The fear of the LORD prolongs days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.
We may wish for one another long life. Every one wishes it for himself. It is a mistake to regard this wish as an infirmity. Strong love of life is not necessarily sinful.
1. Long life is distinctly promised in Scripture as a blessing to God's people, both in the Old and New Testaments.
2. See why long life is a blessing. Because God rewards the good works of His people. He enables them to do good works, and rewards their work. The reward is not "salvation" but "glory." Life, like health, intellect, influence, is a talent, lent to us for our Master's service and our own profit; the greater the loan the larger the profit; the longer it is in trust, the fuller the results. There are difficulties in the way of accepting this truth. One is the seemingly contradictory language of Scripture on the subject. Some passages speak of early departure as a blessing. This is true only in special cases. And we must distinguish between things good and desirable in themselves, and things which become so by God's appointment. Another objection is this — Admitting that long life is a blessing, and a promised blessing, still we do not see the fulfilment of the promise. We see young saints departing, and old sinners remaining. In reply it may be urged that, if we could take the average of life, we should find it to be in favour of godly men. And the exceptions to the rule are more apparent than real. In many cases we see only the pious death, we are not acquainted with the whole previous life. It may be that the good man, whose early death so distresses and perplexes us, has, in early life, deserved that his days should have been thus shortened. And the cases of early death are simply exceptions to a generally working law.
3. What practical bearing shall this truth have upon our lives? We have rescued this text from the strained interpretation of those who do not look on long life as in itself a blessing. We have learned the true meaning and use of this longing after life which all men feel. It is no small gain to our peace of mind, when we can see that this love of life is not always an infirmity or a sin, but that the Christian may lawfully desire long life, as a longer time of working and suffering for Christ. And such a lawful desire for long life gives the strongest motive for rightly using life as it passes.
4. The tendency of vice is to shorten men's days. The text implies that, as life is a talent given to be rightly used, so, if abused, it is taken away from the possessor. We desire a longer life for the ungodly and careless, because we know that life is an opportunity for salvation; we would give the wicked further chance of repentance.
(Abp. W. C. Magee.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The fear of the LORD prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.