At the first: man shall look that he lose not his short time, nor spend it wrongly, nor in idleness let it pass away. GOD has lent man his time, to serve GOD in, and to gather grace with good works, to buy heaven with. Not only this short time flies from us, but also the time of our life, as the wise man says: |Our life-time passes away.| And S. Gregory says: -- |Our life is like a man in a ship; sit he, stand he, sleep he, wake he, ever he gets thitherward where the ship is driving with the force of the weather. So we, in this short time, whatsoever we do, we drive ever to our end.| And our enemy, Death, follows us ever at our back, with a sharp spear to stick us through, therefore says Seneca, |life flies, death follows.| And S. Augustine says |Life is nothing else but a swift running to death.| Therefore, there is naught to tell by, how long man lives: save how well. Yet this short life is uncertain: wherefore says Job: -- |I know not how long I may endure, and whether after a short space my Maker may take me away.| And S. Gregory says: |I wot not the time I shall dwell, nor when I shall be taken hence and led to doom.| And S. Jerome says: -- |Nothing so much beguiles man, as that he knows not the time of his life, that to him is uncertain.| And yet hopes he for long life for himself, as if he might, at his will, drive Death back. Thus was the rich man deceived of whom speaks the Gospel of S. Luke xvi. Therefore saith the psalm: |if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.| For riches fail and last not with man, but glide away like a phantom. But when men have got goods together, with right, or with wrong and poor men's curses, then suddenly, they go from their goods, or else their goods from them. And Holy Writ says |The world passeth away and the lust thereof.| A man that is fallen in the water, and through the force of the water is borne forth and torn from the ground; if he may get anything that has good fastening like a root or a stake, he may hinder the water from carrying him away; but by anything that fleets as he does himself, he cannot fasten himself: and soothly, willy nilly, in this life, as if in water, we are ever passing with the goods of this world; and there is naught in this world to fasten by, so that we shall not pass: for the Wise Man saith, |We shall all die, and like water slip away into the Earth.| And therefore Job speaks, as if he said |Riches and friends had I many, but they all could not hinder me from going forth and not coming again.| And by what path, man shall go, the prophet shews: |All flesh is grass, and all the glory of it as the flower of the field.| Man's flesh is as hay, and all his joy and splendour as the flower of the meadow. Hay is first green grass, and soon after brings forth flowers: and a while after, the flowers dry and fall; after it is mown down with the scythe, and dried and taken to a house to be beasts' food. Thus it befalls man: in his childhood he springs and grows as the grass does; after, he comes to manhood and flowers in fairness and strength and wit and having of goods; afterwards: he draws to age, and then his flowers fall, that are his virtue, fairness, strength, wit and other power; afterwards, he is stricken down with the scythe of Death, afterwards taken to a house to beasts' food, that is, dug into the earth to feed worms. Therefore says the holy man; |when a man dies, he shall dwell with serpents and beasts.| A dead man is so disgusting to the world, that one cannot let him be in his house three days together; but bears him forth, that he harm none with the odour. Therefore, it is now time to work; for in the time to come there is no time to work, but to receive rewards for deeds done erewhile. And this the angel affirms with oath and says, |For the angel has sworn that there will be no further time.| Do we then as the Apostle says: |While we have time, let us work good to all.| And as the Apostle counsels us, he did himself: for from the first hour of the day until the fifth, he worked with his hands to win his food: and from the fifth to the tenth, he preached to the people: from the tenth to even he served the poor and pilgrims with such goods as he had; by night he was praying, and thus spent he his time.
