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Sermon #26 — James Series
Title: “What is your Life?”
Text: James 4:13-16
Subject: Life, Death, and Eternity
Date: Tuesday Evening — October 27, 2015
Readings: Lindsay Campbell and David Burge
(James 4:13-16) (13) Go to now, ye that say, To day or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: (14) Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (15) For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (16) But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
“What is your life?” That is my subject. — “What is your life?” Instead of saying that we are going into the city today or tomorrow, and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain, we ought to say, considering how frail and uncertain our lives are, — “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or do that.”
The Fool’s Prayer
As I prepared this message, I remembered a poem I memorized as a young man, a poem that really had very little meaning to me, when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was one of those poems I had to memorize and recite in a literature class. It was called “The Fool’s Prayer.” Let me tell you, I’ve read it many, many times this week, and it has very great meaning to me now. Let me read it to you.
The Fool’s Prayer
(Edward Rowland Sill — 1841–1887)
“The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: ‘Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!’
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.
He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: ‘O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
‘No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but, Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
‘`Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
`Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.
‘These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
‘The ill-timed truth we might have kept —
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say —
Who knows how grandly it had rung?
‘Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders — (Oh, in shame!)
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
‘Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!’
The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
‘Be merciful to me, a fool!’”
I wish that I could get everyone who hears my voice to do some serious thinking about life and death. We all joke and laugh about getting old. Perhaps we joke and laugh about it far too much. Perhaps the joking and laughing is our way of trying not to think seriously about the fact that we are feeble and dying. And that is no joking matter. There is no subject more serious than death. And there is no appointment more certain than death. The Scripture says, “It’s appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment!” I wish we could think seriously about this subject of growing old, dying, and meeting God in the judgment and spending eternity somewhere. — “What is your life?”
I am not suggesting that we miss the blessings and happiness of life, by constantly dwelling on death. I am not suggesting that at all; God has given us many joys and much happiness, many blessings and countless benefits on this earth.
This is a beautiful world. — “The heavens declare the glory of God. The firmament showeth his handiwork.” God made the world good. He made it beautiful. And he made it for us to use and enjoy. Sin has marred it; but take sin out of this world and it would be a wonderful place. I am not suggesting that we think about death, judgment, hell, and heaven so much that we ignore the blessings of life and the happiness that our God has given us.
But we should, like Moses, seek grace to number our days and apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:10-12).
(Psalm 90:10-12) (10) The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away…(12) So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
A wise man, a truly wise man, will consider what he is. — He is dust, just dust. His life is a vapor. It is swiftly passing away. The Scripture says, “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away.” The Word of God declares that your life and mine is just grass, withering grass, that is soon blown away.
He who is wise will consider what he is and will consider where he is going. A wise man will consider what his future holds. And he will also consider what sort of hope he has for the future and where he will spend eternity. — Longfellow wrote?
“Life is real; life is earnest:
The grave is not its goal:
Dust thou art to dust returneth,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
A King and His Jester
Now, let me tell you the story behind the poem I read to you a few minutes ago. The poem spoke of a great king in a foreign country who had a jester, a court-clown, for his entertainment. The court-clown was very good at his work and very good in entertaining the king and his guests. He was so foolish that the king knighted him and called him “Sir Fool.”
One day the king called Sir Fool into the throne room. After he had greatly entertained him, the king presented his court jester with a gift. He gave him a gold-tipped walking cane, with a gold knob on it. When he gave the walking cane to the jester, he said; “Sir Fool, I believe that you are the biggest fool that I have ever met.”
He said, “If you ever find someone who is a bigger fool than you are, give him this cane.” The fool thanked the king for the cane and left.
The years passed. They were good friends, the king and the jester. But, one day, after many years, someone came to the jester and said to him, “The king wants to see you. The king is a sick man. He is dying and he wants to bid farewell to you.”
So, the jester went up to the king’s bedroom where he lay dying. When he came up beside the bed the king said to him, “I wanted to tell you good bye.” The jester said, “Is my lord taking a trip?” The king said, “Yes, I am taking a long, long, journey.” The jester said, “Where are you going?” The king said, “I’m not sure.” The jester said, “Well, when are you coming back?” The king said, “Well, I fear that I am not coming back.” The jester said, “Well, your Majesty, what preparation have you made for this trip?”
