What Is Your Life?
June 5th, 1960 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-5-60 7:30 p.m.
Now in our preaching through the Bible we are in the fourth chapter of the Book of James. And the title of the message is Living Today for Tomorrow. And let us begin reading at the tenth verse and read down to the end of the chapter, the fourth chapter of the Book of James, verse 10 through verse 17, James 4:10-17. And all of us read it together and share your Bible with your neighbor. And read it out loud like it was written to be read, aloud. James 4:10, reading to the end of the chapter. Now all of us together:
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
And may I reread the text:
You that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life?
It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, Deo volente, if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
Your boasting of a tomorrow is not good.
God has given us memories for the past that we might reflect, that we might repent, that we might consider. But God has not given us the eyes, curiously to pry into the future.
In the merciful providence of heaven what the morrow brings is hidden from our eyes. For all that we know a dark and ominous day may be drawing nigh. And in the providence of God we do not see it, nor are we aware of it. A man would die a thousand deaths facing just one death. And a man would faint under a thousand lashes dreading one stroke. But God hides it away from our eyes, and we do not know what the morrow may bring.
This pastor applies that to our life in this secular world. He says that a man who boasts that he is going to do this or to do that, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such-and-such a city, and we will continue there a year, or we will stay two, or we will make it fifteen or twenty, and we will buy and sell and get gain,” and he is proud in his outline and he is boastful in his future conquests.
The pastor says that that is foolishness unto God. For you know not what any day or any tomorrow may bring [James 4:14]. There is only one thing, he says, is a sure oracle, and that is that we face the shroud and the grave, “Your life a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and vanisheth away” [James 4:14]. The greatest, wisest king in all the earth, Solomon, said, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” [Proverbs 27:1].
The pastor asks, “What is your life?” [James 4:14]. There are many answers to that question, what is your life? Shakespeare said it is a drama. “The whole world is a stage, and we’re the actors that appear upon it.” Sir Walter Raleigh said, “Life is a journey.” The orator Burke said, “It’s a shadow.” Job says in the ninth chapter of his poem that life is like a runner: a carrier of a message so swiftly does it speed by. He says life is like a ship. Look at it, that it goes beyond the horizon. And he says life is like an eagle descending so swiftly to its prey [Job 9:25-26].
In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah the great prophet says life, our life, “is like the flower that fadeth and as the grass that withereth” [Isaiah 40:7]. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes our life is described as a day that is darkened, and as mourners go about the street, when the daughters of music are brought low, when they sing in a quiet and a hushed voice, when “the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern” [Ecclesiastes 12:1-6]. These are pictures of the transitoriness of our life.
But this pastor James likens it to a vapor, a breath on a cold morning that so soon dissolves, and vanishes away [James 4:14]. A cobweb is ten times as strong, and a cobweb is not a tithe as frail as a man’s life. There are a thousand laws in the mechanism of a man’s life. Any one of which that is violated and it evaporates. Our life is made unto God with a thousand different strings and any one of them that is snapped and it perishes, destroyed like the pillars of the ancient temple at Ephesus to Diana, scattered like the golden palace of Nero, gone like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; lost in the community of the unending graves of these that have died before us.
However you may garnish the tombs, the commonest thing in this earth is the common grave, everywhere, in every village, in every town, in every country, in every nation, in every place, the unendingness of the grave and of death. What is your life? “A vapor, that appeareth for a time, a little while, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14]. Just for a moment it is ours, then it dissolves and it evaporates and the place thereof shall know it no more, as the flower that fades, as the grass that withereth [Isaiah 40:7], so our life dissolves in the presence of God and of men.
This is the statistical truth. In ten years every fourth one will be dead. In any audience, count “one, two, three,” and the fourth one will die. “One, two, three,” and the fourth one will die. In the audiences to which I have preached to today, there will be almost seventy or eighty people this year who will die. We buried one of our deacons Wednesday, we buried one of our deacons Saturday, yesterday. We bury a third one of our deacons at eleven o’clock in the morning. Augustine said, of this earthly pilgrimage, he did not know whether this life was a dying life or a living death. It is the commonest thing that characterizes humanity. Our life is like a vapor, it appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away [James 4:14].
There are a thousand gates to the abyss and the darkness of the river of death. Sometimes it comes suddenly, like the grass is mowed under the visitation of the scythe. Sometimes, like a leaf that is torn from the tree. Sometimes, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, our strength is turned into weakness and our comeliness into corruption. However a man may be endeared, affection will not heal him. And however a man may devote his life to God and to the service of the kingdom of Christ, his service and his devotion will not protect him. And however a man may be able, with all of the genius and ministries of science and of life to prolong his days, that inevitable hour always and certainly comes.
The old Arab proverb says, “The black camel of death visits every tent.” The Lord God sent Isaiah the prophet to Hezekiah and said, “Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” [2 Kings 20:1]. All of us are on a field of battle, and the serried rank fall on the field in youth, in childhood, in age, in manhood, and there is no surcease and no discharge from that war. We are out on a field where the fiery darts of death, flaming dissolution, hurled at us from every side, and there’s no armor to protect our breasts or our backs.
