Seneca, C.S. Lewis, and a Sale

Strange how these things fell together. I was reading Seneca’s letter on saving time and came across this insight: “We are mistaken when we look forward to death; the major portion of death has already passed. Whatever years lie behind us are already in death’s hands.” I have not been able to shake off this sober sentence. It is true. Death is the taking away of future days on earth. But are not our future days being taken from us one by one every day irrevocably? “Whatever years lie behind us are already in death’s hands.” Two days cannot be lived: yesterday and the day after you die. Yesterday is dead. It is utterly calcified as historical fact. Not even God can alter the past. Something will die today. Namely, all the opportunities of today.

Then I picked up a new book that Noël brought home from the library. It was the diaries of C.S. Lewis’ brother, called Brothers and Friends. I read these words, written by Warren Lewis about his brother, whom he called Jack: “Oddly enough, as time goes on the vision of Jack as he was in his later years grows fainter, that of him in earlier days more and more vivid. It is the Jack of the attic and the little end room, the Jack of Daudel-spiels and walks and jaunts, the Jack of the early and middle years, whom I miss so cruelly. An absurd feeling, for even had he lived, that Jack had already died.” There it was again, the gaping grave of the past, swallowing up one day after the other until its teeth clamp down once and for all. “Whatever years lie behind us are already in death’s hands.”

But someone will say: “There is a difference. The days taken from us by the past have at least been lived. But the days taken from us by death are in the future and have not been lived.” That’s true. And it leads to the final thing that fell together. Last Friday the word I brought up from the basement for the family awakening at 6:30 was Colossians 4:5, “Walk in wisdom toward those outside, purchasing the time.” Do we purchase what is already ours? No. We purchase what is offered to us. Each day is on sale for anyone who will purchase it. If we do not purchase it, we lose it—forever.  And we may as well not have lived it. It was no more ours than tomorrow is ours. When the past consumes a day unpurchased, it consumes it as fully as death consumes the future. O, how many hours are squandered! As Seneca says, “What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?”

This is the wisdom of God: Purchase the day! Purchase the hour! Purchase the moment! Spend whatever it takes to buy each hour and harness it in the chariot of your highest, eternal goals.

Bidding high,

Pastor John

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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

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