Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuiper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
With us, evening is part of the day, while in the East, as soon as evening comes the day is done.
You see this with the Jews in our midst, who do not begin their Sabbath on Saturday morning, but on Friday evening. As soon as the sun is set it is Sabbath.
While we say: “Every morning and every evening,” the Scripture says: “Every evening and every morning,” and so runs the narrative of creation. First: it had been evening, and after that: it had been morning, the first day (Gen. 1:5, Dutch version).
About this difference there need be no dispute. It is because we do not count the night. Morning and evening make for us a long day of sixteen hours, and then come eight hours of the night, of which we make no count. In the East, on the other hand, count is kept with the night and so must begin with the evening.
The Eastern language is therefore more mysterious.
When there is no sun, with us there is no count. Only when the sun rises, there is life, and till the sun sets, it goes on. And what lies in between remains uncertain.
But in the East come first the evening and the night, as those hidden times, in which God works, refreshes us in sleep, and prepares us for the life of a day. And only then comes morning, when this divinely prepared life, this divinely wrought strength, comes out, spreads its glow, and glistens.
But whatever order we follow, it always is, with Westerling and Easterling, that our lifetime is no leak that tick, tack, restlessly drips on; but that the course of time is divided, that time is broken, that there is a wave-beat, which continuously goes up and down, and that by a wise appointment of God the whole earth, and our life in this world, has obtained two sides, two forms, two ways of existence, life by day and life by night.
Hereby, to your soul’s perception, everything there is to you is every time ended, and then begins again anew.
This makes all of life surveyable.
It does not stretch itself out before you as an endless crudeness, but has lines, boundaries, and mileposts. You can calculate it backward and forward. It goes so far, then it goes under, afterward again to begin anew. The day, and then the night, and after that again the new morning, when life is once more granted you, renewed, and once again begun.
A slowly sounding clock-stroke, not from the tower, and not from your mantelpiece, but which rings out toward you from all of nature and finds an echo in your own soul’s perception.
Fatigue and weariness at eventide. And at waking again the feeling of strength and freshness, wherewith you meet the new day.
By itself this is nothing but a phase of your natural life. But is it therefore without spiritual meaning?
That going up and down of the stream of light and life was already there in the creation, when God brought it forth, and no human eye was yet able to close and open itself to the light. Then it had been evening and it had been morning, the first day!
There is a reckoning in that going up and down, and as soon as that reckoning teller enters into your life, he puts an ever and again recurring question to you.
Again a day is done, and what is the portion of your life’s task that this day you have brought to a finish? Again a night is passed, in which God once more has filled the empty quiver; what shall be the task to which you will devote the strength received by grace?
A life without division would be endlessly to postpone everything and never to accomplish anything.
But as time is divided, not only into years, into months, and into weeks, but also into days, and that day is divided into an evening and a morning, God the Lord urges and stimulates you to think of your life, to reflect upon it. Why do I live? Why do I exist? God does not give me my life, my time, my day, my morning, and my evening for naught.
During the long hours of night He performs on you the wondrous work of renewing your strength, of refreshing your head, of quieting your heart into peace, and of relieving you of care and anxiety.
In the night He enriches you. Not merely on your land, where He makes the grain to ripen, but also in your own person, in your blood, in your nerves, into which He pours out new strength. And so in your life of thinking and willing, in your inner existence of soul, in your life of grace, He with whom there is no variableness neither shadow of turning, also by night when His hiddenness is over your tent, continues His work on you and in you.
And now you regain consciousness. You awake. You feel strong again. You are not merely rested, but you are also newly equipped. What now? What shall be the fruit of that long day? And what is the calling, the task, to which you set yourself?
So, when it is again morning the Lord asks of you, and when presently the day is done, that silent inquisitor returns again and examines you and compels you to look back upon the path that you have traveled. Not now: “What will you do? But: “What did you do?” Is the task to which God called you done?
And with what result?
