A few days ago he realized that the end was drawing nigh. Before that he had looked forward, and it seemed to him that his life might run on for years. But it was not so to be. The death-angel drew near, and he heard the sound of its coming wings. He then began to look backward, to see his life as a completed whole. He could now see life in its true light; for life does not appear the same when we look back upon it from the end as it does when our gaze is turned forward in the busy hurry of the days of health. When one is brought to the brink of the grave, life takes on a different aspect; it appears in its true perspective. We are usually so absorbed in the present that the past and the future have little place in our thoughts. Most lives are lived, not according to any plan or purpose, but according to the fleeting influence of the present moment.
Reader, you and I are on the path to the cemetery. Some day, and it may not be far off, we shall look back over our lives from the end. Day by day, often with but little thought, we are building the structure of our lives. Yesterday we laid the foundation of today, and today we lay the foundation of tomorrow. Unless we lay a good foundation and build well thereon, when we look back upon our lives at the last we shall find much to regret. The wood, hay, and stubble of selfish works and selfish purposes will be burned up in the fire that will try every man's work.
How much of the selfish element enters into most lives! The ambition, the labor, the planning, is for self. If self prospers, what else matters? If self has ease and comfort, what matters it about others? If self is pleased, is not that enough? Self seems to be the mainspring of most lives; is it so in our own? When we come to look back at the last, we shall find no pleasure in viewing our own selfishness or its fruits. We shall not desire to retain it in our memories. We shall see that whatever was done through selfish motives was time and energy lost.
When we look back, shall we see bitter words, unkind deeds, and unfaithfulness to God and man? Shall we look back upon broken promises? on friends who trusted us and were disappointed? Shall we look back upon wrongs to our fellow men and sins toward God? It seems to me that the keenest regrets that ever come to a soul on earth are the regrets that come to him who, during his last hours on earth, has to view a misspent life.
How many have said, "Oh, if I could live my life over!" Alas! that can not be. My brother, my sister, you can live this day but once. You will look back in time and eternity and see this day just as you lived it. Not only today, but every day, when it is today, holds the same momentous responsibility. Let us live today as faithful to God and man, as true, pure, just, and kind as we shall in the last day wish we had lived. Do not think that tomorrow you will live better, and be more kind and true and gentle. Today is your day; tomorrow is out of your reach.
There was one of old who looked back over his life and summed it all up in these words: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." He was rich and wise; he was a mighty king, and had great honors; but he lacked that good conscience that comes from a life well spent. He had not held back his heart from the enjoyment of any pleasure. He had given free rein to his desires. He had lived a life of ease and luxury. He had but to speak, and he was obeyed. But, alas! when he looked back, there was nothing in the scene to give him pleasure. It was only "vanity and vexation of spirit."
There was another man who looked back and who told us what he saw. His circumstances were very different from those of the other. He was a prisoner. In a little while the sword of the executioner would sever the frail bond of life. He knew the time was near, and these are his words; "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." His words are a shout of triumph; there is in them the exaltation of final victory. There is no tinge of regret, there is no tear of sorrow. What mattered it if his way had been rugged and thorny? What mattered the thousand perils that had threatened him on every side? What mattered the shipwrecks, the scourgings, the stoning, the opposition of false brethren and of the heathen, the dungeons, the cold, the weariness, the sorrows? He looked back over them all; and his soul, glowing with joy, burst out in language of supreme satisfaction: "I have fought a good fight."
Not once had he laid down his weapons. Not once had he faltered. Not for a day had he ceased to be true to his Lord. Therefore he could say, "I have kept the faith." Though many times he might have avoided trouble had he kept back the message of truth, yet how glad he was that in every instance he had been true!
Sometimes you will not find it easy to do right, sometimes you will have to sacrifice and endure, sometimes you will be reproached and mocked; but when you take that last retrospective view, the fact that you have been true will cause you to be glad, as was Paul of old. Then, be true today. Fill today with a full measure of faithful service. Think not of tomorrow, but do the right, in each today, and thus you may exclaim with Paul, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Tim.4: 8).