Psalm 102:24

I. WHAT LIVES ARE THESE?

1. They are not those of little children. They have not yet come to the midst of their days. And the sadness that overwhelms us when they die is, after a while, lit up with the conviction that they rest in the love of God, and can never know the sins and sorrows which men and women cannot but know.

2. But they are lives mature, but not aged - lives in the full meridian of their strength. Of such the psalmist is here speaking.

3. And there are others, and yet more sad. For old age has been denied to many of God's beloved ones - to the well beloved Son himself, for he was one of those who seemed to be taken away in the midst of their days, in the very prime of his manhood and his service. We may desire length of days; many and worthy motives prompt such desire; but it is often refused. God may have some better thing for us and for our beloved ones, and so we have to go. But the real sadness is not in such shortened lives, but in those which end, it may be, not literally in the midst of their days, but with the real purpose of life unachieved. God's forgiveness not gained because never sought after. The regenerate nature, indispensable for entrance into the kingdom of God, never desired, and therefore never striven for in faith and prayer, and therefore never given. The good works by which God should be glorified, and his fellow men cheered and blessed, never wrought, his day's work all undone. The bright hope of eternal life with God never valued, never cherished, and now never to be realized; death coming on the man with all its sting, and the grave exulting in its victory. These are the real incompleted lives by side of which the sorrow over mere brevity of earthly life is but small indeed. God grant our lives may not be thus really cut off in the midst!

II. WHEREFORE ARE THEY SO DEPRECATED? See how piteous is the psalmist's supplication. Wherefore this? Because for him, like Moses, who -

"On the very verge did stand,
Of the blessed promised land," but yet was never permitted to enter; so the psalmist feared that in the restoration of his own people to Zion he should not live to share. But for all, life is such a blessing when the purpose for which it was given is attained; that for men to die without that purpose being attained is sad indeed. Think of life's capacities: what glory it may bring to God! what blessing to one's fellow men! what peace, purity, and joy to one's own self! And all this which might be, not attained!

III. BUT THIS NEED NOT BEFALL ANY ONE. He who will commit his way unto the Lord shall find that the Lord will bring it to pass. He shall not be one who goes about asking - Is life worth living? and voting it all a failure. God did not bring us into existence for nothing, or without gracious purposes of good in regard to us. He sets before us life and death, and we are free to choose. Alas! many sin blinded ones mistake the one for the other, but "whosoever will may take of the water of life freely." - S.C.







I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations.
I. THE REASONS OF THIS DISPENSATION.

1. The sovereignty of the Divine will, which is —

(1)Absolute.

(2)Uncontrollable. But the will of God is always reasonable.

2. It is a point of wisdom. We are born mortal, and under a sentence of death. When any, therefore, are removed in early life, as there is nothing uncommon and extraordinary, so it is nothing but what He has a right to do by the constitution of His law, and has reserved the judgment of to Himself. But more particularly still —

3. It is a display of His all-sufficiency, and to show that He needs not the best instruments, and the most fitted for His service, but that He can do without them, or raise up others in their room.

4. It is in great mercy to themselves. It is a great kindness to them, though it is a grief and loss to us.(1) He sometimes removes them from the evil of the world, and impending calamities coming upon it (Isaiah 47:1).(2) Or they may be taken from the snares of life, and the temptations of sin, which might prove a great disadvantage to them; and from all the conflicts and hazards of the Christian life, which they are sure to be exercised with.(3) Besides, it is a great instance of Divine mercy that He takes them the sooner to heaven, and gives them their reward betimes. They are not only the sooner out of danger, but the sooner happy.

5. It may be considered as an act of justice, and as the punishment of sin.(1) God may remove useful persons in the midst of their days, in rebuke for their own sin. He may see fit to contend with them for former offences (Deuteronomy 32:40).(2) Or else they may be removed for the sins of others. God may take them away for our over-indulgence, and too great opinion and expectation from them. Gustavus Adolphus, the great patron of the Reformation, is reported to have said in the midst of his remarkable victories and success, "That he believed God was about to lay him aside, because the eyes of all Europe were drawn upon him, and their expectations raised to so great a height."(3) Or else, it may be on the other hand, when they are neglected and slighted. God sometimes punishes the ungrateful world by removing early eminent persons, whom they did not know how to value or treat with kindness.

6. It is for the good of others, and to exercise the graces and virtues of those who survive. What so proper as the thoughts of death, to inspire our sluggish souls with life and vigour, and makes us more fervent in spirit and zealous of good works, to keep up a lively sense of religion in the world, and a constant care to please God? Hereupon —

7. To be a standing monument of human frailty, and to give warning to all about them.

8. Perhaps it may be considered as an instance of our conformity to Christ. As the servant must not be above his lord, and we must not expect kinder usage from the world than He met with; so we must not wonder if we are suffered to stay no longer in it than He did.

