IT is because I feel my personal need of this timely admonition that I have read it before you this morning, and I doubt not those of you who are in some measure taught by the Spirit and grace of God will feel to be of the same mind. Time is flying swiftly and rapidly away. We are filling up the brief, short span of this our mortal life. Life is short, necessarily so, as a consequence of sin, and it may well be said that we know not what a day may bring forth. This is particularly true in these grievous, evil days in which we are living, when men's hearts are failing them for fear. We are more or less in a tension of grave apprehension of what may come upon us in the near future. We do not wish to be indifferent to the things that are taking place; but the saints of God have this comfort--their times are in the hand of God. All our times are in His hand, and when faith is given to appreciate this rightly it will afford a measure of consolation and rest to the spirit. Even in troublous times, midst gathering clouds and threatening storms, a child of God blessed with living faith may take refuge in the faithful word and promise God has given to His people. It is well for us, then, as enabled, to apprehend what God has said and to enter into our chambers: "Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." (Isa. 26:20) We are not immune from natural fear, yet we may be favored to hear the Lord speaking to us, saying, "Fear not!" as He did to His beloved servant David: "Fear not....be strong, yea, be strong;" and when the Lord said that, Daniel said, "I was strengthened." When the Lord speaks the divine word to a sinner, there is power in that word. Therefore, though there is indeed much to give rise to natural fear, to make the hearts of men and the hearts of God's people too, tremble, yet we are not without a Refuge--blessed be God! He declares Himself to be the Refuge of His people: "The eternal God is thy Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."
The word I have felt led to read is perceptive and has relation to time and the redemption of time: 'Redeeming the time;' and the reason, "Because the days are evil." The word or term 'time' seems to suggest a limitation, a certain limited duration or period. If we take away all limitations and boundaries we launch forth as it were, into a boundless expanse. There are, in a sense, two things, time and eternity, here. Time must necessarily have certain limitations, else the word has no application. It means a limited period; take away those limitations and we have eternity. Eternity, though it embraces time, stretches immeasurably and incomprehensibly beyond it. Eternity is something we cannot understand, and it is not intended that we should. No beginning, no ending, has eternity. Time necessarily involves a commencement and a conclusion, a beginning and an ending. In just observing one or two points here before passing on, we may say that time, as so termed, has respect to the duration of the world. God has fixed that time to a moment, undoubtedly. It is a time known only to Him; it is not given to us to know the times and seasons, the brief days, years or centuries before 'the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll,' and 'the elements shall melt with fervent heat;' before there will be that one great conflagration, and the earth shall be burnt up, and the angel shall appear from heaven with the open book in his hand, with a voice as a lion roaring and declaring the Word of God, saying that time shall be no longer. But there is a duration, a time fixed for the earth to stand, from the creation to the end, 'the restitution of all things,' and the word, as in Scripture, refers to that period.
Time has also respect to our own particular lives, the number of our days which again are in the secret will of God--wisely so. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." The Apostle in another place says, "This I say, brethren, the time is short." Our life is said to be but a vapor, a span, a flash. Soon the place that knows us now will know us no more for ever. We must soon depart into an unseen world. We cannot lift the veil now, but Holy Scripture declares that we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ and must be adjudged either to eternal life or death for ever and ever, Amen. When we consider this, we do well to make close and solemn inspection of our own case before God, as to how and where we stand. It has been said that he who has a soul to save has not a moment to lose. He who has Christ and heaven to win cannot afford one idle moment. Life is necessarily uncertain; we know not how soon the message may come and our eternal destiny, perhaps now not clearly defined to us, be surely manifest. Well is it then to pray from our hearts,
"Prepare me, gracious God,
To stand before Thy face;
Thy Spirit must the work perform,
For it is all of grace."
The Scriptures speak of the Lord's time and our time. When the brethren of the Lord Jesus wanted Him to go into Judea, apparently for some ulterior motive, He reproved them and said, "My time is not yet come: but your time is alway ready." We are often ready to fix our own time in which to do this or that thing, but the Lord says, "My time is not yet." It is seldom possible that our time and the Lord's time in certain things are the same. While we might be anxious to move in certain things, the Lord would say, "Wait upon Me; your time is now, My time is not yet; wait upon Me." There is, too, "an appointed time to man upon earth." Job said that all the days of his appointed time would he wait till his change came; by which we gather that he was willing to submit those matters into the hand of God subjectively and passively, not knowing how many days were allotted to him. But there is a time appointed of the Lord to fulfill His purposes. We believe that all things are in the hand of God; we believe He has an appointed time fixed to fulfill His secret, His eternal decrees. This may be in relation to all events in divine providence pertaining to us individually and collectively. "The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry." The will of God, now secret, in due course becomes the revealed will, when His purposes are made known, when He performs the things appointed for us.
