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By moments in life, I mean certain periods which occur more or less frequently in our history, when the spirit in which we then live, the step we then take, the word we then utter, or what we at that moment think, resolve, accept, reject, do, or do not, may give a complexion to our whole future being both here and hereafter.

Let me notice one or two features which characterise those moments.

They may, for example, be very brief. Napoleon once remarked, that there was a crisis in every battle, when ten minutes generally determined the victory on one side or other. Yet on the transactions of those few minutes the fate of empires may hang, and on the single word of command, rapidly spoken amidst the roar of cannon and the crash of arms, the destinies of the human race be affected. Men in public life, who are compelled every day to decide on matters of importance, appreciate the value of minutes, and estimate the necessity of snatching them as they pass with promptness and decision; of “taking advantage of the chance,” as they say, knowing well that if that moment is allowed to pass, “the chance” it brings is gone for ever; that whatever their hand “finds to do” must be done then or never. The results to them of what they decide at that moment may be incalculable. What is then done may never be undone; yet not another second is added to the time given them for action. Within the germ of that brief moment of life is contained the future tree of many branches and of much fruit.

What a brief moment, indeed, in our endless life is the whole period even of the longest life on earth! It is compared to a vapour, which appeareth for a short time, and then vanisheth away; to “a watch in the night,” “a tale that is told.” And if we but consider how nearly a third portion of our threescore years and ten is necessarily spent in sleep; and add to this the years spent during infancy while preparing for labour; during old age, when our labours are well-nigh past; and many more consumed in adorning and supporting or giving rest to the body; and then if, after summing up those years, we deduct what remains of time at the disposal of the oldest man for the formation of active thought and the improvement of his spiritual being, oh! how brief is the whole period of our mortal life, when longest, though its transactions are to us fraught with endless and awful consequences!

Another characteristic of those moments in life is the silence with which they may come and pass away. No “sign” may be given to indicate their importance to us. They do not announce their approach with the sound of a trumpet, nor demand with a voice of thunder our immediate and solemn attention to their interests; but stealthily, quietly, with noiseless tread like spirits from another world, they come to us, put their question, speak the word, and vanish to heaven with our reply. In after years, possibly, with “the long results of time” to guide us upward as by a stream to the tiny threads of this fountain of life and action, we may be able in a greater degree to realise of what tremendous importance they were to us. “Had we only known this at the time!” we exclaim, as we revolve those memories, and think of all we would have said or done; “had we only known!” But it is not God’s will that we should know how much of the future is involved in the present, or how all we shall be is determined by what we may resolve to be or do at any particular moment. Such a revelation would paralyse all effort, and destroy the mainspring of all right action. Sight would thus be substituted for faith; the fear of evil consequences for the fear of evil; and the love of future benefits for the love of present duty. God will have us rather cultivate habitually a right spirit at each moment, so as to be able to act rightly when the all-important moment comes, whether we then discover its importance or not. Let us not be surprised, then, if God comes to us, not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but only in the still small voice which speaks to the heart or to the conscience, demanding the conduct which becomes us as responsible beings and as obedient children.

But let me illustrate these remarks by a few examples of “moments in life,” and such as must come to us all.

It is a solemn “moment in life” when the glad tidings of the love of God in Christ Jesus are heard and understood. Remember that we are saved by “the truth;” born again “of the Word;” sanctified “by the truth.” To receive the truth of God, then, as a living power into the mind and conscience, is of infinite importance to us. Now, while God’s truth comes to us “at various times and in diverse manners,” there are moments in life when we cannot choose but feel as if it was addressing our inner spirit as it never did before, and earnestly knocking for admission. The circumstances in which this appeal is made may be what are called commonplace; such as when hearing a sermon preached from the pulpit, when reading a book by the fireside, or when conversing for a few minutes with an acquaintance; yet at such times truth expressed in a single sentence, or in a few words, may search our spirits, and gaze on us with a solemn look, saying, “Thou art the man I am in search of!” But, as it sometimes happens, the circumstances in which we are thus arrested by the truth, and are compelled to listen to it for weal or woe, may be peculiarly impressive; as when we are ourselves in sickness or danger, or when addressed by a parent or dear friend on their dying bed, or when in deep family distress, or when standing beside the grave that conceals our best earthly treasure from our sight. At such moments the voice of God’s Spirit is awfully solemn as He cries, “Now is the day of salvation;” “To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts;” “Believe and live.”

