A sermon (No. 667) delivered on Sunday morning, December 31, 1865 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, by C. H. Spurgeon.
And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof. Proverbs 5:11-12
“at the last…”
The wise man saw the young and simple straying into the house of the strange woman. The house seemed so completely different from what he knew it to be that he desired to shed a light upon it, that the young man might not sin in the dark, but might understand the nature of his deeds. The wise man looked abroad and he saw but one lamp suitable to his purpose; it was named “At the last;” so snatching this he held it up in the midst of the strange woman’s den of infamy, and everything was changed from what it had been before: the truth had come to light and the deceptive had vanished. The young man dreamed of pleasure, in wanton dalliance he hoped to find delight; but when the lamp of “At the last” began to shine, he saw rottenness in his bones, filthiness in his flesh, pains and griefs and sorrows as the necessary consequence of sin, and wisely guided, wisely taught, the simple-minded started back and listened to the admonitions of the teacher, “Come not nigh the door of her house, for her gates lead down to the chambers of death.”
Now if this lamp of “At the last” was found so useful in this one particular case, methinks it must be equally useful everywhere else, and it may help us all to understand the truth of matters if we will look at them in the light which this wonderful lamp yields.
I can only compare my text in its matchless power to Ithuriel’s spear, with which according to Milton, he touched the toad and straightway Satan appeared in his true colors. If I can apply my text to certain things to-day they will come out in their true light; “At the last,” shall be the rod in my hand with which I shall touch tinsel, and it shall disappear and you will see it is not gold, and I will touch varnish and paint and graining, and you shall understand that they are really what they are, and not what they profess to be.
The light of “At the last” shall be the light of truth, the light of wisdom to our souls. It seems to me a fitting occasion for holding up this light this morning, when we have come to the end of the year and shall in a few short hours be at the beginning of another. This period, like Janus, hath two faces, looking back on the year that is past and looking forward on the year that is to come, and my four-sided lamp will perhaps gleam afar. I wish that you may have courage enough to look down the vista of the years that you have already lived, and think of everything that you have thought, and spoken, and done, in the light of the beams of this lamp “At the last,” and then I hope you will have holy daring enough to let the same light shine forward on the years yet to come, when your hair shall be grey and the grinders shall fail, and they that look out of the windows shall be darkened. We will then, examine the past and the future of life in the light of “At the last.” May it teach us wisdom and make us walk as in the fear of God.
I have said that my lamp has four sides to it, and so it has: we will look at it first in the light which streams from death.
Death is at the last. In some sense it is the last of this mortal life; it is the last of our period of trial here below; it is the last of the day of grace; it is the last of the day of mortal sin. The tree falleth when we die, and it sprouteth not again; the house is washed from the foundations and it is built no more if it hath been founded on sin. Death is the end of this present life. And how certain is it to all of us!
This year we have had many tokens of its certainty. One might almost compose an almanac for the year 1865, and put down the name of some one of note at least to every month, and I should scarcely exaggerate if I said to every week, in the year. All ranks and classes have been made to feel the arrow of the insatiable archer. From royalty down to poverty the grave has been glutted with its prey.
Not late in the year there fell one, whose benevolence mingled with sagacity had blessed our land, and who being dead is still remembered by the needy because he cheapened their bread, and broke down the laws which while they might have fattened the rich, certainly impoverished the poor. His sagacity could not spare him, and though he is embalmed in the hearts of thousands, yet to the dust he has returned. Swiftly after him there fell one who ruled a mighty people in the flush of victory, when what threatened to be a disruption and a separation had ended in triumph to one side, and the nation seemed as if it were about to start on a fresh course of prosperity. By the assassin’s hand he fell.
Whatever question there might have been about him in his life, all men conspired to honor him in his death. The ruler of a nation who could subdue a gallant and a mighty foe could not subdue that old foeman who conquers whom he wills. Abraham Lincoln died as well as Cobden.
Let me take you upstairs to your own dying chamber, for there perhaps the lamp will burn best for you. Look at actions which you have thought to be great, and upon which you have prided yourself— how will they look at the last?
Look at actions which you have thought to be great, and upon which you have prided yourself— how will they look at the last? You made money; you did the thing very cleverly; you praised yourself for it, just as others have praised themselves for conquering nations or forcing their way to fame, or lifting themselves into eminence. Now you are dying, and what do you think of all that? Is it so great as it seemed to be? Oh, how you leaped up to it, how you strained yourself to reach it, and you have got it, and you are dying. What do you think of it now?
The greatest of human actions will appear to be insignificant when we come to die, and especially those upon which men most pride themselves —these will yield them the bitterest humiliation. We shall then say what madmen we must have been to have wasted so much time and energy upon such paltry things. When we shall discover that they were not real, that they were but mere bubbles, mere pretenses, we shall then look upon ourselves as demented to have spent the whole of our life and of our energy upon them.
Oh your shams will all be rent away from you by the rough hand of the skeleton Death; you will want a real Savior, vital godliness, true regeneration; you will want Christ and nothing short of this will do “at the last.”
