A story is told of Canute, the Danish King of England in the 11th century, that one day when he and his courtiers were walking on the shore at Southampton, the courtiers were flattering him and speaking of his power and greatness.
The king ordered that a chair should be placed on the sand near the water’s edge, and, sitting down on it, he said to the sea, “O sea, I am thy lord and master; my ships sail over thee whither I will, and this land against which thou dashest is mine; stay thou thy waves, and dare not to wet the feet of thy master and lord.”
But the waves came on, as the tide was now coming in, and presently washed round the chair where Canute was sitting and wetted his feet and clothes. Then the king rebuked his courtiers for their flattery, saying, “Ye see how weak is the power of kings and of all men, for ye see that the waves will not hearken to my voice. Honour God only, for Him only do all things obey.”
We do not need this story to remind us that we cannot control the tides of the sea, which wait upon no man’s convenience; but we do often need to be reminded, especially when we are young, that if we miss our opportunities in life we may never find them again.
Time will not stand still and wait until we make up our minds; it is ever-flowing on, and every moment present is becoming the past, and the past can never be recalled. Time is often represented as an old man with a single lock of hair on his forehead, but quite bald on the back of his head: and from this we get the phrase, “To catch time by the forelock“, meaning, to seize and use the opportunity when it comes.
You cannot catch time from behind, for his head is bald smooth; and you cannot recover an opportunity when once it is gone. It is well to remember this when we are young: for youth is full of opportunities, and it lasts but a very short time.
To give one illustration, if a boy wastes his time at school, he is missing the golden opportunity of a sound education. And he will find later that he will suffer all his days for lack of the mental training he should have got at school.
It is a chance that can never be fully recovered. The time for it has passed, and will never return.