There was a long silence, and a tear came into the eye of the old king, and he said, “Well, I’m afraid that I have made no preparation for this journey at all.” The jester looked at him and said, “You mean that you are going on a long journey and you are not coming back, you are going to stay in this place where you are going and you have made no preparation at all for the journey?”
The king said, “That’s correct. I am afraid I have made no preparation at all.” When he said that the jester handed him the gold-knobbed walking cane and he said to the king, “your Majesty, with apologies, I believe that you are a bigger fool than I. This is your cane; I give it back to you.”
How will I die?
That is what I am talking about. I want us to think seriously about this thing of death, this thing of judgment and eternity. I often wonder how I will die. Do you? Do you ever think about that?
I know that I am older than many of you; and some of you are older than me. Do you ever wonder how you will die? Do you ever wonder when you will die? Do you ever wonder what shall be your hope and confidence when you come to die? Will you be able to face death at rest, at peace, and with confidence that you will live always with the Redeemer? — “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his” (Numbers 23:10). This is how the righteous man, Jacob, died (Genesis 49:33; Hebrews 11:21).
(Genesis 49:33) (33) And when Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people.
(Hebrews 11:21) (21) By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
Now, let’s look at this question that James raises in our text — “What is your life?” (James 4:14). I am sure I could get many answers to that question from this congregation; but let’s go to the Scriptures. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture. That’s right; the best way to find out about what a Scripture means is to find another Scripture on that subject.
The Word of God has a lot to say on this subject. — “What is your life?” If you have a pencil and paper, jot down the Scripture references, as I give them to you. We are not going to take the time to turn to them; but I would like for you to write them down and go back and study them again.
So, let’s see if we can find the answer to James’ question, “What is your life,” in the Word of God.
· Life is something we all have.
· Life is something we all take for granted.
· Life is something we all must soon give up.
· Its Swiftness
· Its Uncertainty
· Its Hope
1st — The Bible talks about the swiftness of life. What is your life, what is your life? Your life is soon over. How swiftly it is gone!
I know you who are young look upon life as a long experience. If you are 21, 22, 23, 24, or 25 you plan to live a long time. Most of you probably spend a lot of time, effort, and money, hoping to secure a long, healthy, and prosperous life.
But if you ask one of these grandpas or great-grandpas here how long life is, you will get a different opinion. The man who is 60, or 70, or 80 years old has been here about as long as you are likely to live. Ask him how long life is. He will say, “Son, it’s just a day and a half, two or three at most.”
The older you get the faster the years go by. The years go by like days after you get to be 50 or 60 years old. The years roll by so quickly; and life is soon gone. The older you get the faster it goes by.
To a young man looking forward to life 40, 50, 60, 70, or more years, it seems so long. But, to old people looking back on life, it just seems like yesterday they were children sitting around their mother and father’s table. Life swiftly goes by.
A Post — Let’s see what the Scripture says about it. In Job 9:25, Job says, “My days are swifter than a post; they flee away and see no good.” What is he talking about?
Well, back in the days of Job, the mail was delivered by runners, or by men riding fast horses. We had something like this in the West in the olden days. We had the Pony Express. They had relay stations. A man would have letters to deliver or messages to deliver. He would get on a horse, here, and he would ride as fast as possible to the relay station where they would have a horse saddled and ready for him.
He would get off the tired horse, mount the fresh one, and ride as fast as possible to the next station. He would get off that horse and onto another and ride until he completed his ride.
That is what Job is talking about when he says, our lives go by so swiftly. Each year is like those fast horses. We get off one and onto the other. We get off of that one onto another. We get off of that one unto another until, soon, we reach the end of the journey. Our years are like those fast horses. They go by so quickly.
A Ship — Here’s another illustration. Job says, in Job 9:26, — “My days are passed away as the swift ships.” There is no stopping it. The wind gets into the sails and the ship just speeds along to its destination. Job is talking about ships under full sail. This is a ship hurrying for the home port. In those days, it was driven by the wind and had nothing to stop it. — My days are swifter than a ship under full sail.