These moments may be very brief. The crisis of the battle between God and self, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, may be concentrated into a few minutes. But time sufficient is, nevertheless, given wherein to test our truthfulness, the soil in which truth grows, the mirror that reflects its beams; time sufficient is given to say Yes or No to that God who claims our faith and love. Truth comes with authority and majesty as an ambassador from the living God, and with clear voice, pure eye, and an arm omnipotent to save, offers to give light, life, and liberty to the captive spirit. But we may evade his bright glance, and close our ears to his voice, and refuse to consider his claims, and deal falsely with his arguments; we may reject his offers, and, shrinking back from his touch and his helping hand, retire into the gloom of self-satisfied pride, preferring the darkness to the light; or we may make merry with Heaven’s ambassador, and mock him as they did the prophet of old; or cry out, “Away with him!” as the world cried to the Lord of light and life. And what if the second ambassador never comes again with such pressing earnestness, but passes by the door once so rudely closed against him, and will knock no more? Or, though he may in mercy return again and again, what if the eye gets blinded by the very light which it rejects? and the ear becomes so familiar with the voice, that it attracts attention no more than the winds that beat upon the wall; and the heart becomes so hardened as to be unimpressible, until the dread sentence is at last passed, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.”

A young man came to Jesus seeking eternal life. “Jesus, looking on him, loved him,” and answered his prayers by teaching him how eternal life could alone be attained. But the young man went away sorrowful, because he had much riches. What a history was contained in that brief moment of his life!

Again, young King Agrippa, along with the young Bernice, hear a sermon from Paul the prisoner. The outward picture presented to the eye on that day had nothing more remarkable or peculiar about it than has been witnessed a thousand times before and since. Those royal personages entered “the place of hearing” with “great pomp,” accompanied by “the chief captains and principal men of the city.” And before them appeared an almost unknown prisoner, upon whom his own nation, including “the chief priests and elders from Jerusalem,” demanded the judgment of death to be passed. That prisoner, “in bodily presence weak and contemptible,” was however “permitted to speak for himself;” and verily he did speak! He spoke of God and Christ; of repentance and the new life; and of his own glorious commission to “open the eyes” of men, “to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified through faith in Jesus.” What a revelation was this from God to man! The voice which spoke from Sinai and through the prophets, the voice of Him who is truth and love, spoke at that moment of life through Paul to those royal hearers, and to the captains and principal men. But Agrippa, with a sneer or with some conviction of the truth, replied, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Unlike St Paul himself, when the Lord spoke to him on his way to Damascus, Agrippa was disobedient to the heavenly vision. And so the sermon ended; the gay multitude dispersed; the place of hearing was left in silence, and echoed only the midnight winds or the beat of the sea-wave on the neighbouring shore. St Paul retired to his cell; Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice, to their chambers of rest, to sleep and dream by night, as they slept and dreamt by day. But they never heard the apostle preach again! It was their first and last sermon; that moment in their life came and passed, but never returned. Like two ships which meet at midnight on a moonlit sea, those two persons, the prisoner and the king, spoke, then each passed into the darkness, and onward on their voyage to their several ports, but never met again! Oh, how awful are such moments when truth reveals herself to the responsible spirit of man! And so, my reader, does it ofttimes happen between thee and God’s Spirit. Let me beseech of thee to “redeem the time,” to know this “the day of thy visitation,” and to hear and believe “the word of the Lord.”

