- "Holy and humble Christian love, is a principle of wonderful power to give
ineffable quietness and tranquillity to the soul. It banishes all disturbance, and sweetly
composes and brings rest to the spirit, and makes all divinely calm and sweet and happy.
In that soul where divine love reigns and is in lively exercise, nothing can cause a
storm, or even gather threatening clouds."
THE PRECIOUS IMPORTANCE OF TIME AND THE IMPORTANCE OF REDEEMING IT
- By Jonathan Edwards
"Redeeming the time." (Ephesians 5:16)
Christians should not only study to improve the opportunities they enjoy, for their own
advantage, as those who would make a good bargain; but also labor to reclaim others from
their evil courses; that so God might defer his anger, and time might be redeemed from
that terrible destruction, which, when it should come, would put an end to the time of
divine patience. And it may be upon this account, that this reason is added, "Because
the days are evil." As if the apostle had said, the corruption of the times tends to
hasten threatened judgments, but your holy and circumspect walk will tend to redeem time
from the devouring jaws of those calamities. However, thus much is certainly held forth to
us in the words- That upon time we should set a high value, and be exceeding careful that
it be not lost; and we are therefore exhorted to exercise wisdom and circumspection, in
order that we may redeem it. And hence it appears, that you is exceedingly precious.
Why time is precious. Time is precious for the following reasons:
- 1. Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.
Things are precious in proportion to their importance, or to the degree wherein they
concern our welfare. Men set the highest value on those things upon which they are
sensible their interest chiefly depends. And this renders time so exceedingly precious,
because our eternal welfare depends on the improvement of it. Indeed our welfare in this
world depends upon its improvement. If we improve it not, we shall be in danger of coming
to poverty and disgrace. But by a good improvement of it, we may obtain those things which
will be useful and comfortable. But it is above all things precious, as our state through
eternity depends upon it. The importance of the improvement of time upon other accounts,
is in subordination to this.
Gold and silver are esteemed precious by men; but they are of no worth to any man, only as
thereby he has an opportunity of avoiding or removing some evil, or of possessing himself
of some good. And the greater the evil is which any man has advantage to escape, or the
good which he has advantage to obtain, by any thing that he possesses, by so much the
greater is the value of that thing to him, whatever it be. Thus if a man, by any thing
which he has, may save his life, which he must lose without it, he will look upon that by
which he has the opportunity of escaping so great an evil as death, to be very precious.
Hence it is that time is so exceedingly precious, because by it we have opportunity of
escaping everlasting misery, and of obtaining everlasting blessedness and glory. On this
depends our escape from an infinite evil, and our attainment of an infinite good.
2. Time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious. The scarcity
of any commodity occasions men to set a higher value upon it, especially if it be
necessary and they cannot do without it. Thus when Samaria was besieged by the Syrians,
and provisions were exceedingly scarce, "a donkey's head was sold for fourscore
pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove's dung for five pieces of
silver." 2 Kings 6:25. So time is the more to be prized by men, because a whole
eternity depends upon it, and yet we have but a little of time. "When a few years are
come, then I shall go the way whence I shall not return." (Job 16:22.) "My days
are swifter than a runner. They are passed away as the swift ships, as the eagle that
hastens to the prey." Job 9:25, 26. "Our life, what is it? it is but a vapor
which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away." James 4:14. It is but as a
moment to eternity. Time is so short, and the work which we have to do in it is so great,
that we have none of it to spare. The work which we have to do to prepare for eternity
must be done in time, or it never can be done; and it is found to be a work of great
difficulty and labor, and therefore that for which time is the more requisite.
3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its
continuance. We know that it is very short, but we know not how short. We know not how
little of it remains, whether a year, or several years, or only a month, a week, or a day.
We are every day uncertain whether that day will not be the last, or whether we are to
have the whole day. There is nothing that experience does more verify than this. If a man
had but little provision laid up for a journey or a voyage, and at the same time knew that
if his provision should fail, he must perish by the way, he would treasure it all the
more. How much more would many men prize their time if they knew that they had but a few
months, or a few days, more to live! And certainly a wise man will prize his time the
more, as he knows not how much he has himself. This is the case with multitudes now in the
world, who at present enjoy health, and see no signs of approaching death: many such, no
doubt, are to die the next month, many the next week, yes, many probably tomorrow, and
some this night; yet these same persons know nothing of it, and perhaps think nothing of
it, and neither they nor their neighbors can say that they are more likely soon to be
taken out of the world than others. This teaches us how we ought to prize our time, and
how careful we ought to be, that we lose none of it.
