Is not man consigned to labor on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired hand?
I. GENERAL VIEW OF MAN'S MISERY AND HIS OWN. (Vers. 1-5.) Man is compared to a hireling with an appointed time of service, the end of which is wearily and wistfully looked for. The ideas suggested are
(2) fatigue and exhaustion;
(3) intense longing for rest.
As the slave longs for the lengthening shadows of evening, the hired labourer for pay-time, so the oppressed sufferer, toiling beneath a load of pain, longs for the welcome end of death. He "would 'twere bedtime, and all well." Voluntary and moderate labour is one of the keenest delights of life; but forced and prolonged toll exhausts the very springs of enjoyment. Rest is the reward of moderate exertion, but to the excessive toiler or sufferer it is denied. We have a picture here of the extreme misery of sleeplessness, than which none can be more acute; the tossing through the wakeful hours of darkness, the mind travelling over and over again the same weary track of its melancholy contemplations. It may be appropriate here to think of the great blessing of sleep. Homer termed it "ambrosial." It was one of the great boons of Heaven to suffering mortals. It is "the season of all natures," as Shakespeare beautifully says. It is the preservation of sanity. Connected with this, the lesson of moderate exertion is one needed by many in these busy, striving days; and no less the fault of over-anxiety, and the duty of casting care upon God. on which the gospel insists so strongly. It is the life according to our true nature, and according to simple piety, which brings sound sleep by night, and healthy thought by day.
II. REFLECTION ON THE BREVITY OF LIFE, AND PRAYER. (Vers. 6-10.) The mood of self-pity continues. Then follows a lament on the shortness of life. It is compared to a weaver's shuttle, to smoke, to the vanishing of a cloud, as it is elsewhere compared (Job 9:25) to the hasty passage of a courier, or, in the well-known old story of English history, to the flight of a bird through a hall and out into the darkness again. We may compare the following plaintive passage from the Greek poet AEschylus: -
Ah! friend, behold and see Ah! seest thou not, my friend, 1. There is a constant sense of infirmity in human nature, and of the inexorable law of death. 2. The mind cannot submit patiently to this doom. Dear earthly affections (ver. 8) cry out against it, and unconsciously witness for the immortality of the soul. 3. The thought of utter extinction cannot be endured by an awakened and elevated spirit (ver. 10). These impotences and reluctances in the presence of decay and death are really tokens of immortality. We see them to be so in this instance, in an age when life and immortality were not brought to light. 4. The natural relief from all such sorrows and perplexities is in prayer (ver. 7). The cry, "Oh, remember!" is not unheard by him who knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. There may be the clear consciousness of God where there is not the definite assurance of immortality. But a firm faith in him, when cherished and educated, leads ultimately to the conviction that the soul cannot perish. - J.
Ah! seest thou not, my friend,
1. There is a constant sense of infirmity in human nature, and of the inexorable law of death.
2. The mind cannot submit patiently to this doom. Dear earthly affections (ver. 8) cry out against it, and unconsciously witness for the immortality of the soul.
3. The thought of utter extinction cannot be endured by an awakened and elevated spirit (ver. 10). These impotences and reluctances in the presence of decay and death are really tokens of immortality. We see them to be so in this instance, in an age when life and immortality were not brought to light.
4. The natural relief from all such sorrows and perplexities is in prayer (ver. 7). The cry, "Oh, remember!" is not unheard by him who knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. There may be the clear consciousness of God where there is not the definite assurance of immortality. But a firm faith in him, when cherished and educated, leads ultimately to the conviction that the soul cannot perish. - J.
