The Brevity of Life

James 4:14
       What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Of everything that is uncertain in life, the most uncertain of all is life itself. No one can predict what will happen next, no one knows at what moment that final blow will come and we shall cease to be.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): It sends a shiver through some when we begin to speak of death, and the bravest man who ever lived may well tremble at the thought that he must soon meet the king of terrors.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: To me there is nothing more [silly and pointless] about mankind than the statement that to think about death is morbid. The man who refuses to face facts is a fool…The non-Christian does everything he can not to think of the world beyond. That is the whole meaning of the pleasure mania of today. It is just a great conspiracy and effort to stop thinking, and especially to avoid thinking of death and the world to come. That is typical of the non-Christian; there is nothing he so hates as talking about death and eternity.

ROBERT PHILIP (1791-1858): We cannot force such glimpses of eternity, as the approach of death forces upon us…Indeed, our reluctance to speak or think much of immortality is almost as great as our aversion to annihilation. This is a strange inconsistency! We loathe [any thought of] the extinction of our being, and yet shrink from dwelling on the eternity of it.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): Reflections on death can never be unseasonable while we are in a dying world, and a dying church, and are conscious that we ourselves are dying creatures…This life, upon which every thing depends, is very brief: this is fearful. Look at the images of Scripture: a flower of the field; a flood; a watch in the night; a dream; a vapour.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: The moment you come into this world you are beginning to go out of it.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Every one, even in the full vigor of age, carries with him a thousand deaths. Death claims as its own the fetus in the mother’s womb, and accompanies it through every stage of life. But as it urges the old more closely, so they ought to place it more constantly before their eyes, and should pass as pilgrims through the world, as those who have already one foot in the grave.

WILLIAM JAY: Observe the frailty of your frame. Remember the numberless diseases and accidents to which you are exposed. Think of your pulse, where the question is asked sixty times every minute, whether you shall live or die.

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): As many pores as there are in the skin, so many windows there are for death to enter at.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): Death is a mighty leveller. He spares none and he waits for none. He will not wait until you are ready. Doors, bars, and locks will not keep him out. A person boasts that their home is their castle, but with all their boasting, they cannot exclude death. An Austrian nobleman would not allow death and the smallpox to be named in his presence. But, named or not named, it matters little, in God’s appointed hour death will come.

WILLIAM JAY: Consider the deaths that come under your own observation.

ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748): When I see a friend expiring, or the corpse of my neighbour conveyed to the grave: alas! their months and minutes are all determined, and the seasons of their trial are finished for ever; they are gone to their eternal home, and the estate of their soul is fixed unchangeably: the angel that has sworn their ‘time shall be no longer’ has concluded their hopes, or has finished their fears, and, according to the rules of righteous judgment, has decided their misery or happiness for a long immortality.

HUGH LATIMER (1483-1555): When one dieth, we must have bells ringing, singing, and much ado: but to what purpose? Those that die in the favour of God are well; those that die out of the favour of God, this can do them no good. Where the tree falleth, there it shall remain, Ecclesiastes 11:3.

ISAAC WATTS: Are we standing in the churchyard, paying the last honours to the relics of our friends? What a number of hillocks of death appear all round us! What are the tombstones but memorials of the inhabitants of that town, to inform us of the period of all their lives, and to point out the day when it was said to each of them, your ‘time shall be no longer.’ Oh may I readily learn this important lesson, that my turn is hastening too! Such a little hillock shall shortly arise for me on some unknown spot of ground; it shall cover this flesh and these bones of mine in darkness, and shall hide them from the light of the sun, and from the sight of man. Perhaps some kind surviving friend may engrave my name, with the number of my day, upon a plain funeral stone, without ornament and below envy; there shall my tomb stand, among the rest, as a fresh monument of the frailty of nature and the end of time. Oh that solemn, that awful day, which shall finish my appointed time on earth, and put a full period to all the designs of my heart and all the labours of my tongue and pen. Think, oh my soul!

C. H. SPURGEON: Last of all, to come still more closely home, the approach of death is to most men a dreadful fast. Not the Mohammedan Ramadan can be more full of piteous grief than some men when they are obliged to think of death. If some of you were put into a room to-morrow and were compelled to stay there all day, and to think of death, it would certainly be a very gloomy time to you. You will die, however, perhaps suddenly, perhaps by slow degrees. There will come a time when people will walk very gently round your bed, when they will wipe the death-sweat from your brow, when they will bow over you to see whether you still breathe, or whether you have gone.

ISAAC WATTS: Take this warning―and think of thine own removal!

J. C. RYLE: If you desire to be a healthy Christian, consider often what your own end will be. Will it be happiness—or will it be misery? Will it be the death of the righteous—or will it be a death without hope?

MARY WINSLOW (1774-1854): We are still journeying onward—but where? is the question. Is it not a solemn thought? Should we not examine well our chart and the way-marks, to see if we are in the right way? Should this be left to an uncertainty by a wise man? Again, I repeat the solemn truth, we are on an eventful journey, which must terminate in eternal life or in eternal death.

JAMES JANEWAY (1636-1674): How can you live within a few inches of death, and look the king of terror in the face every day, without some well grounded evidence of your interest in God’s love?

ISAAC WATTS: I am hastening hourly to the end of the life of man, which began at my nativity: am I yet born of God? Have I begun the life of a saint? Am I prepared for that awful day which shall determine the number of my months on earth? Am I fit to be born into the world of spirits through the strait gate of death? Am I [ready] to enter into that unseen world, where there shall be no more of these revolutions of days and years, but one eternal day fills up all the space with Divine pleasure, or one eternal night with long and deplorable distress and darkness?

RICHARD SIBBES (1577-1635): This word ‘eternal’―it is a heavy word.

JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703-1758): O God, stamp eternity on my eyeballs!


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