The Grace of Christ, or,
Sinners Saved by Unmerited Kindness
William S. Plumer, 1853
"We believe it is through the grace of our
Lord Jesus that we are saved." Acts 15:11
THE BREVITY OF HUMAN LIFE
The New York Observer of the 6th of March, 1851,
contained obituary notices of ten people, the aggregate of whose ages was
more than 885 years. The youngest of the ten was 79 years old. The average
of their ages was over 88 years. Of these people, seven were males, and
three females. The habits of all are not particularly stated, but so far as
they are noticed, they seem to have been simple and temperate. In reflecting
on such a record, one of our first thoughts is—How long they lived! The
average of their lives surprise us. Such a record shows that in the divine
plan respecting human life there has been no considerable change since the
days of Moses. The average of human life will probably not be lower until
the end of the world. And as these ten people are confessedly rare
exceptions to the usual course of things, we have no reason to suppose that
the maximum of human life will hereafter be greater than it is at present.
The increased virtue of mankind would no doubt
considerably raise the average of human life, but the maximum will not
materially vary in future ages. But when we compare the present with the
first ages of the world, our thoughts take quite a different turn. Adam
lived 930 years—or 45 years longer than all the above ten combined. Seth
lived 912 years, Enosh 905 years, Kenan 910 years, Mahalalel 895 years,
Jared 962 years, Enoch 365 years, Methuselah 969 years, Lamech 777 years,
Noah 950 years. The aggregate of the ages of these ten men was 8,575. Had
Enoch not been translated until he was as old as the youngest of the other
nine, the aggregate of the ages of these ten antediluvians would have been
more than ten times as great as that of the ten first mentioned.
Compared with the life of man before the flood, how short
are our days! If any ask the reason of this change, let them know that it is
the sovereign will of God, who holds all second causes and all human affairs
under his control. To infer from this difference in human life that we and
the men before the flood belong not to the same race, is as illogical as to
argue that a child dying a year old is not of the same race with its
parents, who live half a century. The whale is said to live a thousand
years, the elephant four hundred, the swan two hundred, the terrapin one
hundred and fifty, the eagle one hundred, and the donkey eighty. But human
life is still shorter. Man has more enemies, dangers stand thicker around
him. Seventy years only are appointed to him.
Let us not repine at this state of things. As this world
ever since the fall of Adam has been under the mediatorial government of
Jesus Christ, whatever has been done to the race has been merciful. The
abbreviation of human life was unquestionably a kindness to the world. When
men lived nearly a thousand years, human wickedness became intolerable.
Except when renewed by God's grace, human nature is the same in all ages;
and if the wicked lived nine hundred years, earth would again be like
hell. Even now we find blasphemers and murderers in their teens. Men are
often deeply practiced in crime, and fearfully hardened in atheism before
they have lived out half their days. Some men have committed more murders
than they were years old. If men should live as long as the patriarchs
before the flood, and wickedness should grow, as it now does, personal
hostilities would be dreadful, and family feuds and national quarrels would
find no termination. How could the world endure for seven or eight centuries
the tread of a ruthless Nero, or an Alexander? In one century the scholars
of vice would acquire such proficiency as to make their names dreadful.
Though life is short, it is long enough to answer all the
highest ends of existence. All people have more time than they profitably
employ. Those who waste their lives in vanity and wickedness, have no right
to complain of the brevity of their existence. From him, who misuses what is
given him, may justly be withheld all further bounties. And the righteous
"would not live always." They seek a better country, even a heavenly one.
They have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better than
any earthly inheritance.
God often takes first, those whom he loves best. Abel
left the world, it is thought, at the age of one hundred and twenty years,
while his fratricidal brother lived through centuries of guilt and remorse.
Enoch seems to have been the most pious of the ten mentioned in Genesis 5,
yet he did not remain on earth half so long as the shortest lived of the
other nine. With the world so miserable, it is no loss for the godly to
die and go to heaven. Nor can it ever be gain for the ungodly—to live and
treasure up wrath by sin.
