a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon
1 Corinthians 7:29
I. First, IT WARNS.
If you knew the sterling worth of time, you would shrink from the smallest waste of so precious a thing. Fools say that time is long, but only fools talk like that. They say that “time is made for slaves.” He alone is a free man who knows how to use his time properly, and he is a slave indeed who finds it slavery to pursue his calling with a good conscience, and serve his God with diligence, fidelity, and zeal.
Knowing that “the time is short,” you and I have not an hour to squander upon unprofitable amusements. There are some diversions which afford a respite from the incessant strain of labor and anxiety, and are profitable to strengthen the mind, and brace up the nerves. These are not only allowable, they are fit and proper, but while recreation is both needful and expedient to keep the mental and physical powers in working order, we can give no countenance to such dissipation as tends rather to enervate than to invigorate the constitution.
Popular taste displays its own perverseness in seeking to extract pleasure from folly and vice. Fashion lends its sanction to many a pastime that ill becomes any wise, rational, intelligent person, but the Christian, in his relaxations, must seek healthy impulse, and avoid baneful stimulant. “The time is short,” We cannot afford to lose it in senseless talk, idle gossip, or domestic scandals.
Nor can we afford to plan a round of empty frivolities to while away an afternoon or an evening, as the manner of some is. Our time is too precious to be frittered away in formal calls and punctilious visits. Well might Cotton Mather complain of the intrusion of a certain person who had called to see him, as people will call on ministers, as though their time was of no importance. “I would sooner have given that man a handful of money,” said he, “than that he should have thus wasted my time.”
You count it a little thing to trespass on our minutes, but in so doing you may spoil our hours. Whether you think so or not, it is often distracting to us to be troubled with trivial things in the midst of our sacred engagements. We may be called from an absorbing study, we may be rudely interrupted when our knees are bent, and our heart is being lifted up to God in intercession, we may have our minds drawn from the weightiest matters to listen to the most frivolous observations.
It is said of Henry Martyn that he never wasted an hour. I wish it could be said of us, that we wasted neither an hour of our own time, nor an hour of other people’s time.
Brethren, the time is too short to make a desire for a friendly communion an excuse for frothy conversation. It requires no stretch of imagination to picture to ourselves two men, who are both believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, “called to be saints,” and accounted faithful, meeting in a room and greeting each other as friends. They will surely have something choice to talk about. All heaven is full of God’s glory, and the earth is full of His riches. There is range enough for thought, for speech, for profitable converse.
Listen awhile. One observes that the weather is very cold. “Yes,” says the other, “the frost is still very sharp.” There they stick, they have nothing further to say till, presently, one of them remarks, “It will be rather slippery travelling tonight,” to which comes the reply, “I daresay many horses will fall down.” And are these the men of whom Peter testifies that they are redeemed, with the precious blood of Christ, from their vain conversation, received by tradition from their fathers? Are these the men who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost? Is this frivolity becoming to the heirs of heaven? Yet thus, often, is precious time squandered, and the faculty of speech abused.
There is an ancient prophecy which I would love to see fulfilled in modern history. In “David’s Psalm of Praise,” (only one psalm, the 145th, is so entitled), he says, “All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom.” By such converse as that, beloved, you might “redeem the time” in these evil days, but you are afraid of being charged with cant, or with pushing your religion a little too far.
Brethren, it is high time we had a little more of such cant, and that we did push religion a little farther than has been our wont, for golden opportunities are lost, and profitable interchange of holy thought is lamentably neglected.
In days of yore, “they that feared the LORD spake often one to another; and the LORD hearkened and heard it.” Not much of this now prevails among professing Christians. Little enough is said that is worth men’s hearing, much less worth God’s hearing, and if He did hear it, instead of putting it down in “a book of remembrance,” and saying, “They shall be mine,” surely, in His infinite mercy, He would forbear to record the vain thoughts and empty words which could only be a stigma upon their characters.
By the brevity of time, then, and by the rapidity of its flight, I admonish you to refrain from all abuses of the tongue. Do invest each hour in some profitable manner, that when past, it may not be lost. Let your lips be a fountain from which all streams that flow shall savor of grace and goodness.
The time, moreover, is much too short for indecision and vacillation. Your resolving and retracting, your planning and scheming, your sleeping and dreaming, your starting up from slumber only to sink down into a drowsier state than before, are a mockery of life, and a willful murder of time. Of how many of you is it true that if you ever did entertain a noble purpose, you never found a convenient season to carry it out? On the verge of conversion, sometimes, you have halted till your convictions have grown cold. Ten or twenty years ago, you listened to the appeal, “My son, give me thine heart,” and you answered, “I will,” but to this day you have never fulfilled your word. “Go work in my vineyard,” said the Master. “I go, Lord,” was your prompt reply, yet you have never gone.
