The Quality of Life
November 3rd, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
THE QUALITY OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-3-74 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to our early morning service. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Quality of Life. This is the text:
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.
The word of the pastor is just a summation of what all of us distinctly and experientially realize. God hath given us memories to remember the past, to reflect upon it. But God hath not given us eyes to probe the future. “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow” [James 4:14]. I would suppose that is a kindness of God. The Lord has hid it from our eyes. Doubtless, if we knew, say, the fear of death would bring to us a thousand deaths before we died, and we would faint before a thousand strokes dreading the fall of just one; it is the kindness of God that He has hid from our eyes the morrow. If we knew what would certainly happen, the awesome dread of it would crush our lives.
Then he says that the man who thinks that he knows, today and tomorrow, this year and next year, then five years and ten years and maybe twenty and forty, the man who says “this I will do” and he leaves God out of his plan, he says that you don’t quite get the turn of the pastor’s word in the King James Version. “Ye rejoice in your boastings” [James 4:16]. Let’s look at that just a little closely, kaukaomai, “you are uplifted and proud in your boastings,” alazonia, in your ostentation, your showing. The man who says, “I know what the morrow will be and I am preparing for it,” and he is proud in his ostentatious persuasion that he knows what is on the morrow, James says such ostentatious pride and such self-sufficiency is evil. For a man doesn’t know what any tomorrow may bring. So, the pastor writes, the man ought to say, “If God will help me and if God will stand by me and if God will be good to me, I shall do this and that” [James 4:15].
Then he gives the basic reason why our attitude toward all of life and every tomorrow ought to be one of deepest humility in the presence of the sovereign God. “For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14].
That is an interesting question. What is your life? You’ll find many answers to that in the world of literature. For example:
- Hans Christian Anderson writes, “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 Carlyle wrote, “Life is a little gleam of time between two eternities.”
- Goethe wrote, “Life is the childhood of our immortality.”
- William Shakespeare wrote, and there’s not a schoolboy that doesn’t know it, Shakespeare said, “Life is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
- Henry Thoreau wrote, “Life is like a stroll upon a beach.”
- Sir Richard Frances Burton wrote, “Life is a ladder infinite-stepped whose rungs are steps up to heaven, and we plant our foot in the chaos-gloom, but our heads soar high and reach high above the skies.”
These are all interesting and unusual, but the Bible has several definitions of life that are even more pertinent and certainly inspired.
- Job said our life is like “sparks that fly upward” [Job 5:7].
- Job said our life is like a “messenger swift on his journey” [Job 9:25].
- Job said life is like a “ship passing on the bosom of the sea” [Job 9:26].
- Job said life is like “an eagle dashing to its prey” [Job 9:26].
- In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah the inspired prophet said, “Life is like the flower that withereth and the grass that fadeth and perisheth” [Isaiah 40:8].
- And James the pastor writes, “What is your life? It is a vapor that soon passeth away” [James 4:14].
Our life is so unsubstantial. Like our breath on a cold morning. It is for just a moment seen, then where does it go? It is like a brittle thread that is so easily broken. “What is your life? It is like a vapor that vanisheth away” [Job 9:25-26]. Like the golden palace of Nero it is scattered. Like the hanging gardens of Babylon it is gone. Like the beautiful pillars of the seventh wonder of the world, the Temple of Diana, it is destroyed, buried among the unknown and forgotten in a cemetery. And I would suppose, however you garnish it, the commonest of all common things is a grave. “What is your life? A vapor that soon vanisheth away” [Job 9:25-26, James 4:14]. Could there anything be more certain than the certainty of death? And sometimes, it’s suddenness. It’s like the grass before the scythe of the workman; just suddenly cut down. Or like a leaf that falls from the tree, just suddenly, it is buried in the earth.
