by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives, should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away!" 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
In these words there is:
1. A statement made: "The time is short;" and again: "This world in its present form is passing away!" The time to be spent in this world is very short; it is but an inch of time — a short half-hour. In a very little while, it will be all over. All that is here, is changing — the very hills are crumbling down — the loveliest face is withering away — the finest garments rot and decay! "This world in its present form is passing away!"
2. A lesson drawn from this: Believers should sit loose to everything here on earth. Believers should look on everything in the light of eternity. Value nothing any more than you will do then. Sit loose to the objects, griefs, joys, occupations of this world — for you must soon change them for eternal realities!
DOCTRINE. The shortness of time should make believers sit loose to all things under the sun.
I. The shortness of time. This is true in two respects:
1. The time a believer has to live in this world is very short.
(1) The whole lifetime is very short. From the cradle to the grave is but a short journey: "The length of our days is seventy years — or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away!" Psalm 90:10
The half of men die before the age of twenty. Even when men lived for many hundred years, it was but a short life — a moment, compared to eternity. Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.
Men are short-lived, like the grass. "All flesh is as grass," and the rich and beautiful are like the flower of the field — a little fairer and more delicate. "The grass withers, the flower fades; because the Spirit of the Lord blows upon it!" (Isaiah 40:7.) "For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away!" (James 4:14.) You know how swiftly a weaver's shuttle flies — but your life flies more swiftly: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle!" (Job 7:6.) "My days are swifter than a runner; they pass away as the swift ships; as the eagle that hastens to the prey." (Job 9:25-26.)
(2) Much of our time is already passed away. Most believers spent their first days in the service of sin. Many hearing me gave their best days to sin and the world. Many among you have only the lame, and the torn, and the sick, to give to God. All of you can look on the past as a sleep, or as a tale that is told. The time since I came among you appears to me just like a dream.
(3) The time that remains is all numbered. All of you hearing me have your Sabbaths numbered — the number of sermons you are to hear. The last one is already fixed upon. Your years are numbered. To many, this is the last year they shall ever see in this world. Many will celebrate their next new year in glory. The disease is now in the body of many of you, which is to lay you in the dust. Your grave is already marked out — in a little while you will be lying quietly there. Yes, dear brethren, "the time is short!"
2. The time of this world's continuance is short. "The end of all things is at hand!" "The fashion of this world passes away!" A believer stands on a watch-tower — things present are below his feet — things eternal are before his eyes. A little while, brethren, and the day of grace will be over — preaching, praying will be done. Soon we shall give over wrestling with an unbelieving world — soon the number of believers shall be complete, and the sky open over our heads, and Christ shall come! His parting cry was: "Surely I am coming soon!" Then we shall see Him "whom, having not seen, we loved." A little while, and we shall stand before the great white throne! A little while, and the wicked shall not be — we shall see them going away into everlasting punishment! A little while, and the work of eternity shall be begun. We shall be like Him — we shall see Him day and night in His temple — we shall sing the new song, without sin and without weariness forever and ever. In a little moment, brethren, all this shall be reality!
II. The believer should learn from this, to sit loose to all things under the sun.
1. Sit loose to the DEAREST OBJECTS of this world. "From now on those who have wives, should live as if they had none." Marriage is honorable in all. Husbands should love their wives, even as Christ loved the Church: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies." Still it must not be idolatry. A married believer should be, in some respects, as if he were unmarried — as if he had no wife.
"Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God gives you." You cannot be too kind, too gentle, too loving, to the parents whom God has given you — yet be as though you had none. Parents, love your children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord — yet feel that the time is short. They are only a loan from the Lord. Be not surprised if He takes them. Esteem your ministers highly in love, for their work's sake — yet be as if you had none. Lean as entirely on Christ as if you had never seen or heard a minister.
