Easter – Third Sunday After
"The Shortness of Time"
By Rev. H. G. Hughes
One of the greatest delusions, dear brethren in Jesus Christ, that we are subject to here on earth, is the delusion that we have, as we may, “plenty of time.” When we are young, we are apt to be impatient of what seems to us the slow flight of the years. We want to grow up, and to do those things which we see grown-up people doing. It is only in after-years that we realize the joys of that precious time of youth and innocence, before trouble and sorrow came into our lives, when the world was so fair, and life with its common everyday happenings gave us a keen pleasure that we have never been able to feel since. Now, in adult or middle life or old age, the past seems like a dream; seems to have passed with amazing swiftness. This ought to teach us that, after all, we have but “a little while” to pass upon earth. Yet we find it very hard to learn this lesson that experience surely should teach us. How many plans have failed for want of time; how quickly the years have glided by and left us with so much that we meant to do unaccomplished. The flight of time is proverbial – yet we act as if we had unlimited time before us. Why is this? There can be but one answer; it is because we do not take a practical view of our responsibilities. I am speaking now, of course, of our spiritual responsibilities. We have, naturally, the same tendency in regard to worldly matters, unless we are forced by the practical necessities of life to act more wisely. The man who has no need to earn his own living, or to support a family, is very apt to saunter through life as if life was to last forever. But the man who must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, the man who has loved-ones dependent upon him, as well as the man who has set his heart upon getting rich, and, if possible, getting rich quickly – these are forced to realize the value of time, the need of taking time by the forelock, and making the most of every day and the opportunities of every day.
This shows us, dear brethren, the reason why we fail to act in regard to spiritual things and the salvation of our souls in the same prudent way as men of business act in their worldly affairs. It is because we have never brought home to our minds the urgent practical necessity of working every day with all our might for our soul’s sanctification and salvation. Yet Holy Scripture is full of warnings that our time is short. “The time is short,” says St. Paul (I Cor, vi, 25); and “See . . . brethren, how you walk circumspectly; not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time” (Eph. V, 15, 16); and again, “Walk with wisdom . . . redeeming the time.” St. Peter tells us (2 Pet. iii, 10) that the “day of the Lord,’ which for each individual is the day of death, “shall come like a thief in the night,” and in the Apocalypse our Divine Lord uses the same expression, “If thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come to thee” (Apoc. ii, 3), and once more, “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Apoc. xvi. 15).
Brethren, the thought of the shortness of time is indeed a serious thought. How many souls are lost because they went on from day to day and from year to year, putting off their often-promised repentance and reformation! Then death came, and they were not ready: they died in sin, they were weighted in the balance and found wanting; they went all unprepared to meet their dread judge, and the sentence full upon them, “Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” Brethren, we must redeem the time; we must not procrastinate. “Procrastination,” says the proverb, “is the thief of time”; and in spiritual matters procrastination is the thief of salvation and of eternal happiness.
Let me put before you a few thoughts that may, by God’s grace, rouse us all to a sense of the immense importance of using well and faithful the time given to us in which to work out our own salvation. We cannot afford, dear brethren, to put things off, to hope that by a death-bed repentance we may be saved at the last. Such mercies of God do happen; but we have no right to presume upon them. As a general rule a man dies as he has lived, and it is only by turning to God now that we can insure our salvation. “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. Vi,). “A little while.” For a little while we are upon earth; our life, it has been well said, is “a point between two eternities.” An eternity is behind us, with which we had nothing to do; but an eternity is also before us, with which we have all to do; an eternity which we are to make happy for ourselves or unspeakable wretched and miserable. And this will be done by our conduct in the short time that is ours. Soon it will be gone; each of us can truly say of himself, “A little while, and you shall not see me.” A little while, and I shall be in the grave, and my eternal lot be irrevocably fixed. Another thought, dear brethren – our time on earth is not given to us all at once; we are not masters of our whole life simultaneously, to shape it by one determined act. Such is not the nature of temporal existence. It is only in eternity that we shall possess all our life as a whole. Now, only the present moment is ours. Hence the structure of our lives is gradually bult up out of the thoughts and actions of every moment. So, also, the opportunities of life come in succession; one at a time. They come, they pass. If we do not take them, they are gone forever. So also, the daily, hourly graces that God gives us; each one fitted to help us in the work of the moment; each one irretrievably lost if we do not at that moment seize it. “A little while” we have in which to learn to know God; “a little while” in which to do His will; “a little while” in which to accomplish the life-work that He has given us; “a little while” in which to learn so to die that we may live eternally.
