Go to now, you that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:…
The subject here is another prevalent manifestation of pride and worldliness; namely, the propensity to indulge in presumptuous self-reliance in relation to the future.
I. THE SPIRIT OF VAIN CONFIDENCE WHICH THE APOSTLE REBUKES. (Ver. 13.) He appeals directly to worldly-minded merchants and money-makers. The Jews, like ourselves, have been a nation of shopkeepers. In these early times many of them carried the products of one country to the commercial centers of another. The same trader might be found one year at Antioch, the next at Alexandria, the following year at Damascus, and the fourth perhaps at Corinth. Now, the apostle solemnly rebukes those who formed their business plans without taking into account the providence of God, or even the uncertainty of human life. He is very far from stigmatizing commercial enterprise as a form of worldliness. He does not censure the formation of business schemes even for long years to come, provided such be contemplated in subordination to the Divine will, and be not allowed to interfere with spiritual consecration to his service. What he condemns is the spirit of self-sufficiency in regard to the continuance of life and activity and success (Psalm 49:11; Isaiah 56:12; Luke 12:19). He rebukes the practical atheism which would shut out God from business arrangements. And his "Go to now" is quite as much needed among us Gentiles of the nineteenth century as it was among the Jews of the first. In presence of the innumerable business interests of our time, and amidst the wasting anxieties of competition, how prone men are to ignore the eternal laws, and exclude from their calculations the sovereign will of the great Disposer! How apt busy men are to act as if they were the lords of their own lives! When we allow the spirit of worldliness to steal over our souls like a creeping paralysis, then we begin to "boast ourselves of tomorrow."
II. THE GROUNDS OF THE REBUKE. (Vers. 14-17.) The apostle reminds his readers that this confident expectation of a successful future betrays:
1. A foolish and irrational spirit. (Ver. 14.) Although man is endowed with reason, he often neglects to use his reason. These merchant Jews of "the Dispersion" knew thoroughly well the brevity arid frailty of human life, but were in danger of allowing their proud thoughts to efface from their consciousness so commonplace a truth. They forgot that we" know net what shall be on the morrow." In the political world "the unexpected generally happens." In the commercial world what startling surprises occur! - poor men raised to affluence, and rich men reduced to sudden poverty. And the duration of our lives is as uncertain as any other event. "For," asks James, "what is your life?" What is it like? What is its most prominent outward characteristic? "Ye are a vapor;" human life is like the morning mists that mantle the mountain. It spreads itself out, indeed, as vapor does; for it is manifold in its schemes and cares and toils; but, like vapor, it is flail and transient. We know this to be true, but how little do we realize it! We form plans about our business and family affairs, plans about our houses and fields, plans to improve our social status; and we forget that all these are dependent upon an unknown quantity - our continuance in life and health, our possession of the future, and of property in it. Now, in all this, do not we act quite irrationally? How can our calculations be correct, when we leave out the factor of the frailty of life? This thought should be uppermost in our minds. It is the part of a wise man often to reflect that he will soon be in eternity. Again, this vain confidence reveals:
2. An impious and wicked spirit. (Vers. 15-17.) It is impious to forget to carry the will of the supreme Disposer into all our calculations, and to neglect to qualify our plans by a reference to that will. It is wicked for a finite and sinful man to cherish the proud confidence that he may map out the future of his life at his own pleasure. To act as if the keys of time were in one's own keeping, and as if one could ensure life and health, like papers locked up in a fire-resisting safe, involves an arrogance which has in it the essence of all sin. "All such glorying is evil;" for it originates in pride, which is the fountain-head of sin. It is the spirit which makes an idol of self, and which would practically thrust out God from his own world. The apostle concludes with a general moral statement on the subject of the relation between knowledge and responsibility. Our guilt will be the greater if we do not practice what we clearly know (ver. 17). But every professing Christian knows perfectly well the uncertainty of life. How aggravated, then, is our sin, when we "boast ourselves of tomorrow!"
III. THE DUTY OF REALIZING OUR DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD'S WILL. (Ver. 15.) We should always remember that our times are in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and be ready upon every fitting occasion to acknowledge it, not only with submission, but with confidence and joy. Some good men habitually say or write "D.V.," while others equally in their hearts recognize the Lord's will, although they do not often refer to it after such fashion. The great matter is for every one really to permeate his business life with religion, and to live up to the measure of his spiritual knowledge. Thomas Fuller's remarks on this subject are excellent in spirit: "Lord, when in any writing I have occasion to insert these passages, 'God willing,' 'God lending me life,' etc., I observe, Lord, that I can scarce hold my hand from encircling these words in a parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore hereafter I will write those words fully and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity" ('Good Thoughts in Bad Times'). - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: