For all our days decline in Your fury; we finish our years with a sigh.
Exodus 5:8). But this in our text sets forth the psalmist's thought as well as, if not better than, any other. His view of life is a very sad one, and is by no means true as concerns the blessed dead who die in the Lord. Their lives are not all "labour and sorrow;" still less are they "all passed away in" God's wrath; nor are they so vain and worthless as, in his sadness, the psalmist represents them. His idea, in the similitude he here employs of "a tale," has in view the brevity, the trifling character, the speedy forgetfulness into which they fell; but these are not all the characteristics of a tale that is told. Oriental peoples are very fond of short bright stories, and one who can tell such stories well is ever welcome amongst them. The psalmist had no doubt often heard such recitals, and he says - So is man's life. Well, it is so -
I. IN THAT OUR DAYS ARE SOON OVER. The tale that was told was never long, but soon done, and room made for another. And so is it with our life, even at the longest, and especially that portion of our life which is of paramount importance - the formative character fixing years. How soon they are over! And the life takes its bent and bias from them, and generally continues so to the end. In the tale of most lives you know very soon how it will go on. The child is father to the man, and you can generally foretell how it will wind up. Let such as are young, therefore, take heed to their days, the days of their youth - they are all-important.
II. IN ITS VARIED CHARACTER. There are tales told that are poor, mean, hurtful, not worth the telling; that stain the imagination, that incite to evil, and are doomed to a speedy and contemptuous oblivion. But there are others of an entirely different character. And so it is with men's lives - some evil, some blessed and good.
III. IF EITHER IS TO BE WORTHY, THE ESSENTIAl, ELEMENTS ARE THE SAME.
1. Energy and activity.
3. Character must be revealed.
4. The aim must be generous and high.
5. It must end well. - S.C.
I. The main idea of the text is THE TRANSIENTNESS OF LIFE; it has the brevity of a cry. Some lives have only one word, some several, yet is each an exclamation. Some have the completeness of finished sentences; some fail in the midst; some have only a beginning, rather intimate that there is something to be said than say it. Then is life short, indeed, when man dies, not because he has exhausted a force so much as because he has met with an obstruction. And yet how often is this the case! The days are "cut off;" "the sun goes down while it is yet day; "the flower fadeth." Then, also, is life short when, though its voice fails not at the commencement of its utterance, it is broken off in the midst, and gives no complete expression to the deep meaning with which it is charged. And yet how often is it as an unfinished cry! How often do men pass away before they have half revealed the significance of their being! Things are long and short in comparison. The sense of duration is not absolute. The insect that lives but a day has, or might have, the feelings with which we regard seventy years... Suppose a being to live two millions of years, he would look down on our existence of seventy years with the same feelings as those with which we regard the creature of a day. It is only eternity that is really long — absolutely long. Eternity makes life nothing, and yet everything; sinks it to utter significance, and yet invests it with inconceivable importance.
I. Seeing that life imperceptibly passes, IT SHOULD BE THE CARE OF US ALL, THAT IT BE NOT MISSPENT, OR ITS OPPORTUNITIES UNIMPROVED. Life may be passed as vainly as the time occupied in hearing an idle tale.
We spend our years as a tale that is told.
Homilist.Assuming this version to give the true idea of the author, we have here three thoughts,
1. Significance. A tale has some meaning; is intended to impart some idea to others. Life is big with meaning. Amongst the many things which the tale of life speaks out are two wonderful things.(1) Man's power of opposing himself, the arrangements of creation, and the will of God.(2) The amazing patience and condescending mercy of God.
2. Observance. A tale implies, if written, readers; if oral, listeners. It is intended for observers. What observers has the life of every man! Society, devils, angels, God, are all observing, all reading us. Every act tells out some portion of this tale, and falls upon unnumbered ears.
3. Transitoriness. "A tale told." Not inscribed upon marble or brass, not even written in a book, — but just "told." The transitoriness of this tale, however, is not in its influence that is everlasting, every idea will tell on the ages, but in its earthly form of expression. It is passing away from here like a flower, a vapour.
