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THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE A GROUND FOR INDIFFERENCE
TO THE THINGS OF THIS World.
2 Sam. xix. 34. And Barzillai said unto the king, How long have I to live?
GREAT virtues rarely, if ever, exist alone: the soul that gives them birth is actuated by a principle, which is generally, though perhaps not universally, operative. We behold in the history before us an instance of great generosity towards David and his attendants, in their flight from Absalom. And we have a no less amiable instance of modesty in the same character, when David, after the defeat of Absalom, and the consequent restoration of peace, desired to reward the services of his benefactor. "Barzillai had provided David with sustenance while he lay at Mahanaim;" and David now entreated him to come and spend the remainder of his days with him at Jerusalem, that he might repay all his kindness to the utmost of his power: but Barzillai declined the offer, and said, "How long have I to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem?"
The question, " How long have I to live?" is proper for us all to put to ourselves at this time": and it will be profitable for us to consider it,
I. In reference to the things of time
This is certainly its primary import in the passage before us. Barzillai "was a very aged man," and intimated to David, that, on account of his great age, he had no longer any relish for the gratifications of sense, nor could he hope to continue much longer in the world; and that therefore it would ill become him to be an attendant at court, when he ought rather to be thinking only of death. In this view the question was most just, and pathetic: and in this view it deserves universal attention.
Our time must of necessity be short—
a New-Year's Day, or on occasion of a Funeral. b ver. 35-37.
[If we are advanced in life, this truth is obvious; but if we be in the bloom of youth, it is no less certain: for, what is the space of man's life? it is only seventy or eighty years at most and though that appears long in the prospect, it appears as nothing in the retrospect: every aged man will tell you that his life has passed away as a dream
And besides the
shortness of life, we must take into the account its uncertainty also for who can tell what a day, or even an hour, may bring forth? Truly, every man may justly say, "There is but a step between me and death"
From this consideration we may well rise superior to all the vanities of time and sense
[Let us suppose a man condemned to death, and about to be executed in a few hours; What would be his feelings in reference to every thing here below? Would he take much complacency in any thing he possessed, or be much affected with any tidings either of loss or gain? No: the things of time and sense would appear to him in their true colours, and be regarded by him as of little importance: the near prospect of that hour when he must bid an eternal farewell to all of them would shew him their emptiness and vanity. Now this is the feeling which every man should cherish. We say not, that any man should neglect his worldly business, or be forgetful of any relative duty; but that he should have his affections withdrawn from every thing here below, and set on things above: he should be divested of anxious care about the acquisition of earthly things; and, in his enjoyment of them, "his moderation should be known unto all men." This is the direction given by St. Paul; and it is founded on the very consideration that is suggested to us in the text.]
Just as this sentiment is in reference to the things of time, it is still more so,
II. In reference to the things of eternity
In the view of eternity, a thousand years may be represented but as "the twinkling of an eye." How long then have any of us to live,
1. That we should neglect our eternal concerns?
[Have any of us made a covenant with death? or has God said to any of us, as to Hezekiah, "I will add unto thy life fifteen years?" Is it not, on the contrary, almost a certainty that God has said concerning many who are here present, "This year thou shalt die?" How then can we think of con
c 1 Cor. vii. 29-31.
tinuing any longer to neglect our souls? If repentance be necessary for every child of man; if there be no possibility of acceptance for us but by fleeing for refuge to the Lord Jesus Christ; and, if they who die in an impenitent and unbelieving state must perish for ever; then is it folly to defer the concerns of our souls to a more convenient season, which very probably may never arrive. The concerns of time are so utterly insignificant when compared with those of eternity, that to give them a preference in our minds is not folly only, but madness.] 2. That we should be lukewarm in our attention to them?
[Most men will allow that some attention to the soul is proper: but with the generality, even of those who would be thought religious, the welfare of the soul is only a subordinate and secondary concern. Such lukewarmness however is no less displeasing to God, and injurious to the soul, than total indifferenced. We are apt to think that a little exertion will suffice for the securing of our eternal interests: but is there so little to be done, that it may be finished in a day? or are we sure that so many days will be added to our life as shall make up the deficiency of our zeal and diligence? Do we find that people in a race have time to loiter? How much less then have we, whose career may terminate so soon? And what have we in life that shall compensate for the loss of our souls? Is there any earthly gratification, even if it could be enjoyed a thousand years, to be compared with the felicity of heaven? "Whatever then our hand findeth to do, let us do it with all our might."]