In three ways, man loses his time: in idleness; or in works that no good comes of; or in good works, but not ordained as they should be. Against idleness, Solomon says -- |Idleness teaches much evil|; and Holy Writ says |Whoso followeth idleness, is most foolish.| A great fool he is who forbears not from the thing that harms him. More fool he is, because he wins himself no reward: most fool he is, because he wins himself pain. Therefore GOD blames the idle: and says |Why standest thou all the day idle?| Idleness wastes the goods that are prudently gotten, and entices the fiend to the house: for as by good works the fiend is hindered from entering man's heart, so idleness draws him thereto. And Seneca says: |he lives not to himself who lives for his stomach and the ease of his flesh whenever he can.| For Job says |Man is born to labour.| To work was man bound after he had sinned, through GOD'S bidding, Who said to him: |In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread, till thou returnest unto the ground from whence thou wast taken; because from the ground thou art, and into the ground thou shalt go.| Thou shalt work stalwartly and not faintly, for He bids thee work, |with sweat of thy face, even till thou returnest to the earth|; that is, all thy life time that thou losest no time in idleness. Idleness smites a man as if he were in a paralysis, and makes his limbs dry that he cannot work. Therefore says the Psalmist: |They have hands and handle not; feet have they but they walk not; mouths have they but they speak not; eyes have they and see not; ears have they and hear not|; for their limbs are so bound in sin, that to all good things, they are as dead; and to evil, they are easy. Idleness is nurse to all vices, and makes a man reckless about not doing what he is bound to do. And when the fiend finds a man idle, he puts in his heart foul thoughts of fleshly filth, and other follies that may bring him to sin; afterwards, he eggs him on to do them indeed, and thus he does against the Apostle's bidding: |Will not to give place to the devil.| The idle man makes himself unworthy to dwell in any place but hell. In heaven he cannot dwell; for heaven is full reward to those who here spend their time in works that they hope are pleasing to Christ. In purgatory the idle may not dwell; for there only the good are purged in that cleansing fire, till they be as clean of sin as when they were christened: therefore saith the Psalm-wright: -- In labore hominum non sunt et cum hominibus non flagellabuntur: that is thus for to say; |The idle work not with men; therefore in purgatory they shall not be pained with those men who are on the way to heaven.|
Great shame it is to be idle in this time of grace, in the which we are hired to work; and if we work as we ought, great reward awaits us. GOD gives us an example of work, by Himself, as the Apostle says: |He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross: wherefore GOD hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of JESUS, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that JESUS Christ is Lord, to the glory of GOD the Father.|
Over-proud then, and over-delicate is the servant, who rests in battle, and sees His Lord assailed and evil-wounded by His enemies. Also, we ought to work in this time of grace; for we are GOD'S bought thralls, with the price of His dear-worthy Blood, to work in His vine-yard: and yet He doth promise us reward, if we do with good-will that which, as a debt, we ought to do. To His private friends, before the time of grace, GOD promised only earthly goods, if they did well; to us the bliss of Heaven, if we do well. It was long after, before they might come thereto; for they went to hell and abode there, some a thousand years, some two, some three, before they came to heaven. But now may men in a little time win heaven, as, if any die soon after he is christened, or if he have done full penance for his misdeeds; or be martyred for GOD'S love. The time of supper that the gospel of S. Luke speaks of, to the which GOD bade His servants call all that were bidden, is the time of grace; which is now, in the which all is ready; so that there is naught else to do but wash and go to meat, that is cleanse them of all their sins that they have done since they were born. What losing of time it is to travail about things that no profit comes of. Man ought to travail only to the worship of GOD, and his soul-health. Thou shalt not deem the man has lived long though he go with a staff stooping, and be grey-haired; but deem him so old as he has lived well. Therefore answered Barlaham to Josaphath, his disciple, when he asked him how old he was: |I am,| quoth he, |of 45 years.| |Master,| quoth Josaphath, |methinks thou art of 60 years and more.| Then said Barlaham, |Since I was born has been 60 years; but those years that I spent in idleness and sin before I took me to this life, I hold as years of death. But all those I call years of life that I have served JESUS Christ my Lord in, through His dear-worthy grace.| Whoso would bethink himself what time steals from him in long eating and drinking, in excess and useless works, idle speech, and idle and foul thoughts, useless jests and other vanities that men delight them in, he may soothly understand that though he be old in years, that he has lived little time in the manner that he ought to have lived; for he lived not to his profit, nor won him reward, but peradventure pain for losing time.
