"I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and the labour that I had laboured to do." - Eccles.ii:11.
Oun Lord pronounced the children of this world "wise in
their generation ;" and who can doubt that thousands who are lost would, with
Gods blessing, be saved, did they bring the same prudence, and diligence,
and energy to their eternal, as they do to their temporal interests? But in how
many people is consummate wisdom joined to the greatest folly! They are wise
enough to gain the world, but fools enough to lose their souls.
Convince a man that the only way to save his life is to part with his limb, and he does not hesitate an instant between living with one limb and being buried with two. Borne in the operating theatre, pale, yet resolute, he bares the diseased member to the knife. And how well does that bleeding, fainting, groaning sufferer teach us to part with our sins rather than with our Saviour. If life is better than a limb, how much better is heaven than a sin!
Two years ago a man was called to decide between preserving his life, and parting with the gains of his lifetime. A. gold-digger, he stood on the deck of a ship that, coming from Australian shores, had - as some all but reach heaven - all but reached her harbour in safety. The exiles had been coasting along their native shores: and to-morrow, husbands would embrace their wives, children their parents, and not a few realize the bright dream of returning to pass the evening of their days in happiness amid the loved scenes of their youth. But as the proverb runs, there is much between the cup and the lip. Night came lowering down; and with the night a storm that wrecked ship, and hopes, and fortunes, all together. The dawning light but revealed a scene of horror-death staring them in the face. The sea, lashed into fury, ran mountains high; no boat could live in her. One chance still remained. Pale women, weeping children, feeble and timid men, must die; but a stout, brave swimmer, with trust in God, and disencumbered of all impediments, might reach the shore, where hundreds stood ready to dash into the boiling surf, and, seizing, save him. One man was observed to go below. He bound around his waist a heavy belt, filled with gold, the hard gains of his life; and returned to the deck. One after another, he saw his fellowpassengers leap overboard. After a brief but terrible struggle, head after head went down - sunk by the gold they had fought hard to gain, and were loath to lose. Slowly he was seen to unbuckle his belt. His hopes had been bound up in it. It was to buy him land, and ease, and respect - the reward of long years of hard and weary exile. What hardships he had endured for it! The sweat of his brow, the hopes of day and the dreams of night, were there. if he part with it, he is a beggar; and then if he keeps it, he dies. He poised it in his hand; balanced it for a awhile; took a long, sad look at it; and then with one strong, desperate effort, flung it far out into the roaring sea. Wise man! It sinks with a sullen plunge; and now he follows it - not to sink, but, disencumbered of its weight, to swim; to beat the billows manfully; and, riding on the foaming surge, to reach the shore. Well done, brave gold-digger! Ay, well done, and well chosen; but if "a man," as the Devil said, who for once spoke Gods truth, "will give all that he hath for his life," how much more should he give all he hath for his soul? Better to part with gold than with God; to bear the heaviest cross than miss a heavenly crown.
Such lessons the children of this world teach the children of "the kingdom;" and among others, and not the least important lesson, is the duty of self-examination. Was there ever a successful merchant who did not balance his books year by year? I have noticed, in reading the details of a court of bankruptcy, that fortunes are as surely wrecked by indolence or carelessness, as by wild speculations, or boundless extravagance. Here is a trader, bankrupt. Sober, honest, industrious, anxious to pay every one their own, not living in splendour at other mens expense, he should have thriven. Yet this honest man has to take a place beside rogues - he, and others, throwing all the blame on fortune; imputing his misfortunes to the blind goddess, her capricious temper and unsteady wheel. But the examination comes, like that day of a greater judgment which shall reveal the true, and unsuspected causes that have wrought the ruin of many souls. The debtors books are produced; and now it appears that last year, and the year before, and for many years, there has been no balance struck. Fancying that all was right, too careless to think of it, too busy to spare time for taking stock, or too indolent to go through its irksome labour, from year to year he has put off striking a balance, till now he strikes on the rock ahead. The crash comes. He opens his eyes on ruin; and finds, too late, that for years he has been driving a losing trade. He is a bankrupt for want of a balance. And the general practice of men of business, their custom of year by year taking stock, examining their books and striking a balance to know how they stand, is a lesson of the highest value. Our everlasting salvation may turn on it. People go on dreaming that all is right when all is wrong; nor wake to the dreadful truth till they open their eyes in torment. What pains ought we to take to avoid the remotest chance of such a calamity! If men take such care of their earthly fortunes, how much greater our need to see how we stand with God; and do with our spiritual what all wise merchants do with their earthly interests - review the transactions of every year I Let us judge ourselves that we be not judged; and, holding a court of conscience, in the words of the text, "Look on all the things that my hands have wrought, and on the labours that I have laboured to do."
