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THE DUTY OF WATCHFULNESS ENFORCED
Mark 13:32-36. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
ON different occasions, but especially at the close of his life, our Lord taught his Disciples to look forward to a future period, when he would assuredly come again. He specified two objects for which he would come; the one was, to destroy Jerusalem; and the other, to judge the world: and, inasmuch as the former of these advents was typical of the other, he blended them both together, and thereby raised in them an expectation that they should take place at the same time. The truth is, that though the one was accomplished within forty years, and the other, notwithstanding almost eighteen hundred years have already past, remains yet to be accomplished at some distant and unknown period, they are both equally present in the mind of God, “with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years.” And it is also true, that the day of death is to every man, in effect, as the day of judgment: so that the union of the two periods in their minds, notwithstanding their distance from each other, was strictly just, as it respected God, and highly salutary as it respected them. Not but that our Lord did make a clear distinction between the two periods: for in ver. 30, he says, “This generation shall not pass till all these things (relative to the destruction of Jerusalem) be done; and then, in a way of contrast, he adds, “But of that day and that, hour, namely, the Day of Judgment, knoweth no man.” It is in reference to this latter period that he speaks in the words of our text; in discoursing on which we shall consider,
The duty inculcated—
Watchfulness and prayer are often united in the Holy Scriptures as duties of the first importance. In themselves they are different; but in their exercise they are inseparable: neither would be of any avail without the other: prayer without watchfulness would be hypocritical; and watchfulness without prayer, presumptuous. We shall therefore combine the duties, as though it had been said, Watch in the exercise of prayer. And that we may yet further simplify the subject, we shall not enter into a detail of particulars, but rather follow the general ideas of our text; and shew,
What we should watch and pray against—
[Here we must include every thing which has a tendency to lull us asleep. We see how intent men are on all the things of time and sense: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, so occupy them, that they find no time nor inclination for spiritual concerns — — —
Against these then we should “watch and pray:” we should watch, to prevent them from gaining an ascendant over our hearts; and cry mightily to God to keep us from yielding to their influence. Seeing how the whole world is led captive by them, we should tremble for ourselves; and day and night intreat God rather to leave us destitute of all earthly things, than to give us over to the love of them, or suffer them to deprive us of eternal happiness — — —]
What we should watch and pray for—
[To be found ready, at whatever moment our Lord shall call for us, should be the one object of our ambition. With this view, we should seek to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but that which is of God through faith in Christ. Not content with a general hope of acceptance through Christ, we should wash our every sin, yea our every duty also, in the fountain of his blood, which must cleanse us from the “iniquity even of our holiest actions.” We should seek also to “be renewed in the spirit of our minds,” and to be transformed into “the image of our God in righteousness and true holiness.” No attainments should ever satisfy us: if we were as holy as Paul himself, we should, like him, “forget the things that are behind, and reach forward towards that which is before.” With a view to progressive holiness, we should carefully “abide in Christ,” “living by faith on him,” and receiving daily out of his fulness grace for grace: assured, that without him we can do nothing, but through him shall be enabled to do all things. In a word, we should seek to be ever ready to meet our God; yea, to be “looking for, and hasting unto the coming of that day,” when we shall be summoned to his tribunal, and receive our eternal doom — — —
For the attainment of this happy frame of mind, we should be watching our progress in the Divine life, and praying day and night to God to perfect in us the work that he has begun — — —]
Let us next attend to,
The considerations with which it is enforced—
These may be comprehended in the two following:
The uncertainty of the time when our Lord shall call us—
[The time of the general judgment is unknown to the holy angels; nor was it revealed even to the Messiah himself for the purpose of communicating it to us [Note: As God, one with the Father, he knew all things; but as the Mediator, he received his instructions from the Father, and delivered nothing but what he had before received. John 14:31.Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:1.]. And there was good reason why it should be concealed; because if it had been represented as at a great distance of time, men might have become secure; whereas the idea of its speedy arrival tended to quicken all to holy exertion. In like manner the uncertainty of the time of our death has a very salutary effect; since it necessitates us to be always ready. The idea of a man going a long journey, and leaving his servants their appointed work, and ordering them to expect him every moment till they see him, justly illustrates this point. There is not a moment of our lives when we may sit down secure. The night was divided into four watches, which terminated at evening, at midnight, at the cock-crowing, and in the morning. Now at no one of these periods are we sure that we shall not be summoned into the presence of our God.
