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GETTING READY FOR THE END

1 Peter iv. 7-11

The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

THAT is a most momentous conviction which is expressed in these words: “The end of all things is at hand.” [Verse 7] What kind of conduct will it determine, and to what kind of counsel will it lead? Here is an apostle, deeply possessed by the solemn conviction that the great Consummation is approaching, that the glorified Christ is returning, that the judgment is impending, and that the “end of all things is at hand.” In the looming presence of so urgent 162and so commanding an event, how will the apostle shape his message? What kind of counsel will he give to his readers? What manner of preparation will he constrain them to make? It matters little or nothing to my purpose that the apostle’s anticipations of the second advent were premature, and that the stupendous consummation was delayed. For you and for me the instructive and all-absorbing conjunction remains the same. Here is the Apostle Peter sharing with his fellow-Christians the expectation of an immediate end. The Judge is at the door! What will be the manner of their behaviour? If we knew that within a year or two the Master will reappear as the august and, sovereign Judge, how ought we to pass the intervening days? We know, from the letters of the Apostle Paul, how the urgent expectancy influenced many of the early Christians. Some were thrown into panic. Others were despoiled of their spiritual collectedness by the invasion of unreasonable excitement. Others abandoned their ordinary employment, and lapsed into an indolence in which they might find more leisure to wait and watch for the King’s appearing. And we know with what severity the apostle denounced these perilous and irrational excesses. “Study to be quiet and to do your 163own business.” “Be not shaken in mind.” “We command that with quietness ye work and eat your own bread.” “Let us watch and be sober.” All this dangerous sensationalism was combatted and subdued by the cool self-possession of this man’s healthy and imperial mind.

And now here is the Apostle Peter confronted by the same prevailing and insidious inclinations. What will be the character of his message? Let us make the matter directly pertinent to our own condition that we may appreciate the strong, cooling, controlling influence of the apostle’s counsel. For us, too, “the end” may be at hand. Death looms on the not-distant horizon. The King is at the gate! What shall be the nature of our preparations, and the character of our behaviour? “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind,” [Verse 7] Sound mind! Life is to be characterised by reasonableness and sanity. There is to be nothing morbid about our mental state, nothing melancholy or diseased. We are to be mentally “sound,” emancipated from distraction and panic. We may enter into the content of the descriptive word by watching its usage in our common speech. We are familiar with the phrase “as sound as a bell,” and the usage will act as 164part-interpreter of the apostle’s thought. “Sound as a bell!” There is no break in the metal, no severance in the elements; it holds together in compact and undivided unity. “Sound mind”; as sound as a bell; no break in the mind, no division, no distraction, but a wonderful collectedness, issuing in the definite tone of clear and decisive purpose. “We are also familiar with another application of the word, as in the usage, “sound” and “unsound” meat, where the significance is indicative of health and disease. And this, too, may guide us into the content of the apostle’s thought, for when he counsels “sound-mindedness” he unquestionably refers to a mental condition which is freed from all morbidity, defilement, taint, and disease. “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind,” delivered on the one hand from the mental distraction that destroys life’s music, and on the other hand from the morbid depression which so frequently opens the gate for the invasion of death. “And be sober” [Verse 7] That is the second note of the apostle’s counsel. “And be sober.” It is a warning against all kinds of intoxication, but especially against the intoxication of excited and tumultuous emotion. There are stimulants other than those of intoxicating drinks; and there is a sensationalism to be found elsewhere 165than in carnal gratification. Excessive stimulants may be found in the revival meeting, and men may revel in intoxicated emotionalism even in the sanctuary. Men may “lose their heads “in many more ways than by the excessive imbibing of strong drink. “Be sober.” Don’t give way to any excitement which will make life grotesque and foolish! Beware of the sensationalism which is often the minister of sin. “Be sober.” It is an appeal for the culture and discipline of emotion. “Be sober unto prayer”; [Verse 7] preserve that calmness of life which is consistent with steady aspiration and fruitful supplication; maintain a quiet “watching unto prayer.” Here, then, are two of the features which characterised a life possessed by a healthy expectancy of the Lord’s appearing: soundmindedness and sobriety. “We are to wait the coming of the King with mind and heart delivered from the distractions of panic, from the taint of corruption, and from a feverish sensationalism which is destructive of the higher ministries of fellowship and prayer.

And now the apostle proceeds to add a third element to those already mentioned. “Above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves.” [Verse 8] To “sound-mindedness “and “sobriety” he adds the ministry of “love.” Now the 166apostle is at some pains to make it clear to us what is the quality of this love which should characterise the life which expects the King’s appearing. In the first place, it is to be “fervent.” Now the significance of our English word “fervour” scarcely unveils to us the contents of the apostle’s mind. He did not so much suggest a love that is ardent as a love that is tense. This very word “tense” is almost the original word. The love has to be “tense,” stretched out, extended to the utmost limit of a grand comprehensiveness. The New Testament recognises different types and qualities of love, and there is no counsel in which it is more abounding than just in this counsel to push back the boundaries of a circumscribed affection so that it be characterised by a more spacious inclusiveness. There is love whose measure is that of an umbrella. There is love whose inclusiveness is that of a great marquee. And there is love whose comprehension is that of the immeasurable sky. The aim of the New Testament is the conversion of the umbrella into a tent, and the merging of the tent into the glorious canopy of the all-enfolding heavens. Therefore does the writer of this very letter, in a second letter which he has written, give this very suggestive counsel, “add to brotherly love, love.” Which just means this: make your love 167more tense; push back the walls of family love until they include the neighbour; again push back the walls until they include the stranger; again push back the walls until they comprehend the foe. The quality of our love is determined by its inclusiveness. At the one extreme there is self-love; at the other extreme there is philanthropy! What is the “tense,” the stretch of my love? What is its covering power? I do not wonder that the apostle proceeds to indicate the magnificent “cover “afforded by a magnificent love. “Love covereth a multitude of sins.” [Verse 8] Not the sins of the lover, but the sins of the loved! Love is willing to forget as well as to forgive! Love does not keep hinting at past failures and past revolts. Love is willing to hide them in a nameless grave. When a man, whose life has been stained and blackened by “a multitude of sins,” turns over a new leaf, love will never hint at the old leaf, but will rather seek to cover it in deep and healing oblivion. Love is so busy unveiling the promises and allurements of the morrow, that she has little time, and still less desire to stir up the choking dust on the blasted and desolate fields of yesterday. “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners.” There’s a “cover” for you! “And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew . . . 168 stood at His feet behind Him weeping!” There’s a cover for you! “The Son of Man is come to seek that which is lost.” There’s a cover for you! I do not wonder that the great evangelical prophet of the Old Testament, in heralding the advent of the Saviour, should proclaim Him as “a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” “Love covereth all things.”

But we have not yet done with the apostle’s characterisation of the qualities of love. He adds a third word which confirms and enriches the other two. True love, “stretched-out” love, all-sheltering love, “uses hospitality without murmuring.” [Verse 9] True love is a splendid host, a veritable Gaius in the lavish entertainment which it offers to weary and footsore pilgrims. In the primitive Christian day, the apostolic days, love opened the door and gave hospitality to the itinerant preachers as they went from place to place proclaiming the message of the Cross. Love opened the door to the persecuted refugees, driven from their homesteads because of their devotion to the Lord. There were many of them about, and the love-children were to keep an open door and a sharp look-out, and offer the welcome entertainment. Love is the very genius of hospitality; it opens the “hospice” 169in the stormy and perilous heights, and provides a travellers rest. Wherever love is, the hospice may be found! “Love never faileth.” And the gracious ministry is all discharged so graciously; “without murmuring!” There is no frown upon the face, no sense of “put-outness” in the attention. It is all done, as Matthew Henry says, “in a kind, easy, hand some manner,” as though the host had been almost impatiently waiting for the privilege, and yearning for its speedy approach.

Now, brethren, the King is at the gate! Soon His hand will be upon the latch! How shall we prepare for Him? In sound-mindedness, in spiritual sobriety, and in a love which is ever straining after more and more spacious breadth of gracious and generous hospitality. How shall these dispositions express themselves? What shall be the medium of affection? What shall be the line of our ministry? The apostle provides the answer: “According as each hath received a gift.” [Verse 10] We must work through what we have received. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” Our members, our senses, our mental aptitudes, our spiritual endowments! They are all the gifts of the King! We must use them all in the ministry of love. But beyond all these there is the mysterious and indescribable gift of our own individuality. We 170are each as unique in personality as we are each distinctive in face. Individuality is a unique gift, and is divinely purposed for unique service. We must reverently consecrate our individuality to the King’s use, that it may become the minister of His own “manifold grace” [Verses 10, 11] and “strength” In this subordination the individuality is preserved intact and unimpaired. Working through us, the Holy Ghost will, shall I say, impinge upon the world in a somewhat different form than from the life of any of our fellows. If an electric current be led through a series of several different materials, its appearance in the outer world will vary with each wire. “In a platinum wire it may appear as light, in an iron one as heat, round a bar of soft iron as magnetic energy, led into a solution as a power that decomposes and recombines.” So in many individualities are there “diversities of operations, but the one Spirit.” What we have to do is to take our individuality, “according as each hath received the gift,” and so reverently consecrate it that “the manifold grace” may work a unique ministry, and by “the strength which God supplieth” we may manifest a daily salvation which shall be to the glory of God.

Here then, I conclude. I think that no one can be made to stumble by any narrowness and irrelevancy in the apostle’s counsel. His commandment 171is exceeding broad. How shall we prepare for the coming of the King? What can be more reasonable than the response I have attempted to expound? In sound-mindedness, in spiritual sobriety, in an affection which is ever seeking greater inclusiveness, and working through the distinctive gifts of the consecrated individual life. I tell you, if this be my condition, I shall not be afraid “at His coming.” He may come in a moment, and very suddenly, in the noontide, or the midnight, or at the cock-crow; come when He may, I shall “love His appearing.” Living calmly, in the atmosphere of affection, and in the mystic strength of consecration, I shall know Him as my friend. The present Bishop of Durham has told us of a beloved friend of his who narrated to him a strangely vivid dream which he had long, long years ago. Let me tell it in the Bishop’s words. “Through the bed-chamber window seemed to shine on a sudden an indescribable light; the dreamer seemed to run, to look; and there, in the depths above, were beheld three forms. One was unknown, one the Archangel, One the Lord Jesus Christ. And at this most sudden sight that soul, the soul of one over whom, to my knowledge, the unutterable solemnities of the unseen are wont to brood with almost painful power, was instantaneously 172thrilled with a rapturous joy . . . unspeakable and full of glory: ‘My Saviour, my Saviour!’”

I pray that when that light breaks upon us, not in the ministry of a dream, but in the veritable coming of the Lord; when for you and for me “the end of all things is at hand,” may we have so brooded on “the solemnities,” and so laboured in the gracious ministry of affection, that we too, “when He cometh,” shall be “instantaneously thrilled with raptuous joy, unspeakable and full of glory: ‘My Saviour, my Saviour!’”

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