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.…
We never repeat these words in reference to that which is charming without a certain sense of pain. Yet it is true in regard to all that pertains to us or to our surroundings. The longest, brightest day must end. Each season, each journey, vacation, however pleasant or prosperous, every human relationship, must end. The earthly life of each, though lengthened to a century and full of gladness, must come to an end. The structures built by man outlive the builder, and seem to say, "We only are left behind, while the people once here are for ever gone!" "The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed." The globe grows old and the new heavens and earth hasten. Even the mediatorial system is but for a time. So with everything with but one notable exception. The soul's life is not to end. These facts suggest some practical lessons.
I. THESE THINGS WHICH ARE PASSING AWAY ARE NOT TO BECOME THE OBJECT OF THE SUPREME DESIRE OF THE SPIRIT WHICH IS NOT TO COME TO AN END. It is of course possible to go to extremes.
1. Some affect a disgust for pleasure and property, but by right enjoyment we are recreated. We are not to undervalue it. Again, property may be held without undue ambition or worldly pride. Christianity honours toil and reminds men that Jesus was a working man, and Paul as well. Economy is good. Omnipotence has recognised it. True religion is not hostile to the spirit of thrift and carefulness in acquisition.
2. But there is peril in the other extreme. We are apt to love pleasure and property inordinately. The soul's welfare is subordinate, and so the lesson of the text is timely, "Then cometh the end." The most opulent wealth will pass away.
II. THERE IS A DIVINE PURPOSE IN THESE FLEETING OBJECTS AND EXPERIENCES, TO WIT: TO SERVE THE CULTURE OF THE SOUL WHICH DOES NOT PASS AWAY.
1. The beauty and enjoyment He furnishes us so richly is intended to give tone and tincture to our taste; and by a contemplation of His handiwork our minds are affiliated with His.
2. So, too, by the proper gratification of the instinct of possession our will force is invigorated. The more means we possess, the more of culture we can give ourselves and households, the more useful we can be in the world. Moreover, character is unfolded in these activities. There is an Italian proverb that "The solitary man is either a beast or an angel."
3. The body, too, is a means of spiritual culture. Our appetites are to be curbed and our passions confined, and so physical forces may now aid in our spiritual enrichment.
4. This world, though it is to come to an end, is another educational power. Its wealth we are to garner, its mines explore, and its forces subdue. All things are to minister to man, and to be subordinate to the soul's life.
III. TO THE SOUL THAT HAS THUS WISELY USED THE TRANSITORY THINGS OF TIME, "THE END OF ALL THINGS" DOES NOT IN ANY SENSE MEAN DEFEAT, DISASTER. What is the end of a campaign? Victory. Of a revolution like that of 1776? A new nation. The end of some superb cathedral, like that of Cologne, six centuries in building, is a poem in stone. The end of a true life is not destruction, but consummation. The river finds its end in the distant sea, and the day its end in the glory of a star-lit sky, a glory only seen when the day has found its close. We should not be sad, therefore, as the summer is ended, the harvest past, the journey completed, and the friendly associations terminated which cheered us for a season. The traveller passes the river, the village, or city on his way home, and is not disappointed, for he journeys to an end, his home. We seek an end.
(R. S. Storrs, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.