An Observation Of The Preacher
“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”
SOME translators read this passage, “Better is the end of a speech than the beginning thereof.” And I doubt not thatmany of my hearers quite concur in that opinion. You endeavor to be patient when we begin, but as soon as we utter the word, “finally,” your eyes begin to glisten, for the tedious exercise, you think, will soon be over! And if it is so to the hearers, I grant you it is sometimes so to the speaker! A speaker sometimes finds it difficult to begin, more difficult tocontinue to edification , not difficult to come to a close, but often exceedingly pleasant to do so. Well, doubtless many ayoung preacher can remember when he first tried to speak–how much better he felt the end of the speech to be than the beginning! Like the young acrobat, walking upon a rope on high who tremblingly launches forth and timidly puts one foot after the other until he reaches the end of his dangerous task, he was relieved to sit down! Far better was the end of the speech than the beginning thereof.
I do not think that is a correct version, or a proper translation, but it is a great truth, for if a man should speak what is mischievous, it is a good thing when he has done. It is better that he should have done with it than that he should be continuing in his idle and dangerous talk. And if a man speaks well and is a good ambassador–and has good tidings to deliver–it is better that he should have delivered them and fulfilled his mission. Now you have advanced one stage. You have received a truth on which your souls can feed. And it is better to have received it, than not to have received it–and hence the end is better than the beginning.
I think we must take the text as it stands with a grain or two of salt. It is relatively rather than absolutely true. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.” That is true, or we would not find it in Scripture. But the application of its truth is particular, not universal. There are some things which are worse in their ending than in their beginning. It is true, I believe, of all things which proceed according to God’s order, when God begins them and God ends them, or when they are begun by God’s direction, conducted in God’s fear and ended in God’s Presence. In such cases I say the end is better than the beginning–but the text must not be taken to be absolutely and indiscriminately true in all cases. With a grain or two of salt, however, I think it is a maxim worthy of Solomon.
“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.” Some pictures in nature will illustrate this. We compare the beginning and the end. The sower goes forth on a damp and drizzling morning with his handful of precious seed which he is loath to spare. And as he scatters it, the rough wind blows into his face and the frost bites his cheek and, literally, it may be said that he “sows in tears.” The beginning, therefore, is by no means pleasant. Then comes the harvest home, with the songs and dances of smiling damsels and joyous swains, when the produce of the fields is safely housed–that is the end thereof. I think that everyone can see that the harvest is better than the seedtime! Or a man starts forth upon a long journey. He takes a staff in his hand. He prepares himself to climb yonder crags. The storm will come on, but he must press through it. There will be brooks swollen with the rains, but he must pass through them all. Summoning courage to his aid, he surmounts every obstacle. He comes in all flushed with the healthy exercise. He has climbed yonder crags, he has passed through the brooks, he has braved the storm and now he comes to the blazing fire to sit down and rest himself, for the journey is over. “Better,” says the traveler, “is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. Toil came but now toil is sweetened, for I look back upon it and can take my rest.” Or see the good ship as the dock gates are opened and she is drawn out into the river. Flags are flying and everyone cheers those who are about to make a venturesome voyage to the East Indies. See her, however, coming back up the river, well loaded, going into dock–and ask the captain, who remembers the rough weather as he passed the Cape, and the storm just as he came off the Peninsula–and he will tell you that he likes coming up the river much better than going down! Coming home with his ship well freighted, after a prosperous voyage, he says, with thanks to God, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”
One more picture. An army of soldiers goes forth to war. Can you look upon them with pleasure? I know that you crowd the streets and shout as they march down your thoroughfares and, truly, it is a thrilling sight to see the stalwart heroes as they go forth to fight their country’s battles. But when you think of the number of those brave men who may lie dead on the battleground, and how few may ever return, I am sure, to say the least, it is not a pleasant sight. But when those brave men who have escaped the storm and crash of battle return to their native land and again pass through the streets, they feel, if the spectators do not, that better is the end of war than the beginning thereof! Someone once said he thought there was never a good war and never a bad peace. And I believe to a very great extent he was right. Peace is of itself an inestimable blessing, and war in itself, whether just or unjust, is a most terrific scourge. So whether you see the sower in the field, or the traveler starting on his journey, or the voyager launching upon the deep, or the warrior going forth to the fight–you are ready to think that, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.” I have given you these four pictures because I shall want to use them as I turn from natural things to more spiritual things.
