If ye would ask what ye should do till Christ come again, or what should be your exercise and employment in this old age of the world, here ye have it in a word, "be sober, and watch unto prayer." When Christ was to go away to his Father, and leave his disciples in this world, as he left them not orphans, or comfortless, without the Comforter, so neither left he them without counsel and direction. The word he left to them was, "Take heed, watch and pray," Mark xiii.33. In this chapter, Peter is mindful of his Lord's directions, as Paul also was, 1 Thess. v.6. The substance of this chapter is to exhort Christians to a holy conversation, suitable to their high calling. He presses mortification in general, from that which should be of greatest force with a believer's heart, -- the strongest and most convincing reason in the world, -- union with Christ crucified, even as Paul does, Rom. vi. And then, in the 3d and 4th verses, he argues from their former conversation, ye have sinned enough already, all the rest of your time is over little(505) to consecrate to God, according then as ye have advanced Satan's kingdom while under it, so advance Christ's kingdom when it comes to you, and take that noble revenge upon yourselves and sins, so as to bring them both captive to the obedience of Christ. And although the world may think it strange ye walk not with them, yet so much the rather ought ye to aspire after a disconformity to the world. Be then ambitious of being singular in the world. Ye would lay down such a conclusion as this, I am a stranger, and will walk as a stranger. And ye need not think yourselves miserable to be out of so much company, and to be alone. No, if ye knew what was to come upon them, ye would get you out from among them, lest ye be partakers of their plagues. The day of the Lord is coming, and the world must give an account to the Judge of all flesh. Ye may endure their mockings, and all the hard measure which ye get her, for it shall be recompensed unto them. And your lot is the same that other saints had, who now sleep in the Lord. The gospel was preached unto them, and they had the same fruit of it before God, and got everlasting life by it, yet they were judged in the world as well as you, and were counted base and contemptible. Now, in this verse, he comes to particular exhortations from the former reasons. This text hath two parts. I: An exhortation to some special duties, which are so conjoined in this form of speech that they seem all but one duty. "Prayer" is the duty, and sobriety and watchfulness are means to it. II: There is a reason given, because "the end of all things is at hand." So, then, ye have here the posture the world is in, and the posture a Christian should be in. This is the world's old age. It is declining, albeit it seem a fair and beautiful thing in the eyes of them who know no better, and unto them who are of yesterday, and know nothing. It looks as if it had been created yesterday, yet the truth is, and a believer knows, it is near the grave. Gray hairs are here and there upon it, though many know it not, and Jesus the Lord is at hand to put an end to it. Now, what should be your condition in the meantime? What should immortal souls do, that are to remain for ever, and outlive this habitable world? How should they be employed? The spirit and soul is to endure longer than the man's possessions, goods, honour, and place. How, then, should ye look upon these things? Here it is. Be sober in the use of all things. Use the world as if ye used it not, watch unto prayer. Ye are encompassed about with manifold temptations. Therefore watch, and be as men on their way waiting for the Bridegroom. The bride's exercise, since Christ hath ascended unto heaven, should be to say, "Lord Jesus come quickly."