Brainerd mentions an instance of one woman, who, after her conversion, was resigned to the divine will in the most tender points: "What if God should take away your husband from you — how do you think you would bear that?" She replied: "He belongs to God, and not to me. He may do with him just what He pleases." When she longed to die, to be free from sin, she was asked what would become of her infant; she answered, "God will take care of it; it belongs to Him — He will take care of it."
Rutherford says: "Do not build your nest upon any earthly tree; for God has sold the forest to Death, and every tree whereon we would build, is ready to be cut down, to the end we may flee and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the cleft of the Rock."
Do not set your heart on the flowers of this world; for they have all a canker in them. Prize the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley more than all — for He changes not. Live nearer to Christ than to the saints, so that when they are taken from you, you may have Him to lean on still.
2. Sit loose to the GRIEFS of this world. "Those who mourn, as if they did not." This world is the valley of tears. There are always some mourning. No sooner is the tear dried up on one cheek — that it trickles down another. No sooner does one widow lay aside her mourning clothes, than another takes them up. Those who are in Christ should weep as though they wept not, "for the time is short." Do you weep over those who died in the Lord? It is right to weep: "Jesus wept." Yet weep as though you wept not, "for the time is short!" They are not lost, but gone before. The sun, when it sets, is not lost; it is gone to shine in another hemisphere. Just so, have believers gone to shine in a brighter world. It is self-love that makes you mourn for them; for they are blissfully happy. You would not mourn if they were with a distant friend on earth — why do you mourn that they are with the sinner's Friend? "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light upon them, nor the heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto fountains of living waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes!"
"The time is short" — and you will follow soon. A few days, and you may be leaning together on the bosom of Jesus! You are nearer them today than you were yesterday. "The time is short" — and you will meet with all the redeemed at the right hand of Christ — we shall mingle our voices in the new song, and wave together the eternal palm! "Weep as though you wept not!"
Do you weep over those that died out of the Lord? Ah! there is deeper cause for weeping here — and yet the time is short, when all this will be explained to you, and you will not be able to shed a tear over the lost. A little while, and you will see Jesus fully glorified, and you will not be able to wish anything different from what has happened. When Aaron lost his two sons, he remained silent.
Do you mourn over bodily pain, and poverty, and sickness, and the troubles of the world? Do not murmur. "The time is short!" If you have believed in Christ, these are all the Hell you will ever bear. Do you think that the dying thief would complain of his pains, when he was within a step of paradise? So it is with you. Your Hell is dried up, and you have only these two shallow brooks to pass through — sickness and death. And you have a promise that Christ shall go with you, foot for foot, and bear you in His arms. When we get to the presence of Jesus, all our griefs shall look like children's' griefs! A day in His presence will make you remember your miseries no more. Therefore take courage, and run with patience!
3. Sit loose to the ENJOYMENTS of this world.
It is quite right for a believer to use the things of this world, and to rejoice in them. None has such a right as the believer has, to rejoice and be happy. He has a right to use the bodily comforts of the world — to eat his food "with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God." He has a right to all the joys of home, and kindred, and friendship. It is highly proper that he should enjoy these things. He has a right to all the pure pleasures of mind, of intellect, and imagination; for God has given him all things richly to enjoy.
Still, he should "rejoice as though he rejoiced not, and use this world as not abusing it;" for "the time is short." In a little while, you will be at your Father's table above, drinking the new wine with Christ! You will meet with all your brothers and sisters in Christ. You will have pure joy in God through ceaseless ages! Do not be much taken with the fleeting joys of this poor world.
I have noticed children, when they were going out to a feast, they would eat but sparingly, that they might have a keener appetite for the coming dainties. Just so, dear friends, you are going to a feast above, do not dull your appetite with earthly joys — sit loosely to them all — look upon them all as fading away.
