a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon
1 Corinthians 7:29
The text does not say that time is short. That would have been a true statement. Compared with eternity, time, at the very longest, is but as a pin’s point. But note what the text does say, “The time is short.” It is the time of our life, the space of our opportunity, the little while we shall be upon the present stage of action, that is short. It is narrow and contracted, as the original implies. “Behold,” saith the psalmist, “thou hast made my days as a handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee.” Brief is
the season we have allotted to us, brethren, in which we can serve the Lord our God.
This is a truth which everybody believes, knows, and confesses. It is trite as a proverb on every tongue, yet how few of us act as if we believed it! We are conscious of the precariousness of other people’s lives, but somehow or other, we persuade ourselves that our own time is not quite as limited as
theirs. We think we have “ample time and verge enough,” but we wonder that our neighbors can be so careless and prodigal of days and years, for we observe the wrinkles on their brows, we detect the grey hairs on their heads, and perceive the auguries of death in their mien, and we doubt not they will soon have to render in their account.
“All men think all men mortal but themselves,” is a “night thought” that may well startle us, as we rest from the business and the bustle, or the waste and wantonness of each succeeding day. Why hide you from yourselves the waning of your own life work, the weakening of your own strength, the
weaving of your own shrouds? As a creature, you are frail, as an inhabitant of the world, you are exposed to casualties, as a man, there is an appointed time for you on earth. You must be swept away by the receding tide, you must go with the rest of your generation.
Ask an angel what he thinks of the life of a mortal, and he will tell you that he remembers when the first man was made, and since then the earth has been always changing its tenants. Peradventure he is baffled to recall the races that have come and gone in countless succession. For a little while they floated on the surface, then they sank beneath the stream. At first they struggled on through centuries, but after that, they failed, any one of them, to attain a tenth of that pristine age. “Short-lived!” says the angel,
“they seem to me as leaves upon a tree, as insects on the earth, as flies in the air. Like the grass that flourishes in the meadows, scarcely have I gazed upon them ere they are cut down, withered and gone.”
Or if you never meet with an angel to interrogate him, talk familiarly with one of the trees of an ancient forest. Ask what it has seen, and though it cannot speak in tones articulate, you can lend it a tongue, and it will tell you that hundreds of years have passed, and history has accumulated, from the
time when it was an acorn, till now it covers a wide space with its far-spreading foliage. Yes, the oak and elm can tell us that man is but an infant of today.
Would you rather take counsel of your fellow creatures? Then ask the old man what he thinks of life. He will tell you that when he was a boy, he thought he had a vast length of time before him. So heavily did the days hang on his hands that he played the hours away, and was glad when birthdays told of the years that were gone. It was his strong desire, and his panting ambition, to break loose from the moorings of childhood and launch out into the great wide sea of turmoil and enterprise, but now he looks back on these seventy years that have been gradually accumulating, as a dream.
Through all the fitful stages of life’s journey, present time is always perplexing, it must be past before it is understood. It seems to him only as yesterday when he left his father’s roof to be an apprentice. He remembers it distinctly, and fondly tells you of some quaint things that happened in those olden times. How short a while since the bells rang out his marriage peal, and now his children have reached their manhood, and his children’s children climb upon his knee and call him “Grandfather.” Yet he remembers when, as it were but yesterday, he was himself a little child, and his grandsire clasped him to his bosom.
My venerable friends, you will bear witness that I do not exaggerate when I speak thus, my language is only the feeble expression of a forcible experience. You can realize more vividly than I can paint the sensation of looking back over the entire span of threescore years and ten, to the stripling, this appears a very long period, while to you it merely seems as a watch in the night.
And yet, perhaps, there are among you some hoary veterans, some elderly matrons, who need to be reminded that “the time is short.” Present health and activity may tempt you to forget that nature, in your case, stands upon the verge of her confines. What if your frame be strong, what if the bloom still lingers on your checks? You have nearly reached the goal, the allotted term that mortals cannot pass. I have seen fine days in autumn, when the air was soft as in balmy spring, but they gave no promise of another
summer. I knew the season was too far advanced for winter to delay its approach much longer.
So, you, my aged friend, can be sure that the hour of your departure is drawing near. Should five, or even ten more years be granted to you, how quickly they must pass when seventy by-gone years have so rapidly fled! The remnant of your days will surely cover little space when the whole compass of your life has stretched over so small an area. Be parsimonious of minutes now, though you may have been at one time, prodigal of years. At the end of life you have no time to parley and postpone, to resolve and yet to trifle with resolutions, to waste and squander golden opportunities. “The time is short.”
But to estimate this truth aright, we may well turn from the cycles that angels have witnessed, the centuries that trees have flourished, and the seasons that have come and gone in the memory of our grandsires to consider “the years of the right hand of the Most High.” Inquire at the mouth of the Lord, take counsel of the eternal God.
Remember how it is written, “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” “One day is with the LORD as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” “He sits upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers,” ephemera, insects of an hour, compared with Him. Like the grass, we spring up, and like the grass we are mowed down.
Compared with the lifetime of the Eternal, what is our life? Nay, there is no comparison, it is almost too insignificant for contrast. “My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. But thou, O LORD, shall endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.” I wish I had the power to impress this truth on every heart. As I have not, I shall try to point the moral it suggests, and pray that the Spirit of God may seal the instruction upon every heart.