1 Peter 4:7. But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
The text contains a declaration in its first clause, and an exhortation in its second. To each of these, and in the order in which they are placed in the text, I would now direct your attention.
First, the declaration: “The end of all things is at hand”. This cannot mean that all things are to take end by their being annihilated. All Scripture, as a great burning mountain, stands in the way of our coming to any such conclusion regarding all things which presently exist. It can only mean that “all things” shall soon reach their final condition. All things are in progress as they are now. Not that all things are improving, but they are progressing, were it only in a movement towards their destined end. That shall soon be reached for “the end of all things is at hand”.
1. Let us consider this declaration as teaching us that all our present surroundings shall, to us, soon come to an end. All the circumstances of our household shall soon, to us, be utterly terminated. The house, which is our home, shall soon be for ever deserted, and our places then shall soon know us no more. All the amenities and employments and troubles of home life shall soon finally cease. From all that surrounded us in our various social relations we shall soon be parted. All the scenery on which our eye daily rested, till its every feature was distinctly impressed upon our minds, shall very soon be utterly out of sight. Yea, the very heaven which is now stretched over us shall, to us, for ever disappear, with all those wonderful orbs of light by which its expanse is studded. These bright lights of the sky shall continue to shine on the generations of men that shall succeed us, but to us they shall be as if for ever extinguished. Our last look of these shall speedily be taken, and if a more enduring brightness sheds not its sweet light on our hearts as we find in death all light of earth departing when we are being encompassed by the benighting “shadow of death” how solemnly awful will the experience of that crisis be! O what if the fearful foreboding of that solemn hour shall pass into the utterness of despair as the soul enters the “outer darkness”, into which the light of Gods favour shall never penetrate!
But let your soul listen to this declaration as specially true of its immediate surrounding. The soul never was but in a body. But this condition of its existence is soon, though not finally, to cease. True, it shall be clothed with a body again, but it must first for a season be “naked”. There shall soon be no eye through which impressions of material objects can reach it, no mouth from which there can flow speech expressive of its thoughts and feelings, no ear with which to listen to the expressed thoughts and feelings of others, no hands or feet to work and walk. All these, and all besides that makes up its wonted clothing of flesh, the soul shall put off, and shall pass into eternity. How completely to that spirit “the end of all things” has come!
2. The end of all present employment shall soon come. The childs busy search for amusements, and all the enjoyment which these yield to him shall soon come to an end. The youths aspirations after wealth, or pleasure, or power, or learning, and all the labours to which he is prompted by these shall cease. The mans cares and efforts connected with his lot in life shall soon terminate. The routine of the womans life within the domestic circle shall be cut short by death. The labourer shall no longer go forth to his daily toil in the morning, and return wearied to his home at night. The farmer shall no longer be looking over his fields, directing the work of his servants, watching the aspect of the sky, as he desires weather suitable for sowing, growing and reaping times; never more will he be measuring his corn, or selling it, or counting with pleasure his gains, or, with painful anxiety, his losses. All such employments come utterly to an end in death.
The merchants employment shall also soon come to an end. When death comes, he must for ever part with the opportunity to be rich. Neither at his desk, nor in his office, nor in his accustomed seat in his home, can he be found. The busy literary man will soon write his last sentence. The professional man shall soon have attended to his last case, or studied his last brief, or preached his last sermon. The luxurious living of the rich, and all their scheming to be richer still, shall come to an end, while the wanderings of the poor, who seek alms that they may have bread to eat, shall soon utterly cease. The politicians partisanship, with all its cares and scheming and labour, shall soon cease. Even thrones shall be emptied by death; the honour and power of ruling shall pass over to other heads, and into other hands, and shall have, to those who have died, come utterly to an end.
Yea, even the Christians present employment shall soon come to an end. Not but there are some things which he is doing here which he shall continue to do in heaven; but how different the mode and measure of his action here from what these shall be there! He is loving God now, but O how coldly! He is doing the will of God here, but O how imperfectly! He is praising God here, but O how broken is his song!
