Conventional inspirational wisdom tells us rather vaguely to “make each day count”. Personal productivity advice induces anxiety about using our time effectively. But we can’t do something effectively that in itself is not worth doing or is actually harmful. We must be doing the right things out of the right motives and principles with a right end in view. “Redeeming the time” is a biblical requirement. When we get our spiritual priorities right, the rest of our activities fall into their proper place.
James Fraser of Brea (1639-1698) in his autobiography gives an interesting account of his life and spiritual experience. It includes many valuable spiritual reflections. He tells us, for instance about, “rules I daily follow in my daily walk: or, some special rules for ordering my own particular conduct”. The rules are included in an updated form below. They are unique to Fraser in some aspects and set a high standard for ministers let alone other Christians whose time may be much more limited. The first five rules are applicable to every day, the following five deal with every week, month and year.
This was a subject on which many others wrote including Samuel Rutherford (Letter 159). There were classic books such as that by the Westminster divine Henry Scudder called The Christian’s Daily Walk. Other writers including William Perkins, Robert Bolton, Richard Baxter had much to say on the subject. Each day is an opportunity to glorify God to our utmost and though we may feel we have come far short at the end of a day, Rutherford’s counsel is worth heeding.
What ye do amiss in your life to-day, ye may amend it tomorrow; for as many suns as God maketh to arise upon you, ye have as many new lives
Fraser came from the Black Isle, Ross-shire and was ordained during the times of persecution. He refused to appear before the Privy Council when to answer for “illegal” preaching in the fields. Eventually captured he was sentenced to imprisonment on the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. Along with many others he suffered much in those fearful conditions. He was imprisoned at a later period in Blackness Castle but survived the times of persecution.
During his time of imprisonment he wrote a controversial book on the atonement but it should be remembered that he never himself published these views. Men like Thomas Boston held Fraser of Brea in high regard and spoke affectionately of him.
1. Rise in Good Time
In imitation of Christ and His apostles and to get good done, I purpose to rise timely every morning (Job 1:5; 2 Chronicles 36:15).
2. Plan the Day’s Work from the Start
To propose, when I am up, some work to be done, or the work of the day, and how and when to do it, and to engage my heart to do it (1 Timothy 4:7), and even call myself to account and mourn for failings.
3. Set Aside Times for Private Devotion
To spend a competent portion of time every day in prayer, reading, meditating, spiritual exercises, morning, midday, evening and before I go to bed.
4. Glorify God and Pursue Holiness Every Day
My ordinary and extraordinary works, which I strive to finish every day are:
- to mortify sin,
- to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord,
- to glorify God,
- to instruct others and do them good,
- to attend on and walk closely with the Lord.
This I propose every day to myself to do and finish, and in the evening examine myself on my progress and diligence. This is my work and exercise.
5. Never Drop Your Guard Spiritually
To be always on my guard, in a watchful, fearing frame of mind.
6. Prepare for the Lord’s Day
To spend some time on Saturday evening for preparation for the Sabbath.
7. Set Aside Extra Time Every Week for Prayer
Once every week I spend four hours over and above my daily portion in private for some special causes relating either to myself or others, relating either to temporal or civil affairs.
8. Set Aside a Day Every Month for Being Humbled Before God for Others
Once in the month either at the end or in the middle of it, I keep a day to humble myself before God in relation to public affairs, the Lord’s people and their sad condition, for the work and people of God to be raised up.
9. Set Aside a Day Every Six Weeks for Being Humbled Before God for Oneself
Besides this once every six weeks, I spend one day of humbling myself for my own private condition, seeking conflict with spiritual evils, to get my heart more holy, or to get some special exercise completed.
10. Setting Aside Time Every Year for Spiritual Accounts
To spend six or seven days together once in a year, when I have greatest convenience, wholly and only on