1. Some tales are light and trifling, — merely to amuse and make the reader laugh. Such, also, is the life of some. Always light-hearted, never serious. They tread a round of vanity.
2. Other tales are of a grave caste, and turn on the interests of human life; but they are altogether worldly in their tone and tendency. So with the lives of many. They occupy their days with business; they are industrious, enterprising: but they have no concern about spiritual things.
3. Some tales are tales of truth. They give an account of godly men who served God in their generation, and died in peace. Such are the lives of Christians. They are using the means of grace, and growing in weanedness from the world; they seek the salvation of others, and prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.
II. THE MOST IMPORTANT OF THE TALE IS ITS CLOSE, AND SO ALSO IT IS WITH LIFE, The interest thickens towards the end.
1. Some tales, whether serious or trifling, have an unhappy termination. So the life of many. They die without preparation and without hope. The tale of human life is soon told, but how momentous are its issues!
2. Other tales have a joyful ending. Hope is realized. So the life of God's people. Whatever doubts, troubles, trials, disappointments chequered it, the close of it is peace.
III. SOME TALES COME SOONER TO A CLOSE THAN OTHERS. So life; — in some cases three-score years and ten, or four-score years; in other cases not sixty, not fifty, not forty years — not thirty or twenty years, or even ten. Delay not. Make sure of salvation now.
(W. H. Hewitson, M.A.)
II. If life is transient as a cry, it is A CRY FULL OF MEANING. The importance of utterances does not depend on their length; it is not how long it takes to express a thing, but the nature of the thing expressed, which decides the greatness of the expression. A few words may reveal a world of meaning. Life is a cry, but what does it not reveal? The broken speech of our earthly days is the voice of souls. It shows what we are as souls; our principles, habits, etc .... And, showing what we are, it shows also what we shall be, what we shall be for ever. And it does more than show what we shall be, it helps to make us it. Many different cries proceed from our common nature. Life in some is a cry of wonder, an expression of amazement at this mysterious universe, and their own mysterious being. Life in some is a cry of pain, . . . grief from physical suffering, grief from adversities of lot, grief from social pressure on the heart's affections. Life in some is a cry of joy, the rapid, incoherent speech of ecstatic feeling. I do not ask which of these your life is, nor does it much signify in relation to the most important of all matters. But I do ask you, what is the temper and the form of your life? Time, which is so short, is the season for conversion, salvation; and without these, when it is passed, you will find yourselves in an eternity for which no preparation has been made. Everlasting life dates from regeneration, not from death; we cannot have the life immortal if we be not born again.
(A. J. Morris.)
II. THE TALE OF OUR YEARS IS ILLUSTRATED. Illustrations are exceedingly popular in these days. Now, one advantage of an illustration is that by it an impression is conveyed immediately. It is to a page or two of writing what a photograph is to a water-colour drawing, or what a telegram is to a letter. The salient features of the situation are seized at once; what would take ten minutes to read is taken in from a picture in ten seconds. So there are many people who see the illustrations who never read the story. Has it ever struck you that it is precisely so in our lives? For one who reads their story there are a hundred who see the pictures. From them they form their opinion of the story. For example, such a comparatively unimportant thing as manners is an illustration of life's story. If you acknowledge an acquaintance in the street as if you saw a ticket-of-leave sticking out of his pocket, you will make an impression on him. It may be that behind a lofty look and a disdainful air there is a kindly heart and a really humble nature. But it was the illustration that was seen and that lingers in the mind. How true it is, too, that our habits illustrate the tale. Such things as exaggeration, little mean ways, indolence, unpunctuality. Or, again, how often we illustrate our story by exhibitions of temper. This is seen by our children and servants, and perhaps by some who have read less of the tale of our years than those who share our home. Now, there is a sense in which all our acts are illustrative.
III. THE TALE OF OUR YEARS HAS A PLOT. It is often not intricate and dramatic. It may be free from excitement, from that which in some stories is so unhealthy, the sensational. It may be homely, familiar, and commonplace. But it is there. God has a plan for my life. Not more surely had He for Abraham and David or for a Tennyson, a Gladstone or a Bismarck, the greatest of great men than He has for me. There is a hidden unity, an interaction and a coinciding, a sequence, to which we have at present no complete key. Life is not a chaos, it is a cosmos.