4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered. There are many
things which men possess which if they part with, they can obtain them again. If a man has
parted with something which he had, not knowing the worth of it, or the need he should
have of it; he often can regain it, at least with pains and cost. If a man has been taken
in a bargain, and has bartered away or sold something, and afterwards repents of it, he
may often obtain a release, and recover what he had parted with. But it is not so with
respect to time; when once that is gone, it is gone forever; no pains, no cost will
recover it. Though we repent ever so much that we let it pass, and did not improve it
while we had it, it will be to no purpose. Every part of it is successively offered to us,
that we may choose whether we will make it our own, or not. But there is no delay; it will
not wait upon us to see whether or no we will comply with the offer. But if we refuse, it
is immediately taken away, and never offered more. As to that part of time which is gone,
however we have neglected to improve it, it is out of our possession and out of our reach.
If we have lived fifty, or sixty, or seventy years, and have not improved our time, now it
cannot be helped- it is eternally gone from us. All that we can do, is to improve the
little that remains. Yes, if a man have spent all his life but a few moments unimproved,
all that is gone is lost, and only those few remaining moments can possibly be made his
own, and if the whole of a man's time be gone, and it be all lost, it is irrecoverable.
Eternity depends on the improvement of time; but when once the time of life is gone, when
once death is come, we have no more to do with time, there is no possibility of obtaining
the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity. If a man should
lose the whole of his worldly substance, and become a bankrupt, it is possible that his
loss may be made up. He may have another estate as good. But when the time of life is
gone, it is impossible that we should ever obtain another such time. All opportunity of
obtaining eternal welfare is utterly and everlastingly gone.
Reflections on time past.
- You have now heard of the preciousness of time; and you are the persons concerned, to
whom God has committed that precious talent. You have an eternity before you. When God
created you, and gave you reasonable soul- he made you for an endless duration. He gave
you time here in order to prepare for eternity, and your future eternity depends on the
improvement of time. Consider, therefore, what you have done with your past time. You are
not now beginning your time, but a great deal is past and gone; and all the wit, and
power, and treasure of the universe, cannot recover it. Many of you may well conclude,
that more than half of your time is gone; though you should live to the ordinary age of
man, your glass is more than half run out; and it may be there are but few sands
remaining. Your sun is past the meridian, and perhaps just setting, or going into an
everlasting eclipse. Consider, therefore, what account you can give of your improvement of
past time. How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?
Every day that you have enjoyed has been precious; yes, your moments have been precious.
But have you not wasted your precious moments, your precious days, yes your precious
years? If you should reckon up how many days you have lived, what a sum would there be!
and how precious has every one of those days been! Consider, therefore, what have you done
with them? What is become of them all? What can you show of any improvement made, or good
done, or benefit obtained which is answerable to all this time which you have lived? When
you look back, and search, do you not find this past time of your lives in a great measure
empty, having not been filled up with any good improvement? And if God, that has given you
your time, should now call you to an account, what account could you give to him?
How much may be done in a year! how much good is there opportunity to do in such a space
of time! How much service may persons do for God, and how much for their own souls, if to
their utmost they improve it! How much may be done in a day! But what have you done in so
many days and years that you have lived? What have you done with the whole time of your
youth, you that are past your youth? What is become of all that precious season of life?
Has it not all been in barren to you? Would it not have been as well or better for you, if
all that time you had been asleep, or in a state of non-existence?
You have had much time of leisure and freedom from worldly business; consider to what
purpose you have spent it. You have not only had ordinary time, but you have had a great
deal of holy time. What have you done with all the sabbath-days which you have enjoyed?
Consider those things seriously, and let your own consciences make answer.
Who are chiefly deserving of reproof from the subject of the preciousness of time.
