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uncertain and unreliable than the continued tenure of the frail house of flesh which the soul so briefly makes its habitation. But there is one recurring period in a man's life which more than any other awakens reflection, and excites more or less of painful and anxious thought—that period is the anniversary of his birth into the world.
Youth, - full of hope, its warm fancy ever fluttering on the wings of expectation, looks eagerly forward to another birthday. Not so the mature and the aged man. To them the coming of another “birthday” is an event which awakens old memories, perhaps pleasant and welcome in their treasured freshness, perhaps painful and even distressing, but in either case demanding sober thought, and earnest and sincere reflection.
The commencement of a new year is a point of time that invites us simultaneously to reflect on the journey of life, as a progression nut only through periods of time, but through a succession of states, leading either to endless happiness or ever-enduring misery.
It is clear that the state of feeling in which at such seasons we “number our days” will depend on the aim and purpose of our lives. Every one feels that he has some object in the life that is given him. The man who lives for himself only and the man who lives for heaven will each number his days with feelings of a diametrically opposite nature. To the selfish man, whose aims, ambitions and speculations are all centred in the world, and who thence seeks all the gratifications of his outward life, who listens with contemptuous impatience to the voice of spiritual instruction and warning—to that man each passing year is, as it were, the knell of annihilation, a monitory voice which sinks heavily into his narrow soul, warning him that the world, for which only he lives, is fast departing from him, and bearing away all that he deems worth living for. But to him whose faith is fixed in the Lord, and who, as well as he is able, lives for heaven and its delights-to him, though the departing years awaken deep thought and earnest reflection, to him comes the sweet and soothing consolation that every year brings him nearer his eternal home of peace, security and blessedness. The selfish and merely worldly-minded man feels that life is receding from him ; the pious and God-fearing Christian feels that, as natural age comes on, he is really entering into life. Thus every one "numbers his days” by a standard within himself.
But the “numbering of our natural days” is by no means all that is to be understood from the words of our text. We may, it is true, apply it in its most literal sense to our advantage and spiritual im
and indeed we ought, so to number our natural days as to fix our thoughts and affections on that heavenly world for which we are created, and to discipline ourselves in those conditions of mind and heart which alone can qualify us for the heavenly state. Constantly reminded of the uncertainty of our days, we should be deeply sensible of the danger of procrastination of deferring to the future the moral and spiritual duties of the present hour. The now only is ours, the morrow may find us lifeless and cold.
Did we reflect as we ought on this uncertainty of life, how earnestly should we take
of David, " Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
But these words, when spiritually understood, unfold the very processes which constitute the “mystery of godliness,”—instead of having any reference to the days of our natural life, and numbering our days as they silently glide into the gulf of the past, the words of the Psalmist have respect to those internal changes which mark the progress of regeneration. The times and seasons of the natural world have their origin in conditions which primarily belong to the spiritual world ; in every case what is natural, that is, of the natural world, is the appropriate expression of some similar condition in the spiritual universe. Man is at the same moment in both worlds : as to his spirit (which is indeed the proper man) he is in the spiritual world, though not conscious of it; and as to his body he is in the natural world, and of this only he is conscious. There is thus the closest intimacy and correspondence between the spiritual and the natural ; and the Word of Divine inspiration is written in perfect accordance with this correspondence. The changing and progressive states of man's faith and love are his spiritual days and seasons. Between the thick darkness of his mind, when he was destitute of any genuine truth and goodness, and the fully regenerate state when he lives wholly unto the Lord, between those extreme conditions of his mind there have been many alternations of obscurity and returning light, many successions of wintry desolations and autumnal ripeness; these progressive changes of state in the great work of regeneration are the evenings and mornings, the passing days of spiritual life. It is to these internal “times and seasons” that our text has especial reference.
A man may number his natural days, he may even mourn and sorrow over the days and years which are silently bearing him to the grave, and yet, instead of applying his heart to wisdom, he may grow
more and more confirmed in his natural evils, more and more hardened against the truth and the operation of the Divine Spirit. Any one must perceive, when he reflects on his internal experiences, how closely analogous the natural times and seasons are to the changing conditions of his mind.
In nature the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and just so is it in the regenerating mind-the “Sun of Righteousness rises in the internal mind, which corresponds to the east, and sets in the natural mind, which corresponds to the west.” All darkness and obscurity dwell in the natural mind, for that mind is prone to the world; the brightness of the dayspring is in the internal mind, for it is this mind which is elevated and opened to the light of heaven. It is said by the Preacher, in the 5th verse of the 1st chapter, “ The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place whence he arose.” We know that in a natural sense this is true only in appearance, for the sun is, relatively to the earth, stationary, and it is so spiritually. The Lord for ever shines as the Divine Sun, and His light and heat are never withheld. But it is the nature of man's external mind to immerse what is pure and heavenly in the things of sense, and thus to obscure, darken and destroy them. The light which shines his internal mind thus, as it were, sinks or sets in his external and natural mind. But though the light of truth thus sets in the external plane of our life, the sun, as beautifully expressed by the Preacher, “hasteth to his place whence he arose;" that is, the internal mind again emerges out of the obscurity which comes from beneath, and the “Sun of Righteousness” again arises in the east or heavenly sphere of the mind ; the night of a former state is dissipated by the morning of a new state.
