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I shall however take occasion from these words to discourse of the right improvement of time, or "redeeming" it in a more general sense. And I shall consider them as setting before us the same practice which Solomon recommends: "Whatever thy hand findeth to do," whatever lies before thee, which is useful or innocent, "do it with thy might," with vigour and perseverance: "for there is no work, nor device, nor Knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest," Eccl. ix. 10.
And indeed, if we were to suppose this exhortation connected with what precedes, we might be inclined to think, that the apostle intended to stir up these Christians to care and diligence in general, as well as to circumspection in particular, and a prudent carriage toward those who were of different sentiments, for securing and prolonging their tranquillity, and keeping off those evils which some were inclined to bring upon them. This more enlarged, and general design of the exhortation may be argued, I say, from the context. Which, if we take it in more fully than we have yet done is this: "Wherefore he says, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then, that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
The right improvent of time seems to imply two things: employing ourselves in that which is good, and doing that good with care and diligence.
I. I shall therefore in the first place show, what things we ought to be employed in.
II. And then, secondly, how we may best improve our time for those good things that lie before us.
III. To which I intend to add, in the third place, an exhortation.
I. The first thing to be considered by us is, in what things we ought to employ ourselves. Here I shall mention these several particulars.
The service of God." For God is the creator of all things, and their Lord and sovereign. He it is who gives us all things to enjoy. And in him we live and move and have our being. We breathe in his air, and tread on his earth, and live upon the provisions he affords us. Every moment of our time produces fresh instances of his bounty and goodness.
He is the great governor of the whole world, not of one part or portion only, but of the whole universe; and therefore he is able, and does direct and overrule all things with a wise and almighty inspection and providence. A continued supply is made for us, and for all creatures in general. He also overrules the spirits of men, so that notwithstanding the unreasonable and exhorbitant desires of many, their violence does not break forth to disturb the general peace and tranquillity of the world: in which peace and tranquillity we have our share, and quietly enjoy ourselves, our goods, and our friends.
We should therefore very much employ our thoughts in admiring and adoring God; in praising him for his goodness, and in praying to him for the continuance of his favour and goodwill, and for every thing necessary to our comfort and happiness.
Some time will be fitly spent in secret, in meditating upon his glorious perfections, in contemplating his great and wonderful works, and in recollecting the many benefits bestowed upon us hitherto in the past stages of life.
And we should allow some time for the united and public worship of God, which is an obligation founded in reason, and is prescribed by revelation.
Can any of us think we have well employed our time in this world, if we have never, or rarely with seriousness and attention, thought of that Being, who is the most perfect, surpassing all the united perfections of the whole creation: without whom nothing would have been, of whom are all things, and by whom they subsist?
2. We ought also to employ ourselves, and improve our time in securing and advancing our own spiritual interests. We should endeavour to know the state of our own souls: what are our chief passions; what our greatest temptations. It may require some time and care to form a right judgment of ourselves. There seems to be good reason to say that few men know themselves. The heart is deceitful. Many deceive others; some mistake and are deceived about themselves.
It may not be improper therefore to allot some time for this: to consider what is the bent of our mind, in what course we are, and whither it leads: and whether our behaviour is agreeable to our profession and principles.
Our mind is ourselves, and our chief care ought to be its culture and ornament. There is
nothing of equal importance with this. When we remove hence, when death puts a period to our present state of action and existence, we leave behind us our estates and treasures, we drop our titles, and all external ornaments. But we shall carry with us the same temper and disposi tion which we had here: and our works will follow us. Are we here unholy? We shall be hereafter lodged in the company of such beings, who will be torments to themselves, and tormentors to each other. Are we now proud? We shall then be abased. Are we humble? We shall then be exalted. Are we pure in heart? We shall then see God. Are we merciful? We shall then obtain mercy.
It is incumbent on us therefore to employ some time in considering the nature and obligation of those virtues and dispositions of the mind, upon which so much depends; to confirm ourselves in the love and practice of them, and to watch against temptations that might ensnare us, and carry us off from the course which leads to happiness. It behoves us, as St. Peter says, "to give all diligence, to add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to that charity: and to make our calling and election sure. For," says the same apostle, "if ye do these things ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," 2 Pet. i. 5, &c.
The obligation to these virtues seems not to lie far out of sight. But might be soon discerned, if men would be persuaded to attend, and to exercise their rational powers and faculties. However it is certainly obvious to all who are acquainted with the Christian revelation.
The importance of securing our eternal salvation is evident upon the first thought about such a matter. But we are surrounded by temptations. The things of this world make strange and sudden impressions upon us, and carry us away, sometimes, before we are aware. But he who frequently employs himself in considering the duties of his station, and the reasonableness of them, in observing the real excellence of holiness, and every branch of it, and impressing on his mind the motives and arguments there are to the practice of it, is likely to be prepared for a time of temptation, and to stand and overcome in it.
Yea a few hours, at some one time, seriously employed in considering the duties of the present condition, and the vast moment of our behaviour in this world, with respect to another state of endless duration, may be of great service for securing our choice and determination in favour of virtue. And having once found the benefit of serious consideration, it is very probable we shall be disposed to renew at some seasons the like exercise and employment of the mind.
3. Another thing, in which we ought to employ ourselves, is the business of our calling. We are not to neglect that out of sloth and idleness, nor from a pretence of minding the things of the spiritual life, nor for the sake of attending to the concerns of other men. For the business of our calling is a main part of our duty, and a fundamental obligation, upon which every thing else depends. God has so formed us, that we have many wants, which are continually renewed upon us, and which, in dependence on Divine Providence, must be supplied by our own industry and care. What good reason have we to rely upon the charity of others, if we have strength to provide for ourselves? Or what right has he to the privileges of any community, who contributes nothing to its prosperity? Yea, what man, who has any spirit, would choose to depend upon others, who can subsist by his own skill? And what wise and good man would willingly receive that, for which he has given no valuable consideration of care and labour?
I might insist, that sloth and idleness expose men to temptations of every sort. But I choose rather to observe and say, that a man's weight and influence in this world must, for the most part, depend upon skill in some calling, and diligence in it: and that the very pleasure of life is advanced thereby. How insipid are amusements to those, who know not what labour either of body or mind is! Moreover, it is in itself very desirable to have wherewithal to give to those that need. Poor and indigent persons there will always be in this world of ours. Some are left orphans in their childhood, before they can help themselves. Some labour under the decays of age. Other some experience the waste and expence of continued sickness. Some are reduced by strange and unexpected accidents. Some are unjustly plundered by viclence.
He who by care and diligence, and a prudent improvement of his time, and the several ad
vantages that have been put into his hand by the kind providence of God, has gained wherewithal to relieve and help any such necessitous persons, has good reason to rejoice. Which leads me to another particular.
4. Some time ought to be employed in serving others. Man is naturally a sociable creature. The christian religion teaches us to consider ourselves as members of one and the same body. It is a particular and express direction of St. Paul" Look not every man on his own things but every man also on the things of others," Phil. ii. 4.
Some have perplexed and difficult affairs before them: and they want the assistance and the united counsels of others. If men of understanding carefully improve their time, and dispatch their own affairs with diligence, they may have leisure to advise, help, and solicit for others, in those intricacies in which they happen to be involved.
Some are weak through want of knowledge, or experience and credit in the world: and they are overpowered by men of superior might, who are artful, and skilful in carrying on oppressive measures, and then securing and defending themselves by specious pretences against the resentment due to their unjust proceedings. Will it not be an act of great virtue, to afford some help to the weak cause, when upon good grounds we know it to be right? Among those things which Job urges in his own vindication, he does not omit this part of his character: " I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and the cause, which I knew not, I searched out. I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth," Job xxix. 15-17.
That is a grand performance; but it is reserved for those who have well improved their time in cultivating their own minds; and who know how to discharge the encumberances of their own affairs with expedition.
II. I now proceed to show how time may be best improved in these good works, and for carrying on these good designs and purposes.
1. We are to do these things with all our might. What we do, or engage in, we are to be intent upon, in proportion at least to its importance. If we are about our own work, in the business of our calling, we are to mind it, and not be slothful therein; but to do it with dili
gence, that it may be dispatched, and we may not be hindered from the service of God, or our
If we are engaged in the service of God, we are to mind that, and not to suffer other things then to occupy our thoughts. Cold and indifferent services will neither be acceptable to God, nor profitable for ourselves. Do we think to obtain those blessings which we ask but faintly? Will those instructions do us any good, which we scarce regard when given? Or, have those instructors discharged their duty, who have proposed indeed reasonable admonitions, and weighty arguments, but without inward affection, or visible zeal and concern; as if the things discoursed of were indifferent, of little or no moment. It is no wonder, if the time allotted even to the worship of God runs waste, if we are unattentive and negligent.
So likewise, when you undertake any service for another, you are to do it with all your might, as if it were your own. You are to study the most proper and effectual means of succeeding that can be thought of. Whatever good cause you espouse, you are to do it heartily; for otherwise you betray, instead of promoting it.
2. Another way of improving time is to lay aside as much as possible such things as are trifling, unnecessary, and of small moment; and to contract the number and length of our recreations. Hereby we gain more time for those things which are material and important.
It is true, the mind ought to be diverted, and cannot be always intent upon great matters; but we should take care that diversions are not so indulged as to unfit us for business afterwards. This is the proper use and design of relaxation, to fit us better for things of weight. But some by giving way to amusements and diversions, by exceeding therein as to length of time, contract so light a habit, as to be disgusted at every thing grave and serious.
The body too needs to be refreshed by rest; but, certainly, we were not born to sleep only. And it has been often observed, that when that is indulged beyond the proportion which nature requires, all the powers of the bodily frame, instead of being invigorated and strengthened, are slackened and enervated.
3. Another thing that will be of service for improving, or redeeming time, is to lay hold of, and take the advantage of opportunities.
Every one knows that this is of great importance in commerce, and in all the affairs of life. There are likewise opportunities, or special seasons for gaining religious knowledge, and advancing the good dispositions of the mind. Such is the friendship and conversation of a serious, understanding and communicative Christian. The Lord's day is an opportunity for our souls, as it is a day of rest and leisure from the cares and business of this present life. It may be reasonably supposed, that then, when we are disengaged from other things, we may give a closer attention to those instructions which are proposed to us in the public worship of God: and we may then likewise, especially in private, without inconvenience, carry on our meditations to a greater length than we can ordinarily do on other days.
There may likewise also be opportunities arising from the temper of our minds. Possibly we do at some seasons, and in some circumstances, perceive in ourselves a more ready, or a more pliable disposition than at others. These are special opportunities. We should not let them slip, but by all means take the advantage of them for adjusting maturely the great principles of reason and religion, upon which we are to act, and for settling in our minds a full persuasion of the vanity of this world and all its glories; and for confirming the resolutions of virtuous and holy obedience, which are just and reasonable.
As there are such seasons as these, favourable to our own best interests, so opportunities may offer for the serving others; either for giving them advice and counsel, or reproof, or for interposing with other persons in their behalf, and to their advantage.
4. It will be of great use for redeeming, or the right improving of time, to dispose our several affairs and concerns in good order. This contrivance and disposal of things may, itself, take up some thought and time, and seem to retard our progress for the present; but it will be amply recompensed afterwards. It will afford pleasure not to be conceived beforehand. All the perplexity of confusion and disorder will be avoided: and many things will be done and effected with ease, which otherwise would have been left undone to our own great vexation, and the loss and detriment of others.
5. Time may be upon some occasions wisely redeemed by avoiding contention about trifling things of little value.
This I apprehend to be one reason why our blessed Lord, in such emphatical expressions, recommends to men to acquiesce and sit down contented under lesser injuries and abuses, rather than withstand them, or seek satisfaction for them. "I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two," Matt. v. 39-41.
It is a point of prudence, as well as virtue, to pass by lesser offences. Better it is to lose a small sum, than run the hazard of wasting a great deal in a long and tedious prosecution, which may never succeed at last. Or, it is better to let it go at once, without farther concern, than to spend time in the recovery, which may be employed to more advantage another way.
The like may be said with regard to many other things, which are causes of strife and difference among men. Begin not a strife about trifles, lest you should thereby be drawn into a long and ruinous contention. The observing this rule may be of great and singular use on the point before us, of redeeming time.
