The Quality of Life
November 3rd, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
James 4: 13-16
11-3-74 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you on television and on radio to the services of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Quality Of Life. It is an exposition of some verses in the fourth chapter of the Book of James. The pastor writes, in the thirteenth through the sixteenth verses, these words:
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 will 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.
But now ye rejoice in your boastings: and all such rejoicing is evil.
The pastor avows an axiomatic truth to all of us: God gives us memories to reflect on the past. But God has not given us eyes to discern the future. No man—no man knows what any tomorrow may bring. There must have been a kindness and a goodness of God in thus veiling the future from our eyes, for if a man knew what the morrow would bring, he would live in constant fear and foreboding.
Dying, he would die a thousand deaths, before dying just once. Fainting, he would faint a thousand times under a stroke that was yet to be delivered. God hides the future from our eyes that we might live in confidence and in hope.
And that’s why the pastor of the church in Jerusalem [Acts 21:18; Galatians 2:12], and the Lord’s brother [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], writes: “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow . . . [James 4:14] Therefore a man ought to say, If God wills, if God will stand by me, if God will help me, I will live, and I will do this and that” [John 4:15]. But the man who looks upon himself as all-sufficient and all-adequate, he’s the man who says, “This year, I’ll do thus and so; and next year, I’ll do thus and so; and five years and maybe ten and twenty from now, I shall do thus and so. I shall add these thousands to my treasures, and I shall add these estates to my possessions.” And he lives in boastful, prideful, self-assurance and self-confidence.
The self-made man, the pastor writes—and let me change the words there so you can see a little more poignantly what he says—in the King James Version, it reads: “But now ye rejoice in your boastings” [James 4:16]. The word, kauchaomai, “rejoice,” actually means, “to boast.” “But now ye rejoice. . . ” You are boasting in your—and the word is alazoneia, which means, “ostentation show.” He boasts in his supposed superiority, his ostentatious self-confidence. He knows what he is going to do. He knows what he is going to be. He knows what the morrow brings. And so without God and without even feeling the need of the blessings of the Lord, he lives his life in prideful self-assurance.
Now the pastor, addressing himself to that, says that a man is not right when he lives that way and when he purposes to live a life as though it were mortgaged to him. But the pastor writes: “A man ought to say, ‘If God will help me, and if the Lord will stand by me, and if God gives me breath and length of days, I shall do this and that, in His will.’”
Now the ultimate reason for what he says is in the text: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14]. Now that’s an interesting question he raises: “What is your life?” It is most frequently defined in the earth’s best literature.
For example, Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Life is a fairy tale, written by God’s finger.” Robert Browning wrote, “Life is probation and the earth is not the goal but the starting point.” Thomas Carlisle wrote, “Life is a little gleam of time between two eternities.” Goethe wrote, “Life is the childhood of our immortality.” William Shakespeare wrote—and every schoolboy could quote it: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Henry Thoreau wrote, “Life is like a stroll upon the beach.”
Sir Richard Francis Burton wrote:
Life is a ladder infinite-stepped,
that hides its rungs from human eyes;
Planting its foot in chaos-gloom.
Its head soars high above the skies.
And, so, almost ad infinitum, you could find in literature the response of our finest poetic genius to the meaning of life.
But it is interesting to us, who love the Lord and have given our hearts to Him, to read in the Holy Scriptures what God says about life. And that’s the message this morning. Old Job said, “Our life is like the sparks that fly upward” [Job 5:7]. He says, “It’s like a messenger, swiftly on his way” [Job 9:25]. He said, “It’s like a ship, crossing the bosom of the sea” [Job 9:26]. Job said, “Life is like an eagle, darting to its prey” [Job 9:26], so swiftly done.
In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, the inspired prime minister of Judah said, “Life is like a flower that fades, and like the grass that withers” [Isaiah 40:6-8]. And, in our text, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem wrote, “What is your life? It is a vapor. It appeareth for just a while, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14].
There is an insubstantiality in life that is undeniable. It is like our breath on a cold, frosty morning; and, how quickly does it dissipate. It is like a brittle thread, not one-tenth of the substance of a spider’s thread, so easily broken and torn apart. And in the text, “And how quickly it vanisheth away” [James 4:14].
Our life is soon scattered like Nero’s golden palace. It is gone like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It is destroyed like the beautiful pillars of the seventh wonder of the world, the Ephesian temple of Diana. It is lost in the enumerable rows of graves in a cemetery, forgotten. However you garnish a tomb. The commonest thing that I could know is a grave.
How soon it vanishes away. There are certainties about life, and the number one is its ending, its certain and inevitable conclusion. We die— sometimes, so suddenly, so tragically. Yesterday morning—in this very place—we laid to rest in memorial service a sweet child of the church—just barely eighteen years of age—her life snuffed out in a tragic accident. We just cast ourselves upon the mercies of God, that God will give us breath and length of days.
