A Practical Discourse Concerning Death

In my readings I have come across a very interesting book entitled, A Practical Discourse Concerning Death, written in 1689 by William Sherlock.

It was published at a time when there was a proliferation of (mainly Christian) advice books, which reminded readers that death could strike them down at any time.  However, unlike other advice books of the time, such as the snappily titled The Horrors and Terrors of the Hour of Death (twenty-one editions), or Hell’s Everlasting Flames Avoided (thirty-five editions), Sherlock’s publication (thirty-two editions and still being re-printed) took a different, more practical, approach to discussing the preparation for death.

Discourse (as from this point I shall refer to it – for the acronym APDCD is dull and difficult) still comes at the subject from a heavily Christian perspective (it was in fact written during one of Sherlock’s two suspensions from the Church).  However much of the advice within the book is valid for any person who lives and dies, regardless of their beliefs (theist, atheist, gnostic, agnostic).  I aim to publish small segments of this book each week and in an effort to appeal to any reader, it will be written in an updated form and from as secular a view as possible.  That being said, certain passages within Discourse do not work well outside of their Christian context and so original quotations may be included where they are appropriate (or where they are terribly interesting).

It is my hope that you will find this endeavour appealing and that it may provoke in some of you a reflection upon death – and encourage a discussion about death with others.  Death is a subject that many people ignore (either consciously or subconsciously) until it inevitably, and usually abruptly, directly impacts their lives (and if we’re being honest, even then do people continue to ignore it or refuse to acknowledge it).

It is certainly acceptable to be curious about and interested in death; seeking education and understanding on the various aspects of death (biological, cultural, emotional, spiritual, historical, etc) is not morbid, it is human.

Next week I will begin with Sherlock’s reasons for the publication of Discourse, an overview of the chapters, and then I will begin in earnest with the introduction.  But for now, allow me to whet your appetites for this feature on Deathsplanation with the following quote from Sherlock:

“I know no other Preparation for Death, but living well: And thus we must every Day prepare for Death, and then we shall be well prepared when Death comes; that is, we shall be able to give a good Account of our Lives, and of the Improvement of our Talents; and he who can do this, is well prepared to die …”

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