Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. — (Job 14:1.) “AVERY mournful text,” says one: “we would prefer to have something cheerful.” Well, certainly, the bell has a very solemn sound, but it was cast in Heaven’s own foundry, and there is a reason for it. God has hung it in the belfry of inspiration, and He meant it to be rung. It is sometimes of very great service to us to have to think of solemn things. But, then, I would remind you that the bell that tolls the funeral knell needs but to be sounded in another way, and it can give forth the most delightful sounds. And so, truths which are even terrible and dreadful under some aspects may be bright and comforting under others. The trumpet may have a different sound to one person from what it will have to another. They used to sound trumpets when the judges came into an assize town, and if the prisoners heard those trumpets, they would either be sweet or sad to them, according to their character. He who knew he was to be tried for murder and was guilty of that crime, would hear in the sound of the trumpets the most mournful tidings, but he who had a clear conscience would be glad to think that he was about to receive an acquittal at the hand of righteousness. I should not wonder but what these words, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble,” while they may sound mournfully to many hearts, will also have a ring of the joy note in your ears, so that out of this eater shall come forth meat, and honey shall be found even in this lion-like text.
The statement here made is one of the most sweeping character. It says, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” That is to say, every man, for there was but one man who would not come under this description the father of us all. But as for the rest, we are all born of a woman, and therefore all of them have few days and full of trouble. It is applicable to kings upon their thrones quite as much as to the prisoners who are in the dungeon. It is certainly as true of the stalwart guardsman as of the poor, pining, consumptive girl. Each one that is of woman born must speedily to the dust return, and meanwhile must find the way to the grave to be rough with sorrows.
The text is sweeping, and at the same time by using the term, “Man that is born of a woman,” it uplifts the veil a little why it is so. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean ! Who shall bring strength out of weakness?
Who shall bring immortality out of mortality? Who shall produce men of iron when they have to be born from women of clay? It is because of our first birth and the sin — the transgression that comes in with it — that therefore we are of few days. We say, “short and sweet,” but here we have brief and bitter. The sin that we inherit causes us also to inherit the fewness of the days and the fullness of the trouble. And this statement is true in all ages since it was uttered. I suppose that even to the antediluvian men life seemed to be of few ‘days. Though to us their age seems extremely long, yet it may not have been so to them, for we well know that our days grow shorter as we grow older. A period of time which seems immense to the child, and tolerably long to a young man, becomes short to a man of middle life, and to the aged man appears to be as nothing at all. The astounding rapidity with which life flies often staggers me. I remember when a day, a week, a month seemed something, but now Sabbaths fly round and one seems no sooner to have left the pulpit than to have to be ready to go into it again. Time flies the more rapidly as life advances. But in all the periods of time since men have been upon the earth this is indeed true, and we must none of us expect to escape from the general rule. This is true to you young people; you will be “of few days and full of trouble.” Take not the word from my lips; take it from the Holy Spirit Himself. This is true to you strong men who are now in the vigor of life; you will be “of few days and full of trouble.” You of grey heads, whose strength has survived these many years, who lean upon your staff — you will be of few days; and, as you have had trouble, you must expect it to the last. You are not out of gun-shot of Satan yet, not beyond the temptations of the corrupt nature yet, not beyond the trials of life yet. He that has come into the safe harvest of competence, and dreams of spending a long period of time in retirement, may still remember that trouble will follow him, even in his rural retreat, and that he may not reckon upon many days, for he is of few days, God hath said, and of few days he shall be. Let each man quietly turn over this word of God in the stillness of his own soul, “I, like my brother, am of few days and full of trouble.”
Now, take the first statement, and then the second, and then blend the two.
I. Take the first statement: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days.” It does not say “of few years.” It is as if his years were almost too few even to be thought of, and as if man ought never to live by the year. I do not remember a passage of Scripture which says, “Teach us to number our years”; neither do I recollect a prayer in which we are to ask for yearly bread; but I remember that we are to ask to be taught to number our days and to say, “Give us day by day our daily bread.” Now, our days do seem to be many. There are three hundred and sixty-five days in each year, and then we look for a considerable number of years, and according to our thoughtless calculation it would appear as if our days were, after all, rather considerable. But the text says, “No! Man that is born of a woman is of few days.” And this is true, if you compare man’s life, first of all with the life of God. It seems scarcely to be spoken of — fitter for contemplation than for speech. When as yet this universe was not, there was God. Long ages before He began to create sun, or moon, or stars, there was God. And when all things that now are shall pass away like a vestment worn out to be put aside, there shall still be God — no older, for there can be no age with Him; no further advanced in years, for He hath no years. It is now with Him — no past, no future. He fills His own eternal vow, And sees our ages pass. “Of few days,” indeed! Why, we are but of yesterday. Fly back a moment to the time when Christ was hanging on the cross. Where were you then?
