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3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious because we are uncertain of its continuance. We know that it is very short, but we know not how short. We know not how little of it remains, whether a year or several years, or only a month, a week, or a day. We are every day uncertain whether that day will not be the last, or whether we are to have the whole day. There is nothing that experience doth more verify than this.—If a man had but little provision laid up for a journey or a voyage, and at the same time knew that if his provision should fail, he must perish by the way, he would be the more choice of it.-How much more would many men prize their time, if they knew that they had but a few months, or a few days more to live? And certainly a wise man will prize his time the more, as he knows not but that it will be so as to himself. This is the case with multitudes now in the world, who at present enjoy health, and see no signs of approaching death: many such, no doubt, are to die the next month, many the next week, yea, many probably tomorrow, and some this night; yet these same persons know nothing of it, and perhaps think nothing of it, and neither they nor their neighbours can say that they are more likely soon to be taken out of the world than others. This teaches us how we ought to prize our time, and how careful we ought to be, that we lose none of it.
4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered. There are many things which men possess, which if they part with, they can obtain them again. If a man bave parted with something which he had, not knowing the worth of it, or the need he should have of it: he often can regain it, at least with pains and cost. If a man have been overseen in a bargain, and have bartered away or sold something, and afterwards repent of it, he may often obtain a release and recover what he had parted with.—But it is not so with respect to time ; when once that is gone, it is gone for ever; no pains, no cost will recover it. Though we repent ever so much that we let it pass. and did not improve it while we had it, it will be to no purpose. Every part of it is successively offered to us. that we may choose, whether we will make it our own, or not. But there is no delay; it will not wait upon us to see wbether or no we will comply with the offer. But if we refuse it is immediately taken away, and never offered more. As to that part of time which is gone, however we have neglected to improve it, it is out of our possession and out of our reach.
If we have lived fifty, or sixty, or seventy years, and have not improved our time, now it cannot be helped; it is eternally gone from us : all that we can do, is to improve the
little that remains. Yea, if a man have spent all his life but a few moments unimproved, all that is gone is lost, and only those few remaining moments can possibly be made his own; and if the whole of a man's time be gone, and it be all lost; it is irrecoverable.—Eternity depends on the improvement of time! but when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity. If a man should lose the whole of his worldly substance, and become a bankrupt, it is possible that his loss may be made up. He may have another estate as good. But when the time of life is gone, it is impossible that we should ever obtain another such time. All opportunity of obtaining eternal welfare is utterly and everlastingly gone.
Reflections on Time past. You have now heard of the preciousness of time; and you are the persons concerned, to whom God hath committed that precious talent. You have an eternity before you. When God created you, and gave you reasonable souls, he made you for an endless duration. He gave you time here, in order to a preparation for eternity, and your future eternity depends on the improvement of time.-Consider, therefore, what you have done with your past time.
You are not now beginning your time, but a great deal is past and gone; and all the wit, and power, and treasure of the universe, cannot recover it. Many of you may well conclude, that more than half of your time is gone; though you should live to the ordinary age of man, your glass is more than half run ; and it may be there are but few sands remaining. Your sun is past the meridian, and perhaps just setting, or going into an everlasting eclipse. Consider, therefore, what account you can give of your improvement of past time. How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?
Every day that you have enjoyed has been precious; yea, your moments have been precious. But have you not wasted your precious moments, your precious days, yea, your precious years? If you should reckon up how many days you have lived, what a sum would there be ! and how precious hath every one of those days been! Consider, therefore, what you have done with them. What is become of them all? What can you show of any improvement made, or good done, or benefit obtained, answerable to all this time which you have lived? VOL. VI.
When you look back, and search, do you not find this past time of your lives in a great measure empty, having not been filled up with any good improvement ? And if God, that hath given
, you your time, should now call you to an account, what account could you give to him.
How much may be done in a year! how much good is there opportunity to do in such a space of time! How much service may persons do for God, and how much for their own souls, if to their utmost they improve it! How much may be done in a day! But what have you done in so many days and years that you have lived ? What have you done with the whole time of your youth, you that are past your youth ? What is become of all that precious season of life? Hath it not all been vain to you? Would it not have been as well or better for you, if all that time you had been asleep, or in a state of non-existence ?
You have had much time of leisure and freedom from worldly business ; consider to what purpose you have spent it. You have not only had ordinary time, but you have had a great deal of holy time. What have you done with all the Sabbath-days which you have enjoyed? Consider those things seriously, and let your own consciences make answer.
· Who are chiefly deserving of reproof from the subject of the
preciousness of time.