- Let me use this general principle tonight, in the first place, TO SOOTHE YOUR REGRETS.
This year has all but gone. 1864, then, must soon be numbered with the things that were. Perhaps someone says, “Would to God that I had this year to live over again! I have missed many opportunities of doing good or, when I have availed myself of them, I have not served my God as I could have desired. I have another year less in which to serve the Church, the world and my God. I have spent another of my talents and have so much fewer to put out to usury for my Lord and Master.” Now, do not regret, dear Friend, that the year has passed. It should rather be to you, if you are a believer in Christ, a subject for congratulation! Would you wish to have the year over again, when in sober silence you meditate upon the subject? You have had some sorrows this year. You are like the sailor I spoke of just now–you have passed through some storms. Weather-beaten mariner, would you like to have the storms of this year over again? Do you remember that dreadful night when the ship was driven so fearfully by the tempest, or the time when you were cast upon the rocks–and would you like to endure the same again? I see you shake your head and say, “No! Thank God we weathered that storm, but we don’t want it again.” And, Christians, as you think of the losses, crosses, sufferings and bereavements which you have had during this year, can you feel any regrets that it is gone? Must not each one of you say, “I thank God that stormy voyage is over and I have not those tempests to endure”?
How many snares have you escaped during the past year? In looking back, must you not observe that your feet have sometimes almost gone and your steps have well-near slipped? There have been times when sin had almost tripped you up, when the world had almost taken you in its trap and when the devil had all but wounded you in a mortal part. You are like a sailor who remembers the rocks by which he has sailed and the quicksands from which he has escaped. Would you wish to run such risks again? Do you wish, sailor, to go again over the bar at such a low tide, or to be drifted so unpleasantly near that rock as almost to grate against it? “No,” he says, “having escaped those dangers, I am thankful that they are over and have no wish to have them over again.” And are you not grateful, Christian, that another year of temptation has gone forever and that the arrows that Satan has shot at you this year, he can shoot at you no more? Those sword-cuts we received which threatened to be mortal, we shall never have to dread again! They are gone and when I say they are gone, it is implied that their mischief and their power to hurt are gone forever.
But there is another side to this matter. What a multitude of mercies you have enjoyed this year! How good God has been to us!–
“When all Your mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys–
Transported with the view,
I’m lost In wonder, love and praise.”
Those of us who have traveled in Switzerland, or in other countries where the views are glorious to look upon, would not wish that we had never seen them. On the contrary, we are glad that our eyes have feasted on those sunny prospects. And privilege to have enjoyed such favors. There is another reason, then, why you should not regret that the year has passed. I address myself to some who are growing gray. I know there is a tendency in your minds to regret that so many years have gone, but, my dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, if you should do so, I think you would be guilty of a folly unworthy of a Believer with such a long experience! Take John Bunyan’s picture of the Christian’s progress. He describes Christian as starting on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City with a burden on his back that pressed him down, wringing his hands for fear and running because he is afraid that he will be destroyed in the City of Destruction. He has not gone a day’s journey before he is up to his neck in the Slough of Despond and floundering in the mire! This is the beginning of the pilgrimage, but look at the end–he has come to the river, he dips his foot into it and though it is chill and cold, it does not stop him. When he gets midway in the river, how does Bunyan picture him? The angels beckon him from the other side–those very angels whose voices he had heard ringing clear and sweet across the stream when he wandered in the groves of Beulah and sat among the spices there. And now he reaches the bank on the other side and, leaving his sins, his doubts, his infirmities and his mortality behind, his disembodied spirit goes up to the celestial land and angel attendants conduct him to the pearly gates of the golden-paved city! Oh, infinitely better is the end of a spiritual life than the beginning! Contrast the Slough of Despond with the Celestial City and human intellect cannot fail to see how much better, how infinitely better, the end is than the beginning!