I. THERE IS A DIVINE APPOINTMENT RULING ALL HUMAN LIFE. Not that I single out man's existence as the sole object of Divine forethought, far rather do I believe it to be but one little corner of illimitable providence. A Divine appointment arranges every event, minute or magnificent. As we look out on the world from our quiet room it appears to be a mass of confusion. Events happen which we deeply deplore — incidents which appear to bring evil, and only evil, and we wonder why they are permitted. The picture before us, to the glance of reason, looks like a medley of colour. But the affairs of this world are neither tangled, nor confused, nor perplexing to Him who seeth the end from the beginning. God is in all, and rules all. In the least as well as in the greatest, Jehovah's power is manifested. It is night, but the watchman never sleepeth, and Israel may rest in peace. The tempest rages, but it is well, for our Captain is governor of storms. Our main point is that God rules mortal life; and He does so, first, as to its term, "Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?" He rules it, secondly, as to its warfare, for so the text might most properly be read, "Is there not an appointed warfare for man upon earth?" And, thirdly, He rules it as to its service, for the second clause of the text is, "Are not his days as the days of an hireling?"
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?I. THE NATURE OF THE FACT WHICH IS HERE AFFIRMED.
1. That the existence of man will be terminated by death. When sin was committed, the order and harmony of the universe was disturbed, and then the solemn and awful sentence was pronounced. What is the world itself, but a vast charnel house, to be filled with the ashes of innumerable dead?
2. The existence of man is confined to a narrow compass. There has been a serious abridgment of the average length of life. All the Scripture representations describe the extreme brevity of human life. We are pushed on by the hand of time, from the various objects we meet with in our course, wondering at the swiftness with which they are taken from our vision, and astonished at the destiny which winds up the scene and ratifies our doom.
3. The existence of man is, as to its precise duration, uncertain and unknown. We know not the day of our departure. There is an impervious gloom about our final departure which no man can penetrate. But all is well known to the wisdom of God. With Him all is fixed — to us, all is uncertain.
4. Our departure from this world is for the purpose of our mingling in scenes which are beyond the grave. We do not depart and sink into the dulness of annihilation. This life is but the threshold of eternity; we are placed here as probationers for eternity.
II. THE FEELINGS WHICH ARISE FROM THE CONTEMPLATION OF IT. There is a universal inclination to avoid these truths; they are regarded in general as merely professional; and there is much in the world to counteract their influence. All this can only be removed by the Spirit of God.
1. We ought to make our final departure the subject of habitual contemptation.
2. We should be induced to moderate our attachment to the world, from which we shall so soon be separated.
3. You should be induced to seek an interest in that redeeming system by which you may depart in peace, with the prospect of eternal happiness.
4. We should be induced to pursue with Christian diligence those great employments which the Gospel has proposed.
1. First, then, God's determination governs the time of human life.(1) We shall all acknowledge this as to its commencement. Not without infinite wisdom did any infant's life commence there and then, for no man is the offspring of chance. Who would wish to have first seen the light at the era when our naked forefathers sacrificed to idols? Our presence on earth in this day of grace was a matter altogether beyond our control, and yet it involves infinite issues; therefore let us with deepest gratitude bless the Lord, who has cast our lot in such an auspicious season.(2) The continuance of life is equally determined of God. He who fixed our birth has measured the interval between the cradle and the grave, and it shall not be a day longer or a day shorter than the Divine decree.(3) So, too, has He fixed life's termination. "Is there not an appointed time for man upon earth?" a time in which the pulse must cease, the blood stagnate, and the eye be closed. Moreover, how consoling is this truth; for, if the Father of our Lord Jesus arranges all, then our friends do not die untimely deaths. The beloved of the Lord are not cut off before their time; they go into Jesus' bosom when they are ready to be received there.
2. But we must now consider the other translation of our text. It is generally given in the margin of the Bibles. "Is there not an appointed warfare to man upon earth?" which teaches us that God has appointed life to be a warfare. To all men it will be so, whether bad or good. Every man will find himself a soldier under some captain or another. Alas for those men who are battling against God and His truth, they will in the end be clothed with dishonour and defeat. No Christian is free to follow his own devices; we are all under law to Christ. A soldier surrenders his own will to that of his commander. Such is the Christian's life — a life of willing subjection to the wilt of the Lord Jesus Christ. In consequence of this we have our place fixed and our order arranged for us, and our life's relative positions are all prescribed. A soldier has to keep rank and step with the rest of the line. As we have a warfare to accomplish, we must expect hardships. A soldier must not reckon upon ease. If life be a warfare, we must look for contests and struggles. The Christian man must not expect to go to heaven without opposition. It is a warfare, for all these reasons, and yet more so because we must always be upon the watch against danger. In a battle no man is safe. Blessed be God that the text says "Is there not an 'appointed' warfare?" Then, it is not our warfare, but one that God has appointed for us, in which He does not expect us to wear out our armour, or bear our own charges, or find our own rations, or supply our own ammunition. The armour that we wear we have not to construct, and the sword we wield we have not to fabricate.