How little is the preciousness of time considered, and how little sense of it do the greater part of mankind seem to have! and to how little good purpose do many spend their time! There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal. Time is with many, as silver was in the days of Solomon, as the stones of the street, and nothing accounted of. They act as if time were as plenty as silver was then, and as if they had a great deal more than they needed, and knew not what to do with it. If men were as lavish of their money as they are of their time; if it were as common a thing for them to throw away their money, as it is for them to throw away their time, we should think them beside themselves, and not in the possession of their right minds. Yet time is a thousand times more precious than money; and when it is gone, cannot be purchased for money, cannot be redeemed by silver or gold. There are several sorts of persons who are reproved by this doctrine, whom I shall particularly mention.
1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness, or in doing nothing that turns to any account, either for the good of their souls or bodies ; nothing either for their
own benefit, or for the benefit of their neighbour, either of the family or of the body-politic to which they belong. There are some persons upon whose hands time seems to lie heavy, who, instead of being concerned, to improve it as it passes, and taking care that it pass not without making it their own, act as if it were rather their concern to contrive ways how to waste and consume it; as though time, instead of being precious, were rather a mere incumbrance to them. Their hands refuse to labour, and rather than put themselves to it, they will let their families suffer, and will suffer themselves: Prov. xix. 15. “An idle soul shall suffer hunger.” Prov. xxii. 21. “ Drowsiness shall clothe a man
Some spend much of their time at the tavern, over their cups, and in wandering about from house to house, wasting away their hours in idle and unprofitable talk which will turn to no good account: Prov. xiv. 23. “In all labour there is profit; but the talk of the lips tendeth only to poverty." The direction of the apostle, in Eph. iv. 28, is, that we should " labour, working with our hands the thing that is good, that we may have to give to him that needeth.” But indolent men, instead of gaining any thing to give to him that needeth, do but waste what they have already : Prov. xviii. 9. “He that is slothful in his work, is brother to him that is a great waster."
2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose, but spend it to ill purposes. Such do not only lose their time, but they do worse; with it they hurt both themselves and others,—Time is precious, as we have heard, because eternity depends upon it. By the improvement of time, we have opportunity of escaping eternal misery, and obtaining eternal blessedness. But those who spend their time in wicked works, not only neglect to improve their time to obtain eternal happiness, or to escape damnation, but they spend it to a quite contrary purpose, viz. to increase their eternal misery, or to render their damnation the more heavy and intolerable.
Some spend much time in revelling, and in unclean talk and practices, in vicious company-keeping, in corrupting and ensnaring the minds of others, setting bad examples, and lead. ing others into sin, undoing not only their own souls, but the souls of others. Some spend much of their precious time in detraction and backbiting ; in talking against others; in contention, not only quarrelling themselves, but fomenting and stirring up strife and contention. It would have been well for some men, and well for their neighbours, if they had never done any thing at all; for then they would have done neither good nor burt. But now they have done a great deal more hurt than they have done or ever will do good. There are some persons whom it would have been better for the towns where they live, to have been at the charge of maintaining them in doing nothing, if that would have kept them in a state of inactivity.
Those who have spent much of their time in wickedness, if ever they shall reform, and enter upon a different mode of living, will find, not only that they have wasted the past, but that they have made work for their remaining time, to undo what they have done. How will many men, when they shall have done with time, and shall look back upon their past lives, wish that they had had no time! The time which they spend on earth will be worse to them than if they had spent so much time in hell; for an eternity of more dreadful misery in hell will be the fruit of their time on earth, as they employ it,
3. Those are reproved by this doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls. Such men lose their time, let them be ever so diligent in their worldly business; and though they may be careful not to let any of it pass so, but that it shall, some way or other, turn to their worldly profit. They that improve time only for their benefit in time, lose it; because time was not given for itself, but for that everlasting duration which succeeds it.-They, therefore, whose time is taking up in caring and labouring for the world only, in inquiring what they shall eat, and what they shall drink and wherewithal they shall be clothed ; in contriving to lay up for themselves treasures upon earth, how to enrich themselves, how to make themselves great in the world, or how to live in comfortable and pleasant circumstances, while here: who busy their minds and employ their strength in these things only, and the stream of whose affections is directed towards these things ; they lose their precious time.
Let such therefore, as have been guilty of thus spending their time, consider it. You have spent a great part of your time, and a great part of your strength, in getting a little of the world, and how little good doth it afford you, now you have gotten it! What happiness or satisfaction can you reap from it? will it give you peace of conscience, or any rational quietness or comfort? What is your poor, needy perishing soul the better for it? and what better prospects doth it afford you of your approrching eternity ? and what will all that you have acquired avail you when time shall be no longer,