9. It is to make heaven more desirable to us, and raise our hearts more powerfully thither.

II. IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.

1. We should reverence and adore the Divine sovereignty and wisdom. Does He do us any wrong when He takes away what is His, and calls back again what we first received from Him, and enjoyed so long by His leave?

2. Let us look more to God, and live more entirely upon Him.

3. Let us comfort ourselves in their loss by the consideration of the mercy it is to them. Let not us be uneasy that they are happy, and repine at that which is the matter of their joy.

4. Yet we should be humbled under the sense of their loss, and lament it as a great affliction.

5. It should teach us to value useful men while they live, and make the best use of them we can. Labour to be better for them, and get some good by them, while you have them.

6. The reasonableness of early religion, and being in good earnest in it. And here let me caution you against dangerous delays, and reckoning upon long life, and neglecting present duty.

7. What reason of thankfulness for longer life and opportunity! How great is the mercy of continued life in a view of further usefulness, and better preparation for heaven.

(W. Harris, D.D.)

1. Time is a sacred deposit, entrusted to them who sometimes think they have no one talent for which they must give account at last.

2. Let us ask what new principles we have gained, or what old principles have been confirmed and strengthened in that space of time. The question I have really in sight is this — Have you been leaving the first rudiments of the faith, and going on unto perfection?

3. With regard to our habits, what use have we made of the closing year? Have evil habits loosened their hold; have good ones been grafted in their place?

4. Inquire how the year has been employed with respect to the society we have sought, the connections we have made, the friendships we have cemented. Have you been prudent? Have you never sat in the seat of the scornful; nor stood in the way of sinners?

(J. B. Marsden, M. A.)

In all undertakings, success very much depends upon the plan we have laid down to guide our conduct. What, then, are the plans by which your course is to be steered throughout the coming year? Life's voyage will lie among hidden rocks, as well as over stormy seas. Of the dangers you will meet with, some are evident, but some cannot yet be known. How, then, do you propose to conduct the frail bark in which your all is ventured? On what principles, in what direction, do you purpose to proceed?

I. SOME EVENTS MAY BE FORESEEN.

1. The duties which our station will demand.

2. The difficulties with which our station in life is usually connected. We should foresee, in order to resist and conquer them. Shall we pass on as heretofore? No fresh precautions! Such indifference is the prelude to destruction.

3. What facilities our condition in life will afford for spiritual improvement. Is not the Lord's Day such an one?

II. SOME EVENTS ARE CONTINGENT AS REGARDS OURSELVES, THOUGH NOT SO IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. The preparation they demand is that which events call for that may come soon, and of which some at least must come at last.

1. Unexpected sorrow may surprise us; and how soon we cannot tell, for we know not. what a day may bring forth.

2. Sudden prosperity may await you. "In all time of our wealth, good Lord, deliver us."

3. There is another trial which may overtake us lengthened sickness.

4. Death itself may appear within the limits of the present year. Should not a great seriousness mark our deportment? Should not the world be less, and heaven far more, in our thoughts?

(J. B. Marsden, M. A.)

Here a pious Israelite, whether Nehemiah, or some other, for self and for the afflicted Church; elsewhere, David, Job, Hezekiah, and others, in like manner cast into gloom and great grief at the prospect.

I. If even Christians themselves had tormenting fear, let us by God's help seek out SOME OF THE CAUSES OF THIS DISTEMPER, that we may be guided to its cure.

1. Christians shrink from the prospect of death as long as there remains any uncertainty as to their real state in the sight of God. The very light of the Gospel, where it is unaccompanied by the fulness of its felt comforts, intensifies the dread of the awful judgment. And what originates and fosters so much this morbid, melancholy foreboding and doubt in the matter that above all others is of most vital concern to you? What but not taking God at His word? You do not receive the record He has given concerning His Son.

2. Another hindrance to the tranquil prospect of death is the spiritual declension or backsliding to which Christians are liable. Love and zeal do not always burn with a steadfast flame, nor does this present world ever hold the child of God by such slender attachment, that like Job, Elijah, or Peter, he can pray for an instant summons hence.