Death can come so quickly, so suddenly, without announcement, without any foreboding—just suddenly sweep us away. Like the grass before the oncoming reaping of the scythe, like a leaf that falls from an autumnal branch. How soon can our strength be turned into weakness, and our comeliness into destruction and corruption. The Lord, by Isaiah, sent word to Hezekiah the king saying, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” [Isaiah 38:1].
Who can spare us and save us from that judgment: inevitable, inexorable? A man in the service of his country is not protected from death, even by his patriotism. A child, surrounded by love and affection, is not shielded from that grim reaper. And a man in his affluence and in his abundance, cannot buy one other breath of life, if God says, “The time has come.”
All of us alike belong to an army engaged in a war, from which there is no discharge. We march in seriate ranks on a field subject to the darts of death, with no protection from breast or back. Like a stream carrying us to a great fall, we are born—even in our sleep—on the breast of the river of life, to its ultimate and final and cataclysmic plunge.
Now, what is to be our attitude toward that? I have said nothing strange or unusual. I have just repeated what all us intuitively know and experientially see. What is our attitude toward that inevitable judgment of the day of our decline and cessation? Well, for those of the world, I can understand why it would be a catastrophe. It is an abysmal, midnight darkness. I can understand that. However the man may be boastful in himself, he has to hide from his eyes the reality of death; he has to.
And isn’t that a strange irony of fate, that a man can obviate the cross of Christ, but not death? He can push far from him the appeal of Christ, but not the grave. All us stand at just a measured distance from its open tomb. And the man of the world—however strong, and able, and well—has a skeleton in his closet; it’s death. He has a specter at the foot of his bed; it’s death. And he has a canker in all of his worldly plans and joys; it’s death.
But how different is it to the man who bows in the presence of God and says, “If the Lord will, and if God gives me life, then shall I do this or that” [James 4:15]. Death to that man is but a call from God to higher and holier things.
Peter Waldo founded the Waldensian Church, way back there in the many centuries ago. He was the scion of a wealthy, affluent family. And he was living his life—as so many young, affluent men do—out in the world in a big time, in a big way. He was at a banquet. He was at a dinner party, and a young friend seated by his side suddenly dropped his head to the table and died. It was a shock to young Peter Waldo, and he began to search for some answer to the meaning of life, and he found it in God. And thereafter, Peter Waldo, giving up his life of ease and fortune, stood on the streets, stood in the marketplace, stood on the highway where men passed by and preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.
Martin Luther was a nominal Christian and churchman, walking side-by-side with a friend one day as a young man, lightening came from heaven and struck his friend, and he died there before Martin Luther’s eyes. And thereafter the big German gave his life to a search for the meaning of God’s breath in us.
One of the noblemen of England, on his way to execution at the order of the king, passed by his clergyman. And he stopped, took out his watch and placed it in the hands of the minister and said, “Sir, the timepiece is yours. I am now to live in eternity.”
Ah! These are knockings at the door. Every grave, every cemetery, every passing hour is an emissary from heaven. There’s a day coming, an inevitable hour, when God shall take away our breath, and we shall stand open and naked before Him with whom we have to do. And that brings me to heart of the message. Then what is the wisdom of God in teaching us the meaning of life? What is life?
Our Lord said—and listen to His words—“I am come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. Isn’t that [an] amazing thing? So oft times will a child of the world say or think, “I don’t want be a Christian. Nor do I want to give my life to God, for I want to have a good time, and I want to live. And I want to drink life’s joys to the fullest.” When just the opposite God says is true. “I am come that they might have life, and have it more aboundingly, overflowingly, abundantly” [John 10:10].
It was the Lord who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” [John 14:6]. It was the Lord [who] said, in the presence of death, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25]. What is that life? That kind of life, the life that God called life; what is that? One: it is not in the abundance of things. It is not.
Our Lord said of the rich man who pulled down his barns to build greater because he was so prospered and affluent [Luke 12:16-19], that night God knocked at his door and said, “Foolish man, this night thy life, thy soul, is required of thee: and whose shall these things be?” [Luke 12:20]. “For,” said our Lord, “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth” [Luke 12:15]. I could understand easily if a man’s life is stocks and bonds, if a man’s life is real estate and possessions, if a man’s life is this world, death is a nightmare, a grim reaper, a king of terrors. I can understand that, for that’s not life. That’s a travesty upon it.
Nor does a man’s life consist in the length of days. Methuselah was nine hundred sixty-nine years old when he died [Genesis 5:27]. The Lord was thirty-three [Luke 3:23]. I know nothing about Methuselah, except that he lived and died at nine hundred sixty-nine years. But, oh, what Jesus—blessed Lord—in thirty-three years means to us and to the world!
