The Uncertainty of Life!
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare — so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them." Ecclesiastes 9:12
One of the most lamentable effects of the fall, is the incorrigible aversion of men to think of death. There is a strange stupidity in this matter, which at first seems hard to be reconciled with the faculty of reason. The most solemn calls of Providence, instead of rousing men to these reflections — frequently harden them the more. It is an ancient aphorism that every man thinks all men mortal — but himself.
The cause of this unwillingness to think of death, is easily explained. Such reflections cross our attachment to this present world, from which death is soon to sever us. They awaken our fears of a judgment to come — and force upon the mind unwelcome thoughts of God. A conviction that we are not prepared to die, or serious doubts on the subject — will clothe death with terror and make us recoil from the contemplation of it.
Rather than encounter a rational view of death, and engage in a serious preparation to meet it — men will hazard all consequences. Instead of wisely making God their friend, and thus rendering thoughts of Him delightful as the thoughts of a Father, and a view of death pleasant as a view of everlasting life — they will turn the subject of death away from their thoughts, and leave God to be their enemy — and content themselves with putting their enemy and their ruin out of view as long as they can.
But while they disbelieve, their destruction is at the door! They are like soldiers marching up to the battery of an enemy with their eyes and ears closed, and dreaming of safety because they neither see nor hear the motions of the foe.
Death will come, however much a stranger it may be to our thoughts; and it will come with double ruin for having been kept out of view so long. It may come suddenly, like the convulsions of an earthquake which at dead of night buries whole cities in ruin!
These reflections are suggested by the solemn words I have read: "For man also does not know his time: Like fish taken in a cruel net, like birds caught in a snare — so the sons of men are snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly upon them."
"Man also does not know his time," that is, he is ignorant of the time of his death and the time when overwhelming calamities may come upon him. When all is at rest in his house, when stillness reigns in his rooms, and sleep sits quiet on the lids of his family — the silent arrow of death may pierce the wife at his side, or the children in his bosom. He may be stripped naked in one day like Job! Or in the midst of his dreams of earthly happiness, he may open his astonished eyes in the eternal world!
"Like fish taken in a cruel net" — while they are wandering securely, or sporting among pearls, or rushing together for food, little thinking of being suddenly drawn up in the concealed net.
"Like birds caught in a snare" — while they are hopping sportively without apprehension, or are eager to pick up the grain which is spread to decoy them to death.
"So the sons of men are snared in an evil time" — while they are sporting and feeding themselves, secure in conscious health, ignorant of the shaft that is festering in their breast.
"When it falls suddenly upon them." While they are most secure, the arrow of the Almighty reaches their heart. While they are saying, "Soul, take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry!" — the word comes, "You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you!" When they shall say, "Peace and safety — then sudden destruction comes upon them, and they shall not escape!"
It is indeed no misfortune, but a happiness, to men — that a veil is cast over future calamities, provided they are prepared for all events. And this is the use which wisdom imperiously requires us to make of this uncertainty. Be prepared for the worst — and then peacefully commit the keeping of all your interests to a faithful Providence.
That "it is appointed unto men once to die" — may be seen in the very ground on which we tread. Perhaps we scarcely step from our doors — without treading on dust that was once animated with life. We are constantly walking up and down in the midst of graves, and moving over skulls which once laid schemes of ambition and gain.
Our "fathers — where are they? And the prophets — do they live forever?" Where are now the people who first settled in this town? Where are those who filled these streets and composed this congregation before we were born? They are swept away, and all that remains of them on this side of eternity — now sleeps in the womb of yonder consecrated ground. Where are some of those whom our eyes lately beheld in this assembly? This comes very near to us.
Where are now the ancient empires of Assyria, and Babylon, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome? Where are the emperors, statesmen, philosophers, and bards of antiquity? Where is now the immense army of Xerxes, which seemed to darken Asia, and to sink with its weight the land of Greece? Where are the exhaustless hordes of barbarians which came from the north to overwhelm the Roman empire? Where can you find those stupendous monuments of human architecture — the glorious cities of Nineveh, Babylon, Palmyra, and Memphis? Where is now the dust which was attached to the souls that lived before the flood? Where are now the many millions who have filled the world with noise and contention, with fame and folly — for a hundred generations?
Kingdom has trodden on the heel of kingdom, and nation has followed nation — down to the land of forgetfulness. Their dust has long since returned to the common mass, and has perhaps lived and died scores of times! That dust which sat upon the throne — has since sat upon the dunghill; and that dust which sat upon the dunghill — has since sat upon the throne. Here is their dust — but where is their immortal part? Where are the many millions of souls that in different periods of time have escaped from dying beds, or from the field of battle? They have all stood before their righteous Judge and received their unalterable doom!
Many of them have been transported with the joys of paradise for four and five thousand years, and have calmly looked down and have seen kingdom after kingdom moulder to decay — while they stood secure and unchanged in immortal life.
Many of them have been tormented in Hell for more than fifty hundred years, tossing from side to side, and crying day and night for a drop of water to cool their tongue! But in fifty centuries, they have never obtained one drop of water, and never will through the endless ages of eternity! They have abandoned all hope of ever seeing good again.