3. There is sometimes a need-be, a gracious necessity in the sovereign purpose of God, that the valley that leads down to death should be shadowed with clouds and thick darkness. You know that all believers suffer chastisement in this present life for their sins; this is in God's infinite wisdom and love, and not in anger. Thus it is that strong natural passions are curbed, and thus, too, even amiable and pious persons, who follow the guidance of God's eye and lean on Christ, are taught that they too, like others, owe an infinite debt to the sovereign mercy; that they are infinitely unworthy, and God infinitely gracious and long-suffering; the fire is made to burn that they may meditate on love Divine and free.

4. It is sometimes a keen disappointment to a godly man to be summoned away in the midst of active usefulness.

II. SUGGESTIONS THAT MAY BE HELPFUL TO CHRISTIANS IN PRESERVING A TRANQUIL AND CHEERFUL PROSPECT OF DEATH. For though dying grace must not be expected till the dying hour, the prospect and preparation for that dying hour is one of the highest duties of our lifetime.

1. Remember, if you would welcome death without fear, your only standing ground, and refuge, and comfort, must be in the redeeming work of Christ.

2. If so, grace is begun; and as grace grows wherever it lives, seek the growth of grace if you would have a comfortable prospect of death. All who lean on Christ grow like Christ; and all who grow like Christ are fitting for heaven; and death is the happy portal that ushers them into His blissful presence, and the work and the joy of heaven differ more in measure than in character from the work and joy of the Christian life below.

(G. B. Blake, M.A.)

I. THOSE WHO ARE IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DAYS ARE GENERALLY THE MOST UNWILLING TO DIE. Generally, I say, because there may be exceptions to this opinion. There are so many changes in the outward and inward statue of mankind, that some in the earlier, and some in the later period of life, may be the most unwilling to die.

1. Those in the midst of their days have the strongest expectations of living. They have often been visibly exposed to accidents; but have always escaped those that are fatal. They have often been sick, and sometimes dangerously so; but have always happily recovered. All these recoveries from sickness, and escapes from danger, have had a natural tendency to create hopes and expectations of living, and still escaping future dangers and diseases.

2. Those in the midst of their days often wish to do a great deal more good in the world before they die. Nature and grace unite in giving them a peculiar reluctance to leaving the stage of action, before they have gratified their benevolent feelings.

3. Those in the meridian of life very often wish, not only to do more good, but to get more good in the world before they die. Mankind generally have the most promising prospects of worldly prosperity in the midst of their days. It is, therefore, in this fascinating season, that they most sensibly dread the approach of death, which must necessarily lay all their promising hopes and prospects in the dust.

4. Those in the meridian of life are the most intimately and extensively connected with their fellow-men. These connections are the principal source of human happiness in the present life, and render it the most pleasant and agreeable.

5. Those in the meridian of life are often very unwilling to leave the world, because they have not accomplished the designs they have formed, nor obtained the purposes which they have long pursued.

6. Those in the midst of their days are more unwilling to die than others, because they are more unfit. This is commonly the case, whether they are saints or sinners. We find that the meridian of life is often very different from the beginning and close of it, both in good and bad men. Christians frequently brighten up in the decline of life, who had been cold and lifeless in the days of their vigour and prosperity. And on the other side, those who had been stupid sinners in their early days, sometimes become more serious and disposed to think about death and eternity, in the decline of life.

II. GOD DOES TAKE AWAY SOME IN THIS PERIOD OF LIFE. It is true, indeed, He more seldom takes away the middle-aged, than either those who have not reached, or those who have passed, the meridian of life. Much the largest portion of the human race die before they have arrived at thirty years of age, and the next largest portion die after they have arrived at fifty. And between these two periods the smallest number of mankind go off the stage of action and return to dust. This may be owing to both natural and moral causes. In the meridian of life the bodily constitution is generally the most firm and robust, and least exposed to fatal accidents and disorders. The moral cause may be, that God has the most occasion for the exertion of mankind, while they are in the vigour of their mental and corporeal powers and faculties. He employs human agents in carrying on most of His providential designs. He has occasion for strong men, bold men, wise men, and enterprising men, to carry into execution His wise and holy purposes. IMPROVEMENT: —

1. If those in the meridian of life are so unwilling to die, then those who have been preserved through that period have peculiar reason to be thankful that they are still among the living.

2. If those in the meridian of life are so unwilling to die, and so desirous of living, then they have been greatly favoured and distinguished. Distinguishing goodness calls for distinguishing love, gratitude and obedience.

3. If those in the meridian of life are the most unwilling to die, then they are the most unwilling to hear and obey the voice of God in His Word and providence.