Take this picture as a further illustration of the same point–Moses at the beginning of his spiritual career is seen killing an Egyptian and burying him in the sand–just like a young Christian, full of zeal, but having little prudence. There is the beginning of his public career. And now I think I see the old man of 120 years, firm of step, with an eye as clear and piercing as an eagle’s, standing up to address the people whom he has carried, as nursing mother, in his arms! And, having done this, leaving Joshua, his familiar servant, and all others behind, he began to climb to the top of Pisgah. He has mounted to its loftiest crag and, leaning over, he begins to take a full view of the Promised Land. He sees the palm trees of Jerusalem and Zion, and his eyes linger on Bethlehem–he catches glimpses of the blue sea afar off, and the goodly land of Lebanon. And as he looks, one scene melts into the other and he sees the face of God, for God, Himself, has come down and his spirit is taken away with a kiss. As to his body, it is buried where no man knows–but as to his soul, it is with God forever! Truly, in the case of Moses, better was the end than the beginning, and such shall be the spiritual end of every man of God who with the simplicity and faith of Moses, can put his trust in God. I think this is sufficient to soothe all your regret! Instead of being sorry that these years have passed, thank God for them and be glad.
II. I shall now use this general principle to endeavor to STOP YOUR FOREBODINGS.
It may be that many of you are in darkness–darkness which may be felt. You find it very difficult to accept the truth that God is a God of Love and One who cares for you. You are, however, only at the beginning–the beginning of the ways of Providence. Your poor faith is ready to be staggered by the sufferings you endure and unbelief prophesies ten thousand things to fill your soul with doubts and alarms–but the end of all this shall be better than the beginning! Many Christians have more trials in the earlier part of their spiritual life than they will ever have afterwards. “It, is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” You must not consider, because the sun is just now behind a cloud, that it will always be there. It was a little child who said when there was an eclipse, “Father, the sun is put out.” It was only a child who said that–no man thought so. Let your riper experience correct the childishness of your unbelief. God only hides His face to show it more clearly, by-and-by. The end shall be better than the beginning. Have you not often seen a day which, early in the morning, was heavy with fog and rain? As it came on, we waited patiently and anxiously, for we wished for fine weather–but those incessant drops of rain still fell. We looked to the wind quarter and to the rain quarter, we looked with hope and then with fear, but the drops fell unceasingly and there seemed to be no chance of intermission. And yet, before noon had come we had seen the sun shining brightly and we have heard the birds singing more sweetly–and it has been fair weather after rain. Take that morning as a prophecy to your poor, doubting, troubled soul of what your path in life will yet be. You shall yet see that the end is better than the beginning.
Take one picture as an illustration and then I will leave this point. Poor Joseph has been slandered by his mistress. His character is under serious imputation. He is put into the round house by Potiphar–he is a prisoner and must have prisoner’s fare. And yet I think that Joseph had never sat upon the throne of Egypt if he had not been put into the dungeon. You must “stoop to conquer” and, like gold, you must be put in the burning coals that you may be refined. But you shall soon come out and, like that gold, when you shall glitter with purity you shall know that “better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”
III. And now let us use this simple statement of the text TO ENCOURAGE OUR FAITH.
The way of sense is to get everything now. The worldly manlives on the present–the Christian lives on the future. It will always greatly strengthen faith if we, according to God’s Word, look not so much at present appearances as at the issue of our lives which is to make amends for all the toils and disappointments we experience at the commencement of our career. So surely as God has called you to be a partaker of the Kingdom, you must renounce the pleasures of this present world. Look at your Lord and Master. Look at His beginning. “He was despised and rejected of men; a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Remember Gethsemane’s blood and sweat, and Gabbatha’s terrible flagellation, and Golgotha’s mount of doom? This is the beginning. Would you see the end?–
“The head that once was crowned with thorns,
Is crowned with Glory now.”