IV. THE STORY OF OUR YEARS HAS AN END. It is soon told, "the days of our years are threescore years and ten," etc. "A thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday," etc. 'Twas but yesterday that we were children, our world the nursery. 'Twas but yesterday that we were wed, that our children were born, and now 'tis toward evening; the day is far spent-the tale of our years will soon be told. Now of 999 out of every 1,000 of these tales it might be said, they are fleeting literature, they soon pass out of circulation; even the critics forget them, and they are interred in the vast literary sepulchre of the British Museum. But are they on that account valueless? Not necessarily. Those forgotten books may have suggested ideas to greater minds than their authors'. A spark may be dropped that kindles the fires of genius, and they blaze out in a splendour that impresses the world. So these lives of ours, which seem so commonplace, may enrich others.
V. THE TALE OF OUR YEARS HAS A MORAL. Every tale has, implicitly if not explicitly. And so has every life. When it is finished, it leaves on the mind of those who have known it intimately, some impression. There are some features that stand out, some moral qualities that have given a tone to the personality, or some principles that it has livingly illustrated. Men sum up their impression of the character. "He was a successful man, but he never lost the simplicity of his tastes or the geniality of his demeanour." "He was a prosperous man, but his wealth corrupted his spirituality." "He was a disappointed man, but his sorrow never soured him." "He had an uphill fight, but he won the respect of all and the love of many." But what the moral will be depends upon the dominant motives of the life. Are all lower considerations brought into subservience to that all-comprehending and ennobling ideal — "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever"? Then, if it be that, the story told by the years will be a "Pilgrim's Progress," a progress out from sin and bondage and selfishness, guided by the heavenly light, up to the Cross, where the burden of guilt rolls off into the grave of the Divine forgiveness; through the dark valley of temptation and awful conflict with him who would spill your soul; through "Vanity Fair," unsoiled by its corruptions, to the Delectable Mountains of a solid and settled peace; then to the land Beulah, "where the shining ones commonly walk, because it is nigh unto the city;" until only the river remains, over which there is no bridge, but for which there is a Divine Pilot who makes it shallow for all who trust: "when thou passest through the waters I will be with thee," etc. Then through the gate over which is written, "Blessed are they who do His commandments," etc.
(R. B. Brindley.)1. Our years are "determined" (Job 14:5); give entertainment to this thought, close as we are upon the end of another year. " Fear not, fret not, weary not, poor pilgrim of a day. The pilgrimage will soon be over. Thy days are determined. The number of thy months is with me. I have appointed thy bounds that thou canst not pass. Thou wilt soon accomplish as an hireling thy day. There is a time to be born, and a time to die."
2. Our years are connected the one with the other. They are not like adjacent islands, deep water flowing around and between. We go right onwards, treading on the same kind of ground to the end. Such, too, usually, is the growth of character in the individual man. It goes on growing through the year, and it will not stop growing at the end of one year, and then begin again to-morrow morning when the year is new. The growing may be quickened or it may be confirmed a little, by the impressions and the sanctities of this last hour; quickened or confirmed in goodness; or else, alas, the heart, passing through these solemnities and agitations without a real religious faith, will be hardened in evil, and made more impervious to the impressions of any future season. And yet here let us be careful, else we shall come near to the acceptance of the very worst intellectual doctrine of this time — the doctrine of inevitable necessity, or, religiously viewed, the doctrine of a moral continuity in character and being, which nothing can break. We never lose our personal identity, character runs on, the same thinking substance, the same immortal soul continues; but grace, that renovating, cleansing, saving power, is introduced into the consciousness, transforms the character, lives in the experience, brings out the Divine images, makes the "new creature in Christ Jesus." Need I say how prophetic our years become when we thus begin them in grace? Grace is the earthly name for glory. Glory is the heavenly name for grace.
(A. Raleigh, D.D.)
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