The particular point for consideration here is the redemption of time: 'Redeeming the time.' We know that we are in time, that it is swiftly passing away, that we shall very, very soon merge into an endless eternity in comparison with which time, even the duration of the whole world, is like a fleeting spark; but when we consider this and the word here before us, what are we to do? How can we redeem the time in these evil days? In one sense we cannot redeem past time; we cannot recall one day of our lives and live that day over again. A day spent is a day gone, a day gone into eternity, so to speak. The way or manner in which that day was spent, the state of our hearts, lives, motives, actions, all drop back into the past; we can never live yesterday or the past week over again. Every day is as a new day, to live as a new life. We cannot recall a moment, and it is truly impossible to go back to youth and infancy and live a life over again. In that respect therefore we cannot redeem the time. But in the sense in which the word is here intended, I believe we may to some point redeem the time, even in relation to former days. To redeem is to buy up the opportunity; to improve, to make the best possible use of our time. But how can we do this in relation to time that is past? I suggest three ways. First, we may, to some point, redeem time past by a prayerful examination of the way in which our former lives have been spent, in confession, and in humbling ourselves before God. In the scriptures we have many instances of redeeming the time; and if we take two striking ones from Nehemiah 9 and Daniel 9, part of which we read, we may see the best possible way in which we may redeem the time as pertaining to the past. The only right way in this particular is to humble ourselves before God in a deep confession of our sins, which may bring a measure of grief and sorrow and contrition of heart in the remembrance of them. Nehemiah and other good men called the people together, proclaimed a fast, and made a public confession of sin for their former iniquities; and Nehemiah went through their history, rehearsing the goodness of God, and their wickedness, calling them to confession and repentance; so 'redeeming the time.' Good Daniel, too, a 'man greatly beloved,' was led very blessedly into this on behalf of his people in their captivity; he was led to confess and mourn before God the desolation of the Sanctuary, the sins of the princes, nobles and rulers, and to wait humbly upon God for His mercy; and that seemed to be the turning point of their captivity. We see Daniel's confession and prayer for the Lord's return and deliverance, and the answer to it in the people's deliverance by God's providence; and after returning to their own land and in some measure restoring the waste places and building the wall and the temple in troublous times, we see them acknowledging the hand of God and worshipping Him, yet still making confession of their sins. So one good way of redeeming the time in relation to past days of our life is in confession of sin. Confession, confession, confession! Mercy, mercy, mercy! 'Redeeming the time.'
Then again, we may redeem the time by seeking unto God that we may learn some profitable lessons through our former mistakes and what we may have suffered consequently; that is another profitable way of redeeming the time. Some of us may look back with sorrow upon a misspent life; the spirit perhaps in which we have been in our trials, the impatience we have manifested and the rebellion that has risen up in our hearts against God when the hand of affliction has been upon us; the hard thoughts we have had of God, and the disposition of our poor, depraved nature to do this or that thing. Some of us may have taken steps, perhaps, in something, in our own strength, or by the determination of our own will brought ourselves into difficulties, in former days. I doubt if anyone can look back upon his life as now spent and say, I have nothing to regret in regard to anything I have said, any step I have taken, or my deportment and walk before God and His people; nothing to regret! Shall we not have to say, O Lord, how I have fallen! How I have sinned! How foolish I have been here and there! Well, if by this reflection profitable lessons have been learned of the depravity of our nature and heart, then we may redeem the time and seek that, by God's grace and help, we may live nearer to Him than we have done. We may learn lessons by past experience, may we not?
Then again, another way of redeeming the time with regard to former days is in reviewing the goodness of God to us and the way He has led us. "Thou shalt remember all the way the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness." Look back upon it, friends, look back upon it! What will it do for you? It may do two things; it may fill your heart with the goodness of God to unworthy you, and humble your heart under a sense of your own backslidings and failures. But O, notwithstanding that, some of you, when you look back, have to say, The Lord has been good to me. Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life. When I have departed from Him He has laid His hand upon me, and though I have indeed been chastened, yet in love He has brought me back again to His feet. O, how good He has been! That is redeeming the time! If you feel your heart softened a little by the goodness of God to you in former days, then pay your vows, give thanks unto His Name at the remembrance of His holiness, for it is of His mercies we are not consumed. I should be disposed to say that every child of God could look back upon his life and say, Lord, how unworthy am I of such manifested goodness! Not only have some of you seen the hand of God in His providential dealings with you, but O how good He has been to your soul! He has not left you to fill up the measure of your iniquity in hardness of heart and enmity, to die and be lost for ever. No! Then can you not say, I will "abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness?" His goodness is great. Ah! what can be more humbling than this? When we are favored so to look back we abase ourselves. O yes! and admire the patience and longsuffering mercy of God unto us, notwithstanding all our provocations. 'Redeeming the time.' Thus, in those three particular ways, to some point at least, the Lord's people, as exercised towards Him, may redeem the time.
