by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
IMPROVEMENT OF TIME. PRESENT OBLIGATION.
When you entered into solemn covenant with the Lord, you
consecrated your whole being to his service. Your time, then,
is not your own, but the Lord's. If you waste it, or spend it
unprofitably—you rob God; for it is one of the talents which he has
entrusted to you as his steward. You are not at liberty even to employ it
exclusively for yourself; but you must glorify God in the use of it, which
you will do by employing it in the way that will be most beneficial to your
whole being, and to your fellow-creatures. I need not caution you against
wasting your time in vain amusements or frivolous pursuits; for,
addressing myself, as I do, to those who have commenced the Christian life,
I can hardly suppose it possible that they should have any inclination to do
so. The Christian who properly considers the great work he has to perform in
his own soul, as well as the wide field of benevolent exertion which opens
everywhere around him, and reflects how exceedingly short his time is—will
not be disposed to trifle away its precious moments. Hence we are exhorted
to redeem, or rescue, the time, as it flies.
A very common fault lies in not estimating the value of a
moment. This leads to the waste of immense portions of precious time. It is
with time as with an estate. The old adage is, "Take care of the pennies,
and the pounds will take care of themselves." So, if we take care of
the moments, the hours will take care of themselves. Our whole
life is made up of moments. A little calculation may startle those who
carelessly trifle away small portions of time. Suppose you waste only ten
minutes at a time, six times in a day; this will make an hour. This hour
is subtracted from that portion of your time which might have been devoted
to active employments. Sleep, refreshment, and personal duties, generally
occupy at least one half of the twenty-four hours. You have, then, lost
one-twelfth of the available portion of the day. Suppose you live to the age
of seventy years. Take from this the first ten years of your life. From the
sixty remaining years. you will have thrown away five years! These five
years are taken from that portion of time which should have been employed in
the cultivation of the mind, and in the practical duties of piety!
The common excuse for neglecting the improvement of the
mind and the cultivation of personal piety, is the lack of time. Were
you to employ one half of this time in reading, at the rate of twenty pages
an hour, you would be able to read more than eighteen thousand pages,
or sixty volumes, of three hundred pages each. If you employ the
other half in devotional exercises, in addition to the time you would spend
in this manner, upon the supposition that these five years are lost, what an
influence will it have upon your personal piety! Or, if you spend the whole
of it in the active duties of Christian benevolence, how much good may you
accomplish! Think what you might do by employing five years in the undivided
service of your Master.
But the grand secret of redeeming time lies in
systematic arrangements. The wise man says, "To everything there is
a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven." If we so divide
our time as to assign a particular season for every employment, we shall be
at no loss, when one thing is finished, what to do next; and one duty will
not crowd upon another. For lack of this system, many people suffer much
needless perplexity. They find a multitude of duties crowding upon them at
the same time, and they know not where to begin to discharge them. Much of
their time is wasted in considering what they shall do. They are always in a
hurry and bustle; yet, when the day is gone, they have not half finished its
duties. All this would have been avoided, had they parceled out the day, and
assigned particular duties to particular seasons. They might have gone
quietly to their work, pursued their employments with calmness and serenity,
and, at the close of the day, laid themselves down to rest, with the
satisfaction of having discharged every duty.
Form, then, a systematic plan, to regulate your daily
employments. Give to each particular duty its appropriate place; and, when
you have finished one, pass rapidly to another, without losing any precious
intervals between. Bear in mind that every moment you waste will make your
life, or the period of your probation, so much shorter; and every moment you
redeem will be adding so much to it. Yet do not try to crowd too much into
the compass of a single day. You will always be liable to numerous and
unavoidable interruptions. You have friends, who claim a portion of your
time: it is better to interrupt your own affairs, than to treat them rudely.
You have also many accidental duties, which you cannot bring into the
regular routine of your employments. Give, then, sufficient latitude to your
system to anticipate these, so that your affairs may not be thrown into
confusion by their unexpected occurrence.
The duty of being systematic in our arrangements is
enforced by several considerations—
1. By the example of our Creator. In the first
chapter of Genesis, you will see that God assigned a particular portion of
the creation to each day of the week, and that he rested on the seventh day.
He could as easily have made all things at once, by a single word of his
power, as to have been occupied six days in the creation. As for resting the
seventh day, the Almighty could not be weary, and therefore needed no rest.
What, then, could have been his design, but to set us an example of order?
Our Savior also set a beautiful example of order, on the morning of
his resurrection. Those who first went into the sepulcher found the linen
clothes lying in one place, and the napkin folded and laid by itself.
2. This duty is also enforced by the analogy of the
visible creation. The most complete and perfect system, order, and
harmony, may be read in every page of the book of nature. From the minutest
insect, up, through all the animal creation, to the structure of our own
bodies, there is a systematic arrangement of every particle of matter. So,
from the little pebble that is washed upon the sea-shore, up to the loftiest
mountain, and even to the whole planetary system, the same truth is
3. This duty is enforced by our obligation to employ
all our time for the glory of God. If we neglect it, we lose much
precious time, which might have been employed in the service of the Lord.
NATURE OF OBLIGATION.
The very idea of obligation supposes the possibility of
the thing being done, that is required. There can be no such thing as our
being under obligation to do what is, in its own nature, impossible. This
principle is recognized by our Lord in the parable of the talents. The man
only required of his servants according to their ability. Nothing,
then, is duty, except what can be done at the present moment. There are
other things which may be duty hereafter; but they are not present duty.
The obligation of duty, therefore, rests on the present moment. This is
a principle of great importance in practical life. It lies at the foundation
of all Christian effort. It is the neglect of it which has ruined thousands
of immortal souls, who have sat under the sound of the gospel. It is the
neglect of it which prevents Christians from rising to the true standard of
personal piety. If it is the duty of a sinner to repent, it is his duty to
do it now; and every moment's delay is a new act of rebellion against
God. If it is the duty of a backslider to return and humble himself before
God, it is his duty to do it now; and, every moment he delays, he is
going farther from God, and rendering his return more difficult. If it is
the duty of a Christian to live near to God, to feel his presence, to hold
communion with him, to be affected with the infinite beauty and excellence
of his holy nature, the obligation of that duty rests on the present moment.
Every moment's delay is sin. And so of every other duty.
Our first object, then, is to know present duty; our
second, to do it. We cannot put off anything which we ought to do now,
without bringing guilt on our souls. An eminent living minister has said,
"What ought to be done can be done." When taken in connection with a
proper sense of dependence upon God, this is true; and, when adopted as a
principle of Christian conduct, it is a truth of great practical force. The
person who acts constantly under the impression of this maxim, will never be
moved by obstacles in his way, when he is satisfied that anything ought
to be done. He will always be efficient in action; nor will he live in
vain—but his life will show that something can be done.