1 Corinthians 15:23-24
But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.…
I. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO RULE THESE WORDS OUT OF LIFE.
1. You tell of any process; but always by and by the process is exhausted. "Then cometh the end." Your story has to round itself with that.
(1) We see a child growing up from childhood into manhood; but at last "cometh the end."(2) You start upon a new business, build you a new house, begin some new study, whatever you do, "then cometh the end," is written, however far away, as the conclusion which all must reach.
(3) Our text tells that even of the great work Christ is doing it is written, "Then cometh the end."
2. This constant recurrence of ends in life must certainly mean something. It may beget a mere frivolity. It may make it seem as if nothing were worth beginning or prosecuting very thoroughly. Or it may give a freshness and vitality to living. "Now or never."
II. WHAT SORT OF TEMPFR IT OUGHT TO PRODUCE.
1. Note the way in which men's desire and men's dread are both called out.
(1) Look at man's desire of the end.
(a) It is a part of his dread of monotony. There is something very pathetic in man's instinctive fear of being wearied with even the most delightful and satisfactory experiences. Is it not a sign of man's sense that his nature is made for larger worlds than this? "I would not live alway," has been a true cry of the human soul.
(b) But there is something deeper. Very early there comes the sense of imperfection and failure, and the wish that it were possible to begin the game again. And as life goes on that conviction grows. Tell any man that he, out of all these mortals, was never to die, and by and by must come something like dismay; for every man has gathered something which he must get rid of, and so there is promise to him in, "Then cometh the end."(c) But so far as life has been a success, the same satisfaction comes. It is a poor thing for a traveller along a dreary and difficult road to be able to say, "Thank God, there is an end to this!" But for a man to say, "This road is glorious, but no doubt beyond is something yet more glorious still," that is a fine impatience. The noblest human natures are built thus. "Let the life be filled with the spirit of the springtime, and the end which comes shall be the luxuriance of summer! "And so in many tones, yet all of them tones of satisfaction, men desire the end. It is like a great company of travellers coming together in sight of the resting-place where they are to spend the night, and lifting up all together one great shout of joy. Their hearts have various feelings. Some are glad because their day's task is done, others because of the new task which they can see opening out beyond them for to-morrow.
(2) Turn to the other side and think of the dread with which men think of the coming of ends in life. Can we give any account of this dread?
(a) It is the sheer force of habit. That this which is should cease to be is shocking and surprising. Even in that dread there is something which is good. it is good for the tree to love the soil in which it grows and to consent with difficulty to transplanting. It is good that the burden of proof should be on the side of change.
(b) Men shrink from the announcement of the coming end because they know how far they are from having exhausted their present condition. A boy has longed to be a man, but when he stands upon the brink of manhood and looks behind him over the yet-unreaped acres of his youth, he is almost ready to go back and postpone his manhood till he has taken richer possession of those harvest fields. And so of the great end. Who wants to die so long as this great rich world has only had the very borders of its riches touched?
(c) But even more than this, perhaps, comes in the great uncertainty which envelops every experience which is untried. The passage from light into light must be always through a zone of darkness. How we are feeling this in these days! Old social conditions are ceasing to be possible any longer. In their place new ones are evidently coming, and who is not conscious of misgiving and of dread as he enters with his time into the cloud of disturbance that hovers between the old and the new? This is a large part of the reason why the most miserable cling to life, counting it better. "To bear the ills they have than flee to others which they know not of."
2. Blessed indeed it is for man, standing in such confused and mingled mood, that the end of things does not depend upon his choice, but comes by a will more large, more wise than his. The workman's voice has not to summon out of the east the shadows of the night in which no man can work. "It comes of itself," we say. We mean, "God sends it."(1) How many things there are of which we say, "I thank God I may do this, but I thank God also that the time will come when I shall stop doing it! "Our business associations, journeys, schools, homes, are of this sort. They are good and welcome because they are but for a while. Our mortal life, that too we are thankful for, but thankful also that it shall not last for ever. But all this satisfaction in the temporariness comes only from its being enfolded and embraced within the eternity of the eternal. There must be something which does not pass away, something to which comes no end. The soul and its character, God and His love and glory — it is because within these as the ends of life all other things are enfolded as the means of life, that we can be reconciled to, nay, even can rejoice in the knowledge that the means must cease when they shall have made their contribution to the end which must endure for ever. But to know no everlasting end or purpose, to have nothing but the means to rest on, to see them slipping out of our grasp and leaving nothing permanent behind — that is terrible! How is it with you? There comes an end to all these things which you are doing now! Not because God snatches them out of your hands, but because they exhaust themselves and expire, because they are by their nature temporary and perishing, they die. Have you anything to which there comes no end? Any passion for the character and love of God? Those are eternal. There is no end to the great ends of life.
(2) A noble independence this gives to a man's soul. Poverty comes up and joins you, and you say, "Welcome. Poverty. We will walk together for a while, and when you have done for me all that you can, then I will dismiss you with my thanks." Riches comes rolling up to be your fellow-traveller, and you say, "Welcome, Riches. There will come an end to you; but while you last we will be friends, and you shall help me." The more your soul is set upon the ends of life, the more you use its means in independence. You use them as a workman uses his tools, taking them up in quick succession, casting down one after the other, never falling in love with the tool because the work possesses him.
(Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.