A Godly Life is the Wisest Life
Every day you live you are approaching nearer and nearer to death, to the judgment, and to eternity. Consider, therefore, day by day, how you shall meet the hour of death, stand the severe test of the judgment, and live during all eternity. We must exercise diligent care respecting all our thoughts, our words, our deeds; for we must render a strict account for all these in the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36). Consider every evening that death may overtake you this night; and let your thought be every morning that death may come to you this day.
Do not put off conversion and the exercise of good works until tomorrow, for it is not certain that you will see tomorrow, but death is certain—and it is always threatening you. Nothing is more fatal to godliness than procrastination. If you continue to despise the inward call of the Holy Spirit, you will never be truly converted. Do not delay conversion and good works until old age; but offer to God the power and the bloom of your youth. It is not at all certain that the young shall attain to old age, but it is certain that destruction is prepared for the young who die in impenitence. No time of life is more suitable for the service of God than youth, with its flourishing activities of body and mind.
You should never commit an evil deed to win the favor of any man, for not that man but God Himself shall one day judge your life; never deem, therefore, the favor of any man preferable to the grace of your God.
We are either making progress or losing ground in the way of the Lord; therefore examine your life daily to see whether you are advancing in the pursuit of godliness, or retrograding. To stand still in the way of the Lord is really to retrograde. Congratulate yourself, therefore, if you are not standing still in the course of a godly life, but strive earnestly always to walk forward in the way of the Lord.
In your conversation be pleasant to all, be harsh to none, and familiar with few. Live piously towards God, chastely with yourself, justly towards your neighbor. Treat your friends kindly, your enemies patiently, and all benevolently, and as far as possible also beneficently. While you live, die daily to yourself and to your vices, that when you die you may live to God. Let mercy always be manifest in your disposition of mind; kindness in your countenance, humility in your manner, modesty in your intercourse with others, and patience in your tribulations.
Always consider the past with respect to these three things:
- The evil I have committed
- The good I have omitted
- The time I have lost
Always consider the present with respect to these three things:
- The brevity of my present life
- The difficulty of salvation
- The fewness of the saved
Always consider the future with respect to these three:
- Death, than which nothing is more horrible
- The judgment, than which nothing is more terrible
- The fires of hell, than which nothing can be more intolerable
Let your evening prayers correct the sins of the day just past; and let the last day of the week correct the faults of the preceding days. Think every evening, "How many have gone headlong into hell this day?" and give thanks to God that He has granted you longer time for repentance.
There are three things above you, of which you should never lose sight:
- The all-seeing eye of God
- His all-hearing ear
- His books in which all things are recorded
God has given Himself wholly to you; do therefore give yourself wholly to your neighbor. The best life on earth is that which is wholly spent in serving others. Reverence and obey your superiors; counsel and aid your equals; watch over and teach your inferiors. Keep your body in subjection to your mind, and your mind to God. Lament your past misdeeds; do not overvalue your present good, and with your whole heart strive after those future blessings which God has set before you. Remember your sins, that you may bewail them; be mindful of death, that you may avoid sin; keep in mind the divine justice, that you may fear to sin; and above all remember the mercy of your God, lest you yield to despair.
As far as possible withdraw from the world, and give yourself wholly to the service of the Lord. Always bear in mind that your purity is imperiled by the pleasures of the world, your humility by its riches, and your godliness by its business cares. Seek to please no one but Christ, and fear to displease no one but Christ. Always pray that God may command that which is pleasing to Him, and may give you what He thus commands; that He may cover what you have done amiss, and may control all your future course. Be in reality what you desire to appear to be, for God judges not according to the appearance but according to truth.
In speech, let your words be few, for every idle word must be accounted for at the judgment. Your works, whatever they are, do not pass away, but are scattered abroad, as it were, as seeds that shall spring up in eternity. "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). The honors of this world shall not follow you after death, nor all your gathered riches, nor worldly pleasures or vanities; but the deeds which you have done shall follow you beyond the bounds of this life (Revelation 14:13). As therefore you would stand before God in the judgment, you should appear in His sight today.
Do not consider what you have as much as what is lacking in you; instead of priding yourself upon what has been given you, rather humble yourself because of what has been denied you. Learn to live rightly, while you are permitted to live. In this life eternal life is either won or lost; after death the time for works has past, and the time for receiving the reward of our present works begins. Let holy meditation produce in you a knowledge of your true condition, and this lead you to conviction of sin, and conviction beget in you a spirit of devotion, and this indite your prayer. Silence of the mouth is an excellent thing for peace of heart.
The more you are separated from the world, the more pleasing you will be to God. Whatever you would have, ask God for it; whatever you have already, ascribe it to God. He is not worthy of new blessings who is not grateful for those already given. The streams of heavenly blessing cease to flow down to us when there are no return streams of gratitude and praise to God. Turn to good account whatever befalls you; if prosperity attends your steps, think what an opportunity this affords you of blessing and praising God; if adversity overtakes you, think what an admonition it is to penitence and conversion. Employ your power in aiding the weak, your wisdom in instructing the ignorant, and your riches in benefactions to the poor. Let not adversity crush you, nor prosperity unduly exalt you.
Let Christ be the aim of your life. Follow Him in this world, that you may come at last into His fellowship in the heavenly fatherland. In all things let your greatest care be to manifest deep humility and glowing love. Lovingly lift up your heart to God and cling to Him; let humility so affect your heart as to save you from pride. Look upon God as your Father in His clemency toward you, and as your Lord in His discipline of you; as your Father in the gentler exercise of His power, as your Lord in its severer. Love Him affectionately as your Heavenly Father; fear Him, of necessity, as your Lord and Master. Love Him because He delights in mercy; fear Him because He delights not in sin. Fear the Lord, and hope in Him (Psalm 37:5); acknowledge your own unworthiness, and tell forth the wonders of His grace.
O God, You who have given us the desire to please You, give us also the grace to do that which is well-pleasing in Your sight!
Edited from Johann Gerhard's Sacred Meditations (Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication Society, 1896), Meditation #28.