How can we redeem the time in relation to present and future days? I believe that we may do it by seeking prayerfully unto God, committing our cause unto Him, and praying that we may grow in grace and in a deeper knowledge of Himself. A good way of redeeming the time! Do you have often to mourn your lack of light, of knowledge, of revelation, of grace? Seek unto Him; the Apostle desires that he might "know Him and the power of His resurrection;" and when, in the exercise of faith given, we can wait upon God for a clearer, deeper knowledge of His mind and will, that we may understand what the will of the Lord is and thus be not unwise, we are redeeming the time; that is, we are making the best possible use of it. Remember what I said at the beginning: an old divine said, If we have a soul to save we have not a moment to lose; and one way of redeeming the time now is to seek unto God, confess former departures and failures, and apply diligently unto Him for growth in grace, a deeper knowledge of His mind and will in our experience. How profitable this must be, must it not? and if we bring it down to this one point we can say this sums it up, "Jesus reveal Thyself to me." O to know more of a precious Christ, to have Him formed in our hearts the hope of glory, to have a blessed assurance that we are "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." 'Redeeming the time!'
Not only so, but we may redeem the time by a close, diligent prayerful searching and reading of the Scripture, and in praying for a deeper understanding of the meaning of the Holy Ghost there; a good way of redeeming the time! Hart has said with regard to reading the Scripture, 'Join prayer with each inspection.' Prayerful reading of the Word of God when opportunity offers is a good way of redeeming the time. It is, in short, making the best use of the short, fleeting spark of time allotted to us here in this world. Not only so, but a gracious attendance upon the Word and ordinances of truth and the means of grace is a good way of redeeming the time; not simply to put in so many attendances and then to gather to yourself a kind of satisfaction that you have not missed any service where you could possibly avoid doing so, but in a prayerful, a gracious attendance upon the means of grace, in seeking the face of God, in coming hungry, desiring food for your soul, in seeking confirmation in the matters that pertain to your soul's standing before God, in some spiritual edification or reproof, as it may be. With the Psalmist there was a holy delight in this. "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple." (Ps. 27:4) It is good for us when, being hungry for God, we look forward in sweet anticipation to assembling with the saints of God and meeting with them now, desiring, hoping that God may speak to our souls in a way of heavenly instruction. O what a mercy to be lively in the things of God. 'Redeeming the time.'
Why? Why all this? 'Because the days are evil.' What is the reason or cause why the days are evil? The only answer we can give is this,
"O thou hideous monster sin,
What a curse hast thou brought in!
All creation groans through thee,
Pregnant cause of misery."
There is the answer to that query, why are the days evil? In one respect we might say that the days have been evil ever since sin entered into the world, from the first transgression onward. They were good days when Adam, in sinless innocence, walked in communion and fellowship with God; but by the subtlety of the wicked serpent our first parents fell, and they and we fell on evil days, and evil they have been too. We see the increasing tide and flood of iniquity covering the earth, and the visitation of divine judgment in a mighty deluge sweeping away that wicked generation. Evil days! So we might go right through, but I must close by observing that the present days are evil days. For that reason in particular I offer this timely injunction, 'Redeeming the time.' The days are evil, they are exceedingly portentous, and those things predicted by Paul to Timothy concerning the last days are exceeding prevalent today. "Men shall be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." Evil days are seen in the world's mad push for pleasure, the woeful desecration of the Lord's day, the deserting of the public means of grace, dishonoring God; modernistic teaching in schools, poisoning the minds of the young with pernicious errors, so that the future generation is, as it were, growing up under the cloud of evil, atheism, infidelity and all wickedness. Mercifully there are exceptions; but generally speaking we see the rising tide of evil, sin, wickedness, and the approaching judgments of God. The lack of union, the strife, contention and other things, even among professing bodies in religion, are all signs of evil days. Let us therefore, by God's grace, redeem the time; that is, apply ourselves secretly and publicly to seek God, implore His divine mercy, His needed help. His divine direction, His forgiving grace, His sustaining power to keep us, to help us to live, to direct us; redeem the time that we may live to His glory and, when His appointed time comes, be taken home, where there shall be no sin. Amen.