An Eagle — In Job 9:26, again, Job is still talking and says, “My days are as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.” Did you ever watch an eagle fly in the sky? The eagle glides smoothly, sailing about and suddenly, the eagle spots its prey. The prey may be on the ground, or in a tree. The eagle’s eye spots the prey far away and it dives to catch its prey, like a falling airplane. That is what Job is saying here, “My days go by so swiftly.” This is not like the eagle sitting on its nest or floating in the sky. — My days are swiftly flying by!
A Weaver’s Shuttle — Then, in Job 7:6, Job says, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope.” Did you ever see anyone weave a rug, a blanket, or piece of cloth on an old fashioned weaver, with an old fashioned shuttle? It just flies. It flies faster, really, than the eye can see it. The rug or blanket is done in no time. That’s what Job says. — My life, my days, are like a weaver’s shuttle. They are gone in no time.
The Wind — Then, in Job 7:7, he says “O remember that my life is wind,” sudden, swift, and gone! Did you ever stand out in the field, with everything as calm as could be, and suddenly you heard the rustling of the leaves and saw the bending of the trees? A wind comes up so quickly and blows. I seems like it is going to blow you away. Then in a minute or two, everything is calm again.
Do you see what the Lord is telling us? Life is moving swiftly along, swiftly along. Life is like fast horses on a relay, a post relay. Life is like the swift ships driven by the wind. Life is like an eagle that hastes after its prey. Life is like a weaver’s shuttle; each day passes by like the weaver’s shuttle, weaving the garment. Life is like the wind. — “Boast not thyself of tomorrow.” Our tomorrows may all be gone. Boast not thyself of tomorrow.
Are you with me? Oh, the swiftness of life! What is your life? It is a quickly, passing, thing, something that will be gone before you know it.
2nd — Let’s see what this Book tells us about the uncertainty of life. Again, there are so many Scriptures referring to the uncertainty of life that I’ve had to leave out more than I can cite in this message. I’m going to deal with just a few passages that I have found in the Word of God.
A Vapor — James tells us what life is. He says, “It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and vanisheth away.” Did you ever go out on the lake before the sun comes up some morning? You can see a vapor rising from the lake. There is a mist, or a fog that is rising from the lake. It is all over the lake. You see it everywhere. Then, the sun pops up over the hill and shines down on the lake, and the fog just slips away and is gone. Life is frail like that. It is frail as a vapor, as a mist of fog. It is fleeting and uncertain. That is what James tells to us.
· A Steam Kettle
· Your Breath on a Frosty Morning
What is your life? It is a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then it is gone.
A Shadow — Then, in Ecclesiastes 6:12, the wise man tells us that all the days of a man’s vain life “he spendeth as a shadow” We think about a vapor being frail and uncertain. How about a shadow? There is nothing with less substance than a shadow. There is nothing with less certainty than a shadow. A tree is firm and strong, but the shadow is nothing. The great wall that you built with your stones, and your bricks, and mortar may be substantial, but the shadow of the wall is nothing. It is there, and then it’s not there.
(1 Chronicles 29:15) (15) For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.
(Job 8:9) (9) (For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow.)
(Psalm 102:11) (11) My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.
(Psalm 144:4) (4) Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.
(Ecclesiastes 8:13) (13) Neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow.
(Ecclesiastes 6:12) (12) For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
A Tent — Listen to Isaiah 38:12.
(Isaiah 38:12) (12) Mine age is departed, and is removed from me as a shepherd’s tent: I have cut off like a weaver my life: he will cut me off with pining sickness: from day even to night wilt thou make an end of me.
Can you see the shepherd out there on the side of the mountain? He is grazing his sheep. He is not going to be there long. He’s just going to be there until the clover is gone, or until the grass is gone. He is going to be there a little while.
He doesn’t build a house there. He doesn’t put a fence around his tent. He doesn’t plant a garden, or plant trees. He pitches a little tent, a lean-to. It’s a temporary dwelling place. It is just something to shield him from the wind, the sand, and the sun. He won’t be there very long. That’s what the prophet Isaiah says. — My life is removed from me like a shepherd’s tent.
