James 4:17
Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin.
The Approbation of Goodness is not the Love of ItWilliam G.T. SheddJames 4:17
A Holy .Frame of MindJ. J. Van Oosterzee.James 4:13-17
A Jewish StoryDebarim Rabba.James 4:13-17
A Principle, not a RuleA. Plummer, D. D.James 4:13-17
A True Estimate of LifeJ. F. Whitty.James 4:13-17
Boastful GloryingC. H. Spurgeon.James 4:13-17
BoastingA. J. Macleane, M. A.James 4:13-17
BoastingsDean Plumptre.James 4:13-17
Changes in LifeBp. Jeremy Taylor.James 4:13-17
Earnest LivingT. L. Cuyler, D. D.James 4:13-17
Estimates of LifeJames 4:13-17
Evil BoastingOld . English Author.James 4:13-17
Godless MerchantsU. R. Thomas.James 4:13-17
God's Will About the FutureC. H. Spurgeon.James 4:13-17
God's Will About the FutureC. H. Spurgeon.James 4:13-17
Holy Forms of SpeechT. Manton.James 4:13-17
Human Life TransitoryE. N. Kirk, D. D.James 4:13-17
IfR. R. Shippen.James 4:13-17
If the Lord WillA. Raleigh, D. D.James 4:13-17
Ignorance of the FutureR. Wardlaw, D. D.James 4:13-17
Impossible to Forecast EventsJames 4:13-17
LifeJ. H. Evans, M. A.James 4:13-17
Life a Divine Gift and DisciplineJ. A. Anderson.James 4:13-17
Life Precious Because BriefJames 4:13-17
Man Proposes, But God DisposesC. Jerdan James 4:13-17
Man's Ignorance of the FutureR. C. Dillon, D. D.James 4:13-17
Man's Life and God's ProvidenceT. E. Thoresby.James 4:13-17
Presumptuous Language Respecting FuturityR. Walker.James 4:13-17
Recognition of God's WillR. Turnbull.James 4:13-17
Religion and BusinessJ. G. Rogers, B. A.James 4:13-17
Shortness of LifeDr. Wise.James 4:13-17
Sin Against KnowledgeJ. Trapp.James 4:13-17
Sinful Confidence Regarding the FutureJohn Adam.James 4:13-17
Sinful Neglect of DutyR. Walker.James 4:13-17
Sins of EmissionBp. Stillingfleet.James 4:13-17
The Absorbing Interest of Worldly Business to be Guarded AgainstA. S. Patterson, D. D.James 4:13-17
The Brevity of LifeJames Bolton, B. A.James 4:13-17
The Christian BusinessS. Pearson, M. A.James 4:13-17
The Danger of the BoasterJ. Gilmour, M. A.James 4:13-17
The Duty of Reference to the Divine WillG. T. Shedd, D. D.James 4:13-17
The FutureArchdeacon Farrar.James 4:13-17
The Jews and TradeStarkeJames 4:13-17
The Possibilities of LifeW. L. Watkinson.James 4:13-17
The Providence of God and the Providence of ManHomilistJames 4:13-17
The Responsibility of KnowledgeF. H. Roberts.James 4:13-17
The Wisdom of the Divine WillJames 4:13-17
What is LifeT. De Witt Talmage.James 4:13-17
What is LifeJ. Parker, D. D.James 4:13-17
What is LifeJ. G. Hall, D. D.James 4:13-17
What is Your LifeC. H. Spurgeon.James 4:13-17
What is Your LifeJames Vaughan, M. A.James 4:13-17
What is Your Life?Bp. Harvey Goodwin.James 4:13-17
What is Your Life?G. Huntington.James 4:13-17
What is Your Life?J. Parker, D. D.James 4:13-17
What is Your Life?T.F. Lockyer James 4:13-17

The subject here is another prevalent manifestation of pride and worldliness; namely, the propensity to indulge in presumptuous self-reliance in relation to the future.

I. THE SPIRIT OF VAIN CONFIDENCE WHICH THE APOSTLE REBUKES. (Ver. 13.) He appeals directly to worldly-minded merchants and money-makers. The Jews, like ourselves, have been a nation of shopkeepers. In these early times many of them carried the products of one country to the commercial centers of another. The same trader might be found one year at Antioch, the next at Alexandria, the following year at Damascus, and the fourth perhaps at Corinth. Now, the apostle solemnly rebukes those who formed their business plans without taking into account the providence of God, or even the uncertainty of human life. He is very far from stigmatizing commercial enterprise as a form of worldliness. He does not censure the formation of business schemes even for long years to come, provided such be contemplated in subordination to the Divine will, and be not allowed to interfere with spiritual consecration to his service. What he condemns is the spirit of self-sufficiency in regard to the continuance of life and activity and success (Psalm 49:11; Isaiah 56:12; Luke 12:19). He rebukes the practical atheism which would shut out God from business arrangements. And his "Go to now" is quite as much needed among us Gentiles of the nineteenth century as it was among the Jews of the first. In presence of the innumerable business interests of our time, and amidst the wasting anxieties of competition, how prone men are to ignore the eternal laws, and exclude from their calculations the sovereign will of the great Disposer! How apt busy men are to act as if they were the lords of their own lives! When we allow the spirit of worldliness to steal over our souls like a creeping paralysis, then we begin to "boast ourselves of tomorrow."

II. THE GROUNDS OF THE REBUKE. (Vers. 14-17.) The apostle reminds his readers that this confident expectation of a successful future betrays:

1. A foolish and irrational spirit. (Ver. 14.) Although man is endowed with reason, he often neglects to use his reason. These merchant Jews of "the Dispersion" knew thoroughly well the brevity arid frailty of human life, but were in danger of allowing their proud thoughts to efface from their consciousness so commonplace a truth. They forgot that we" know net what shall be on the morrow." In the political world "the unexpected generally happens." In the commercial world what startling surprises occur! - poor men raised to affluence, and rich men reduced to sudden poverty. And the duration of our lives is as uncertain as any other event. "For," asks James, "what is your life?" What is it like? What is its most prominent outward characteristic? "Ye are a vapor;" human life is like the morning mists that mantle the mountain. It spreads itself out, indeed, as vapor does; for it is manifold in its schemes and cares and toils; but, like vapor, it is flail and transient. We know this to be true, but how little do we realize it! We form plans about our business and family affairs, plans about our houses and fields, plans to improve our social status; and we forget that all these are dependent upon an unknown quantity - our continuance in life and health, our possession of the future, and of property in it. Now, in all this, do not we act quite irrationally? How can our calculations be correct, when we leave out the factor of the frailty of life? This thought should be uppermost in our minds. It is the part of a wise man often to reflect that he will soon be in eternity. Again, this vain confidence reveals:

2. An impious and wicked spirit. (Vers. 15-17.) It is impious to forget to carry the will of the supreme Disposer into all our calculations, and to neglect to qualify our plans by a reference to that will. It is wicked for a finite and sinful man to cherish the proud confidence that he may map out the future of his life at his own pleasure. To act as if the keys of time were in one's own keeping, and as if one could ensure life and health, like papers locked up in a fire-resisting safe, involves an arrogance which has in it the essence of all sin. "All such glorying is evil;" for it originates in pride, which is the fountain-head of sin. It is the spirit which makes an idol of self, and which would practically thrust out God from his own world. The apostle concludes with a general moral statement on the subject of the relation between knowledge and responsibility. Our guilt will be the greater if we do not practice what we clearly know (ver. 17). But every professing Christian knows perfectly well the uncertainty of life. How aggravated, then, is our sin, when we "boast ourselves of tomorrow!"

III. THE DUTY OF REALIZING OUR DEPENDENCE ON THE LORD'S WILL. (Ver. 15.) We should always remember that our times are in the hands of the Lord Jesus, and be ready upon every fitting occasion to acknowledge it, not only with submission, but with confidence and joy. Some good men habitually say or write "D.V.," while others equally in their hearts recognize the Lord's will, although they do not often refer to it after such fashion. The great matter is for every one really to permeate his business life with religion, and to live up to the measure of his spiritual knowledge. Thomas Fuller's remarks on this subject are excellent in spirit: "Lord, when in any writing I have occasion to insert these passages, 'God willing,' 'God lending me life,' etc., I observe, Lord, that I can scarce hold my hand from encircling these words in a parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore hereafter I will write those words fully and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity" ('Good Thoughts in Bad Times'). - C.J.

To-day or to-morrow we will go.

1. The confident expectation of prolonged existence. Here was a purpose formed in which there was no recognition whatever of the uncertainty of life or of dependence on God, in which the future was calculated on with unhesitating confidence. Thus do multitudes presume on the permanence of that which the next moment may be gone like the vapour which the morning sun dissipates or the passing breeze sweeps away without leaving a trace of it behind.

2. The confident expectation of worldly success. There is no mention of anything but trade and consequent profit. There is not a word of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, of working out their own salvation, of laying up treasures in heaven. All is material, secular, temporal.


1. The notorious uncertainty of human life. While we can review the past, we cannot foresee the future. By a sudden stroke of fortune the poor man may be raised to affluence, or by one of a contrary kind the rich man may be reduced to beggary. Before we are aware friends may be alienated, plans defeated, prospects blighted. Dangers may gather round us, disgrace may settle down on us, and a bright day of prosperity be turned into a dark, dismal night of adversity. The dearest objects may be snatched away, and we may be left solitary and alone, our former joy gone, and a bitter sorrow come in its place. Especially is this the case with that life on the retaining of which all our earthly possessions and enjoyments depend.

2. The dependence on the Divine will which befits the creature. We are not forbidden to look forward to the future, and provide for our prospective wants, personal and domestic. Within certain limits this is right, necessary. As little are we forbidden to be diligent in business and to expect profit as the result. Why, this matter is of express and urgent requirement. But we are to do all recognising the Divine will, cherishing a sense of dependence on God for life and health, for ability to work and success in working.

3. The sinfulness of all such proud confidence as they had been exhibiting — "But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil." They were jubilant where they had reason to be afraid. By their "boastings" we are to understand the manifold workings of that self-sufficient and vainglorious spirit by which they were animated. They presumptuously calculated on life, health, and prosperity. They entertained high expectations and bright prospects, and by these they were elated. Hence they expressed themselves in language of the kind which James is here condemning. Having thus remonstrated with them regarding the spirit which came out in the language he represents them as using, he concludes with the general inference in ver. 17 — "Therefore, to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." The case in hand fell under this principle: it was one of the exemplifications of the maxim. When people are fully aware of their duty, and yet fail to do it, either by positive transgression or by omission or neglect, they are chargeable with sin which, in these circumstances, becomes peculiarly heinous. Ignorance does not excuse disobedience, but knowledge greatly aggravates its guilt.

(John Adam.)

I. THEY PRACTICALLY MAKE SELF THE END OF THEIR LIFE. It is this, in the resolution of worldly men, that is here condemned.

1. Not their industry. That is right. The rust that settles on inactivity — such, for instance, as the weakness of an unused limb or intellect or affection — is God's brand on indolence.

2. Again, the condemnation here is not upon their working for profit. It is well to accumulate what will be for our own or others' comfort. To amass wealth is a better as well as a wiser thing than to squander and to lose.

3. Nor is working for profit with forethought condemned. It is well to "go into the city," for there the stagnant pulses of our whole life are often quickened. It is well in the city to put forth the earnest industry of persevering men. A Christianised commerce may become one of the truest educators of the individual and efficient harmonisers of the race. But the reproach is when this working for profit with forethought is all for self. When the streets of the city are busily trod and all the details of commerce earnestly carried out merely for gain man wrongs his fellows, degrades himself, and dishonours God.

II. THEY PRACTICALLY DISREGARD THE TRANSITORINESS OF THEIR LIFE. The swiftness with which our life passes defies adequate description. It is well when we regard it as Job did. If he looked on the road he trod he recognised as a symbol of his life, not the slow caravan richly laden with merchandise, but the rapid courier, who urged on the swift dromedary as he promptly carried the royal commands, scarcely deigning to look at the traveller he passed, who might sadly muse, "My days are swifter than a post." And as he gazed on the sea "the swift ships" — canoes of reed, and not the ponderously built and heavily freighted merchantmen — reminded him of his life. In the landscape he read types of himself, not in the rock, nor even in the tree, but in the frail grass and the fragile flower; and in the heavens, not in the enduring moon, nor even in the trembling stars, but in the vanishing cloud and the flimsy mist. Seeing the fact just as Job had thus seen it, James asks, "What is your life? it is even a vapour." A vapour is an exhalation from the earth. We are dust, and at death our bodies only return to what they were. A vapour passeth away utterly. Though we can find the powder of the crushed rock, and even the faded leaf of the dying tree, there is no trace left of the mist that is exhaled by the sun or borne away by the breeze. So the places that now know us shall know us no more for ever.

III. THEY PRACTICALLY IGNORE THE GOD OF THEIR LIFE. Not that the men of the world of the first century, any more than the men of the world of the nineteenth, could profess atheism. But whatever may be the language of the creed, the more convincing language of his conduct convicts every worldly man of this heresy. Such heresy ignores the teaching of our text that —

1. The God of life has a will. "If the Lord will." The Supreme Being has both desire and determination; and these two constitute will. But beyond this the will of God is distinguished by intelligence, force, benevolence. A God without a will would be a God without a sceptre, without a throne, without any moral attributes. Yet such is the God conceived of by multitudes.

2. God's will relates to individual men. "Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we," &c. Whenever men conceive their plans and toils and life too insignificant for the control of the Divine will, they limit the Holy One.

3. God's will refers both to the life and activity of every man. He has a will about your life, though the plans of that will are unknowable by you. It can as easily withdraw your life as it can wither the blade of grass or scatter the morning mist. So your life hangs upon that will. And if you live, your activities depend on that will. The path of enterprise may be blocked up by a hundred unforeseen obstacles, or your power to tread it may, through a weakened body or enfeebled mind, be withdrawn.

IV. THEY PRACTICALLY PRIDE THEMSELVES ON THE VERY EVILS OF THEIR LIFE. "Now ye rejoice in your boasting; all such rejoicing is evil." "We have glanced at the boastful speeches that indicate a boastful spirit. Do you inquire, What boastfulness, what vaingloriousness? The boastfulness of making self the end and aim of all; of disregarding the transitoriness of life; of ignoring the great God. What worse boastfulness could there be? It is glorying in shame.

(U. R. Thomas.)

The trade in England is one of the wonders of the time. To others may be left the boast that they are the great military powers of the world. Our distinction is that we stand the first in the ranks of commerce. In whatever way we look at it, the vastness of the trade which England is doing on every sea, with every nation, in almost every department, must impress the mind. There is not an article so minute as to be unworthy of her notice, not a land so inhospitable that it does not furnish some material for her vast transactions, not a sea so distant that it is not visited by her fleet, not a people so barbarous that she is not willing, and for the most part able, to carry on an intercourse with them. Look at it from another side. Visit some of those great hives of industry, where the discoveries of science are made subservient to its purposes. Everywhere there is eagerness, stir, activity. As in the service of idolatry of old, so here in a better work are all ages and classes employed, to an extent sometimes, indeed, that taxes far too heavily the brain of the thinker and the strength of the labourer. What a multitude of anxieties and calculations, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, centre here! What an amount of interest is awakened, what a power of thought is engaged, what a variety of different forces are employed to the production of the result I It employs all variety of talents, it enlists an infinite number of agencies, it braves all kinds of dangers, it undertakes the most Herculean toils. It plants its settlement at every centre to which people are likely to be attracted; it penetrates forests or pierces mountains which may obstruct its advance; it goes far and wide in order to gather up the peculiar treasures of all countries, and turn them to profitable account. Now, after taking this rapid and cursory review, the first question which should suggest itself to every man who believes in the Divinity of our religion, and the power which it ought to exert as a guide, and a sanctifier of humanity, is, as to the way in which the Church is to regard this work, occupying so much time, employing so much energy, absorbing necessarily so much interest and desire.

I. RELIGION IS TO BE A GOVERNING POWER IN BUSINESS LIFE. God is to be owned and obeyed in all its relations, all its feelings, and all its labours. The law of truth and righteousness is to be absolute and unchangeable. It may sometimes impose upon him duties and sacrifices which are felt to be very hard. It may require him to renounce advantages which seem to be within his grasp, and which in truth needs only a little straining of conscience on his part for him to secure. It will lead him to adopt principles of conduct which friends and companions may vote visionary and impracticable. But with him it ought never to be a question whether he will obey or not. He is under a rule which he has willingly accepted; not because society approves it, or because it may seem on the whole to be most conducive to his personal interests, but because it is the law of Christ. He is not a Christian although a merchant, nor is he a Christian and a merchant, but he is a Christian merchant; that is the law of Christ rules him in his business as much as in his actions in the Church.

II. RELIGION IS TO BE A PURIFYING POWER. It would be a simple tiling to indulge in declamation against the evils of trade, and the corrupting influence which, even when conducted in the best way, and on the most Christian principles it exerts upon the character. You may be true, righteous, honourable, but the spirit of the world may have such dominion over you that all spiritual desire may be extinguished, and spiritual power and sympathy lost. Under the influence of this passion the purer sentiments of heaven will droop and die, all generous feeling will be resisted until at last it is crushed out altogether, the heart will grow harder and harder, and happy will it be if in some unguarded hour temptation does not betray into grosser evil. But how is even this lowering of tone to be escaped and the soul freed from the dominion of selfishness? It is here, as everywhere else, where the love of the world is, the love of the Father cannot be, and until that heavenly love be shed abroad in the heart, the other cannot be conquered. It is the new and holier affection which must expel the old.