Let me dwell a little, brethren, on this last thought. Of all the actions of a man, what action is there that can compare at all in importance with the act of dying. If that be done well, then all is gained; if ill, all is lost. Upon that act eternity depends. How often it happens that a crisis occurs in a man’s life when, perhaps in a single moment, his whole career is settled, his success or failure determined by his conduct in that moment. Such a moment, we are told, occurred in the life of the first Napoleon, when he had determined to seize into his own hands from the Directory the supreme power in the State. Two of the five Directors in whom the government was lodged were against him, the majority of the legislative body were utterly unfavorable to his ambition to become Dictator; even his own soldiers could not be depended upon with certainty to push their loyalty to him so far as to aid him in subverting the constitution. A moment came when all depended upon his gaining, and gaining at once, within the space of even a few seconds, the support of his troops. As a matter of fact, the great man failed in the crisis, and it was his brother who saved the situation for him by his impassioned words to the soldiery. How carefully and how anxiously will a man prepare for such a crisis in his career if he can foresee it! Take a more common and more ordinary experience – how carefully people will prepare for an examination upon which their whole success in life may depend; for an interview with a prospective employer which, if favorable, will give them a start, or some notable advance in life. Yet what are these things to the crisis we must pass through at death; to the examination we must undergo before our Eternal Judge; to the interview that we must have, face to face and alone, with our God?
“See, brethren, how you walk circumspectly; not as unwise, but as wise, redeeming the time.” “If thou shalt not watch, I will come to thee as a thief; and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come to thee.”
How utterly foolish it is, dear brethren, that we will not take that same practical view of the necessity of preparing to meet our God that we take of the necessity of diligent and undelayed action in the affairs of the world.
There is a way, a practical way, in which we can avoid this mistake. It is funded on the fact that we can only make sure of the present moment. It can be summed up, in fact, in this piece of advice – Make sure of the present! Cultivate a devotion to the present moment. There is a duty due to be done, do it now; there is a prayer to be said, say it now, at its time. Live for the day, do the day’s work, perform the day’s devotions; meet the day’s temptations and the day’s trials; in other words, do the will of God for you at the present moment, looking neither backward nor forward, to right or left. We are tempted to be sad and discouraged over the past; to be apprehensive of the future. Past sins weigh us down, or future perseverance is an object of great anxiety. This is a mistake. A moment of true contrition; one good confession will annul the past; while final perseverance simply means doing each day’s work as it comes to us. Again, many who wish to serve God and to become holy are discouraged at the thought of their present sinfulness and imperfection. They look forward to some far-off time when they may hope to be better; perhaps they lay plans for great things to be done some day. In the meantime, they do nothing. Such conduct is futile. Others are discouraged at the thought that they must do many hard and difficult things, things that seem beyond their strength, if they are to become holy. This, too, is a mistake. The task that lies before us is simply to overcome ourselves sufficiently to be faithful to the duties of our state of life from hour to hour. Since life is made up of moments, moments that grow into days and years, it is clear that a good life, a holy life, yes, and a truly saintly life, is accomplished by this devotion to the duty of the present moment. By this method we shall get rid of all those vain regrets for the past, all those vain fears for the future, all those shadowy intentions of some day doing something, that hinder us so much in working out our sanctification and salvation.
Brethren, it may seem to you that I have chosen a somewhat sad subject for a sermon during this joyful time after the Easter Festival; though I hope that what I have just said will give you encouragement, and please God, great encouragement in fighting the battle of life, which often is very weary and hard. So let me end with another view of the shortness of our human existence here below. If life is short, its troubles also are short. There is but “a little while” in which we have to struggle, “a little while” of endurance of temptation; “a little while to carry the Cross.” If we are inclined to regret that life is so brief, let us remember that our great adversary, the devil, as we read in the Apocalypse, has “great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time” (Apoc. xii, 12). Before very long it will all be over; and, says St. Paul, “that which is at present momentary and light of our tribulation, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory” (II. Cor. iv., 17). Before long we shall have finished our work and earned our eternal reward, a reward so great that the same Apostle declares: “I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. viii, 18).
“A little while,” said our Blessed Lord, “and now you shall not see me; and again, a little while, and you shall see me”; and “Behold I come quickly, and my reward is with me” (Apoc. xxii, 12). A reward so great, dear brethren, that all the trials, all the sufferings, all the temptations of this poor life will be seen, when we gain that reward, to have been as nothing in comparison with the payment, in measure “pressed down and running over” that we shall receive for our faithful and courageous perseverance.