Another “moment in life” which may be specially noticed, is that in which we are tempted to evil. Temptations are no doubt “common to man.” Our whole life in a sense is a temptation, for whatever makes a demand upon our choice as moral beings, involves a trial of character, and tests the “spirit we are of.” But nevertheless there do occur periods in our lives when such trials are peculiarly testing; when large bribes are offered to the sin that doth so easily beset us, tempting us to betray conscience, give up principle, lose faith in the right and in God, and to serve the devil, the world, or the flesh. Such moments may be very brief, yet decisive of our future life. They may come suddenly upon us, though possibly many notes of warning have announced their approach. For they are often but the apex of the pyramid to which many previous steps have gradually and almost imperceptibly led; the beginning of a battle, which must at last be fought, and very shortly decided, but yet the ending of many previous skirmishings. Be this as it may, that moment of life does come to us all, when evil like the enemy appears to concentrate against us its whole force, and when we must fight, conquer, or die; when like a thief it resolves to break into our home and take possession; when as a deceiver it promises happiness, and demands immediate acceptance or rejection of the splendid offer, “All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me!”

What a moment is this in the life of many a young person. How unutterably solemn is the first deliberate act which opposes conscience, rebels against the authority of God and of His law, shuts out the light, and prefers darkness. Future character, and the life and happiness of years, may be determined by it. The step taken in that brief moment, the lie uttered, the dishonesty perpetrated, the drunkenness or debauchery indulged in, the prayers for the first time given up, and the father’s home left for the far country. Who can realise the consequences of those first acts, or estimate the many links of evil, and the endless chain itself, that may connect themselves with the one link of sin fashioned in that moment of life! Who can foresee the streams ever increasing in breadth and depth which may flow from this letting in of water! Would God that my readers, young men especially, would but believe in the possibility even of the choice they make at such a time determining their future destiny. The thought of this might at least make them pause and consider.

There is no exaggeration in this language. To realise the danger, all we need assume is the law of habit; for, according to that law, we know that any act of the will, good or bad, has a tendency to repeat itself with increasing ease and decreasing consciousness, until it becomes a “second nature.” Hence the first resistance of evil is much less difficult than any subsequent attempt; and he who in one moment of life could by a manly effort become a conqueror, and enter on a life of principle and peace, may, by yielding, very soon sink down into a degraded slave, who is held fast by the iron chain of habit, each link of which he has himself forged by his own self-will.

What a moment was that in the life of Herod when he permitted evil desire for Herodias to enter his soul. That desire conceived sin, and sin when finished brought forth death. Acts passed into habits, and habits into a life of abandoned passion. Then came the festive birthday, and the dancing before him of the daughter of his paramour; and then the foul murder, with the spectacle of the bloody head, closed eyes, and sealed lips of the greatest and noblest man of his time; and then followed the hour when Jesus Himself was brought before the murderer, when the Lord spoke not one word of warning, rebuke, or mercy to him, but smote the wretch with the terrible wrath and righteous judgment of silence!

What a moment in life was that, too, when Judas welcomed covetousness into his heart as a most profitable guest. Then one day Covetousness offered him thirty pieces of silver if he would betray his Lord; and Judas agreed to the proposal. A whole eternity of misery was involved in that moment of his life: for the night soon arrived when the bargain was to be kept. A few moments more, and the history will end here to begin elsewhere. Yet there is not a sign on earth or heaven to indicate the importance of that brief hour to Judas! He forms one among the most distinguished company that ever sat at the same table since the earth began; and never did mortal ears listen to such words uttered by human lips, nor did mortal eyes ever contemplate such a scene of peace and love as was witnessed in that upper room in Jerusalem. But the hour has struck, and Judas rises to depart. The deed of darkness must now be done. It is late, and he has made a most important appointment; unless he keeps it, he may lose his money; and what a loss to the poor follower of a man who had nowhere to lay His head! Judas leaves that company; and what was there in things visible to make him suspect even that an awful moment of life his last had come? All was calm within that upper room, all was peace in the world without. The naked heavens shone in the calm brilliancy of an Eastern night The streets of Jerusalem, along which the traitor passed on his dreadful errand, echoed his footsteps in their silence. Yet Judas, “the son of perdition,” was at that moment on his way “to his own place!”

And thus it is with many a man in the hour of temptation. The voice of sin speaks not loudly, but whispers to his inner spirit. He pursues his path of evil without alarm being given by sight or sound from heaven or earth. There is nothing in the world without to disturb the thoughts and purposes of the world within his false and unprincipled soul. The moment of his life brings the temptation, and he yields his soul to its power, and the moment passes with as noiseless a step; and soon the last moment comes, and passes away; but he too has noiselessly passed away with it “to his own place!”