Our Lord by Isaiah sent word to Hezekiah, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live” [Isaiah 38:1]. There’s no respect of any person before the King of Terrors; young or old, or rich or poor, or famous or infamous, all alike cut down before him. The man who offers his life to his country, patriotic, is not spared because of his patriotism. The child in the family, surrounded by love and affection, is not safe in that love and remembrance. And the man of affluence who commands servants and sometimes corporations and empires, is helpless before the face of that Grim Reaper. All of us belong in the same army and we march to the same tune. And we are deployed on the same field, and there’s no discharge from that conflict. Our breast in front, our backs behind are open and unarmored before the darts of Him who has the key and resides as lord over the grave.
In the face, then, of the certainty of death and the brevity of life, “What is your life but a vapor that soon vanisheth away?” [James 4:14] How should a man be and how should his life be lived? The pastor says, out of the long experience of his work and assignment as undershepherd of the church in Jerusalem, he says that the man ought to say, “If it is God’s will, if the Lord permits,” Deo volente, God willing, “I shall do this, or that” [James 4:15], but always in the choice and in the sovereign purpose of God.
So then, there would be two attitudes toward the certainty of death. One is the attitude of the man of the world, forget it, don’t think about it much less prepare for it. Let every man be his own captain of soul. Let every man work out his own destiny. Let every man find sufficiency and adequacy in himself. Let every man walk as a king over his life and a sovereign over his own destiny. That sounds great. That sounds heroic, sounds mighty and glorious. The only thing is, the man may push Jesus away from him, but he’s not going to separate himself from death. The man may despise the cross and pass it by, but he’s not going to despise the grave and pass it by. For however self-sufficient a man may be in his own heart and in his choice and in his own self-assurance, there’s a skeleton in his closet; it’s death. There’s a specter at the foot of his bed; it’s death. There’s a canker in all of his plans and joys; it’s death.
We can lie, but it’s for the moment. We can ridicule and scorn; it’s for the second. We can lift ourselves up in boastful self-sufficiency; it’s for just the hour. How much rather, does the pastor say, should a man who is made of the dust of the ground, made of dirt and ashes [Genesis 2:7], how much rather should the man say, “I pray God will stand by me and help me” to do this or that or the other [James 4:15]. For you see, death is a messenger to us to be wise in the wisdom of God [Ecclesiastes 9:10].
Peter Waldo, who founded the Waldensian church, Peter Waldo was a happy-go-lucky scion of a well-to-do family. He was seated at a dinner at a banquet in revelry and worldly pleasure. Seated there, he turned to his friend by his side and saw the young man drop his head on the table in front of him and die. It was an astonishing thing to the rich young derelict. And he began to look, and to see, and to wonder, and to ask, and finally in his searching, reading the Word of God, and eventually turning aside from the world, gave himself as an itinerant preacher of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Standing on the street corners, standing on the curbs, standing wherever men passed by, preaching the Word of the Lord.
Martin Luther was somewhat of a man of the church in his youth, but walking by the side of a friend, his friend was struck by lightning and died before Luther’s eyes. And what had been heretofore just a nominal interest in the faith became to Martin Luther a lifelong search and commitment. One of the noblemen of England who was sentenced to execution by the king, walking to the chopping block passed his clergyman. He took out his watch and laid it in the hands of the minister and said, “Sir, I give you this. My life now is not in time but in eternity.” Oh, how wise we have become and how far along the pilgrimage journey have we arrived when the man senses in his life, “I don’t know any tomorrow. That lies in the hands of God, and if God will help me and if God will bless me, I will do this and that in His grace and in His will.” For you see, God has a definition of life that may not be quite like that of the world. And for us, in wisdom, to learn God’s definition of life, His meaning for it, may mean for us an arrival at the highest wisdom.
Look at our Lord. He will say, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. In the faith, in the church, in the company of the redeemed, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” [John 10:10]. He will say to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” [John 14:6]. He will say to the grieving, “I am the resurrection, and the life” [John 11:25].
