The Puritans knew death. Up close and personal. Death to their beloved children, death from farm animals, death in the kitchen or in childbirth, and the same afflictions that we have now. No man knew when their life would end: and with the changes in King and Commonwealth, choosing the wrong side and the wrong time could be fatal.
And they knew they had to give account.
The Puritans were wiser than us.
O, my black soul, now thou art summoned
By sickness, Death’s herald and champion;
Thou’rt like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done
Treason, and durst not turn to whence he’s fled;
Or like a thief, which till death’s doom be read,
Wisheth himself deliver’d from prison,
But damn’d and haled to execution,
Wisheth that still he might be imprisoned.
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lack;
But who shall give thee that grace to begin?
O, make thyself with holy mourning black,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sin;
Or wash thee in Christ’s blood, which hath this might,
That being red, it dyes red souls to white.
John Donne, 1633