There is but one point to which they look forward, and that is the day of judgment, which they anticipate with indescribable horror, as though it was the beginning of their torment; the point of time when their scattered dust will be collected and raised — when they must stand, soul and body, before the judgment-seat of an almighty Enemy! Never did guilty mortals, appalled with bursting thunder or trembling at midnight earthquakes — apprehend the final judgment with so much terror, as the damned constantly do. They know that their guilt will then be laid open before an assembled universe, and that their punishment will be unspeakably increased.
It is not only "appointed unto men once to die" — but the time of their death is altogether uncertain. Death may look in at your windows this night! You may faint and die before you leave your seats! The arrows of death which are flying around us — may strike you at any time and without a moment's warning. And if any of you should be lodged under "the clods of the valley" before another Sabbath — it would be no more than has often happened.
You hang over the grave, by a thread on which the flame has seized, and you may look every moment to fall to rise not again "until the heavens be no more." "Good God! on what a slender thread hang everlasting things!"
Could the veil be drawn from eternity and reveal to your astonished eyes the infinitely glorious or dreadful consequences depending on the present life; could then the veil be drawn from the many agents which are constantly striving within you to keep in order your complicated bodily machine, and reveal to you the many critical junctures which are daily occurring, which, without making you sensible of it, bring you within a hair's breadth of death; could the veil be also drawn from the course of nature around you, and disclose the dangers among which you walk by day and sleep by night — could you thus have a view of your hourly exposures and of the eternal interests at stake — you would start from your dream like a man awakened in a burning house, and flee for your life! Ah! where, where, but to the arms of Christ?
Were a man literally suspended over the eternal pit, only by a brittle thread, in full view of it — then what horrors would seize him! Yet many hang over Hell by as slender a thread, and are as at ease as though no danger threatened. Unbelief keeps them secure at present, but when they once fall into the pit of Hell — they can disbelieve no more.
These things are not said for the purpose of exciting needless alarm — but to call you, my dear dying friends, to examine . . .
the ground on which you stand,
the end for which you were sent into the world,
the use you have made of the talents entrusted to you,
the solemn account you must shortly render to the omniscient Judge,
and whether or not you are prepared for a sudden death.
On what ground then, my beloved friends, my dying charge — on what ground do you stand? Have you secured your future peace by a title on which you can confidently rely? Is there no defect? Is there no doubt?
On what then is your confidence built? On your innocence? Has your life been always such as a holy God can approve? Have you never pondered the sentence, "The soul that sins — it shall surely die!" Is your confidence built on the presumption that there is no future state, or no future punishment? Then it is built on the presumption that there is no God, or at least no God of justice — and that divine revelation is a lie, and the hopes of the wise and holy in every age have been delusions — and only the wicked have been in the right.
O do not plunge into eternity with your mind filled with such madness as this!
Is your confidence built on the mercy of God without a Savior? God out of Christ is a consuming fire! Neither reason nor revelation can discover any mercy for the finally impenitent.
Is your confidence built on Christ? Take care that you do not build on this foundation with "wood, hay or stubble." If it is a confidence not to be disappointed — then it will be attended . . .
with deep repentance,
with supreme love to God,
with humble dependence on the atonement and righteousness of Christ,
with habitual devotion,
with abandonment of the world, and
with a general change of life. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature — old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." Have you experienced this change?
"Truly, truly, I say unto you — unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
"Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord."
"Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish."
"If any man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema!"
"If any man loves the world — the love of the Father is not in him."
"If any man comes to me, and hates not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also — he cannot be my disciple."
I cite these divine maxims as criterions by which you may decide your present state. And I add another: Have you that temperament which is fitted to relish the holy joys and employments of Heaven — and the holy society and truths of Heaven? If you have, then you will relish God's people and Word and Sabbaths on earth — more than you relish the world. If you have not, then you could not be happy in Heaven if admitted to the place — you have no preparation in your souls to enjoy any happiness that is provided for men beyond the grave.
By such a line, the Word of God divides this assembly into two parts, and every person in this place falls on one side or the other. "He who is not with me — is against me; and he who does not gather with me — scatters."
Where then, my friend, do you fall? If death should arrest you this night, as perhaps it may — are you prepared to meet God? Are you prepared to enter the eternal world, and give up an account of your life? Are you prepared to have every action, word, and thought scrutinized by omniscient purity — and retribution administered by inflexible justice?
Were a messenger from the eternal world now to enter this house to announce your eternal doom — say, child of death and sin, could you calmly hear your sentence? Say, you who are walking in the dark over a thousand apertures opening into eternity — are you prepared to hear your doom? Say, you who have a soul which must live to all eternity in Heaven or Hell — are you prepared to burst into eternity and know the worst?
Poor, impenitent, prayerless sinner — are you ready to appear before God with all your guilt upon you, and to arm an infinite enemy against you?