In discoursing upon this subject, I: We shall speak of these three parts of a Christians duty severally. II: Consider how they help one another, and so jointly speak of them. And then, III: Of the reason and motive to them all, and how it enforces such an exercise. As to be the first of these, we observe, that sobriety is a duty becoming every Christian, that is united unto Jesus Christ, and is separated by God's holy calling from the rest of the world. I add these two considerations because of the preceding verse. For in the first and second verses he lays down an excellent ground of all kind of mortification, viz. the believer's union with Christ crucified. Jesus Christ suffered and died for us, as a Common Person, to sustain the guilt of our sins. He died as a Cautioner and Undertaker for us and as our Head and King, and we by virtue of that, are obliged to crucify sin also. In verses 3d and 4th, the other consideration is set down. There ought to be a vast difference between a believer now, and before his conversion. He should not be the same man, but as Paul, say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Gal. ii.20. He should be separated from the world, that all the world may wonder at him, and think it strange to see his conversation. Now I conceive this exhortation is gathered from both these, and the word of reference therefore relates to the preceding verse, as well as his reason in the words now read. Now therefore be sober. This sobriety is not limited to meat, drink or apparel, the object of it is more comprehensive in scripture. It uses sometimes to be expressed singly, without making mention of any particular matter, evidently importing, that sobriety ought to be in all things. That which we ought to be sober in is certainly the "all things spoken of in the reason of sobriety, whose end is at hand." They are most distinctly expressed 1 John ii.15-17, "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," all that perishes is not of the Father, but of the world, that is, the world which wicked men frame to themselves. Here then is a large commentary on "all things." Therefore whatever is in the world is the matter of sobriety. Whatever comes under the senses calls for sobriety. Whatever comes under the object of the mind is the matter of sobriety. Nay, whatever is corruptible and perishing, or whatever the last day of the Lord a coming shall put an end to, in all these, there must be sobriety exercised. There is a threefold sobriety: 1. Sobriety in the mind, or sober mindedness, Rom. xii.3. We ought not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, "but to think soberly," 1 Cor. iv.6, 7, Tit. ii.6, Rom. xi.20, 1 Cor. vii.2. Sobriety of mind is that excellent lesson that Christ Jesus both taught and practised in his humble state. "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart," Matt. xi.29. Humility is not like Peter, who said, "Depart from me, for I am sinful man, O Lord," "Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet." But humility is rather like Mary, that sat down at Christ's feet, and washed them with tears. Sobriety of mind does not undervalue God's gifts and graces, neither doth it overvalue them. It thinks of itself according to the measure of grace freely given, (Rom. xii.3) and sobriety looks on all its own gifts, and ornaments, as not its own but another's, as free gifts, and therefore it puffs not up a man against his neighbour, though he should see a gift given beyond his neighbour. High mindedness is like the high bending of a string of an instrument, which easily breaks in two pieces. Sobriety walks with a low sail, and creeps through under the wind, but the high mind is like the cedar, that moves with the wind, and falls when the bowing twig stands still. Some will think the aspiring of the spirit a sign of a better spirit than the humble mind, and so look down upon others. But oh, if they walk safely, they will walk humbly with God.
2. There is also sobriety in the affections when they are moderate. The objects of this world which come under the affections, are either sinful and unlawful or in themselves lawful and allowable. Now sobriety towards the first kind is simple abstinence, towards the second moderation. The rule of the first is, "Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the mind" (1 Pet. ii.11), and, as it was said in another sense, "Touch not, taste not, handle not." "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," Eph. v.11. As a man who would be clean should not touch pitch, and he who would not be burnt should not carry coals in his bosom, so ought the child of God, who walked formerly in the lusts of ignorance, after the custom of this world, to abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. v.22.), not only from sin itself, but from all the occasions of it, and inducements unto it, all that which hath any appearance of evil. There is no measure of moderation here, a man must not think to give his lusts part, and Christ part. No, he must have all or none. Ye should have no quarters with sin, ye should be out of speaking terms with it. The least motion of the affections and heart that way, is insobriety, and inordinate affections.3. But sobriety in things lawful is moderation, when the spirit is kept within bounds, Col. iii.1, 2. And the rule of this is that which Paul prescribes, 1 Cor. vii.29, "Use the world as not abusing it," knowing that the fashion of the world doth pass away. Love this world as if ye loved it not. Every thing hath too much of the heart, and Jesus Christ would have his royal palace his peculiar place here. He may have suitable affections to God's dispensations in this world, (for the Christian wants none of his senses,) yet he ought not to be "greatly moved," as David speaks, Psal. lxii.2. Now we consider this in three things, (1) In seeking of any thing; (2) In enjoying of any thing; (3) In losing or wanting any thing. That rule of Paul's may be applied to all the three, he should seek the world as if he sought it not. He should enjoy the world as if he enjoyed it not. He should want or lose the world as if he lost it not. This sobriety makes him want, in abundance, and abound, in want, -- to have nothing, and yet possess all things. All our time and pains and affections are spent out upon these, and turn about on these three points. Desire, attended with care and anxiety, goes out to fetch in any thing that the mind fancies. When the soul hath gotten its desire, it delights and rejoices in it, and when it is frustrated, disappointed, or crossed, it grieves and torments itself. If ye find a Christian sober in these, you find his pulse beat well. (1) Ye should then seek the world or any thing, as if ye sought it not. We are given to idolize the creatures, and dig broken cisterns, and forsake the fountain of living waters, to seek the creature as if it were God, and the strength of affections uses to be spent on it. Men have big and large apprehensions of the things of this world, and are like foolish children amazed with pictures and dreams. Fancy busks(506) up and adorns the object with all things suitable, and thus the poor soul is put in expectation of some thing, and stretcheth out itself, to the utmost of its ability, to purchase that, which being had will not satisfy. The world promises fair to deluded minds that know no better. But the child of God must be sober here. He ought to have a low estimation of all created things, and conclude all under vanity and vexation of spirit, Luke x.41, 42. Sobriety so seeks, that it can want, because it seeks a better thing that it cannot miss. But the poor worldling seeks this world as his only thing, and if he want it, what hath he more? He must have it, or else he hath nothing. The child of God should seek as a rich man that is satisfied, and needs no more, so that he cares not whether he obtain or not. The worldlings seek it as their portion, their heart and affections are on it, but he seeks it not as his portion, but as an accessory to his inheritance, Matt, vi.33. Again we observe, (2.) That the good man uses the world, and enjoys it, as if he enjoyed it not. When riches increase, he sets not his heart on them. He is dead to the world, and crucified to it. It is but an unpleasant thing to him, and he to it. He can be refreshed with his meat more than another, because he sees God and his love in it, yet he hath it not as his portion. He is not excessive in gladness for any dispensation cast in the balance, one kind of dispensation or another. That which would make another man think he was half in heaven, or half in hell, it will not add much moment and weight to such a spirit. It is but like the casting in of a feather in a great balance, that will scarcely incline it to either side. (3) He loses or wants(507) the world, as if he lost it not. That which would break another man's heart, sobriety will make him go light under, and not be much disquieted for any thing. Why, what is the matter of it? Can it trouble his peace or access to God? Can his portion be removed? What, then, should ail him, for the light of God's countenance is more recompense than all the world? Proceed we now to apply this in some uses.
Use I. It discovers unto the most part of men how little they are advanced in Christianity. Many are insober in the use of the world, and what must their affections be? The works of darkness, that become not the children of God nor the children of the day, are yet common in the visible church. Insobriety in many is palpable, and written on their forehead. That beastly sin of drunkenness abounds in many congregations. But II. We would even convince the Lord's own children of great short coming in this duty. Although your carriage before men might pass free of censure of insobriety, yet O! how many things will God put such a construction on! There are many saints that cannot walk soberly in the use of this world. They spend their time upon it, and this is insobriety. Scarce can prayer and communion with God get an hour in the day from their calling, and when ye have to spend, insobriety is written upon many passages of your behaviour. Your meat, and drink, and clothing, should declare that ye are waiting for a better inheritance. But O! how are your affections wedded unto this present world! The current and stream of many of your thoughts go this way, what shall I eat or drink, or what shall I put on for clothing? And ye spend your spirits in projecting, and in following out your projects. There are some evident demonstrations of insobriety in the affections. For, (1) Most of your thoughts run upon temporal things and certainly if your hearts were not in this world, your minds would follow your hearts. Christians, too many amongst you spend whole days, and never any object enters into your minds