What a consideration is this to enforce the duty in our text! Who that reflects one moment on the possibility of his being called this night to the judgment-seat of Christ, must not desire to be found in the exercise of watchfulness and prayer? — — —]
The awfulness of being found in a sleeping state—
[In the parable of the Ten Virgins we are informed what we must assuredly expect, if we indulge in careless security; we shall be shut out from the marriage-supper of our Lord, and be “cast into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It will be to no purpose to plead, that we were not engaged in any wicked projects. We were “slothful servants,” and therefore are justly regarded as “wicked:” we were unprepared, and therefore are justly cut off from all further opportunity to prepare for our great account; we treated heaven with contempt, and therefore we are consigned to the miseries of hell — — —
Who that contemplates these tremendous consequences, must not determine with God’s help to watch and pray through the whole remainder of his days? — — —]
Our Lord’s concluding admonition, “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,” will lead us to address some different descriptions of persons:
[Is so much of your time gone, and will you not improve the remainder? — — —]
[What security have you against death, that you should delay so necessary a work? — — —]
[God sends you afflictions on purpose to awaken you from your slumbers, and to stir you up to heavenly pursuits: What an aggravation will it be of your guilt, if these dispensations pass away unimproved!]
[What an awful thing is it, that, instead of having advanced in the Divine life, you have lost in a good measure the life which you once had! Attend to God’s admonition to the Church of Sardis, lest he execute upon you the judgment that he threatened to inflict on them [Note: Revelation 3:2-3.] — — —]
The more steadfast Christian—
[Experience proves that the exhortation to “watch” is not less necessary for you than for others. How many who are on the whole pious, grieve, by their unwatchfulness, their Divine Master! Be on your guard against such a slothful way of seeking him as his Bride was found guilty of [Note: Song of Solomon 3:1.]; nor think to justify your sloth by such frivolous excuses as were urged by her [Note: Song of Solomon 5:2-3.]. If you act like her, like her you will reap the bitter fruits in the hidings of his face [Note: Song of Solomon 3:1-4; Song of Solomon 5:2-6.]. To you then no less than to others I would say, “Sleep not as do others, but watch and be sober [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8.].”]
WE SHOULD WATCH FOR OUR LORD’S SECOND COMING
Mark 13:37. What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
GOD is pleased to speak to us, not only in his word, but by the dispensations of his providence. Calamities, whether foreign or domestic, whether public or personal, are sent by him to awaken our drowsy consciences, and to stir us up to a remembrance of our latter end. By all of them, whether menaced only, or actually inflicted, he addresses us, as Jesus did his Disciples (whom he had forewarned of the evils coming upon Jerusalem, and hereafter also upon the whole world), “Watch therefore, for ye know not when the Master of the house cometh.”
On a subject like this we should in vain attempt to speak any thing new. But though we may do no more than remind you of truths with which you are already well acquainted, it will not be unprofitable for me to suggest to your thoughts,
The uncertainty of the time when our Lord will come to judgment—
[Our Lord, in illustrating what he had been speaking respecting the day of judgment, compares himself to a master leaving his house, and appointing his servants their work, and commanding his porter to watch, in order to admit him without delay at whatever moment he should return. He represents the precise time of his return to judgment as unknown to men, or angels, or even to himself; (so far at least, that the Holy Spirit, by which he was anointed to his prophetic office, had not communicated it to him as any part of the revelation which he was to make known to men;) and from thence inculcates the necessity of incessant watchfulness. Now, as the time of death is to us the commencement of our eternal state, and as it is equally unknown to us as the judgment itself, we shall direct our attention more particularly to that.