Consider, I beseech you, the end for which you were sent into the world. By all the love which a minister ought to bear to the people of his charge, with whom he expects soon to appear before God; by all the future sensibilities of your immortal souls, by all the mercy of a pleading Savior — I beseech you to awake out of sleep and to fix your eager eyes on these specific points:
For what end did God send you into the world? For what end did He endow you with these Godlike faculties and invest you with these heavenly privileges? What is the work which He assigned you on earth? Was it to pursue your own worldly objects and forget Him? Can you believe that infinite munificence laid out so much expense and care upon a world, and placed immortal creatures in it — for no higher end than this?
Your Bible tells you NO. The conscience which God has placed in your breast tells you NO. The very stones in the street almost tell you NO.
You were sent into the world as the servants of God. You received all these talents with a command to occupy until He shall come. He is infinitely worthy of your love. He has a perfect right as your Creator and Lord — to bind you to His service by laws. And by laws He has bound you to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might"; and, "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do — to do all to the glory of God" This was the end for which He sent you into the world.
And now I must press the question with all the earnestness of anxious friendship: How have you answered this end since you have been in the world? Have you set before you God's glory as the great object — and His commands as the rule of your life? Have you delighted in communing with Him in the family and prayer-closet, and taught your children to love Him as their dearest friend? Or have you neglected Him and gone after the world — for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years?
Have you been so long in His vineyard — and done no part of the work for which He placed you there? Have you received so many mercies from God, and lived so long in His world, and breathed His air — and never once sincerely thanked Him? And now the time draws near when you must return from the vineyard to tell your Lord what you have done, and what you have left undone. What will your account be? Let your soberest reason be brought to decide this question — What must your account be?
Suppose you are called to judgment tonight, what must your account be? I beg you not to turn away from this question. Look into your hearts and lives. What have you ever done for God — with a sincere desire for His glory? What have you ever done against Him? These things will shortly be examined in a court from which there is no appeal. If human entreaties could avail, I would beg on my knees. By the spirits of our departed friends, by the joys of those who sleep in Jesus, and the pains of those who have no Savior — I adjure you to consider that when you have once plunged into eternity, there is no coming back to make a second trial.
If you have rushed into the presence of God with sins unrepented, and guilt unpurged — then all is gone, eternally gone, without recovery or redress! For ten thousand years, must you cast back your anguished eyes to privileges you once enjoyed, to calls you once rejected, to entreaties you trampled under foot. Oh the thought that you came so near to Heaven and fell short at last — will double the weight of your damnation! Eternal ages will roll away with no other employment for you but to mourn at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: "How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof!"
"And Moses and Aaron came in unto Pharaoh," after repeated judgments had assailed him in vain, "and said unto him: Thus says the Lord God of the Hebrews — How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?" If ever there was a time for this expostulation to be repeated in this assembly — it is the present. Judgment after judgment from the Almighty is coming upon us by day and by night. The arrows of God strike us dead without warning. The flames are commissioned to seize our dwellings in the midnight hour and to devour human life. The cries of widows and orphans and houseless families, touch our hearts on every hand.
And yet who has repented of his sins? Who has turned unto the Lord? Who is sighing and crying for the public and private sins that have drawn down these judgments upon us? Pharaoh-like, when one judgment comes — we harden ourselves and wait for another. And another will probably come, if we cannot be brought to repentance by what we have already suffered.
God has certainly some great controversy with this people; and it is high time for us to search for the Achan in our camp. He has shown us that He is strong, and that it is unsafe to anger Him. There is some great sin that is yet unrepented of. Search, I beg you, your hearts and your houses for this Babylonish garment that has offended the God of Heaven. Do not, like Pharaoh, be too proud to relent. You remember how it fared with him: God forbid that we should harden ourselves, until a similar destruction overtake us.
Let those who still justify their sins, remember that they yet have bodies that can die, and families that can be smitten, and houses that may be consumed. Yes, and they have souls that can be lashed with eternal plagues. I call upon every one that hears me to humble himself under the mighty hand of God, and to cry on his bended knees day and night, "O sword of the Lord, how long will it be before you are quiet? Put up yourself into your scabbard; rest and be still."
I can now appeal to Heaven and earth that I have warned you. Therefore if the last convulsions seize you this night, say not, as your eye-balls roll in death — that you were not warned. If you are suddenly caught away to the tribunal of God, while shaken with the frowns of your Judge — you could not plead, "I was not warned."
And while you are crying to rocks and mountains to cover you — do not curse your minister for allowing you to go to Hell unwarned. But why do I speak thus? You must not go — you shall not go, if prayers and entreaties can stop you. Do return and have mercy on yourselves. Put me not off with excuses.
When the sword of the Almighty is at your breast — then it is too late to talk of a more convenient season. This proneness to procrastination has destroyed more than the sword and the pestilence. It is the common highway to destruction. Few leap into perdition at once — they reach it by the gradual course of delay. They all mean to reform at last, presuming on the future aids of that mercy which they now abuse. But that mercy is not always at their command. It is just with God to withhold in their extremity, those influences which in better days they rejected; and so they die as they have lived.
O that God would shake this house, and fill it with the solemnity of the last judgment! Amen.