It were a wonderful thing if the man who gives himself to business of the world more than he need, had no hindrance in prayer, in rest of heart, in soothfastness of words, in perfection of good works, in love to GOD and all Christian men. Therefore, holy men, before now, who knew their hindrances, they fled the world with all its vanities, as if it had been accursed; for it seemed to them that they could not live a righteous life therein; and therefore went they into the wilderness, where they trowed to serve GOD in peace. Therefore says Seneca, |I have become more avaricious, and more cruel, and more inhuman because I was among men.|
Three manners of occupations there are: as, various and much brawling; raking about; and much caring about earthly things. Against much brawling, Solomon says |The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water.| |Let the water out,| that is, |let the tongue fleet out in quarrelling.| But to the knowledge of GOD or of himself may no one come, who lets his heart fleet out with much useless speech: for he makes a way in himself for the fiend. Therefore Solomon likens such to a city without a wall: |He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.| And because so much hindrance of good is in much speech, the philosopher binds his disciples with silence (during) their first five years. Also, Abbot Agathon bore a stone in his mouth for three years to teach him to hold still. Against those who are ever raking about to feed their wits with vanities and lusts is the teaching of the angel, who taught holy Abbot Arsenius and said: -- |Arsenius, flee the world and its yearnings: keep thee in rest, bridle thy tongue,| that it fleet not out in quarrelling nor idle speech. Where these three are is a way to GOD, and withdrawing from evil. It tells of an Abbot who (for) fully 20 years sat in his school, and never lifted up his head to see the school-roof. Against those who care over-much about worldly goods, Solomon says this: -- |Vain is their hope, and their labour without fruit, because they can carry away nothing of all their labour.| This is seen every day, by the dead, who, be they never so rich bear with them but a winding cloth.
The third manner of men are they that have a liking to do good, but because they do it not in the manner they should do it in, they lose their reward; for when good intent fails in any deed, the reward that should fall to the good work fails. And that may be in four ways; first, for the wickedness of the working; as the offering of Cain, that though he offered to GOD of the fruit that was new, GOD would not look thereon: but to the offering of Abel his brother, GOD looked. Therefore says S. Gregory: |By the heart's will of him that offers is the gift received of GOD or rejected: and GOD was not pleased with Abel for the offering, but pleased with the offering for Abel, who in all his works was true and good; but to Cain and to his offering GOD would not look, for he who made the offering displeased GOD greatly.| And why our offering, or what we do that is in its nature good, displeases GOD, the prophet says: -- |When ye make many prayers, I will not hear: because your hands are full of blood.| The second that reaves away a man's reward for his good deed, is vanity, which stirs man to do the good because he would be praised. For vain-glory makes evil of good: as if alms-deed that is good in nature be done for praising, it wins only sin. The third that snatches a reward from a good deed is boasting by him that does the good deed, as the Pharisee did, of whom GOD said to the folk that stood before Him, |Soothly, this man has lost his reward for all his good deed.| Needful it is therefore that a man do what good he can, and do not pride himself thereof in thought or in word; for he has not the doing of a good deed of himself, nor of his own desiring. The fourth that snatches from a man his reward for a good deed (is) when he does it with the intent to be holden better than others, or to lessen the good deed of others, or to outdo it if he can. Of such, S. Gregory tells a tale in his dialogues: That once on a time the holy Bishop Fortunatus, chased the fiend out of a man in one evening; and the fiend, when he was chased out, put on the likeness of a pilgrim, and went through the city where the Bishop lived, weeping and yelling like a poor wretch, who was anxious for lodging that night, and thus he said; |Lo, what your Bishop, whom ye consider so good, has done to me: he came to the house where I had taken my lodging, and put me out by force: and now like a poor wretch, of lodging am I desirous; over all, I seek lodging, and none will have ruth on me.| A man of that city who heard him, took him into his house, and set him by the fire and eased him, as he wished. When the man had inquired of him of far-off things, as men do to pilgrims, the fiend leaped at the child in the cradle, and wrung its neck in two, and cast it into the fire, and vanished away. Of this S. Gregory speaks and says, |Many deeds seem good, and are not good, because they are not done with a good will. And this man harboured the pilgrim for no pity of him, but because he spake evil of the Bishop, and in order that he| (the man) |should be held better and of more pity than the Bishop.| Yet a good deed is lost, if a man covet by it to have of man, riches, or position, or honours or any worldly good. Yet through sin defiling, the good deed is lost; and here-unto accords Holy Writ that says, |who sinneth in one thing, loses many good things,| which is, |he that in a deadly thing sins, he loses many goods,| save he amend him with shrift, and do penance therefor.