Indifference to Life Urged from Its
Shortness and Vanity - II
by Samuel Davies (1724 –1761)
And how strongly does the shortness of this life prove the certainty of another? Would it be worthwhile, should it be consistent with the wisdom and goodness of the Deity, to send so many infant millions of reasonable creatures into this world, to live the low life of a vegetable or an animal for a few moments, or days, or years, if there were no other world for these young immortals to remove to, in which their powers might open, enlarge, and ripen? Certainly men are not such insects of a day: certainly this is not the last stage of human nature: certainly there is an eternity; there is a heaven and a hell:—otherwise we might expostulate with our Maker, as David once did upon that supposition, "Wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?" (Ps. 89:47, AV).
In that awesome eternity we must all be in a short time. Yes, my brethren, I may venture to prophesy that, in less than seventy or eighty years, the most, if not all this assembly, must be in some apartment of that strange untried world. The merry, unthinking, irreligious multitude in that doleful mansion which I must mention, grating as the sound is to their ears, and that is hell!, and the pious, penitent, believing few in the blissful seats of heaven. There we shall reside a long, long time indeed, or rather through a long, endless eternity. Which leads me to add,
That the time of life is short absolutely in itself, so especially it is short comparatively; that is, in comparison with eternity. In this comparison, even the long life of Methuselah and the antedeluvians shrink into a mere point, a nothing. Indeed no duration of time, however long, will bear the comparison. Millions of millions of years! As many years as the sands upon the sea-shore! As many years as the particles of dust in this huge globe of earth; as many years as the particles of matter in the vaster heavenly bodies that roll above us, and even in the whole material universe, all these years do not bear so much proportion to eternity as a moment, a pulse, or the twinkling of an eye, to ten thousand ages! Not so much as a hair’s bradth to the distance from the spot where we stand to the farthest star, or the remotest corner of creation. In short, they do not bear the least imaginable proportion at all; for all this length of years, though beyond the power of distinct enumeration to us, will as certainly come to an end as an hour or a moment; and when it comes to an end, it is entirely and irrecoverably past; but eternity (oh the solemn, tremendous sound!) eternity will never, never, come to an end! Eternity will never, never, never be past!
And is this eternity, this awesome, all-important eternity, entailed upon us? Upon us, the offspring of the dust? The creatures of yesterday? Upon us, who a little while ago were less than a gnat, less than a mote, were nothing? Upon us who are every moment liable to the arrest of death, sinking into the grave, and mouldering into dust one after another in a thick succession? Upon us whose thoughts and cares, and pursuits are so confined to time and earth, as if we had nothing to do with anything beyond? Oh! Is this immense inheritance unalienably ours? Yes, brethren, it is; reason and revelation prove our title beyond all dispute. It is an inheritance entailed upon us, whether we will or not; whether we have made it our interest it should be ours or not. To command ourselves into nothing is as much above our power as to bring ourselves into being. Sin may make our souls miserable, but it cannot make them mortal. Sin may forfeit a happy eternity, and render our immortality a curse; so that it would be better for us if we never had been born; but sin cannot put an end to our being, as it can to our happiness, nor procure for us the shocking relief of rest in the hideous gulf of annihilation.
And is a little time, a few months or years, a great matter to us? To us who are heirs of an eternal duration? How insignificant is a moment in seventy or eighty years! But how much more insignificant is even the longest life upon earth, when compared with eternity! How trifling are all the concerns of time to those of immortality! What is it to us who are to live forever whether we live happy or miserable for an hour? Whether we have wives, or whether we have none; whether we rejoice, or whether we weep; whether we buy, possess, and use this world; or whether we consume away our life in hunger, and nakedness and the want of all things? It will be all one in a little, little time. Eternity will level all; and eternity is at the door.
