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SOBRIETY AND WATCHING UNTO PRAYER ILLUSTRATED
1 Pet. iv. 7.-But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
In the preceding part of this chapter, the Apostle presents those to whom he wrote with a general view of Christian duty, as “living not to the lusts of men, but to the will of God;” points out to them the only and effectual means of realizing this view of Christian duty in their own experience, the keeping constantly before their minds the great characteristic truth of the gospel, that the perfect and accepted atonement made by Christ has secured for himself, and for all interested in him, rest from sin; and unfolds to them the powerful motives rising out of the statement he had made of the leading principles of evangelical truth, which urge them to follow the course prescribed to them. In the subsequent context, he proceeds to enjoin the cultivation of a variety of particular Christian dispositions, and the performance of a variety of particular Christian duties, which the circumstances in which they were placed peculiarly
required. Two of these injunctions, with the special ground on which they stand, lie before us in the verse which we have read as the text of the following discourse.
The subject which these words bring before the mind may be treated in two different ways. We may either illustrate, first, the statement on which the Apostle founds his injunctions, “The end of all things is at hand;" and then the injunction built on this statement, “Be sober, and watch unto prayer;” or we may reverse the order, and consider, first, the duties which the Apostle enjoins, and then the motive by which he urges to their performance. It does not matter much which of these two plans we adopt ; but, as a choice must be made, we, upon the whole, prefer the latter.
I. THE DUTIES ENJOINED BY TIIE APOSTLE.
Let us then proceed to consider the duties which the Apostle enjoins. They are—sobriety, and watching unto prayer. “Be sober, and watch unto prayer.” The first duty enjoined is sobriety—“Be sober.”
$ 1. Sobriety. In the common usage of the English language, the word sobriety is almost exclusively appropriated to denote temperance in drinking, abstinence from the undue use of intoxicating liquors. That this is a Christian duty, there can be no doubt. Drunkenness is enumerated among the works of the flesh, the indulgence in which excludes a man from inheriting the kingdom of God; and the command is most explicit—“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” And there can be as little doubt that this vice is utterly inconsistent with that virtue, which, under the name of sobriety, is in our text, and in so many other passages of Scripture, enjoined.
It is certain, however, that the word sober had a much more extensive signification at the time our translation of the Scripture was made than it has at present; a signification more in accordance with the sense of the original word of which it is the rendering. The word here rendered sober? (for, as we shall immediately see, the word rendered watchful here is often translated sober), is a term which, in its primary signification, refers rather to a physical than to a moral state of the faculties of mind. It signifies to be in the full use of the rational faculties, as opposed to mental alienation or derangement. Thus, it is said of the demoniac who was cured by our Lord, that he was found by his countrymen "sitting, clothed, and in his right mind,”? sober, the same word as used here. The Apostle Paul, in his noble reply to the unmanly interruption of the Roman governor, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning hath made thee mad,” says_“I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak the words of soberness.” My words are not the words of a madman, but of one in full possession of his reason. And, speaking of himself and his apostolic brethren, he says, “Whether we be beside ourselves," that is, act like madmen in the world's estimation, “it is to God,” it is from regard to the will of God, from a desire to promote the cause of God; “ whether we be sober,” that is, act cautiously and prudently, like men in the full possession and exercise of all their faculties, “it is for your sakes;" that is, it is to promote your welfare. 3
This is the primary meaning of the word, and it is likely, with a direct reference to that, that the drunkard is considered as specially unworthy of the appellation sober, of a sound mind. The man who indulges in the undue use of intoxicating liquors behaves like an idiot, a person devoid of “discourse, of reason;" and, by the continued use of them, he brings himself into a state of madness. Certainly, as Solomon says, the man who allows himself to be deceived by wine, that mocker, “is not wise;" and he who carefully avoids the habit, so far proves himself to be a man in his right senses, a man of sane mind.
2 Mark v. 15.
3 Acts xxvi. 24, 25. 2 Cor. v. 13.
The word, however, though originally significant of a physical state of the rational faculties, is usually employed in the New Testament as descriptive of a moral state of the mind. What is its precise signification will best appear from looking at the passages in which it, and the words derived from it, are employed by the sacred writers. The Apostle Paul exhorts every man
“ not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly;" that is, to think justly, and therefore humbly. The same Apostle, in his first Epistle to Timothy, exhorts Christian women, instead of decking themselves with broidered hair and gold, or pearls or costly array, to “ adorn themselves with shamefacedness,” that is, with modesty ; “and with sobriety,”- that is, with prudence and moderation ; and they are required, verse 15, to "continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety," prudence, and gravity. In the 3d chapter of the same Epistle, he tells us “a Christian bishop must be sober,” wise, prudent, moderate. In his second Epistle to Timothy, he describes the spirit or disposition which Christians have received from God, as “ not the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind,” or sobriety. The spirit of Christianity is not a timid, crouching, time-serving spirit; it is an energetic, benignant, wise, moderate spirit. In the Epistle to Titus he states, that “a bishop must be sober,” that is, wise, prudent, moderate; he requires “the aged men to be sober," which is there plainly something different from temperate; he requires the aged women to teach the young women to be “discreet;" and he commands Titus to “exhort the young men also to be sober-minded.” In all these instances sobriety is plainly wisdom, prudence, moderation. In the same Epistle he also states, that “the grace of God, which brings salvation to all, when understood and believed, teaches men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly;" to live wisely in reference to themselves, righteously with regard to their fellow
I Rom. xii. 3.
2 1 Tim. ii. 9.
3 Tit. i. 8; ii. 2, 4, 6, 12, 13.
men, and piously in reference to God. These are all the passages in the New Testament in which the word before us, or those connected with it, are employed; and, on considering them, there can be no great difficulty in determining the meaning of the exhortation before us, “ Be sober.”
Some interpreters consider it an exhortation to prudence, practical wisdom ; others to temperance, in the extensive sense in which that word is employed in the New Testament, moderation in all things, the right regulation of our desires and pursuits. I am strongly disposed to think the Apostle's exhortation includes both of these things, and perhaps something more. I apprehend it is equivalent to, * Exercise a sound mind in reference both to "things seen and temporal,” and to "things unseen and eternal.” not unwise," be not like children; or, if in malice ye be as children, “in understanding be ye as men.” Take heed not to be imposed on. Beware of mistaking shadows for realities, and realities for shadows. Look at things in their comparative importance, and act accordingly. Be sagacious. Be not content with partial views of the subjects in which you have so deep an interest. Look at all sides of a subject. Think before you speak. Reflect before you act. “Walk in wisdom,” that is, wisely, both in regard to those who are within, and those who are without; “ walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." ;
If Christians are thus morally sound-minded, they will discover this in the way in which they think, and feel, and act in reference to this present world. They will show that they have formed a just, and therefore a moderate, sober, estimate both of its goods and evils. They will not inordinately love the one, nor fear the other. They will not rate very high its wealth, its honours, or its pleasures. They will be moderate in their desires to possess these, and moderate in their exertions to obtain them; moderate in their attachment to them while they are possessed of them, and moderate in their regrets for them when they are deprived of them. “ They who have wives will be as if they had