Well, what is this life then that the Lord describes as being real living? It is this. When the man says, “If God wills, if heaven wills, I shall live and do this, and that, in God’s will” [James 4:15], when a man builds his days around God, when a man in humble surrender bows before the Lord—“I, who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]—when a man is born in the faith, then he begins to live.
Could I illustrate that poignantly? Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? [Luke 15:11-32]. He left his father’s house, took his inheritance, and lived it up. The Book says, “in riotous living.” The Book says, “wasting it upon harlots” [Luke 15:12-13].
That’s what the world says is a big time. “Man, look at us. Listen to us. Watch us.” And they dance, and they sing, and they drink, and they live in promiscuity. And they deny every precept of heaven. They are having a big time, a wonderful time. That’s what the world says. But when the lad came back home, remember what his father said? “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:24]. God calls that death. Even the apostle Paul wrote, “The woman who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” [1 Timothy 5:6]. God calls that death.
God calls this life. It is life when a man is born in the faith unto God. The sainted apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1: “We, we who were dead in trespasses and in sins, hath God quickened” to a new life in Christ [Ephesians 2:1]. This is the life.
The sainted John wrote, “He that hath the Son hath life” [1 John 5:12]. We are born into the resurrected glory of our Lord. And upon us who have already died, there is no other death, just victory, triumph, and translation. That thing that the world calls death is nothing but a biological, anatomical come to pass in this body, made of the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7].
But that’s not death in the Book. The Book calls it, for us who love Jesus, the Book calls it—for this physical frame—the Book calls it a sleeping in Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:14]: a koimētērion, a place where people sleep in the Lord. That’s a Christian word. When you take in the English, it spells out cemetery. The world never heard that word until the Christians invented it, as the place where they lay asleep their beloved dead, awaiting the resurrection day of our Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17].
To the Christian, what the world calls death is but a sounding of the trumpets on the other side of the river as one of God’s children go home. What they call death, to us is nothing but the angels coming to take us up into Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16:22]. What they call death is nothing but the sailor coming home and the hunter from the hills.
Do you remember the little poem that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to be inscribed on his tomb? And there it is to this day.
Under the wide and starry sky:
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad that I lived, and gladly die,
And I lay me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me.
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hills.
That is death to the child of God: coming into port; the pilgrim, coming home.
This a man should say, “If God wills, we shall live and do this and do that [James 4:15]. And if my life is lived under the surveillance of God, in the eye of the Lord, in the will of heaven”—whether it is now or the morrow, or some other day—“it’s in God’s hands.” And our life is one of constant victory and triumph.
“If for me to live is Christ, to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. If for me to live is the world, to die is a loss. If for me to live is money, to die is a loss. If for me to live is sinful pleasure, to die is a loss. If for me to live is self, to die is a loss. “But if for me to live is Christ, to die is a gain.” Oh, blessed hope [Titus 2:13], precious comfort, wonderful Savior who gives purpose, and meaning, and goal, and outreach, and blessedness to these days of our appointed time!
Our time is spent, and in a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal. While we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, thus to give your heart to Jesus, or to give your life to the will of God, or to join with us in the praying, and the worshiping, and the singing, and the praising of our Lord God, if God puts it in your heart to come, make the decision now. And when we stand to sing in a moment, stand coming down that aisle: “Here I am, pastor. I make it now. I am coming now,” while we stand and while we sing.
THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. God has given us memories to reflect on the past – but not eyes to discern the future(James 4:14)
1. That we might live in confidence, hope
B. Those who look upon themselves as all-sufficient, all-adequate behave most foolishly(James 4:16)
1. Ought to say, “If God will help, stand byâ€¦”(James 4:15)II. What is your life?
A. Frequently defined in the world’s best literature
B. What God says in the Scriptures(Job 5:7, 9:25-26, Isaiah 40:6-7)
1. Unsubstantial(James 4:14)
2. Shall certainly vanish away(James 4:14)III. Our attitude, response
B. Death to the Christian is a call from God to higher and holier things
1. Peter Waldo
2. Martin Luther
3. English nobleman on his way to execution
C. A call from the wisdom of the world to the wisdom of God
1. New Testament a book of life(John 10:10, 11:25, 14:6)
a. Teaches us life is not to be confused with things(Luke 12:15, 18-20)
b. Teaches us life is not length of days
c. True life is the resurrection life of faith in God(Luke 15:10-32, 1 Timothy 5:6, Ephesians 2:1, 1 John 5:12)
2. For those who love Jesus, it is not death, but sleeping in Jesus
3. To live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)