So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.…
I. THE FEELINGS SUGGESTED BY A RETROSPECT OF THE PAST.
1. The analogies of nature which correspond with human life. All things here are double. The world without corresponds with the world within. No man could look on a stream when alone by himself, and all noisy companionship overpowering good thoughts was away, without the thought that just so his own particular current of life will fall at last into the "unfathomable gulf where all is still." No man can look upon a field of corn, in its yellow ripeness, which he has passed weeks before when it was green, or a convolvulus withering as soon as plucked, without experiencing a chastened feeling of the fleetingness of all earthly things. No man ever went through a night-watch in the bivouac, when the distant hum of men and the random shot fired, told of possible death on the morrow; or watched in a sick room, when time was measured by the sufferer's, breathing or the intolerable ticking of the clock, without a firmer grasp on the realities of Life and Time.
2. Moses is looking back, and his feeling is loss. Many a one consumed, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, by the wrath of God. Many a Hebrew warrior stricken in battle, and over him a sand-heap. And those who remembered these things were old men — "consuming," his strong expression, "their strength in labour and sorrow." We stand upon the shore of that illimitable sea which never restores what has once fallen into it; we hear only the boom of the waves that throb over all — for ever.
3. There is, too, an apparent non-attainment. A deeper feeling pervades this psalm than that of mere transitoriness: it is that of the impotency of human effort. "We are consumed" — perish aimlessly like the grass. No man was more likely to feel this than Moses. The cycles of God's providences are so large that our narrow lives scarcely measure a visible portion of them. So large that we ask, What can we effect? Yet there is an almost irrepressible wish in our hearts to see success attend our labours, to enter the Promised Land in our own life. It is a hard lesson: to toil in faith, and to die in the wilderness, not having attained the promises, but only seeing them afar off.
II. THE RIGHT USE OF THESE SAD SUGGESTIONS. Duty is done with all energy, then only, when we feel, "The night cometh, when no man can work," in all its force. Two thoughts are presented to make this easier.
1. The eternity of God. Shall we give up our hopes of heaven and progress, because it is so slow, when we remember that God has innumerable ages before Him? Or our hopes for our personal improvement, when we recollect our immortality in Him who has been our refuge "from generation to generation"? Or for our schemes and plans which seem to fail, when we remember that they will grow after us, like the grass above our graves?
2. The permanence of results.
(1) The permanence of our past seasons. Spring, summer, autumn, are gone, but the harvest is gathered in. Youth and manhood are passed, but their lessons have been learnt. The past is ours only when it is gone.
(2) The permanence of lost affections. The sound and words are gone, but the tale is indelibly impressed on the heart. So the lost are not really lost. Perhaps they are ours only truly when lost. Their patience, love, wisdom, are sacred now, and live in us.
(3) The permanence of our own selves — "The beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." Very striking this. We survive. We are what the past has made us. The results of the past are ourselves.
(4) The permanence of work. Not a true thought, pure resolve, or loving act, has ever gone forth in vain.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.