Is it not that, oh, so many must complain that not half of the day has been put to use, and that the other half has been squandered in idle talk and in trifles? That certain things were done for which one was responsible, but more from habit, or because they happened to come along, but without leaving a trace that you understood anything of life, or knew how to put your time to usury, or realized what it is so to number one’s days as to apply one’s heart unto wisdom.
Alas, so many, when they die, have almost lived for naught. Of what it is to accomplish something in life they have never known the secret. And when at last their thread of life is spun, they remind you of a palm tree in the desert, whose fruit was of no use, because there was no one who has gathered it.
Their life was there, the powers were there, but they were not employed, their life was not applied. It had all been dissipated and wasted.
This is no less than a life’s sin. A life that has been sinned away. For in sin everything sinks away that you do not direct to the mark for which God gave it.
And especially God’s children might well be on their guard.
The Italian speaks of his dolce far niente, i.e., of blessed idleness; but under cooler heavens, where work is so much easier, you need no lantern to look for lovers of that “blessed idleness.”
Everything that requires effort and exertion is avoided. If one must, one works, but, oh, the relief when it is done, and “blessed idleness” can again be begun.
Do not say that he who does manual labor for his living slaves from morning till night; for let a man who at first had to work hard become more affluent, and at once he is done with work.
Not work for the sake of a living, but work for the sake of God’s will is here in question. Of the perception that God calls you to something, puts a task upon you, wants something of you. Of your divine calling, as our fathers named it.
Ask yourself, how few there are who in their morning-and evening-prayer so interpret their life, keep count of it, and pass constant criticism upon it.
Moreover, that one particular work is not all the labor yet to which God called you.
He gave you not merely muscles and muscular strength to dig or handle a hammer, but He also gave you other powers. Or is your head empty, is your heart a shaken-out bag?
And did God give you those powers of head and heart for naught, without a purpose, to be neglected, not to be disciplined, and so to leave the field of your inner life lie fallow before His face?
Does not this indicate a calling? Does not this speak of a life’s task? And is there not all too frequently bitter complaint about lack of thought, about heartlessness and sometimes utter want of inner activity, because that labor of head and heart is not put upon you as a duty and also gets no wage?
Oh, when you walk about in a churchyard, and consider how many dead are there at rest, who came and went without having developed a thought-life in their head, a loving and devoted life in their heart, to what ignoring and destroying of divine power do not these graves bear witness.
Yet God had prepared so wondrously the head for them and the heart.
And it went all for naught.
Power that is wasted, something of divine mightiness in a child of man, but not by him considered.
So that God received no honor from it.
It had been evening and it had been morning, so it echoes, in still deeper sense, continuously also in your life of grace, if at least you have been privileged to enjoy the lovely reflection of the Sun of righteousness.
A work in divine strength. Even the noblest power of grace. Exertion of strength on the part of the Holy Ghost who is in you, to make you as God’s child to grow and wax strong and bear fruit.
This your life of grace is also a matter of time. In the morning you wake up with it, and in the evening you dispose yourself to rest with that grace-life in your heart.
Thus here, too, the question is, whether you understand what your calling is, whether you see the course which you have to run; whether the “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” ever and again resounds in your soul; and whether you take heed to yourself, to be aware of real advance, whether you gain in holier mindedness and observe that you live not for naught, but that from your grace-life something proceeds, something shines out, something that can refresh the brethren and be an honor to God’s name.
Even with this question we are not content.
When after an absence of three or more years you meet again an old acquaintance, you sometimes receive the comfortless impression that he is still precisely what he was before. No step has he advanced, if only he has not retrogressed, and gone backward in grace.
And therefore this thoughtless gliding along from day to day must have an end.
Every time it is evening and becomes morning again, the account must be straightened out before God on one’s knees.
What have I lived for, what shall I live for, live also as child of my Father in heaven?
So only on one’s knees can it become seriousness, on one’s knees the battle can be fought, and the fruit of that struggle shall be peace, because it rouses you out of your spiritual indolence.