But in heaven above, his love, his service, his song of praise, shall be perfect. All that reached him here to impress him favourably towards God reached him through the faith of the Word and in spite of the opposition of sin, Satan and the world; but there he shall see “face to face”, vision taking the place of faith. Being perfectly holy, he shall not have, either in him or around him, anything to mar the enjoyment by which hope is superseded. Here too he has work in dealing with the sin and misery of his fellow-men; he prays and toils for those around him on the earth, and cannot but be a mourner in his work. But O the calm and the purity which shall surround him in heaven! Only gladness can come to him from all who are with him in the Fathers house, while from the face of God ever shines on him the light of the divine favour, mingling with the unclouded manifestation of His glory, to make him perfectly blessed. The service by which the glorified saint responds to the love and glory of Jehovah, manifested through the Lamb, must flow from perfect love, and cannot fail to be pleasantness for ever.
3. The final condition of all persons shall soon be reached. This is true of both the wicked and the righteous. The wicked in this world are advancing towards maturity for receiving the retribution of eternal woe. Apace they grow in sin, and they cannot grow thus without becoming riper for destruction. It is the Lord who appoints when the “cup of the Amorite” shall be full; and for all besides the Amorite He appoints the time when their end shall come. Till then they shall be hardening themselves more and more against the Word, and banishing further away from their hearts all fear of God. And lest they should become feeble in the work of sin, they exclude all thoughts of God and of His righteous judgement from their minds. They thus find it easier, the nearer they approach the gates of death, to “say peace and safety”. But just when this is the voice of their dreaming, “the end of all things” comes, and they find their impotent and hopeless souls in the grasp of “sudden destruction”. Woe unto those who never till then truly realised that they had souls!
And the final condition of the righteous is approaching. Meanwhile it is to them a time of growth; but theirs is a growth “in grace”, and the full ripeness in their case is preparation for glory. The Lord allows the tares to grow up to maturity, but their ripeness is their fitness as fuel for the fire. On the other hand, He leaves His people here till the work of grace in them is finished in perfected fitness for heaven.
And, when the end is reached, a final condition is attained by the soul, and a final place as well. How awful is that condition and that place at the final end of the wicked! Then, they are sealed under the power of sin, abandoned to remain for ever under the curse of God, and banished into outer darkness. There they are in a lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, with an assurance of an eternal existence under the pain of everlasting burning, for ever “like the troubled sea” because of their raging enmity to God. There they are under the fangs of an accusing conscience unceasingly tormented, while a sense of the anger and omnipotence of Jehovah pervades, as an ever-burning fire, their consciousness. Where is now the ease, the hope, the enjoyment of their life on earth? Verily, in a final condition such as this, “all things” have come to an end.
And the righteous shall soon reach their final condition, and to them the sooner the better. For then all sin shall have been annihilated, all sorrow removed, all tears wiped away, the last enemy utterly destroyed, and the vision, the rest, the perfect worship, the consummate blessedness and the glory of heaven attained. O surely, then, “all things” have come to an end! O surely the perfecting of their happiness shall be the assurance that the duration of their condition and the lease of their place extends to eternity!
Second, the counsel: “Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer”. It is unnecessary to say that the sobriety here commended is not that which is secured by abstinence from strong drink. Mere bodily sobriety may consist with much inebriety of mind. It has been proposed on high authority to render the original of this clause, “Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer,” as, “Be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer”. The meaning is not materially altered by this rendering.
1. “Be ye therefore sober”, or, “Be ye therefore of sound mind”. We are called, when considering this first part of the counsel of the text, to inquire what this sobriety or soundness of mind implies? And in attempting to determine this, we must not forget the connection between this and the clause which goes before. It is a practical conclusion from what was previously declared. The word therefore indicates this. There must, in the sobriety, or mental soundness recommended, be a reference to the “all things” which come to an end, and to the end itself in which these things terminate. To think aright of these, and to be duly affected by the approaching end of these, is indispensable to having the sobriety which is here commended.