III. RELIGION SHOULD BE A CONSECRATING POWER. Our business must be regarded as work done for God, so that God may be glorified in it and serve by its fruits, and then will it become itself truly Divine. Uprightness, honour, generosity, and unselfishness will redeem it from the faults which provoke so much censure, and stamp upon it a character which all will soon learn to reverence.

(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)


1. In general, we may observe that this language relates altogether to a worldly project. The principal object is gain, "not the true riches," or "that Rood part" which shall never be taken from those who choose it; but the gain of this world, the gain which is acquired by buying and selling.

2. The great Lord of all has no part in this scheme. These little arrogant words, "we will," thrust Him out at once and occupy His place.


1. It furnishes us with a rule by which all our undertakings ought to be examined. Let us convert the views which we have in any undertaking into the form of a petition, and try whether we can, with decency, offer up such a petition to God. Let us consider whether the means by which we propose to compass these views are of such a nature that we may ask the Divine blessing to accompany them.

2. It teaches us to consider the shortness, and particularly the uncertainty, of life. There is not an element so friendly, nor a circumstance so trifling, that it may not become the minister of death. Ought not this manifest uncertainty of life, then, to cool our pursuit of earthly projects?

3. It teaches us to live in an habitual dependence on God, not only for life, but also for activity and prudence to carry our lawful designs into execution.

4. It teaches us to resign ourselves entirely to the will of God, and to submit all our schemes to Him, to prosper or to disappoint as seemeth good to Him.Lessons:

1. Guard against that extravagance in laying down schemes for the time to come, which, upon cool reflection, appears so unjustifiable in the example before us.

2. Realise this important truth, that our life is but "a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Die we must, and we know not how soon.

(R. Walker.)

Business is the process of making what man needs for his physical wants, and also the process of buying and selling what is made or produced. The farmer is engaged in business, and that, too, of a most essential kind. Yet when we speak of business life we generally refer to what can be carried on in cities. By many people it is thought that Christianity has no relation with this manifold work which men carry on. At best business life, they think, must be governed by the common laws of morality, and by nothing more. What is distinctive in Christianity has nothing to do with man's ordinary occupations. But the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, forbids all such views of man's nature and of man's relation to God. In that great act God declared that He for a time would become dependent on outward and material means for the sustentation of His human life. His religion has much to do with material things; for His Son came in the flesh, lived in a material home, inhabited a physical body, worked in a common carpenter's shop, and died a .physical death. It is true that some of Christ's disciples were in His time, and are in ours, set apart for purely religious work. But these did not altogether escape secular toil. They had to live. Then, too, there were good men and true whom Christ left at their secular toil. These were none the less disciples, none the less saintly. There is, therefore, we believe, a Divine call to business. It is not a call to the same work as that undertaken by a minister of the gospel, but it comes from the same lips. What we really need is that all Christian men should feel the designation of God to all honest work. We shall never have a really Christian world and city until this recognition is general.

1. Men are adapted to different and special pursuits. One is evidently cut out to be a lawyer, another to be a doctor, another to be in a bank, another to sell in a shop, another to work in a factory. Who adapted them? We may say that they inherited certain aptitude, or that very much is due to training and early education. All very true. But unless we are going to dismiss God from human life, we must feel that His mind has been at work, and that these varying capacities are proofs of His presiding and providing will.

2. God provides not only the men but the raw material. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." His hand made all things; and when we handle the goods in our commerce, and put our prices on them, we are handling His work.

3. God made spiritual beings like ourselves to do our work through a physical medium. No direct religious work can possibly be done by us except we have been fortified by material means. With angels it may be different; but with us who have bodies it is certain that the souls within cannot act unless we are fed, clothed, nourished, and sheltered, and none of this can happen except through business life. And as God has ordered that we should work and live here through the body, He has ordered the means by which the body of man is to be kept in good working order. He who despises business despises the Lord and His ordinances. If this be so, if God designs that business life shall be the career of most men, then certain consequences follow.(1) We ought to make business life a matter of prayer. There is a plan in the Divine Mind. Do we not wish that plan to be revealed to us? How it calms and cools the fevered brow to pray! How it nerves a man for the battle of life to pray! How it opens the heaven of light in the midst of the world's darkness to ejaculate a prayer to God!(2) Then, too, it is very necessary that business men should be conscious that they are doing the will of God. Men should accustom themselves to feel God with and within them at all times and places. The pious housekeeper of Bengel, the German commentator, used to think that her master spent far too much time over his books and writings; she feared that his soul was in danger. But when one day she went to call him to dinner she saw him fall back in his chair and say, "Lord Jesus, accept my work to-day," and she felt no more fears about his spiritual life. The Christian business is the one that is carried on for the glory of God; it is the work in which Christ is always honoured and obeyed. In order to see the Christianity of business we must inquire a little as to what it is we mean by the glory of God.

1. Justice is the glory of God. It is impossible to read the nature of God without seeing that justice is at the very foundation, and that all other prerogatives would be rendered nugatory if this were absent. The man, then, who would show loyalty to Christ must pay great heed to this principle of justice. It is a harder one to apply in all its details than is love. It is a more uncommon quality in men than generosity and good-naturedness. Business life has been purposely arranged to be a training-school for this virtue. We are brought by business life into contact with unchanging laws. Punctuality is simply a means of paying a debt to our fellows, and it is obedience to the irrevocable law of time. In dealing with raw material it is the same. There is a just and honest way of working at it, and of making it of use in society. The paint washes off, the veneer falls away; the poverty of the material is revealed. There is no glory either of man or God then, but only shame. It was a shame that the workman scrimped his work, that the purchaser paid so low a price as to tempt him, that society loved shams and delusions, rather than "things honest in the sight of all men."

2. Brotherhood is a part of the glory of God. For as He is our Common Father He certainly desires to see us act toward one another as brothers. A man may strive, but he must strive lawfully. He may do his best, but he must not seek to inflict wrong and loss on another. He may seek his own gain, but he must not seek the damage of his neighbour. These are the principles of the gospel. They are like all lofty principles, difficult of application and hard to carry into practice, but it is a part of the discipline of business life that we should learn this difficult art, and thus seek in all we do the glory of God.

3. We seek the glory of God when we remember that the material in our life exists only for the sake of the spiritual. Every Christian man must have a soul above his business. He must make the Cross of Christ central. A responsible being, he must seek strength from God to discharge his duties to those who come under his influence. A consecrated being, he must find in the fellowship of fellow-Christians that which will fill his heart with joy because it fills his hands with usefulness.

(S. Pearson, M. A.)

Here James does three things.

1. He seems to guard against the absorbing influence of worldly business — against thorough devotedness to the work of "buying, and selling, and getting gain." And well he might, on the ground of the very truths which he here propounds. Besides that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Accumulated wealth — what a poor and passing portion!

2. The apostle issues a solemn caution against confidence in the future. If, indeed, a man is to be active, energetic, and successful, in any part of his appointed work, he must calculate on future time. Bat to depend implicitly, whether on the prolongation of life, or on the attainment of wealth, is utterly unreasonable, as being what truth, and the actual condition of things, forbid — and eminently dangerous, as setting aside a powerful moral motive, fitted to be useful both to saints and sinners.

3. He prescribes a wiser way — inculcating a habitual sense of dependence on Divine Providence, and a devout recognition and acknowledgment of that Providence, with respect both to the events, and to the termination, of life.

(A. S. Patterson, D. D.)

Trading and chaffering has been peculiar to the Jews before and after the birth of Christ, especially to those who have lived out of Canaan, their country. For because they had no landed property among foreign nations, they were compelled to make their living by trade, which is the case now, if only it were done as it ought to be done.


Our rabbis tell us a story, which happened in the days of Rabbi Simeon, the son of Chelpatha. He was present at the circumcision of a child, and stayed with his father to the entertainment. The father brought out wine for his guests, that was seven years old, saying, "With this wine will I continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my new-born son." They continued supper till midnight. At that time Rabbi Simeon arose and went out, that he might return to the city in which he dwelt. On the way he saw the Angel of Death walking up and down. He said to him, "Who art thou?" He answered, "I am the messenger of God." The rabbi said, "Why wanderest thou about thus?" He answered, "I slay those persons who say, 'We will do this or that.' and think not how soon death may overpower them; that man with whom thou hast supped, and who said to his guests, 'With this wine will I continue for a long time to celebrate the birth of my new-born son,' behold the end of his days is at hand, for he shall die within thirty days."

(Debarim Rabba.)

Ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
There has ever been amongst mankind a propensity to trust to futurity. So inveterate has the propensity been, that universal experience from the beginning of time has not yet wrought its correction. It operates like a bewitching spell. The Author of our nature has endowed us with memory but not with prescience. We remember the past; but we know nothing of the future — nothing beyond what He has been pleased to tell us. The remark is trite, but true, that it is better for us that we do not know the secrets of the future. The remark, however, is one which is usually heard in seasons of calamity and distress. But while we might, in such circumstances, have no wish for the anticipation of certain evil, there could, we may think, be no such objection to the foresight of good. By such foresight, it may seem, we should have a threefold enjoyment of it — in expectation, in possession, and in recollection. But here too-the man of spiritual mind at least will admit — "ignorance is bliss." If adversity is distressing, prosperity is fascinating and tempting. And if it exerts such an influence over our hearts when possessed, inducing forgetfulness of God and disregard of our higher interests, what an addition would be made to its seductive power were a man foreseeing a long and uninterrupted course of it. In all respects, therefore, it is better that futurity is hidden from our view. And this bounding of our vision should be a teacher of humility. It should make us feel the infinite distance there is between the creature and the Creator — between ourselves, with our short-sighted vision, and the omniscient God. In the passage there are two states of mind and heart brought into contrast: the one described as that which men are naturally prone to indulge, the other that which God enjoins, and which really becomes them.

1. The former is confident in prospect, and boastful in success. The man is secure of life, of health, of a sound mind, of a ready market, of a sure profit; and of all for a whole year. He is certain of prospering. All in fancy stands already accomplished before him. He calculates neither on death, nor on sickness, nor on any hindrance to his schemes. The stream flows on without a ripple. No rock interposes to chafe or to divide its waters. His sky is all sunshine: no cloud comes over its brightness. The other character we have in the words of the fifteenth verse — "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." The man who says this is supposed to feel it. He humbly recollects that "his times" are in other hands than his own, and uncertain "what even a day," far more what a year, "may bring forth," to that God he commits everything he purposes for the future.

2. Then again, the former character is boastful in success. This is equally implied in his language. The man who trusts in himself for success will only follow out the same temper of mind by taking the credit and the glory to himself in success. The other, in the same spirit in which on entering on his course he had "committed his way unto the Lord," ascribes to Him, with a heart overflowing with lowly and lively gratitude, all the praise of his prosperity.

3. And we may add, as still another feature of the contrast, that the one is fretful in disappointment; the other humbly and cheerfully submissive. To every judgment and every conscience, without the fear of a dissentient voice, may I put the question — Which of these states of mind is the more becoming? and which, too, is the more truly happy? There can be but one reply. Let us, then, cultivate the one, and repress the other. What is there respecting which we can Say we know what shall be on the morrow? But, while the apostle does not exclude from the uncertainty the various engagements of business which the boastfully confident character he here introduces anticipates, he evidently has special reference to life itself — on the continuance of which all else depends. This is the point to which he specially alludes: "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." The similitude is striking. Such is human life — so fleeting, so transitory, so incapable of being, even for one moment, arrested and held. But not less true is it of property and business than of life. To-day an extensive tenement stands secure, yielding a rental that affords the means of sustenance and comfort to a contented and happy family: to-morrow it is a smoking ruin. To-day a man invests all he is worth in a promising speculation, and is in full and buoyant hope of an abundant return: tomorrow an event, such as no one could have anticipated, occurs, which sinks the markets, blasts his prospects, and leaves him to sigh over irretrievable ruin.

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

There are some of us who, with vain hopes and faithless terrors, peer into the future, as well as some who, with unavailing regret, brood upon the past. What are the evils that we are to do most to avoid as respects our future? I think they are three-fold; they may be roughly defined as shadowy hopes, needless anticipations, and procrastinated repentance.

1. Shadowy hopes! When the poet says "Man never is, but always to be, blest," while he thus describes our imagined bliss as a floating upon the future, as a fragment of a rainbow that always flies as we advance. How many of you, if you will confess the truth, are looking for happiness, not from anything which is in your lives, but for something which you hope will be before you die. Well, if we are doing so, we are not wise: there is a three-fold error and folly in wasting and making miserable our present life by these shadowy hopes. It is foolish, first, because the day which we are thus looking to, and hoping for, may, and very likely will, never come at all. We cannot thus rely upon to-morrow, and we know not what a day may bring forth, and what is our life? Death does not care for men's disappointments, he does not take into account men's plans. Death! It is a folly to postpone your happiness to a time which you may never see, and it is consequently a folly thus to live only in the future, because most probably even when your end is attained, even if you get the thing you are now wishing for, these hopes, being earthly hopes, and therefore in their very nature illusory, may bring you just no happiness at all. You may be happier, in the present, if you only knew it, than in the future, even if you get what you hope for. A man gains rest only to find that rest is weariness, and rank only to find that he has touched a bubble, riches only to find that the path of the rich man is strewn with thorns. And the third, and perhaps the most important reason why a life wasted in shadowy hopes is a folly, is, that thereby we lose what we might perhaps have had of present happiness. When St. Bernard was travelling, he was so absorbed in his own thoughts, that after riding all day along the shores of the lake of Geneva, he asked in the evening where the lake was. Even so we, by looking forward to some time that may never come, lose many a bright scene, many a golden moment, many a sweet wayside flower. Our only real chance of happiness is to get such happiness out of the present, as the present, almost always in some sense or other, has to give to the humble and the good, and if it has none to give, then at least we feel that life has other things besides happiness, and that it is no great matter.

2. And then there is a worse form of this folly of living in the future, perhaps equally common, although exactly opposite in character; it is to destroy all chances of present happiness, not by those vain shadowy hopes, but by equally shadowy fears. Rich men have been known to starve themselves, and even to have committed suicide in the mere dread of future poverty. The worst of evils, says a French proverb, are those which never happen. At any rate, it is absurd for us in any case to suffer them twice over, and sometimes they are more in anticipation than in reality. I have been speaking, for the most part, with immediate reference to this life, but I will extend it to the world beyond. Whatever may await the sinner in the next life, God clearly did not mean this life to be devastated by anticipated horror. As for heaven, you can go there as often as you will. If you do not do so now, you will never be able to do so hereafter. If the angels never sing songs to you now, how can they do so when you come to die? I said, like Richard Baxter, to go to heaven every day. We enter heaven most when we do our duty best and most simply.

3. I can but touch briefly on the one other error about the future — but that is the deadliest, i.e., procrastinated repentance, reliance on the future to mend the wilful sins of the present. For these other follies of which I have spoken are hurtful, but this is absolutely ruinous. It ruins the present by encouraging continuance in sin, by rendering recovery from sin more and more impossible. It ruins the past whatever it may have been. You will repent in the future. But how if you have no future? I say nothing of the terrible impiety of thus bidding God bide your time before you choose to obey His laws, nothing of the shame of thus turning God's mercies into an engine against your soul — nothing of the insolence of declaring that He has not meant anything by His anger. But this I know, there is no known sin so near the sin that is past praying for, so akin to the sin against the Holy Ghost, as this wilful predetermination to postpone repentance that you may enjoy now the depravity of sin.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)



1. TO make us have a deeper conviction of the Divine knowledge.

2. To remind us of our subjection to God.

III. THE INFLUENCE which our ignorance of futurity ought to have upon us.

1. To check our presumption.

2. To check our anxiety.

(R. C. Dillon, D. D.)

The Times spoke thus of an honoured and lamented nobleman the day before his death: — "Lord Iddesleigh will go to-morrow to Osborne, will then deliver up his seal of office, and will on Friday return to The Pynes, Exeter." Let us listen, however, to Holy Scripture: "Go to, now," &c. Even journalists might well remember this.

What is your life?
I. LIFE IS A TEST. Every new ship must have a trial trip. If you take some one into your employ, and a crisis comes where his behaviour will make or break you, you say, "Now I will test him; now I will see what is in him." And, my friends, our whole life is a test, and we are all on a trial trip. Men, angels, devils the spectators; heaven, earth, and hell watching. Every word spoken and every action having ten thousand echoes.

II. IT IS AN APPRENTICESHIP. We study eight or ten years and we get our profession, we work five or six years and we get our trade, and then we go forth to the work of life. But this world is not our workshop. This world is to be destroyed, but do you suppose that because this world is to be destroyed all the affairs of the universe are to stop? How many hands and feet and eyes are necessary for the carrying out of the business of this world, and how many activities will be required for the business enterprises of eternity?

III. IT IS A CONFLICT. Have you not found it so? If you have never tried to curb your temper, if you have never tried to subdue your passions, if you have never tried to be better men, better women, then you know not what I mean; but if you have tried to do better, and wanted to be better, and struggled to do better, then you know that Paul was not only graphic but accurate when he described life as war with the world, and war with the flesh, and war with the devil. It may have been a conflict with yourselves, it may have been a conflict with poverty, it may have been a conflict with higher social position, with an unhappy family name, with the persecutions of the world; but I warrant you life has been to most of you a hand-to-hand fight.

