The Use of Time
by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Redeeming the time. (Eph. 5:16)
This is the second part of a study on the use of time, written by the notable Colonial
American Christian leader Jonathan Edwards. The subject matter is, of course, as
appropriate now as it was when he wrote this sermon in 1734. It seems that we all
are pressed for time, and need to be reminded of the best ways to use our time.
After we have completed this study (D.V.), we will begin one on the topic of
procrastination, written by the same author.
In part one of this study, Mr. Edwards wrote on why time is so precious (that is,
because our eternity depends on our proper use of it, because time is very short,
because we are uncertain of its continuance, because it cannot be recovered), and
then urged us to reflect on how we have used (and misused) time in the past. Now,
Who May Be Reproved
Concerning Their Use 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 prodigal. Time is with many, as silver was in the days of Solomon, as the
stones of the street, and nothing accounted of (see I Kings 10:21). 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 of 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 account, either for the good of their souls or bodies; nothing either for
their own benefit, or for the benefit of their neighbour, either of the family or of the
body-politic 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, were rather a mere encumbrance to them. Their hands refuse to
labour, and rather than put themselves to it, they will let their families suffer, and
will suffer themselves: "An idle soul shall suffer hunger" (Prov. 19:15);
"Drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags" (Prov. 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: "In all labour there is profit; but the talk of
the lips tendeth only to poverty" (Prov. 14:23). The direction of the apostle, in Eph.
4:28, is that we should "labour, working with our hands the thing that is good,
that we may have to give to him that needeth." But indolent men, instead of
gaining anything to give to him that needeth, do but waste what they have already:
"He that is slothful in his work, is brother to him that is a great waster" (Prov.
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, viz. to
increase their eternal misery, or to render their damnation the more heavy and
Some spend much time in revelling, 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 anything 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 have done 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 this 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 labouring 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 doth 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 doth it afford you or 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 hath 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 [careful with] 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
1. That you are accountable to God for your time. Time is a talent given us by God;
He hath set 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 aright consider this, 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 hath
told us, that "for every idle word which men speak, they shall give account in the
day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36). How well, therefore, may we conclude, that we
must give an account of all our idle mispent 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 youselves
the more diligently to improve the remaining part, that you may redeem lost time.--
You who are considerably advanced in life, 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 anymore; 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 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 till past your youth, have lost the best part. So
that here are all these things to be considered together, viz. 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; 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 the necessity of a diligent improvement of
remaining time, if these things will not? Sometimes such considerations as these
have another effect, viz. 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 anything
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 too.
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 earnest, that if possible
they may yet obtain eternal life! Peradventure God may yet give them repentance to
the acknowledgement 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? Though
they were very lavish of their time while they lived, and set no great value upon it;
yet how have they changed their judgments! 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, first or
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 doth.--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.
the Improvement of Time
I shall conclude with advising to three things in particular.
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. Talk not 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 thy commandments" (Ps. 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 precous 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, and wandering imaginations.
How sottish are they who waste away, not only their common, but holy time, yea
the very season of attendance on the holy ordinances of God!--The time of youth is
precious, on many accounts. Therefore, if you be 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 Isa. 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: "I have heard thee in a time accepted,
and in a day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time;
behold, now is the day of salvation" (II Cor. 6:2).
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, 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 doth 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 Rev. 10:5,6: "And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea
and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by Him that liveth
forever 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 longer."
(This study will be concluded in the next issue.)
© 1994-2018, Scott Sperling