Today, as aforetime, you stand idling. Some of you, indeed, were in a more hopeful condition thirty or forty years ago than you are at present. What account can you give of yourselves? What has become of those intervening years? The infinite mercy of God has kept you out of hell, but there is no guarantee that His longsuffering will shield you from destruction another instant.
O sirs, “the time is short,” the business urgent, the crisis imminent! ’Tis madness to be halting between two opinions. If God be God, serve Him, and if not, take the alternative and serve Baal. Let your mind be made up, one way or the other, without another moment’s delay. How long halt ye between two opinions?
And you Christian people, with your grand illusive projects, how they melt away! Some of you would have done a great deal that is useful by now if you had not dreamed of doing so much that is imposing. Oh, what wonderful plans for evangelizing London, for converting the whole Continent of Europe to Christ, float in the brain, or evaporate in a speech, and nothing is done! We are like a certain Czar of Russia of olden times, who always wanted to take a second step before he took the first. We are always projecting some wonderful scheme that proves too wonderful to ever be carried out. So we dream of what ought to be and should be, of what might be, and as we hope may be.
Such “dreams are the children of an idle brain.” The dreamers grow listless and nothing is done. In the name of the eternal God, I beseech you, if you love Him, get to work for Him. Better slay a single enemy than dream of slaughtering an army. Better that you sow a single grain of corn, or plant a single blade of grass, than dream about fertilizing the Sahara, or reclaiming from the mighty sea untold acres of fertile land. Do something, sirs, do something. It is high time to awake out of sleep, for “the time is short.”
This thought may serve to warn us against another folly, that of speculating upon nice points of controversial theology. You know how the schoolmen used to debate and wrangle about how many angels could stand on the point of a needle, and with many other propositions, no less absurd, did they weary themselves. Strangely indeed was the ingenuity of men taxed to find subjects for discussion in the dark days of those dull doctors of learning.
There is something of that spirit abroad even now, ministers will devote whole sermons to the discussion of some crotchet or quibble that does not signify the turn of a hair to anybody in the universe. I have generally noticed that the less important the point is, the more savagely will some persons defend it, as if the world might go to rack and ruin, and all the sinners in it go blindfold to perdition, and the work of salvation must stand still to have this point discussed.
One brother who meets me occasionally, can never be five minutes in my company, but what he attacks me upon the question of free agency and predestination, I told him the last time I saw him, that I would have it out with him one of these days, but I must defer it till after the day of judgment, for I was too busy to talk about it just now. And I feel like that about a great many questions.
There are brethren who can fully explain the book of Revelation, though I generally find that they exclaim one against the other, till they declaim each other off the face of the earth. I would sooner be able to proclaim the cross of Christ, and explain the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, than to decipher the imagery of Ezekiel, or the symbols of the Apocalypse. Blessed is he who can expound the mysteries. I have no doubt about his blessedness, but I am perfectly satisfied with another blessedness, namely, if I can bring sinners to Jesus, and teach the saints some practical truths which may guide them in daily life.
It seems to me that the time is much too short to go up in a balloon with speculations, or to go down into the mines of profound thought, to bring up some odds and ends and scraps of singular knowledge. We want to save souls, and to conduct them to that heaven where God’s presence makes eternal day. This seems to me to be the pressing demand upon us now that “the time is short,” and “the night comes when no man can work.”
Let this also admonish us, brethren, to singleness of purpose. We must have only one aim. Had we plenty of time, we might try two or three schemes at once, though even then we should most probably fail for want of concentrating our energies, but as we have very little time, we had better economize it by attending to one thing. The man who devotes all his thought and strength to the accomplishment of one reasonable objective is generally successful.
My soul, bend yourself down and lay yourself out for the glory of God, be this the one aim of your entire being. Form your friendships, and order your occupations, so as to fulfill this first and highest duty of life. Be it your one sole motive to live for His honor, and if necessary, even to die to promote His renown among the sons of men. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Attune your souls to the great Hallelujah, “While I live will I bless the LORD; I will sing praises unto my God while I have my being. Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.”
O my brethren, this sublime enthusiasm will work wonders! You dissipate your strength and fritter away your opportunities by dividing your attention. You say that you want to be a Christian, meanwhile, your heart is set upon getting riches, you seek to store your mind with the learning and wisdom of the world, you wish to gain repute as a good talker in company, and a convivial guest at the social board. Ambition prompts you to seek fame among your fellows.
Very well, I shall not denounce any one of these things, but I would use every persuasive to induce you who are believers in Christ to renounce the world. If Christ has bought you with His blood, and redeemed you from this present evil world, He has henceforth a claim on you as His servant, and it is at your peril that you take up with any pursuits that are inconsistent with a full surrender of yourself to Him. You belong to Him, so live wholly to Him.
The reason why the majority of Christians never attain to any eminence in the divine life, is because they let the floods of their life run away in a dozen little, trickling, rivulets, whereas, if they cooped them up into one channel, and sent that one stream rolling on to the glory of God, there would be such a force and power about their character, their thoughts, their efforts, and their actions, that they would really “live while they lived.”