IV. IT IS A PROPHECY. What you are now you will in all probability be for ever, only on a larger scale. Are all your preferences toward the bad? The probability is that they will be so for ever. Are your preferences toward the good? Do you want to be better? Do you long after God as an eternal portion? I tell you plainly that you are on the way to grandeurs which no summer's night's dream had ever power to depict.

V. IT IS A PREPARATION. If we are going a long journey we must get ready; we must have a guidebook; we must have apparel. If we are going among dangers we want to be armed. We have all started on a road which has no terminus, and once started we will never come back. Are we armed? Have we the robe? Are we ready for the future?

VI. IT IS A GREAT UNCERTAINTY. Of those people who perished on the Brooklyn Bridge, there was not one who expected to quit life in that way. Some, no doubt, had said, "Well, I shall leave the world under this disease, or under that disease." Another person said, "There are so many perils in that style of business, in that way I shall come to the end of my earthly life." Not one ever expected to go in this way — to perish on the bridge — and to every man the step out of this life is a surprise. I never knew any one to go in the way he expected. You hear of some one who has been an invalid for twenty-five years, and he always departs suddenly. You hear of some friend who, after thirty years of illness, has departed, and you say, "Why, is it possible?" Our life is struck through with uncertainty. Our friends change, our associations change, our circumstances change, our health changes. All change. But, blessed be God, there is a rock on which we can stand, the Rock of Ages. It is no autocrat at the head of the universe. My Father is King. Though the mountains may depart and the hills remove, His kindness and His love and His grace will fail us never, never.

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

1. In the first place I will remark that it is a very mysterious part of God's dealings, this making our life so uncertain. A man has a work to do, a great work, compared with which everything else he does is mere trifling, and yet he does not know whether he shall have twenty years in which to do it, or ten, or a few months or days. Surely if we were not accustomed to the thought this would seem strange to us; it is different from most earthly arrangements; men who give a piece of work to be done assign a time for doing it, they do not say, "I may come to-day or to-morrow, or perhaps not for twenty years, but whenever I come I expect the work to be ready." Or, again, to take a slightly different view of the case, it must appear strange that such different periods should be given to different persons to do the same work; one person has only childhood, another gets into youth, another is left to mature old age, and falls asleep rather than dies. Some, too, have long warning of their end; a man falls into a consumption and knows that within a certain time he must die, and so he has time as it were to get himself ready; while another is cut off on a sudden, and apparently in health drops down and expires; one man has frequent warnings by illness, and is in such a state that he knows he is liable to be cut off any day; while another has some sudden accident and is gone. It will throw all the light required on the difficulties of which I have been speaking, if we remember one thing, namely this, that our state here is one of trial; we are not told to do this thing and that so much for their own sake as for the sake of seeing whether we will obey God or no. We speak of the future as if it were something certainly to come; we speak of doing this and that to-morrow as if to-morrow were sure to come; but if God calls us away this night, what future, what to-morrow will there be for us? there will be a to-morrow for some doubtless, but will there be a to-morrow for us? Thus, you see, we may not reckon on to-morrow, we do not know whether there will be such a thing, and so the present becomes our great concern, the present is ours; the past is gone and cannot be recalled, the future may never be, but the present is indeed our own to work in, and the most powerful persuasive that we can have to set to work at once is the uncertainty of our having any other time allowed us. In this way, I think, we see something of the explanation of the mystery of God's dealings in making our lives so uncertain; we see that purposes of trial may be carried out thus better than in any other way; and if any man feel inclined to murmur, we can assure him that if he does not submit himself to God's will as things are, undoubtedly he would be just as stiff-necked, or rather more so, were he assured that he should live a hundred or a thousand years. And so of that other point I mentioned, namely, the difference of time allotted to different persons; this also seems quite consistent with a system such as we know that of God to be. For what is man's trial? simply this, whether in the position in which God has placed him he will strive to live a life pleasing to God.

2. I will next observe that the truth in the text is the best truth to carry about with us in order to enable us to set things at their value. If the uncertainty and shortness of life make those unhappy who are negligent of the will of God, in the same proportion will it give peace and comfort to the minds of those who do set themselves to live according to His holy will: for the troubles of life will appear trifling to him who thinks of himself as a traveller on his road home; a person on a journey will put up with many inconveniences, because he says they cannot last long, and h-me will appear even pleasanter after a rough journey.

3. Lastly, I wish to consider the question of St. James, "What is your life?" in a sense rather different from that intended by the apostle, but yet one which afford us much instruction and comfort. "What is your life?" If any one is troubled by this question, his answer is in the Creed which he repeats, "I believe in Jesus Christ — who was born — who was dead and buried — who rose again the third day — who ascended into heaven." In the life of our Lord, Christian brethren, we are to see the life of man represented as in a picture: what He has done we may do, not in our strength, of course, but here is the very blessing of the Christian Church, that we may rise above our own strength, we may claim union with Him "who was. born, dead, and buried, but who rose again."

(Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)

I. WHAT A DESCRIPTION IS HERE GIVEN OF THE LIFE OF THE NATURAL MAN! "A vapour" — a filmy nothing! Yesterday he was not; he seems scarcely to have existence now; to-morrow he is gone — in a moment gone. Such is man's natural life; one cold, one fever, one mistake in medicine, in eternity. Yet men live, neglecting their souls, as if they were to live for ever. But look we at another feature of his life: look we at his moral life, when destitute of the grace of God. It is but a wretched "vapour" — a murky vapour. It is but one step above the beast. Look at the mere man of business. Do not think I speak against business; it is one of the mistakes of mankind to suppose that a man must retire from his vocation to give himself up to God. God requires him to give himself up to Him in his business. But look at him the slave of his business, from Monday morning till Saturday night; occupying himself, indeed — altogether occupying himself — but never occupying himself one moment for God. He has not the least concern in this matter. Rise we higher: look we at the man of intellect, the man of intelligence. He dives into the earth, ascends into the clouds, travels, over the sea, goes over the world — thinks himself a man of wisdom. Ask Solomon what he thought — what was the end of the matter with him. To "fear God and keep His commandments." That is what lie summed up all his knowledge in; as if there were nothing else worth knowing. We sometimes see beautiful exhibitions of what is termed domestic happiness; but the chief ingredient is wanting, when a man is destitute of the fear of God. Even the benevolence we sometimes see displayed by a worldly man (would that there were more of it exhibited among the saints of God!) — self is at the root of it. And his very religion has all self at the root of it — self-righteousness, self-power, self-wisdom. Shall we descend lower? Shall I ask what there is in profligacy? Is there a profligate here? Is this life? What I is dissipation life? Is excess life? It is not worthy the name of life; it is a mere vaporous nothing, a murky vapour, a stench, as it were, in the nostrils of Jehovah; and it ought to be a stench to thine own soul.

II. Consider THE STRONG CONTRAST WHICH THE LIFE OF A CHILD OF GOD PRESENTS TO THAT WHICH! HAVE BEEN PLACING BEFORE YOU. Here is no "vapour" — here is substance, reality, truth. "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." This is life — to be led of the Spirit, to be quickened by the Spirit, to be drawn by the Spirit, to be kept by the Spirit, and to follow His guidance. This is life — this is peace; nothing short of it. "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God's." Here is life; no "vapour," a substance, a reality, a something, a real thing. To "glorify God" is the highest element in man's being. Whether a man is in the lowest poverty, or whether he is called to sit upon the most exalted throne, it matters not; if he live under this principle, it is true life. It signifies not what a man's engagements are — it gives a dignity to them, be they what they may. Look at the source of this life: nothing less than the Spirit of God. Yet how small were its beginnings! Oh! the wonders of this spiritual life! Think of its security "hid with Christ in God" — hid with Christ's life; just as secure as Christ's life is; the perfections of Jehovah encircling it, and that continually. Who can declare the happiness of this life? The happiness of self-denial! And whence is it that this life comes to us? It comes from the life of Christ: His life is our life — it is the support of our life.

(J. H. Evans, M. A.)

When a prince dies they toll the great bell of the cathedral that all the city may hear it, and that for miles round the tidings may spread. Swift messengers of the press bear the news through the length and breadth of the land, and all men's ears are made to tingle. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city," let believers be quick to hear the call to humiliation, to awakening, and to prayer that the visitation may be overruled for great and lasting good. A sudden death is a specially impressive warning. In a moment our strength is turned to weakness, and our comeliness into corruption. Now, upon this matter we have nothing to say but what is commonplace, for, garnish them as you may, graves are among the commonest of common things. Yet a solemn reflection upon the shortness of life, and the certainty of death, may prove to be important, and even invaluable, if it be allowed to penetrate our hearts, and influence our lives. History tells us of Peter Waldo, of Lyons, who was sitting at a banquet as thoughtless and careless as any of the revellers, when suddenly one at the table bowed his head and died. Waldo was startled into thought, and went home to seek his God; he searched the Scriptures, and, according to some, became a great helper, if not the second founder, of the Waldensian Church, which in the Alpine valleys kept the lamp of the gospel burning when all around was veiled in night. A whole Church of God was thus strengthened and perpetuated by the hallowed influence of death upon a single mind. I suppose it is also true that Luther in his younger days, walking with his friend Alexis, saw him struck to the ground by a flash of lightning, and became thenceforward prepared in heart for that deep work of grace through which he learned the doctrine of justification by faith, and rose to be the liberator of Europe from Papal bondage. How much every way we owe to this weighty subject! May a prince's death awaken many of you to life. He being dead now speaks to you; from yonder sunny shores he reminds you of the valley of death-shade which you must shortly traverse.

I. The text begins by reminding us that WE HAVE NO FORESIGHT: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow." The text divides itself into an emphatic question, "What is your life?" and an instructive answer: "It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."

1. First, I say, we have here an emphatic question: he asks, "What is your life?" For solidity, for stability; what is it? What is there in it? is it not composed of such stuff as dreams are made of? Your own breath is a fair picture of the flimsy, airy thing which men call life. What is your life? What is it for continuance? Some things last awhile, and run adown the centuries; but what is your life? Even garments bear some little wear and tear; but what is your life? A deticate texture; no cobweb is a tithe as frail. It will fail before a touch, a breath. Justinian, an emperor of Rome, died by going into a room which had been newly painted; Adrian, a pope, was strangled by a fly; a consul struck his foot against his own threshold, and his foot mortified, so that he died thereby. There are a thousand gates to death; and, though some seem to be narrow wickets, many souls have passed through them. Men have been choked by a grape stone, killed by a tile falling from the roof of a house, poisoned by a drop, carried, off by a whiff of foul air. I know not what there is that is too little to slay the greatest king. It is a marvel that man lives at all. So unstable is our life that the apostle says, What is it? So frail, so fragile is it, that he does not call it a flower of the field, or the snuff of a candle, but asks, What is our life? It is as if be had said — Is it anything? Is it not a near approach to nothing? St. used to say he did not know whether to call it a dying life or a living death, and I leave you the choice between these two expressions. This is certainly a dying tire; its march is marked by graves. Nothing but a continuous miracle keeps any one of us from the sepulchre. Were Omnipotence to stay its power but for a moment, earth would return to earth, and ashes to ashes. It is a dying life: and equally true is it that it is a living death. We are always dying. Every beating pulse we tell leaves but the number less: the more years we count in our life, the fewer remains in which we shall behold the light of day. From childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, from manhood to grey old age we march onward in serried ranks from which no man can retire. We tarry not even when we sleep: we are continually moving forward like the waters of yonder river, on whose banks we find a habitation. What, then, is our life? That is a question which remains to a large degree unanswered and unanswerable.

2. Yet our text affords us what is in some aspects an instructive answer. It does not so much tell us what life actually is as what it is like.(1) "It is even a vapour." James compares our life, you see, to a very subtle, unsubstantial, flimsy thing — a vapour. If you live upon an eminence, from which you can look down upon a stretch of country, you see in the early morning a mist covering all the valleys. In a little time you look from the same window, and the vapour has all vanished. It was so thin, so fine, so much like gossamer, that a breath of wind has scattered it, or peradventure the sun has drawn it aloft; at any rate, not a trace of that all-encompassing vapour remains. Such is your life. Or you have marked a cloud in the western sky, illuminated with those marvellous lights which glowed during those extraordinary sunsets, the like of which none of our fathers had seen. You looked at the jewelled mass; it shone in the perfection of beauty, and all the colours of the rainbow were blended in its hues: in another instant, lo, it was not; it was gone past all recall. Such is your life. This morning, as we came hither, we saw our breath: it was before our eye for an instant, and anon it had gone. Such is the picture which James presents to us. "What is your life? It is even a vapour." He proceeds to explain his own symbol in a sentence which is full of meaning.(2) "It is even a vapour, that appeareth." Vapour is so ethereal, phantom-like, and unreal, that it may rather be said to appear than to exist. If you could reach yon fleecy cloud, you would scarcely know that you had entered it, for it would possibly appear to be the thinnest of mist. The vapour which steams from your mouth, how light, how airy, it is next door to nothing; it only "appeareth." And such is this life — a dream, a vain show, an apparition of the night.(3) Further, the apostle says, It "appeareth for a little time." It is only a very little while that a man lives at the longest. Compare a man's life with that of a tree. A hundred years ago that oak seemed every way as venerable as it does to-day, whereas the man was then unthought of by his grandsire. Compare our life with the existence of this world; I mean not the present state of the earth as fitted up for man, but I allude to those unknown ages which intervened between the present arrangement and that beginning wherein God created the heavens and the earth. The long eras of fire and water, the reigns of fishes and reptiles, the periods of tropical heat and polar ice, make one think of man as a thing of yesterday. Then contrast our life with the being of the eternal Lord: and what is man — man when most venerable with years? A Methuselah, what is he? He is but an insect born in the morning's sunbeam, sporting in the noontide ray, and dead when the dews begin to fall. He appeareth for a little while.(4) The parallel is further consummated by the apostle's adding, "And then vanisheth away." The cloud is gone from the mountain. Where is it? It has vanished away. No trace of it is left: neither can you recall it. We too shall soon be gone; gone as a dream when one awaketh. With the most of us our remembrance will be short. The air has felt the passing-bell, and now the stars look down upon a stone writ large with "HERE HE LIES!" Or the dews shall wet a grass-grown mound, girt about with brambles, on which a few wild flowers have sprung up spontaneously to show how life shall yet triumph over death. Children may bear our name, and yet a fourth generation shall quite forget that we ever sojourned in this region. Such is our life — "a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."

II. THE LESSONS WHICH LIE WITHIN THIS TRUTH. First, If this life be unsubstantial as a vapour — and nobody can deny the fact — let us regard it as such, and let us seek for something substantial elsewhere. It may be well to make the best of both worlds; but of this poor world nothing can be made unless it be viewed in the light of another. This is a poor withering life at the best, for we all do fade as a leaf. Next, Is life most uncertain? We know it is: no one attempts to deny it. It is certain that life will come to an end; but it is most uncertain when it will come to that end. Is it so uncertain? Then let us not delay. Since death is hastening, haste thou thyself until thou has found a refuge in the cleft of the Rock of Ages, and art safe in the arms of Jesus. Since life is so uncertain, oh, haste thee, Christian, to serve thy God while the opportunity is given thee: be diligent to-day to do those works which perfect saints above and holy angels cannot do. Is life so short? Does it only appear for a little time, and then vanish away? Then let us put all we can into it. If life be short, it is wisdom to have no fallows, but to sow every foot of ground while we can. Is life so short? Then do not let us make any very great provision for it. If I were going a day's voyage, I should not wish to take with me enough biscuit and salt beef to last for three years; it would only cumber the boat. One walking-stick is an admirable help, as I often find: but to carry a bundle of them when going on a journey would be a superfluity of absurdity. Alas, how many load themselves as if life's journey would last a thousand years, at the least! Is time so short? Then do not let us fret about its troubles and discomforts. A man is on a journey, and puts up at an inn, and when he is fairly in the hostelry, he perceives that it is a poor place, with scant food, and a hard bed. "Well, well," says he, "I am off the first thing tomorrow morning, and so it does not matter." Must life vanish away? We know it must. What then? That vanishing is the end of one life and the beginning of another. And is death quite sure to come to me? Then, as I cannot avoid it, let me face it. But death will become another thing to you if you are renewed in heart. To the Christian it is an angel beckoning him onward and upward.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. What is the life of the LOVER OF PLEASURE?

1. It is a wandering life; always in pursuit of pleasure, but never satisfied.

2. It is a hollow life; void of all that is exalting and ennobling, and truly unsubstantial as it regards all that is most worthy of the pursuit of an immortal being.

3. It is an accursed life; under the curse of the broken law.

4. It is a tumultuous life. The lover of pleasure spends his time and wastes the most favourable opportunities in the midst of boisterous pursuits and tumultuous joys.

II. What is the life of the WORLDLY-MINDED?

1. It is idolatrous. The world in different senses and under different characters is the idol of the worldly-minded man; and to this idol he offers body and soul, devotes time and talents, and sacrifices earthly ease and heavenly happiness.

2. Such a life is stamped with simplicity and folly — which will appear most obviously if you consider the objects the worldly-man has in view, the means he employs for the attainment of these objects, and the end obtained in the accomplishment of such objects.

III. What is the life of the FORMALIST? it is laborious, enchanted, fleshly and empty.

1. It is laborious. The formalist has a standard, and to keep up this standard much carnal and bodily exercise are necessary.

2. The life of the formalist is an enchanted life.

3. It is likewise a fleshly life. It originates in the flesh, centres in the flesh, and ends in the flesh.

4. An empty life. It is a shadow without substance; like a statue, which, though it may be a true and correct likeness of a human being, is void of life and energy, and therefore only the representation of the human being.

