By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology. He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606. This piece was taken from the chapter 38 of that book.
Consider the misery and brevity of this present life, so that you may lift up your heart more longingly towards your heavenly inheritance. While the past part of our life here increases, its future part decreases; whatever is added to it, is at the same time subtracted from what is left of it. The life we live is a mere point in time.
Abraham had no spot in Canaan for a dwelling-place, only a tomb where he might bury his dead (Genesis 23:4); just as this present life gives to us nothing more than a lodging where we might sojourn for a time, and then a burial place. As soon as life begins, we begin to die. Like one on board a vessel, who, whether he sits or stands or lies down, he is always drawing nearer his port, carried on with the same force with which his ship is driven; so we, sleeping or waking, lying down or walking along, willingly or unwillingly, moment by moment are always being borne along irresistibly towards our end. Every day we live is for us one day less of this life. Life is filled with painful regrets for the past, with trying labors in the present, and with dismal fears for the future. We enter upon life’s journey weeping, ushered into the world as an infant in tears, as though foreseeing the ills that shall befall us here. Every step onward is one of weakness, afflicted as we are with many diseases and distressed with many cares.
We are born to misery, our life is a constant pain, and death is a source of distress. In the first portion of our life we know not ourselves, in the midst of it we are overwhelmed with cares, and its closing period is oppressed with the burdens of old age. Life is divided into a past that is already becoming as nothing, the present which is unstable, and a future which is uncertain. What joy can we find in this life since there is no certain and secure happiness in it? What delight can we take in the things of the present, when, while all else is passing away, that which constantly threatens us does not pass away.
This life, like glass, is easily broken; like a river, it flows swiftly along in its course; like a warfare, it is attended with constant misery, and yet to many it appears so very desirable. Life’s external promises of happiness enchant us; but come closer, or just wait, and those promises will prove to be like smoke and ashes. Do not, therefore, devote your highest thoughts to this life, but rather, aspire to the joys of that life which is to come.
Contrast the very brief space of time allotted us in this life with the never-ending ages of eternity, and it will sufficiently appear how foolish it is for us to cling to this fleeting life, while neglecting that eternal life. Our life here is transitory, and yet in this brief life we either win or lose eternal life. Our life here is filled with pain and misery, and yet in it we either win or lose the eternal happiness of heaven.
If, then, you aspire to eternal life, desire it with your whole heart now, in this fleeting life. Use the world wisely, but set not your heart upon it. Carry on your temporal business, but let not your mind be fixed upon this life. Using the things of this world will not harm us, if we set not our hearts upon them. This world is simply your lodging-place, but heaven is your home.
This life is like an inconstant lover. It will not keep faith with those that love it, but contrary to their expectation, it will flee from them. Why then, would you put your trust in it? It is very dangerous to promise ourselves the security of even one hour; but it is the safest plan to be on the lookout for death every hour, and to prepare for it by serious repentance for our sins.
O blessed Christ, withdraw our hearts from the love of this world, and enkindle in us holy desires for that heavenly kingdom.
Job 14:1-2 — Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.
James 4:13-15 — Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.“
John 14:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.—Book of Common Prayer