1. The young
[You are looking for years to come; but
cut down as a flower.' Youth is the time most fitted for holy exercises and heavenly employments -- Begin then without delay, and "remember your Creator in the days of your youth."]
2. Those in middle age
[You are thinking that you have nearly attained the object of your wishes: but you have found your past attainments vain; and such will be the character of all that you may yet acquire. Temporal duties, we repeat it, are to be performed with diligence; but nothing is of any value in comparison of the soul.]
d Rev. iii. 15, 16.
3. Those who are far advanced in life
[Say whether Barzillai's conduct do not well become you? You feel infirmities; you know that in the course of nature you have but a short time to live: let earthly things then be regarded by you with indifference, and heavenly things increasingly occupy your minds. Familiarize yourselves with the thoughts of death and judgment; and "press forward" with ever-increasing alacrity to secure "the prize of your high calling."
At every period of life, but especially in old age, should we pray with David, "Lord, make me to know my end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I ame:" "So teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom."]
FAMINE A PUNISHMENT FOR SIN.
2 Sam. xxi. 1. Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.
THE reign of David was full of troubles occasioned by his own sin: but here we view him and his people afflicted for the sins of others. Saul, his predecessor in the government, had grievously oppressed the Gibeonites, whom Joshua, at his first entrance into Canaan, had pledged the nation, by covenant and by oath, to protect. This breach of covenant God overlooked, as it were, at the time, but now punished by three successive years of famine.
The history teaches us,
I. In what light we should view public calamities
[The Scripture uniformly represents them as punishments inflicted on account of sin. Personal troubles may be sent for the purpose of calling into action the grace that has been bestowed, and for the advancing of God's glory in the exercise of that grace. But the troubles of a nation are judgments sent
a This was the case with respect to Job.
from God. In this light, "war, famine, pestilence, and the noisome beast," are frequently mentioned; and in this light they should be viewed. We are indeed very averse to regard them as coming from God: we are ready to ascribe them to second causes, and to overlook the first Great Cause of all: but in the Scriptures we behold them, as in the plagues of Egypt, so manifestly proceeding from a divine hand, that we cannot help referring them to God: and thus we ought to do, whatever be the more immediate occasion of themb. David in the first and second years of famine did not behold any expression of the divine displeasure, or think of inquiring wherefore the visitation was sent: it was only when the pressure of the affliction was very heavy and of long continuance, that he thought of tracing the hand of God in it: had he acted in the first year as he did in the third, we have no reason to think that the judgment would have been repeated: but his blindness constrained God to repeat the stroke, till it was noticed as proceeding from him. In like manner God will continue his chastisements to us, till we are made sensible that we have offended him, and provoked his just displeasure.]
Whatever be the calamities with which we are afflicted, we may learn from this history,
II. The way in which we may get them removed1. We should inquire into the sinful causes of them
[David inquired of the Lord; and was informed that the troubles now sent were visitations for sin committed by Saul long ago. The particular offence of Saul is not elsewhere noticed in the history; nor does it appear to have been much regarded by any of the people. His cruelty to the Gibeonites indeed had been notorious; but, as the Gibeonites were the lowest of the people, and not descended from Abraham, the oppression they endured excited no sympathy or compassion. God however resented it; and he will resent the injuries that are done, however mean the objects may be who suffer them, or however great the tyrants may be who inflict them.
And, if we would inquire of the Lord, might not we find some cause for the long protracted war in which we have been engaged, and for the repeated failure in our crops of corn? Yes, many public causes may be assigned, such as the general contempt poured upon God's word, and Sabbaths, and name, and people, and, above all, upon his blessed Gospel; and every individual (for it is of individuals that the community is formed) may find in himself abundant reason for those judgments with which God has visited the land".
b Isai. xxvi. 11.
c Preached in June 1812.