(J. F. Whitty.)

We have a life — what are we going to make of it? Yet, though life is short and uncertain, it is wonderful in power; it can do wonderful things. How it can love and hate! How it can pray and blaspheme! What are we going to do with it? Let us look at a few ways, and make our choice.

1. The moneymaking way. Will that do?

2. The mechanical way. (Technical knowledge.) Suppose you take all the meausrements of a house, but never speak to the occupants!

3. Pleasure. Now all these ways of life have their right side. We cannot live without money. We can get but a little way on in life without knowledge. And every one of us needs pleasure, and ought to have more relaxation than some of us get now. But there are ugly circumstances in life which mar all the success that is possible along that line of movement. We have £50,000 a year, but we cannot add one cubit to our stature, or make one hair white or black. We know every science, yet we cannot tell what will be on the morrow.It is the business of the Christian teacher to keep these facts steadily before the public mind, and to draw the heart away from cisterns that are broken, from charms that are mocking, and to fix it upon things invisible, spiritual, Divine.

1. What we want in life is a supreme purpose worthy of our powers. If our purpose is to be rich, the greatest section of our nature will be simply untouched or perverted. If our purpose is to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, our whole nature will be moved to its best exertions, and will produce its best effects.

2. We want next a right view of those trials and circumstances over which we have absolutely no control. Ask why you are baffled — why you are not allowed to scale the only wall which separates you from the sunny land where the gardens bask in perpetual summer; and such questionings will lead you back into solemn sanctuaries, and show you that the earth and all its affairs are under the direction and judgment of God.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

I. Life is A SENSE — the soul's career in a body. On this account the body should be taken good care of, wisely inhabited and vigorously controlled (1 Corinthians 9:27).

II. Life is AN IMPULSE — ever pushed forward by some dominant motive, as of selfishness, or benevolence, avarice, ambition, pride, vanity, love of pleasure, &c. (2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 2:20).

III. Life is a PURSUIT, ever reaching out after or pursuing something in general that pleases us (Psalm 4:6).

IV. Life is AN ACT, i.e., characterised by things done; either what ought to be done, or what ought not to be done. And this is one of the main pivots of our accountability (2 Corinthians 5:10).

V. Life is A POWER, ever sending out influence, as a magnet sends out attraction, or the sun its light and heat.

VI. Life is A TEAR — a scene of varied and multiplied trials. "Born to trouble" is the world's cradle inscription. Witness Paul's catalogue (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). But what an admirable offset (2 Corinthians 1:5). And the same resource is free and open to every child of God.

VII. Life is A PERIOD — i.e., with a definite length, it has also an end. For this some adequate preparation should be made.

VIII. Life is A PROSPECT; looking beyond the bounds of time over into the bosom of eternity, and forward to the bar of God (2 Corinthians 5:1-9; 2 Timothy 4:8).

IX. Life is A WANT: alike in its beginning, continuance, and end. It is ever needy, as an infant for its mother's arms; or as a vine, stretching forth its tendrils for something by which to climb, or upon which to lean. And how all-happy is that soul that finds the true source of strength, and passes through all the wilderness of this world, and comes up out of it at last "leaning upon her beloved."

(J. G. Hall, D. D.)

I. WHAT IS THE INTENTION OF "LIFE"? NO man of any consideration can look on "this life" for a moment without connecting it with "the life that is to come." It is evident that the first great intention of this "life" is education — so that as in a man's "life," there is a portion upon this earth allotted to what is strictly preparatory to the rest — so is the whole immortal existence of a man arranged, that there should be a period of instruction and cultivation, to be the education-time for his eternity. God deals with us here as a father deals with the children he is training: nothing is final; but everything has a direct influence upon something else that is to be final. And if it be so, can you wonder that there is so much that is mysterious to our present view? Can a child, while he is a child, understand his own discipline? Allowing, then, that this "life" is education, education is made up of two parts — probation and cultivation. And when I say probation, I mean by that word, that a man is to know himself, and to show to other men what he really is. The circumstances in which he is put are exactly those the best to unfold his real character. He is treated as a perfectly free agent. He is placed between good and evil. Opposite influences bear upon him. He has such tendencies that, if he follow them, he will be bad and miserable; and he has such convictions and assistances that, if he uses them, he will be good and happy. Every trial-every happiness — every event of life — is to develop character; and, as soon as ever the character is fully developed — be it what it may — then comes death — then comes judgment — which judgment, be it remembered, will not be to decide a man's state — that is decided by his daily actions, i.e., while he lived here; but it will be the public declaration of the decision, made to commend itself to the minds of the whole universe: because, when the decision is made, it will appear to be in strictest conformity with all that every man manifested himself to be while he was down here, in this probationary "life." That is probation. But education is also cultivation. Partly by instilling knowledge, but still more by drawing out powers, and by establishing good habits, and exercising right feelings, a child is educated for his after-life. Just such is all machinery which surrounds us in our present state. Every variety of fortune — every little, minute occurrence of life — the Bible — the Holy Spirit — the very atonement itself — are all calculated to train: they are all means to an end. Now, if this "life" be thus education, let us see two inferences. In the first place, they are quite wrong who think that the "life" and character of a man are to undergo some great change and some remarkable metamorphosis when he dies. And again, is "life" indeed education — education for eternity? then I draw my reasoning back from that higher world — What is the great character of heaven? It sees, it loves, it reflects, God's glory. Do you wish to know, to-night, how your education is getting on? I ask, How far could the past year bear witness to your having lived under the influence of a desire to promote God's glory?

II. But now I pass to the second thought which lies coiled up in the great question, "What is life?" — ITS DURATION, NOW, we would have you, brethren, in this matter to distinctly understand and remember in your minds that, however uncertain the term of "life" may seem to us, it is most determinately fixed by Almighty God. Perhaps I should not be wrong to go further than this, and to say that probably, at this very instant, that course of events is already in progress, and that disease is already existing in your body, which is to be God's instrument to remove you. It is likely that, for many years, we, most of us, carry about with us the seeds of our own dissolution. And is not it to be believed that that period of death is determined according to the preparedness of the soul? and that as soon as ever a man's spirit has become sufficiently assimilated to its final state — be that state which it may — then the word is spoken — the thread is cut — the ripe saint and the ripe sinner are both cut down! Men talk and men plan for the future, and who that visited our world as a stranger would ever guess, from people's ways and people's words, that there were such a thing amongst us as old age — that there were such a thing amongst us as death? Every one seems to see somebody who is older than himself very well, yet alive; and then he thinks, "Why should not I live as long as that man?" Then, "What is your life?" At the most a span; and that span is held by a thread. There is no certainty of "to-morrow"; and many years are out of the question! And, with the "angel of death thus in the air, can you sit down at your pleasures, and no "blood" on "the door"? If that "blood" is once there, upon your heart — which is a man's "door" — the "door" of his existence — if "the blood of Christ" has ever been applied — everything is changed age is happy — death is joy. And yet, "What is your life?" Short in nature; but how much shorter in grace! Who shall fix how near will be the hour when the Spirit, who has been striving So long, shall depart, and with Him all that makes "life" worth living? Oh, brethren! what would this drear "life" be if the Spirit were gone?

III. WHAT IS THE REAL NATURE OF "LIFE"? It is a part of God's teaching that "the life" of every creature is "the blood"; and when God said that, He said it in reference to "the blood of sacrifice." There must, therefore, be some antitype to man's "blood" which constitutes "life." And what is that antitype — which I do not say gives "life" to anything, but which is "the life" of everything — what will it be but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? I may follow that a tittle further. As soon as a man is really united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit actually enters into that man's soul. A new power and principle of "life" is in him: new affections breathe; new energies spring up; and so there comes a certain secret, hidden "life," which consists in communion with God — is fed by hidden manna — exercising itself in hidden thoughts, in hidden places. And that is "life" because all the other "life" — everything that is worthy the name — is only the acting out of that first inner "life." Then, from that "life of God" within — which dates itself from the application of "the blood of Christ" — there comes a noble expanding of the intellect of a man, and the affections of a man, and the whole being of a man, out into the service of God.

(James Vaughan, M. A.)

I. LIFE IS A DIVINE GIFT. We are so accustomed to look upon life and all that it brings with it as absolutely our own, to be spent in any way we choose, that to grasp the thought of its being a gift for which we are responsible is to experience a radical revolution in our favourite modes of thinking. The false view of life, which is so prevalent, springs from the fact that men are endowed with the power of moulding circumstances to their will, the power of manipulating forces for their own ends, and therefore are prone to make themselves their own centre — "the be-all and the end-all" of the universe. Hence, I think we may say that the difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate lies fundamentally in this, that while the former have become aware of a Divine purpose in history, and a Divine meaning in life, and are endeavouring to carry forward the one and to realise the other, the latter are blind to these things, and are the unwilling, unconscious instruments in God's hand for the achievement of His will. The controversy between the Church and the world is reduced to this issue — whether life shall be interpreted in and for itself, or in and for God. Nothing is more sad, and yet nothing is more characteristic of our own age, than its boastful dependence on self, its claims to summon all things in heaven and earth before its tribunal, and its arrogant assumption of superiority over all the eras of the past. Well for it were it more distrustful of self! The man of business, for instance, whose trade or occupation is flourishing, whose balance at the banker's is mounting up by hundreds or thousands, with whom, in common phrase, the world is going well, is he not prone to nourish a sort of self-satisfaction, a feeling that his success is traceable all along to the shrewd common sense and business capacity which are his? The man whose interests are chiefly intellectual, the politician, the statesman, the author, as he listens to the plaudits of admiring crowds, or reads the warm eulogies of newspapers and reviews, does he not at times congratulate himself upon the skill of brain and strength of will which could raise him so high above the mass of men? Life in these cases is valued indeed for itself, the material comfort it can command, the social influence it can secure. To become independent of God is to become dependent on things that are but hollow mockeries. Now, in order to be rescued from this false independence of God, we must grasp by the spiritual understanding this thought, that life is a Divine gift. God gives it to us freely, without merit or effort on our part. Life, therefore, involves — first, reason, and second, a purpose.

1. As to its reason. Life is rooted in Divine love. If we are not to lose faith in humanity, in progress, and in the future of the world, we must hold fast by God's love as lying at the deepest roots of life, even though many things seem to shake our assurance. God loves us, and hence He gives us life. Love is active, exists, indeed, in virtue of its exercise. It creates worlds, and peoples them with happy spirits. Nay, more, it surrounds these spirits with every influence that can evoke their love and satisfy their yearnings. There are moments which come to the most of us when we can almost echo the prayer of one who was a great sufferer — "Wherefore, then, hast Thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh, that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!" The answer to our heart's pain is to be found here — God gives us life, therefore He loves us. His love is the all-sufficient reply to the pains and losses of his. But, now, look at this thought in another aspect. If life is the evidence of Divine love, then, I take it, there is the closest bond existing between God and man. Some religious teachers speak of the sinner as though he lived in the remotest fringe of God's universe, outside the range of His love, though not of His power. This is to misconceive the true relation. For, indeed, what closer bond or stronger link can unite God and the sinner than eternal love? If this fails, where shall we find a power that shall succeed? If God's love fails to win men from their sins, where shall we discover the force that shall avail? Ah! the hope for humanity lies here. A great German preacher is reported to have said of himself, "I was brought up in a hard school; my father taught me not to cry out even though my head was dashed against a wall. But when I saw my sins, and realised the love of God, I could not refrain from weeping like a child." Pessimism — the belief that life is essentially evil — is in its deepest ground the result of spiritual blindness. And to be blind to the affections of God's heart is the greatest curse that can come to man.

2. As to its purpose. Life is given us to realise the Divine will. This also is a thought which comes to most of us as with the freshness of revelation. The majority of men do not realise that life includes a Divine purpose. They are a sort of moral flotsam and jetsam, at the mercy of every wave or eddy of circumstance, devoid of stability, and, therefore, devoid of all noble effort or attainment. Is not this the secret of the weakness, the irresolution, the incapacity which dogs some men throughout all their life? They bare never seen our first principle — that life itself is a gift, the outgoing of God's heart of love, and therefore a something to be used in His service and for His glory. Love seeks a return, lives in hope of such; and God endows us with life, that we may love Him. But our love to Him cannot be created by coercion or stern exaction from without; it must be the free, glad utterance of obedient hearts. The task which our love to God has to face is that of penetrating and subduing every force and faculty of our nature with its own sweet influence, of bringing every thought, in apostolic phrase, "into captivity to the law of Christ." As Mazzini, the Italian patriot once said, "Life is a mission, and duty a supreme law." There is no grander conception of man than that he is God's missionary. We are called to a kingly mission. That is, one essential element of God's ideal of man is that he shall rule himself, that he shall check with firm reign every lawless appetite, that he shall bring all the manifold energies of his being into subjection to a governing central authority. And what He wants He performs if we are but willing. If we receive Him into our hearts, He will engift us with a kingly power by emancipating us from selfish aims, and degrading fears, and petty motives, that make life such a mean and commonplace thing. But Christ calls us to a priestly mission as well. To have a well-disciplined soul is a good thing. To know that all its powers are working harmoniously together under the central sway of the man himself is something worth aiming at. But Christ beckons us to a higher privilege still. The man whose spirit is thus well ordered, whose intellect and affections are balanced by a ready will and a tender conscience, is to consecrate himself and all his powers to God. A self-discipline that never can get beyond itself is at heart utterly selfish. The ages in our own history most fruitful of good, most full of the heroic element, were ages when the consciousness of men was saturated with the thought of God. The Reformation era which could produce a Luther, a Knox, a Zwingle, a Calvin, the Puritan age which could create a Cromwell, a Baxter, a Milton, a Bunyan, were times when the name of God had not become a theological phrase, but vital realities, unseen, but all-powerful, in living relation with the practical interests of man.

II. LIFE IS A DIVINE DISCIPLINE. When we are asked to believe in life as an effluence or product of Divine love, we are brought face to face with serious difficulties that seem to bar the way to faith. If God loves me, as you say, and has, therefore, bestowed upon me the gift of life, how is it that He has marred His gift by pain and loss and grief; has turned for me what might have been a blessing into what is little less than a curse? I have read somewhere that Christ's earthly life is far from being an ideal one, because it was essentially sorrowful. But I ask, is not this the secret of its undying charm for men, that it meets them in the greatest crisis of their history, when the brain is stunned with grief, and the heart pierced with sore trials, and life stands forth, bare and gaunt, as a terrible tragedy? Viewing life, then, as having sorrow for its pervading element, our faith in a God of love can be saved only by extending our vision beyond the boundaries of the present, by seeing that our calling and privileges and opportunities now form a discipline to prepare us for a grander and truer life hereafter. Here, again, it may be seen how a pessimistic way of thinking often takes its rise. To put aside the revelation which Christ makes to us of the future, is to shut men up to despair, unrelieved by a single gleam of light. Admit that revelation, however, and though all difficulties are not thereby removed, yet feeling so many to be mitigated, we can bear the rest until the day of clearer light and fuller knowledge. Now, this mitigation may be seen in two ways.

1. Discipline is a test of character. When God wishes to bring a man to see himself, to disentangle him, as it were, from the disguises which he is prone to wear before his fellow-men, He does it perhaps, by suddenly throwing upon him responsibilities of which he had never dreamt, or, perhaps, by confronting trim with an emergency that demands quick resolution and determined effort. It is then that what is most real in the man comes out. The weakness or strength of character is seen in how it meets the Divine test. God has many ways of effecting this self-revelation. Just as a lightning flash at midnight reveals in a moment the Wooded height or rocky foreland which the murky darkness had concealed, so do the great crises of life unveil, as with the mystic touch of God, the basis of character, the things that have made it what it is. Is it an accession to sudden fortune? A favourable discipline surely! Yet have we not heard of cases where men, intoxicated by the new power that has come to them, have forgotten the simple virtues of their former state, and have become slaves to pride and selfishness, and a hundred other evils? Is it poverty? Then it may be God's design to test whether the graces and virtues so conspicuous in times of comfort were real or not. In these various ways does God test us. But through them all there is a unity of purpose — the taking of us out of the pretences and make-believes of the world, and the planting of us on the eternal realities of the unseen.

2. Discipline is indispensable to the realisation of the Divine Ideal. We all start in life with grand aims. Our ideals are fair and lovely to look upon. And in the joy which a vision of them creates we think we have but to stretch forth our hands and they are ours. But soon we discover our mistake. Contact with the prosaic realities of the world, or the pressure of unforeseen difficulties and hindrances, soon dashes our enthusiasm with an element of distrust, and the "vision splendid" is in danger of fading into the "light of common day." Not thus, nor so quickly, is our dream to be translated into the region of solid fact. It is only by a baptism of the "spirit of burning" that our highest modes of thought can be cleansed from the self-reference or self-pleasing which is so liable to vitiate them. God's ideal is very different from man's, even at the best. Is not this an important part of our life work? — to see how poor and cramped our noblest spiritual creations are when compared with the archetypal thoughts of God. And this we can never see except through discipline. If to obtain a knowledge of the material world and its laws men will spend days and nights of anxious labour, surely it ought not to be considered strange if the supreme possession of the soul, God Himself, cannot be won without at least some spiritual struggle. It is a familiar fact that things of earthly value which are easily purchased are lightly esteemed. Is it not so in the spiritual region?

(J. A. Anderson.)