There are only two that ever escaped death in this life, Elijah [2 Kings 2:11] and Enoch [Genesis 5:24]. And doubtless we shall not be a third unless our Lord come soon and again [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We are like a traveler on the bosom of a great stream moving toward a cataract, and even in our sleep, the great bosom of the river carries us and bears us along. What is your life? “It is a vapor, that appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14]. It is gone.
What is to be our attitude toward that; one of gloom, one of despair? Ah, it depends upon how a man is in his soul and in his heart. To the man outside of Christ, to the man whose life and whose hope is in this world, death is an awful despair and an incalculable tragedy. A man may abort the cross, but he can’t abort the grave. A man may refuse Christ, but he is not able to refuse death.
When a man says no to God, and when a man says no to Christ, and when a man builds his life in this world and in this time, death to him is a frightful thing! Death frowns upon him because he frowns upon death. Death is a skeleton in his closet, always there. Death is the specter at the foot of his bed, always there. Death is the canker in his every joy and in his every vision and in his every dream: it’s always there. To the man outside of God and outside of Christ, death is an awful thing. Life, a vapor that vanisheth away [James 4:14].
But to the man in God, and to the man in Christ, and to the man who has given his soul in faith, in devotion, and in service to Jesus, these solemn periods that are spoken to us by that great orator and preacher, death brings to us our solemnity and our devotions, and our great and spiritual elevation.
For one thing, in this admonition we turn from the things of this world to the things of God. It was while Peter Waldo was at a banquet in the hilarity of an evening, thoughtless, careless, without burden and devotion and commitment—Peter Waldo, at that banquet, in laughter, and in glee, and in gladness, without any care, his friend by his side fell upon sleep, just suddenly died. Peter Waldo went hastily to his home and searched for God and searched the Scriptures and gave his life to Christ, and became the founder of that Waldensian church that for a millennium kept alive the faith of Christ.
Martin Luther was walking along by a friend who was struck to the ground in death by lightning, and prepared his heart for the great service of Christ. When Sir William Russell was being escorted to his execution he took the watch out of his pocket and gave it to the clergyman and said, “Sir, the timepiece is yours. I’m not dealing with time now. I’m dealing with eternity.” These things solemnize our life. They solemnize our lives. These things make us pause in the on rush of the vigor and the race of every day’s grasping and every day’s planning and every day’s living. And they bring us face to face with God. And they teach us the wisdom of God in contradistinction to the wisdom of this world.
The Book that I hold in my hand is not a book of death, it is not a book of dissolution, it is not a book of gloom and despair. This Book I hold in my hand is a book of everlasting and eternal life. It preaches life. It describes life. It offers life. It promises life. The Book that I hold in my hands begins with the promise of a Child [Genesis 3:15], and the New Testament, part of it, begins with the birth of a Child [Matthew 1:20-25]. And the Book that I hold in my hand ends with a glorious resurrection [Revelation 21-22] and a triumph over sin and death and the grave [1 Corinthians 15:54-57].
In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I am come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.” In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that liveth and believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never, never, ever die” [John 11:25-26]. This is a Book of life and not of death, of triumph and not of despair, of resurrection and not of the grave. “O Grave, where is thy sting? O Death, where is thy victory?” [1 Corinthians 15:55].
In the presentation of the wisdom of God as we face these solemnities, we are not to confuse life with things. As our Lord said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15]. The rich young ruler turned aside from eternal life because he had too many things in his heart [Mark 10:22]. The way is narrow and the gate is strait [Matthew 7:14] and he could not enter in holding the world in his heart [Mark 10:22].
And that rich farmer that said, “Look how I am increased. And I am going to tear down my barns and build greater.” And God said, “Foolish man! This night thy soul is required of thee.” And that night he died. “And then whose were all of those things?” [Luke 12:18-20]. We are not to confuse life with the abundance of things. That’s not life.
Nor are we to confuse life with length of days. Methuselah lived nine hundred sixty-nine years [Genesis 5:27]. Jesus lived thirty-three [Luke 3:23]. It isn’t length of days that means life. “A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday . . . and a watch in the night” [Psalm 90:4]. “And a day, in His sight, is as a thousand years” [2 Peter 3:83]. It’s not connected with time.
Then what is this life that God speaks of in the Book? That life is the resurrection life that is given to us by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says, “You who were dead in trespasses and in sins hath He quickened” [Ephesians 2:1]. Paul says, “He that liveth in pleasure is damned while he liveth” [Ephesians 2:3]. Paul says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God [Romans 8:7], and to be carnally minded is death” [Romans 8:6].
“But you who were dead in trespasses and in sins hath He quickened” into everlasting life [Ephesians 2:1]. “He that hath the Son hath life” [1 John 5:12]. When the prodigal came back from the far country, the father said, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:18-24]. This life in the Book is the resurrection life that death cannot touch, that goes beyond the grave, that lives eternally in the presence and sight of God world without end [John 3:16, 10:27-30].