But what shall we say on such a subject as this? It needs neither proof nor elucidation: nor can any words make the uncertainty of life more evident, than the observation and experience of every man have already made it. We appeal to your observation of what takes place around you: does not our Lord call men to death and judgment at every age, and often when his summons is least expected? — — — We appeal to your experience: can you not recal to your minds many accidents which might have proved fatal? and do you not see, that you are yet liable every day and hour to be taken away by disease or accident? — — —]
Instead of dwelling on so obvious a truth, we will endeavour to point out,
Our duty arising from this consideration—
Thrice in the space of a few verses does our Lord repeat the same injunction, “Watch [Note: See ver. 33.].” To enforce this, we would say,
Expect the second coming of your Lord—
[Put not from you, as you are too apt to do, the thoughts of death and judgment, but cherish them in your minds, and labour to get them impressed upon your hearts. Reflect upon their uncertainty, as to the precise period of their arrival, their nearness, their awfulness; and keep yourselves, as it were, in the daily and hourly expectation of them — — —]
Prepare to meet him—
[Two things are indispensable for all who would behold his face in peace, namely, “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” These must be experienced by you — — — neither the one nor the other can be dispensed with — — — Get a deep repentance therefore, and a lively faith: and rest not in any state short of that which the Scriptures require, and the primitive Christians actually attained.]
Guard against any measure of drowsiness which may interrupt or render doubtful your preparation for him—
[It will be a fearful thing if the Master of the house “should find you sleeping.” Yet who amongst us is not apt at times to be “weary in well-doing?” “The Wise Virgins, as well as the Foolish, slumbered and slept:” yea, even the Apostles slept, when our Lord had bidden them watch. We should therefore “exhort one another daily, and so much the more as we see the day approaching:” and, instead of giving way to sloth, should use all possible means, to “strengthen the things which remain that are ready to die.”]
[How many continue such in spite of all the warnings which they have received from sickness in themselves, or the sudden deaths of others! But what will they think of their conduct, when once they are taken hence? If any one of us knew that a thief would certainly come this very night to break into his house, would he lay himself down to sleep as at other times? Should we not watch, and use our utmost efforts to frustrate his designs [Note: Matthew 24:43.]? Why then do we not act thus in reference to our souls? Are our souls of less value than our property, or the concerns of time than those of eternity? Are not the consequences of unwatchfulness sufficiently awful [Note: Mat 24:48-51]? And is not our real danger increased, rather than diminished, in proportion to our security [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:3.Proverbs 6:9-11; Proverbs 6:9-11.]? To every one then who is unconcerned about his eternal state, and unprepared to meet his God, we address the reproof which even heathen mariners gave to a prophet of the Lord? “What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise and call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon thee, and thou perish not [Note: John 1:6.].”]
[Pardon the term: it is but too appropriate to the states of many, who, if good wishes would carry them to heaven, would not come short of it; but, when God calls them to run, and strive, and wrestle, and fight, will not exert themselves in the way that he requires. Nevertheless God’s word is true; “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force:” “Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able:” none shall succeed but those who “strive.” Guard then against the fate of the Foolish Virgins, who were not aware of their want of divine grace, till it was too late to obtain it [Note: Matthew 25:8-13.]. Let the Apostle’s exhortation sink down into your ears [Note: Romans 13:11-14.], and adopt instantly the resolution of the prophet, “I will stand upon my watch-tower, and will watch to see what God will say to me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved [Note: Habakkuk 2:1.].”]
The professing people of God—
[Think not yourselves above the exhortation in our text: “What we say unto some, we must say unto all, Watch.” See what a caution our blessed Lord addressed to his own Apostles [Note: Luke 21:34-36.]: and then say, whether any caution can be too strong for you. Many who have appeared to run well, have turned back again; and not a few have died without ever returning to the good way from which they have departed. Be ye then on your guard, “lest, having known the way of righteousness, ye turn from the Holy Commandment delivered unto you.” Beware of imitating the slothful conduct of the Spouse in Solomon’s Song, lest, like her, you provoke your heavenly Friend to depart from you [Note: Song of Solomon 3:1; Song of Solomon 5:2-6.]. Watch unto prayer with habitual persevering earnestness [Note: Ephesians 6:18.]. You know the truths we have insisted on; act therefore agreeably to them, and to your holy profession [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8.]. “Have your loins continually girt, and your lamps trimmed, and yourselves as those who wait for the coming of their Lord [Note: Supposing this were a Funeral Sermon for a truly pious person, some little mention of his character might be made here.].”
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Mark 13". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany