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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 71 - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 - A Vanishing World Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


In the midst of counsels and exhortations about the relationships of life, the apostle stops abruptly, and interposes an emphatical announcement bearing upon all these relationships, "but this I say, brethren," as if lifting up his voice more loudly, and interrupting the line of discourse, by the proclamation of these three parenthetical verses, a proclamation importing this, "but after all brethren, these are but the little things of earth, the transient and temporary arrangements of our brief life below; let them not be exalted or magnified beyond their due; they are but the arrangements of a day; not to have any stress laid on them or importance attached to them, seeing they shall so soon end, and the world of which they form a part shall so speedily vanish away."

Mark (1) the two special truths which begin and end this emphatic announcement; (2) the conclusions to be drawn from these.

I. The two special truths. For we take the commencing and concluding declarations as linked together; forming either one great and solemn truth or two kindred truths, bearing both on certain duties and on our estimate of the importance of the things of our daily life. These must be measured by the shortness of time, and the length of eternity.

(1.) The time is short. It is cut short or contracted; it is the time referred to by our Lord (Romans 13:12) "the night is far spent," or "foreshortened." It is short for (1) So much is already spent and little remains; (2) Our individual life is brief, even at the longest; (3) The world's history is drawing to a close; (4) The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Truly the time is short; and each ending year and setting sun says to us, "the time is short," it is becoming shorter and shorter. "What is our life? It is but a vapor" (James 4:4). "Our days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle" (Job 7:6). "Man that is born of a woman is of few days; he cometh forth as a flower and is cut down, he fleeth as a shadow and continueth not" (Job 14:1-2). "The end of all things is at hand" (2 Peter 4:7).

(2.) The fashion of this world passeth away. The outward form, or scene, or figure of this world is passing, or is just about to pass away. This "fashion" is what the Apostle John refers to in warning us against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life (or glorying in the good things of life); and of this he says "the world passeth away." Yes; like a flower; like a mist; like a shadow; like a dream; like a rainbow; like a vision of the night it passeth away; that which we admire in it, and call beautiful, that which men have all along been fascinated by, its glory, its pomp, its glitter, its splendor, its gaiety, its beauty and excellency and grandeur, shall pass away; its songs, and jests, and mirth, and ringing laughter; its shows, its spectacles, its concerts, its balls, its theatres, its operas, with all its haunts of uncleanness and debauchery, its revellings, and banquetings, surfeitings and idolatries of the flesh, all shall pass away. These are not enduring things. Even at their best and purest they are the things of an hour. They fade as a leaf. They are crushed as a flower. They die away like the breeze. A short life is that of the world at its longest; shorter still that of the men of the world; and shortest of all is the frail and shifting fashion of the world. Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!

II. The lessons to be drawn from them. The substance of these lessons is that all earthly things are of minor moment, and ought not to be lifted out of their place, so as to engross us too much, or to be estimated at too high a rate. They are not eternal. They vanish with a vanishing world, and ought to be estimated accordingly. The seen and the corporeal never can be placed beside the unseen and the eternal.

(1.) Earthly relationships are of lesser moment. "It remaineth (or "henceforth" during the contracted space that is left) that both they who have wives, be as though they had none." The nearest human relationship will soon be dissolved; the closest earthly tie will soon be snapped. Let us not then over estimate it, or give it undue prominence. Let us keep even it, in its proper place. It is, after all, among the things that are seen and temporal. Husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, child, will soon remove; and each soul, unrelationed, unlinked with others, pass from earth alone, into the presence of God.

(2.) Earthly sorrows are of lesser moment. Sorrow is in itself no trifle. Tears are real things. We do not weep for nothing; nor shall we find that a needless piece of kindness that God shall do for us, when He shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. Still tears are among the things seen and temporal. They are unknown in heaven. Our weeping time is so short, that we must not make too much of time's sorrows. The vale of tears is not a long one. We shall soon be beyond it; and we shall wonder why we gave way to a sadness that was so soon to end, and to be exchanged for the perfect gladness and the everlasting song.

(3.) Earthly joys are of lesser moment. Joy is a real thing. Our hearts were made for gladness. We ought not to despise joy; nor indeed can we afford to do it. We are warranted in making much of joy; only let it not be too much. Let us keep our joys in their proper place; calmly taking them when they come, or as calmly foregoing them when they come not. For the time is short, and the joys we have here will soon be done. The fashion of this world passeth away; let us not then overvalue joy; but take it as if we had it not; sitting tranquilly loose to all that we can gain or lose.

(4.) Earthly business is of lesser moment. Our buying and selling will soon be done. Our merchandize will ere long disappear, for it is part of the fashion of that world which passeth away. Let us be diligent in business, but let us not overrate its importance, nor be engrossed by it. 'We shall soon buy no more; and sell no more; and make gain no more; and possess no more. Why so eager in business, as if it were eternal? Why so anxious to lay up treasure on earth, where the moth will corrupt it, and the thief break through and steal? Is it worth our while to be so much in earnest about the things that perish with the using?

(5.) Earthly gratifications are of lesser moment. They that use this world as not abusing it (or rather "as not using it at all"). We must use this world while we are in it; we must use its meat, and drink, and raiment; its comforts, its money, its friendships, its necessary recreations, and gratifications. But we are to sit loose from all these; not setting our heart upon them; but holding them as if letting them go, using them as if not using them. They are not sinful, and need not, therefore, be rejected; but they must be kept in their proper place, not coveted nor idolized. For the time is short, and the fashion of this world passeth away. Let the world be no world to us, in comparison of the glory and beauty, the magnitude and the eternity, of the world to come.

Thus, then, is our whole earthly life, in all its parts, to be regulated by the magnitude of the eternal. Things present must be subordinated to those which are to come, the seen to the unseen, the earthly to the heavenly. It is by the light of the coming glory that we must walk while here. It is from the clock of eternity that our time is to be always taken. Arrange your business, your recreations, your duties with reference to the invisible and unending future. Live, speak, work, move, as those who believe that the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.