Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.

“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”

I Peter 4:7

On the one hand, New Year’s Eve is apt to be an hour of reminiscence.* It is apt to be an hour in which we are inclined to glance back upon the way which we have traveled. Another year has again passed by. A year with many and various experiences. A year of joy and of sorrow, of laughter and of tears, of prosperity and of adversity, of health and of sickness, of life and of death. Children were born; others were taken away by the hand of death. Not only of them who reached an old age, but also of them who were still in the prime of life, the Lord took some away. There were defeats as well as victories. We laughed, and we wept; we rejoiced, and we groaned. That always characterizes our way and existence, as long as we are in this valley of tears.

When we look back upon our way as a church, then we must confess that there was much sin and much unfaithfulness on our part. But on God’s part there was nothing but love and faithfulness, if we have but eyes to see it. It really makes no difference whether our days were days of joy or of sorrow, of gladness or of mourning, of laughter or of tears, always the mercy of the Lord was with us. On His part we can see nothing but goodness and faithfulness.

But an evening like this also reminds us of the end. At least it seems so to us. From this point of view, the end of the year is typical of the end of our life. And it is typical of the end of time and of all the things that are seen. Not only does New Year’s Eve remind us of the end, but we are also strongly impressed with the fact that the end is near. How near the end of the year 1938 seems to the beginning of it. Time goes fast. We like to have time go fast. We do not like to have time hang on our hands. This simply means that time is crowded. It is filled to capacity. It is full with events that take place successively.When we think of these things, we are reminded of the words of our text: “the end of all things is at hand.” The practical conclusion is: “be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”

The End

The text speaks of the end of all things: “The end of all things is at hand.” Some say that the apostle is thinking of the end of the Israelitish people, that he is speaking of the destruction of Israel as a nation. But there is in the text and context nothing to suggest such an interpretation. When the Bible speaks of all things, it refers to all things in the heavens and on earth, as we know them. It refers to things as they have become through sin.

Included, in the first place, is time. Time, for us, is an uninterrupted succession of moments. All things that exist in time are also included. Whatever there is, whatever exists — the sun, the moon, the stars, the things on earth, and the earth itself — belongs to those things of which the apostle speaks when he says, “the end of all things is at hand.” Not only the things which are in the earth, but also whatever is done in the earth is included in these “all things.” All the labor, all the art, all the science, all the inventions are included. The end of all things — nothing excluded — is at hand.

This means that there is such an end to things. Just as when you are riding on a train, and the conductor comes and shouts, “The next station is the end,” it means that there is such an end. So when the apostle says, “the end of all things is at hand,” it means that there is such an end. There is a certain end to which all things travel. They do not travel toward that end separately, so that first one thing travels toward that end, and then another thing travels toward that end. No, but simultaneously all things travel toward that end.

That end is not in the things that are temporal. That end is God’s purpose. That purpose of God is not in this world. That purpose of God is His eternal kingdom of glory. The things in this world must serve God’s purpose of building the house of His covenant and kingdom. As soon as they have served that purpose, they may go. Just as a scaffolding must serve in building a building, and when the building is finished, the scaffolding is and must be broken down, so all things are God’s scaffolding that must serve to perfect God’s work of building His house. It is not the things of this world that are permanent. It is God’s kingdom that is permanent. The end comes when the Lord shall come as a thief in the night, and “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up,” and all things shall be dissolved (II Pet. 3:10, 11). That end the apostle has in mind when he says, “the end of all things is at hand.”

Its Nearness

It does not look as if the words of our text were true. Nineteen hundred years have passed since these words were written. And yet the end has not come. There are those who read Scripture and explain passages like this as though the apostles were mistaken. They say that in the early church there was the expectation that Christ would come again soon. In this light we must read such passages as “the day of the Lord is at hand” and “the end of all things is at hand.”

It may be granted that the apostles might have been mistaken in interpreting their own inspired Word. I have no doubt that the apostles had no idea that nineteen hundred years would elapse in the new dispensation. Just as the prophets did not always understand their own prophecies and had no clear understanding of the realization of their own prophecies, so when the apostle says that the end of all things is at hand, he may have interpreted it as meaning that the end is at once. But this does not mean that the Word of God means this. It would simply mean that Peter was mistaken in interpreting his own inspired words.