Unless we can lay hold on the gospel truths, it is
painful to dwell on the brevity of our earthly existence. Of all people born
into the world, one-third do not live two years, and one half do not see
seven years. Of the remainder, more than half die before they are forty-five
years old. But here and there one lives to be old. The habitable earth and
the sea also have become vast grave-yards. If life be so short—let us defer
no duty. Let there be a time for everything, and everything in its time.
In Christian countries, most men fail by wicked delays.
Around that rock lie the bleached bones of myriads, who intended to live to
God, but never did. Inch by inch their lives were stolen from them, and at
the end all they could say was, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
and we are not saved." A disposition to put off preparation for death would
be greatly strengthened by a knowledge that we had centuries before us. We
all know the strong propensity in men to say, "There is time enough yet."
Beware of this dangerous practice. The next hour may usher any one of us
To the godly man, an early death is not an evil.
He thereby escapes much suffering. He is taken away from the evil to come.
Tacitus, in his life of Agricola, seems pleased that he did not live to see
the Senate intimidated by soldiers, courts of law shut up, and rapine and
slaughter prevalent. "O Agricola, you are happy, not only by the excellence
of your life, but by your opportune death!" Agricola died at the age of
fifty-six years. If a heathen could comfort himself for the death of so
honored a father-in-law by such a consideration, how much more may we be
cheered by knowing that our departed pious friends no more see, or hear, or
feel those things—which were they alive—must vex their righteous souls from
day to day.
Let us not be over anxious for long life. The failure of
early hopes, the decline of usefulness, the neglect by one's children, the
memory of past joys, the presence of many pains and infirmities—burden
nearly all the very aged. Their senses are blunted, their strength is not
firm, their fears have the ascendency, the almond-tree flourishes, the
grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails.
Our advancing years bring increased responsibility. He,
who has lived thirty-five years has had five full years of Sabbaths. He, who
is seventy years old, has had ten solid years of holy time. Frequent
interviews with distressed souls have painfully impressed the writer's mind
that there are two sins which have a fearful burden and sting in them. The
first is the slighting of gospel grace and mercy. The other is the neglect
or abuse of holy time.
Most dying sinners seem to desire longer time only that
they may spend it as they should have done their holy Sabbaths. Let us not
waste our time in idle regrets on the shortness of life, but let us work
while it is day." "The night comes when no man can work." "It is fine to be
zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when
I am with you." Let us do, even a little at a time. Despise not the day of
small things. "It is not great talents God blesses, so much as great
likeness to Jesus." Holiness is a greater means of usefulness than
extraordinary natural gifts, or vast learning. "A heated iron, though
blunt, will pierce its way even where a much sharper instrument, if it be
cold, cannot penetrate." One of the best models of zeal among fallible men
is found in Nehemiah. A perfect pattern was Jesus Christ. The zeal for God's
house consumed him. Live and labor to be not only real Christians, but
eminent Christians. Let us not sleep as do others.
Heaven or hell will soon receive all that now live.
Let your standard be the word of God and the example of Christ. Forget past
attainments, and reach after greater things. Live as seeing Him, who is
invisible. Never count that you have attained until you have got your crown.
"He, who is contented with just enough grace to escape hell and get to
heaven, and desires no more, may be sure he has none at all, and is far from
the kingdom of God." Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by
the renewing of your mind. Fight the good fight of faith.
One reason, why some have so great a dread of the close
of life, is that it is so rarely a theme of meditation. Men, who will not
think, cannot understand. Mere thoughts of dying will make no one holy, but
they have often led men to seek salvation. I have read of a man, whose
conversion was traced to those words so often repeated in Gen. 5, "AND HE
DIED." Live as you may, it will soon be said of you, "and he died." Are you
ready for death? The grace of Christ is necessary to enable us to live
well and to die well. His death was the death of death, because it was
the death of sin. We may confidently plead with the Savior for all needed
help. He can make goodness and mercy follow us when living; and glory and
honor meet us when dying. His grace can moderate our love of life, and
take away our fear of death. He can teach us that this present world is
not our rest. He can make us willing to be chastened of the Lord, that we
may not be condemned with the world. He can do for us exceeding abundantly
above all we can ask or think. He is the good Shepherd. In him we may safely
trust and forever rejoice. If this life is short, Christ's people shall the
sooner be with him.