3. The Lord has also determined the service of our life. All men are servants to some master or another, neither can any of us avoid the servitude. The greatest men are only so much the more the servants of others. If we are now the servants of the Lord Jesus, this life is a set time of a labour and apprenticeship to be worked out. I am bound by solemn indentures to my Lord and Master till my term of life shall run out, and I am right glad to have it so. Now, a servant who has let himself out for a term of years has not a moment that he can call his own, nor have any of us, if we are God's people. We have not a moment, no, not a breath, nor a faculty, nor a farthing that we may honestly reserve. You must expect to toil in His service till you are ready to faint, and then His grace will renew your strength. A servant knows that his time is limited. If it is weekly service, he knows that his engagement may be closed on Saturday; if he is hired by the month, he knows how many days there are in a month, and he expects it to end; if he is engaged by the year, he knows the day of the year when his service shall be run out. As for us, we do not know when our term will be complete. The hireling expects his wages; that is one reason for his industry. We, too, expect ours — not of debt truly, but of grace, yet still a gracious reward. God does not employ servants without paying them wages, as many of our merchants now do.
II. Secondly, THE INFERENCES TO BE DRAWN FROM THIS FACT.
1. First, there is Job's inference. Job's inference was that as there was only an appointed time, and he was like a servant employed by the year, he might be allowed to wish for life's speedy close, and therefore he says, "As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work." Job was right in a measure, but not altogether so. There is a sense in which every Christian may look forward to the end of life with joy and expectancy, and may pray for it. At the same time, there are needful modifications to this desire to depart, and a great many of them; for, first, it would be a very lazy thing for a servant to be always looking for Saturday night, and to be always sighing and groaning because the days are so long. The man who wants to be off to heaven before his life's work is done does not seem to me to be quite the man that is likely to go there at all. Besides, while our days are like those of a hireling, we serve a better master than other servants do.
2. I will tell you the devil's inference. The devil's inference is that if our time, warfare, and service are appointed, there is no need of care, and we may cast ourselves down from the pinnacle of the temple, or do any other rash thing, for we shall only work out our destiny. "Oh," say they, "we need not turn to Christ, for if we are ordained to eternal life we shall be saved." Yes, sirs, but why will you eat at meal time today? Why, sirs, nothing in the world more nerves me for work than the belief that God's purposes have appointed me to this service. Being convinced that the eternal forces of immutable wisdom and unfailing power are at my back, I put forth all my strength as becometh a "worker together with God."
3. I will now give you the sick man's inference. "Is there not an appointed time to men upon earth? Are not his days also like the days of an hireling?" The sick man, therefore, concludes that his pains will not last forever, and that every suffering is measured out by love Divine. Therefore, let him be patient, and in confidence and quietness shall be his strength.
4. Next comes the mourner's inference — one which we do not always draw quite so readily as we should. It is this: "My child has died, but not too soon. My husband is gone; ah, God, what shall I do? Where shall my widowed heart find sympathy? Still he has been taken away at the right time. The Lord has done as it pleased Him, and He has done wisely."
5. Furthermore, let us draw the healthy man's inference. I have no end of business — too much, a great deal; and I resolved "I will get, all square and trim as if I were going off, for perhaps I am." You are a healthy man, but be prepared to die.
6. Lastly, there is the sinner's inference. "My time, my warfare, and my service are appointed, but what have I done in them? I have waged a warfare against God, and have served in the pay of the devil; what will the end be?" Sinner, you will run your length, you will fulfil your day to your black master; you will fight his battle and earn your pay, but what will the wages be?
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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