Psalm 89:47
Remember how short my time is. This is the argument of an old man, who knows there can be but a "little while" before his passing time, and is supremely anxious to see the ways of the Lord justified while he is "in the land of the living" Compare Hezekiah's exclamation, when told that he must die. As Ethan was born in the reign of David, and lived through the forty years of Solomon's reign, he must have been an old man in the later time of Rehoboam. In this psalm he gives us the last results of a long life of observation and experience. Trusting fully in God's faithfulness, Ethan could grasp the idea that the present depression of the nation was a temporary discipline; but this only made him the more earnestly plead with God that the discipline might be completed, and the restoration might be granted, before he passed away.

I. First argument: BECAUSE LIFE IS SO FRAIL, DO NOT OVER TRY IT WITH PERPLEXING DEALINGS. The psalmist says, "How fleeting and frail life is!" It is a poor thing, very weak; it cannot stand over-much strain. He deprecates too severe trial in the Divine discipline; afraid of himself, lest faith should fail. The calamities falling upon David's nation seemed more than he could bear. He thought about them day and night; they suggested painful doubts. So he pleads his frailty before God, begging that the calamities may not be carried to extremes, and the faith in God, which he longs to keep, be quite overwhelmed. We can sympathize with Ethan. The strain of modern conflict often seems as if it would overwhelm us. We are too weak, we think, to bear any more. Learn of Ethan that we may plead our frailty with God, and ask for gracious limitations of the strain under which we are put.

II. Second argument: BECAUSE LIFE IS SO SHORT, FINISH THE COURSE OF DISCIPLINE SPEEDILY, SO THAT I MAY UNDERSTAND THY DEALINGS, AND REJOICE IN THE ISSUES. It is the argument of one who intensely longs for the honour of God to be manifested, and for the highest well being of God's people to be secured. Indeed, his very intensity puts his faith in peril; for he wants to see for himself, while he lives, God's honour vindicated, and God's word fulfilled; he cannot be quite content with the assurance that God is jealous of his own honour, and supremely concerned in his people's well being. It is impatience, but it is the impatience of a thoroughly earnest soul. God's work will go on, God's glory will be advanced, whether we die or live. - R.T.

Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?
I. THAT IT IS A RIGHT FEELING, BECAUSE IT ACCORDS WITH FACT. Human life is short, if you consider —

1. That an end must come to it here.

2. Its re-beginning after its earthly close. It is short in view of the new life. What is it to eternity? Nothing.

II. THAT IT ARGUES THE UNDERLYING SENTIMENT OF IMMORTALITY. A man could have no feeling of the length or brevity of time, with all its changes, unless he had within him a settled sentiment of permanence.

III. THAT IT IMPLIES A DEEP INTEREST IN SOME PURPOSE IN LIFE. He is anxious to see the work done; and he is so impressed with the brevity of life, that he works and labours with all diligence.

IV. THAT IT INVOLVES AN UNDERLYING BELIEF THAT LIFE ON THE WHOLE IS A BLESSING. Of all the million sufferers in the world, there are but few of the number who would have their life shortened even by one day.

V. THAT IT SERVES TO STIMULATE US TO MAKE THE BEST USE OF IT. One who feels that he is in the world only for a little time, will strike out for the best things.


God makes no man "in vain," but he may choose to live in vain. He may turn his existence in this world to utter vanity and waste.

1. The true value of our life lies in its spiritual significance; and we save it from being vain and worthless only as we connect it with the spiritual and the eternal. We are accustomed to say that life is long or short, according as it is crowded with incidents and experiences, or is deficient in them. An eventful life is a long life. Some men live more in one year than others do in many. But then, what is the quality of the experience? Your life outwardly may be eventful enough, but inwardly it may be strangely destitute of all that is fitted to give it a distinctive and a noble character.

2. The value of our life lies in the nature of the work that has been given us to do in it; and we save it from being "vain" only by earnest and diligent attention to that work. It demands the cultivation in ourselves of the affections and energies of the life of God, and the diffusion of such an influence and the doing of such deeds as shall be for the enduring benefit and blessing of the world in which He has placed us.