"What is your life?" There is a variety of answers to that question. The afflicted might say, "My life is a wearisome burden; when shall I lay it down in the grave?" The labourer might say, "My life is a dull round of toil; I rise early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness." The prosperous might say, "My life is a continued joy; I cannot exaggerate its felicity; flowers strew my path, and overhead the skies are blue. I have sunshine within and without." But the apostle has his answer to the question; and remember that if it is melancholy, it is of God — it is God's own estimate of human life, "It is even a vapour," &c. This being so, shall we not ask what is the best improvement of this "little time," or, in other words, what is God's design willing it to us?

I. IT IS THE SEASON OF REPENTANCE. By nature we are sinful, abhorrent, therefore, to God's infinite purity, and devoid of righteousness. We must be brought to admit our vileness, our obnoxiousness to Divine justice, our dishonouring of God, our deep need of pardon. And life is the season for this repentance. It is protracted by the compassion of God for this very purpose.

II. IT IS YOUR SEASON OF GRACE — the period in which you may obtain forgiveness, together with a new heart and a heavenly hope.

III. IT IS THE SEASON FOR SELF-CULTURE. Have you no ambition to grow and mature and excel in piety? Do you not wish to be adorned and beautified, and enriched before you are summoned into the presence of the King of kings? Would you not be arrayed for that call in bridal garments which shall "smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces"? Is it not so that you have a great field within you, which you are to plough, and plant, and cultivate for God, till it shall be ripe unto the harvest?

IV. IT IS THE SEASON FOR USEFULNESS. Let us endeavour to throw more energy and enterprise into our Master's service this year.

1. Resolve that a New Year shall be distinguished by new resolutions. Wherever you feel you have been deficient, there hasten to repair the breach; there determine that, God assisting you, you will do better for the future.

2. Be a practical Christian this New Year. "Be zealous," not so much of good intentions and of good frames, as of "good works."

3. Be a cheerful Christian throughout this New Year. The renewed man has sources of joy which external circumstances cannot cloud or quench.

4. Be ready for your removal hence. There can be no solid serenity until we have looked death in the face, and overcome it by faith.

(James Bolton, B. A.)


1. Men calculate upon the certain continuance of their strength. The young generally seem to look upon diseases and infirmities as separated from them by an impassable gulf.

2. Men calculate upon an indefinite prolonging of life. They make no deliberate, serious calculation upon giving up friends, possessions, comforts, occupations, and pleasures.

3. The next life will much resemble this, according to their ideas. They forget that after death comes the judgment.


1. The uncertainty of life. Nothing is stable on this earth. Our cemeteries vie with our cities. Every day, every hour, every moment, a life is escaping. You may be attired for the gayest scene, awaiting a friend, securely seated at your father's fireside, and in an instant be in the fierce and fiery embrace of death, exchanging your rich garments for a winding-sheet of flame, breathing in an atmosphere of fire; in an instant, unwarned, unattended, unaided — gone.

2. This law is universal. That is, it is not only certain that every human life will cease, but that the time of its cessation is uncertain. There is a place, and a most important place, for medical science; a place for human prudence; but neither skill nor prudence will change the nature of every human life; it will still be "even a vapour."


1. We should understand the reality of the case. Life with us is but a process of decay. We possess life, but not less certainly are we losing it.

2. We should become entirely reconciled to it. The higher views we take of man, the more satisfied we shall be with this arrangement.

3. Accommodate all your views, feelings, and plans to this state of things. Make nothing that can perish the foundation of your hope. Money, the favour of man, the admiration of man, worldly pleasure, personal accomplishments (other than holiness and sound knowledge) are all vapour. Enjoy them as you do a beautiful sunset. Take them at their real worth; but be fully persuaded that your happiness must come from higher, and holier, and more unfailing sources. Value life for its highest ends. It can be the period of your personal progress in the life of holiness and heaven; the seedtime for an eternal harvest of blessedness.

(E. N. Kirk, D. D.)

Life comes to us so unconsciously, and lifts and drifts us on so easily, that we yield ourselves to its power without a thought — fools that we are! What is this power to which we surrender so unquestionably? What guarantee have we of its friendliness? What is this stream on which we drift so heedlessly? How do we know over what precipices it may hurl us? What is this life which we accept without scrutiny? Who has certified to its character? How can we tell to what a grand folly we are committing ourselves, or into what maelstrom of difficulty and distress we are permitting ourselves to be drawn? The fact that the great human mass about us moves on with us on the same mysterious tide, does not meet the difficulty, but increases it. Life takes on new magnitudes; but its meaning grows no plainer. The question which goes doubtfully forth from the solitary soul comes thundering back with the voice of the multitude which no man can number: "What is your life?"

I. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS DURATION? HOW much of this mysterious something, which you call time, is portioned out to you as your part? This is the question of prudence. The first thing that a man asks respecting a possession is: "How much is there of it?" If life were an estate, you would instantly inquire: "What are its boundaries?" If years were sovereigns, you would say, "How many of them may I have?" Life is an estate, but its bounds are invisible. Years are the golden coinage of heaven; and they are counted out to men. Each man shall have his number, and no more, but what number he cannot tell. The counting is done in another sphere, and no mortal ever overheard it.

II. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS SECURITY? This seems to have been the shape in which the apostle here intended to put it. "For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." The Scriptures have thrown around human life a marvellous imagery to intimate this evanescence. "Behold Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth.' Not even so substantial as a vapour; not even a substance at all; only the shadow of something; and that something, that shadow, passing quickly away. Can anything be more transitory than that? If it comes to that, our question is strangely answered. What is our life as to its security? It is nothing. It has no security, and can have none.

III. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE AS TO ITS AIM, ITS PURPOSE, ITS USES? If it be so brief, so much the more reason for improving it while it lasts. If it be so insecure and evanescent, so much the more reason for making the most of it. What do you make of it? What great purpose have you set before yourself, for the accomplishment of which you are laying hold of all life's opportunities, and putting under contribution all of life's forces? A great, wise man, a few years ago, chanced to be present at a winter-evening party where a company of lively young people were enjoying themselves after an innocent fashion. Standing a little apart, he watched, in thoughtful, but not in cynical or unsympathetic mood, the whirl and flutter of sportive life before him. Presently, a young girl, hovering a moment on the outer verge of the gay circle, stopped to exchange salutations with the venerable guest. And the merry creature, radiant with smiles, steeped with the festive spirit of the hour, won from the old man's lips the great thought which he had been revolving: "What are you living for?" The question, friendly in spirit and in tone, came to her in no impertinence, but it sounded through and through her soul. It followed her to her home. It repeated itself to her day and night. It announced to her the great problem of life. She met it honestly. She made room for it in her heart. She sought a fitting answer to it, and not many weeks later she could say, "I am living for Christ and for heaven." What answer does our daily life afford? What do our acts declare that we are living for? I fear that a just analysis of our life would put some of us to the blush. Let me propound a riddle. There is a certain being a day of whose existence may be thus described. He sleeps — rises — eats — does nothing — eats — does nothing — eats — does nothing — sleeps. Is it an oyster or a man? There are those who have higher employments and pleasures, the analysis of whose life would reveal a strange emptiness. They read. What? and with what purpose? and to what profit? They converse. About what? To what end? They enjoy society. On what account? Isn't the record a pretty meagre one, after all, even with some of us who have thought that we were living quite rationally and worthily?

IV. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN GOD'S CONCEPTION OF IT? Take that question home to your soul, and see what answer is there. Your soul tells you that it was not made to serve the body, or to stoop to any bondage whatever, or to any ignoble purpose. It tells you that it was made to rule, and by its higher nature give the rule to life, and through its higher perceptions to reach God's rule of life. When men meet on the ocean, they ask each other: "Whither bound?" and the man who was bound no whither would be a prodigy of folly. Sailing is a vague purpose without a port in view. But with a heavenward aim and movement, life becomes something angelic. "I've lost a day l" said a great sovereign, of whom a poet has written that he "had been a king without his crown." If it be royal to perceive the worth of time, after it is squandered, how much more to perceive its worth beforehand, and not squander it! If the utterance of such a regret were equal to a coronation, how sadly discrowned and ashamed, on the contrary, shall be he who shall be constrained to lament at last: "I've lost my life!"

(G. Huntington.)




IV. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS INFLUENCE ON YOURSELF? In a higher and far more fearful sense than the ancient artist, every one of us is "painting for eternity" — painting, each his own portrait, stroke by stroke, and line by line. And soon the image shall be finished, and hung up for our own gaze, and for the inspection of the universe — every part of it to grow brighter and brighter, or darker and darker for ever.

V. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE IN ITS RESPONSIBILITIES? Every object, every influence of life, implies responsibility. Every moment is inwoven with obligation to God and to your own soul.

VI. WHAT WILL YOUR LIFE BE IN ITS RESULTS? God has left it to your choice whether you will make it the pathway to salvation or perdition.

Religion is the art of living well for Christ and like Him. Three things are essential.

I. A RIGHT PURPOSE. The highest purpose is to serve God and benefit our fellow-men.

II. A RIGHT PRINCIPLE. The only principle that can hold is a conscience illuminated by the Bible and kept strong by inward grace. No one is to be trusted who does not trust God and obey Him.

III. A RIGHT PLAN. NO life is well planned which despises small things, or neglects every opportunity to strike. One rotten thread spoils a fabric. A life without Christ is a lost life.

(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)

The question may be asked in many tones. It may be asked rebuking]y, pensively, comfortingly. There is no doubt as to how the question was asked by the apostle. He was taking a rather humbling view of life. He tells the boasting programme-writers that their life "is even a vapour." Thus would James have us religious in everything. He would have no loose talk about to-morrow; in the very midst of our boasting he rebukes us by telling us that we are handling a vapour. That is no doubt the immediate apostolic suggestion. Yet may we not use the words on a larger base, and for another yet not wholly unkindred purpose? May we not read the suggestion in another tone? What is life? — what a mystery, what a tragedy, what a pain, what a feast, what a fast, what a desert, what a paradise; how abject, how august is man! It may not have occurred to some of you, as it has of necessity occurred to those of us who have to address the public, that there is hardly a more appalling and pathetic spectacle than a promiscuous congregation. We do not see life in its individuality, but life in its combinations and inter-relations of most delicate, subtle, suggestive, and potential kind. When we begin to take the congregation man by man, what a sight it is! The old and the very young, the pilgrim going to lay his staff down, tired of the long journey, and the little child sitting on its mother's knee; the rich man whose touch is gold; the poor man whose most strenuous effort is his most stinging disappointment; men who are doomed to poverty! men who never had a holiday; if they were absent a day it was that they might work two days when they went back again; and men who have never been out of the sunshine, before whose sweet homes there slopes a velvet lawn. What is your life? Then, if we go a little further into the matter, the audience becomes still more mysterious and solemn. What broken hearts are in every congregation, what concealed experiences, what smiles of dissimulation! as who should say, We are happy, yes, we are happy, we are happy. The protestation is its own contradiction. There is a protesting too much. If we go a little further into the matter, who can read his congregation through and through? Men are not what they seem. Every man has his own secret; the heart knoweth its own bitterness. Man is a mystery to himself, to others — mostly to himself. The only power that can touch all these is the gospel of Christ. No lecturer upon any limited subject can touch a whole congregation through in all its deepest and most painful and tragic experiences. No lecturer on astronomy can search the heart. Science holds no candle above the chamber of motive, passion, deepest, maddest desire. The gospel of Christ covers the whole area. How does it cover the whole area of human experience? First as a hope. Blessed be God, that is a gospel word. Christianity does not come down to men with judgment and fire and burning; the gospel is not an exhibition of wrath, retaliation, vengeance: the gospel is love, the gospel says to the worst of us, For you there is hope; I know you, I know all the fire that burns in you, all the temptations that assail you, all the difficulties that surround you as with insurmountable granite walls; I know them all, and, poor soul, I have come with good news from God, good news from Calvary; I have come to say, Hope on, for there is a way to reconciliation and pardon and purity and peace. Then the gospel comes covering the whole area not only as a hope but as a co-operation. If we might personify the case, the gospel would thus address man: I have come not only to tell you to hope, but I have come to help you to do so; the work is very hard, and I will do most of it; what you have to show is a willing heart, an earnest disposition, and, come now, together we shall work out this salvation of yours. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, with you, for you; we are fellow labourers with God. And then there is a third consideration, without which the case would be incomplete. Christianity, or the gospel, is not only a hope, or a co-operation, but it is a discipline. You always come upon the strong word in a great appeal. It is not all tears; you come upon the backbone, upon the line of iron, upon the base of rock. So the gospel comes to us as a discipline and says, Having, then, dearly beloved, these promises, let us purify ourselves, even as God and Christ are pure; now for work, self-criticism, self-restraint, self-control, now for patient endeavour. Cheer thee! It is a gospel word. Gospel calls mean gospel helps. Who knows what life is? It is the secret of God. Up and down the mountains and valleys of the soul there are countless millions of germs waiting for the sunshine, and the dew, and all the chemistry of the spiritual universe, and out of these germs will come invention, discoveries, new policies, novel and grand suggestions, heroisms undreamt-of, evangelisations, and civilisations that shall eclipse the proudest record of time. Every evil thought you have kills one of these germs. What is life? A mystery, seed-house, a sensitive treasure. What is life? It is the beginning of immortality. The dawn is the day — the child is the man. It is high time to awake out of sleep and to realise the tragedy, the grandeur, and the responsibility of life. He who loses time loses eternity.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

A little girl was asked why she was working so very hard. She replied, "My candle is almost burned out, and I have not got another." Life is as a candle burning out. Sometimes there is a thief in it, a disease consuming it more quickly; or it may be blown out, suddenly extinguished; and we have not got another.

(Dr. Wise.)

So have I seen a rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the morning and full with the dew of heaven, as a lamb's fleece; but when a rude blast had forced open its virgin modesty and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on darkness, and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head and broke its stalk; and at night, having lost some of its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and wornout faces. The same is the portion of every man and every woman.

(Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)

It was no part of the apostle's intention to teach that life is necessarily vain and perishing; he suggests that life is what we make it, accordingly as we live to the "outer man" which "perisheth," or to "the inward man" which "is renewed day by day."

I. "A vapour" — "YET A VAPOUR MAY BE A THING OF GLORY OR GLOOM. A vapour is often an object of glory, of richest glory. The firmament is the Royal Academy of God, glorified with countless masterpieces of form and colour. The transfiguring touch of the Divine hand changes the pliant vapour into rich sculptures, superb architecture and pictures of matchless grace or grandeur. The "vapour that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away," is a fountain of perennial delight to poet and painter: it calls up our thought to the glory of heaven, to the glory of God. A vapour may also be a cloud — dense, dark, and forbidding. It may obscure the light, discolour the sky, mar the summer. Thus with human life — it also may be a thing of glory or gloom. Some lives are as the cloud which lies on the sky, an inky blot; whilst other lives in their brightness and beauty remind us of those rainbow tints which are very jewels on heaven's bosom. What makes the difference in the vapour? The sun. The orb of day dyes the vapours with colour, warms them with fire, illuminates them with brightness, and fills the depths with shifting scenes of splendour. What the sun is to the vapour, God is to our life; and life shines or saddens according to its relation to Him. "The Lord God is a sun"; and our lives shine — everything in us and about us shines — just as we keep in the stream of His brightness. Acquaintance with God gives life its purity. The vapour apart from the sun is foul and dark; but as the light pierces it, it becomes "white as white wool," "white as snow." As we set the Lord God before us and live in fellowship with Him the baser elements of life are purged, and we attain that purity of heart which is the condition of all joy and glory. In the identification of ourselves with God life acquires sublimity. And through the knowledge and service of God life attains fruition in full felicity. The sunless vapour is that murky weeping cloud which is the chosen image of misery, whilst the sun-smitten vapour spreads a smile on the face of day. Life so strangels sad in itself kindles into rapture as it drinks the light of the Throne.

II. "A vapour" — AND YET A VAPOUR MAY BE THE SOURCE OF BARRENNESS OR BLESSING. Indeed a vapour may be one of three things. It may be the source of blasting, as the sulphurous vapour of the thunder-cloud. This is true of some lives; they are only pernicious and destructive. Or the vapour may be a merely barren thing. Not working any particular and obvious mischief, only drifting before the wind in barren magnificence. Thus is it with many lives. Men live for garish pride, or rosy pleasure, or golden gain, or crimson greatness; the earth is no better for their presence, they work no private or public service. Or the vapour may be a source of rich and lasting blessing; the messenger of God, scattering showers of blessing. Thus devoted souls pass through society rich in precious and holy influence; they drop as the rain and distil as the dew, and when they have passed out of sight you trace their passage by the rising flowers. If life is to be noble and blessed it must not be hurtful, not neutral, but beneficent. Many of those passages which so pathetically express the transientness of life, and which we quote with extreme mournfulness, have quite another side to them, and it is well to turn them round and refresh ourselves with their sunnier significance. Job has many of these metaphors. "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle" (Job 7:6). Hours, days, weeks, months, years pass with confusing rapidity; and we are apt to infer that little can be done or attempted with such conditions. Are we not mistaken here? Swift is the action of the weaver's shuttle, yet each rapid movement *nay fix a thread of silk or gold which shall keep its beauty for ages in royal robe or tapestry. Thus each fleeting moment may see some shining thread shot into the world's raiment or ours, if we are only wise workers in the loom of life. "O remember that my life is wind" (Job 7:7). A breath, a passing breeze! And yet the vanishing breath may utter great thoughts and kind words to the joy and purifying of multitudes. The passing breeze will freshen the stagnant flood, lift the unhealthy fog, awaken music in the stirred branches, and fill the whole landscape with animation and freshness; thus a human life may pass as the wind, leaving the whole face of the community refreshed and vitalised. Our life may be wind, yet may it be one with that mighty rushing wind which came down at Pentecost, sweetening the world. "My days... are passed away as the swift ships" (Job 9:26). Yes, but what treasures the swift ships bring; what treasures the swift ships take! So is it with the "ships of reed" — these frail, swift human lives of ours. What treasures these swift ships bring! They come from God freighted with riches of intellect, feeling, utterance, to enrich and rejoice the world. What treasures these swift ships take! Rich results of sanctified sorrow, of spiritual industry, of high duty bravely done, of years of consecrated toil and thought, of pain and blessing, of faith and love and prayer. We grieve to see the white sails vanishing like white wings into the infinite blue; but we must not forget that these weather-stained argosies — built in the noon and rigged with blessings bright — have steered straight into port with mystic treasures which "wax not old," "eternal in the heavens." Finally, take the figure in our text: "A. vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Life escapes us like melting mist, and we see it vanish with amazement and distress. Still the vanishing vapour leaves beautiful and lasting effects. Whence the green pasture, the leaf-robed forestry, the rich vineyard, the bowing wealth of corn, the orchards full of ripeness? Are they not all the offspring of vapours that appear "for a little time, and then vanish away"? So the world of noble things and institutions about us — the wilderness blossoming as the rose — is the result of short lives inspired by holy feeling, devoted to high ends.

