The Brevity of Life

The Brevity of Life

John Bramhall

John Bramhall needs no introduction to our readers; for years we have enjoyed and have been helped by the devotional ministry he gives. The new year is another reminder of the brevity of life. Let us take to heart the counsel he gives.

Over the triple doorways of Milan Cathedral there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Above one is carved a wreath of roses and underneath is the legend: “All that Pleases is but for a Moment.” Over the Second is sculptured a cross and underneath are the words: “All that Troubles is but for a Moment.” While underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle of the Cathedral is the inscription: “That Only is Important which is Eternal.” The brevity of life in contrast to eternal things should constantly be realized. The Bible states:

Life is but a Tale: “We spend our years as a TALE that is told” (Psa. 90:9). It does not take long to spin “a tale” and the end of the story comes. Such is our brief life! The Hebrew text is more revealing in the New Translation, J.N.D.: “We spend our years as a passing thought.” It may be many years to us, but in contrast to eternity it is only “a passing thought”. HOW BRIEF!

Life is but a Pilgrimage: “For we are strangers before Thee, AND SOJOURNERS, as were all our fathers, our days on earth are as A SHADOW, and there is none abiding” (1 Cron. 29:15). A short journey; a brief pilgrimage through this world; like a moving shadow that quickly flits across the sands of time, HOW BRIEF!

Life is but a Handbreadth: “Be hold, thou has made my days as a HANDBREADTH, and mine age is as NOTHING before Thee” (Psa. 39:5). God quickly answered David’s desire “to know the measure” of his days (Psa. 39:4). Contrasted to eternity, the width of his hand! Contrasted to an Eternal Being — “as nothing!” HOW BRIEF!

Life is but a Vapour: “For what is your life? It is even a VAPOUR, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (Jas. 4:14). Not that brief you say! That is what God says it is in relation to eternity. The next opportunity, watch the rise of vapour and its quick disappearance from sight. This is “your life” and HOW BRIEF!

Life is but a Flower: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a FLOWER, and is cut down” (Job 14:1, 2). Brief, but troubled, was Job’s comment of life and often is our judgment too. Like A FLOWER, now budding, then blooming but suddenly gone! “Cut down!” It matters not which flower you may be like, (from daisies to orchids!)’ yet “the flower” we cherish, nourish and admire is soon gone! It’s duration — HOW BRIEF!

Life is but a A TENT: “For we who are in THIS TENT sigh under our burden” (2 Cor. 5:4 — Confraternity translation). Note the context of this chapter from verse 1, etc. and realize that your body and mine are no more than a temporal dwelling for the spirit and soul, just A TENT! Nothing permanent about that! A vulnerable structure that soon shows the signs of wear and tear from the experiences of life. The believer’s permanent “house from Heaven” is eternal, a new body of glory, but this present one is only A TENT possibly with patches and stitches showing also! As far as its survival of life’s storms — HOW BRIEF!

Life is but as Grass: “All flesh is AS GRASS, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth and the flower fadeth; because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is GRASS” (Isa. 40:6, 7). The scorching sun and the cold of winter both blight the tender grass, withering it away. How quickly it is destroyed! Everything may look green in life, but one blast from the breath of God can soon take us away! How uncertain life is and HOW BRIEF!

Thus the Holy Scriptures vividly and accurately describe the BREVITY OF LIFE in contrast to Eternity and One who is an Eternal Being. Let us acknowledge the truth of God’s Word with deeper realization of life’s brevity compared with Eternity!

The application of these truths should be realized and the lessons taught us assimilated into our hearts. The inscriptions over the triple doorways of Milan Cathedral are amplified by the Scriptures touched on. Let us consider them:

(a) “All that pleases is but for a moment” — Living for the pleasures of this life alone, carelessly indifferent to eternal things, can be disastrous and wasteful. All that the world holds for the gratifying of human pleasure is but a momentary object. The world congratulates you on your achievement of wealth and honor, if you live for self! Not so your Saviour! “For whosoever shall desire to save his life shall lose it!” (Mk. 8:35 New Trans.). The world condemns and reproaches if you live for Eternity and value eternal things! Not so your Saviour! “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it!” (Mk. 8:35). Which world are you living for, this or the next? Life is short for us! Are we really losing or saving it?

“All that troubles is but for a moment” — Not only should the pleasures of life be realized as a momentary object, but also our troubles! Often we may unduly magnify them but we should not. Compared with Eternity and eternal glory, God says they are a momentary experience: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment” (2 Cor. 4:17). The inscription over the Cathedral door is according to Scripture truth. The brevity of life, contrasted with Eternity, should enable us to minimize our troubles for the glory of God!

“That only is important which is eternal” — Here the proper emphasis on our life is rightly placed. This is according to Holy Scripture and is divine encouragement to us. Read carefully the context of 2 Corinthians 4:15-18 and you will find the true perspective upon life revealed. Part of it reads as follows: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory: While we look not at the things which are seen, but, at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal!”

What a lesson of contrast: “light affliction” and “weight of glory”; one is “for a moment” and the other “eternal”; one is “light” and the other “exceeding heavy.” Note the contrasts between “the things that are seen” and “the things that are not seen.” The former are “temporal” and the latter are “eternal.” Whether pleasure or troubles they are a passing experience. The old colored brother was not far from the truth when he deliberated over his troubles in life and said he was truly thankful for the oft repeated phrase in Scripture — “And it came to pass.” He then realized that his troubles had not come to stay! It was not a bad philosophy in life at all and something perhaps of which we all need more.

So in your pathway and mine, in this brief life which things are our eyes centred upon? The temporal or the eternal? It is a challenge for us and the brevity of life should stimulate us to live for eternal glory rather than earthly things. Let us permit the Spirit of God to inscribe deeply into our hearts and lives the blessed truth: “That Only is Important Which is Eternal.”

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
“Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, ALL for Thee.”