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Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times"

volume one

[pp 53-61]

London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839.



ECCLES. ix. 10.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,
Do it with thy might:
For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom,
In the grave,Ñwhither thou goest."

WHEN our LORD charged us all so earnestly as He did, to "take no thought for the morrow," not to allow cares and anxieties about the future to occupy our hearts, His purpose was (amongst others) to make us understand the value of time present, and the necessity of not letting it run to waste.

For very often, under the pretence of providing for things future, we neglect our present immediate duties, or at least perform them in such a careless thoughtless manner as but too plainly proves that our hearts are not in the work.

Nothing scarcely can be thought of, of more consequence to us all, than the danger we are in of not endeavouring to make the most of the time present, day after day.

And wherein this danger consists, and how far we may guard against it;Ñthis is what I would now earnestly desire to call your attention to;Ñat least such of you as are at all disposed to serious thought, and preparation for those changes which are drawing on.

To every Christian soul, then, the solemn, I should say the awful warning, is surely addresses, whether we choose to pay regard to it or notÑor whether our regard be only formal and transitory, or deep, lasting, and practical.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,
Do it with [all] thy might:
For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom,
In the grave,Ñwhither thou goest."

ÑLet us consider a little, in what does the danger consist, against which we are here put on our guard.

It appears, upon the calmest consideration, that the business of this world, even that which is most important and most necessary, considered only in itself, and as belonging to this world, is in fact of small consequence, perhaps one might say, of none at all.

At least, things are commonly thought of no value if the possession of them is thought sure to be very brief, or extremely uncertain.

For instance, if a person were labouring and slaving to get a large fortune, and were told for certain that after he had obtained it, he must part with it all in two or three weeks, he would at once say that if he must lose it so soon after he had it, it was not worth the trouble of endeavouring after, and would consequently give over his endeavours.

Or if a person were in bad health, and were told that if he followed such and such rules, he would recover indeed, but must not expect to keep his good health for more than a week or two, and then be as ill again as ever, he would naturally think such a recovery scarcely worth having, nor would he take he trouble to submit to rules for obtaining it.

And so in other cases of what are called matters of business, it seems to be commonly allowed, that if we think ourselves sure to be deprived of our advantages very soon after we possess them, we have little or no desire to obtain them.

Why, then, it may be asked, do people trouble themselves so much as they do about this world's goods, of which they must be of necessity so soon deprived?

The answer must be, because, however sure it may be that they must so soon be deprived of these things, yet they do not think it sure;Ñthe hour of death, always uncertain, may be distant, and because it may be distant, we take for granted it must be.

And then this world's comforts and advantages seem to be of real consequence,Ñin themselves, I mean, and without reference to what shall be in another unseen state.

Thus do we deceive ourselves very much, the best and most religious amongst usÑdeceive ourselves, (I will say, to our own ruin, but at least) to our great hindrance and perplexity in following the path of sound practical holiness, the "narrow way which leadeth unto life."

It would ill become an authorized minister of CHRIST'S Gospel, to deceive or flatter those whom he is appointed to instruct.

We may not venture to say, "Peace, peace, when there is no peace," to soothe men's souls to sleep in the hour of danger, or to represent the condition of the Christian world more favourably then the truth will warrant on a calm and attentive observation of the state of things around us.

And I think it must be allowed by any impartial and fair-judging mind, that however well skilled people may be in scriptural and other knowledge, and ready to dispute and give a positive opinion on Religion, or on any subject almost which may be started,Ñyet that there is in fact very little disposition to serious thought, or to close and careful examination into the truth of things.

Especially, there seems reason for apprehending that people in general,Ñwe ourselves, whatever may be our knowledge or our professionsÑdo not yet consider or wish to consider the great importance of all our behaviourÑof our right spending every hour as it passes by.

We no doubt content ourselves too much with general notions, intentions, and resolutions, and are less careful to apply these to each particular case as it comes in our way.

We do not content ourselves too much with general notions, intentions, and resolutions, and are less careful to apply these to each particular case as it comes our way.

We do not indeed neglect our duty to GOD or man altogether, deliberately, wilfully, and professedly; but we too easily content ourselves with a faint imperfect obedience.

How inconsistent this with the solemn warnings of Divine Truth!

"Thou shalt love the LORD thy GOD with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy mind, all thy strength."
"Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily,Ñas to the LORD and not to men."
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might."

But the best of us surely will confess, with tears of shame, that whatever their love for their GOD and Redeemer may have been, it has not been "with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength;"Ñthat when they have endeavoured to do right, it has too often not been "heartily" (as St. Paul says), but with too great a regard to men's wishes, and too little to GOD'S: that, in fact, they have by no means done their duty "with all their might," but faintly, imperfectly, and indolently, as if they should have an opportunity for "work, and device, and knowledge, and wisdom in the grave,Ñwhither they are going."