The “moment in life” when we are called upon to perform some positive duty, is one which is often very critical and full of solemn consequences to us. The duty may appear to be a very trifling one, such as writing a letter, visiting a friend, warning some brother against evil, aiding another, or sympathising with a sufferer in his sorrow. But whatever the work may be, and in whatever way it is to be performed, whether by word or deed, by silence or by speech, yet there is a time given us for doing it, very brief perhaps, and unaccompanied by any sign to mark its significance, a time, nevertheless, when whatever has to be done must be done quickly, “now or never.”

Such a moment in life was that in the history of the three apostles who accompanied our Lord, at His own request, in order to watch with Him in His last agony. As a man, He deserved their thoughtful presence, their watchful sympathy, when enduring the dread sorrow which filled His cup, from realising by anticipation all that was before Him. Thrice He came to them from the spot, not far off, where He wrestled in prayer with His terrible agony.

Thrice He found them asleep. “What!” he asked, “could ye not watch with me one hour?” Ah! they knew not what an hour that was! what it was to Him what it was and might have been to them! They might have had the joy, the exalted privilege, which for ever would have been as a very heaven of glory in their memory, of sharing, through the power of sympathising love, the burden of their Lord’s anguish. But they yielded to the flesh, and permitted that moment of time to pass; and when they at last roused themselves from their slumber, it was too late. That moment in life had come and gone, and could return no more. “Sleep on, and take your rest; behold, he who betrayeth me is at hand!”

And thus it often happens in the life of us all. An hour is given us when something may be done for our Lord or our brethren, which cannot possibly be done if that hour is permitted to pass away unimproved. Then we may teach an ignorant soul, or rouse a slothful one to action; we may alarm one who is lethargic, worldly, sensual, “without God or Christ in the world,” so as to win him to both; or we may comfort the feeble-minded, and support the weak. Circumstances may give us the opportunity, and the “moment in life,” when such works may be done. The persons to be helped are perhaps inmates of our dwelling; they are our relations: they are sick or dying; or they have cast themselves upon our aid. But we let the moment pass. The work given us is not done. We have neglected it from sloth, procrastination, thoughtlessness, or selfishness. And we may become awake to our culpable negligence, and rouse ourselves to duty. But, alas! those whom we could have aided are past help. They are dead, or are removed from our influence, or in some way “past remedy.” And so the moment in life given us is gone, and gone for ever, except to meet us and to accuse us before the bar of God. And thus it is with duty in countless forms. What our hands find to do must be done quickly, if done at all, and in the time given us. If not, a night comes, and may come soon and come suddenly, in which either we ourselves cannot work, or in which, though at last willing to do it, it is no longer given us to do.

But there is one moment in life and I conclude by suggesting it to your thoughts which must come to every man, and which generally comes with signs sufficiently significant of its importance, I mean the last moment which closes our life on earth. Come it must. And, as an old writer remarks, “the day we die, though of no importance to the world, is to ourselves of more importance than is all the world.” That moment in life ends time to us, and begins eternity; it ends our day of grace and begins the day of judgment; it separates us from the world in which we have lived since we were born, and introduces us to the unseen, unknown world of things and persons in which we must live for ever during the life of God. What a moment is this! It may come in the quiet of our own chamber, or amidst the confusion and excitement of some dread accident by land or sea; it may be heralded by long sickness or old age, and accompanied by much weakness and bodily suffering. But if that moment, when it comes, is to bring us peace, let our present moments, as they come, find us watchful, conscientious, believing, and prayerful. And should these words of mine be read by chance by one who has begun his last moment without having begun the work for which he was created, preserved, and redeemed, let me beseech of him to improve it by repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ, who will pardon his sins, give him a new heart, and save him as he did the thief on the cross. If every hour of his day of grace has been misimproved, let not this last be added to the number. If he has stood all the day idle, let him in the eleventh hour accept his Master’s work of faith alone in his own soul, and do what he can for the good of others. But let this moment in life pass, then shall the next moment after death bring only fear and anguish; for, be warned and also encouraged by the words of the truthful and loving Jesus, uttered with many tears, over lost souls, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong unto thy peace; but now they are for ever hid from thine eyes!”