‘The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.’
All men love life: there is not one who really desires death. We doubt much if there be one who would be pleased if we were to say to him or her, ‘I hope you may die soon: I hope you may not live to see another new year.’
We believe that this strong instinctive love of life, though it may be perverted and abused, has yet its use; and, rightly directed, finds its meaning and its place in the Gospel system.
I. Long life is distinctly promised in Scripture as a blessing to God’s people.—‘Let thine heart keep My commandments; for length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee,’ etc. And we find it granted, as a special favour, to Hezekiah: fifteen years being added to his days in answer to his prayers. On the other hand, we find shortness of life denounced as a punishment: ‘Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.’ Long life is spoken of as a blessing in the New Testament. St. Paul reminds the Christians to whom he wrote of the promise of long life attached to the fifth commandment; and speaks of the recovery of Epaphroditus as an instance of the mercy of God. So long life is a lawful subject of desire and of prayer.
II. How and why long life is a blessing.—An important truth is this, that God rewards the good works of his people. God does not give salvation as a reward for the works even of His children; but having saved them freely and fully by His Son, and having by His Holy Spirit enabled them to do good works, He does reward His work in them as if it were solely theirs: ‘Your Father will reward you openly.’ They all enter heaven, but their places there are to be decided by their works on earth. Then it is most certain that time is a most important element in the calculation. A long life to spend in working is a blessing.
If ‘the fear of the Lord prolongeth days,’ how is it that we see so often young saints departing and old sinners remaining? We believe that if we could take the average of life we should find it to be in favour of the godly. The other cases are exceptions—cases in which, for some wise reason, God has seen fit to supersede His general law, which accords long life to those who fear Him.
III. What practical bearing has this truth upon our lives?—The Christian may lawfully desire long life, not from the fear of death, nor even from love to those he leaves behind, but as a means of gaining honour in His Master’s service, as a longer time for working and suffering for Christ.
IV. ‘The years of the wicked shall be shortened.’—The tendency of vice is to shorten men’s days. Life is a talent given to be rightly used, and if abused it is taken away from the possessor. While earthly death is a judgment upon the ungodly, it is not so awful a judgment as a prolonged sinful life. If the aged saint be a glorious sight, so the aged sinner must be the most awful sight on earth.