but one thing of the world after another. Your minds are highways for the travellers of this world to come through. It may be ye will steal an hour, or half an hour for prayer, but the rest of your conversation is not in heaven, but void of God. According as every hour furnishes new opportunities, so are your minds here, Phil. iii.20. And meditation upon spiritual things, that is the nerves and sinews of religion, that is a rare thing. If your affections were not more upon this world than upon Christ Jesus, would not our Saviour be uppermost in your thoughts? Would not Christ interrupt your thoughts of the world? Would not heaven come in the midst of your business, and get a spare look and ejaculation? The world uses to interrupt your thoughts of God, and the mind is given to wander in prayer. But put you upon something temporal, ye can fix your heart as long as you please, and never wander. David was not so. He awaked, and was still with God. He meditates upon him in the night watches. He remembers him day and night, (Psal. lxiii.8) and this made him a lively Christian. But, (2) If ye be seeking any thing, ye seek it so, as insobriety is stamped upon it. Your seeking of the world is prejudicial to your seeking of God, and takes away much time for prayer. Ye will be so eager in the pursuit of a momentary passing vanity, as ever ye were in the seeking of God, Col. iii.1, 2. Care and anxiety comes in to be your provision, and ye put not prayer in the place of it, to make your requests known unto God. Ye seek it as if it were your portion and inheritance, surely this is insobriety. (3) Look upon your affections toward present enjoyments, and are ye sober? Ye can delight in these things, and take the sweetness of them, but the consolations of God are a small thing to you. Any thing adds to your joy and lifts you up. Albeit ye be not in good terms with God, yet ye can take your pleasure in the world. Ye see not a worm and moth in your pleasures, ye are not afraid to fill your belly with honey. Some think themselves made up when they get such a lot. But saints, are ye sober when such a thing changes your condition? O but the children of God look upon this world as David did in his fretting condition, (Psal. xxxviii.) and in his prosperous condition, Psal. xxx. Ye sit down and say, "My mountain stands strong, and I shall never be moved." Ye have more delight in your outward lot than ever ye had in Jesus Christ. But, (4) When any outward thing goes cross to your mind, then your insobriety appears. The taking(508) of a sad and cross dispensation will evidence how ye sought the world. The taking away of a friend or idol, will declare ye idolized it. As the saints have too longing desires for the things of this world, and look upon them as the paradise of God, not as Paul did, who thought the world a dead thing, so remove any thing that ye enjoy, and your joy is taken from you. Give you something for which you pray, your sorrow is away, and ye can no more mourn for sin; and take something away, and your joy is gone, ye cannot delight in God. Ye vex and disquiet yourselves in vain, and are weighed down with it. Are ye not then under the feet of this present world, when it tramples upon you? Are ye not servants unto it, when your condition altereth and changeth according to the nod of outward things? Ye may know what puts you up and down that commands you, and this is not sobriety. Ye are drunk with the creature. The child of God should be like mount Zion, that can never be moved. Therefore,
III. We would exhort all the saints to study more sobriety in this world. We need no more exhortation than what Paul gives, 1 Cor. vii.29. It is a strange language, saints, "Set not your affections upon the things of this earth, but on the things which are above," Col. iii.1, 2. "Love not the world, nor the things of the world," &c., 1 John ii.15-17. Ye ought to study such a walk abstracted from this world, that ye might be as strangers at home, as sojourners in your own country. The child of God should sit down in his own family among his children, as if he were abroad, and he ought to be abroad, as if he were at home. Wherefore your life is called a pilgrimage, and ye strangers. Engage not much your heart to any thing of this world. Take but a standing drink and be gone, ye may not lay down your staff and burden, that his may bear you right. (1) Consider that insobriety is idolatry. Insobriety puts the creature in God's place, and sobriety puts all things in their own place. When a man's heart or affections are set on any thing, that is his idol and his master, and Christ says, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon," (Matt. vi.24) these two masters. Sure the worldling thinks not that he serves his riches, yet Christ puts that construction upon his loving them well, Christ calls any thing that is a man's master his god. Now, any thing that the heart goes after is a man's master. That which commands a man's affections commands the whole man, for the affections are the man's master, and they command the man. If ye knew this, ye would be afraid of spending your hearts upon vanity; ye put that vanity in the place of Jesus Christ, and so your heart is a temple of idols, and the great gospel promise (Ezek. xxxvi.25, 26) hath not gotten place in you. The due place of the creature is to be subservient to the Lord its Maker, to be only the footstool, that