2. To attain to this we must look, as ever-existing and sinful souls, at all the things whose end “is at hand”, in the light of the Word of God. Of “all things” which come to an end, there is nothing that can be profitable to me, as such a soul. What I desire is an everlasting and infinite portion. Were it infinite, and not everlasting, a foreboding of losing it would make my enjoyment of it impossible, and if it were everlasting and not infinite, then I would be unhappy in view of its being exhausted. Such a portion I cannot find outwith God. But I need to attain a right to Him as my portion, and to be prepared for glorifying and enjoying Him for ever. What, as compared with this, can all besides be to me, or to you? No gain but what consists in salvation, and in eternal life perfectly enjoyed thereafter, can be true gain to me. It is by salvation alone I am delivered from the wrath of God, and conformed to the image of God, and only thus can I be prepared to be glorifying and enjoying God for ever. What gain is it to me or to you to be occupied for a short season on the earth with objects whose end “is at hand”? At death, I must part with them; and it will be then I shall most keenly feel my need of what shall satisfy and abide for then I shall be entering eternity, and leaving all ending things utterly and for ever behind me.
And of all the things which come to an end there is none that can satisfy my soul even when the enjoyment of it lasts. Moments of pleasure in the things that perish are moments of vanity. There is a suppressed sense of this in each soul that seeks his happiness away from God. Like the moth that flutters from flower to flower, never choosing to rest where it alights, worldly men spend their days amidst the things that perish, though they derive from their labour only vanity and vexation of spirit.
Friend, if you would be sober, or of a sound mind, such must be your estimate of all that ends at death. Your mind must be established in the conclusion that these things are not enduring, not suitable to you as a sinner, and that they can never satisfy your soul. Seek a fresh impression of this on your mind, day by day, as the result of a prayerful study of the Word of God.
But in order to attain to some soundness of mind, such as the text requires, one must have an eye to discern the excellency of those things which are “not seen” and “eternal”, a heart to receive them, and some experience through faith of their power and sweetness. No soul can be content with conscious starvation. Never will you turn away from the objects which have been engrossing you during the years of your ignorance till you find the “pearl of great price”, for whose sake you will be willing heartily willing to part with them all. You cannot have a sound mind unless you can compare both sides together the things of the world with the things of God the things which are “seen” and “temporal” with those which are “not seen” and “eternal”.
No mind can be sound that does not regard the glorifying and enjoyment of God as the great end at which we must aim. He that does not form this judgement is a spiritual maniac. But those whom the Lord has made wise reckon it to be their greatest trial to be kept from attaining this end, and the powers which work to intercept them from this are those which cause them their deepest and most abiding sorrow on the earth. If you are of a sound mind, the excellence of the things of God will be drawing you away from all things beside. Their discovered profitableness and glory will be keeping your heart panting for enjoying the communion of God, and for doing the will of God.
3. “Watch unto prayer.” Or, “Be sober unto prayer“. There can be no preparedness for prayer without the soberness, or soundness, which was previously commended. Without a due sense of the vanity of all that ends at death, and of the folly and iniquity of being engrossed with these, we will not “watch unto prayer”. Without a spiritual discernment of the excellence of the things of God, and without thirst of heart for nearness to Him and faithfulness in His service, men will not care to “watch unto prayer”. They will feel and act as if they could dispense with what God bestows from His throne of grace. They will allow themselves to be swayed by any influence which is exerted to keep them away from God, and if they engage in a form of prayer, their utterance, in presence of the Lord, is no better than the stupid muttering of the drunkard.
The whole benefit of being of a sound mind is found in prayer. “Watch” or “be sober” unto prayer. By your exercise in prayer the condition of your soul may be judged. If you bring to it a spiritual appetite, if you have faith in Him who called you to His footstool, if you are in downright earnest desiring to succeed, and are disposed to wrestle for the blessing, then verily your soul is prospering, and your pleading shall not be in vain. To lack this frame of spirit is an indication of your having been drugged into sleep, or intoxicated, by the things of time and of sense by your being disposed to forget that “the end of all things is at hand”. O friends, our closets can testify what sort of men we are. They shall yet be witnesses for or against us.
Application. This text is a testing one, and you should open your ears and your hearts to the questions which it is fitted to suggest. Do not be like those who can only tolerate the Bible while it keeps outside their mind and conscience and heart. They treat it as some men treat their dogs, which they shut up somewhere outside the house. But is this the kind of treatment which is either dutiful or safe to give to the Word of God? The Lord demands an entrance for His Word into your soul, and rebukes you for refusing this. “Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of man.” “Search the Scriptures, for they are they which testify of Me.” “Receive instruction and be wise”, “so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” “I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.” “Now, therefore, hearken unto me.” “Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee.” And how terrible is His rebuke when He says, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would have none of My reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh”.
