Penitens was a busy merchant and very prosperous, but died when he was only thirty-five. One evening just before his death, some of his friends came to see him, and he said to them:
"My friends, I can see the tender concern you have for me by the grief on your faces, and I know what you are thinking about me. You think how sad it is to see a young man who has a prospering business delivered up to death. And if I had visited any of you in my condition, perhaps I would have the same thoughts of you. But my thoughts are no more like your thoughts than my condition is like yours. It is no trouble to me now to think that I am to die young, and without having reached all of my goals in life. Such concerns have now sunk into such mere nothings that I have no name small enough to call them by. For if in a few days or hours, I will leave this body and find myself forever happy in the presence of God, or eternally separated from all light and peace. Considering the immensity of that, can any words sufficiently express the littleness of everything else?
"Is there any dream more foolish than the dream of life that amuses us and causes us to neglect and disregard these things? Is there any folly like the folly of a life that is too wise and busy to have time for these reflections? When we consider death and sorrow, we only think of it as the sorrow of separation from the enjoyment of this life. We seldom mourn over an old man who dies rich, but we mourn the young that are taken away in the progress of their fortune. You yourselves look upon me with pity, not because I am unprepared to meet the Judge of the living and the dead, but because I am leaving a prosperous trade in the flower of my life. This is the wisdom of our worldly thoughts. And yet what foolishness of the silliest children is as great as this? For what is there miserable or dreadful in death but the consequences of it? When a man is dead, is there anything important to him besides the state he is then in?
"Our poor friend Lepidus died as he was dressing for a party. Do you think that was part of the sorrow of his death, that he did not live until the party was over? Parties, business and pleasures seem great things to us while we have nothing else to be concerned about. But add death to them and they all sink into an equal littleness. And the soul that is separated from the body no more grieves over the loss of business than the loss of a party.
"If I am going now to the joys of God, could there be any reason to grieve that death happened to me before I was forty years of age? Could it be a sad thing to go to heaven before I made a few more bargains or stood a little longer behind the counter? And if I am to go among the lost spirits, could there be any reason to be content that this did not happen to me until I was old and full of riches? If holy angels were ready to receive my soul, could there be any grief to me that I was dying upon a poor bed in an attic? And if God has delivered me up to evil spirits to be dragged by them into places of torments, could it be any comfort to me that they found me on a bed of luxury?
"When you are as near death as I am, you will know that all the different states of life, whether of youth or age, riches or poverty, are no more important to you than whether you die in a poor house or a rich mansion. The greatness of those things that follow death makes all that precedes it sink into nothing. Now that judgment is the next thing that I look for, and everlasting happiness or misery has come so near me, all the enjoyments and prosperities of life seem insignificant. And they have no more to do with my happiness than the clothes I wore before I could speak.
"But why am I surprised that I have not always had these thoughts? What is in the terrors of death, the vanities of life, or the necessities of piety that I could not have easily and fully seen in any part of my life? How strange it is that life and business should keep us so senseless of these great things that are coming so rapidly upon us.
"Just as you came into my bedroom I was thinking of how many souls there are in the world that are in my condition at this very moment, surprised by God with a summons to the other world. They were occupied with all kinds of pleasures and business and all were seized at an hour that they did not expect. Now they are frightened at the approach of death; confounded at the futility of all their labors, designs, and projects; astonished at the foolishness of their past lives; and not knowing which way to turn their thoughts to find any comfort. All their sins condemn them and torment them with the deepest conviction of their own foolishness. Before they see nothing but the sight of the angry Judge, the worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched, the gates of hell, the powers of darkness, and the bitter pains of eternal death.
"Oh, my friends, bless God that you are not of this number, that you have time and strength to occupy yourselves with those works of piety that will bring you peace at the end. Consider this as you live out your life; there is nothing but a life of great piety or a death of great fear. If I had a thousand worlds, I would give them all for one year more--one year in which I might give to God the kind of devotion and good works that I never thought of before. Now you might wonder why I am so full of remorse and self-condemnation at the approach of death when I have lived free from scandal and debauchery and in the communion of the church. But what a poor thing is it to have only lived free from murder, theft, and adultery, which is all that I can say of myself. You know that I have never been a drunkard. But many times you have witnessed my intemperance, sensuality, and great indulgence. If I am now going to a judgment where nothing will be rewarded but good works, I should well be concerned that though I am not a drunkard I have no Christian virtues to plead for me.
"It is true, I have lived in the communion of the church and have attended its worship and service on Sundays when I was not too tired or preoccupied with my business and pleasures. But my conformity to public worship has been a thing of habit rather than any real interest in doing what God requires of those who profess faith in Christ. Otherwise I would have been oftener at church, more devout when there, and more fearful of neglecting it.
"But the thing that surprises me above all wonders is that I never had the smallest intention of living up to the piety of the Gospel. Such a thing never entered into my head or my heart. I never once in my life considered whether I was living as the laws of religion directed, or whether my way of life was the kind that would procure me the mercy of God at this hour. And how can it be thought that I have kept the Gospel terms of salvation, when I never intended in any serious and deliberate manner to know them or keep them? Can it be thought that I have pleased God with such a life as He requires, though I have lived without ever considering what He requires? How cheap do you think salvation would be if it could fall into my careless hands, when I have never had any more serious thought about it than I have had about any common bargain I have made?
"In the business of life I have used prudence and reflection. I have done everything by rules and methods. I have been glad to converse with men of experience and judgment to find out the reasons why some fail and others succeed in business. I have always had my eye upon the main end of business, and have studied all the ways and means of gaining profit by all that I undertook. But what is the reason that I have brought none of these attributes to religion? I have often talked of the necessity of rules, methods, and diligence in worldly business, so why is it that I have never once thought of any rules, methods, or disciplines to carry me on in a life of piety?
"Would you think anything could astonish and confound a dying man like this? What pain do you think a man must feel when his conscience lays all his foolishness to his charge; when it shows him how regular, exact and wise he has been in trivial matters that are passed away like a dream, and how stupid and senseless he has lived in things of such eternal importance? Had I only my frailties and imperfections to grieve over at this time, I would lie here humbly trusting in the mercies of God. But how can I call a general disregard and thorough neglect of all religious improvement, a frailty or imperfection? It was as much in my power to have been exact, careful, and diligent in a course of piety as in the business of my trade. I cold have called in as many helps, have practiced as many rules, and been taught as many certain methods of holy living as I could have for increasing business in my shop, if I had so intended and desired it.
"Oh, my friends, a careless life, unconcerned and inattentive to the duties of religion is so without excuse, so unworthy of the mercy of God, such a shame to the sense and reason of our minds, that I can hardly conceive a greater punishment for a man than to be thrown into the state that I am in--unable to do anything but reflect upon the foolishness of his life."
Penitens continued speaking until his mouth was stopped by a convulsion, which never allowed him to speak again. He convulsed frequently for about twelve hours and then gave up his spirit.
Dear Ones, could there be any greater tragedy? Let us live our lives with intention. Loving and serving the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength so that our only thought upon death is the joy we will have in finally seeing His magnificent beauty and being forever surrounded by His infinite love.