Now, let no one say or think that this is a slight evil, or that if our general course of conduct be what the world calls good and religious, that therefore we need not be so particular about our behaviour hour after hour; about the government of our tempers on trying occasions, or about inquiring so very exactly into the measures of our duty towards GOD and one another.

No doubt we may be too scrupulousÑnot because we can possibly be too righteous, too religious (in the right sense of the word), but because our scruples may mislead us from the right path, the path of holy practice.

Nevertheless, there is certainly on the whole more danger of our having too little caution, than too much,Ñmore danger of our being too confident, than too distrustful of ourselves.

Hence there is, generally speaking, more need to warn Christians of these days to look closely into the truth of things, and to judge and try their ways very severely:Ñthis is more necessary than it is to tell them that they need not be so very scrupulous, or that they need not try to be more holy than they are at present, or that if they are no worse than they are now, it will do, or any such way of speaking, which really can be accounted nothing better than false, flattering, and delusive, and such as seems to show a great coldness and want of love towards our blessed LORD and REDEEMER.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."ÑDoes not this plainly imply that we are expected to be very exact and particular about our behaviour, hour after hour? in other words, that we are to be careful not merely to be doing right, but to be doing it with zeal, heartiness, and sincerity, and not as if we thought that GOD cared not how we served Him. [56/57] We very often speak and think as if our time were our own; as if we had a right to spend it as we pleasedÑin fact, as if we had a right to waste it without being called to account for it.

Alas! who is there of us, whose heart must not plead guilty to this charge?

For let us remember that if any matter of duty could as well or better be done in a shorter time, and we loiter and linger about it, we are quite as chargeable with indolence and negligence as if we had actually done nothing for some portion of the time so misspent.

We very often appear to be busy when we are most idle,Ñappear busy, I say, not to others only, but even to ourselves;Ñso willing are we to flatter ourselves into fancied ease and self-approbation, so treacherous and deceitful is the human heart.

No doubt our All-merciful GOD, in this as in other respects, sees and compassionates our weakness: neither in this nor in other respects is He "extreme to mark what is done amissÑfor if He were, who could abide it?" who could look back on any one single day of his whole life, and say with confidence that he had spent it hour after hour in such a way as that he could not have wished it better spent?

Blessed be GOD'S name, our hopes of mercy do not rest on ourselves; we have nothing to plead in the way of excuse, much less of merit; our entire only ground of confidence is in the one great Atonement, the blood of the Lamb slain to take away the sins of the world. Except in that blood we have no confidence, no hope.

Still if we consider things aright, with that care and seriousness which the business of Eternity may well demand, we must allow that the more kind, compassionate, and forbearing our gracious LORD is towards us, the more are we bound to study earnestly His blessed will, and never to think we can do enough to show our gratitude for all He has done for us.

And this must lead us to feel, that it does indeed deeply concern us to be very exact and particular about our daily and hourly conductÑand never to encourage in ourselves the notion,Ñthe false, dangerous, and delusive notion, that our time is our own, and that we have a right to spend it as we please.

ÑLet us again consider, that the government of our tempers [57/58] and dispositions is one of the greatest trials of our Christian sincerity. Here also the Divine warning is truly touching, and of constant application, if we look home to ourselves and our course of conduct.

In the control and management of our tempers, I say, especially under trying circumstance, the sacred word is addressed to us. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do," whatever possible means you can lay hold of to mortify all dispositions to pride, envy, malice, peevishness, and ill-temperÑ"do it with all thy might"Ñlet no opportunity pass of furthering so valuable an end; "for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest:" the present opportunity let slip can never return.

For instance, if we go on for some time without being angry or out of humour, we think of course we are good-tempered; whereas, perhaps, the real case is, that it has so happened that nothing particular has come across us to vex or disturb us. At length some such thing occurs, and we think we have a right to be very angry and out of humour. We do not blame ourselves for such ill-humour, but are rather pleased to think that it does not often happen, and that we submit to a great many things which others would highly resent, and so forth.

Now in this, as in other like cases, the truth seems to beÑthat our general disposition is shown by our conduct under such particular trials. For it is in fact only in the time of trial that the real temper and disposition of the heart can be ascertained. Hence it is so easy for us to deceive ourselves, and to fancy we have made greater advances in Christian perfection, than indeed we have.

Hence also the necessity of our maintaining a strict and close watch over ourselvesÑthat so by the aid of GOD'S HOLY SPIRIT we may be ready against every trialÑthat "having taken unto us the whole armour of GOD, we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

But if we get into careless thoughtless ways, and fancy that it does not much signify what our tempers and dispositions are day after day, and hour after hour, then surely we forget what a warfare we are engaged in, what enemies we have to deal with, and how necessary it is, if we would "lay hold on eternal life," that [58/59] we should "fight the good fight of faith," and labour and pray to be enabled to "bring every thought into captivity to the obediÐence of CHRIST."