How little is the preciousness of time considered, and how little sense of it do the
greater part of mankind seem to have! And to how little good purpose do many spend their
time! There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more wasteful. Time
is with many, as silver was in the days of Solomon- as the stones of the street, and
nothing accounted of. They act as if time were as plenty as silver was then, and as if
they had a great deal more than they needed, and knew not what to do with it. If men were
as lavish with their money as they are of their time, if it were as common a thing for
them to throw away their money, as it is for them to throw away their time, we should
think them beside themselves, and not in the possession of their right minds. Yet time is
a thousand times more precious than money; and when it is gone, cannot be purchased for
money, cannot be redeemed by silver or gold. There are several sorts of persons who are
reproved by this doctrine, whom I shall particularly mention.
1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness, or in doing nothing that turns
to any virtuous account, either for the good of their souls or bodies; nothing either for
their own benefit, or for the benefit of their neighbor, either of the family or of the
neighborhood to which they belong. There are some persons upon whose hands time seems to
lie heavy, who, instead of being concerned to improve it as it passes, and taking care
that it pass not without making it their own, act as if it were rather their concern to
contrive ways how to waste and consume it; as though time, instead of being precious,
rather a mere encumbrance to them. Their hands refuse to labor, and rather than put
themselves to it, they will let their families suffer, and will suffer themselves:
"An idle soul shall suffer hunger." (Proverbs 19:15.) "Drowsiness shall
clothe a man with rags." (Proverbs 22:21.)
Some spend much of their time at the tavern, over their cups, and in wandering about from
house to house, wasting away their hours in idle and unprofitable talk which will turn to
no good account. Proverbs 14:23. "In all labor there is profit; but the talk of the
lips tends only to poverty." The direction of the apostle, in Ephesians 4:28 is, that
we should "labor, working with our hands the thing that is good, that we may have to
give to him that needs." But indolent men, instead of gaining any thing to give to
him that needs, do but waste what they have already- "He that is slothful in his
work, is brother to him that is a great waster." (Proverbs 18:9.)
2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not
merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose, but spend it to ill
purposes. Such do not only lose their time, but they do worse; with it they hurt both
themselves and others. Time is precious, as we have heard, because eternity depends upon
it. By the improvement of time, we have opportunity of escaping eternal misery, and
obtaining eternal blessedness. But those who spend their time in wicked works, not only
neglect to improve their time to obtain eternal happiness, or to escape damnation, but
they spend it to a quite contrary purpose- to increase their eternal misery, or to render
their damnation the more heavy and intolerable.
Some spend much time in reveling, and in unclean talk and practices, in vicious
company-keeping, in corrupting and ensnaring the minds of others, setting bad examples,
and leading others into sin, undoing not only their own souls, but the souls of others.
Some spend much of their precious time in detraction and backbiting; in talking against
others; in contention, not only quarreling themselves, but fomenting and stirring up
strife and contention. It would have been well for some men, and well for their neighbors,
if they had never done any thing at all; for then they would have done neither good nor
hurt. But now they have done a great deal more hurt than they have done or ever will do
good. There are some persons whom it would have been better for the towns where they live,
to have been at the charge of maintaining them in doing nothing, if that would have kept
them in a state of inactivity.
Those who have spent much of their time in wickedness, if ever they shall reform, and
enter upon a different mode of living, will find, not only that they have wasted the past,
but that they have made work for their remaining time, to undo what they have done. How
will many men when they shall be with time, and shall look back upon their past lives,
wish that they had had no time! The time which they spend on earth will be worse to them
than if they had spent so much time in hell, for an eternity of more dreadful misery in
hell will be the fruit of their time on earth, as they employ it.
3. Those are reproved by his doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits,
neglecting their souls. Such men lose their time, let them be ever so diligent in their
worldly business, and though they may be careful not to let any of it pass so, but that it
shall some way or other turn to their worldly profit. They that improve time only for
their benefit in time, lose it, because time was not given for itself, but for that
everlasting duration which succeeds it. They, therefore, whose time is taken up in caring
and laborings for the world only, in inquiring what they shall eat, and what they shall
drink and wherewithal they shall be clothed, in contriving to lay up for themselves
treasures upon earth, how to enrich themselves, how to make themselves great in the world,
or how to live in comfortable and pleasant circumstances, while here, who busy their minds
and employ their strength in these things only, and the stream of whose affections is
directed towards these things; they lose their precious time.