The mighty Victor drags death and Hell at His triumphant chariot wheels! He mounts His Father’s Throne and amidst the acclamations of men and angels, He sits down forever and all His enemies shall be made His footstool! This is the end, or rather, this is the beginning of the end, for the splendors of the millennium, the Second Advent, and the eternal honors which shall be cast at Jesus' feet, these are the end. How much better is the glorious end than the sorrowful beginning! “As He Is, so are we, also, in this world.” You must take the manger, or you shall never take the throne! You must have the Cross, or you shall never wear the crown! You must be despised and rejected, or you shall never be accepted and crowned! You must wade through the mire, or you shall never walk the golden pavement! Cheer up, then, poor Christian! Let this Truth of God be a stay to your soul just now, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.”
I will give you two illustrations and then leave this point. You see that creeping worm, how contemptible is its appearance! You wish to sweep it away–that is the beginning of the thing. You see that insect with gorgeous wings playing in the sunbeams, sipping at the flower bells and full of happiness and life–that is the end thereof. That worm, that caterpillar, that maggot, if you will, is you! And you are to be content with that until you are wrapped up in the chrysalis of death. But you cannot tell what you shall be after death. All that we know is that when Christ shall appear, “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Be content to be like He, a worm, a caterpillar in the beginning that, like He, you may be satisfied when you wake up in His present likeness!
Again, you see that rough-looking diamond–it is put upon the wheel of the lapidary. With much care he begins to turn it and to cut it on all sides It loses much–much that seemed to itself costly. Do you see it now? The king is to be crowned, the diadem is put upon the monarch’s head with the trumpet’s joyful sound. There is a glittering ray which flows from that diadem and it comes from that very diamond which was cut just now by the lapidary. You, Christian, may venture to compare yourself to such a diamond, for you are one of God’s jewels. And this is the time of the cutting process. You must endure it. Be of good courage and murmur not. Let faith and patience do their perfect work. In the day when the crown shall be set upon the head of “the King eternal, immortal, invisible,” one ray of glory shall stream from you, for you shall be His! “You shall be Mine,” says the Lord, “in the day when I make up My jewels.”
IV. Have patience with me, in the next place, while I use my text TO SUGGEST ACTION.
It is very clear that we cannot have an ending if we have not a beginning. However bright our end might be, we can never know it experimentally unless we begin. The text therefore, suggests the question to each one of us, “Have I begun? Has God begun with me?” The beginning may be dark and gloomy, but you can never have a bright ending without it. I know the beginning will involve the sacrifice of many pleasures and the giving up of friends –“so-called, but you cannot have an ending with the saints of God in Heaven unless you have a beginning with the poor and afflicted of His family on earth! I wonder whether there are some with whom God will begin now. It will be a blessed thing if He should begin with you, but it will be a far more blessed thing for you when He comes to the end. It. will be so blessed, if you should, tonight, be led by the Holy Spirit to direct your eyes with faith to Christ that the very angels before the House of God shall have a merrier Christmas because of your conversion! [See Sermon #2791, Volume 48–A HIGH DAY IN HEAVEN –Read/download the entire sermon, free of charge, at http://www.spurgeongems.org.] Can I be mistaken in that notion? Did not our LordJesus Christ say, concerning the shepherd who had found his sheep which was lost. "When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors,” (who are they but the angels who are the friends and neighbors of Christ in Heaven?) “saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance.” In Heaven they sing more and with a more joyful song when sinners turn from the error of their ways. I wonder whether tonight will be a time for “beginning” with some of you? Oh, if the Spirit of God is now teaching you your sinnership, if you feel that you are lost and ruined, I have to remind you that on the Cross of Calvary, there hung a bleeding Savior and that–
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One”–
and the moment you glance at Him by faith, the good beginning comes to you! But, oh, it were vain for fancy to attempt to describe the ending when the angel convoy shall bear your ransomed spirit upward to be beatified forever and to be full of eternal life and joy in the Presence of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. May God begin thus with some of you tonight!
