« AnteriorContinuar »
before him all the days of my life." And then, passing, in thought, from the divine dealings to their intended spiritual influence, he exclaims, " O Lord, by these things do men live, and in these things is the life of my spirit." Reviewing his sickness, and recognizing in it the hand of God, he felt that the Divine dealings, as sanctified, were promoting his spiritual good; that they had wrought out, and were still working out in him, and for him, their intended design-the intended result of probation. As the physical system lays hold of its proper food, and makes life out of it, so was his heart enabled, by grace, rightly to lay hold of his afflictions so as from them to make to itself spiritual lifelife eternal. And in this sense it is that he exclaims, in all the fulness and certainty of personal experience, "O Lord, by these things do men live, and in these things is the life of my spirit!"
That this is not only the intended design, but the actual result of all affliction and trial, every real christian has felt; for God is too kind and faithful to his children to leave them entirely without it, and its needed discipline; and when it comes, not to sanctify it to their good. But the same is true of the onward progress of the rapid flight of time, including in its flight what it brings with it to discipline, and mould us for another state. And this, in fact, seems to have been the prominent thought in the mind of Hezekiah. The burden of his monody is not so much the severity of his sufferings, as the brevity of his days-the swiftness of their flight; and even his afflictions, keen and trying as they were, seem most to have impressed him, because they made him so deeply feel that his life was speeding like the wind. This, then, is the thought on which I would fix in the passage before us, and to which I would ask your attention, THAT THE SPEED OF LIFE IM
PRESSES OUR PROBATION.
The speed of life would not, indeed, prove our probation, if there were no other evidence of its reality. But when God has revealed and declared it, as he has done in his Word, then the speed of life-the swiftness of its flight-is fitted most deeply to impress it. This seems to have been the thought of Hezekiah when, of the swiftness of time, and of his afflictions as impressing this, be declares, "By these things do men live, and in these things is the life of my spirit:" that is, that their tendency is to impress us with the true nature of our earthly state, and to lead us to seek and secure for ourselves the great ends that God designed in our probation. In this sense it is that we speak of the speed of life as impressing probation, loudly admonishing of its nature-deeply impressing its importance-solemnly calling us to improve it. In endeavoring to illustrate this thought, let us notice first, the fact that life is fast speeding away; and secondly, that its speed is fitted to impress, and does impress, our probation. And,
I. The FACT that life is fast speeding away.-On this point it is needless long to dwell, for it is a truth that is often pondered by
the thoughtful heart, suggested as it is by the many changes of life, and especially by the opening and closing of successive years. Every one has at times felt, and sometimes deeply felt, with Hezekiah, in the context, that his life is departing, and that he is going to the gates of the grave; or with Moses, that he is carried away as with a flood; or with Job, that his days are swifter than the weaver's shuttle; that his life is as the wind-that as the cloud is consumed and vanishes from sight, so his years are fast passing away. In early youth, time did indeed appear long; and as we looked onward to the future, the hours in their progress seemed but slowly to creep. But the longer we live, the more does it seem short, and the swifter the progress of its flight. Look back one, five, ten, twenty, thirty, or even forty or fifty years, and there fix on some remembered event, and it seems but a moment since it was present. Call up the image of some friend or acquaintance with whom you were then familiar, but who has long since passed to eternity, and it seems but as yesterday that you walked or talked with him, and gazed upon him face to face. The time when you were but a child, and engaged in childish sports and enjoyments; when you entered on, or when you left the instructions of school; when you lost a father or mother, a brother, or a sister, or a friend; when you left the dear home of your childhood, and entered on the scenes of active life, engaging in your chosen business or profession; when you became a husband, or a wife, or a parent; when this joy first lightened your days, or this sorrow, like a dark cloud, threw its chill shadow over your path :-that time, it seems but a moment since it was passing; and as you look back to it, and count the days, the months, the years that have intervened, it seems to you like a dream! Where you were busy with the prattle of childhood, it may have been exchanged for the hopes of youth. Where you were bright and buoyant with the day-dreams of youth, these may have given way to the anxieties of opening manhood, or the more steady current of settled life. Where you were strong or exultant in the vigor of manhood, the enfeebled step and furrowed cheek may have taken its place, and the silvery hair may have stolen to your brow; and where once the laugh rang loudly from your lips, the sobered-perhaps the saddened smile-may now slowly creep, while the hoary head, and the stiffening limbs, and the feebler pulse, are whispering of the narrow house!
And yet through all these changes, fast and still faster have your days sped away! Whether joy has brightened your onward course, or sorrow been doing its sad and wearing work upon your heart, swift and still swifter has been their flight. Other wings may weary and droop in their course, but the wings of time, with their calm, steady beat, seem but to gather strength by exertion, and to bear us with a mightier sweep the nearer we are to eternity. Days, weeks, months, years, Sabbaths and communion
seasons-in more and more rapid succession do they pass us, each admonishing, as it flies, that our time on earth is short-that our life is speeding like the wind-that with swifter and still swifter wing we are ever on our way to eternity. This, I believe, is the experience, and the growing feeling of every one who is thoughtful; more and more deeply realized the farther we advance in the pathway of life, and the more steadily and frequently we look on to its close. Such, very briefly, is the speed of life as suggested by the text and its context, of which I remark, as proposed
II. That it deeply IMPRESSES OUR PROBATION. Probation is no less an obvious fact in common life, than a plainly declared doctrine of revelation. On every side, and in ten thousand ways, it is forced upon us that God is trying us-that at every moment, and under every influence of life, we are in a process and progress that is testing and moulding us as moral beings:-testing us as to what we will be and do as subjects of the divine government-moulding us to far different realities and results than those that are now about us. The speed of life, the rapid flight of time, is not needed, then, to establish this fact, for it is written, as with the finger of God, and in letters of fire, on all the arrangements of our earthly state; on the inequalities of the world; on its business and its means of grace; on every joy and every sorrow; on every temptation and opportunity, whether for good or evil; on every duty, and privilege, and possibility of life.