These alternations of state are man's spiritual days. When the Lord said, “I must work while it is day" (John ix. 4), He did not mean the period of light in a natural day, but He spake of the glorification of His human nature, which was a Divine work, and with Him
day” was the descent of the Divine into the human, for it was from the Divine that the human did its work of subduing all the powers of evil. On another occasion He said, “
“Go ye and tell that fox (Herod), Behold, I cast out devils, and do cures to-day and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected” (Luke xiii. 32). It is plain to the simplest mind that the Lord did not mean three natural days; to-day, to-morrow, and the third day really embraced the whole of His life in the world. So the casting out devils, the doing
of cures, and the resurrection were representative of the Divine work of His life in the world, which was the making His humanity Divine, and thereby effecting the purification, renovation, and exaltation of the Church. All the progressions of regeneration are really reducible to three stages or planes—to-day, to-morrow, and the third day; and in every human instance the nature of the work is the same, it is the casting out devils, the doing of cures, and the making perfect. And “ Are there not twelve hours in the day ?” (John xi. 9). Such was our Lord's question to His disciples, for in the spiritual day there are twelve hours for labour, since twelve hours are expressive of all the appliances of good and truth to our day of the regenerate life. Seeing then that the soul has its progressions as to states of good and truth, and that these alternations of state are strictly analogous to natural days, how are we to number those “ days”?
It may be difficult to perceive that the natural process of numbering has a spiritual correspondence totally distinct from the idea of number. Yet such is the case. In a natural sense a number expresses a definite sum of units or single things ; and counting and numbering are purely natural processes, because in the natural life the mind is concerned with things external and entirely distinct from itself. But this is not the case in matters of a purely spiritual nature. Man is concerned with spiritual things that enter into him and form a part of himself. Man is concerned spiritually with states, conditions, and qualities of thought, love and action. We do not count our thoughts and our affections as we count the natural objects in which we are interested; we do not sum up our spiritual qualities as we do our natural riches. No. On the contrary, we consider the quality of thought, the quality of affection,-the quality and tendency of activity. Hence we may clearly see that to number in a natural sense is to estimate quality in a spiritual sense. To number our days is to consider the quality of our internal states.
We have seen that " days ” represent and denote internal states, that is, states of progress in the regenerate life, or states of retrogression in an evil life; for the evil have their days as well as the good ; but it is only the pious and humble who desire to number their days. We number our spiritual days when we in humility reflect on the quality of our faith, our love, and our life. The Lord, who searches the heart, alone knows the true number of the days of any one of us. But He gives us the light by which we may scrutinize our secret motives and the ruling quality of our life. To number our days implies therefore an honest self-searching, an earnest self-examination. Man of himself is not able to make a searching scrutiny into the quality of his internal states. He is in himself mere evil and falsity. If we desire to explore a dark chamber and to examine its contents we take a light with us.
Now the mind of man in its unconverted state is such a dark chamber—it is full of deformed and unclean things, and on its walls is depicted strange imagery; but the vileness and deformity of these things, to be scrutinized, must be submitted to a strong and searching light. Such a light is given to all of us who desire to use it—for that light is the light of Divine Truth, of God's holy Word. It is to that test that we are to bring our motives and our conduct; it is by that unerring light that we are to look into the dark recesses of our evil and false nature; for “He that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John iii. 21).
Every light save that of the Divine Word is false and delusive; the mind that is destitute of the “true light which enlighteneth every one that cometh into the world,” cannot possibly explore the real quality of his thoughts, his ruling affections, his secret motives, his life in the world. But, as there is no one wholly deprived of the light of truth, and as every one has some degree and quality of conscience preserved by the Divine mercy, so every one may commence the essential work of self-examination, without which there can be no contrition, no repentance, no turning away from evil.
We have said that man of himself is unable to explore the true quality of his ruling motives, since this can be done only by means of light and power from above. But so much of this light and power are given by the Lord, that every one may see the necessity of commencing the work of self-examination if he would reform his life; and the fountain of Divine mercy is ever open to pour forth more light, more power. Hence our text is a solemn prayer to the Lord, “ Lord, so teach us to number our days.” In sincerely offering up this
prayer, flecting suppliant expresses His inability to explore his evils and to become regenerate without Divine instruction, guidance and support. He therefore prays to be taught to number his days, to probe his own heart and mind, and by searching out his secret evils, to resist them by the Divine assistance, and finally to subdue then, and little by little, and thus progressively, to attain that pure and heavenly condition signified by “wisdom.” Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”