O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!
~ Deuteronomy 32:29
LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.
And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.
~ Job 28:28, Proverbs 2:2-6, Proverbs 4:5
Using Time Wisely in Sickness, by Thomas Boston.
So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
~ Psalm 90:12
The Lord is putting particular persons and families among us, yes, all of us, to the school of affliction, since the hand of God gone out against some concerns all. And it is necessary that we learn our lesson aright and become wise thereby…
I am to show what that wisdom is that we are to learn by a time of1 bodily sickness and mortality: it is serious godliness or true religion. When one becomes seriously godly, leaving the way of sin and entering on the way of faith and holiness, then he has learned the lesson that God is teaching us this day: “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). This is the only true wisdom. They continue arrant2 fools who do not arrive at it, whatever other wisdom they be masters of. This is the wisdom taught at God’s school of affliction (Heb 12:10). The voice of the rod is, “Be wise for your souls.” That this is the true wisdom appears in that,
It is practical wisdom—wisdom for regulating a man’s life in the way to happiness (Hos 14:9). How many there are accounted wise, who betray their folly in quite shooting by the mark in the way of life they choose (Jer 22:13-16). Surely it is wisdom that sets men in the true way to happiness, which is faith and holiness (Mar 16:16; Heb 12:14). What avail carnal worldly wit, the profound speculations of natural men in the learned sciences, and the dry and sapless notions of religion in formal professors? All these are but laborious trifling3 and making a noise, doing nothing, while they never make them better men (though it makes them more knowledgeable).
It is wisdom for one’s self (Pro 9:12). There is a set of men whose wisdom is noted to be for others, but not for themselves. They resemble boatmen who ferry others over; but during the whole time of their rowing, they have their eyes fixed on the place whence they came.
1 true religion – biblical Christianity.
2 arrant – downright; notorious; mere.
3 trifling – things of little value or importance.
Immediately after landing their passengers, they return to where they set out. Such is the wisdom of all ungodly men: their wisdom may profit other men’s souls or bodies, but, alas, it profits not themselves (1Co 9:27; Mat 6:19-20). But this is the excellency of real godliness: it “giveth life to them that have it” (Ecc 7:12). It casts the soul into the mould of truth, sanctifies the heart and life in conformity to the divine nature and will, and so perfects human nature, raising up a glorious fabric out of the ruins in which it was laid by the Fall.
It is wisdom for one’s latter end (Deu 32:29). The fool in the Gospel had wit enough to provide for many years’ life. But here lay his folly: he had nothing provided for his latter end—for a dying hour (Luk 12:20). Many such fools are among us. It was one of the dying expressions of a learned man of the last age (Grotius4), “I have lost my life, alas, in laboriously doing nothing!”
It is wisdom for the better part (Luk 10:41-42). The wisdom of the world is but for the baser part of man—the body. It makes him useful in business and civil conversation. But this reaches only the out- works,5 while in the meantime the soul’s concerns lie by neglected. But this wisdom advanceth the life and interests of the soul, insures one’s title to heaven, and sets him on the way to eternal happiness (Pro 8:35).
Lastly, it is wisdom for the better world (Heb 11:14-16). Our pro- jects for this world, as to ourselves, must die with ourselves (Psa 146:4); but they who are wise for that better world, by being religious6 indeed, will find their measures wisely laid in time to take and have their effect happily in eternity (Rev 14:13). What they now sow, they shall then joyfully reap.
I proceed to condescend on some particulars of wisdom that such a time calls us to apply our hearts to.
1. To inquire seriously into the causes of the Lord’s controversy with us (Job 10:2). When God’s hand is stretched out, it will be our wisdom to search why it is so (Lam 3:39). Surely there is a cause. He does not smite without good reason; and unless our eyes see it, our hearts cannot rue7 it.
God has a controversy with the congregation and countryside. It (would be) good to lay it to heart. Two things seem to have the main
4 Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) – Dutch legal scholar, the “father of international law.”
5 outworks – exterior works of anything.
6 religious – godly; devoted to the practice of true religion (Jam 1:27).
