"Redeeming the time."—Ephesians V. 16.
The alternative rendering of the Revised Version (margin) is clearly to be preferred. It reads " buying up the opportunity." The New Testament has two words for time, one expressing simply the general idea of duration, and the other, which is employed here, meaning a definite period, suitable for a certain purpose or having certain characteristics. The distinction between the two is seen in the phrase which occurs more than once, "times and seasons," the former word being used in the general and the latter in the specific sense. The apostle has the same word as is here employed when he bids us, "as we have opportunity, do good to all men," and when he enforces the exhortation by the promise that "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." The notion here intended, then, is not that of time in general, but that of a definite period bounded at either end and having definite duties to be done in it.
In the word "redeeming," a metaphor is drawn from the conduct of a purchaser who goes into the market and there secures for a price that which he desires to possess. We are to regard each passing moment as having a specific character and definite purpose, and we are to utilise the sum of all, which is our life as a whole, to the utmost.
What a solemn but often forgotten conception of life as a whole, and of its minutest parts, that is which regards it as a specific period, rigidly limited and charged with a great purpose which should ever gleam distinct before us! There are many nearer and minor purposes, but the great end is to form ourselves "after the pattern showed us in the Mount," to make ourselves like God as He is manifested in Jesus. We are here, not for enjoyment, not for sorrow, not simply for the pursuit of our daily avocations, but for all these, in order that they may lead on to the higher end of being changed from the image of the earthly into the image of the heavenly.
But if that is true about life as a whole, it is also true that each moment has its specific purpose, and is an opportunity for some definite duty. How are these to be ascertained? Most of us have defined paths along which to travel, like tramways—and that is a blessing. Let us be thankful that in so large a portion of our lives circumstances settle duty, and that habit comes in to aid us in determining as well as in doing it. But whether or not our action is prescribed by the exigencies of daily life and the continually recurring tasks which the hours bring round, let us try to remember that each moment, as it comes fresh and glittering from God, comes with a purpose which it is blessed to recognise and fatal to miss or to neglect. How solemn is the beat, beat, beat of the pendulum, when we feel that it registers not merely the passing of a moment of time, but the coming, the brief standing open to us, and the swift gliding into the irrevocable past, of a great opportunity!
We must make distinct effort to realise habitually the true significance and solemnity of life, if we are to buy up its opportunities. It needs such effort to lead a life apart from the hand-to-mouth life, moulded by sense and circumstance, which so many are content to live. It is a blessing when we get habit on the side of goodness, and all its mystical influences come to be as hedges to prevent our toppling over the precipice. But life is a poor affair unless we, realising its true significance and solemnity, do live each moment not by habit only, not mechanically, nor merely accepting the duty prescribed by our circumstances or avocations, but drawing nearer to Him who sends our opportunities, and so learning their summons and their importance.
We redeem the opportunity in proportion as we make mind and conscience regulate life. Reason should govern appetite and inclination; conscience should govern reason, and God should be allowed to illuminate conscience. The brilliant poet who burned away his life in dissipation before he was seven-andthirty was foolish enough to sneer at "cold-blooded folk who live by rule." How much better for him if he had so lived! It is irksome to have to take an observation daily at noon, to mark latitude and longitude daily in the log, to prick out the course daily on the chart, to steer by compass, and not let the ship's bow point and its sails fill or sag as they will—but that is how shoals are shunned and port is made.
Further, we have to make sure of God's will; as the apostle goes on to sa}': "Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." That will gives each moment its purpose, and may be ascertained by us. Circumstances may be messengers, proclaiming what, at each moment, God desires that we should feel and do. Sorrows are not merely meant to make us weep, nor joys to expand the heart in gladness, but these and all changing things have one unchanging intention, for "this is the will of God, even your sanctification." So, if we will keep clamorous inclinations dumb until His voice is heard, and will stop our ears from the strife of tongues, and if we have courage to do nothing when we do not see clearly what He would have us to do, we shall not look in vain for the guidance of God's guiding will.
We cannot buy up opportunity without paying its price. What has to be surrendered that we may utilise to the full, and for the highest ends, the successive moments? In one word—self. Inclinations, passiors, and all the ugly things that lie coiled in that one word are to be given up. We willingly make sacrifices to attain the lower aims of life, and these might rebuke our reluctance to pay the price required in order to secure the greatest. "All the things thou canst desire are not to be compared with" the Wisdom which "hath in her left hand riches and honour and in her right hand a crown of life." The man who sells all to buy the pearl of great price makes a good bargain. So then, let us realise the mystic solemnity of each moment and of life as a whole. Let us bring intellect and conscience to bear upon all our ways. Let us seek to know God's will, and be willing to pay the price.
"The days are evil." No doubt they were specially so for the little group of Christians in brilliant, corrupt Ephesus. But they are so for us all, since we are brought into contact with a "world" sadly unconscious of the meaning of life. Therefore, we are the more bound to keep our consciousness of it strong and constant, as Lot had more need to make efforts to retain his faith in Sodom than Abraham had on the breezy, pure uplands.
Opportunity is dwindling, as the apostle says in another place: "The time"—that is, the occasion— "is being shortened." It is shorter by twelve months than this day last year; how short for some of us God knows. Each moment wears away part of the thickness of the mass, and for us it may be worn very thin. Life is a definite period. We stand on "this bank and shoal of time," and the waves are ever washing round our feet and eating it away. If we are wise, we shall be impelled, as we watch the narrowing of the solid earth where we stand, to buy up our diminishing opportunities. But, further, the occasion thus bounded and decreasing is irrevocable. The wheels of time have no reverse motion. If the work of a day is not done in its day, it can never be done. Occasion has a forelock and is bald on the hinder head. "And the door was shut"—those outside did not buy the opportunity, and all the answer that their despairing hammering at the closed door brings is:
"Too late, too late: ye cannot enter now I"
"The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold, therefore shall he beg in harvest and have nothing."