(Joseph Waite, M.A.)

That men's lives are vain is the universal complaint. Men are perplexed and overwhelmed by the mystery of life and the world's misery. The Bible is full of it. Isaiah tells how "we all do fade as a leaf," and that plaintive thought was the same felt so keenly by Homer, too — "like leaves on trees the race of man is found." It is the solemn teaching and experience of the human heart, and of the sages and poets of all ages. "Sadness," said Savonarola, "besieges me day and night. Whatever I see, or hear, bears the standard of sadness. The memory of my friends saddens me, the meditation of my studies afflicts me, the thought of my sins sinks me down, and, as in a fever, the sweetest things taste as sadness in my mouth." It has been ever so; and apostles and prophets, however inspired, weep out the same sad notes. Christ alone, though he was "the man of sorrows," indulges no morbid note on man, for he saw too clearly the destiny of man to utter any words that could sound like a dirge over his being.

I. Yet, I think, I may first attempt to collect and press upon you THE EVIDENCE UPON THIS COMMON THOUGHT — THE TEMPTATION TO BELIEVE THAT MAN IS MADE IN VAIN. Everything rebukes vanity in man, since he himself, as well as the world, is vain. The idea often thrills through us that man is made in vain. Experiences are different, but the feeling is universal. All men feel it of all men. Job speaks of his being like a "hidden, untimely birth." Yes, and what a mockery there is, apparently, in the birth and death of little children. But I do not think that these are the most startling views of the vanity of life. I would rather fix the argument upon the utter disproportion between the powers and the position of man. It is then, I say and see, that man is made in vain. Nothing has more perplexed me than the sight in life of angels — I must call them so — who have lost their way; their lives seem to have been altogether in vain; a gifted sensibility, perhaps, in a hard, coarse family; a soul sensitive to every impression of gentleness and beauty, with a body unable to second the designs and desires of the soul — the soul soaring, the body limping. Our thoughts crush us — man was made to mourn, and man was made in vain. Unsatisfactory and miserable world, may we well exclaim, where nothing is real, and nothing is realized; when I consider how our lives are passed in the struggle for existence; when I consider the worry of life; when I consider how the millions pass their time in a mere toil for sensual objects; when I consider the millions of distorted existences; and the many millions! — the greater number of the world by far — who wander Christless, loveless, hopeless, over the broad highway of it; when I consider life in many of the awakened as a restless dream; when I consider this, and much else, I can almost exclaim with our unhappy poet —

" Count all the joys thine hours have seen,

Count all thy days from anguish free,

And know, whatever thou hast been,

'Twere something better not to be."I can conceive many a soul, and not an irreverent one, saying, "O God! what is my life? What am I? What have I done? I am a failure. Why have I had given me unoccupied affections; they have never met their response, their realization, their fulfilment. How I could have loved, how I could have wrought; I feel these things in me." Now, it is the fashion of infidelity to believe that God has no details, no specialities, and this thought sometimes drives in with a panic on the spirit; for we are caught up by the huge engine of the machine-god, and torn amidst the wheels of what does not care more for hearts than it does for oaks. Our lives seem spent in vain. I know the reply to all this with many is a cold and icy sneer of contempt at the egotism and conceit of it all. "The universe has done very well for you hitherto; trust the universe, let these inquisitive questions alone." To which I reply, Alas! they will not let me alone; moreover, if my fault is egotism and individuality, what is yours? Indifference, inhumanity, coldness, in a word — brutality. I do not desire to sink to the unconsciousness of "beasts that perish."

II. Notice THE STRUCTURE OF THE QUESTION, Is it possible to reconcile the vanity of man with the greatness of God? This vanity of man, is it consistent with thee, and with what thou art?