I. In this review we should inquire what we have done for God.
What has God done for us? In the dew drops that top every spike of grass, sow the sward with orient pearl, and hang like pendent diamonds, sparkling in the sun from all the leaves of the forest, you see the multitude of his mercies. He crowns the year with his bounty. We have seen other streams dried up by the heat of summer, and frozen by the cold of winter - that of his mercies never. It has flowed on; day by day, night by night, ever flowing; and largely fed of heavenly showers, sometimes overflowing all its banks. To this, and that other one has the past brought afflictions? Still, may I not ask, how few our miseries to the number of our mercies; how far have our blessings exceeded our afflictions; our nights of sleep, those of wakefulness; our hours of health, those of sickness; our many gains, the few losses we have suffered? For every blow, how many blessings! and even when he smote with one hand, did not a gracious God hold up with the other? Who has not to sing of mercy as well as judgment; ay, much more of mercies than of judgments? Let us not write the memory of these on water, and of those on the rock. Then, can we deny, should we not rather be ready to acknowledge, that however sorely tried, we have been afflicted far less than our iniquities deserved? Let that silence each murmuring thought, and teach us to be dumb - . opening not the mouth. Dumb! No. Let the dumb sing! " Count it all joy," says the apostle, "when ye fall into divers temptations." Faith sees crowns growing on the top of crosses, and plucks roses from the thorny bush. She holds in her hand that which not only turns water into wine - common into new covenant mercies, but Jerichos saitness and Marahs bitterness into sweetest streams. What a healing branch, plucked from the tree of life, this truth, "All things shall work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose ;" or this, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?"
That is one side of the account-current; now look at the other! In the years that are past, what have we done for God? We have hadmany, daily, innumerable, opportunities of serving him, speaking for him, working for him, not sparing ourselves for him who spared not his own Son for us. Yet, how little have we attempted; and how much less have we done in the spirit of our Saviours words, Wist ye not that I must be about my Fathers business? In the golden sheaves of harvests the soil, grateful for favours, returns to the husbandman all that it gets; and by the mouths of its ten thousand rivers the earth gives back her treasures to the sea- and hence the sea is always full. But how poor the return we have made to God? There is no moor in our country so barren as our hearts. They drink up Gods blessings as the sands of the Sahara heavens rain. Nor is it but here and there that our life shews any green spots with verdure to refresh the eye, and call for the grateful acknowledgmeut of the apostle, "By grace I am what I am - by the grace of God I have done what I have done Alas, how few are the days, how few the deeds of the past, that will be remembered with any comfort on a death-bed! It is impossible even now to review our lives without feeling that there is no hope for us out of Christ; and that the best and the busiest have been unprofitable servants. And if such be the case with those who are not dead to the claims of God, but say, I love the Lord - Bless the Lord, 0 my soul - I have wished, and I have tried to serve him - what must be the case with others? What looms up in the future of those who have lived without God in the world? If the righteous scarcely are saved, where shall the wicked and ungodly appear?
II. In this review we should inquire what we have done for ourselves.
From the summit of his hanging gardens, Nebuchadnezzar swept his eye over the mighty city that lay with its hundred gates of brass, the vast circuit of its walls, its noble river, and lordly palaces, and busy streets, spread out at his feet. His pride kindles at the sight. Is not this, he exclaims, great Babylon that I have built! But where is Babylon now? In anti-christian Rome there is a mystic Babylon, against which God seems to be mustering his armies, so that ere long the world, shaken by her fall, may hear the long expected cry, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen." But the other has perished ages ago in the wreck of time, and left hardly a wreck behind. Babylon shall become heaps ;" and heaps she is.
