So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.…
There are certain seasons which come round to men - birthdays, anniversaries, the close of the year, and the like - which seem to compel some sort of numbering of our days. The giddiest, the most thoughtless and worldly, are, for the moment, constrained to recollect the flight of time, the passing away of their life. Like as in dead of night, in the heart of a great city, when its business is hushed, and the traffic of its streets is still, the almost solitary passenger, though thinking of quite other things, is startled and arrested by the sudden simultaneous sounding of the hour of the night from the multitudinous clocks and bell towers which are on every hand. In the rush and roar of the midday business, when the full tide of the city's trade is sweeping on, their stroke and chime would hardly have been heeded. But in this quiet hour, when all is still, the boom of the cathedral bell or the chime from yonder tower floats along the deserted streets, and the wayfarer cannot but take notice that another hour is gone. So in the quiet of thought, to which such seasons as those I have referred to incline us, the evident fact of the passing away of our days strikes upon our mind, and leads us to some sort of numbering of our days - a numbering which may or may not be profitable, and which can only be so according to the manner in which it is done. And this is the teaching of our text. It craves the teaching of God, that we may so number our days as to apply, etc. That, then, is the right numbering of our days which leads us to apply our hearts unto wisdom. Therefore let us inquire -
I. WHAT IS THIS WISDOM TO WHICH WE SHOULD APPLY OUR HEARTS? It is that which leads us to so use this life as the preparation for the life eternal. This life is our school, our training ground, the scene of our education for eternity. What folly, then, to waste and squander such a season! We chide sternly the boy who wastes his school time, but how many men throw away the opportunities which are given to them in this school of life to prepare them for the real life which awaits us when this is over! To the foolish child we say, "School time does not come twice." To many men the same needs to be said. But we shall never use this life aright until we have surrendered our wills - given our hearts - to God, that by his wonder working grace he may cleanse, and sanctify, and keep, and use them for himself. Then all will be well.
II. HOW DOES THE RIGHT NUMBERING OF OUR DAYS LEAD TO THE APPLYING OF OUR HEARTS TO WISDOM? Because it makes us realize how transitory our life is. This is the burden of this psalm. But to really see this, to absolutely believe it, as few do, is to think but little of this world.
1. Of its riches and glory. For if I know - not merely think, but know certainly - that I must have done with them all in a very little time, shall I care very much for them? Would a prisoner in the condemned cell be greatly elated if, the day before his death, he was left a fortune? Would any struggle as they do for this world's wealth if they knew that their lease of it was so brief?
2. And so, too, of this world's sorrows. Should we be so moved by them if we knew how little time they lasted? The martyrs were wont to strengthen their minds by this thought as they anticipated their cruel tortures and death. Paul says, "Our light afflictions which are but for a moment. Hence he who rightly numbers his days lives above the world, is independent of it, is free from its terrible down drag and tyranny.
3. And he will, knowing the transitoriness of this life, seek for that which is eternal.
III. WHY ARE WE SO SLOW TO NUMBER OUR DAYS?
1. Because we do not like the task. It breeds melancholy and fearful thoughts.
2. We persuade ourselves there is no need. We shall have plenty of time (cf. the rich fool).
3. We so love the world.
4. Doubt. The teachings of Holy Scripture and the Church are dimly seen, or doubted, or, it may be, absolutely denied. Many more than we think are practical atheists. Therefore we need to pray, So teach us to number our days," or else we shall never do it at all. - S.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.