Dated December, 1734
“Redeeming the time”
An exhortation to improve time.
Consider what hath been said of the preciousness of time, how much depends upon it, how short and uncertain it is, how irrecoverable it will be when gone. If you have a right conception of these things, you will be more choice of your time than of the most fine gold. Every hour and moment will seem precious to you. — But besides those considerations which have been already set before you, consider also the following:
First, that you are accountable to God for your time. Time is a talent given us by God; he hath set us our day; and it is not for nothing. Our day was appointed for some work; therefore he will, at the day’s end, call us to an account. We must give account to him of the improvement of all our time. We are God’s servants; as a servant is accountable to his master, how he spends his time when he is sent forth to work, so are we accountable to God. If men would aright consider this, and keep it in mind, would they not improve their time otherwise than they do? Would you not behave otherwise than you do, if you considered with yourselves every morning, that you must give an account to God, how you shall have spent that day? And if you considered with yourselves, at the beginning of every evening, that you must give an account to God, how you shall have spent that evening? Christ hath told us, that “for every idle word which men speak they shall give account in the day of judgment,” Mat. 12:36. How well, therefore, may we conclude, that we must give an account of all our idle misspent time!
Second, consider how much time you have lost already. For your having lost so much, you have the greater need of diligently improving what yet remains. You ought to mourn and lament over your lost time. But that is not all, you must apply yourselves the more diligently to improve the remaining part, that you may redeem lost time. — You who are considerably advanced in life, and have hitherto spent your time in vanities and worldly cares, and have lived in a great measure negligent of the interests of your souls, may well be terrified and amazed, when you think how much time you have lost and wasted away. — In that you have lost so much time, you have the more need of diligence, on three accounts.
1. As your opportunity is so much the shorter. — Your time at its whole length is short. But set aside all that you have already lost, and then how much shorter is it! As to that part of your time which you have already lost, it is not to be reckoned into your opportunity; for that will never be any more; and it is no better, but worse to you, than if it never had been.
2. You have the same work to do that you had at first, and that under great difficulties. Hitherto you have done nothing at all of your work, all remains to be done, and that with vastly greater difficulties and opposition in your way than would have been if you had set about it seasonably. So that the time in which to do your work is not only grown shorter, but your work is grown greater. You not only have the same work to do, but you have more work. For while you have lost your time, you have not only shortened it, but you have been making work for yourselves. How well may this consideration awaken you to a thorough care, not to let things run on in this manner any longer, and rouse you up immediately to apply yourselves to your work with all your might!
3. That is the best of your time which you have lost. The first of a man’s time, after he comes to the exercise of his reason, and to be capable of performing his work, is the best. You who have lived in sin till past your youth, have lost the best part. So that here all these things to be considered together, viz. that your time in the whole is but short, there is none to spare. A great part of that is gone, so that it is become much shorter. That which is gone is the best; yet all your work remains, and not only so, but with greater difficulties than ever before attended it. And the shorter your time is, the more work you have to do.
What will make you sensible of the necessity of a diligent improvement of remaining time, if these things will not? Sometimes such considerations as these have another effect, viz. to discourage persons, and to make them think, that seeing they have lost so much time, it is not worth their while to attempt to do anything now. The devil makes fools of them; for when they are young, he tells them, there is time enough hereafter, there is no need of being in haste, it will be better seeking salvation hereafter; and then they believe him. Afterwards, when their youth is past, he tells them, that now they have lost so much, and the best of their time, that it is not worth their while to attempt to do anything; and now they believe him too. So that with them no time is good. The season of youth is not a good time; for that is most fit for pleasure and mirth, and there will be enough afterwards. And what comes afterwards is not a good time, because the best of it is gone. Thus are men infatuated and ruined.
But what madness is it for persons to give way to discouragement, so as to neglect their work, because their time is short! What need have they rather to awake out of sleep, thoroughly to rouse up themselves, and to be in good earnest, that if possible they may yet obtain eternal life! Peradventure God may yet give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, that they may be saved. Though it be late in the day, yet God calls upon you to rouse, and to apply yourselves to your work. And will you not hearken to his counsel in this great affair, rather than to the counsel of your mortal enemy?
Third, consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it. What a sense of its preciousness have poor sinners sometimes, when they are on their deathbeds! Such have cried out, O, a thousand worlds for an inch of time! Then time appears to them indeed precious. An inch of time could do them no more good than before, when they were in health, supposing a like disposition to improve it, nor indeed so much. For a man’s time upon a deathbed is attended with far greater disadvantage for such an improvement as will be for the good of his soul, than when he is in health. — But the near approach of death makes men sensible of the inestimable worth of time. Perhaps, when they were in health, they were as insensible of its value as your are, and were as negligent of it. But how are their thoughts altered now! It is not because they are deceived, that they think time to be of such value, but because their eyes are opened. And it is because you are deceived and blind that you do not think as they do.
Fourth, consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of it. What thoughts do you think they have of its preciousness, who have lost all their opportunity for obtaining eternal life, and are gone to hell? Though they were very lavish of their time while they lived, and set no great value upon it; yet how have they changed their judgments! How would they value the opportunity which you have, if they might but have it granted to them! What would they not give for one of your days, under the means of grace! — So will you, first or last, be convinced. But if you be not convinced except in the manner in which they are, it will be too late.
There are two ways of making men sensible of the preciousness of time. One is, by showing them the reason why it must be precious, by telling them how much depends on it, how short it is, how uncertain, etc. The other is experience, wherein men are convinced how much depends on the improvement of time. The latter is the most effectual way; for that always convinces, if nothing else doth. — But if persons be not convinced by the former means, the latter will do them no good. If the former be ineffectual, the latter, though it be certain, yet is always too late. Experience never fails to open the eyes of men, though they were never opened before. But if they be first opened by that, it is no way to their benefit. Let all therefore be persuaded to improve their time to their utmost.