Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time
, in The Works of President Edwards
, Vol. IV (New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1856), pp. 347-360 (at 355-357):
If you each day depended on no other day but the present, would you not engage and interest yourselves much less in party designs and schemes, than you are now wont to do? Among a people divided into two parties, as this town hath been for a long time, there is commonly much done by the partisans in forming schemes of opposition to one another. There is always a strife, who shall get their wills and carry their point. This often engages them in open quarrels, and also in secret intrigues. That there is so much done in these things, is a certain evidence that they boast themselves of to-morrow, and put death at a distance.
Men would certainly find themselves very much indisposed to such things if they were so sensible of the uncertainty of life, as to depend on no other day than the present. It is therefore very proper, that you should every one examine yourselves in this particular, at this time. If it were really so with you, that you depended on no other day than the present, would your hearts be so much engaged in the strife between the two parties, as they often are? Would your spirits be so often raised and ruffled? Would you go about with so much of a grudge and prejudice against such and such men; harboring so much of old leaven, which so often breaks out in heats of spirit; and as an old sore which was skinned over, but not cured, sets to raging, breaks open and runs, with a touch which would not have hurt sound flesh?
Commonly in the management of a strife between two parties there is a great deal of envy. When any who belong to one of the parties seem to prosper, the other party will envy them; it is a grievous thing to them. So there is also much contempt; when one of the parties gets the ascendant a little over the other, they are ready to make the utmost improvement of it, and to insult the other party.
There is commonly in such cases a great deal of mutual secret reproach. When those of one party get together then is the time to inveigh against those of the other party, and to set forth their injustice and their fraudulent practices. Then is the time for them to pass their censure on their words and actions. Then is the lime to expose their own surmises and suspicions of what the other party intends, what it aims at in such and such things, what the purposes of individuals are, and what they suppose their scant actions are.
Then is the time for all that are friends in the cause, and engaged in the same designs, to entertain one another by ridiculing the words and actions of the other party, and to make themselves sport of their folly and their disappointments; and much is done at calling one another RACA and FOOLS, or other names equivalent, if not much more than equivalent. Then is the time to lay their heads together, to plot and contrive how they shall manage such an affair so as to disappoint the other party, and obtain their own wills.
Brethren, these things ought not so to be among a Christian people; especially among a people that has made the profession which we have made. Nor would they be so if it were not for your dependence on much future time in the world. If you were so sensible of your continual liableness to death, that every day was the last you depended upon, these things certainly would not be so. For let us but consider what are the effects of death with respect to such things. It puts an end to party quarrels. Many men hold these quarrels as long as they live. They begin young, and hold on through many great and sore afflictions and chastisements of Providence. The old sore remains, when the supporters of nature bow, and the eyes grow dim, and the hands tremble with age.
But death, when that comes, puts an end to all their quarrelling in this world. Death silences the most clamorous, and censorious, and backbiting tongue. When men are dead, they cease to lay schemes against those of another party. Death dashes all their schemes, so far as they have any concern in them. Psalm cxlvi. 4, "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
When men are dead, they cease to bite and devour others; as it is said to have been of old a proverb among the Egyptians, Dead men don't bite. There are many who will bite and devour as long as they live, but death tames them. Men could not be quiet or safe by them while alive, but none will be afraid of them when they shall be dead. The bodies of those that made such a noise and tumult when alive, when dead, lie as quietly among the graves of their neighbors as any others. Their enemies, of whom they strove to get their wills while alive, get their wills of them when they are dead. Nothing can please their enemies better than to have them out of their way. It suits them, that those who were troublesome to them, are locked up safe in the close grave, where they will no more stand in their way.
After men are dead, there are no more effects of their pride, their craftiness, their hatred and envy. Eccles. ix. 6, "Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy is now perished."
The time will soon come, when as many of you who are now present, as have for many years been at times warmly contending one with another, will be very peaceable as to any quarrelling in this world. Your dead bodies will probably lie quietly together in the same burying place. If you do not leave off contending before death, how natural will it be for others to have such thoughts as these in their minds, when they shall come to see your dead corpses: What! Is this the man who used to be so busy in carrying on the designs of his party? Oh, now he has done; now he hath no more any part in any of these things; now it doth not at all concern him, who get their wills, or what party is uttermost. We shall hear his voice no more in our town meetings. He will not sit any more to reproach and laugh at others. He is gone to appear before his Judge, and to receive according to his conduct in life.
The consideration of such things as these would certainly have a mighty effect among us. If we did not put far away the day of death, if all acted every day as not depending on any other day, we should be a peaceable, quiet people.