[Here we conclude a series that urges a certain indifference to life, and the things of this world, due to the shortness of life, and the vanity of the things of this world. This series is taken from a funeral sermon by Samuel Davies.]—Ed.


Indifference to Life Urged from Its

Shortness and Vanity, pt. 5,

by Samuel Davies (1724 –1761)

29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. (I Cor. 7:29-31 AV).

Finally, let "those that use this world use it as not abusing it." This is the fifth branch of the inference from the shortness of time; and it seems to have a particular reference to such as have had such success in their pursuit of the world, that they have now retired from business, and appear to themselves to have nothing to do but enjoy the world, for which they so long toiled. Or it may refer to those who are born heirs of plentiful estates, and therefore are not concerned to acquire the world, but to use and enjoy it. To such I say, "Use this world as not abusing it;" that is, use it, enjoy it, take moderate pleasure in it, but do not abuse it by prostituting it to sinful purposes, making provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof, indulging yourselves in debauchery and extravagance, placing your confidence in it, and singing a requiem to your souls: "Soul, take thine ease; eat, drink, and be merry; for thou hast much goods laid up in store for many years." Oh! Presumptuous "fool, this night thy soul may be required of thee" (Luke 12:19-20). Do not use this world to excess (so the word may be translated), by placing your hearts excessively upon it as your favourite portion and principal happiness, and by suffering it to draw off your thoughts and affections from the superior blessedness of the world to come. Use the world, but let it not tempt you to excess in eating, drinking, dress, equipage, or in any article of the parade of riches. Religion by no means enjoins a sordid, niggardly, churlish manner of living; it allows you to enjoy the blessings of life, but then it forbids all excess, and requires you to keep within the bounds of moderation in your enjoyments. Thus, "use this world as not abusing it."

The apostle’s inference is not only drawn from strong premises, but also enforced with a very weighty reason; "for the fashion of this world passeth away." The whole scheme and system of worldly affairs, all this marrying and rejoicing, and weeping, and buying, and enjoying passeth away, passeth away this moment; it not only will pass away, but it is even now passing away. The stream of time, with all the trifles that float on it, and all the eager pursuers of these bubbles, is in motion, in swift, incessant motion to empty itself and all that sail upon it into the shoreless ocean of eternity, where all will be absorbed and lost forever. And shall we excessively doat upon things that are perpetually flying from us, and in a little time will be no more our property than the riches of the world before the flood? "O ye sons of men, how long will ye follow after vanity? Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which profiteth not?" (Isa. 55:2).

Some critics apprehend this sentence, the fashion of this world passeth away, contains a fine striking allusion to the stage, and that it might be rendered, "the scene of this world passeth away." "You know," says a fine writer upon this text, "that upon the stage the actors assume imaginary characters, and appear in borrowed forms. One mimics the courage and triumph of the hero; another appears with a crown and a sceptre, and struts about with all the solemnity and majesty of a prince; a third puts on the fawning smile of a courtier, or the haughtiness of a successful favourite; and the fourth is represented in the dress of a scholar or a divine. An hour or two they act their several parts on the stage, and amuse the spectators; but the scenes are constantly shifting; and when the play is concluded, the feigned characters are laid aside, and the imaginary kings and emperors are immediately divested of their pretended authority and ensigns of royalty, and appear in their native meanness.

"Just so this world is a great stage that presents as variable scenes, and as fantastical characters: princes, politicians, and warriors, the rich, the learned, and the wise; and, on the other hand, the poor, weak, and despised part of mankind possess their several places on the theatre; some lurk absolutely in a corner, seldom come from behind the scenes, or creep along unnoticed; others make a splendid show and a loud noise, are adorned with the honors of a crown, or possessed of large estates and great powers; fill the world with the glory of their names and actions, conquer in the field, or are laboriously employed in the cabinet. Well, in a little time the scene is shifted, and all these vain phantoms disappear. The king of terrors clears the stage of the busy actors, strips them of all their fictitious ornaments, and ends the vain farce of life; and being brought all upon a level, they go down to the grave in their original nakedness, are jumbled together undistinguished, and pass away as a tale that is told."

Farther: "Upon the Greek or Roman theatres, to which the apostle alludes, the actors, if I mistake not, frequently, if not always, came upon the stage in a disguise, with a false face, which was adapted to the different person or character they designed to assume; so that no man was to be seen with his real face, but all put on borrowed visages. And in allusion to this, the text might be rendered, ‘The masquerade of the world passeth away,’ pointing out the fraud and disguises which mankind put on, and the flattering forms in which they generally appear, which will all pass away when the grave shall pull off the mask; and ‘they go down to the other world naked and open,’ and appear at the supreme tribunal in their due characters, ‘and can no more be varnished over with fraudulent coloring.’" [Dunlop’s Sermons, Vol. I, pp. 212-215].

Others apprehend that the apostle here alludes to some grand procession, in which pageants or emblematical figures pass along the crowded streets. The staring crowd wait their appearance with eager eyes, and place themselves in the most convenient posture of observation: they gape at the passing show, they follow it with a wondering gaze;—and now it is past, and now it begins to look dim to the sight, and now it disappears. Just such is this transitory world. Thus it begins to attract the eager gaze of mankind; thus it marches by in swift procession from our eyes to meet the eyes of others; and thus it soon vanishes and disappears.

And shall we always be stupidly staring upon this empty parade, and forget that world of substantial realities to which we are hastening? No; let us live and act as the expectants of that world, and as having nothing to do with this world, but only as a school, a state of discipline, to educate and prepare us for another.

Oh! That I could successfully impress this exhortation upon all your hearts! Oh! That I could prevail upon you all this day to break off your over-fond attachment to earth, and to make ready for immortality! Could I carry this point, it would be a greater advantage than all the dead could receive from any funeral panegyrics from me. I speak for the advantage of the living upon such occasions, and not to celebrate the virtues of those who have passed the trial, and received their sentence from the supreme Judge. And I am well satisfied the mourning relatives of our deceased friend, who best knew and esteemed his worth, would be rather offended than pleased, if I should prostitute the present hour to so mean a purpose. Indeed, many a character less worthy of praise, often makes a shining figure in funeral sermons. Many that have not been such tender husbands, such affectionate fathers, such kind masters, such sincere, upright friends, so honest and punctual in trade, such zealous lovers of religion and good men, have had their putrefying remains perfumed with public praise from a place so solemn as the pulpit; but you can witness for me, it is not my usual foible to run to this extreme. My business is with you, who are as yet alive to hear me. To you I call, as with the voice of your deceased friend and neighbor: Prepare! Prepare for eternity! Oh! If the spirits that you once knew, while clothed in flesh, should take my place, would not this be their united voice, "Prepare, prepare for eternity, ye frail short-lived mortals! Ye near neighbors of the world of spirits! Ye borderers upon heaven and hell, make ready, loosen your hearts from earth, and all that it contains: weigh anchor, and prepare to launch away into the boundless ocean of eternity, which methinks is now within your ken, and roars within hearing!" And remember, "this I say, brethren," with great confidence, "the time is short: it remaineth therefore," for the future—"that they that have wives, be as if they had none; and they that weep, as if they wept not; and they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as if they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world," all its schemes of affairs, all the vain parade, all the idle farce of life, "passeth away." And away let it pass, if we may at last obtain a better country; that is, a heavenly one: which may God grant for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

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