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PSALM xxxix. 5. Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days t that I may be certified how long I have to live. THE royal author of the Psalm from whence these words are taken, seems to have written it under the deepest affliction both of mind and of body. The account which he gives of his own feelings and conduct at the time is a very remarkable one. Knowing how useless and how wicked are all clamorous and hasty complaints, he deter mines to be silent, and to give his enemies no advantage over him. (( I said I will take heed to my ways that I offend not in my tongue : I will keep my mouth as it were with a bridle, while the ungodly is in my sight." But though he abstained from every expression of peevish ness or desperation, he might have innocently and reasonably entered, like righteous Job, into a justification both of himself and of his God.
SERMO XXXIV. 411 Remembering however, from the example of Job, how liable even in this respect he was to be mis taken, " he kept silence, yea even from good words, but it was pain and grief unto him." There is not indeed a more painful feeling, than when the heart, full of its own bitterness and sor row, knows not to whom it shall impart its trou bles, nor upon whom it shall repose its grief. Destitute of every earthly comforter and friend,
the Psalmist flies for consolation and support to a higher power, and pours forth his tears and his prayers into the bosom of his Father and his God. " My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing, the fire kindled; and at the last I spake with my tongue. Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days ; that I may be certified how long I have to live." These are not the words of fretfulness or despair, but " the words of soberness and truth/ He does not ask with idle curiosity, to know the exact day and hour on which his life shall end ; this is not his meaning. He only asks to be so con vinced of the shortness of his days, as to be the better enabled thereby to bear his present sor rows, and to prepare for his future end. Tl^ he asks " that he may be certified how long he has to live ;" that he may know and feel how short a space even the longest life affords for the exercise of piety and obedience ; and that as he
SERMO XXXIV. is certified of its shortness, so he may be certified of its value. This sense of the words agrees exactly with the translation of them as we find it in the Bible, " Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days what it is, that I may know how frail I am." The sum and substance indeed of his request is contained in the last verse of the Psalm ; an entreaty it is, in which he will be joined most earnestly by every one among us, who knows that he is " a stranger only and a sojourn er upon earth, as all his fathers were." The entreaty is this, " O spare me a little that I may recover my strength, before I go hence, and
be no more seen." May God in his mercy grant that it may be the case of every one of us ! But many of us, however earnestly they might be inclined to pray for this, would proceed much farther in their supplications. We often think that if we knew the precise term of our end, and the exact number of our days, we should be the better and the happier creatures. We should not be the better, but the worse for this addition to our knowledge. It would make us more un happy, more vicious, and more desperate. To shew this will be one of the chief objects of the present discourse. Let us consider then, First, The wisdom of God in hiding from us, the exact time of our end.
SERMO XXXIV. 413 Secondly, The mercy of God in giving us the means, so " to know our end, and the number of our days, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom." First, God in his wisdom has hidden from us the exact number of our days. Suppose now for a moment, that the Almighty was to reveal to each of us the precise length of his existence. Suppose he was to reveal to one of us that he should live fifty years, to another that he should live ten, to another that he should live ,pne, to another that " this very night his soul should be required of him." What would be the immediate consequence of this ? The affairs of the world
around us would be plunged into utter confusion. Who would sow, if he did not hope to reap ? who would labour and toil, if he was certain that he should not enjoy the fruits? All activity, all mo tive, all energy, would be destroyed; and in their stead would succeed envy, jealousy, and repining. or with respect to the soul itself would the change be for the better. If a young man, in the hope only of living fifty years, thinks that he may safely spend the first half of them in vice and folly, what would he do if he was cer tain of so long a continuance in life ? Would he not the more securely put off his repentance and enjoy his sin ? How would the day of reforma tion, year after year, be delayed ; till at length in the agony of despair, even with the time open
414 SERMO XXXIV. before him, he would imagine that it was too late. On the other hand, if a young man in the vigour of health and strength were assured, that in one short year his soul would be required of him, how would his thoughts be drawn off from his duty to man, and fixed only upon his duty to God, forgetting that both these duties should be discharged together ; in his anxiety and alarm to prepare for his own happiness, he would ne glect those exertions by which he might increase the happiness of others. Most wisely therefore, and most mercifully to ourselves and to others, has God concealed from our eyes the exact mea sure of our life, and number of our days. But in return for this, God has given us the means so to " know our end and the number of our days, as to apply our hearts unto wisdom."