III. "A vapour" — YET A VAPOUR MAY END IN A DRAIN OR A RAINBOW. So widely contrasted is the destiny of that self-determining vapour human life. In the text we see men living without any recognition of the relation of this life to immortality. Giving themselves to life on its physical and human side, they lose all clearness and brightness of soul, the stream ever becoming more turbid as it flows (Luke 12:16-21). This man's lifo ran in the gutter, and ended in the sewer. It is whilst we regard these fleeting days in their relation to the will of God that we penetrate their grandeur and become conscious of exaltation (Deuteronomy 30:20; 1 John 2:16, 17). It is whilst we regard the eternal meaning of life that all the discipline of this world develops greatness and purity of spirit (2 Corinthians 4:17, 18). The legend of the American Indians declares that as the flowers fade in forest and prairie their lost beauty is gathered into the rainbow, and thus they glow again in richer colour than before. It is, however, no legend which teaches the perpetuity of moral excellence. The earth is always being made the poorer by the departure of those whom we so sincerely admired or passionately loved — those who were ornaments of society, the pride of the Church, the light of our home. Rut these are neither lost nor injured. We look up to see them shine forth again in added grace and glory in the rainbow round about the Throne. Let us live in constant acknowledgment of God; let us, so far from accommodating ourselves to the fashion of a world which passeth away, identify ourselves with the will of God; let us thoroughly realise our sonship with God, our heirship of heaven; so shall we feel that we are being purified from every grossness, float we are being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, that we are becoming transfigured members in that ring of glory of which the Lord God and the Lamb are the eternal centre.

(W. L. Watkinson.)

The brevity of life enhances its preciousness. A prudent man, who has only a few shillings to spend, will be careful to lay out not only every shilling, but every fraction of a shilling, to the best advantage. And these few days that God gives us are too valuable to he trifled away. More precious than rubies, they ought to be turned to the very best account.

If the Lord will, we shall live.

1. The period of its duration. It is a little time, but it bears a never-ending relationship to eternity. Let us, therefore, improve the precious gift; it will soon be gone, and will never return. Let us look upon our days as so many valuable gifts which God puts into our hands, which we must part with, and which we may exchange, one after the other, so long as they last, for something which shall enrich us for ever.

2. The incidents of which man's life is composed. We "go into such a city, continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain." Alas! this completely describes the lives of multitudes among us; their journeyings, sojournings, tradings, and gains — and that is all! Some of us do not even come up to that. I mean those who spend their lives in killing time without wink. But life is made up of much more than these. What have we received?" Goodness and mercy have followed us," etc. What return have we made for so much mercy? Alas! much of forgetfulness, indolence, murmuring, unbelief, and rebellion. "We are unprofitable servants." What do we now possess? We have not been buying and selling, or losing, or getting gain only. "With all our getting" have we "got understanding"? Have we a more thorough, abiding conviction of the evil of sin? Have we felt a more searching, heart-aching repentance for it — a repentance which leads to the entire forsaking of it?


1. Our dependence upon it. Whether we know and feel it, or otherwise, we are dependent upon God. Sometimes He makes us know it. Our path is "hedged up," our best, wisest schemes fail, and we are suffered to want. And what a mercy that ultimately we are dependent not on bad men, or even good ones, but upon God! Let us look beyond second causes to the providence of God in the changes which are passing in the Church of God, and its associations.

2. Our ignorance of what the Divine providence will accomplish. "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow."

(T. E. Thoresby.)

I. MANKIND NATURALLY DO NOT FEEL AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR DEPENDENCE UPON THEIR MAKER. How few possess the spirit of the patriarchs, who were bold as lions provided that God led the way, but timid as lambs when they could not see His footsteps. Many men rely upon second causes, and never fall back upon the great First Cause. They calculate upon a long life, because they inherit a good constitution; they expect a successful issue of their plans, because they are regarded by others as shrewd and far-reaching men. In each of these instances the dependence is placed upon something this side of God.


1. Respect to all beings and things alike, be they finite or be they infinite, men must say, "We see through a glass darkly, and we know in part."

2. Again, man's knowledge is limited by lime, as well as by the nature of objects. His knowledge of the present is imperfect, and he has no knowledge at all of the future. Is not this ignorance of ours a strong reason why we should rely upon the all-knowing God? Though we know nothing in an exhaustive and perfect manner, yet we are not shut up to the unhappiness that would result from such a sense of ignorance if unrelieved by other considerations. If man would consciously live, move, and have his being in God, he would be filled with a cheerful sense of security, firmness, and power, amidst the violent and rapid changes incident to this life, and the dark mystery that overhangs it. "He that trusteth in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, that cannot be moved."

3. Again, the brevity and uncertainty of human life is another strong reason why man should feel his dependence upon God.

III. THE PROPER WAY FOR MEN TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR DEPENDENCE UPON GOD IS TO REFER TO HIS WILL, IN ALL THEIR PLANS AND UNDERTAKINGS. Most of our misery, nay, all of it, arises from our asserting our own wills. The instant we yield the point, and submit to our Maker, we are at rest. And this is proof that we are free, for wherever there is any compulsion, there is dissatisfaction and restlessness.

(G. T. Shedd, D. D.)

The text applies with very peculiar force when our friends and fellow-workers are passing away from us. Perhaps we have been reckoning what this brother would do this week, and that sister next week, and so on. They have appeared amongst us in such buoyant health that we have scarcely thought it possible that they would be struck down all in a moment. Yet so it has often been. The uncertainty of life comes home to us when such things occur, and we begin to wonder that we have reckoned anything at all safe, or even probable, in such a shifting, changing world as this.

I. COUNTING ON THE FUTURE IS FOLLY. The fact of frail, feeble man so proudly ordering his own life and forgetting God seems to the Apostle James so preposterous that he scarcely deems it worth while to argue the point; he only says, "Go to now!" Let us first look at the form of this folly, and notice what it was that these people said when they were counting on the future. They evidently thought everything was at their own dispersal. They said, "We will go, we will continue, we will buy, we will sell, we will get gain." but is it not foolish for a man to feel that he can do as he likes, and that everything will fall out as he desires; that he can both propose and dispose, and has not to ask God's consent at all? Is it so, O man, that thy life is self-governed? Is there not, after all, One greater than thyself? Notice that these people, while they thought everything was at their disposal, used everything for worldly objects. They said, "We will buy; then we will carry our goods to another market at a little distance; we will sell at a profit; and so we will get gain." Their first and their last thoughts were of the earth earthy, and their one idea seemed to be that they might get sufficient to make them feel that they were rich and increased in goods. That was the highest ambition upon their minds. Are there not many who are living just in that way now? All that these men of old spoke of doing was to be done entirely in their own strength. They said, "We will, we will." They had no thought of asking the Divine blessing, nor of entreating the help of the Most High. Alas, that men should do even so to-day, that, without seeking counsel of God, they should go forward in proud disdain, or in complete forgetfulness of "the arrow that flieth by day," and "the pestilence that walketh in the darkness," until they are suddenly overwhelmed in eternal ruin! It is evident that to these men everything seemed certain. "We will go into such a city." How did they know they would ever get there?" We will buy and sell, and get gain." Did they regulate the markets? Might there be no fall in prices? Oh, no! they looked upon the future as a dead certainty, and upon themselves as people who were sure to win, whatever might become of others. They had also the foolish idea that they were immortal. "All men count all men mortal but themselves." Without any saving clause, they said, "We will continue there a year." Having looked at the form of this folly of counting on the future, let us speak a little on the folly itself. It is a great folly to build hopes on that which may never come. It is unwise to count your chickens before they are hatched; it is madness to risk everything on the unsubstantial future. How do we know what will be on the morrow? How can we reckon upon an) thing in a world like this, where nothing is certain but uncertainty? Besides, the folly is seen in the frailty of our lives, and the brevity of them. Life is even as a vapour. Sometimes those vapours, especially at the time of sunset, are exceedingly brilliant. They seem to be magnificence itself when the sun paints them with heavenly colours; but in a little while they are all gone, and the whole panorama of the sunset has disappeared. Such is our life. It may sometimes be very bright and glorious; but still it is only like a painted cloud, and very soon the cloud and the colour on it are alike gone.

II. IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE IS A MATTER OF FACT. "Ye know not what shall be on the morrow." Whether it will come to us laden with sickness or health, prosperity or adversity, we cannot tell. To-morrow may mark the end of our life; possibly even the end of the age. How frail is our hold on this world! In a moment we are gone — gone like the moth; you put your finger upon it, and it is crushed. Man is not great; man is less than little. He is as nothing; he is but a dream. Ere he can scarcely say that he is here, we are compelled to say that he is gone.

III. RECOGNITION OF GOD WITH REGARD TO THE FUTURE IS TRUE WISDOM. I do not think that we need always, in every letter and in every handbill, put "If the Lord will"; yet I wish that we oftener used those very words. I rather like what Fuller says when he describes himself as writing in his letter such passages as "God willing," or "God lending me life." He says, "I observe, Lord, that I can scarcely hold my hand from encircling these words in a parenthesis, as if they were not essential to the sentence, but may as well be left out as put in. Whereas, indeed, they are not only of the commission at large, but so of the quorum, that without them all the rest is nothing; wherefore, hereafter, I will write these words freely and fairly, without any enclosure about them. Let critics censure it for bad grammar, I am sure it is good divinity."

1. We should recognise God in the affairs of the future, because, first, there is a Divine will which governs all things.

2. But while many of God's purposes are hidden from us, there is a revealed will which we must not violate. I say now, "I will do this or that," but certain other things may occur which will render it improper for me to do so.

3. In addition to this, there is a providential will of God which we should always consult. When you come where two roads meet, in your perplexity pull up, kneel down, and lift your hearts to heaven, asking your Father the way. And whenever we are purposing what we should do — and we ought to make some purposes, for God's people are not to be without forethought or prudence — we should always say, or mean without saying, "All my plans must wait till the Lord sets before me an open door. If God permit, I will do this; but if the Lord will, I will stop, and do nothing. My strength shall be to sit still, unless the Master wishes me to go forward."

4. There is yet another sense I would give to this expression: there is a royal will which we would seek to fulfil. That will is that the Lord's people should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. So, as the servants of the Most High, we go forth to do this or that, "if the Lord will" — that is to say, if by so doing we can fulfil the great will of God in the salvation of men.

IV. BOASTINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE ARE EVIL. One man says about a certain matter, "I will do it, I have made up my mind," and he thinks, "You cannot turn me; I am a man who, when he has once put his foot down, is not to be shifted from his place." Then he laughs, and prides himself upon the strength of his will; but his boasting is sheer arrogance. Yet he rejoices in it; and the Word of God is true of such a one: "All such rejoicing is evil." Another man says, "I shall do it, the thing is certain"; and when a difficulty is suggested, he answers, "Tut, do not tell me about my proposing and God's disposing; I will propose, and I will also dispose; I do not see any difficulty. I shall carry it out, I tell you. I shall succeed." Then he laughs in his foolish pride, and rejoices in his proud folly. All such rejoicings are evil. I hear a third man say, "I can do it; I feel quite competent." To him the message is the same — his boasting is evil. Though he thinks to himself, "Whatever comes in my way, I am always ready for it," he is greatly mistaken, and errs grievously. But that young man yonder talks in a different tone. He has been planning what he will do when he succeeds; for, of course, he is going to succeed. Well, I hope that he may. He is going to buy, and sell, and get gain; and he says, "I will do so-and-so when I am rich." He intends then to have his fling, and to enjoy himself; he laughs as he thinks what he will do when his toilsome beginnings are over, and he can have his own way. I would ask him to pause and consider his life in a more serious vein: "All such rejoicing is evil."

V. THE USING OF THE PRESENT IS OUR DUTY. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

1. In the first place, it is sinful to defer obedience to the gospel. All the commands of God to the characters to whom they are given come as a present demand. Obey them now.

2. In the next place, it is sinful to neglect the common duties of life, under the idea that we shall do something more by and by. If we could all be quiet enough to hear that clock tick, we should hear it say "Now! now! now I now!" The clock therein resembles the call of God in the daily duties of the hour. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin," even though he may dream of hew he will, in years to come, make up for his present neglect.

3. Then it is sinful to postpone purposes of service. Mr. Whitefield said that he would not go to bed unless he had put even his gloves in their right place. If he should die in the night, he would not like to have anybody asking, "Where did he leave his gloves?" That is the way for a Christian man always to live — have everything in order, even to a pair of gloves, Finish up your work every night; nay, finish up every minute. I have this last word: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" — that is, it is sinful in proportion to our knowledge. If there is any brother here into whose mind God has put something fresh, something good, I pray him to translate it into action at once. "Oh, but nobody has done it before!" Somebody must be first, and why should not you be first if you are sure that it is a good thing, and has come into your heart through God the Holy Ghost?

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

"Much virtue in 'if'" is the word of Touchstone in Shakespeare's charming comedy "As You Like It." Several times in Bible story the word comes out conspicuously. The Hebrew leader Joshua, going forth to fight the enemies of Israel, confesses his dependence, able to win no success except the Lord be with him. "If so be the Lord be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out." In the hospitable home in Bethany the beloved brother Lazarus grew sick unto death. "If only Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." In numberless forms of lamentation, regret, trust, or hope, we encounter in the affairs of life an element of uncertainty expressed in the "word "if" — a little word, yet covering momentous issues and contingencies. Consider, then, the value of "if" as a demand for heroism and for trust. First, note some illustrations of its reality. Near Lake Chauoauqua, on the watershed dividing the northerly and southerly flowing waters, one may easily find a hill-top, or perhaps the roof-tree of some home, where the falling rains by a slight breath of air are swayed northward to the fountains and rills that flow into Lake Erie, and thence by the rivers Niagara and St. Lawrence to the everlasting ice of the North Pole, or southward into the Alleghany, Ohio, and Mississippi, to the tropics of eternal summer. So history flows in mighty currents whose beginnings seem slight enough to have been swayed by a breath of air. Imagination reconstructs the destinies of mankind by the change of an "if" at critical junctures. In every one of the sixteen decisive battles of the world, as narrated by the English historian Creasy, from Marathon and Cannae to Waterloo and Gettysburg, between the tremendous array of opposing hosts, victory hung trembling in the balance, and finally turned upon some contingency that changes the face of the world. In the early days of June, 1815, just preceding Waterloo, had Napoleon's Marshal Grouchy gone north instead of east, thus preventing Blucher's corps of Prussians from joining the British army, Napoleon might have annihilated Wellington, and the destinies of Europe been reversed for a century or for ever. In personal experience we also see the reality of the "if." By a lightning flash that kills a loved companion at his side, Martin Luther is sent to the monastery and ministry, and becomes the heroic leader of Protestantism. Some chance exposure brings illness and death to parent, child, or dear friend, whose loss can never be replaced, and life is nevermore the same. Trivial circumstances, ordered by no special foresight, prove crises upon which our earthly fate seems utterly to depend. From personal experience and home histories we can all cull such incidents. How largely has the domestic happiness or infelicity of our whole home history depended upon the chance acquaintance of our youth! That we are here to-day in health and peace depends upon some one of a thousand contingencies, whose change might have reversed our destiny. Bitterly we mourn the untoward happenings, Fancy easily paints brighter pictures in our experience that might have come by some more favourable turn of our kaleidoscope. If only our childhood had been more favoured, and Heaven been in some way more indulgent, we imagine ourselves to-day nobler heroes and lovelier saints. Such, then, being the fact, what shall we say about it?