Think of the times of Solomon and David. Where were you? A thing unthought of. And in that day when Jehovah walked the glades of Eden and communed with our unfallen parents, where were we! We are infants; we are not worthy to be mentioned. We are “of few days.”
Why, we are even of few days as compared with the world in which we live, and yet that is but a novel thing. It was but yesterday this world flew like a spark from off the anvil of eternal omnipotence; yet to us it seems ages indeed. Yon mountains, with their snows, seem hoary with age, and yonder deep, which has swallowed so many of the navies that mortal ambition has built — how old it seems compared with us; yet those things are mere novelties. Then what are we? We seem only to have sprung up like grass in the summer, and like grass we already feel the mower’s scythe.
We are “of few days.”
We are of few days as compared with what our days might have been; for, had not our first parents sinned, I know not that we should have lived here for ever, but certainly we should not have died. There is, according to some teaching, no absolutely physical reason why the human body should not continue to live on. At any rate, if there be reasons now why the body should at such and such a period begin to decay, then probably there were no such reasons in the conformation of the first man. Perhaps that tree of life in the garden might have furnished Adam with food for perpetual youth, so that he would have renewed his strength like the eagles, and we too, his children, might have lived in perpetual happiness here. Well, the dream is gone: it shall not be realized. Still, compared with what they might have been, sin has made our days few.
Compared again — and this is a far sweeter thought — compared with what they shall be, our days are few, for, O, beloved, when this life’s toil and trouble shall all be over our immortal spirits — what shall be their duration? We shall receive a life coeval with the life of God, and no more be capable of death than God Himself. As many as have believed in Christ Jesus shall enter into a felicity that shall know no bounds. Ay! and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality. And even that of us which to-day draweth down to the worm and to the dust — the rottenness — shall rise in power and glory and be spiritually fashioned in the glorious image of the second Adam. Blessed be God, the life on earth is nothing compared with the life to come. A mere handful of days we have here; but there, with the Ancient of Days, we shall dwell for ever and ever.
Now, this being the truth, what then? Let us ring the bell a minute and listen to it.
First, then, if our days are few, how earnest ought each one of us to be that he should find reconciliation with God and eternal salvation, and find it at once! I have spoken to some of you many hundreds of times about your souls and you have never quarreled with any statements of truth that I have made. I almost wish you had. You have said, “Yes, that is important. Yes, we are sinful. Yes, we do need a Savior.” But while you have said you were sinful, you have not repented nor confessed your sin to God. Though you know you need a Savior, yet you have not found Him. When do you mean to attend to these things? “By-and-bye,” say you? “Man that is born of a woman is of few days.” You have had a few days already; perhaps you have had all you will ever have. If you could see the sand-glass of your lives, some of you — if I could see mine — here may be far fewer sermons to be uttered below than we had dreamed. The thread that we think to be so long may almost be at an end. Dear heart, do you intend to die impenitent? Do you mean to pass into another world without a Savior?
Can you be so mad as that? No, I know that is the last thing in your thoughts. You are intending and you are resolving well. And you resolved ten years ago, did you not? Do you remember that impressive sermon?
How you trembled! Perhaps it was twenty years ago. You recollect that sickness, that cholera in the City, and how you resolved and re-resolved?
And yet you are just the same as you were then. Are not the probabilities very strong that you will continue the same as you now are, and that you will open your eyes where it will be too late to open them — like the rich man of whom it is said, “In hell he lift up his eyes “? It were far better to lift them up here than to lift them up there, where you will see no hope, no Savior on a throne of mercy. God grant to us to snatch the present day.
The most important of all interests cannot be postponed until to-morrow.
He who was slain with a dagger had a warning, as you know; but he said he would attend to it by-and-bye, and he went to the Senate house and fell beneath the daggers of his foes. You have a warning to-night; this very text has spoken it to you. Perhaps tomorrow you will have to rue, and rue for ever, that you postponed the thoughts of the things of eternity.
II. Another lesson comes from this, and it is for those who are already saved — the people of God. Dear brothers and sisters, our one desire is to glorify God. Now, we shall glorify Him for ever and ever; but there is a particular form of service which only belongs to this life. Are you not anxious — very anxious — that you should honor .Christ here and do as much as you can?
Well, you have few days — but few days. Oh, one could almost wish to live to be as old as Methuselah for the sake of winning men’s souls and bringing sinners to Christ. But it cannot be. Oh, how we ought to work for Jesus, seeing He is such a Master, and deserves to have so much from His servants. And yet there is so short a space to do it in. If we are painting for eternity, oh, let us move our hands with skill and with rapidity as hearing the chariot wheels of eternity behind us. Can we afford to waste hours or even minutes? I have heard of a Puritan who used to rise and study at five in the morning. But one day he heard a smith’s hammer while he was getting up, and he said, ‘: Shall a smith work harder than a minister of God? Shall he give to his hard service more time than I give to my Lord and Master?” And he would thus chide himself, though he was one of the most industrious of men. Remember, dear friends, that you are born of woman, and that you have but few days few days in which to bring sons and daughters to the Savior, few days in which to save that Sabbath school class, few days, oh, preacher, in which to make this place ring with salvation, few days in which to be a shepherd to the people of God — a few days in which to call sinners and to warn backsliders. Let us live, while we live, brethren, to the utmost power and capacity of our manhood, for we are of few days.
Now, let us ring that bell again, and hear whether there is not sweet music in it.
Well, then, if we are “of few days,” our troubles will the sooner be over. If we are of few days, we have but a short time in which to bear the labor and the suffering, the weakness and the want which are often our lot and our portion. “Of few days,” then the sooner we shall be in Heaven. So much the nearer are you gates of pearl; so much the sooner you streets of gold to be trodden by our feet; so much the sooner shall the crown encircle these brows. It seems to me that the bell rings out a marriage peal, the very bridal of our souls with Christ in the new Jerusalem. Man that is born of a woman, banished from his Savior, is banished but for a few days. Man that is born of a woman, being twice-born through the Holy Spirit, is but a little while in the furnace; he shall be for ever in the paradise of God. Who wishes to lengthen out a life which detains us from a face-to-face view of Christ? There are reasons for wishing it long — reasons of self-denying service, but, oh — Our heart is with Him on His throne, And ill can brook delay; Each moment listening for the voice, Make haste and come away.” As the bride desireth the marriage day, our soul desireth the bridegroom, even Jesus. As the child longeth for the home-bringing when the school days are done, and the rest-hours of home are come, so our hearts, when in a right mind, long for the coming of the Lord. Glory be to His name, for it is true, “Man is of few days.”
And one other thought comes over my mind here, and it is this: Ought not this to make us feel the more deeply indebted to the matchless love of God that, though we are of few days, the love which deals with us is not? It never had a beginning; it never will have an end. From everlasting to everlasting God loved His people. Oh that everlasting love should be set upon a mortal man ! Oh that the long ages ere this world was made should yet be witness to our names! Think of it. Ere suns .began to shine, or the day-star knew its place, we were even then dear to the heart of God. Christ loved us then; for has He not said, “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you,” and that is without beginning, without end, without measure, without limit, without bounds, without change. Oh, then to think that we should be objects of such love as that makes the few days of this mortal life glow with glory as the bush in Horeb glowed with the presence of Deity.
Now, let us take the second half of our text, and that briefly. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” “Full of trouble.” Is not that a doleful sound? And alas! the fact is as dolorous as the sound; for if you turn over the experience of good men and all men you shall find that there is no lack of trouble. The roll of trouble is like Ezekiel’s roll, written within and without full of lamentations and mourning and woe. Sometimes we have troubles of the country, and wars and rumors of war, or poverty and famine, or sin and wickedness in our streets. Then we have the troubles of the Church, the heresy, the schism, the divisions among brethren, the heart-burnings against each other, the coldness towards God, the lukewarmness to Christ. And then we meet with troubles outside in the world, the battling for existence with some, the trouble of getting the trouble of spending, the trouble of keeping, the trouble of losing, troubles on all sides, in the shop and in the field, troubles that come to us in the bed-chamber, that walk arm-in-arm with us in the streets and follow us to the retirement of the woods. There is no place free from them. A good old Puritan divides the troubles thus: “There are troubles in doing our duty, troubles for doing our duty, troubles in not doing what is our duty, and troubles in doing what is not our duty.”
And truly every man has met with these — -troubles in doing our duty, striving against flesh and blood, fighting against inward temptations and Satan and defying the world; troubles for doing our duty, coldness and ill- treatment, crosses and losses that come necessarily to those who walk uprightly. And then troubles for not doing our duty, which are far sharper and which come upon God’s servants for omissions and commissions, for the Master’s will, known and not obeyed, for the Master’s will not known and not obeyed — many stripes and few stripes, but still stripes all the journey through. And then troubles for doing what is not our duty, viz., running into this or that which is aside from the straight path of the upright.
How many troubles do we bring upon ourselves in that way? There are troubles within and troubles without, troubles that come to you while you are active, troubles that besiege you while you lie passive upon the bed of pain — the troubles of our childhood, which I believe are not quite so light as some think them to be. There is a fiction that children have the happiest days: I know I had not. I do not know how many are able to bear witness to the same. There are troubles of youth, troubles of manhood, and troubles of old age. In fact, “the Christian man,” as John Bunyan says in his quaint ballad — …is seldom long at ease, When one trouble’s gone, another doth him seize.