What is that? What is it that God calls life? It isn’t in the abundance of the things that we possess [Luke 12:15]. The Lord said of the man, who sought to add more and more and more and more, pull down his barns to hold more and more and more [Luke 12:16-19], the Lord said to him, “Foolish man. Foolish man, today thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall be all those things?” [Luke 12:20]. Things. “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” [Luke 12:15].
You know, I came across in the testimony of a Christian martyr who was burned by Decius in 250 AD, he was seized on the one hundredth anniversary of the martyrdom of Polycarp in Smryna. And he was a bold declaimer and preacher of the Word of the Lord. His name was Peonius. I never heard of him before, but in the life of the martyrs it describes the burning at the stake of this man in Smyrna, and here’s one of the things that he boldly avowed: “Worldly people are not bent upon death but upon life. The paradise worldly people seek is not one of the streets of gold but one of bags of gold. Their chief goals are temporal not eternal. The heaven they search for is one of security and comfort and ease.” In fact, they do not even want to think about death. Well, I can understand why if a man’s life consists of the things that he can seize and possess in this life, death to him is a tragedy! It’s a loss, it’s a curse, it’s a nightmare, it’s a terror!
God says that is not life. Nor is life length of days, just extended hours. Methuselah was nine hundred sixty-nine years old when he died [Genesis 5:27]. How old was Jesus? He was thirty-three. I know nothing about Methuselah except that he lived and died at nine hundred sixty-nine. But, oh what we know about the blessed Jesus!
So life, in the definition of God, must mean a life of faith and trust in the Lord [Galatians 2:20]. That is life. It is resurrection life. It is regenerated life. It is the life as a man shall look up into the face of God and offer himself to the living Lord. That must be life.
Look at it just for a moment for our time is so stingy. When the prodigal came back; what had the prodigal been doing? The Book says he was living with harlots, he was wasting what he had in the world, he was what a modern would call “living it up” [Luke 15:13, 30]. That’s what they say is a good time, a glad time, a virulent time. “That’s life,” the world says! Remember what the Book says about the boy when he came back home? His father says, “This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:11-24]. What is life? All of the cheap, tinseled pleasures offered by the world, is that life? Or is it the life of faith in commitment to God living as unto the Lord? Paul said in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1, “We who were dead in trespasses and in sins in the world, we, God hath quickened to a wonderful glorious life in Christ” [Ephesians 2:1-5].
And my sweet people, in closing, when my life is hid with Christ in God, when my life is a life of faith, death is an anatomical term, it is a biological term used by the undertaker. But you won’t find it in the New Testament. The New Testament says that the body just goes to sleep in Jesus awaiting the great resurrection day of the Lord [Acts 7:60; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15], and that angels bear our souls to heaven [Luke 16:22]. That’s what God says. God says it’s our entrance into the upper and better world. God says it’s when the trumpets sound and one of the Lord’s saints crosses over into the kingdom of the Lord.
That’s what Paul meant when he said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. If for me to live is money, to die is a loss. If for me to live is stocks and bonds, to die is a loss. If for me to live is vast real estate ventures, to die is a loss. If for me to live is sinful pleasures, to die is a loss. If for me to live is the world, to die is a loss! But, if for me to live is Christ, to die is a gain [Philippians 1:21]. This is the riches of the glory of the man who lives his life as unto the Lord. He is rich toward God [Luke 12:21]. He may be poor in this life, but if a man is rich toward God in this earth and in the world that is yet to come, he is most blessed, most happy. O Lord, that we might live in the wisdom of God.
We must sing our hymn of invitation and we must sing just a stanza or two, our time is much spent. Make the decision now in your heart what God would have you to do. Give your life in trust to Him [Romans 10:8-13], to join yourself to the redeemed of the family of God [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Whatever the Spirit should press upon your heart, make your answer now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand answering God’s call and invitation with your life. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come. I make it now. I do it now.” Down a stairway, from the press of people in this throng on the lower floor, down that aisle, “Here I come, pastor, I make it now. I’m coming now”; while we stand and while we sing.