he may have the throne. True insobriety puts the creature upon the throne, and worships it. (2) Insobriety or love to the world hinders the love of God, as much as is added to the one, is taken from the other, 1 John ii.15. If the love of the world have one gram weight of allowance more than Christ speaks of, that is incompatible with the love of the Father. The creature will suffer a parting of affection, and will be content with a share, like the harlot and false mother that would be content with the divided child; but God must have all or none, and will not share with the creature. Ye may find it by experience when your hearts have been much set upon any thing in this world, Christ Jesus has not been so pleasant to you, ye have not so much delight in him. Affection must run in the channel, or it is but weak, if once ye divide the streams. The love of the world makes the heart carnal, it is the defilement of the whole soul, and a weight that easily besets us, that it cannot mount up in a cloud of divine affection to Jesus. Can the needle go to two contrary points both at once? Can it move to the north and the south at the same time? Such an opposition is there between the Father, and the things of the world. If then ye turn your face on the creature, ye must turn your back upon God. Think not, Christians, to keep love entire to God, and to set your affections on the world. Solomon's backsliding had this false principle, he thought to retain his integrity, and his wisdom should abide with him, though he would try folly and madness, Eccles. vii.23. But did he not grow more foolish? Did he retain his wisdom? Many have come down from their excellence by this presumption. (3) Insobriety is the world's sin. It is the sin of the days of your ignorance, when ye walked after the lusts of the Gentiles, and it is a shame for a child of God to be so. This duty(509) is opposed to their former walking, verses 3d and 4th. There should be a great distance between you and the world, that ye may seem men of diverse countries. Though ye dwell in one city or in one house, ye ought so to walk as men may think it strange, as it may be, a wonder in the world. O but few Christians give the worldly men occasion to speak of them for holiness, few give them any ground for wondering at and mocking their conversation! Your conversation is so like theirs, that they need not think any thing in it strange. Is it not a shame, saints, to be like pagans? Christ uses such an argument with his disciples to dissuade them from carnal carefulness, Matt. vi.32. Sobriety is a work of the day becoming a child of light, as Paul observes, 1 Thess. v.4-9, importing as much as if it were a shame for the Christian to be found much in love with the world, as it is for a man to be drunk at nine in the morning and staggering in the streets. There ought to be as great a difference between you and the world, as there is between day and night, light and darkness. Since the true light hath shined, to discover a more excellent happiness than the world can give, and since it hath concluded all under vanity, ye are not answerable to your holy calling to have it in any higher estimation. Consider also, (4) That the world is not your portion. Your life consists not in what you enjoy, your inheritance is above, reserved in the heavens for you. Therefore be sober. If ye believed this, that one day ye shall put on white robes, and be clothed with immortality, would ye so pursue after the world? It is the world's portion, and let them who know no better seek it as their god, and love it as their inheritance; but fie upon believers, that have a hope laid up in heaven, and fixed as an anchor within the vail. Should ye cause your portion to be evil spoken of, by your groping so much after this present world? If ye walked right ye should torment the world, and oblige them to be convinced that ye seek a city to come, and that ye despise all their enjoyments. But, (5) Insobriety becomes not a reasonable soul and is very unbeseeming a Christian, even so is it to every man. Are ye not better, says Christ, than many sparrows? Is not the life more than meat? Matt. vi.25, Luke xii.23, 24. So we may say, Is not the soul better than the perishing creature? O it is the disgrace and debasement of an immortal spirit to be put under the feet of a piece of clay, to be subjected to vanity, and to the poor perishing things of the world. If a man but knew himself, and his natural prerogative above the creatures, let be(510) his Christian privileges, he would despise the world, and think all that is in it not a satisfying portion for his spirit. He would count it a great disparagement to lodge upon this side of infiniteness and divine fulness. Would ye not think it a base thing to see a king's son sitting down among beggars, and puddling in the filth of the city? God made man to have lordship and pre-eminence over the creatures, and his spirit shall outlive all these things he sees, and looks to, and what a dishonour must it be to spend an immortal spirit on vanity, to have no eye beyond the span of time? As Christ said, "What hath a man gained, if he lose his own soul?" What gain ye in this world, though all things should befall you according to your contentment, what gain ye, since ye prostitute an immortal soul unto the service of the world, and have made it, to the prince of the world and all things, a servant and slave?