But the text is specially addressed to believers, and it should fare well at their hands. They at least should search it in order that it might search them. Not few and not unimportant are the questions which it suggests. I am only to instance some of these:
1. This text asks you how you are affected towards the things “seen” and “temporal” which presently surround you. Do you habitually realise that the end of all these is at hand? Does your impression of this keep you from unduly resting your affections upon them? Are you becoming more willing that to you they should soon come to an end? Are you willing soon to take your last look of earth, and sea, and sky, to leave your home and all in it for ever behind, to part with every friend you had on the earth, yea, to leave your own body behind, that as a naked but sanctified spirit, you might pass into the paradise of God? Or is it so that your attachment to your earthly surroundings is added to slavish fear of death, to cause you to shrink from realising that the end of all things is at hand? If you are in this latter case, O be not content to remain in it. Have these two warders in Satans prison the world and unbelief got you into their hands again? If so, they will give you more of the experience which you had of their power and cruelty when first you were awakened to find yourself a prisoner and you began to cry for deliverance. But assert your right to be free on the ground of Christs work of redemption; repair to Christ in faith, and the efficacy of His blood shall suffice to remove your fear of death, and His constraining love shall draw you away from all that cools your desire to be “ever with the Lord”.
2. Are you willing to have done with all the employments connected with your lot in this life? Or are these, to any extent, a snare to your affections! Whatever lawful employment you have, be diligent therein. In the Bible there is nothing good said about a sluggard. But beware of allowing your daily employment, in connection with things seen and temporal, to draw your thoughts and wean your affections from things “not seen” and “eternal”. You need not imagine that it is necessary to keep your hand from pen or plough, or hammer or spade, in order to be spiritual. If in the daily work of your lawful calling you have an eye to the glory of God as your end, to His word as your rule, and to His judgement as the final reckoning and if you are careful to mingle prayer with your discharge of the duties connected with your lot on earth you can “be sober and watch unto prayer”. And the more faithfully you serve the Lord in your ordinary work, the more willing will you be to part with it, for your soul has not suffered by such service. I know no man who has better reason for clinging to the work which habitually occupies him than he who has truly devoted himself to the service of the gospel, but even he must be willing to have done with this at any time when the Master calls him up to the Fathers house.
3. How are you affected towards the solemn truth that each one of us must soon reach his final condition must soon pass into the state and the place which shall be his for ever? No one is disposed to wish that his present condition should become final. Even the wicked shrink from that, and even more does the true Christian shrink from entertaining such a desire. But the Christian desires to remain in the state in which he is till he dies, having the hope of being in Christ Jesus, and of the work of grace within him being carried on until both the finishing of that work and the ending of his life occur together. Only as he has the hope of being fully sanctified can he be willing that his condition should be made final. He cannot wish that his present sickness and temptations and trial should continue; he cannot be content without the hope of sin being annihilated at his death, and of his being transferred to a place in which Satan and the world shall trouble him no more. Sometimes he cannot tell which is stronger the desire of this or the fear of not attaining to it. At other times his whole consciousness is swallowed up by the fear, while there are seasons, brief and bright, when he can sing a song of praise “in hope of the glory of God”.
4. And the text questions you as to how you are affected towards prayer. Do you feel quite dependent on access to God in prayer for your rest and comfort, and on the grace of the Spirit for obtaining this access? Do you carry with you a praying frame of spirit through the duties of your lawful calling? Are your happiest as well as your saddest hours spent in your closet? Are you watchful against the influence of all that would cool your fervour of spirit in prayer? What have you to tell as to the benefit of coming with all your cares and fears and desires to God? What do you know of “the peace of God which passeth understanding”, as the result of coming “by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving,” to “make your requests known unto God”?
5. Surely this text suggests questions which should be pondered by all who have their portion in this life and care not to have access to God in prayer. It asks you, What profit can you have for your soul from the “all things” which must end at your death? What gain can you discover as the result of all your labour in the past? Where do you expect to find rest and health and peace away from “the Fountain of living waters”? How can you face death when you do not have that which will not be taken away from you at death? And how awful will be the final condition which you must reach, when you, “ungodly” and a “sinner”, appear before the judgement seat of Christ!