The experience of every hour will teach us that our days are at best " but a span long/ 7 and that " every man living is altogether vanity." The term of our appointed time must conclude quickly, and it may conclude suddenly. How soon are the youngest and the strongest called from this world to another, how rapid is their departure, how unexpected their summons ! These are the warnings which a merciful God gives to us who remain. These are among the means which his wisdom employs to teach us how near our own end may be, and how short 7
SERMO XXXIV. 415 the number of our days. Guided by these awful lessons, let us " apply our hearts unto wisdom." Let the very uncertainty of life teach us to do the " work of him that sent us, while it is day, for the night cometh," and quickly cometh, " when no man can work." Disease and pain, disappointment and sorrow, are also among the means which the Almighty uses to bring us to a knowledge of our latter end. While all things go smoothly on, we are little inclined to believe that they will ever come to a conclusion ; the greater our enjoyments are, the longer we think that they will last, and " in our prosperity we say we shall never be remov ed." " O death," says the son of Sirach, "how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that liveth at rest in his possessions, unto the man that hath nothing to vex him, and that hath prosperity in all things." Most merciful then is the Almighty in these his dispensations of afflic tion and pain, that wean our souls from the seduc
tions and the vanities of the world, and direct our eyes to that better country to which we are all fast travelling. "When the judgments of God are in the earth, then it is that men will learn righteousness." And under tribulation and sorrow the thought of his latter end will be a thought of comfort to every Christian soul. Then it is that he will " number his days" with
satisfaction and joy ; he will see how short space of his earthly trial is, and how everlasting is his reward. " Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning," in that eternal morning which shall hereafter rise and shine upon the servants of God. The duties which all of us, in our respective stations, have to discharge, will teach us also to <f know our end." If high and low, rich and poor, have each a task to perform, and each an account to give, will they not each enquire what is the time allowed them for their work, and what is the day on which their stewardship must be resigned ? Let a man once seriously reflect upon the discharge of his duty, and he will think also of his end. He that knows how much he has to do, will remember well the days which are given him to do it in. Be they many, or be they few, he will take care that they shall all be well employed ; and that when the Lord cometh, however suddenly, he shall not " find him sleep ing." But the greatest of those means which the Al
mighty has given us of knowing our end and the number of our days, is his Holy Word. There are the promises, there are the prospects, there the hopes, which unite things present to things future, earth to heaven, time to eternity. There it is that we are " certified how long we have to
SERMO XXXIV. 417 live," not in this short and troublesome world, but in the kingdom of God, and in the "pre sence of the Lamb." By faith we know that our end in this life is but our beginning in another : by faith we know that death is but the stream that divides the wilderness in which, as strangers and as pilgrims, we now wander, from the Ca naan of our everlasting inheritanc e. " Here we have no abiding city, but we seek one above, whose maker and whose builder is God." This is our real end ; for this, by the grace of God, let all our days be numbered, that whether our Lord shall call us sooner or later, we may ever be prepared to obey. " Knowing then the end, and the number of your days, let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord ; Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching : and if he come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants." At no time do these thoughts come home with more seriousness to our souls than at the season, when by the blessing of God, we are passing from one year to another. By years, our short span of life is measured, by years our days are numbered. And surely we must see the wisdom,
and adore the mercy of God in thus directing Ee
418 SERMO XXXIV. our thoughts, at stated intervals, to that end to which we are all approaching. The passage from one year to another is a sort of stand in the pilgrimage of our lives ; it is a projecting point from which a prospect may be taken both of what is past, and of what is fu ture. It is well then that we should take due advantage of this wise and merciful dispensation, that we should mark the flight of our lives, and pause, and look backwards and forwards, and consider how our account stands for the days that are gone, and how it may stand for those which are to come. A year is, at all times, a very considerable portion of our existence ; but how soon is it gone ! To the youngest of us it does not appear long, but as we proceed onward in life, it will appear shorter and shorter. For we compare each succeeding year not with itself alone, but with the whole space of our lives which is past. The larger then the portion of time which we have already gone through, the shorter will the next approaching interval ap pear. We all, from experience, know the truth of this ; and we often, with a sigh, lament that every year seems to pass away quicker than the last. How much then does the value of every moment that remains increase upon us, when we know with what fearful haste even the longest life is rolling onwards to eternity ? "
SERMO XXXIV. 419 The year is past ; how has it been spent ? To what purpose has it been applied ? What ac count can we give of the talents committed to our charge ? Have we improved our minds as we ought, in useful knowledge ? have we strength ened them as we ought in the faith of the Gos pel ? What progress have we made in our duty to God or to man, in the course of the departed year ? In what are we better this day, than we were this day twelvemonth ? Have we prayed with more earnestness, have we attended the Holy Sacrament more frequently, have we thought more seriously of our latter end ? Have we increased in our charities, have we become kinder neighbours, and better friends? What bad habit have we subdued, what Christian mo tive have we cultivated ? In one word, are we progressive in faith, hope, and charity ? for if we are not better in these respects, we are worse : our hearts are more hardened ; our feelings more insensible. The year is past, and we are now entering into another, of which who among us can be assured that he will be permitted to see the end ? How many even among ourselves, who were present with us at the beginning of the past year, have been summoned before its conclusion, from life to death, from time to eternity. Let these things teach us "to know our end, and the Ee2
420 SERMO XXXIV.
number of our days," how small it must be, how much smaller it may be. " The days of our years are but threescore years and ten/ but how few, comparatively how very few, arrive at that period ? How many are cut off from the land of the living, in the vigour of manhood, in the flower of their youth, in the pride of their strength ? May we all, as we retire to " our chambers, and are still," consider how soon we also must pass away, and be gone ; and how our years are bringing to an end, " as it were a tale that is told !" And when we thus retire, may the Father of mercies influence those moments and those thoughts, on which perhaps our lot in eternity itself may depend ! May he in whose hands are the issues of life and death, both teach us to know our end, and dispose our hearts to wisdom ! . May he give us grace, in entering upon a new year, to enter upon a new life, to reform what is amiss, to supply what is wanting, to perfect what is good ! So that when our days shall have been numbered, and "our footsteps shall stumble on the dark mountains," we may look backward with joy, and forward with hope ; and have " so passed through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal."
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