by Jonathan Edwards(1703-1758)
A Classic Study
This is a classic study by Jonathan Edwards, the Colonial American Christian leader. The subject matter of this study is procrastination, a not uncommon problem in this day and age, I dare say. Apparently, procrastination also troubled the citizens in Colonial America. This is the first part of a two part study. May the Spirit of God speak to you, as appropriate, as you read this study.
The Sin and Folly of Depending on Future Time
Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Prov. 27:1)
The design of the wise man in this book of Proverbs, is to give us the precepts of true wisdom, or to teach us how to conduct ourselves wisely in the course of our lives. Wisdom very much consists in making a wise improvement of time, and of the opportunities we enjoy. This is often in Scripture spoken of as a great part of true wisdom; as Deut. 32:29: "O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!" And Ps. 90:12: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." So the wisdom of the wise virgins is represented as consisting much in this: that they improved the proper season to buy oil.
Therefore, the wise man in these books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, agreeably to his design, insists on this part of wisdom. He tells us the advantage of seeking Christ early (see Prov. 8:17). And advises us "to do what our hand findeth to do, with our might" (Eccles. 9:10). He advises young people to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, while the evil days come not, in which they shall say they have no pleasure (see Eccles. 12:1). So here he advises us to a wise improvement of the present season.-- In the words are two things to be particularly observed:
1. The precept, "not to boast of tomorrow"; i.e. not to speak or act as though it were our own. It is absurd for men to boast of that which is not theirs. The wise man would not have us behave ourselves as though any time were ours but the present. He that boasts of tomorrow, acts as though he had tomorrow in his possession, or had something whereby he might depend on it, and call it his own.
2. The reason given for this precept; "for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth". It is a good reason why we should not behave ourselves as though the morrow were our own, that indeed it is not; we are not sure of it; we have no hold of future time; we know not whether we shall see the morrow: or if we do know that we shall see it, we know not what we shall see on it.--Hence, we ought to behave ourselves every day, as though we had no dependence on any other.
To prevent misunderstanding of the doctrine, I observe that it is not meant, that we should in every respect behave as though we knew that we should not live another day. Not depending on another day, is a different thing, from concluding, that we shall not live another day. We may have reason for the one, and not for the other. We have good reason not to depend on another day, but we have no reason to conclude, that we shall not live another day.
In some respects we ought to carry ourselves, as though we know we should not live another day, and should improve every day as if it were the last. Particularly, we should live every day as conscientiously and as holily as if we knew it were the last. We should be as careful every day to avoid all sin, as if we knew that that night our souls should be required of us. We should be as careful to do every duty which God requires of us, and take as much care that we have a good account to give to our Judge, of our improvement of that day, as if we concluded that we must be called to give an account before another day.
But in many other respects, we are not obliged to behave ourselves as though we concluded that we should not live to another day. If we had reason to conclude that we should not live another day, some things would not be our duty which now are our duty. As for instance, in such a case it would not be the duty of any person to make provision for his temporal subsistence during another day: to neglect which, as things now are, would be very imprudent and foolish, as the consequences would show, if every man were to act in this manner. If so, it would never be man's duty to plough or sow the field, or to lay up for winter; but these things are man's duty; as Prov. 6:6: "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest." And Prov. 10:5: "He that gathereth in the summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest, is a son that causeth shame." And many other places might be mentioned.
So, on the other hand, if we were certain that we should not live another day, some things would be our duty today, which now are not so. As for instance, it would be proper for us to spend our time in giving our dying counsels, and in setting our houses in order. If it were revealed to us, that we should die before tomorrow morning, we ought to look upon it as a call of God to us, to spend the short remainder of our lives in those things which immediately concern our departure, more than otherwise it would be our duty to do.-- Therefore, the words which forbid us to boast of tomorrow, cannot be extended so far as to signify, that we ought in all respects to live as if we knew we should not see another day. Yet they undoubtedly mean, that we ought not to behave ourselves in any respect, as though we depended on another day.
The Precept Explained
"Boast not thyself of tomorrow." In this precept two things seem to be forbidden.
1. Boasting ourselves of what shall be on the morrow, or behaving ourselves as though we depended on particular things to come to pass in this world, in some future time. As when men behave themselves, as though they depended on being rich, or promoted to honour hereafter: or as though they were sure of accomplishing any particular design another day. So did the rich man in the gospel, when he did not only promise himself, that he should live many years, but promised himself also, that he should be rich many years. Hence he said to his soul, that "he had much goods laid up for many years" (Luke 12:19).
And if men act as though they depended upon it, that they should another day accomplish such and such things for their souls, then may they be said to boast themselves of tomorrow, and not to behave themselves as though they depended on no other day. As when they behave themseves, as though they depended upon it, that they should at another day have such and such advantages for the good of their souls; that they should at another day have the strivings of God's Spirit; that they should at another day find themselves disposed to be thorough in seeking their salvation; that they should at another day have a more convenient season; and that God at another day would stand ready to hear thier prayers, and show them mercy.