Let such, therefore, as have been guilty of thus spending their time, consider it. You
have spent a great part of your time, and a great part of your strength, in getting a
little of the world; and how little good does it afford you, now you have gotten it! What
happiness or satisfaction can you reap from it? Will it give you peace of conscience, or
any rational quietness or comfort? What is your poor, needy, perishing soul the better for
it? and what better prospects does it afford you of your approaching eternity? and what
will all that you have acquired avail you when time shall be no longer?
An exhortation to improve time.
Consider what has been said of the preciousness of time, how much depends upon it, how
short and uncertain it is, how irrecoverable it will be when gone. If you have a right
conception of these things, you will be more treasuring of your time than of the most fine
gold. Every hour and moment will seem precious to you. But besides those considerations
which have been already set before you, consider also the following.
1. That you are accountable to God for your time. Time is a talent given us by God; he has
allotted us our day; and it is not for nothing- our day was appointed for some work;
therefore he will, at the day's end, call us to an account. We must give account to him of
the improvement of all our time. We are God's servants; as a servant is accountable to his
master, how he spends his time when he is sent forth to work, so are we accountable to
God. If men would consider this aright, and keep it in mind, would they not improve their
time otherwise than they do? Would you not behave otherwise than you do, if you considered
with yourselves every morning, that you must give an account to God, how you shall have
spent that day? and if you considered with yourselves, at the beginning of every evening,
that you must give an account to God, how you shall have spent that evening? Christ has
told us, that "for every idle word which men speak, they shall give account in the
day of judgment," Matthew 12:36. How well, therefore, may we conclude, that we must
give an account of all our idle misspent time!
2. Consider how much time you have lost already. For your having lost so much, you have
the greater need of diligently improving what yet remains. You ought to mourn and lament
over your lost time; but that is not all, you must apply yourselves the more diligently to
improve the remaining part, that you may redeem lost time. You who are considerably
advanced in age, and have hitherto spent your time in vanities and worldly cares, and have
lived in a great measure negligent of the interests of your souls, may well be terrified
and amazed, when you think how much time you have lost and wasted away. In that you have
lost so much time, you have the more need of diligence, on three accounts.
(1.) As your opportunity is so much the shorter. Your time at its whole length is short.
But set aside all that you have already lost, and then how much shorter is it! As to that
part of your time which you have already lost, it is not to be reckoned into your
opportunity; for that will never be any more, and it is no better, but worse to you, than
if it never had been.
(2.) You have the same work to do that you had at first, and that under greater
difficulties. Hitherto you have done nothing at all of your work- all remains to be done,
and that with vastly greater difficulties and opposition in your way than would have been
if you had set about it seasonably. So that the time in which to do your work is not only
grown shorter, but your work is grown greater. You not only have the same work to do, but
you have more work, for while you have lost your time, you have not only shortened it, but
you have been making more work for yourselves. How well may this consideration awaken you
to a thorough care, not to let things run on in this manner any longer, and rouse you up
immediately to apply yourselves to your work with all your might!
(3.) That is the best of your time which you have lost. The first of a man's time, after
he comes to the exercise of his reason, and to be capable of performing his work, is the
best. You who have lived in sin until past your youth have lost the best part. So that
here are all these things to be considered together- that your time in the whole is but
short, there is none to spare, a great part of that is gone, so that it is become much
shorter; that which is gone is the best part, yet all your work remains, and not only so,
but with greater difficulties than ever before
attended it and the shorter your time is, the more work you have to do.
What will make you sensible of the necessity of a diligent improvement of remaining time,
if these things will not? Sometimes such considerations as these have another effect- to
discourage persons, and to make them think that seeing they have lost so much time, it is
not worth their while to attempt to do any thing now. The devil makes fools of them for
when they are young, he tells them, there is time enough hereafter, there is no need of
being in haste, it will be better seeking salvation hereafter and then they believe him.
Afterwards, when their youth is past, he tells them, that now they have lost so much, and
the best of their time, that it is not worth their while to attempt to do anything, and
now they believe him still. So that with them no time is good. The season of youth is not
a good time, for that is most fit for pleasure and mirth, and there will be enough
afterwards- and what comes afterwards is not a good time because the best of it is gone.
Thus are men infatuated and ruined.