And dear friends, let me ask as I hold up the light, how will sin appear when we come to die? It is pleasant now and we can excuse it, calling it a peccadillo, a little trivial mistake, a juvenile error, and imprudence, and so on; but how will sin appear when you come to die? The grim ghosts of our iniquities, if they have not been laid in the grave of Christ Jesus, will haunt our dying bed. What a horrid prospect to be shut in with our sins for ever, to be dying with no comrades about the bed to comfort, but with the remembrances of the past to terrify and to alarm!
Think, I pray you, not only upon the root and principle of evil but upon the fruit of it. Remember that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Do not consider what the thing looks like to-day, but what will it be in the end thereof.
And now we will turn to the second side of our lantern. The second of these last things is judgment.
After death, the judgment. When we die, we die not. When a man dieth, shall he live again? Ay, that he shall—for his spirit dieth never. We are immortal, every one of us, and when the stars go out and Sol’s great furnace is extinguished for want of fuel, and like a vesture God’s wide universe shall be rolled up, we shall be living still, a life as eternal as the Eternal God himself. Oh, when we leave this world we are told that after death there comes a judgment to us. I do not know how it is with you— you may be more accustomed to courts of justice than I am—but there always creeps a solemnity over me, even in a common court of justice among men, and especially when a man is being tried for his life. Laughter seems hushed there, and everything is solemn. How much more dread will be that Court where men shall be tried for their eternal lives, where their souls rather than their bodies shall be at stake.
Let us think of this judgment a moment.
We shall rise from the dead: we shall be there in body as well as spirit. These very bodies will stand upon the earth at the latter day: when Christ shall come and the trumpet shall sound his people shall rise at the first resurrection, and the wicked shall rise also, and in their flesh shall they see God. Let me think of all that I have done then in the light of that. There will be present every man who has ever lived on earth. How shall I like to have all my doings published there? My very thoughts —how shall I feel when they are read aloud; what I whispered in the ear in the closet—how shall I like to have that proclaimed with sound of trumpet!
And what I did in the dark—how shall I care to have that revealed in the light? And yet these things must be made known before the assembled universe. There will be present there my enemies. If I have treated them ill, if I have been a backbiter, a slanderer, it will be then declared: if I have been a hypocrite and a dissembler and made others think me true when I have been false, I shall be unmasked then. Those I have injured will be there. With what alarm will the debauchee see those whom he has seduced stand with fiery eyes to accuse him there! With what horror will the oppressor see the widow and the fatherless whom he drove to poverty stand there, swift witnesses against him to condemnation! If I have spread false doctrine, a moral pestilence destroying human souls, my victims shall be there to gather round me in a circle and like dogs that bay the stag, demanding each of them my blood. They shall all be there, friends and foes; more solemn still, “He” shall be there—the man of men, the grandest among men because God as well as man, and if I have despised and rejected his salvation I shall then see him in another fashion and after another sort.
How will you face him, you that have despised him? You who have doubted his deity, how will you bear the blaze of it? You rejected and trampled on his precious blood, how will you bear the weight of his almighty arm? when on the cross you would not receive him, and when on the throne you shall not escape from him. That silver scepter which he stretches out now to you, if you refuse to touch it, shall be laid aside and he will take one of another metal, a rod of iron, and he shall break you in pieces, yea, he shall dash you in pieces like potters’ vessels. And God shall be there, manifestly there, that God who is here this morning, and who sees your thoughts and reads your minds at this moment, but who is so invisible that you forget that he fills this place and fills all places; you shall not be able to forget him then.
I would to God that ye would look at all your actions in the light of the day of judgment.
My professions, my imaginations, my conceptions, how will ye all be when the judgment day shall gleam upon you? My profession, how does that look? I have been baptized in Christ professedly, I wear a Christian name, I preach the gospel, I am a Church officer or a Church member, how will all this bear the light of that tremendous day? When I am put in the scales and weighed, shall I be the weight that I am labelled? In that dreadful day shall I see the handwriting on the wall, “Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”—“Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting”? or shall I hear the gracious sentence which shall pronounce me saved in Jesus Christ?
As to my graces, what must they be in the light of judgment? my own salvation, all the matters of experience and knowledge—how do they all look in that light! I think I have believed: I think I love the Savior: I sometimes hope that I am his; but am I so? Shall I be found to be a true believer at the last? Will my love be mere cant or true affection? Will my graces be mere talk, or will they be found to be the work of God the Holy Ghost? Am I vitally united to Christ or not? Am I a mere pretender, or a true possessor of the things eternal? Oh my soul, set thou these questions in the light of that tremendous day.
I would to God we could now go forward to the day of judgment, in thought at any rate; and since I feel myself quite unable to lead you thither, let me adopt my Savior’s words: He says that the day cometh when he shall separate the righteous from the wicked as the shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats. There shall be some on his left hand to whom he shall say, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Depart, ye cursed.” Will he say that to you and to me? There will be some on his right hand to whom he will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.”
Shall he say that to you and to me? The one or the other it must be.
Come hearer, hast thou believed on Christ Jesus, or is faith left undone? Hast thou given up self-righteousness? hast thou left thy sin? Hast thou given thy heart to the Savior? Is regeneration still unaccomplished? Art thou born again? Art thou in Christ? Art thou saved? Brother, sister, is there anything left undone? I pray you to look at this day and at all your days, the past and the future, in the light of the day of judgment.
Excerpts from Last Things