The Just Estimate of the Shortness of Human Life
Psalm 90:12-17
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.…


1. As all virtues in general, both by their own proper influence, and the blessing of God, which reason leads us to expect, and Scripture expressly assures us of, conduce to prolong our days, the consideration of their natural brevity may well direct us to a virtuous conduct; particularly to sobriety, temperance, and chastity; to a prudent moderation of anger; and to whatever duties have especially the promise or the prospect of long life annexed to them.

2. Since we have but a small time to stay here, it is our wisdom to make it as easy and agreeable to ourselves, and all with whom we have any intercourse, as we are able; and to imitate persons of prudence, who occasionally go journeys together; bearing with each others' temper and behaviour; giving mutual comfort and assistance under the misfortunes and inconveniences of the way; and continually endeavouring to preserve or restore the good humour and cheerfulness of the company.

3. The shortness of life should teach us to be speedy and diligent in doing all such things as we ought to do.

4. The shortness and precariousness of our present state of being should teach us to avoid long pursuits of worldly profits or pre-eminences; which probably either we shall not have time to attain, or must soon quit.

5. A fifth use of numbering our days is, to check and compose all strong emotions of mind about worldly concerns; for in so transitory a state there can be nothing to deserve them. Why should we be elated with hope of future good, when both our own lives, and those on whom our expectations may depend, are subject to such innumerable chances; and the higher we raise ourselves in imagination, the more afflicting will be our fall? Why, again, should we be dejected with fear of future evils, when a thousand accidents which none of us can guess at beforehand, may prevent their coming; or, if they do come, our head may be laid low enough before that time, and far enough out of the way of feeling them?

6. The most important lesson, taught us by the shortness and uncertainty of our present life, considered in itself, is, that we may reasonably expect, and should therefore continually look forward to another.

II. WITH RESPECT TO THE ETERNAL LIFE WHICH IS TO FOLLOW. Whatever conclusions men may think they can draw from the former view, yet, when our life on earth is contemplated as a state of preparation for another and an endless one, then neither the wit, nor almost the folly of man, can make any other than virtuous inferences from the shortness of it.

1. Conviction of the necessity of applying diligently to know and do our duty.

2. Encouragement to persist in it to the end against temptation.

3. Support under the afflictions to which we are exposed in the meanwhile.

(T. Secker.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

WEB: So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

The Divine Arithmetic of Life
Top of Page
Top of Page