But what madness is it for persons to give way to discouragement, so as to neglect their
work, because their time is short! What need have they rather to awake out of sleep,
thoroughly to rouse up themselves, and to be in good seriousness that if possible they may
yet obtain eternal life! Peradventure God may yet give them repentance to the
acknowledgment of the truth, that they may be saved. Though it be late in the day, yet God
calls upon you to rouse, and to apply yourselves to your work; and will you not hearken to
his counsel in this great affair, rather than to the counsel of your mortal enemy?
3. Consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it. What
a sense of its preciousness have poor sinners sometimes, when they are on their
death-beds! Such have cried out, "O, a thousand worlds for an inch of time!"
Then time appears to them indeed precious. An inch of time could do them no more good than
before, when they were in health, supposing a like disposition to improve it, nor indeed
so much; for a man's time upon a death-bed is attended with far greater disadvantage for
such an improvement as will be for the good of his soul, than when he is in health. But
the near approach of death makes men sensible of the inestimable worth of time. Perhaps,
when they were in health, they were as insensible of its value as you are, and were as
negligent of it. But how are their thoughts altered now! It is not because they are
deceived, that they think time to be of such value, but because their eyes are opened; and
it is because you are deceived and blind that you do not think as they do.
4. Consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of
it. What thoughts do you think they have of its preciousness, who have lost all their
opportunity for obtaining eternal life, and are gone to hell? Through they were very
lavish of their time while they lived, and set no great value upon it; yet how have they
changed their perspectives! How would they value the opportunity which you have, if they
might but have it granted to them! What would they not give for one of your days, under
the means of grace! So will you, either now or at the last, be convinced. But if you be
not convinced except in the manner in which they are, it will be too late.
There are two ways of making men sensible of the preciousness of time. One is, by showing
them the reason why it must be precious, by telling them how much depends on it, how short
it is, how uncertain, etc. The other is experience, wherein men are convinced how much
depends on the improvement of time. The latter is the most effectual way; for that always
convinces, if nothing else does. But if persons be not convinced by the former means, the
latter will do them no good. If the former be ineffectual, the latter, though it be
certain, yet is always too late. Experience never fails to open the eyes of men, though
they were never opened before. But if they be first opened by that, it is no way to their
benefit. Let all therefore be persuaded to improve their time to their utmost.
Advice respecting the improvement of time. I shall conclude with advising to three things
1. Improve the present time without any delay. If you delay and put off its improvement,
still more time will be lost, and it will be an evidence that you are not sensible of its
preciousness. Do not talk of more convenient seasons hereafter, but improve your time
while you have it, after the example of the psalmist, "I made haste, and delayed not
to keep your commandments." (Psalm 119:60.)
2. Be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious. Though
all time is very precious, yet some parts are more precious than others; as, particularly,
holy time is more precious than common time. Such time is of great advantage for our
everlasting welfare; therefore, above all, improve your sabbaths, and especially the time
of public worship, which is the most precious part. Lose it not either in sleep, or in
carelessness, inattention, or wandering imaginations. How sottish are they who waste away,
not only their common, but holy time, yes the very season of attendance on the holy
ordinances of God! The
time of youth is precious on many accounts. Therefore, if you are in the enjoyment of this
time, take heed that you improve it. Let not the precious days and years of youth slip
away without improvement. A time of the strivings of God's Spirit is more precious than
other time. Then God is near; and we are directed, in Isaiah 55:6. "To seek the Lord
while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near." Such especially is an
accepted time, and a day of salvation- 2 Corinthians 6:2. "I have heard you in a time
accepted, and in a day of salvation have I succored you: behold, now is the accepted time;
behold, now is the day of salvation."
3. Improve well your time of leisure from worldly business. Many persons have a great deal
of such time, and all have some. If men be but disposed to it, such time may be improved
to great advantage. When we are most free from cares for the body, and business of an
outward nature, a happy opportunity for the soul is afforded. Therefore spend not such
opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good
account thereof to God. Waste them not away wholly in unprofitable visits, or useless
diversions or amusements. Diversion should be used only in subserviency to business. So
much, and no more, should be used, as does most fit the mind and body for the work of our
general and particular callings.
You have need to improve every talent, advantage, and opportunity, to your utmost, while
time lasts; for it will soon be said concerning you, according to the oath of the angel,
in Revelation 10:5, 6. "And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the
earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and swore by him that lives for ever and ever, who
created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that
therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no