Life At Its Best
An addressed delivered by Harry Ironside at Wheaton College.
The text I have in mind for this message is found in the book of Genesis, chapter 27, the last seven words of verse 46: “What good shall my life do me?” You may or may not recall the connection and the circumstances under which these words were uttered. They were spoken querulously by a disgruntled mother-in-law who felt that her eldest son had made a fatal mistake in a double matrimonial venture. As Mark Twain said of Brigham Young, “He loved not wisely but too many.” And they were both of such disposition that they made life unbearable for Rebecca, the wife of Isaac. She had been terribly disappointed in Esau’s marriages and she feared that Jacob might contact some heathen woman of similar type and she exclaimed to Isaac, “If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, which are the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?” And so she urged Isaac to send Jacob down to her brother’s home in Syria on a wife-hunting expedition. It is not my intention, however, to occupy you with the matrimonial affairs of Isaac’s family. I am really doing something which most homileticians consider very reprehensible. They would say I am attempting to use a text for a pretext, for it is just these seven words that I am thinking about and which I want you to consider with me at this time.
“What good shall my life do me?” Each one of us may well ask himself this serious question. Life is a wonderful boon and a great privilege, if lived aright, and used to the glory of God and the blessing of humanity. But it may become a terrible curse to ourselves and others if we follow the path of self-will, trample on divine precepts, refuse the grace of God, which is offered us in Christ Jesus and live for the world, the flesh and the devil. A perverted life is a wasted life and will leave nothing but regret behind. How true this was of Judas! Filled with wondrous privileges and glorious opportunities, he literally threw his life away, and Jesus said of him at last, “Good were it for that man if he had never been born.” What good did the life of Judas do him? No good at all, but infinite harm.
Life at the best is so short. Seventy or more years, and we spend them all as a tale that is told. Then the place that knew us once knows us no more forever. Happy is the man who leaves a record behind that he has lived for God and glorified Him in all his ways. You will remember the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterian Church—“What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” This is indeed life at its best. You will recall Daniel’s solemn words to the dissolute King Belshazzar: “The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.” He was weighed in the balances and found wanting. Life for him was an utter failure. God grant it may not be true of any of you who listen to me today.
“Weighed in the balance and wanting,
Weighed, but no Saviour is there;
Weighed, but thy soul has been trifling,
Weighed, and found lighter than air.”
Life is worth so much, and yet treated as though it were so worthless by many. I wonder if you have ever seen the simple little acrostic on the word “Time.” It goes like this:
“There is a gem of untold worth,
It’s given by God to men on earth;
Millions don’t prize it; so throw it away;
Eternity dawns and it’s lost for aye.”
So it is with life in the case of many, many people. The life that is worth while is a Christ-centered life. The apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Elsewhere he says, “Ye have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” John says, “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” Life with unsaved men is a mere existence and generally a very selfish existence. Life for the child of God is a glorious adventure, an unselfish devotion to the One who has redeemed us.
We have often been reminded that we pass this way but once. How important, then, to live well. Think of the many people who have lived and died and left no impression for good on anyone else! Of King Jehoram, the godless son of the godly Jehoshaphat, the man who had trampled on all his father’s instruction, we read that thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years and departed without being desired (2 Chronicles 21:20). What a solemn epitaph! The people were glad to get rid of him. They felt relieved when he had gone. Doubtless many said, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” His was a life utterly wasted. How great the contrast in the case of King David, who, whatever his failures, was a man who had judged his sins in the presence of God and sought to live for the glory of God and the good of his people. Of him we are told, “After he had served his own generation by the will of God, he fell on sleep” (Acts 13:36). That was a life worth while and an epitaph to be valued.
Think of the many brilliant and talented men and women endowed by God with remarkable gifts, who have wasted their lives in sensuality, selfishness and godlessness. One is reminded of that brilliant darling of society, Lord Byron, who, as he looked back over a wasted life, wrote:
“My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flower, the fruit of life is gone;
The worm, the canker and the grief
Are mine alone.”
How differently he might have felt had he yielded himself to Christ and made the glory of God his first consideration.
How often we hear elderly people as they look back over the years that have gone, exclaim, “Really, life is not worth living.” How different is the story of those who have lived for God!
I trust that most of you gathered here today have already yielded your lives to Christ, but if there are those who have not yet done so, oh let me plead with you tenderly, earnestly, seriously, do not waste another hour ere you bow in repentance at the feet of Him who is the way, the truth and the life, and receive Him as Saviour, and go forth to obey Him as Lord.
We who are saved look back with the greatest of regret on the years spent in sin. I often think of that little verse,
“I lived for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside,
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if He had never died.”
But oh, how I praise Him for ever opening my blinded eyes to see that the only life really worth living was the life yielded to Himself.
And right here let me point out that you must have life from God before you can live for Him, and that life He offers freely to all who trust His blessed Son. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” When this life has been received, then indeed you can live a life that will be to His glory and to your own eternal joy. Do not, I beseech you, waste precious hours and days on things that do not profit, but heed the admonition of Paul to Timothy: “Lay hold on that which is really life” (1 Timothy 6:19, literal translation). All else is a mirage, fleeting and evanescent, and will disappoint you at last. Consider, then, the question, “What good shall my life do me?” and settle it in your heart that you will know life at its best by committing yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and living to please Him alone.