But though the fact of our probation is revealed in God's word, and confirmed by every aspect of daily life, still there are few things that to the thoughtful mind more vividly impress it than the speed of life. And this is fitted to impress, and does impress, our probation upon us, because
1. It rarely allows us to complete the plans in which we are engaged. In a retributive state, if happy, every thing will be complete. There every object will be grasped; every scheme be fulfilled; every end be attained. There will be no loose ungathered ends, no unfinished business, which we are forced, by the very progress of our being, to leave before we have done with them. But every plan will be carried out to completion, and only left when it shall have fitted into some other which is to succeed it, and to which it is but as a means to an end, or a part to the whole. Completeness is an attribute of retribution.
Here on earth, however, much--I had almost said everything -is left incomplete, from the very speed of time. From object after object, and plan after plan we are torn away by the rapid flight of days, leaving them, like the structures we may build in dreams, unfinished in reality. The student has his schemes of study, and the merchant his intended enterprises of commerce, and the statesman his projects of lofty ambition, which each hoped to have accomplished, but from which he is forced away by the
speed of time, and the urgency of other things that spring up to demand the attention. Where a retributive state would give us leisure to go on to the end, and carry out every scheme to its completion, here we are hurried away from one after another, till the whole pathway of life is strewed with their wreck-with the fragments of that which we might have finished if our days would but have stayed their flight, and waited the bidding of our wishes.
Who is there that has not found this so in his own experience; that from youth up has not formed many a plan, neither unwise nor inconsiderate, which he never even began to execute? Who that has not felt "what mockeries were his wisest plans-his best resolves ;"—that
"To will is ours, but not to execute.
We map our future like some unknown coast,
And we do neither! Some chance gale springs up,
Our efforts all are vain; at length we yield
To winds and waves that laugh at man's control!"
"Upon each beckoning scheme
No sooner do we fix our hope, than still
Time bears us on, leaving each still undone,
And in all this, and in the disappointment it often brings, is one of the most impressive admonitions of the fact of our probation-that this is not our ultimate state, but only one of trial, of discipline, of formation and preparation for another. And deep and impressive as is the lesson, it is the speed of life that has
It is further true that the speed of life impresses the great fact of our probation, because
2. By the rapidness of its flight it keeps us always in effort.Not only is it true that the speed of life allows but few if any of our schemes to be fully completed, but it ever keeps us in earnest and toilsome labor to accomplish even the little we actually do. Hurried as we are, by its flight, from object to object, and plan to plan, it tasks alike our time and powers to do but little upon each that we undertake. And even this little, if we do it with our might, soon wears upon our life, so that our work often finishes us before we finish it-wearing away the very strength we would put forth to effect it-the very life we would expend to accomplish it. Pursuit is the prevalent, the universal law of earth; effort, the uniform condition of attainment; conflict and struggle, the permanent lot of humanity. "All things," says Solomon, "are full of labor." In a retributive world, like that to which we are hastening, this state of things could not exist. There will be the attainment of results-not the mere struggle for
them; there the joy and thankfulness of reception-not the toilsome effort of acquisition. And yet this toil, this effort, this everliving struggle would not be ours, were it not for the speed of life, which compels us to be constantly active if we would accomplish anything of moment, or save even the least of time's floating treasures from the rolling flood. And as every toilsome struggle and conflict and effort is probationary, both in the discipline it gives, and the state which it indicates, the speed of life which throws them upon us, loudly proclaims and deeply impresses our probation.
Still further does the speed of life impress our probation, be
3. By its rapid progress, it gathers more thickly about us the changes and trials and admonitions of life.-To say nothing of the fact that in a retributive state these would be unknown, the rapid flight of time brings them near to each other and crowds them, as it were, in masses upon us. If the changes of the world were the incidents only of centuries; if the trials and sorrows of our short life on earth, were spread out over the surface of thousands of years; if warning and startling providences were comparatively strange things, bursting upon us, like the explosions of long buried volcanoes, only at intervals of ages; if friends were cut down, and graves were opened only at long distant periods-if all these things were so, easily might we forget our probation, rarely feeling its discipline-rarely being reminded that here was not our rest-that we were not to abide here forever.
And yet all these things would be so, were it not for the speed of life. This it is, that by its rapid progress, gathers about us, and as it were presses upon us, one after another, all these means of discipline-these divinely appointed agents of probationary work. This it is, that in hasty and ceaseless succession, crowds on the changes that take place about us; that so often sends tears to the eye, and grief to the heart; that bears away friends from our side, and opens the grave at our feet, and peals to our ears the warnings of providence, and the startling admonitions of the judgment. The swifter the speed of life, the more trying appears its disciplinary work, because it compresses that work within proportionally narrower limits; and thus, in its pathway of sadness and tears, it the more loudly preaches of probation, and the more solemnly impresses it. In a retributive state, there are no such changes of sadness-no trials, or sorrows, or separations, or graves; and the fact that they are here, and that the speed of life brings them about in such rapid succession, reminds us, as if by a voice from heaven, that here is our probation. Passing by several other thoughts of deep interest on this point, on which time forbids us to dwell, I remark but once more, that the speed of life impresses its probationary nature, because