By the silent river that sweeps through a lonely desert, the long clay mounds mark her grave; and remain to give echo to the words, Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!
And if "the harvest is past, and the summer ended, and we are not saved," what other verdict than "Vanity" can conscience and truth pronounce on the years that are gone? We have stopped half-way in Solomons sentence for a text; but we must read it out, on to the close, for the full-length portrait of one who has lived in pleasure, neglecting the great salvation: "I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do; and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
No profit? Do you reply, I have made large profits - my business has paid me, and yielded large returns - I have added acres to my lands - I have added hundreds to my wealth, or many fresh, green leaves to my laurel-crown? But, let me say that that, perhaps, is not all you have added. What if by every day you have lived without God and for the world, you have added difficulties to your salvation; shackles to your limbs; bars to your prison; guilt to your soul; sins to your debt; thorns to your dying pillow? As Samuel Johnson said to Garrick, when the great actor, receiving the great moralist at his country-villa, showed him all its elegance and beauty, - " Ah, David!" said Johnson solemnly, as he laid a kind hand on the others Shoulder,.-" these are the things that make a death-bed terrible." Profit! what profit had Jonah in his gourd, when its dry leaves rustled over his burning head, and fell in showers on the floor of his once green bower.
There is a story of a man who, unable to recall one good thing said or done from morning to noon, and from noon to night, exclaimed, I have lost a day! But if the years now gone, with all their golden hours gone never to return, have been spent only on the world and the things of the world, - if "the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved," it is not a day, nor a year, but years that we have lost.
Not lost, however, these years by those who, born again, and made new creatures in Jesus Christ, have entered on a state of grace! A memorable night that when the ground shook beneath the tramp of millions, and Moses at her head, triumphant and jubilant Israel took her way out of the land of bondage! A memorable day that when, rising to the voice of Christ, Lazarus left the dusty tomb, its gloomy silence, and mouldering skeletons, for his sisters arms and the lightsome home at Bethany! But more memorable still the year on which a soul passes from death to life, the date and day of a mans second birth.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
Other birth-days may be dashed in some measure with sorrow, and celebrated with chequered feelings. Where are some who used to convene on these occasions, and wish us years of happiness? We miss round the board familiar faces; this and that chair is vacant; old friends are thinning off; and death, approaching ourselves, projects a cold shadow on the festive scene. And, ah, how many celebrate birthdays they shall wish had never been! The lights extinguished - the music silent - the dancers gone - the fair forms of beauty mouldering in the grave, - in another world they shall curse the day they were wont to celebrate with such joyous scenes, and games, and merry laughter. "Cursed be the day when I was born - oh, that my mother might have been my grave - wherefore came I forth from the womb," Jeremiah says, "that my days should be consumed with shame?" - but they shall say, that I should suffer this torment, he gnawed by a worm that never dieth, and burn in flames that are never quenched. From such an awful doom, good Lord deliver us!
Let no man be cast down; give way to despair! Years are lost; but the soul is not yet lost. There is still time to be saved. Haste, then, and away. Up to work, the night is falling; to pray, the door is shutting; to escape, the avenger is close behind you. Make for the City of Refuge! Believe in Christ! for whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but hath everlasting life.
III. In this review we should inquire what we have done for others.
Our Saviours whole life, which, if written fully out, John says, would fill so many volumes that the world would not be able to contain them, is told in this one, brief sentence, "He went about doing good." In this work he lived; for this end he died. This drew him down from the skies; "doing good" was "the joy set before him," for which he wore the thorny crown, and bore his heavy cross. And mark this, that none are his, but those that are baptized with this baptism; - not you "unless the same mind is in you that was in Jesus Christ."