7 rue – grieve for; lament.
hand in it:
(1) Abuse and misuse of spiritual mercies and privileges. Thus, the Lord threatened the Old Testament church: “If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD; then the LORD will make thy plagues wonderful,8 and the plagues of thy seed, even great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance” (Deu 28:58-59). This brought a sore sickness upon the church of Corinth (1Co 11:30). The noted divisions and deserting of ordinances in the country are the judgment and the sin of the corner, whereby contempt is poured on precious gospel ordinances, and the success of the gospel is marred by so many hindrances laid in the way of souls getting good from it. Thus, gnats are strained at, and camels swallowed down, in respect of the deep-dyed guilt in what it does to hinder the spiritual good of perishing souls. Men will not see it, but they shall see. And alas!—how evident is our unfruitfulness under means of grace? How few are bettered now by a preached gospel? God’s Word is slighted and ineffectual for our reformation: His holy name is profaned, His Sabbaths are violated, sacraments are neglected by some and profaned by others with their unholy and untender9 lives. What wonder that for this cause “many are weak and sickly among (us), and many sleep”? (1Co 11:30). Warnings and reproofs prevail not, conviction is rare, and conversion is rarer. Many have not a form of godliness left them, and few have anything but a form of it. Many are crying out against the sins of others, while the visible blots in their own lives do not make them smite on their own breasts and say, “What have I done!” God grant that the contempt and abuse of gospel privileges bring not a removal of the kingdom of God from us.
(2) Abuse and misuse of temporal mercies. It is observable that with the promise of plenty10 to the church, using their plenty in a holy becoming manner, the promise of the taking away of sickness is joined (Exo 23:25; Deu 7:12-14). This says that God punisheth abuse of plenty with sickness. God has given the country plenteous years; and what has been the issue of it, but contempt of God and the rules of righteousness, increase of pride and vanity, and drunkenness with an unusual abuse of that fiery liquor (that was) never ordained for ordinary drinking; masters breaking the yoke, undermining and
8 wonderful – astounding; extraordinary.
9 untender – unaffected by Christian principles.
10 plenty – full supply of the necessities of life.
undergoing one another through the country; servants bursting all bonds and turned quite unmanageable and undutiful? The last year, a little before this time, I gave warning from the Lord’s Word against these things particularly; but I think there was never more of them in my time than followed upon the back of it. No wonder, then, that God has shaped us out another piece of work this year.
Let these things be weighed in an even balance, as in the sight of
God, by us all. And let individual persons and families, especially
those who have been or are under the rod, inquire into the causes of God’s quarrel with them that they may see why the Lord contendeth.11
2. To be humbled under the causes of the Lord’s anger and to turn to a smiting God in Christ. This would be our wisdom (Lev 26:41-42; Mic 6:9). It is not time to stand in the way of sinners12 when God is risen up to plead! It is high time to fall down before Him in humiliation and to fall off from God-provoking courses by reformation. Hear the voice of the rod! It is crying two things loudly this day.13
(1) Improve a season of the gospel13. Some sermons have of late been the last to them that heard them. Some heard the sermon on the Lord’s Day in health that were in eternity ere the next Sabbath! This says, “Hear ye every day as if it were to be your last.”
(2) Improve temporal mercies lest God be provoked to take them from you. Health, strength, and other temporal conveniences are to be wisely managed, for you see we have no tack of 14 them (Ecc 9:10).
3. To be upon your guard and make sure for eternity while you live.
Remember the parable of the wise and foolish builder, and how apt ye are to play the fool in these matters while health and strength last.
(1) Beware ye be not cheated out of your most valuable interests by a deceitful heart, a treacherous world, and a wily devil. Satan goes about many poor simple ones until they are tricked out of their souls, their part of Christ and heaven, and all the happiness of another world (Mat 16:26). And wherefore do they part with them but for the gratifying of a lust, which is a practice more foolish than if one should part with an estate for a childish toy. So did Esau. Wherefore be wise in time.
(2) Beware that the best bargain slips not through your fingers while
11 contendeth – opposes (us); fights against us.
12 to stand in the way of sinners – live like sinful people (Psa 1:1).