Or if they act as though they depended upon it that they should have considerable opportunity on a death-bed to seek mercy; or whatever they promise themselves should come to pass respecting them in this world, if they act as depending on it, they boast themselves of tomorrow.
2. Another thing implied, is our boasting of future time itself, or acting as though we depended on it, that we should have our lives continued to us another day. Not only is the command of God delivered in the text transgressed by those who behave themselves as depending upon it, that they shall see and obtain such and such things tomorrow; but by those who act as depending upon it, that they shall remain in being in this world tomorrow.
Both these ways of boasting of tomorrow are reproved by the apostle James [in his epistle]: "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'" (James 4:13). By promising themselves that they shall do such and such things, and that they shall get gain, they boast themselves of what shall come to pass in such a time. The apostle in the next verse teaches them, that they ought not to do this, no nor so much as depend upon seeing another day, or on having their lives continued: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow: for what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14). And in verse 15, he teaches us that both are uncertain and dependent on the will of God, viz. Whether we shall live another day, and if we do, whether such and such things shall come to pass? "For that you ought to say, `If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that'" (James 4:15). Therefore he adds in verse 16: "But now you rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil."
When Men Act as Though They Depend on Another Day
1. They will do so, if they set their hearts on the enjoyments of this life. I mean not, if they have any manner of affection to them. We may have some affection to the enjoyments of this world; otherwise they would cease to be enjoyments. If we might have no degree of rejoicing in them, we could not be thankful for them. Persons may in a degree take delight in earthly friends, and other earthly enjoyments. It is agreeable to the wise man's advice that we should do so: "It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all this labour that he taketh under the sun" (Eccles. 5:18)--But by setting our hearts on these things, by placing our happiness on them, and letting out the current of our affections after them--by turning and fixing our inclinations so much upon them, that we cannot well enjoy ourselves without them, so that very much of the strength of the faculties of our minds is employed and taken up about these things--we show that we have our dependence on another day.
The man who doth thus, acts as though he depended on another day, yea many other days, in the world; for it is most evident, that if the enjoyments of this world be of such a nature that they are not to be depended on for one day more, they are not worth the setting of our hearts upon them, or the placing of our happiness in them. We may rejoice in the enjoyments of the world, but not in such a manner as to place the rest of our souls in them. As the apostle saith, we should rejoice in them as though we rejoiced not (see I Cor. 7:30). So that if this joy should fail, our stock may hold good; and in this case we must behave ourselves only as if we had lost a small stream of joy, but still had the fountain in full possession. We should conduct ourselves as those who have not the foundation of their joy shaken, though some appurtenances have failed. Our happiness as to the body of it, if I may so speak, should yet stand as on an immovable foundation.
They who are very much pleased and elated with the enjoyments of the world, certainly behave themselves as though they had much dependence on their continuance for more than one or two days more--They who addict themselves to vain mirth, and lead a jovial life, show that they set their hearts on the enjoyments of the world, and act as those who depend on more days than the present. For if they were sensible that they could not depend on any future time, but that death would put an eternal end to all their carnal mirth before tomorrow, they would have no heart to spend the present day in such a manner as they now do. It would immediately produce in them a disposition far from levity and vanity.
And when persons are very much sunk with the loss of any temporal enjoyments, or with any temporal disappointments, it shows that they set their hearts upon them, and behave as though they boasted of tomorrow, and depended on their long continuance in life. If they had no such dependence, they would not be frustrated, or would not be overwhelmed by their frustration. If they be very much sunk, and the comfort of their lives be destroyed by it, it shows that those temporal enjoyments were too much the foundation on which their comfort stood. That which makes a building totter, and threatens its destruction, is not the taking away of some of the exterior parts of the superstructure, but the removal of some considerable part of the foundation on which the house stands.
2. If men are proud of their worldly circumstances, it shows that they have a dependence on tomorrow; for no man would think it worth his while to vaunt himself in that which is to be depended on only for a day. Though a man have a great estate today, he will not be puffed up with it, unless he depend upon having it tomorrow. A man who hath no dependence, but that he may tomorrow be in the grave, where the small and great are upon a level (see Job 3:19) will not be much lifted up with his advancement to a post of honour.
That person will not be proud of his rich and fine clothes, who is sensible that he may be stripped by death tomorrow, and sent out of the world, as he came naked into it. He will not today be very proud of his personal beauty, who hath no dependence on escaping tomorrow that stroke of death which will mar all his beauty, and make that face which he now thinks so comely, appear ghastly and horrid; when instead of a ruddy and florid coutenance, there will be the blood settled, cold and congealed, the flesh stiff and clayey, the teeth set, the eyes fixed and sunk into the head. Nor will he today very much affect to beautify and adorn with gaudy and flaunting apparel, that body concerning which he is sensible that it may be wrapped in a winding sheet tomorrow, to be carried to the grave, there to rot, and be covered and filled with worms.