1. The pulpit boldly calls a halt on this strain of lamentation. The force of these minor contingencies is immensely exaggerated. The destinies of nations and men really depend upon deeper springs and broader streams of spirit and principle. Small events are only bubbles on the surface that show which way the stream flows. Some rocky headland at Lake Pepin may seem to direct the course of the mighty Mississippi, and so fix the map of North America. Do not mistakenly imagine that the rock creates the river. Rains, having fallen, are bound to find their way to the sea; and, whether on this side of the rock or the other, all the same they create the great Father of Waters. No if within the range of fate, but personality, rather, is the prime factor and supreme arbiter of destiny. Martin Luther had it in his soul to serve God and truth, or no companion's death could have made him a religious leader. Many another had equal advantage. Not the lightning-bolt, but the forces of his man. hood, achieved the conquest for liberty. Do not, then, exaggerate the petty contingencies. Some special exposure brings fatal illness to a loved child or friend. Look deeper, and see that the same exposure that others braved with impunity only revealed latent disease, and suddenly brought a crisis that was sure speedily to come. We deplore the overpowering temptation that blotted some fair name. Look deeper, and see that the temptation only exposed existing moral weakness. Oftentimes character creates the contingency. So many turns of an, electric cylinder, and the accumulating force, no longer to be pent up, flashes forth in an electric spark. There is no accident about that: it was sure to come. So much reckless violation of physical law, and the man breaks down. It is no arbitrary visitation or sudden accident. Years of offence are summed up and suddenly brought to judgment. But when at last iniquity launches its thunderbolt, do not call it accident or excuse it with an "if." Know that it is simply the inevitable retribution, for a while postponed, but suddenly consummated — sins, long neglected, at last finding you out and summoning you to judgment.

2. While we would not exaggerate the "if," whatever reality is in it offers a realm for fidelity and courage. The controlling "if" I would put far back and deep, down below and beyond the superficial "its" that delude us. Go back to the realm of character. In the hint-springs of destiny make pure and full the fountain-head, and all the contingencies that can possibly come will but open channels through which the pure waters of life may divinely flow. Foster the homes, schools, libraries, churches, and charities, build up true religion in the land, and no "if" that winds or fire or flood can bring can imperil our best prosperity. So likewise in personal life. Do not with vain lamentation exaggerate the small "its" of private experience. You cannot say whether the morrow shall be fair or foul, or bring good or ill fortune. But one can say, God helping me, I will divinely rule my spirit, the real key of destiny; and, come sunshine or storm, come fortune or failure, my temper shall be sweet, my integrity unsullied, my heart pure, my hands clean, and my manhood or womanhood supreme. Here is the sublime superiority of the human soul. Popular thought too strongly exaggerates the outward circumstance of environment, till unwittingly sin is excused and virtue paralysed, and man deemed a helpless bubble on the stream of fate.

(R. R. Shippen.)


1. The rule of it. His will — the origin and law of the universe. There is nothing higher than this; it is the force of all forces.

2. The sphere of it. It extends over all things — is co-extensive with the creation.


1. That of the practical atheist.

(1)Purely selfish. "Buy and sell," &c. No thought of God.

(2)Unreasonably presumptive. Because of the uncertainty and fleetness of life.

2. That of the practical theist. God is the central thought of all his providence.


How do we know what will be on the morrow? It has grown into a proverb that we ought to expect the unexpected; for often the very thing happens which we thought would not happen. How can we reckon upon anything in a world like this, where nothing is certain but uncertainty? Besides, the folly is seen in the fact of the frailty of our lives, and the brevity of them. Why, then, is it that we are always counting upon what we are going to do? Why do we choose to build upon clouds, and pile our palaces on vapour, to see them melt away, as aforetime they have often melted, instead of by faith getting where there is no failure, where God is all in all, and His sure promises make the foundations of eternal mansions?

1. Only God knows the future. All things are present to Him; there is no past and no future to His all-seeing eyes. There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass — one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.

2. As the knowledge of the future is hidden from us, we ought not to pry into it. Let the doom of King Saul on Mount Gilboa warn you against such a terrible course.

3. Further, we are benefited by our ignorance of the future. It is hidden from us for our good. Suppose a certain man is to be very happy by and by. If he knows it he will be discontented till the happy hour arrives. Suppose another man is to have a great sorrow very soon. It is well that he does not know it, for now he can enjoy the present good. He is wisest who does not wish to know what God has not revealed, Here, surely, ignorance is bliss: it would be folly to be wise.

4. Because we do not know what is to be on the morrow we should be greatly humbled by our ignorance. We think we are so wise; do we not? And we make a calculation that we are sure is correct! We arrange that this is going to be done, and the other thing; but God puts forth His little finger, and removes some friend, or changes some circumstance, and all our propositions fail to the ground.

5. Seeing that these things are so, we should remember the brevity, the frailty, and the end of life. We cannot be here long. If we live to the extreme age of men, how short our time is! We are glad that we do not know when our friends are to die; and we feel thankful that we cannot foretell when we shall depart out of this life. What good would it do us? Since He is with us, we are content to leave the ordering of our lives to His unerring wisdom. We ought, for every reason, to be thankful that we do not know the future; but, at any rate, we can clearly see that to count on it is fully, and that ignorance of it is.a matter of fact. Recognition of God with regard to the future is true wisdom. What says our text?" For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." No harm can come to you if you bow to God's sovereign sway. Do you put yourselves entirely at God's disposal? Are you really His, or have you kept back a bit of yourself from the surrender? You say, "We are not our own; we are bought with a price." But do you really mean it? I am afraid that there is a kind of mortgage on some Christians. They have some part they must give, as they fancy, to their own aggrandisement. They are not all for Christ. "We will not buy, end we will not sell, unless we can glorify God by buying and selling; and we will not wish even for the honest gain that comes of trading unless we can be prorooting the will of God by getting it. Our best profit will consist in doing God's will." May this be your resolve, then. Let this clause, "If the Lord will," be written across your life, and let us all set ourselves to the recognition of God in the future.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. Here is DISSUASION FROM PRESUMPTION — from thoughtless, reckless confidence in the immediate future, in the year that is thought about, and in the self that is to make it so and so. When we look at the scheme of life they draw out, it is all planned and purposed as if they had absolute control over events, over other men, over themselves, almost over God. He is not needed. He is not to be consulted. "To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city." But are you sure you will reach it? What if the carriage in which you travel meets with some dreadful disaster? What if the vessel in which you sail should be suddenly wrapped in flames?

II. Let us look now at THE POSITIVE SIDE, although this has been of necessity involved in what we have said of the negative.

1. First comes a distinct realisation and acknowledgment of God. He who would spend a good year must begin it and go through it seeing God. "If the Lord will," we ought to say — then of course there is a Lord God to will, and work, direct, watch, and keep.

2. Again, this passage teaches us that the Lord has a will in everything that enters into a man's life. "If the Lord will." That is what we are to say at all times, but with emphasis at the beginning of a year.

3. One thing more we notice as in some sort belonging to this passage — this, namely, that life can be great and good, and according to the will of God, not only, yet best, by things done, by a series of activities. "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." I would not here set forth doing, in the narrow mechanical sense, as opposed to speaking, or thinking, or feeling. Some words are acts, some thoughts, some feelings are also acts. All real thought and feeling is action to God. But undoubtedly the reference is chiefly here to outward action — to what is visible and tangible — thoughts embodied, feelings put into words, words put into action; everything made compact, consistent, harmonious.

(A. Raleigh, D. D.)

1. It is good to accustom the tongue to holy forms of speech; it is a great help; the heart is best where there are such explicit and express exceptions of Providence — "If the Lord please," "If the Lord will," "If it please the Lord that I live." A pure lip becometh a Christian. Besides, it is useful to stir up reverence in ourselves, and for others' instruction. Such forms are confessions of Divine providence and the uncertainty of human life.

2. The children of God use them frequently (1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Romans 1:10; Philippians 2:19). The children of God know that all their goings are ordered by the Lord; therefore they often use these reservations of His will and power (Genesis 28:20; Hebrews 6:3).

3. The very heathens, by the light of nature, were wont to use these forms with some religion, and would seldom speak of any purpose of theirs without this holy parenthesis. Plato bringeth in Alcibiades asking Socrates how he should speak; he answereth, "Before every work thou must say, ' If God will.'"

4. When we use these forms, the heart must go along with the tongue; common speeches, wherein God's name is used, if the heart be not reverent, are but profanations.

5. It is not always necessary to express these forms; though there must be always either implicitly or expressly a submission to the will of God, yet we cannot make it a sin to omit such phrases. The holy men of God have often purposed things to come, and yet not formally expressed such conditions.

(T. Manton.)


1. Death or want of ability often prevents the execution of our best plans.

2. The plans of others often conflict with ours, or ours with theirs, and so neutralise one another.

3. We are often deprived of the opportunity or the desire to carry out our plans, but all under the guidance of God.

II. ITS FRUITS. It will make us —

1. Careful in laying;

2. Thankful for the success of;

3. Submissive to and satisfied with the frustration of, our most cherished plans and desires.

(J. J. Van Oosterzee.)

It is a special point of godliness in all things that are to be done, first, to make honourable mention of the Lord's will and pleasure, and evermore to recount and record our own frailness, and in all things to say, if the Lord will, and if we live, we will do this or that. Our whole life relieth upon Him, our whole state standeth upon His only pleasure, all our condition is only in His hands, without His leave we can do nothing; let us therefore refer all things to His will. And this is not only true in walking after the law of God, and directing our lives according to His will, which without His special grace cannot be, but of the whole course of our life, which is altogether directed by His providence, wherefore in all things men ought to prefer the will of God. To which purpose our Saviour Christ putteth the petition, concerning the will of God, before the things appertaining unto this life. This even reason itself, besides the Word of God, teacheth us; for is it not reason that we should say, by His leave we will do this or that, from whom we have our life, our moving, and being? And this we have from God. Is it not reason, then, that we should yield ourselves under His will?

(R. Turnbull.)

Bishop Vincent, who was General Grant's pastor at Galena, Illinois, has been telling a fine story of the General: — They were walking together one moonlight night in Washington, shortly after the war, but before Grant became President, when the Bishop remarked on the peculiarity of the despatches which the General had sent from the field. "It has been noticed," he said, "that you never speak of God or invoke the Divine aid, and uncharitable critics have commented unfavourably on the fact." That is true, replied Grant, in his quiet way. "The other side were always calling on God, but I thought it better to trust more and say less. At the same time, I always had the most implicit faith in a superior wisdom, and none of my plans ever miscarried without a better result than if they had been fulfilled."

Rules are given that they may be observed literally. Principles are given that they may be applied intelligently and observed according to their spirit. We do not obey Christ when we allow the thief who has taken our upper garment to have our under one also; nor do we obey St. James when we say, "If the Lord will," or "Please God," of every future event, and make a plentiful use of "D.V." in all our correspondence. St. James means that we should habitually feel that moment by moment we are absolutely dependent upon God, not only for the way in which our lives are henceforth spent, but for their being prolonged at all.

(A. Plummer, D. D.)

Ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
It will be profitable for us to consider carefully, and to examine ourselves after reviewing them, some of the principal grounds of boasting prevalent amongst us, the vanity of which God has exposed in His Word and in the daily experience of mankind.

I. The most prominent and universal of these is the Pharisee's boast, "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are"; the boast of self-righteousness or the refuge of fear, the vaunt of self-complacency or the consolation of a conscience not at ease, the hollow comfort of souls that have heard of a wrath to come, but have not learnt the way to flee from it. The mother does not look upon her fairest children with more pride than the heart of man is prone to feel in looking at the works of its own service and contemplating the fruits of its own goodness. Every act of charity, every deed of grace, every observance of religious duty, the very emotions of religious faith or sentiment, all are turned into food for pride and the strength of a security most insecure.

II. "The wicked boasteth of his heart's desire." The heart is proud of its idols and is content to worship them; the happy mother boasts of her children and rejoices without trembling over the frailest gift of God; the fond wife clings to her husband and in the strength of her proud reverence and love rests the confidence of her soul if trouble comes to try it. And man makes his boast in the grateful love that surrounds him; he is proud of the hearts that draw their happiness and hopes from him; he gathers the tender ones about him and says with quiet satisfaction, "Behold, I and the children whom God hath given me"; and so our dearest affections become snares of pride, evil rejoicings, to lull the heart in a false security, to fill it with a peace which is no peace, to strengthen it with motives which are not of Heaven, to wrap it in a short-lived satisfaction, a glorying which is not in the Lord, the light of such happiness as a moment may turn to the darkness of the deepest midnight. From this vain boasting of the heart spring the deepest anguish and sorest trials of our lives.

III. "They that trust in their wealth and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches," whose "inward thought is that their houses shall endure for ever and their dwelling-places to all generations"; the purse-proud or the rank-proud, who "hath said in his heart I shall not be moved for I shall never be in adversity," who is not "in trouble as other men, neither is he plagued like other men," to whom one day telleth another the same unvarying tale of his prosperity, to whom the world bows down as it bows to every image of the world-god, Mammon, these are types of a false security, such as their lowest worshippers know how to estimate: envy itself) as it looks askance upon them, remembers the rich man in the parable and half-renounces its greediness; and all but the poor deluded boasters themselves remember him who had got together the fruits of an abundant harvest and bade his soul take her ease, eat, drink and be merry, till he was arrested by the terrible voice of God declaring to him, "Thou fool! this night shall thy soul be required of thee; then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?"

IV. The boast of youth is strength, the energy of health unbroken by long sickness, the vigour of the hope undaunted by disappointment, the bloom of an unwrinkled cheek, the joy of an untried spirit, the activity of fresh affections and the glowing power to love, the confidence of its simple trust, the earnestness of its crude opinions, the warmth of its zeal, the fire of its devotion; in these youth makes its boast and only finds that its rejoicings are evil when the flower of its strength and beauty has faded, when its hopes have proved to be dreams, when its zeal has reaped the rewards of folly, when experience has made void its unripe judgment, when selfishness has swallowed up or ingratitude has ill requited the warmth of its early regards. And then comes the dreary season when if grace does not take possession of the soul vexation and sorrow are born, uneasiness begins to disturb the heart's unspiritual peace, the weary life-struggle commences, the struggle for progress without hope, for work without strength, for comfort without faith, for the refreshment of love without the power to give it, for the rewards of the world when the soul has acknowledged its vanity and respect for the world has departed.

V. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." This vain confidence in Time, this vague expectation of what shall be, sometimes takes treacherously the aspect of a holier trust and a more faithful boasting in the goodness and providence of God. Be wise and distinguish between the faith that waits patiently for the Lord, which looks to the morrow to confirm the blessings of to-day, and yet knows that the grace not secured to-day may not be vouchsafed to morrow, which has no fear of its days being cut short and its season of repentance brought to an untimely end, and yet would not postpone its repentance for an hour, knowing that "now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation"; whose hopes and plans are in the future, but it says, "If the Lord will we shall live to do this or that"; — distinguish this faith from the blind confidence which puts off the sad work of repentance to "a more convenient season," which, while the Spirit is crying "To-day if ye will hear His voice," answers inwardly, "Nay, but it shall be to-morrow," and so keeps the great work of life ever one day in advance, till postponement breeds indifference, impunity begets boldness, out of boldness comes defiance, procrastination sears the conscience, and so the last hour of all, to which folly has resolved to delay its acceptance of Christ's Atonement, is as full of security as if another morrow were still to come instead of the everlasting To-day of godless confusion, of impenitent remorse, of undying death; an Eternity without a future, but full of the vain boastings and evil rejoicings and shocking delusions of the past; haunted by the echoes of that fatal word which was once the soul's boast and stay, and still wailing in hopeless impotence the old dreary strain, "To-morrow."

(A. J. Macleane, M. A.)

A man who stood high in the city observed, with great satisfaction, that he had in a single morning cleared £30,000 by a speculation. A brother merchant remarked that he ought to be very grateful to Providence for such good fortune; whereupon the successful merchant snapped his fingers, and said, "Providence! pooh! that for Providence! I can do a deal better for myself than Providence can ever do for me." He who heard the observation walked away, and resolved never to deal with such a man again except upon cash principles, for he felt sure that a crash would come sooner or later. Great was the indignation of the man who stood high in the city when he was told, "If you and I are to have dealings it must be on strictly ready-money terms." He was insulted; he would not endure it; he would go to another house. That other house welcomed his custom, and in due time it was repaid by losing many thousands.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

Some of those who despise religion say: "Thank God we are not of this holy number." They who thank God for their unholiness had best go ring the bells for joy that they shall never see God.

(Old . English Author.)

The noun is defined by Aristotle as the character of the man who lays claim to what will bring him credit when the claim is either altogether false or grossly exaggerated. He contrasts it; with the "irony" which deliberately, with good or bad motive, understates its claim.

(Dean Plumptre.)

Two geese, when about to start southwards on their annual autumn migration, were entreated by a frog to take him with them. On the geese expressing their willingness to do so if a means of conveyance could be devised, the frog produced a stalk of long grass, got the two geese to take it one by each end, while he clung to it by his mouth in the middle. In this manner the three were making their journey successfully when they were noticed from below by some men, who loudly expressed their admiration of the device, and wondered who had been clever enough to discover it. The vainglorious frog, opening his mouth to say "It was me," lost his hold, fell to the earth and was dashed to pieces.

(J. Gilmour, M. A.)

To him that knoweth to do good, and dosth it not.
It is hard for men under the plain precepts of the gospel not to know how to do good; but who is there that can say he doth all the good he knows? To do good here doth not barely imply something that is lawful, which it is some way in our power to do; but that to which we are under some obligation, so that it becometh our duty to do it. For a sin of omission must suppose an obligation, since every sin must be a transgression of the law.


