I. THE REASON OF THIS PRINCIPLE. The beginning is undertaken with a view to the end, and apart from that it would not be. The end is the completion and justification of the beginning. The time-order of events is the expression of their rational order; thus we speak of means and end. Aristotle commences his great work on 'Ethics' by showing that the end is naturally superior to the means, and that the highest end must be that which is not a means to anything beyond itself.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE.
1. To human works. It is well that the foundation of a house should be laid, but it is better that the top-stone should be placed with rejoicing. So with seed-time and harvest; with a journey and its destination; with a road and its completion, etc.
2. To human life. The beginning may, in the view of men, be neutral; but, in the view of the religious man, the birth of a child is an occasion for gratitude. Yet, if that progress be made which corresponds with the Divine ideal of humanity, if character be matured, and a good life-work be wrought, then the day of death, the end, is better than the day of birth, in which this earthly existence commenced.
3. To the Christian calling. The history of the individual Christian is a progressive history; knowledge, virtue, piety, usefulness, are all developed by degrees, and are brought to perfection by the discipline and culture of the Holy Spirit. The end must therefore be better than the beginning, as the fruit excels the blossoms of the spring.
4. To the Church of Christ. As recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the beginning of the Church was beautiful, marked by power and promise. But the kingdom of God, the dispensation of the Spirit, has a purpose - high, holy, and glorious. When ignorance, error, and superstition, vice, crime, and sin, are vanquished by the Divine energy accompanying the Church of the living God - when the end cometh, and the kingdom shall be delivered unto the Father - it will be seen that the end is better than the beginning, that the Church was not born in vain, was not launched in vain upon the stormy waters of time.
III. THE LESSONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE.
1. When at the beginning of a good work, look on to the end, that hope may animate and inspire endeavor.
2. During the course of a good work look behind and before; for it is not possible to judge aright without taking a comprehensive and consistent view of things. We may trace the hand of God, and find reason alike for thanksgiving and for trust.
3. Seek that a Divine unity may characterize your work on earth and your life itself. If the end crown not the beginning, then it were better that the beginning had never been made. - T.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.
1. It will easily occur as a general rule of judgment on the matter, that the sentence may be pronounced if, at the end of the year, we shall be able, after deliberate conscientious reflection, to affirm that the year has been, in the most important respects, better than the preceding.
2. The sentence will be true if, during the progress of the year, we shall effectually avail ourselves of the lessons suggested by a review of the preceding year.
3. At the close of this year, should life be protracted so far, the text will be applicable, if we can then say, "My lessons from reflection on the departed year are much less painful, and much more cheering than at the close of the former": if we can say this without any delusion from insensibility, for the painfulness of reflection may lessen from a wrong cause; but to say it with an enlightened conscience to witness, how delightful! To be then able to recall each particular, and to dwell on it a few moments — "that was, before, a very painful consideration — now,..." "This, again, made me sad, and justly so — now,...!" "What shall I render to God for the mercy of His granting my prayer for all-sufficient aid? I will render to Him, by His help, a still better year next." And let us observe, as the chief test of the true application of the text, that it will be a true sentence if then we shall have good evidence that we are become really more devoted to God.
4. If we shall have acquired a more effectual sense of the worth of time, the sentence, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning," will be true. Being intent on the noblest purposes of life will itself in a great degree create this "effectual sense." But there may require, too, a special thought of time itself — a habit of noting it — because it is so transient, silent, and invisible a thing. There may be a want of faith to "see this invisible," and of a sense of its flight. For want of this, and the sense, too, of its vast worth, what quantities reflection may tell us we have wasted in past years — in the last year! How important to have a powerful habitual impression of all this! And if, this year, we shall acquire much more of this strong habitual sense — if we become more covetous of time — if we cannot waste it without much greater pain — if we shall, therefore, lose and misspend much lees — then the text is true.
5. It will again be true if, with regard to fellow-mortals, we can conscientiously feel that we have been to them more what Christians ought — than in the preceding year. "I am become more solicitous to act toward you in the fear of God. I am become more conscientiously regardful of what is due to you, and set a higher importance on your welfare. I have exerted myself more for your good. On the whole, therefore, I stand more acquitted towards you than I have at the conclusion of any former season."
6. Another point of superiority we should hope the end may have over the beginning of the year, is that of our being in a better state of preparation for all that is to follow. Who was ever too well prepared for sudden emergencies of trial? — too well prepared for duty, temptation, or affliction? — too well prepared for the last thing that is to be encountered on earth?
7. It will be a great advantage and advancement to end the year with, if we shall then have acquired more of a rational and Christian indifference to life itself. "My property in life is now less by almost, 400 days; so much less to cultivate and reap from. If they were of value, the value of the remainder is less after they are withdrawn. As to temporal good, I have but learnt the more experimentally that that cannot make me happy. I have, therefore, less of a delusive hope on this ground as to the future. The spiritual good of so much time expended I regard as transferred t,o eternity; so much, therefore, thrown into the scale of another life against this. Besides, the remaining portion will probably be, in a natural sense, of a much worse quality. Therefore, as the effect of all this, my attachment to this life is loosening, and the attraction of another is augmenting."
Homilist.I. AT THE END OF HIS LIFE HE IS INTRODUCED INTO A BETTER STATE.
1. He begins his life amidst impurity. The first air he breathes, the first word he hears, the first impression he receives, are tainted with sin; but at its end he is introduced to purity, saints, angels, Christ, God!
2. He begins his life on trial. It is a race — shall he win? It is a voyage — shall he reach the haven? The end determines all.
3. He begins his life amidst suffering "Man is born to trouble."
II. AT THE END OF HIS LIFE HE IS INTRODUCED INTO BETTER OCCUPATIONS. Our occupations here are threefold — physical, intellectual, moral. All these are more or less of a painful kind. But in the state into which death introduces us, the engagements will be congenial to the tastes, invigorating to the frame, delightful to the soul and honouring to God.
III. AT THE END OF HIS LIFE HE IS INTRODUCED INTO BETTER SOCIETY. We are made for society. But society here is frequently insincere, non-intelligent, unaffectionate. But how delightful the society into which death will introduce us! We shall mingle with enlightened, genuine, warm-hearted souls, rising in teeming numbers, grade above grade, up to the Eternal God Himself.
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit
(J. Hamilton, D. D.)
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