13 Improve…gospel – make the best use of this time of hearing the gospel.
14 tack of – hold on.
ye are pursuing vanities (Pro 17:16). Alas! There are not a few who, being busied with vanities of this world that pass away with the using, miss the opportunity of making the treasure hid in the field of the gospel their own. Therefore, be wise.
(3) Beware of feeding yourselves with dreams and fancies wherein there is no reality. There are many foolish virgins with lamps without oil and foolish builders on the sand. There are many whose life is but one continued dream wherein they judge aright of nothing—neither God, heaven, hell, nor the world—so that their awakening cannot be but terrible. But be ye wise.
4. To prepare (in a timely way) for death and judgment (Mat 24:44). It is certain that naturally we are quite out of case15 for that great change. And, alas, we are naturally unwilling to think of it or provide for it. But necessity has no law. We must die, and we must either be (prepared) for death or we are ruined. If we be not timely (prepared), our candle may be put out before our work is done.
(1) Get habitual preparation for death in a gracious state (Rom 8:1). Be sure to get out of the state of nature into the state of grace. And then come death when it will, it will but transport you into the state of glory. And there are two things here to be secured. (1) Get your title to heaven fixed.16 None will get there but those who have a right to it (Mat 25:34; 2Co 5:1). To others the door will be cast in their face. “But,” ye may say, “how may we get a title to heaven?” Answer: Marry the Heir, and heaven will be your dowry. The everlasting covenant is (set before) you in the gospel: God to be your God in Christ and Christ to be yours in all His offices. Therefore, make a solemn, deliberate transaction with God this night, embracing Christ in the covenant and consenting to it with an eye to death and eternity. (2) Get a fitness for heaven wrought in you (Col 1:12). For ye cannot be meet for it until your nature be changed. “How may we get that fitness?” may ye say. Answer: Believe and embrace Jesus Christ for His Spirit of sanctification (1Co 1:30). There is a fullness of the Spirit in Him to be communicated, and faith must eye Christ for His sanctifying Spirit. Put off the old man and put on the new man17: be new creatures, and let old things pass away and all things become new. In vain do men pretend to faith without this (2Co 5:17), and in vain will men look for heaven without it (Joh 3:3).
15 out of case – not prepared.
16 fixed – securely established.
17 Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 3:9
This is habitual preparation, which whoso have, if they should be struck dead in a moment or immediately seized with deliriousness and die raving, yet they are safe: “for there is…no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
(2) Get actual preparation for death in a gracious frame for dying that ye may die comfortably. (1) Make speed with the work given you to do. Whatever piece of work is put into your hand, for God’s honour, dispatch it with all expedition18 (Mat 24:46); for if ye delay it, ye may lose the opportunity forever. (2) Be habitually tender19 in your life (Act 24:16). And beware of any standing controversy betwixt God and you: for if there be any such, it will readily stare you (down) in a dying hour. (3) Be weaned from the world and hold a loose grip of all you have in it, that it might drop like Joseph’s mantle. (4) Keep waking and watchful (Luk 12:36). Be much in the thoughts of death and the life to come that ye be not surprised. (5) Lastly, prepare for more public and general trials and calamities. This is a piece of wisdom to be learned from such a dispensation. For lesser strokes are usually the forerunners of greater ones. Sodom and Gomorrah were tried with a lesser stroke, ere they were destroyed by fire from heaven (Gen 14:10). And our Lord told the Jews that unless they repented, they should perish (Luk 13:5), which threatening was accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem. The day may yet come wherein men shall praise the dead that are already dead; and they may miss this stroke, who are reserved for a worse, and shall meet with it ere all be done. In a time when the cup of God’s anger is going through a land, they that drink first usually fare best. “How are we to prepare?” may ye say. Answer: Keep your garments clean from the sins and snares of the day and place where ye live, and take up your lodging in the sure and unalterable covenant of grace,20 and then no evil shall befall you.
18 expedition – speed.
19 tender – careful; cautious.
20 covenant of grace – God’s gracious, eternal purpose of redemption, conceived before the creation of the world, first announced in Genesis 3:15, progressively revealed in history, accomplished in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, and appropriated by faith in Him.