As I read then from the sacred page, and learn of the character of my days and the brevity of my time, how shall I do? And how shall I fare? And how shall I face this grim visitor? Why, we shall face that pale horseman, and His coming [Revelation 6:8], and we shall face that inevitable approach of the shroud and of the tomb [Hebrews 9:27]; we shall face that inevitable dissolution and decay; we shall face that corruption and that hour of trial and death; we shall face it triumphantly, in the assurance, and in the grace, and in the mercy, and in the faith of Jesus our Lord! [John 11:26].
We shall do it as the apostle Paul. First, first, Paul turned to these who were following after. “O Timothy,” he said, “keep that which is committed to thy trust. O Timothy, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:1-2]. I shall not stand in this pulpit forever.
God knoweth there is a day, an appointed time, there is an hour known to Him. And this voice shall be stilled and this tongue shall be silent, and this pastor shall lie in the dust of the ground. What shall we do in the face of our certain and inevitable dissolution? We shall turn to these who follow us and place in their hands these same rich treasures of grace that God hath bestowed upon us. We shall teach our children. We shall place in their hearts these same great truths. Before our time shall end and our task is done and God says, “It is finished. Come up higher,” we shall seek to place in their hands the torch of truth we received from those who went before us.
Ah, the blessing we have inherited from those who walked before our day, our fathers, our mothers, our people, and these rich inheritances that God hath bestowed upon us, we shall seek in His grace and in His goodness to hand down to them. There will be another preacher standing in this pulpit in God’s time. O Lord! Whoever is teaching that boy now, God bless that teacher and be faithful in building in his soul the great truths and persuasion of the Book of God.
And there are being brought up men and women, who are now boys and girls, to be deacons and teachers and leaders in our land so fair and so free. God bless these teachers, as they build into the souls of these youngsters coming up, the same love for God and for all that our religion stands for and means, and all those rich inheritances we have received as a people. God bless the teacher as he places in their little hearts and minds and souls the rich truths that have blessed our lives.
What shall we do? This shall we do. After he had said to Timothy, “O Timothy, I commit into thy faithful hands these things that I received from God” [2 Timothy 2:2], then he turned the page and wrote the benediction,
I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
When the Christian faces that inevitable hour, he does so with a song in his heart and with words of praise on his lips. It’s a day of triumph and of victory, is it not? Is it not? When the runner runs for the prize, “I’ve finished my course,” when the runner runs for the prize, does he think of running forever? Does he not somewhere reach out to that ultimate reward? When a ship sails on the sea, does it sail forever or does it reach forward to the port and to home? When a boy goes away to school and he’s homesick in his heart, doesn’t he look forward to seeing dad and mother and home again? When a pilgrimage is made, and the weary pilgrim has been long in his journey, does he look forward to that blessed arrival at the shrine of God?
Are we not runners in a race that reach toward the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus? [Philippians 3:14]. Are we not ships on the sea waiting for the port of home? Are we not pilgrims in a weary world with our face lifted up to heaven? [Hebrews 11:10, 13]. To us, it is the grand baccalaureate. To us, it is the incomparably glorious commencement. To us, it is the crown and joy toward which all of our life has been going.
Angel voices sweetly singing,
Bells of gladness loudly ringing,
Words of welcome each one bringing,
Ah! ‘Tis heaven at last.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4:7]. Henceforth, “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. “Henceforth, for me the crown of righteousness” [2 Timothy 4:7-8]. That is the faith and the commitment of the Christian who is living today for tomorrow. Our home, not here but in heaven [John 14:2-3], our eyes lifted up to the glory that is yet to be [Luke 21:28].
In the spirit of that appeal and that promise and that holy word of God, is there somebody you tonight to give your heart to Jesus? [Romans 10:8-13]. “Preacher, tonight I make that decision in my soul. I turn and I come.” Is there a family tonight, to put your lives with us in the fellowship of this precious and blessed church? [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Would you make it now? Would you tonight? In this balcony ‘round somebody you give his heart to Jesus, would you make it now? Come down the stairwell, at the front, at the back. Don’t be timid or bashful because it’s a long way there or there. Come! We’ll sing and pray while you come, giving your heart in trust to Jesus, putting your life with us in the church. Make it tonight.
On this lower floor, this throng and press of people here, into the aisle and down to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God.” As the Spirit shall say the word, shall open the door, shall lead the way, make it tonight. “Here I come, preacher, and here I am. My life, my love, my devotion, my soul, my heart, my destiny now and forever, I commit to Thee, O God! Here I am and here I come. I’ll make it now.” And “Preacher, if I don’t ever see you again, don’t let your heart be full of care about me. I settled this tonight. I look in faith to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], and I’ll see you in glory some of these days.” Why not now? Why not tonight? On the first note of this first stanza, “Here I come, preacher, and here I am. I’ll make it now. I’ll make it tonight.” While we stand and while we sing.