6. Lastly, Time is to be redeemed by a prudent, circumspect and inoffensive behaviour to all men. This is supposed to be what is particularly intended by the apostle: if so, it is of near affinity with other directions elsewhere." If it be possible, as much as in you lies, live peaceably with all men." Rom. xii. 18. And, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God," 1 Cor. 10. 32. Solomon's observation may be reckoned applicable here, as well as upon other occasions: "A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger." Prov. xv. 1.
In this way redeem time to yourselves, for all the good purposes of life. In this In this way seek the prolongation of your peace and tranquillity, by avoiding all needless offence and provocation, by mildness and affability of discourse, prudence of behaviour, meekness of answer to all those who inquire after your belief, and the grounds and reasons of it. By a readiness to good offices, watching your temper, guarding against such discourses and actions, as are offensive and disagreeable to many about you, and which your peculiar principles do by no means oblige you to: hereby, I say, do you redeem and gain time for the worship of God, for your own interests, and
for the good of your friends, and indeed for every useful design which you have at heart, and you are at all qualified for.
III. I beg leave to add, in the third place, as at first proposed, a serious exhortation, which shall consist of two parts. First, an address to persons of different ages, stations and characters: and then, secondly, some considerations by way of motive and argument.
1. Let me say somewhat by way of counsel and advice upon this subject, to persons of different ages and characters.
Are any still in a sinful course, and under the power of evil habits? Do any daily add sin to sin? They do somewhat worse than barely waste time for they employ it to bad purpose.
Are there any who have not yet sincerely devoted themselves to God, with full purpose of heart to serve and obey him? There is somewhat yet undone, which must be done, or you are miserable beyond redress. Be persuaded to take some time to consider the course you are in. Probably, you will then see reason to alter it, and enter upon a new way of life. "I thought on my ways," says the Psalmist," and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments," Ps. cxix. 59, 60.
They who have devoted themselves to God in Christ Jesus, may do well to consider, that their engagement to be the Lord's, implies an obligation to serve him with all their might. Good habits ought to be improved and strengthened. You are to glorify God with your soul and your body, which you have consecrated to him. You ought to stir up and awaken men to attend to the great things of religion, and their most important concerns. You are to invite and draw as many as you can into the paths of virtue and holiness. So your time of life will be well employed and in the end you will receive from the Lord, whom you serve, a very abundant reward.
Young persons may perceive, from what has been said, how great an advantage may be made by an early dedication of themselves to God. You are in, or approaching to, the best part of life. Have you no desire that it may be employed to some good purposes? Is it not a pity that the world and you should lose your best time, and all the vigour and activity of powers?
your highest Improve then the early days of life in preparatory studies and labours for future usefulness; that you may be qualified to discharge the duties of your station with reputation and credit. How great is their happiness, if they know how to improve it, whose parents furnish them with the best helps for knowledge and wisdom, secular and religious, and who constantly watch over their conduct, and quicken and encourage their pursuit of every thing excellent and laudable! Great likewise is their privilege, who, when their nearest relatives are straitened, are kindly forwarded and assisted by others of generous minds, who liberally afford them all proper helps for attaining the knowledge suited to their rank and condition. These are accountable for such a privilege, and should improve the time allotted for attaining that skill and science, which may enable them to live comfortably in the world.
Are you in years? Have you passed the morning and noon of life? and are you drawing toward the very evening? and has all that time been wasted? It is time to think and consider, and take care to improve what remains. This every one must be convinced of; but perhaps some may be apt to despair of doing any good now. To such I would say: that regard for time past and lost, should not by any means exceed so far as to prevent the improving of what is left. As yet you have an opportunity. Nature may be impaired; but then, possibly, you have fewer avocations. And some temptations, that were strong, have lost their force. Endeavour then to do this good at last, by immediate care and diligence in the great work and business of this life, the service of God, and serious preparation for another world, to leave behind you the testimony of a full conviction, that after having tried the ways of sin, the way of holiness and virtue is to be preferred.
Are you rich and exalted in this world? You are by your condition discharged from many of the low offices of life which are performed for you by others. You may therefore employ yourselves in things of a higher nature: in contemplating the works of creation and Providence, in studying the principles of natural and revealed religion. So you may furnish your minds with a rich treasure of delightful and useful knowledge. And you may have opportunities of communicating excellent instruction to those whose mean employments hinder their making many reflections for themselves. Or, you may assist, direct, relieve, such as are in want and perplexity.