Suppose, then, that our blessed Lord, sitting down on Olivet to review the years of his busy life, had looked on all the works which his hands had wrought, - what a crowd, a long procession of miracles and mercies had passed before him! How many sinners warned! how many mourners comforted! how many friends and neighbours counselled! how many griefs healed! how many sufferers relieved! what busy days, what blessed hours! his presence carrying sunbeams into darkened homes! mercies springing up like flowers all along his path from the cradle to the grave! With what truth and beauty might he have applied to himself the words of the patriarch: "When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness of me; because I delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widows heart to sing with joy." True of Job, how much more true are these words of the life of Jesus! He came in the form of a servant; and lived, not to himself, it was his meat and drink to do his Fathers will. In that, he hath set us an example that we should follow his steps. And such an example! I believe there were more good works crowded into one, single day of Christs life, than you will find spread over the life-long history of any Christian.
Trying our piety by this test, what testimony does our past life bear to his character? Ages ago, two strangers belonging to other spheres, alighted on our world; and both have left their footprints behind them. The poles are not so wide asunder as were their purposes. Rising on the smoke of the pit, Satan came from hell to ruin it: descending with a train of angels from the skies, Jesus came from heaven to save it. Each had his mission; and each performed it. We also have ours; and looking to the manner in which we have passed our lives, to which of the two do we bear the greatest resemblance? What have we been doing, what have we done in years gone by! Creeping like a serpent in some happy Eden, have we tempted others to their fall? or, Christlike, have we sought to raise the fallen? The tree is known by its fruits. Judge ye. The Lord have mercy on you if tempting others to sin, you have played the devils part! Happy those who, at however great a distance. and in however imperfect a manner, have attempted to follow Christ! "Well done, good and faithful servant," shall reward the pains, and crown the prayers, that sought to raise the fallen and save the lost.
In conclusion -
1. This review, Gods Spirit blessing it, should awaken careless sinners.
If there was no remedy, if you were past redemption, I would no more seek to waken you than I would one who slept to-night, and was to be hanged to-morrow. Poor wretch, let him sleep on and take his rest - sufficient for the day is the evil thereof. A boat was once seen sweeping along the rapid that hurries to the Falls of Niagara. To the horror of some that watched it from the shore, they saw one aboard; and also asleep. Such a time and place for sleeping! They ran; they shouted; they cried. The sleeper woke; and at one wild, rapid glance took in all his danger. Yet what wont a man do for his life? To seize the oars and pull the boats head round to the shore, was the work of an instant. With death in the thunders of the cateract, roaring loud and louder, near and nearer in his ear, how he pulled! But unless God had sent down the eagle that sailed in the blue skies overhead to bear him away upon her wings, there was no hope. The water, sweeping onward with resistless power, shot him like an arrow to the brink. It was cruel to waken him. But, as nigh to destruction, near hell as that, you may be saved; plucked from the very edge of ruin - just when you are going over. Jesus can save at the uttermost. He waits now to save though how much longer he shall wait to hear from your lips the cry," Save me," I know not. Beware! The patience of God is lasting, but not everlasting.
2. This review should stir up Gods people.
You are not what you should be; you are not what you might have been. How much further on had we been in the way to Zion, if we had never slept! How much further advanced in grace, had we turned our opportunities to the best account! See how great a difference one year makes on a thriving child ! - alas! how little difference any one year, the last twelve months have made on us! No wonder! We have slept when we should have watched; rested, when we should have run; fled, when we should have fought; fallen, when we should have stood. The battle went against us because we did not go to it in the power of prayer, and in the strength of the Lord; and now precious opportunities of getting and of doing good are gone - never, never to return. There is a way, however, of redeeming lost time, as well as lost fortunes and estates. The woodman is taking it, who with sturdy arm and gleaming axe makes his blows fall thick and fast on the groaning tree; the rider, who spurs his foaming steed to its utmost mettle; the seaman who, flying from the pirates guns, shakes out all his canvas, and under bending spars, plunges through the seething deep; the blacksmith who, by the glowing forge, and with the sweat standing on his swarthy brow, plies his hammer on the ringing anvil - doing in one hour the work of two. So may years be redeemed; the very past, after a fashion, recalled, and its shadow turned back on Times old dial. Give your whole soul to this work; throw yourselves on your knees; crying to God for help, seek the aids of the Holy Spirit; and to whatever asks you to turn aside from making your calling. and election sure, say, with Nehemiah, "I have a great work to do, therefore, I cannot come down."
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