1. With respect to God.(1) The duty which we owe to God in our minds; which is, not barely to know Him, but frequently to think of Him as our maker and benefactor.(a) To have frequent and serious thoughts of Him, without which it will be impossible to keep our minds in that temper which they ought to be in. For the thoughts of God keep up a vigorous sense of religion, inflame our devotion, calm our passions, and are the most powerful check against the force of temptations.(b) We are always bound to have an habitual disposition of mind towards God. This is that which is commonly called the love of God, and is opposed to the love of sin.(2) There are duties of external worship and service owing to God; and how shall we know when the omission of these becomes a sin to us? For these are not always necessary, and sometimes we may be hindered from them. To answer this I lay down these rules:(a) A constant or habitual neglect of those duties which God hath appointed for His worship and service cannot be without a sin of omission, because that must arise from an evil temper and disposition of mind.(b) Whether the omission of such public duties of Divine worship be a sin or not depends very much on the reason and occasion of it.

2. But besides the duties which we owe to God, there are such which we owe to one another, which cannot be omitted without sin. But there are certain such duties which we owe both to the public and to one another.(1) As to the public, and concerning that we may take notice of two rules:(a) Those duties cannot be omitted without sin which cannot be omitted without prejudice to the public Rood. The main duty of this kind which I shall insist upon is the laying aside all animosities and distinctions of parties, and carrying on that which is the undoubted common interest of us all.(b) Men cannot without sin omit the doing those duties which their places do require from them. For those are intended for a public benefit.(2) I now proceed to the good which we are to do with respect to others of the same nature and in a worse condition than ourselves, and therefore need our help and assistance.(a) That the measures of duty in this case are very different, according to the different circumstances and conditions of persons.(b) There are particular seasons when a greater measure of doing good is required than at others: i.e., when persons suffer for religion and a good conscience; when the necessities of people are more general and pressing; when great objects of charity are certainly known to ourselves and concealed from others, &c.

II. THE NATURE OF THE OBLIGATION WE LIE UNDER TO DO THE GOOD WE KNOW. And the reason of considering this is from the comparison Of several duties with one another; for we may be bound to several things at the same time, but we cannot perform them together; and the difficulty then is to understand which of these duties we may omit without sin.

1. As to the nature of our duties. For there are several kinds of things that are good, and we are to have a different regard to them (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). When two duties interfere with one another we are bound to prefer the greater and more substantial duty, and then the omission of the lesser is no sin.

2. As to the authority which requires them. There is no question but when the authority of God and man contradict each other, God is to be obeyed rather than man.

3. As to the obligation we are under, and that is threefold.(1) That of nature, which is to act according to reason; and none can question that, but those who question whether there be any such principle as reason in mankind; and whosoever do so have reason to begin at home.(2) Of Christianity, which supposes and enforces that of nature, and superadds many other duties which we are bound to perform as Christians.(3) Of our several relations and particular employments. As to the former, we are under great obligations from God and nature and Christianity to do the duties which belong to us in them. As to the latter, they commonly require a stricter obligation by oath to do those things which otherwise we are not bound to do. But being entered into it by a voluntary act of our own, we cannot omit such duties without sin but where the circumstances of things do supersede the obligation.

(Bp. Stillingfleet.)

(with John 13:17): — Two texts, two sides to one and the same truth, two sides to one coin, back and front. The truth is this — Knowledge without action is simply good for nothing. Act up to what you know, or so much the worse for you. The first text puts it positively, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." The second text puts it negatively, "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" — the mere neglect of doing right. If a man does not act up to his knowledge of right and good, he has committed positive sin. He not only loses his blessedness, but he — the most pure, moral man — is guilty of positive sin. Mere notional religion never saved a man yet. We have plenty of notional religion; we know what is right, every one of us. We know, I believe, pretty well in this congregation. We know the law of God, we know the gospel of God, we know the way of salvation, we have known it all our lives. These great truths, which are spending thousands of pounds to preach among the heathen; we who live in the full sunshine of that light, do we practise them? If we know these things, Jesus says, blessed are ye if ye do them. But how apt we are to rest satisfied with this miserable notional religion — seeing, believing, attending, listening, hearing, and nothing come of it after all. The Great Searcher of hearts searches right through all sophistry of that kind, and He tells us over and over again in His Word that hearing, knowing, assenting, and believing, simply goes for nothing, unless there is acting right in daily life. How apt we are to begin the New Year by making our plans as though we had a long lease of life before us. We think we shall do most wonderful things. We boast, and we rejoice in our boasting, that we can do this and that and the other thing. Purposes and plans of usefulness for ourselves and for the benefit of others we make most liberally; and how many of them come to anything after all? How apt we are to make the largest promises and yet fail in performing them — "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin"! Dear friends, have some of us begun the New Year with this feeling, that we really ought this year to be far more diligent in the keeping of our hearts. Perhaps you say: "I acknowledge that my habits of private devotion are becoming careless and hurried and unsatisfactory; I really ought to study my Bible more frequently and systematically; I really ought to give more time to it; I really ought to pray with more feeling — prayer is not merely going through a certain form of words, but is really a coming to close grips with God, and bringing down a blessing from on high by earnest pleading — I really ought to do this; I ought to give more time to it. I confess that my time for devotion has been often sadly scamped and hurried." Devotion cannot be done in a hurry. Hurried devotion spoils all; as I have heard it put, cream does not come upon milk unless it stands. There is often a want in our devotions just owing to the hurried way we pass through them. "I really must be different," you say. "I will be more careful, more systematic in the study of my Bible." It is well to make resolutions of that kind, but remember that the very knowledge that you ought to do this is positive sin if it is neglected. Take another branch of Christian duty. We are very apt to make plans about the beginning of the New Year. Some are ready to say, "I have been leading a very selfish life. God has given me many things to enjoy. He has been giving me time, He has been giving me money, or He has been giving me leisure, and I have just been using these things for my own enjoyment and pleasure and profit, forgetting that I must use them as committed to me as a steward who shall have to give account to God. I must make a better use of my money. I must look clearly, and see how much of my money I am giving to God, and how much I am keeping to myself." Perhaps it is time you have. "I am bound," you say, "to make a better use of my time. I acknowledge I have wasted a great deal of it uselessly and shamefully. I ought really to employ it differently. I ought to visit among the poor, and the sick, and the afflicted; I ought to try and comfort them more than I have been doing. I know I ought to use my opportunities so ante bring, were it only one soul, to the knowledge of the Saviour during the year. I know I ought." You feel you ought; you know you ought. Then you are guilty of deliberate sin if you don't. Judged from the ordinary standpoint, you may be all that is morally beautiful and amiable; but, if you know you ought to lead this useful life, and if you are leading a useless and indulgent life — "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

(F. H. Roberts.)

Commits, Doesn't, Fails, However, Knoweth, Ought, Sin, Sins, Yet
1. We are to strive against covetousness;
4. intemperance;
5. pride;
11. detraction and rash judgment of others;
13. and not to be boastful of our future plans.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
James 4:17

     6021   sin, nature of
     6163   faults

James 4:13-17

     4966   present, the
     5960   success

December 29 Evening
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.--JAMES 4:8. Enoch walked with God.--Can two walk together, except they be agreed?--It is good for me to draw near to God. The Lord is with you, while ye be with him: and if ye seek him, he will be found of you: but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. When they in their trouble did turn unto the Lord God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of
Anonymous—Daily Light on the Daily Path

December 26. "The Spirit that Dwelleth in us Lusteth to Envy" (James iv. 5).
"The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy" (James iv. 5). This beautiful passage has been unhappily translated in our Revised Version: "The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy." It ought to be, "The Spirit that dwelleth in us loveth us to jealousy." It is the figure of a love that suffers because of its intense regard for the loved object. The Holy Ghost is so anxious to accomplish in us and for us the highest will of God, and to receive from us the truest love for Christ, our Divine
Rev. A. B. Simpson—Days of Heaven Upon Earth

December 19. "God Giveth Grace unto the Humble" (James iv. 6).
"God giveth grace unto the humble" (James iv. 6). One of the marks of highest worth is deep lowliness. The shallow nature, conscious of its weakness and insufficiency, is always trying to advertise itself and make sure of its being appreciated. The strong nature, conscious of its strength, is willing to wait and let its work be made manifest in due time. Indeed, the truest natures are so free from all self-consciousness and self-consideration that their object is not to be appreciated, understood
Rev. A. B. Simpson—Days of Heaven Upon Earth

April 4. "Resist the Devil and He Will Flee" (James iv. 7).
"Resist the devil and he will flee" (James iv. 7). Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. This is a promise, and God will keep it to us. If we resist the adversary, He will compel him to flee, and will give us the victory. We can, at all times, fearlessly stand up in defiance, in resistance to the enemy, and claim the protection of our heavenly King just as a citizen would claim the protection of the government against an outrage or injustice on the part of violent men. At the same time we
Rev. A. B. Simpson—Days of Heaven Upon Earth

The Approbation of Goodness is not the Love of It.
ROMANS ii. 21--23.--"Thou therefore which, teachest another, teachest Thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? thou that makest thy boast of the law, through, breaking the law dishonorest thou God?" The apostle Paul is a very keen and cogent reasoner. Like a powerful logician who is confident that he has the truth upon his side,
William G.T. Shedd—Sermons to the Natural Man

God's Will About the Future
EDITOR'S NOTE: This Sermon was published the week of Spurgeon's death. The great preacher died in Mentone, France, January 31, 1892. This and the next few Sermons in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit were printed with a black mourning band circling the margins. A footnote appeared from the original editors, commenting on the providential selection of this message for that particular week: * It is remarkable that the sermon selected for this week should be so peculiarly suitable for the present trying
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 38: 1892

The Lack of Prayer
"Ye have not, because ye ask not."--JAS. iv. 2. "And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor."--ISA. lix. 16. "There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee."--ISA. lxiv. 7. At our last Wellington Convention for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life, in April, the forenoon meetings were devoted to prayer and intercession. Great blessing was found, both in listening to what the Word teaches of their need and power, and in joining
Andrew Murray—The Ministry of Intercession

Addresses on Holiness,
IN EXETER HALL. FIRST ADDRESS. I think it must be self-evident to everyone present that it is the most important question that can possibly occupy the mind of man--how much like God we can be--how near to God we can come on earth preparatory to our being perfectly like Him, and living, as it were, in His very heart for ever and ever in Heaven. Anyone who has any measure of the Spirit of God, must perceive that this is the most important question on which we can concentrate our thoughts; and the
Catherine Booth—Godliness

But Though Prayer is Properly Confined to Vows and Supplications...
But though prayer is properly confined to vows and supplications, yet so strong is the affinity between petition and thanksgiving, that both may be conveniently comprehended under one name. For the forms which Paul enumerates (1 Tim. 2:1) fall under the first member of this division. By prayer and supplication we pour out our desires before God, asking as well those things which tend to promote his glory and display his name, as the benefits which contribute to our advantage. By thanksgiving we duly
John Calvin—Of Prayer--A Perpetual Exercise of Faith

"What is Your Life?"
"Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even as a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."--JAS. iv. 14. AN OLD YEAR SERMON TO-MORROW, the first day of a new year, is a day of wishes. To-day, the last day of an old year, is a day of questions. Tomorrow is a time of anticipation; to-day a time of reflection. To-morrow our thoughts will go away out to the coming opportunities, and the larger vistas which the future is opening up to even
Henry Drummond—The Ideal Life

The Right to My Own Time
"Come now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.... For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this or that."--James 4:13-15 "Mrs. Ning and I are going out to see Grandma Woo, who has been sick. Wouldn't you like to come too?" I was sitting at my desk, with all the paraphernalia of Chinese study spread out before me. I looked at my desk, looked at the
Mabel Williamson—Have We No Rights?

Next Let not Man, Now that He Knoweth that by the Grace of God...
44. Next let not man, now that he knoweth that by the grace of God he is what he is, fall into another snare of pride, so as by lifting up himself for the very grace of God to despise the rest. By which fault that other Pharisee both gave thanks unto God for the goods which he had, and yet vaunted himself above the Publican confessing his sins. What therefore should a virgin do, what should she think, that she vaunt not herself above those, men or women, who have not this so great gift? For she ought
St. Augustine—Of Holy Virginity.

Whether Strife is a Daughter of Anger?
Objection 1: It would seem that strife is not a daughter of anger. For it is written (James 4:1): "Whence are wars and contentions? Are they not . . . from your concupiscences, which war in your members?" But anger is not in the concupiscible faculty. Therefore strife is a daughter, not of anger, but of concupiscence. Objection 2: Further, it is written (Prov. 28:25): "He that boasteth and puffeth up himself, stirreth up quarrels." Now strife is apparently the same as quarrel. Therefore it seems
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Quarreling is Opposed to the virtue of Friendship or Affability?
Objection 1: It seems that quarreling is not opposed to the virtue of friendship or affability. For quarreling seems to pertain to discord, just as contention does. But discord is opposed to charity, as stated above ([3236]Q[37], A[1]). Therefore quarreling is also. Objection 2: Further, it is written (Prov. 26:21): "An angry man stirreth up strife." Now anger is opposed to meekness. Therefore strife or quarreling is also. Objection 3: Further, it is written (James 4:1): "From whence are wars and
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Backbiting is a Graver Sin than Tale-Bearing?
Objection 1: It would seem that backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing. For sins of word consist in speaking evil. Now a backbiter speaks of his neighbor things that are evil simply, for such things lead to the loss or depreciation of his good name: whereas a tale-bearer is only intent on saying what is apparently evil, because to wit they are unpleasant to the hearer. Therefore backbiting is a graver sin than tale-bearing. Objection 2: Further, he that deprives. a man of his good name, deprives
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Every Sin Includes an Action?
Objection 1: It would seem that every sin includes an action. For as merit is compared with virtue, even so is sin compared with vice. Now there can be no merit without an action. Neither, therefore, can there be sin without action. Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. iii, 18) [*Cf. De Vera Relig. xiv.]: So "true is it that every sin is voluntary, that, unless it be voluntary, it is no sin at all." Now nothing can be voluntary, save through an act of the will. Therefore every sin implies
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether the Reason Can be Overcome by a Passion, against Its Knowledge?
Objection 1: It would seem that the reason cannot be overcome by a passion, against its knowledge. For the stronger is not overcome by the weaker. Now knowledge, on account of its certitude, is the strongest thing in us. Therefore it cannot be overcome by a passion, which is weak and soon passes away. Objection 2: Further, the will is not directed save to the good or the apparent good. Now when a passion draws the will to that which is really good, it does not influence the reason against its knowledge;
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether the Gift of Knowledge is Practical Knowledge?
Objection 1: It would seem that the knowledge, which is numbered among the gifts, is practical knowledge. For Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14) that "knowledge is concerned with the actions in which we make use of external things." But the knowledge which is concerned about actions is practical. Therefore the gift of knowledge is practical. Objection 2: Further, Gregory says (Moral. i, 32): "Knowledge is nought if it hath not its use for piety . . . and piety is very useless if it lacks the discernment
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Omission is a Special Sin?
Objection 1: It would seem that omission is not a special sin. For every sin is either original or actual. Now omission is not original sin, for it is not contracted through origin nor is it actual sin, for it may be altogether without act, as stated above ([2975]FS, Q[71], A[5]) when we were treating of sins in general. Therefore omission is not a special sin. Objection 2: Further, every sin is voluntary. Now omission sometimes is not voluntary but necessary, as when a woman is violated after taking
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether a Movement of Faith is Required for the Justification of the Ungodly?
Objection 1: It would seem that no movement of faith is required for the justification of the ungodly. For as a man is justified by faith, so also by other things, viz. by fear, of which it is written (Ecclus. 1:27): "The fear of the Lord driveth out sin, for he that is without fear cannot be justified"; and again by charity, according to Lk. 7:47: "Many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much"; and again by humility, according to James 4:6: "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Humility is the Greatest of the virtues?
Objection 1: It would seem that humility is the greatest of the virtues. For Chrysostom, expounding the story of the Pharisee and the publican (Lk. 18), says [*Eclog. hom. vii de Humil. Animi.] that "if humility is such a fleet runner even when hampered by sin that it overtakes the justice that is the companion of pride, whither will it not reach if you couple it with justice? It will stand among the angels by the judgment seat of God." Hence it is clear that humility is set above justice. Now justice
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Pride is the Most Grievous of Sins?
Objection 1: It would seem that pride is not the most grievous of sins. For the more difficult a sin is to avoid, the less grievous it would seem to be. Now pride is most difficult to avoid; for Augustine says in his Rule (Ep. ccxi), "Other sins find their vent in the accomplishment of evil deeds, whereas pride lies in wait for good deeds to destroy them." Therefore pride is not the most grievous of sins. Objection 2: Further, "The greater evil is opposed to the greater good," as the Philosopher
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether it was Fitting that the Mother of God Should Go to the Temple to be Purified?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was unfitting for the Mother of God to go to the Temple to be purified. For purification presupposes uncleanness. But there was no uncleanness in the Blessed Virgin, as stated above (QQ[27],28). Therefore she should not have gone to the Temple to be purified. Objection 2: Further, it is written (Lev. 12:2-4): "If a woman, having received seed, shall bear a man-child, she shall be unclean seven days"; and consequently she is forbidden "to enter into the sanctuary
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

Whether Christ Should have Been Baptized in the Jordan?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ should not have been baptized in the Jordan. For the reality should correspond to the figure. But baptism was prefigured in the crossing of the Red Sea, where the Egyptians were drowned, just as our sins are blotted out in baptism. Therefore it seems that Christ should rather have been baptized in the sea than in the river Jordan. Objection 2: Further, "Jordan" is interpreted a "going down." But by baptism a man goes up rather than down: wherefore it is written
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

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