Watching Unto Prayer
by Robert Murray M'Cheyne
"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer" (1 Peter 4:7)
1. OBSERVE where a believer stands. He stands within sight of the end of all things. He stands upon a watch-tower, high above the noise and the cares of this present evil world. Things temporal are beneath his feet, things eternal are spread out before him. This is the Bible description of a believer, "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen" (2 Corinthians 4:18). Consider how short the whole of a lifetime is. From the cradle to the grave is but a few steps. "The days of our years are threescore years and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow, for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." The half of men die before the age of twenty. Even when men lived many hundred years, it was but a span—a moment, compared to eternity. Methuselah lived 969 years, and he died. "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle. My days are swifter than a post. They are passed away as the swift ships. As the eagle hasteth to the prey."
The time of this world's continuance is short, "The end of all things is at hand". A little while, and the day of grace will be done. Preaching and praying will soon be over. The last sabbath sun will soon set. "My Spirit shall not always strive with men." Soon ministers will give over wrestling with the unbelieving world. A little while and the number of believers shall be complete. We shall come "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ". The parting cry of Christ was, "Surely I come quickly". Soon the sky shall open over our heads, and Christ shall come. A little while, and we shall stand before the great white throne. A little while, and the wicked shall not be. We shall see them going away into everlasting punishment. A little while, and the work of eternity shall be begun. We shall serve him day and night in His temple.
2. Observe the duties of a believer. "Be sober, and watch unto prayer."
(i) Be sober. Let nothing dim the eye that is looking on eternal realities. Let nothing engross the heart that is already given away to Christ. Sit loose to the dearest objects in this world. Brainerd mentions an instance of a poor Indian woman who, after her conversion, was resigned to the divine will in the most tender points. She was asked, "What if God should take away your husband from you, how do you think you could bear that?". She replied, "He belongs to God and not to me. He may do with him just as He pleases." An old divine says, "Build your nest upon no tree here; for you see God hath sold the forest to death, and every tree whereon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may flee, and mount up, and build upon the rock, and dwell in the holes of the rock".
Be sober in the griefs of this world. Weep as though you wept not. This world is the vale of tears. It is a Bochim. There are always some mourning. No sooner is the tear dried up on one cheek than it trickles down another. Still the believer should be sober and chastened in his grief. Weep not for those that died in the Lord; they are not lost, bur gone before. The sun, when it sets, is not lost; it is gone to shine in another hemisphere. And so have they gone to "shine like the sun, in the kingdom of their Father". Weep not for those who died out of the Lord. When Aaron lost his two sons, "Aaron held his peace". Weep not over bodily pains and losses. Murmur not. Be sober. If you are in Christ, these are all the hell you will ever bear. When we win to the presence of Jesus, all our griefs shall look like children's griefs. A day in His banqueting house will make you "forget your poverty, and remember your misery no more".
Sit loose to this world's enjoyments. Be sober. In a little while you will be at your Father's table above, drinking the wine new with Christ, you will meet with all your brothers and sisters in the Lord, you will have pure joy in God through ceaseless ages. Do not be much taken with the joys that are here. If ever you are so much engrossed with any enjoyment here that it takes away your love for prayer, or for your Bible, or that it would frighten you to hear the cry, Behold the Bridegroom cometh—then your heart is "overcharged". You are abusing this world.
(ii) Watch. "Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Nothing is more difficult than to watch. We are naturally like him who said, "a little more sleep, and a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep". One thing is essential to all true watching—the gift of the Holy Spirit. "Anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3:18). Take out the beam that is in thine own eye. Not only abstain from dimming the spiritual eye, but dear it. what shall I watch? Watch the work of grace in thine own soul. Has God cast the seed into the field of thine heart? Then see if the blade appear, or the ear, or the full corn in the ear. Has your soul been made a vineyard of red wine? Then say often to your Beloved, "Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appears, and the pomegranates bud forth" (Song 7:12). Watch thine enemies. You have enemies within, and enemies without. Many seek to take thy crown. "Cast all your care upon the Lord, for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." Watch the Redeemer's cause. The disciples slept while Jesus' body sweated drops of blood. Many disciples do the same in our day. Lie not on a bed of ivory while Joseph is in affliction. Be one of the "watchmen over the walls of Jerusalem" (Isaiah 62). Be one of those who watch for the morning.
(iii) Watch unto prayer. Some watch and pray not. Right watching quickens prayer. Seest thou the wants, corruptions, infirmities, backslidings, temptations of thine own spirit, the heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yea, unsearchably wicked to human eye. Watch unto prayer. Let the eye look within, and then above. Seest thou the cause of Jesus bleeding, Israel turning back before their enemies, plants of the Lord's planting withering, many walking no more with Jesus, Ephesus losing her first love, Laodicea turning lukewarm, ministers fainting in the day of adversity, Jonah fleeing from the presence of the Lord, the hands of Moses weary, Amalek prevailing against Israel? "Watch unto prayer."
Seest thou a spring-time of love, Immanuel coming over the mountains of Bether, winter departing, flowers appearing, showers of blessing falling? "Watch unto prayer." Soon Scotland's day of grace will be ended. "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain." Hearest thou Ephraim bemoaning himself, the dry bones of Israel shaking, saints loving her stones? Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; never hold thy peace day nor night, give Him no rest—"Watch unto prayer."
Taken from Helps to Devotion
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