3. When men envy others their worldly enjoyments, their wealth, their worldly ease, or their titles and high places--their sensual pleasures, or any of their worldly circumstances--it shows, that they set their hearts on the things of the world; and that they are not sensible that these things are not to be depended upon for another day. If they were, they would not think them worth their envy. They would appear so worthless in their eyes, that they would not care who had them, nor who went without them.--So when they contend about worldly possessions and enjoyments, (as almost all the contentions that are in the world are about these things), it shows that they have dependence on tomorrow; otherwise they would not think the enjoyments of the world worth contending about. They would be very much of the temper recommended by Jesus Christ: "He that will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also" (Matt. 5:40).
4. Men behave themselves as if they depended on another day, when they rest at ease today, in a condition out of which they must be delivered before they die. When a man's mind is at rest, there is something that he rests in: it must have some foundation, either real or imaginary. But if the man be in a condition from which he is sensible he must some time or other be delivered, or be undone, it is impossible that he should rest in the thoughts of remaining in his condition always, and never being delivered from it: for no man is willing to be ruined; no man can rest in that which he conceives to be connected with his own misery and undoing.--Therefore, if he rest in such a condition for the present, it must be on a supposition, that he shall be delivered from it. If he rest in it today, it must be because he depends on being delivered another day, and therefore depends on seeing another day.
We in this land generally profess, that as we are by sinful nature, we are exposed to eternal death, and that therefore there is a necessity that we get out of a natural condition some time before we die. And those among us who are sensible that they have never passed through any such change as in Scripture is called a being born again, though they be not sufficiently convinced that there is any such place as hell, yet have a kind of belief of it; at least they do not conclude that there is no such place, and therefore cannot but be sensible that it would be dreadful to die unconverted. Therefore, if they be in a considerable degree of ease and quietness in their condition, it must be because they have a dependence on being delivered out of such a condition some time before they die.
Inasmuch as they are easy, remaining in such condition today, without any prospect of present deliverance, it shows plainly that they depend on another day. If they did not, they could have no quietness in their spirits; because, if there be no grounds of dependence on any further opportunity, then what they are exposed to, by missing the opportunity which they have today, is infinitely dreadful.--Persons who are secure in their sins, under the light of the gospel, unless they be deceived with a false hope, are generally so because they boast themselves of tomorrow. They depend on future opportunity; they flatter themselves with hopes of living long in the world; they depend on what shall come to pass hereafter; they depend on the fulfillment of their good intentions as to what they will do at a more convenient season.
5. Men behave themselves as those who depend on another day, when they neglect anything today which must be done before they die. If there be anything which is absolutely necessary to be done sometime before death, and the necessity of it be sufficiently declared and shown to the person for whom it is thus necessary, if he neglect setting about it immediately, sincerely, and with all his might, certainly it carries this face with it, that the man depends upon its being done hereafter, and consequently that he shall have opportunity to do it--Because, as to those things which are absolutely necessary to be done, there is need, not only of a possibility of a future opportunity; but of something which is to be depended on, some good ground to conclude that we shall have future opportunity; therefore, whoever lives under the gospel, and does not this day thoroughly reform his life, by casting away every abomination, and denying every lust--and doth not apply himself to the practice of the whole of his duty towards God and man, and begin to make religion his main business--he acts as one who depends on another day; because he is abundantly taught that these things must be done before he dies.
Those who have been seeking salvation for a great while, in a dull, insincere, and slighty manner, and find no good effect of it, have abundant reason to conclude, that some time before they die, they must not only seek, but strive to enter in at the strait gate, and must be violent for the kingdom of heaven; and therefore, if they do not begin thus today, they act as those who depend on another day.--So those who have hitherto lived in the neglect of some particular known duty, whether it be secret prayer, or paying some old debt, which they have long owed to their neighbour--or the duty of confessing some fault to a brother who hath aught against them, or of making restitution for some injury--they act as those who depend on another day.
6. Men behave themselves as though they depended on another day, if they do that today which some time or other must be undone. There are many things done by men which must be undone by them. They must go back again from the way which they have gone, or they are ruined to all eternity. Therefore, in doing these things, they act as those who depend on future opportunity to undo them: as when a man cheats or defrauds his neighbour in any thing, he acts as one that boasts of tomorrow: for he must undo what he doth before he dies; he must some time or other make restitution, or divine justice, which oversees all things, and governs the whole world, and will see to it that right be done, will not let go its hold of him.
So when men hearken to temptation, and yield to the solicitations of their lusts to commit any sin, they act as those who depend on another day. They do what must be undone. What they then do must be undone by hearty and thorough repentance, or they are ruined and lost forever. So if persons have been seeking salvation for a time, and afterwards are guilty of backsliding, and turn back after their hands have been put to the plough, they act as those who depend on another day. For what they now do, they must undo some time or other; they must go back again from their backsliding, and have all their work to do over again. And these things must be undone in this world, while men live; for there will be no undoing of them afterwards; they may be suffered for, but never can be undone.
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