The Ultimate Object of the Improvement of Time

In my previous post ‘The Swiftness of Time‘ I spoke about the third chapter of ‘An Essay on the Improvement of Time’ by John Foster.  We now will consider the fourth and final chapter of the first part of his essay, ‘The Ultimate Object of the Improvement of Time’.

One important thing to note at the start is that for there to be any ultimate object for the improvement of time there must be more to existence than this life.  If this life is all there is then there is no point in seeking to improve with an aim towards something.  I might as well just seek to fulfill my animal passions and await deTime-math.  If there is no existence after death then what should we do?  Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Sadly, this is how much of the world lives.  If you believe honestly that there is nothing after death then there is no reason to do anything that does not benefit you solely in the present life.  But, if, as of course is true, life continues after existence then we must be using our time in a way that benefits not just us in this life, but the life to come.

To live with the next life in view means to properly view this short life as a preliminary or introductory life before the fuller existence in the next.  It means pondering daily, moment by moment, how I may best use this life to prepare myself (and as a side-effect others) for the next life.  That is the chief motive and ultimate object for the improvement of time.  We improve our time in this life so that we will have a “better” life in the next.

For those of you who come quickly to agree that the time in this life impacts the next, you can easily move on to the next paragraph.  But for those who do not agree, let me just briefly say that the best use of your time, the best way to improve your time, is to apply all of your efforts to the question of whether this life impacts the next.  Without a proper understanding of this life’s implications on the next, you cannot hope to consider how to better use your time, for the obvious points already stated.  Let me briefly mention that I am not suggesting that every single thing must be done with your future in mind.  Food is eaten, sleep is had, toilets are used, and we do these things for the present life.  Yet, if we care not for our life in the present time, how can we commit ourselves to endeavours for the future life?  So you see, even the simplest thing carries a sense of consideration for the future life.

Since, the future life is our goal, that our efforts apply to it, it makes sense that we vigorously apply ourselves at each moment in preparation for that life.  But what, or, who is the one that we should look to in order to know what we should strive for?  Is it another man?  Well, it can’t be a man like me, for we are all striving for something greater.  It can only be one who knows the future state and the rewards contained there.  Who can we look to for that, but the Lord Jesus Christ.  He in whom the fulness of Deity dwelt, he is our model and chief aim by which we mark our aims.  He is our plumb line, therefore, let us fix our eyes on him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

In this first part of Foster’s essay, we have begun to understand the general principles for understanding the value, capacity, swiftness and ultimate aim of the improvement of time.  As we can appreciate through this part we may have many more questions than answers.  I hope personally that like myself you are challenged to improve your time.  Though you, life myself, may be unsure what that looks like.  Let us trust that as we walk through the rest of Foster’s essay that we may begin to gain a better insight into that.

The Swiftness of Time

In my previous post ‘The Capacity of Time‘ I spoke about the second chapter of ‘An Essay on the Improvement of Time’ by John Foster.  We now will consider the third chapter, ‘The Swiftness of Time’.

To call time ‘swift’ seems to me to be an odd thing, for time (in the metaphysical sense) does not really seem to speed up or slow down.  The sun rises and falls, our days roll over, no faster or slower than the last.  But when we consider it through the incessant nature of time I think it helps to understand what John Foster intended.

Consider a creek, if you sit and watch the water, it moves incessantly onward does it not?  It never ends, whether you are there or not makes little difference to the water or the creek.  It just continues to flow past that point of your observing.  It incessantly travels onwards.  Time is the same, whether you are acting foolishly or prudently means very little to time, she just keeps incessantly plodding along.  This is how we begin to gain an understanding of the swiftness of time, not necessarily in speed but in incessantness.

Now consider it this way, every moment of your life your vitals are working in your body, you breathe and your heart beats.  Sit for a moment and hear it go.  Now realise that each breath you take, every beat your heart makes, represents a moment of time that is gone that will never return. Now, consider how many breaths and beats you have had in your life up till this point.  And let me ask you, how have you used those moments?  Have you used them well, or have you used them unwell?  Now also consider that there is a fixed number of those moments in your life (future) as well.  So therefore with each passing moment (breath/heartbeat) you draw ever nearer to the last moment that you will experience in this life.  Do you begin to understand the swift incessant nature of time in your life?  Think now, how will you use each one of those moments?  Feel your pulse, hear your heart beat and consider for just a moment…how many are left?  How will you use them?

Adam4d Comic on the Improvement of Time

After all my thinking, reading and writing recently on the improvement of time I read this new comic strip this morning on  I thought it was fitting so I would share it.  All credit to Adam4d for his awesome work!




Well written and challenging.  If you haven’t seen his website and comics, I encourage you to check it out.

The Capacity of Time

In my previous post ‘The Value of Time‘ I spoke about the first chapter of ‘An Essay on the Improvement of Time’ by John Foster.  We now will consider the second chapter, ‘The Capacity of Time’.

