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THE LAPSE OF TIME.
EccLEs. ix. 10.
" Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Solomon's advice that we should do whatever our hand findeth to do with our might, naturally directs our thoughts to that great work in which all others are included, which will outlive all other works, and for which alone we really are placed here below-the salvation of our souls. And the consideration of this great work, which must be done with all our might, and completed before the grave, whither we go, presents itself to our minds with especial force at the commencement of a new year. We are now entering on a fresh stage of our life's journey; we know well how it will end, and we see where we shall stop in the evening, though we do not see the road. And we know in what our business lies while we travel, and that it is important for us to do it with our "might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave.” This is so plain, that nothing need be said in order to convince us that it is true. We know it well ; the very complaint which numbers commonly make when told of it, is that they know it already, that it is nothing new, that they have no need to be told, and that it is tiresome to hear the same thing said over and over again, and impertinent in the person who repeats it. Yes ; thus it is that sinners silence their con
sciences, by quarrelling with those who appeal to it; they defend themselves, if it may be called a defence, by pleading that they already know what they should do and do not ; that they know perfectly well that they are living at a distance from God, and are in peril of eternal ruin ; that they know they are making themselves children of Satan, and denying the LORD that bought them, and want no one to tell them so. Thus they witness against themselves.
However, though we already know well enough that we have much to do before we die, yet (if we will but attend) it may be of use to hear the fact dwelt upon ; because by thinking over it steadily and seriously, we may possibly, through God's grace, gain some deep conviction of it; whereas while we keep to general terms, and confess that this life is important and is short, in the mere summary way in which men commonly confess it, we have, properly speaking, no knowledge of that great truth at all.
Consider, then, what it is to die : “ there is no work, device, knowledge, or wisdom, in the grave." Death puts an end absolutely and irrevocably to all our plans and works, and it is inevitable. The Psalmist speaks to “high and low, rich and poor, one with another.” “No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him.” Even “ wise men die, as well as the ignorant and foolish, and leave their riches for other'.” Difficult as we may find it to bring it home to ourselves, to realize it, yet as surely as we are here assembled together, so surely will every one of us, sooner or later, one by one, be stretched on the bed of death. We naturally shrink from the thought of death, and of its attendant circumstances ; but all that is hateful and fearful about it will be fulfilled in our case, one by one. But all this is nothing compared with the consequences implied in it. Death stops us; it stops our race. Men are engaged about their work, or about their pleasure; they are in the city, or the field ; any how they are stopped ; their deeds are suddenly gathered in-a reckoning is made-all is sealed up till the great day. What a change is this! In the words used familiarly in speaking of the dead, they are no more. They were full of schemes and projects; whether in a greater or humbler rank, they had their hopes and fears, their prospects, their pursuits, their rivalries ; all these are now come to an end. One builds a house, and its roof is not finished ; another buys merchandise, and it is not yet sold. And all their virtues and pleasing qualities which endeared them to their friends are, as far as this world is concerned, vanished. Where are they who were so active, so sanguine, so generous ? the amiable, the modest, and the kind ? We were told that they were dead; they suddenly disappeared ; that is all we know about it. They were silently taken from us ; they are not met in the seat of the elders, nor in the assemblies of the people ; in the mixed concourse of men, nor in the domestic retirement which they prized. As Scripture describes it, "the wind has passed over them, and they are gone, and their place shall know them no more.” And they have burst the
1 Psalm xlix. 210.
ties which held them; they were parents, brothers, sisters, children, and friends ; but the bond of kindred is broken, and the silver cord of love is loosed. They have been followed by the vehement grief of tears, and the long sorrow of aching hearts; but they make no return, they answer not; they do not even satisfy our wish to know that they sorrow for us as we for them. We talk about them thenceforth as if they were persons we do not know; we talk about them as third persons; whereas they used to be always with us, and every other thought which was within us was shared by them. Or perhaps, if our grief is too deep, we do not mention their names at all. And their possessions, too, all fall to others. The world goes on without them ; it forgets them. Yes, so it is; the world contrives to forget that men have souls, it looks
upon them all as mere parts of some great visible system. This continues to move on; to this the world ascribes a sort of life and personality. When one or other of its members die, it considers them only as falling out of the system, and come to nought. For a minute, perhaps, it thinks of theni in sorrow, then leaves them-leaves them for ever. It keeps its eye on things seen and temporal. Truly whenever a man dies, rich or poor, an immortal soul passes to judgment; but somehow we read of the deaths of persons we have seen or heard of, and this reflection
Thus does the world really cast off men's souls, and recognizing only their bodies, it makes it appear as if “ that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them, as the one dieth so dieth the other ; yea, they have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence over a beast, for all is vanity ?."
never comes across us.
But let us follow the course of a soul thus casting off the world, and cast off by it. It goes forth as a stranger on a journey. Man seems to die and to be no more, when he is but quitting us, and is really beginning to live. Then he sees sights which before it did not even enter into his mind to conceive, and the world is even less to him than he to the world. Just now he was lying on the bed of sickness, but in that moment of death what an awful change has come over him! What a crisis for him! There is stillness in the room that lately held him; nothing is doing there, for he is gone, he now belongs to others; he now belongs entirely to the LORD who bought him ; to Him he returns; but whether to be lodged safely in His place of hope, or to be imprisoned against the great day, that is another matter, that depends on the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. And now what are his thoughts? How infinitely important now appears the value of time, now when it is nothing to him ! Nothing; for though he spend centuries waiting for CHRIST, he cannot now alter his state from bad to good, or from good to bad. What he dieth that he must be for ever; as the tree falleth so must it lie. This is the comfort of the true servant of God, and the misery of the transgressor. His lot is cast once and for all, and he can but wait in hope or in dread. Men on their deathbeds have declared, that no one could form a right idea of the value of time till he came to die ; but this has truth in it, how much more truly can it be said after death! What an estimate shall we form of time while we are waiting for judgment ! Yes, it is we-all this, I repeat, belongs to us most intimately. It is not to be looked at as a picture, as a man might read a light book in a leisure hour. We must die, the youngest, the healthiest, the most thoughtless ; we must be thus unnaturally torn in two, soul from body; and only united again to be made more thoroughly happy or miserable for ever.
Such is death considered in its inevitable necessity, and its unspeakable importance—nor can we ensure to ourselves any certain interval before its coming. The time may be long; but it may also be short. It is plain, a man may die any day; all we
2 Eccles. iii, 19.