1. I believe that thou hast not a chief regard to thine own power. God is not a mere power. What should we think of him who, able to stamp upon the canvas the forms of Murillo, the colours of Tintoretto, able to hew his marbles to the shape of Flaxman, or to mould his pottery to Etruscan loveliness, yet treated all as a freak, and destroyed remorselessly as readily as he created? But what is the artist of the canvas to the artist of flowers, to the artist of the human eye, the artist of the bird's wing? The artist says, I made them, but I cannot preserve them; but the author of eternal beauty Thou art, and why hast Thou made not only things, but man himself in vain? The mother, indeed, goes to her little cot where the lamb of her bosom lies stretched out in its little shroud. She says, "Yes, my darling, I bare thee, and nursed thee; but I could not keep thee;" but God, "Why hast Thou made men in vain?"

2. God is not mere law. "I believe Thou art not heedless of Thy creatures' desire, though they seem to be mocked." We are not like children at play, blowing bubbles which break in non-existence even while they soar. This cannot be enjoyment to Thee.

3. Thou art pure being, Thou canst not, therefore, be pleased only to contemplate evanescence and decay. It is not consistent with Thy glory that "the whole creation should groan and travail in pain together." Dost Thou not "rejoice in Thy works"? and canst Thou rejoice in these? Is not Thy world one huge stone coffin, where every piece of limestone is but the record of death, and the fairest things float loathsomely out of existence into corruption and decay. And now these are, as you well know, the soliloquies and cries of our nature; and the appropriate answer to all is, Man is not made in vain. Unless I have mistaken myself, I believe that some of the topics I have suggested will convey a reply to this question, and show that the absolute vanity of man is incompatible with the glory and with the promise of God. There is something in him which God does not regard as vanity. "The sure mercies of David" are not vanity; "the covenant ordered in all things and sure" is not vanity; "the exceeding great and precious promises, by which we become partakers of the Divine nature," are not vanity. Mutation and change, indeed, surround us everywhere. But there are "two immutable," unchangeable "things" — the will of God, and the Word of God, as the expression of His will. There is an image, over which change never passes. It can suffer no defacement; nothing can mar it. And as we are conformed to this, a growing joy steals over us, and steeps us in its blessedness as we become "new creatures in Christ, Jesus"; as the "old things pass away," as "the Word" which "gives light" enters and sows itself in the heart, we gradually learn what it is for man not to be made in vain.

III. Hence I have conjoined with this poor human word; this elegy over unfulfilled lives; this other word; this WORD OF REPOSE ON DIVINE INTENTION AND COMPLETED BEING — "My times are in Thy hand." Nothing is more certain, nothing are men more indisposed to perceive than this — we have to

"Wait for some transcendent life,

Reserved by God to follow this."To this end God's real way is made up of all the ways of our life. His hand holds all our times. "My times are in Thy hand" — the hand of my Saviour. He regulates our life clock. Christ for and Christ in us. My times are in His hand. My life can be no more in vain, than was my Saviour's life in vain.

IV. AND THIS TRUTH RIGHTLY GRASPED AND HELD, WE SHALL NEVER THINK IT POSSIBLE THAT ANY LIFE CAN BE UNFULFILLED WHICH DOES NOT, BY ITS OWN VOLUNTARY PERVERSITY, FLING ITSELF AWAY. No doubt, men may be suicides to their own souls. Did not our Lord say, "Better were it for that man that he had never been born"? and there are beings for whom that would be the only appropriate epitaph. All in vain! O my soul, anything to escape that. Let life here seem increasingly vain; only save me from the vanity of eternity, and the horrors of that fearful looking for where nothing is realized but woe. Oh to reach "the fulness of joy," so that I and mine may say as we gaze upon our Redeemer in light, "No, through Thee and Thy merits, we have not been made in vain." But you solitary, suffering, disappointed hearts, take some comfort. "The best is yet to be."

(E. Paxton Hood.)

There are many circumstances in life that tend to impress us with the vanity of our mortal existence on the assumption that there is no future.

I. The disproportion between the LENGTH OF OUR EXISTENCE AND OUR LONGINGS.

II. The disproportion between our FACULTIES and our ACHIEVEMENTS. All feel they can do vastly more than they can accomplish here.