But this is not the meaning of this Word, even though Peter understood it this way. Scripture means something different. When we read that the end of all things is at hand, the meaning is, in the first place, that the end is the next event; it is the next step. It is characteristic of the new dispensation that the end is upon us. That was not always so. The church has passed many stations. It passed a station in the flood. It passed a station in the building of the tower of Babel. It passed a station in the calling of Abraham. It passed a station in the giving of the covenant at Sinai. It passed a station when Israel went into captivity. It passed a station in the coming of Christ in the flesh. The church passed many stations. In the old dispensation, they could not say, “the end of all things is at hand.” In the old dispensation, they said, “The coming of the Messiah is at hand.” But now there are no more hours, there are no more stations. The end is at hand.

In the second place, it also means that all the events of this present age move with the end in view. The end is in them. In the old dispensation, the coming of Christ was in all things. People looked at all things in that light. That was in the bringing forth of children. In all events in the old dispensation was the coming of Christ. But not now. Now in all that happens, the end is. In war and in peace, in prosperity and depression, in all events of history, the end is. Everything preaches that we are moving toward the end.

The end of all things is at hand.

This is emphatically true in our day, more so than in the day of the apostle Peter. It is always true. But as the centuries pass by, it becomes more emphatically true, that the end of all things is at hand. We can seeit before our eyes.

In close connection with this truth stands this other truth, that things move fast. God’s time is not our time. Christ is coming. He has been coming throughout the centuries. He is coming fast. This is also true. It makes a difference, if we have, let us say, still fifty miles to travel, whether we travel that last fifty miles by horse and buggy, or by automobile, or airplane. God does not travel by horse and buggy. He is coming fast.

The end of all things is near.

The Proper Attitude Toward This Nearness

What then should be our attitude toward this nearness of the end? In the first place, our attitude should be (and this is emphasized in the text) a prayerful attitude. The text says, “be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” You must not read the text like this: “be ye therefore sober,” and then pause a moment, and then read, “and watch unto prayer.” But you must read: “be ye therefore sober and watch, unto prayer.” The apostle emphasizes that with a view to the truth that the end of all things is at hand, our attitude should be an attitude of prayer. That is, an attitude of true prayer, prayer as we have it in Scripture. Prayer in Scripture is not that we are concerned about temporal things. The concern about temporal things does not need any particular admonition. But Scripture does not consider temporal things as a need over which we need be concerned. Scripture tells us to seek the things which are above, to lay up for ourselves treasures which are in heaven. It tells us not to be concerned about temporal things. When Scripture speaks of prayer, it refers to the prayer for the coming of the kingdom of God. It refers to the prayer which has its climax in the words, “Come, Lord Jesus, yea, come quickly.”

When the apostle says, “be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer,” the meaning is that we should seek the coming of Christ. Do you not see the connection? Set your heart and mind on the end. Do not live on the scaffolding, but live in the house. When the scaffolding is broken down, do not be standing on it, but be in the house. Look for the coming of the bridegroom, in the way of sanctification. For “he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself” (I John 3:4). If you expect Christ, you do not dance in the world. If you expect Christ, you will keep your garments pure. This, the apostle means when he says, “be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” For the end of all things is at hand. Look for it. When the scaffolding is broken down, be not found on it, but be in the house. All that does not belong to Christ belongs to the scaffolding. Do not look at the scaffolding, but at the house. Do not look at the temporal things, which pass away, but look at the eternal things, which abide forever.

If we are to assume such an attitude of prayer, then we must do two things. We must be sober and watch. When the apostle says, “be ye therefore sober,” he does not mean that we must not be physically drunk. When a man is drunk, his senses reel. When a man is drunk, he has no conception of the value of things. When a man looks for the scaffolding instead of the house, he is not sober but drunk. You must not look at the scaffolding. This, the world does. The world says that their houses are for aye. Be sober. If you are sober, you will be able to distinguish between the temporal and the eternal.

But if you are to be sober, you must watch. If you do not watch, you will not be sober. The opposite is also true. If you are not sober, you will not watch. “Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” Let this be our attitude in this hour, realizing that the end of all things is at hand. In this realization, let us be sober and watch unto prayer.

*This sermon was originally preached on New Year’s Eve, 1938, in the worship service of First Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the nature of the case, what was said on that occasion is fitting for our special issue on the last things. Especially is this so since the time of this special issue is the end of the old millennium. As Hoeksema said of New Year’s Eve, the end of the millennium “remind(s) us of the end (and) we are also strongly impressed with the fact that the end is near.” Worthy of special attention in the meditation is Hoeksema’s insistence on the nearness of the end and his compelling, biblical explanation of this nearness. 

— Ed.