- And now to close–THE TEXT SUGGESTS A MOST SOLEMN ENQUIRY and the enquiry for each one of us is this–If my life were to come to an end tonight, would my end be better than my beginning? I said when I began that my text must have some salt with it–and here I must use the salt. There are some things that are best in the beginning and worst at the end. There is, yonder, the sinner’s feast. Bring in the dishes. Fill the goblets with sparkling wine–drink deep and sing right merrily. The lute and the harp are there and the feasters stand up and shout and sing. But what is that I see? As the night wears away and the morning light streams in through the windows, “who has woe? Who has redness of the eyes?” Truly, the end of such feasts is worse than the beginning! And in that ward of foul disease where they seem to sweep together the rank refuse of what once was beauty, exceedingly fair to look upon, truly we learn the lesson that in some cases the end is worse than the beginning. Beware, you that go to the house of strange women, lest you find that the end thereof is infinitely worse than the beginning! Stop your feet before they enter there, lest you go like a bullock to the slaughter, or a fool to the stocks. And if that one walk is so notoriously worse in the end than it is in the beginning, such, likewise, is every walk of sin. See the greedy man as he accumulates money! Look at the beginning ofit–he puts out his money to interest and makes out his bonds. He takes security for debts and calls houses and streets after his name. And then see the end of it. The old man is haggard and wan. He cannot count his wealth, yet he fears he will die in the workhouse. And when he thinks, in those intervals when his senses come back and he realizes his own self, it is always with the shuddering thought, “I must part with you, my treasures. I must part with you all and go back to my mother earth as naked as I came into it.” So that, you see, there are times when the ending of a thing is a great deal worsethan the beginning.
Someone will doubtless say, “I am not like these men. I am neither debauched nor avaricious.” Well, I will take you at the best. Here is your beginning–you are a respectable attendant at a place of worship–you go because others go, not because your heart is right with God. This is your beginning. I will suppose that for the next 20 or 30 years you will be spared to go on as you do now, professing religion as far as outward attendance upon the means of Grace will make a profession, but having no heart in the matter. Shall I show you your end? Be hushed and silent, tread softly, for I must show you the deathbed of such an one as yourself! Let us gaze upon him gently. Let us not disturb him. A clammy sweat is on his brow and he wakes up and cries, “O God, it is hard to die!” He says to his friends, “Did you send for my minister?… "Yes, he is coming.” The minister comes and the poor fellow says to him, “Sir, I fear that I am dying.” “Haveyou any hope?” “I cannot say that I have any. I shall have to stand before my God–oh, pray for me!” The prayer is offered for him with sincere earnestness and the way of salvation is for the ten thousandth time put before him. But before he has grasped the rope, I see him sink. Shall I picture the scene further? I may put my finger upon those eyelids, for they will never see anything here again. But where is the man and where are the man’s true eyes? Christ said of the rich man, “In Hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”
And it is so with this man. But why did he not lift up his eyes before? Because he got so accustomed to hear the Gospel that his soul went to sleep under it! He cannot sleep now–“being in torments.” There is no sleep in Hell. Oh, what a blessing sleep would be if it could enter the habitation of the damned! Alas, if any of you should lift up your eyes there, what a sight you will behold! Here, if you drop off to sleep and wake up in the Tabernacle, you see the faces of attentive listeners hearing words of mercy–there, when first you lift up your eyes, you will gaze into visages more marred with pain than any you have ever seen before! And if you ask them the cause of their awful grief and why agony, as with a red-hot plowshare, has made such deep furrows in their cheeks, they will tell you that you need not ask them, for you will soon learn the reason yourself! I cannot picture it. Let the Savior’s own Words tell you the terrible Truth of God–“The rich man cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.” There is a frightful meaning in those words! May you never have to spell it out by the red light of Jehovah’s wrath!–
“You sinners, seek His Grace,
Whose wrath you cannot bear!
Fly to the shelter of His Cross,
And find salvation there!”
Before this last Sabbath of the year closes, I pray that the Lord may come down in mercy and visit those who have not yet received Christ, that of them it may be truly said, “Better is the end of this year than the beginning thereof .” God grantit for Jesus' sake! Amen.