Temptations of all sorts and sizes await the followers of the Lamb of God.
If others can be without trouble, they shall not be, because they are God’s people. God had one Son without sin; He never had a son without affliction, and He never will have.
III. What is the lesson from all this? If we are full of trouble, let us reflect that there is plenty of weaning going on, and this we ought to be glad of. We are so fond of the nest here that we should never fly from it, only thorns are getting numerous, and we shall fly soon. Here are knives that cut the ropes that hold us. We shall begin to mount, for God’s grace has made us buoyant. Only let us get loose, and we will go away to our own company in the skies. If we are getting settled on our lees, let us thank God because we have abundance of trouble. Then the joy is that we shall have abundance of consolation, for it is a well-known rule of the kingdom that, as our troubles abound, even so shall our consolations abound by Jesus Christ. Who would not be glad to have the trouble for the sake of the consolation; for the precious Balm of Gilead not only heals and takes away the pain, but it gives positive pleasure. We always gain by our losses when we walk with God. We get richer through being poorer, and healthier through being sick. So, be willing to have rough winds, for they shall bring us soft winds. When God intends to send His servant a diamond more valuable than usual, He does it up in a black envelope. At first it alarms us, and we think it something terrible, but, when we open it, we find such a sparkling love token that our fears disappear. Here is the comfort of it: we have fuller opportunities of experiencing the truth of the promises of God.
Some promises would not be worth a farthing to us if we were in circumstances that did not require them to be fulfilled. Half the Bible would be useless to us if we never had to meet a temptation. Doctor Affliction is the best expositor of Scripture. I can recommend you Dr. Gill and Dr. Adam Clarke and many others, but if you want to understand the Word of God you must go to the school of trial. They say you can see the stars when you are down a well when you cannot see them up above, and many a starry promise shines out to a soul that is down in the deeps of affliction. Sympathetic ink does not show a bit till it is held to the fire, and often the promises are written in such ink: you must hold them to the fire of trial, and then the meaning appears, and you rejoice in it.
Once more — and I think this is a sweet note from such a harsh-sounding bell — if we are full of trouble, we are full of opportunities for understanding our suffering Lord; we are full of occasions for knowing the heights and depths of His love that passeth knowledge. If I were to go to Heaven without ever having a trouble, why, how strangely ignorant must I be there! I should hear the sacred ones speaking to one another of the sufferings of their Lord, and I should have to say, “What do they mean? I never had these sufferings.” I hear them speaking of pain, and I say, “Pain!
I never knew pain!” I hear them talk about poverty and want and depression of spirit and about crying, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me ?” and I stand and look on in wonder and say, “What does it all mean ?” But now the blessed scholars of the school of affliction, as they come to heaven, are entrapped by the angels and asked what it means, and they tell unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places the manifold wisdom of God. We have fellowship with Christ in His sufferings, and who does not wish to have full fellowship with Christ in them? Hence I feel very little sympathy with brethren who do not wish to die. I am ready to do what the Lord wills, but I would rather die, bearing on this forehead the death-seal, even as the Master did, that up there I may be amongst those risen from the dead, as He was, and have fellowship with Him who is the first-born from the dead. Certainly, those that are alive and remain shall have no preference, but I think that those who fall asleep will have a preference beyond them in that respect at any rate. Well then, let us rejoice and glory in tribulation also, and write down amongst the good things of God’s gift in the covenant, amongst the things present and the things to come which are ours, our trials and the troubles of which our life is full.
Now, let us dose by noticing the two together. I should like to hear these two bells ring together. If there is any roughness in one of them apart, ring them together, and you take it off. For instance, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days.” Well, who wants to be of many days if they are full of trouble? Now, take it the other way: “Man that is full of trouble is of few days.” Supposing it be thus, “Man is of few days and full of joy.”
What a clash ! What a clash! A man says, “Then let me live.” Full of joy!
How it damps it all. Let a fight end as soon as you will, but a feast — let it continue. Must that lamp which shines so brightly go out soon and leave nothing but a smell of smoking flax? Ah! then the light itself is dimmed because it burns so short a time. But shortness of life becomes a blessing if it is full of trouble, and when life is short trouble itself seemeth to be congruous with it because it is so great a mercy that we are not to live for ever in the land of trouble. I like the two together. And then when I contrast them with the next life, man that is born of the Spirit is of eternal immortality and full of joy, the heart comes away from the gloomy text like a wedding guest at a banquet full of rejoicing, blessing the name of the Lord, and so do you too, brethren, every one of you, for Christ’s sake.