Withering Grass — In Isaiah 40:6-7
(Isaiah 40:6-7) (6) The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: (7) The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
Why do we try to sink our roots so deep? I don’t know why but we do. Life is so frail and so fleeting, and so uncertain, yet we try to sink our roots deep. We build our mansions and put fences around them, as if we were going to stay here.
The Word of God says this — “God knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as the grass, as the flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” Oh yes, he’s strong, handsome, and full of health and strength. But, “the wind passeth over and it is gone; and the place thereof, shall know it no more.”
A Tale Told — As I said, there are many, many Scriptures on the uncertainty of life. Other Scriptures picture life as a pilgrimage, as a “tale that is told.” — “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9). — “It is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
A Dream — The days of our lives “fly away as a dream” (Job 20:8).
· A dream seems so real.
· It appears to last a very long time.
· But it’s not real.
· It only for a few seconds.
“Swift to its close
Ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim
Its glories fade away
Change and decay
All around me I see
O Thou that changeth not
Abide with me.”
A Pilgrimage — Our life, at its longest length, is but a short pilgrimage through this world to eternity. Then, when the pilgrimage is over…
(Job 20:6-9) (6) Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; (7) Yet he shall perish forever like his own dung: they which have seen him shall say, Where is he? (8) He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night. (9) The eye also which saw him shall see him no more; neither shall his place any more behold him.
3rd — Let’s close with this thought — What is the hope of life, what is the hope of eternal life? I do want you to turn to this text — 1st John 5:11. I’ve been talking to you about human life, natural life, the life of fallen man. Let me talk to you for just a minute or two about eternal life. There is such a thing as eternal life. I want every one of you to go home rejoicing “in hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began…being justified by his grace…(and) made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2-7).
(1 John 5:11) (11) And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
“And this is the record.” — This is the promise of God. This is the Word of God. The Word of God cannot lie. The Word of God cannot fail. Paul called it, “a faithful saying, (a sure saying), and worthy of acceptation” by all men. This is the record; this is the Word of God. What does it say? It says that…
“God hath given to us eternal life.” — Who gave it to us? God did. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t merit it. And we didn’t buy it. God gave it to us.
· God the Father thought it.
· God the Son bought it.
· God the Holy Ghost brought it.
“God hath given us eternal life.” Eternal life is the gift of God. That is the first thing I know about eternal life.
And eternal life is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Christ is our Life. We have eternal life in him, only in him.
· Not in His Doctrine
· Not in Our Creed
· Not in the Church
· Not in Our Experience
· Not in Our Works
· Not in Our Feelings
· Not in Religious Relics
· Not in Religious Ordinances
· Not in Our Faith
Eternal life is in Christ. We have eternal life only as we have union with him.
· Eternal Union
· Living Union
· Marriage Union
(Galatians 2:20) (20) I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
(Colossians 3:1-4) (1) If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (2) Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (3) For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (4) When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
Eternal life is knowing God. — It is believing God. I do not suggest that you get eternal life by believing God. Eternal life is believing God!
(John 20:30-31) (30) And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: (31) But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
(1 John 5:13) (13) These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Yes, I am going to die. And I am thankful for that prospect. Yes, I will meet God at the judgment. And I’m looking forward to it. I am “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life!” And this is what I am looking for — Revelation 21:1-5.
(Revelation 21:1-5) (1) And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. (2) And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (3) And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (4) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (5) And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
“What is your life?” — Have you understood what I have preached to you? It is a vapor. It appears briefly. Then it’s gone. It is swiftly passing by. The years you have, most of them are gone for some of you. The tomorrows that you have been talking about, most of them are gone.
Life is so uncertain and so frail and fleeting. But, eternity is certain. Judgment is sure. Eternity is long. Where will you spend eternity? If you have the Son by faith, you have eternal life. — “For me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain.”
“What is your life?” — I will tell you what my life is. — Christ is my Life! — “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we appear with him in glory!” — Oh, may God be pleased to give Christ to you, may God give him to you, may God be pleased to gift you with eternal life, for Christ’s sake!