ÑAnother thing much to be observed and deplored is, that people should be so ready to think that there is no need for them to be so very particular and exact in ascertaining the measures of Christian truth, their duty to GOD and to one another.

Carelessness about religious truth is a sign of want of love for GOD. No person can be indifferent about such a subject without great danger surely.

To this also the heavenly warning seems to be especially appliÐcable. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do," in proving and ascertaining the truth, "do it with thy might;"Ñthink no labour or cost too great by which you may find out where the truth lies, and by what means you may be preserved in it stedfast to the end.

But now it is certainly the case, that a great number of peopleÑand many even religiously disposed peopleÑdo not take much pains, perhaps none at all, about ascertaining the real nature of religious truth,Ñbut somehow take for granted that their own opinions are rightÑor at least that one opinion is as good as another, or very often go on through life wavering and doubtful, but yet without taking much if any pains to have their doubts cleared and explained.

I am not now speaking of one sect or party of Christians more than another : it may seem to be a generally prevailing practical error, both among the professed members of the Church of EngÐland, and those who dissent from her,Ñthat whether the truth be here, or whether it be there, it signifies little, so that every man be allowed to have his own opinion and think as he please. Whatever may be the cause of such a prevailing state of opinion, the fact cannot be questioned, that it does prevail.

Nevertheless, that it is a practical error, and of a most serious kind, may appear from a few considerations which I shall offer.

If the great GOD in His infinite love to us has condescended to make known to us the mysteries of His Gospel, can we venture to receive them with carelessness and indifference? And is it not receiving them with carelessness and indifference to say, "whether we understand them aright or no, we are not sure; but however we do not see that we need inquire or search much about the matter?"

For what purpose, it may be asked, has the divine gift of reason been vouchsafed to us, but that we may employ it in the noblest of all occupationsÑthe search and inquiry after GOD'S eternal truth,Ñthe truth as it is in JESUS?

The volume of Scripture is not a small one; there are in it numberless things hard to be understood--many, very many, which require great patience and attention, and an earnest desire after right instruction, if any one think to obtain at all a satisfactory notion of their meaning.

Can we then venture to say of any passage of Scripture, that it may mean this, or may mean that, but it does not much signify which?

Or rather, is not the sacred rule, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might"Ñis not this particularly applicable to the duty incumbent on us, as reasonable beings, and much more as professed Christians, to make the study of the Bible the business, as it should be the delight, of our lives?

No doubt the obscurities and difficulties with which that sacred book is in a manner filled, are not there accidentally; no doubt hey are intended by its All-wise Author to be means of trying our humility, our teachableness, our diligence,Ñwhether we do really love Him, and desire to know and do his pleasure, according to what we profess.

For let us ask ourselves, can we really love our GOD, if we do not desire to know and do His pleasure? And can we desire to know and do His pleasure, if we do not anxiously labour and endeavour by all possible means to ascertain the right and true meaning of His own revealed Word, the volume of Holy ScripÐture?

Alas! what a treasure do we possess, and how little do we value it,Ñthe best and wisest amongst us!

ÑFor the present, then, I must say nothing more than that the danger we are in of neglecting our Christian duty is certainly great and pressing,Ñthe danger, I mean, of neglecting the time present, and doing the work of the LORD in a heartless, careless manner.

How to guard against this danger is a consideration of as [60/61] great importance as any that can be well thought of,Ñbut we must put it off to some future opportunity.

However, let us all remember,Ñlet us labour and pray to have the great truth deeply impressed on our hearts,Ñthat we have no time to waste,Ñthat, "whatever our hand findeth to do, we must do it with our might;" ever remembering, that every hour is an hour of trial to us; and that whether we spend it well or ill, it is gone for ever,Ñwe can never spend it over again.

And yet this is what we cannot, will not be persuaded of. We have a sort of notion, that if we are diligent at one time, we have a right to be idle at another; or that if we are negligent in some respects, we may make up for it by greater zeal in others.

This is so dangerous a notion, that I am sure, I am positive, we cannot too much guard against it.

And may our merciful Heavenly FATHER, in His infinite love to us, grant us the aid of His HOLY SPIRIT, to comfort our sinking hearts, and strengthen our failing faltering footsteps: may He, for His dear SON'S sake, enable us, day after day, and hour after hour, to make some progress at least, however slight, in the knowledge of His truth, and the practice of His will: that so we may still be drawing nearer and nearer unto Him,Ñstill be growing in grace and in the knowledge of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST.

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