635917038311632174-371695616_best_Time_-_good.305184206_stdWhen one stops and thinks of the capacity of time it can be hard to pinpoint what is meant.  But it simply means what is possible to achieve in any given period of time; be it an hour, a day, a week or a month.  If you think of a woman attempting to knit it is easier to grasp.  She knows that if she is dutiful in her art that she will finish her blanket after six hours work.  She knows how much can be achieved in any given period of time.  Now think of your own life, if you set out to complete a task – learn a language, learn a part of history, etc. – you will know it will take a fixed number of moments to achieve it.  If this is the case, which it assuredly is, then we know that the more time you commit to it the faster it is achieved.  Therefore, if you were to spend time doing things outside of the goal, would it not just delay the goal from being achieved?  Since this is the case, let us set forward for ourselves profitable goals in the sight of our creator and be earnest about achieving them.  Applying ourselves without delay and fighting against lethargy to complete our set goals.

If we consider what has been achieved by a ‘great’ person in the past or present – say, John Calvin or Isaac Newton – we are prone to say that they were special people and  that we could never do it.  This is foolishness, however, for if all house and moments of time are equal to all men, then all men have the same capacity.  The only difference is in the particular giftedness of the man in certain areas.  John Calvin was made for pastoral and theological work, and another is made for something else, say knitting or caring for the poor.  The limitation is not the capacity for what can be achieved but rather the efforts applied by the individual.

One example of this will help to express what I say.  One of the finest examples of this principle is Richard Baxter, who, if one was to only view his copious literary works, one would assume he was a man of very good health, without an occupation, free from troubles, commitments and the pressures of society.  However, he was a man tormented by health problems which brought many medical trials which resulted in an inability to arise before 7am and was brought near to death on many occasions.  Not only was he sick, but he was a full-time Minister who preached, catechised, visited the sick, was hunted, was imprisoned and dragged into many a broiling political, theological and cultural argument.  Truth be told if ten men achieved what he did combined we would applaud them vigorously.

If this does not remove any notion of lazy justification I know not what will. For if we sought to achieve even a portion of what he achieved and applied ourselves vigorously we would achieve a great amount.  We must shun notions of incapacity and impossibilities, for to each person is given the same capacity to achieve in their given time a great wealth of achievement in any area of life.  The question for us then is not whether our time on this earth has the capacity for achievement, but rather whether we will use our time on this earth to achieve it.

The Value of Time

I have been reading ‘An Essay on the Improvement of Time‘ by John Foster.  Here are a few of my thoughts after reading the first chapter.


Each day has a possibility of fulfilling something stupendous.  If this is the case – which it most certainly is since any day contains, at least, the possibility of greatness – then if we do nothing we are not, in fact, doing nothing, but rather undoing the possible greatness of that day.  It isn’t that we choose nothing but rather that we actively commit ourselves to undoing usefulness.

To fully appreciate this we must understand the value of time.  To appreciate the value of time consider the pressure one feels when he has prolonged a necessary action.  If one has procrastinated preparation for an exam, and the moment of the examination is soon at hand, does he not put all things off in order to cram as much preparation as possible into the short amount of time remaining?  Will he not shun all invitations to revelry and joy seeking in order to commit himself for this short period of time so that he might get a good result?  Does this not display the value of time?  For we feel time running out and long for just ‘one more hour’.  What result would we have if all of our life was lived in that fashion?  Not to just study for an exam, but to make each moment count to the glory of God and carry that same sense of urgency and importance.

If one argues that to use emergencies and extreme examples as an example for the value of time is not true, allow me to ask; if one in the moment of an emergency commits his all to achieve the result, denies enemy, his friend and himself for but a time and therefore achieves his goal, if this happens, does he look back and say “I tried to hard”?  “I denied myself too much?”  Of course not, in fact, he is more likely to say “why did I not commit myself earlier”.  Think now in eternal terms, will anyone come to the end of life and say, “I prayer to much”, or “I worked too much for the kingdom”, or “I loved too much”, nay, rather he will say, “If only I had more time to serve my Lord, why didn’t I start earlier”.  Therefore, the extreme is, in fact, the true value of usage because it is the highest attainment of good achievable.  If it is the highest attainment of good achievable that this is the true value of time and effort.  Let us all be committed to using our time and effort to that level.

Let me ask you if you were to die in three days, would you not expend all efforts to achieve certain things before you left?  And would anyone accuse you of exerting too much energy and acting in a rash way that would – if extended for long – cause burn out?  Not, it would rather be the proper action to take to exert all energy.  Do you live that way?  Does your usage of time reflect that urgency?  The only modification that should be made for the one that knows not when he will leave is that he should reduce enough that his pace can be sustained without damage to his system.  Which truthfully told is much higher than most of us realise.

The problem is that we base our value on time on the capacity of living in this life till old age.  We think we have the capacity to live long, so we place little value on time.  For we foolishly believe we have lots of time left.  If, instead, we value time on the probability of life ending sooner would we not come to the correct conclusion that the value of each moment of time was great?  Would we not come to the realisation that each passing moment must be used as if it could be our last?  Oh, what a waste we so often make without allotted time in our arrogance, thinking we have the right to squander the resource of time given to us by our maker.  Let us rightly repent for our lethargy and laziness and commit ourselves anew to serving the one who created us for a purpose.