And how shall we spend this eternal duration that is thus entailed upon us? Shall we sleep it away in a stupid insensibility or in a state of indifferency, neither happy nor miserable? No, no, my brethren; we must spend it in the height of happiness or in the depth of misery. The happiness and misery of the world to come will not consist in such childish toys as those that give us pleasure and pain in this infant state of our existence, but in the most substantial realities suitable to an immortal spirit, capable of vast improvements and arrived at its adult age. Now, as the apostle illustrates it, we are children, and we speak like children, we understand like children; but then we shall become men, and put away childish things (see I Cor. 13:11). Then we shall be beyond receiving pleasure or pain from such trifles as excite them in this puerile state. This is not the place of rewards or punishments, and therefore the great Ruler of the world does not exert his perfections in the distribution of either; but eternity is allotted for that very purpose, and therefore He will then distribute rewards and punishments worthy of Himself, such as will proclaim Him God in acts of grace and vengeance, as He has appeared in all His other works. Then He will "show His wrath", and "make His power known on the vessels of wrath who have made themselves fit for destruction" and nothing else; "and He will show the riches of the glory of His grace upon the vessels of mercy whom He prepared beforehand for glory" (Rom. 9:22-23). Thus heaven and hell will proclaim God, will show Him to be the Author of their respective joys and pains, by their agreeable or terrible magnificence and grandeur. Oh eternity! With what majestic wonders art thou replenished, where Jehovah acts with His own immediate hand, and displays Himself God-like and unrivalled, in His exploits both of vengeance and of grace! In this present state, our good and evil are blended; our happiness has some bitter ingredients, and our miseries have some agreeable mitigations; but in the eternal world good and evil shall be entirely and forever separated; all will be pure, unmingled happiness, or pure, unmingled misery. In the present state the best have not uninterrupted peace within; conscience has frequent cause to make them uneasy; some mote or other falls into its tender eye, and sets it a-weeping; and the worst also have their arts to keep conscience sometimes easy, and silence its clamors. But then conscience will have its full scope. It will never more pass a censure upon the righteous, and it will never more be a friend, or even an inactive enemy to the wicked for so much as one moment. And oh what a perennial fountain of bliss or pain will conscience then be! Society contributes much to our happiness or misery. But what misery can be felt or feared in the immediate presence and fellowship of the blessed God and Jesus (the friend of man); of angels and saints, and all the glorious natives of heaven! But, on the other hand, what happiness can be enjoyed or hoped for, what misery can be escaped in the horrid society of lost, abandoned ghosts of the angelic and human nature; dreadfully mighty and malignant, and rejoicing only in each other’s misery; mutual enemies, and mutual tormentors, bound together inseparably in everlasting chains of darkness! Oh the horror of the thought! In short, even a heathen (Virgil) could say:
"Had I a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths,
An iron voice, I could not comprehend
The various forms and punishments of vice."
The most terrible images which even the pencil of divine inspiration can draw, such as a lake of fire and brimstone, utter darkness, the blackness of darkness, a never-dying worm, unquenchable everlasting fire, and all the most dreadful figures that can be drawn from all parts of the universe, are not sufficient to represent the punishments of the eternal world. And, on the other hand, "the eye", which has ranged through so many objects, "has not seen: the ear", which has had still more extensive intelligence, "has not heard; neither have entered into the heart of man", which is even unbounded in its conceptions, "the things that God hath laid up for them that love Him." The enjoyments of time fall as much short of those of eternity, as time itself falls short of eternity itself.
But what gives infinite importance to these joys and sorrows is, that they are enjoyed or suffered in the eternal world, they are themselves eternal. Eternal joys! Eternal pains! Joys and pains that will last as long as the King eternal and immortal will live to distribute them! As long as our immortal spirits will live to feel them! Oh what joys and pains are these!
And these, my brethren, are awaiting every one of us. These pleasures, or these pains, are felt this moment by such of our friends and acquaintances as have shot the gulf before us; and in a little, little while, you and I must feel them.
And what then have we to do with time and earth? Are the pleasures and pains of this world worthy to be compared with these? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity"; the enjoyments and sufferings, the labours and pursuits, the laughter and tears of the present state, are all nothing in this comparison. What is the loss of an estate or of a dear relative to the loss of a happy immortality? But if our heavenly inheritance be secure, what though we should be reduced into Job’s forlorn situation, we have enough left more than to fill up all deficiencies. What though we are poor, sickly, melancholy, racked with pains, and involved in every human misery, heaven will more than make amends for all. But if we have no evidences of our title to that, the sense of these transitory distresses may be swallowed up in the just fear of the miseries of eternity. Alas! What avails it that we play away a few tears in mirth and gaiety, in grandeur and pleasure, if when these few years are fled, we lift up our eyes in hell, tormented in flames! Oh what are all these things to a candidate for eternity! An heir of everlasting happiness, or everlasting misery!