As you walk through a flower garden, you never think of lying down, to make your home among its roses. Just so, pass through the garden of this world's best joys. Smell the flowers in passing — but do not tarry. Jesus calls you to His banqueting house — there you will feed among the lilies on the mountains of spices. Oh! it ill befits a child of God to be fond of an earthly banquet — when you shall sit down so soon with Jesus! It ill befits you to be much taken up with dress and show, when you are so soon to see the face that was crowned with thorns! Brethren, never be so much taken up with any worldly enjoyment that it takes away your love for prayer or for your Bible, or that it would frighten you to hear the cry: "The Bridegroom comes!" Oh! sit loose to this world's joy! "The time is short."
4. Sit loose to the OCCUPATIONS of the world. It is right for Christians to be diligent in business. I often wonder how unconverted souls can be so busy — how, when you are bustling along, filling up all your time with worldly things, it never occurs to you that there will be none of this in eternity. How can I be so busy for my body, when my poor soul is unprovided for? But those in Christ may well be diligent.
(1) They have a good conscience — that oils the wheels. "A merry heart does good like a medicine." A light heart makes easy work.
(2) They love to honor their Lord. They would not have it said that a believer in Jesus was an idler or a sluggard — the love of Jesus constrains them to all that is lovely. And yet a believer should "buy, as if it were not theirs to keep" — for "the time is short."
Oh! believers, you cannot be misers; for you are but stewards. All that you possess here is your Lord's — and the day is at hand when He will transfer you to take care of another property in a brighter land. You are but servants. It would not do, if you were to set your hearts on the things of this lower room; for in a few days the Master is to call you to serve in His own dear presence!
Dear believers, be ready to leave your room for the golden harp, at a minute's warning. Be ready to leave your desk for the throne of Jesus — and your pen for the palm of victory. Be ready to leave the market below, for the street of the new Jerusalem, where the redeemed shall walk. If you were in a sinking ship, you would not cling hard to bags of money — you would sit loose to all, and be ready to swim. This world is like a sinking ship, and those who grasp at its possessions will sink with it. Oh! buy, as if it were not yours to keep — for "the time is short."
III. What the UNCONVERTED should learn from the shortness of time.
1. Learn your folly in having lost the past. Although life is very short — it should all be used beneficially. This is the reason for which God has given it to us. The patience of God is intended for our salvation. God gives men time to hear the Gospel — to pray — to get saving conversion. But unconverted souls have wasted all the past! Think how much time you have lost in idleness. How many golden opportunities for prayer, and hearing the Word, and meditation, have you lost! How much time have you spent uselessly in amusements, or in idle talk, or in loitering about your doors! If you saw how short your time is, and how death and Hell are pursuing you — you would have fled to Christ; but you have not. Think how much time you have spent in sin, at the tavern, or in vain company, or in dances, or in vanities, or in sins of which it is a shame even to speak. God gave you time for saving your soul — and you have spent it in ruining your soul. God gave you time to flee to Christ — and you have spent it in fleeing toward Hell!
Think how much time you have spent in business, without one thought for eternity. Think how you have lost your best time. Youth is your best time of being saved. Many of you have lost it! "The harvest is past, the summer is ended — and we are not saved!"
2. Consider what value they put on time who are now in Hell. Once, brethren, they cared as little for it as you. Once, they could see their years pass away without caring. Once, they could let their Sundays slip away — but now they see their folly. What would they now give, brethren, for such an opportunity as you have this day? What would they give for another year of grace — for another week — for another day? It is probable that some of your friends or companions, now in Hell — are wishing they could come back to tell you how precious is an inch of saving time!
Oh! brethren, be wise. "Why do you stand idle all the day?" It has come to the eleventh hour with some! Your unconverted head is grey — your feet are tottering. If you saw a man condemned to die, lying in chains, who had but three hours to live — if you saw that man playing at dice, or singing wanton songs, would you not be shocked? You would say he was a hardened wretch.
Ah! are there none among you the same? You are condemned already — your days are numbered — you are hanging by a thread over the mouth of Hell! And yet you are cutting and slashing at the hand that holds you! In a little moment, it will be all over. Throughout the never-ending ages of eternity, you will remember the few days we spent together. Ah! the remembrance will add fuel to the flame, and be a never-dying worm in your poor soul!