III. The disproportion between our ASPIRATIONS and our ATTAINMENT. How much knowledge, power, influence we aspire to, but how little do we gain!(Homilist.)


1. The brevity of our mortal existence.

2. The positive evils that are in the world.

(1)Sickness and pain.

(2)Wars and fightings.


(4)Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, etc.


1. After all the failure, and fiction, and insincerity, and envy, that attend worldly possessions, we cannot surely suppose them of much real value. If we had only what they afford, we should be compelled to confess we were made in vain.

2. Knowledge is not necessarily happiness. We are not going to say, that increase of knowledge is always increase of sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18); but we believe most of the happiness that we find in knowledge, in exercising intellect, in discovering truth, springs from the hope we entertain of making our knowledge subserve our happiness in other respects. If our only felicity consisted in knowing, we believe it would be extremely small. And how little even men called learned succeed in making their acquisitions advance human felicity, the whole history of cultured intellect too sadly tells.

3. Some one might say to us, the joys of friendly attachment are neither few nor small; they are pure; they are peaceful; they are noble. But let us remember there are regions where the husband and the father is the tyrant; where the mother murders her offspring; where the wife is the slave; and where the widow burns on the funeral pile of her husband! Let us remember, too, how often friendships give place to enmity. When half the world is dressed in mourning, its friendships can scarcely convince us that, apart from another world, all men have not been made in vain.

4. Religion is vain, if the world is all. Its votaries are miserably deluded. They have renounced the world, but gained nothing.


1. The amazing difficulties of that species of infidelity which denies a future state.

2. That the doctrine of immortality, and the truths of religion, are very needful to us, in order to make us happy even here. Remove immortality — and what is man? a distressful dream! a throb — a wish — a sigh — then, nothing! But, blessed be God, life and immortality are brought to light. Yes —

3. That the true Christian is the happiest man. He is not perplexed with a thousand doubts and difficulties that trouble the unbeliever.

(I. S. Spencer, D.D.)

I. If we consider LIFE AS IT IS IS ITSELF, and form our estimate of its value only by the degree of temporal enjoyment it is capable of affording, it will appear to be very vain indeed; and man will almost seem to be made for nothing.

1. Consider how short life is!

2. Consider its uncertainty. Who can say of any project that he has formed, that he shall accomplish it?

3. Survey also the sufferings to which life is exposed in this short existence. — Take notice of the natural calamities which belong to man. Look at the history of man, and see what he suffers from his own species.

4. Look also at the business of life, the very end for which most men live, and the same reflection will forcibly recur. What is the end for which so much toil is endured, so many cares and anxieties suffered? Simply this; to go on suffering the same anxieties and cares, and enduring the same toil.

II. Let us look at life in ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW, and we shall see that God has not made man in vain.

1. We live not to eat, and drink, and labour; but we eat, drink, and labour, in order to live; that is, to fulfil the will of our great Creator and to glorify His name. Now, this is done when His will is made the chief rule of our lives, and His glory the end of our actions; when we exercise dispositions proper to our stations in life and agreeable to the duties we owe to Him. In this light the events of life are comparatively of little consequence, the duties they call forth are what are of importance. In this view, life is not to be regarded as given in vain.

2. When we carry our view forward to that eternal state of which this life is but the beginning, and in comparison of which it is but a moment; when we consider that this eternal life will be either miserable or happy according to the manner in which we spend our short existence here; surely this life is not in vain: it becomes of infinite importance — an importance proportioned to that infinite happiness or woe with which it is necessarily connected.

3. What a value is stamped upon life; what dignity upon the world, when we behold the only Son of God taking upon Him that life, and coming into that world! Are men made in vain, when the only begotten of the Father gave His life as a ransom for theirs?

4. Is life of such unspeakable moment, and yet is it so short in its duration? What an additional value does it derive even from this circumstance, which may seem, at first sight, to detract from its worth! If life be so uncertain; if almost the only thing certain in life is that we shall die, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness!

(John Penn, M.A)

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