> track and narrow path of goodness; pursue virtue virtuously, be sober and temperate, not to preserve your body in a sufficiency for wanton ends, not to spare your purse, not to be free from the infamy of common trans- gressors that way, and thereby to balance or palliate obscure and closer vices, nor simply to enjoy health, by all of which you may leaven good actions, and render virtues disputable, but, in one word, that you may truly serve God, which every sickness will tell you you cannot well do without health. The sick man's sacrifice is but a lame oblation. Pious treasures, laid up in healthful days, excuse the defect of sick non-performance; without which we must needs look back with anxiety upon the last opportunities of health; and may have cause rather to envy than pity the ends of penitent malefactors, who go with clear parts unto the last act of their lives, and in the integrity of their faculties return their spirit unto God that gave it.
Consider whereabouts thou art in Cebe's<14> table, or that old philosophical pinax<15> of the life of man; whether thou art still in the road of uncertainties; whether thou hast yet entered the narrow gate, got up the hill and asperous way which leadeth unto the house of sanity; or taken that purifying potion from the hand of sincere erudition, which may send thee clear and pure away unto a virtuous and happy life.
In this virtuous voyage let no disappointment cause despondency, nor difficulty despair. Think not that you are sailing from Lima to Manilla,* <16> wherein thou mayest tie up the rudder, and sleep before the wind, but expect rough seas, flaws and contrary blasts;
* Through the Pacifick Sea with a constant gale from the east.