4. If those who are in the midst of their days are the most fond of living, and the most unwilling to die, then we may see one reason why God does actually take away some in that period of life. He may do this for the benefit or hurt of the dying, or for the benefit or hurt of the living. He knows that the deaths of those in the midst of their days are more alarming, and make a deeper impression upon the human mind, than the deaths of the young, or of the old. He knows how painful and distressing it will be to the dying, to have all their earthly desires and hopes destroyed; and He knows how distressing it will he to the living, to have those taken away on whom they had placed peculiar hopes and dependence. But He may see it best to disappoint all such mutual hopes and expectations, to teach them and others the vanity of the world, the uncertainty of life, and the infinite importance of being habitually and practically ready to go the way of all the earth.

5. If those in the midst of their days are the most unwilling to die, then those in this stage of life, in this place, are in a very dangerous situation. How few are either habitually or practically prepared to leave the world! How many are entirely absorbed in the cares and concerns of the world, and are too busy to think, to read, to hear, to meditate, or pray! They are standing all the day idle, and refusing to enter into the vineyard of Christ. They neither worship God in secret, nor in private, nor in public. Is it safe to stand, and live, and act in such a manner, while God has need of you, and calls you into His service? Are you willing to live in this manner; are you willing to die in this manner?

(N. Emmons, D.D.)

This is a prayer which springs from the bosom of the Old Testament, and it bears the impress of its time. Life and immortality had not yet been brought to light; and long life in the land which the Lord their God had given them was a special promise made to these ancient saints. The prayer looks to that promise. It is thus the request for a complete life.

I. WHEN IS IT THAT A LIFE MAY BE SAID TO BE COMPLETE? While length of life in this world is not the chief blessing of the New Testament, there is nothing wrong in desiring it, and that, when well used, it may have on it special marks of God's wisdom and kindness. It is necessary, then, in speaking of a complete life, to find those elements that will suit either him who has come to his grave in a full age, or the young who have been taken away in the beginning of their days. We thank God that in His Word we can find a goal where the old and the young may meet in a complete and perfect life.

1. The first thing needed to gain this is that a man should have lived long enough to secure God's favour. Until he has found this he has not attained the great end for which life has been given to an intelligent and responsible creature.

2. A complete life has this in it still further, that it has done God and His world some service. We are here not merely to find God's favour, but to do God's work (John 9:4). Stephen's Christian life was short, and yet what ends it gained! The dying thief's was still shorter, but how many sermons his words have preached to dying men!

3. The next thing we mention in a complete life is that it should close with submission to the call of God.

4. It should look forward to a continual life with God.

II. THE PLEA FOR A COMPLETE LIFE WHICH THIS PRAYER CONTAINS. The psalmist contrasts his days with God's years, his being cut off in the midst of his days with those years that are throughout all generations. There is deep pathos in it, a sense of his own utter frailty and evanescence. And yet in the heart of it there is faith and hope. It is an appeal to God as the possessor of a complete life in the most absolute sense, the inhabitant and owner of eternity.

1. The eternal life of God suggests the thought of His power to grant this request. He is the possessor of independent and everlasting existence, and can share it with His creatures as seems good to Him.

2. The eternal being of God suggests the thought of His immutability to secure the request. We may have the confidence of this if we realize the thought of an ever-living God, who not only gave being to our souls, but holds them in His hand, and puts into them desires after Himself. All the changes, whether of life or death, cannot affect our relation to Him, except in bringing us nearer. Without an eternal God, what refuge would there be for troubled souls?

3. The thought of God's eternal being suggests His Divine consistency as an encouragement to this request. He has done so much that we may infer He will, if we ask Him, do still more. When I contemplate Him, I see that His eternity is the enclosing zone, the compact and mighty girdle of all His attributes, without which they would be scattered, conflicting forces, aimless and chaotic and fruitless. And what eternity is to God, immortality is to man. It is the indispensable requisite to the unity and completeness of His being. If, then, God has made Himself my highest standard, His unalterable truth and righteousness and goodness the goal towards which I should press, may I not expect that the course will be opened which leads to the goal?

4. God's eternal being is a plea for this request, because it suggests His Divine compassion for us. Great natures are made not more limited by their greatness, but more comprehensive; and the eternity of God does not shut out the thoughts and trials of human lives, but brings them more within His merciful regard. When we feel a touch of tenderness to the feeble creatures around us, to the bird or butterfly that sings its song, and flutters its hour, and dies, let us not imagine that we are more compassionate than God. Every spark of mercy is from His hearth. And when He has put into our souls a sense of a higher life, and a cry for its fulness in Himself, let us not believe He will treat us worse than the beasts that perish, that He will meet their wants in His great liberality and leave ours in endless disappointment.

(John Ker, D. D.)

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