A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
(with Ecclesiastes 7:17): — The verse has two parts: "There is a time to be born; and a time to die": and it seems as if man had as little control over the one as over the other — over the day of his death as over the day of his birth. These are the two milestones between which is included the whole of man's life on earth. Here is no place for free-will. All is blind, remorseless destiny. And yet the correlative text, "Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" seems to imply that life and death are in a man's own power. And in a plain sense this also is true, so that the two are only the opposite poles of one great truth, which in its completeness embraces a whole philosophy of life. That philosophy is summed up in this: That life is a gift of God — a sacred gift — to be wisely used and soberly enjoyed, and not to be trifled with, nor thrown away. But life on earth is not immortal: "There is a time to die." Nor is this a harsh decree. If only the end for which life was given be attained, man may surrender it, at the last, not only without regret, but in perfect peace. The only thing he has to fear is that he be called out of life before his time, with all his plans unfulfilled, his hopes disappointed, and his great destiny unattained. The latter half of our text, "Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" teaches us this practical lesson: That we are to make the most of life by a prudent economy of it — not a petty economy of money (which is often but the smallest element in the total of influences which make up the being that we are), but an economy of life itself, of all the vital forces, of health and reason and the elements of happiness. All this is embraced in the one great word, Life. This is the prize which the Creator offers to every being to whom He gives a living body and a reasonable soul. "Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" In one sense no man can die before his time, for is not the day of death fixed? Hath not God appointed His bound that he cannot pass? Yet, in another sense, it is quite possible to cut short the term of life' That is the evident meaning here. By a man's "time" is meant the natural limit to which one of his vitality and strength, living a sober, temperate life, might attain. Anything short of that may be ascribed to his own folly or guilt. Thus, all will admit that a man dies before his time who takes his own life, which he has no more right to take than that of his neighbour. Even though the existence that is left to him have to be endured rather than enjoyed a man must stand like a sentinel at his post, keeping watch through the long night hours, and waiting for the breaking of the day. But the wretched suicide is not the only man who is guilty of taking his own life. There are other ways of ending one's existence than by violence. The drunkard. The number of those who thus untimely perish is beyond all counting. Vice has slain its thousands, and drunkenness its ten thousands. And now turn and look at another picture. If it be a shame so to die, on the other hand what a glorious thing it is to live — to enjoy a rational, intelligent, and moral existence! Even as a matter of selfish calculation, the purely intellectual enjoyment of a man of science far transcends the vulgar delights of a life of pleasure. What a life must have been that of Kepler or Galileo! Who would throw away an existence that contains such possibilities of knowledge? Make it, then, your resolve to live a life of the strictest temperance and purity and virtue, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God giveth you. But this is only half the truth of my text. "Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" But at the last "there is a time to die." O God, I thank Thee for that word! "There is a time to die!" And religion, while it condemns the reckless throwing away of life, equally condemns the cowardly clinging to life when duty requires it to be sacrificed. Dear as life is, there are things which are a thousand times dearer — truth, honour, justice, and liberty, one's country and religion; and it may become a duty to sacrifice the lesser interest to the greater. It does not follow that a man dies before his time because he dies young. "That life is long which answers life's great end;" and though one may finish his course on the very threshold of manhood, that end may be gloriously fulfilled.
(H. M. Field, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;