For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God…
The great need of the world is a vision of the vast unities of truth. Little thoughts make little lives. Vast inner apprehensions of truth are necessary to create a greater outer life. Now, it is clear that the psalmist in our text desires to lead us no little way beneath the surface of things. We have here first a measurement of time made in the light of the kingdom of God. It is the measurement of the sanctuary of the courts of the Lord — what we should now call the kingdom of God. In as far as we realize within our lives the power of this kingdom, we enter into the experience which the psalmist expresses in our text. Now, following the psalmist's suggestion, a little consideration will show that time is anything or nothing according to the intensity of our life. On the one hand you can conceive of a man's life becoming more and more vacant of thought and feeling and deed until time is scarcely existent for him. Such life is a living death, and death knows no dominion of time. On the other hand, you can conceive of a life so intense that vaster and vaster extents of life are crowded into a single moment. until length measurements of months and days and years are almost annihilated by depth, and time is on the verge of appearing as eternity. The fact that between these two extremes there are greatly varying measurements of time affects our earthly life at every point. There are two or three simple facts concerning time related to our present subject which from their very simplicity may evade our attention. The first is, that our ordinary measurements of time are purely conventional, being taken from without us, and not from within our own lives. Another thing worth remembering is that time, whether inside or outside of us, is always measured by intensity, and can never be reduced to mere extension. Try as you will, you can only measure time by some expression of force, energy, power, movement. The next thing to be noted is, that the vast variations of intensities even in external things make any fixed measurement of time impossible. When we are told, for example, that certain rays of light are caused by some thousands of millions of vibrations in a second of time, thought has no possible way of reconciling the ordinary idea of a second with such an infinity of movement. The difficulty arises from the fact that the sunlight does not set its time by the revolutions of the earth, as we do, but by its own transcendent energies. Our thought is baffled because we try to measure the energies of one thing by the time of another. One day in the sunlight is better than a thousand. Yet all these external energies are as nothing compared with those that are possible for the human spirit. Here we stand in the very territories of the infinite. One great thought in a human heart has more intensity and mighty force of movement in it than all the forces of the external world put together. In human life, then, time has a completely new meaning, a meaning closely akin to eternity. But in human life also deep stretches beneath deep, and in man's grandest possibility, in the place where he feels the presence of God and consciously unites himself with the Infinite, time reaches its highest intensities. Here lifetimes are often lived in moments. One day in such a life and in such experiences is better than a thousand. What, then, shall we say to this? There are cases where men, seeking to live as long as possible, spare themselves the heat and the burden of the day, and reach their four score years and ten by contributing nothing of the blood of their heart to the healing of the world. There are others that burn with fiery zeal for God and His kingdom, with a great passion of love for men and of devotion to the cause of righteousness. To them length of days has been promised, yet the fires consume their life, and in the bloom of youth or the pride of manhood they are laid in the grave. This is, of course, not a universal rule, but appears often enough to demand our attention. It is just at this point that the psalmist intervenes, saying, "Be careful how you measure. This is not a question of the revolution of the earth, but of the history of a soul. Here the measurements of the days and years vary infinitely. You have written four score years upon the tomb of the man that spent his years like a living death. Tell the sculptor to chisel out the falsehood without delay. Time is movement and energy, and he has been an idler. Even this slow revolving earth has outstripped him. Write clearly above his grave so that all may read it, 'Time was within his reach for eighty circling courses of the earth around the sun. But he never grasped it, and he died an infant of days, an ephemeral creature without a life and without a history.'" And turning to the other tomb where lamentation is written for the brevity of a consecrated life, he would say, "Poor, blind calculators, to measure such a life by rising and setting suns, by changing moons, and by returns of summer and winter. In this life cycles of time gathered into single moments. For every day write down a thousand, and let the epitaph be, 'Died in fulness of days, according to the promise, "With long life will I satisfy him.' This measurement of time gives us also a new measurement of happiness. The Christian is sometimes scoffingly told by the sceptic that he, also, like everybody else, is simply seeking a maximum of pleasure, and working for a summum bonum of happiness. There is a plausibility in this accusation that makes it sometimes difficult to meet and refute. The first step towards meeting it is to make a great admission. Namely this, that the goal of the Christian life is unquestionably the point of highest and intensest happiness, and that such happiness is undoubtedly one of the glowing aims of the Christian life. It must further be allowed that, if anything called Virtue brought with it a maximum of misery and something called Vice entailed a maximum of happiness, the principles of Christianity would lead to the courting of vice and not of virtue. This apparent contradiction arises from the absurdity of the supposition that we have made concerning virtue and vice. To be flung into real and essential misery is an indication that the life is out of joint, that the unity of the spirit is shattered and lost, and its harmonies destroyed. To be really and essentially happy is an indication that the life has attained its highest powers and its noblest harmonies. By whatever game you may call these, the Christian life is a strenuous movement towards the latter, and must therefore have the maximum of happiness for its goal, and therefore in part for its aim. But when the scorner proceeds to say that all pleasure is essentially of the same nature, and that the difference is not one of morality but of taste, he puts himself at our mercy to be smitten hip and thigh. The human spirit must measure its happiness as it measures its time, not by length, but by depth. By this measurement the meaning of happiness, like that of its sources, varies to infinity. It may either be an ephemeral thing on the surface of the life, or it may sing its eternal song in the infinite depths of the human spirit. It may be simply the expression of a passing harmony of quivering nerves, or it may be the expression of the eternal harmonies of the Godlike moral forces that make man Divine.
(John Thomas, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.