While Paul was a minister of the uncircumcision, Peter, and James, and John were ministers of the circumcision. Their Epistles are addressed principally to the converted Jews. James addresses principally the twelve tribes scattered abroad, and I suppose this Epistle is addressed to the same description of people, “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. The twelve tribes were scattered by the Assyrian captivity, and we hear but little more of them. However it affords us pleasure that Christ found a number of them out,—it affords a solemn pleasure that Ephraim, as the ten tribes are called, as well as Judah, should return in Christ,—that a number of them should be found amongst the followers of the Lamb; but they were scattered up and down the earth it should seem, and, now they had embraced the gospel, were subjected to great persecutions for its sake. It was with a view to stimulate and support their hearts that this Epistle was written. The apostle, in the chapter I have read, holds up before them the hope of the gospel, “whom,” says he, “not having seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:” and though you are now for a season, if need be, in heaviness, yet there is an inheritance laid up for you, incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. What motives, my brethren, are these to support a persecuted and afflicted people? It is in continuation of the same strain that he uses the words which I first read, “wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The little time that we have to improve, will be taken up, first, in trying to explain and illustrate the apostle’s exhortation. Next, in considering the glorious motives that he holds up to enforce or to encourage compliance with it—the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
The admonition which the apostle here gives, or the exhortation which is here addressed to the believing Jews or the believing Israelites, I need not say, is applicable to us in this present state of affliction; though we may not be subjected to the same persecutions as they were, yet there is a kind of tribulation to which we are exposed, and must be exposed, in the present state. The first part of his exhortation consists in this expression, “gird up the loins of your mind.” Girding up our loins is a very expressive term. It alludes to the customs of the east, where they wore long loose garments hanging down to the feet, and, consequently, whenever they found it necessary to engage in any kind of activity, they were obliged to gird up those garments—thus when they ran they girded themselves. So you read of Elijah, that he ran to Jezreel before the chariot of Ahab, girded as the men that went upon a journey used to gird themselves. Thus Israel were commanded, on the night that they departed from Egypt, to have their loins girt and their staves in their hands, ready to march. So, likewise, when they engaged in war, they had their loins girt, in order that their garments might not fall and interrupt them. The spirit of the passage then is, be in a posture of activity—we have our journey to pass—we have our conflicts to engage in—we have our race to run, and we ought to gird up the loins of our mind. Perhaps this expressive sentence may include at least these ideas. Do not faint in the day of adversity. Gird up the loins of your mind—the mind is in danger of losing its strength under present afflictions, under painful events, under heavy persecutions or adverse providences—the mind is, as it were, apt, like the loins, to wax feeble. To gird up the loins of the mind is to cultivate a spirit of fortitude, firmness, and perseverance. Gird up the loins of your mind under all the adversities of life—under all the difficulties that you have to meet with; do not faint under present afflictions, but keep the crown of immortality in view, and, when you are in danger under some circumstances of being disheartened and sinking into despondency and discouragement, there is reason, from time to time afresh as it were, to gird up the loins of the mind—to look before us, rather than to faint by the way. Some of you may be far advanced in life, and the thought of drawing near to the borders of eternity excites a sigh where men are destitute of the hope of the gospel. It must do so; but even in the case of the Christian sometimes, it throws a damp upon all your present enjoyments and cuts you down; but look forward—gird up the loins of your mind—rather press forward in your journey than shrink back at the approach of its end—rather grasp at the crown that is before you than sink into despondency on account of having to cross the ford of death—gird up the loins of your mind, your salvation is nearer than when you believed.
I think also the terms denote a spirit of disengagedness from the present world, as a man that shall gird up his loins is supposed to stand ready to march at a moment’s warning. When Israel had this command, it was a kind of signal for them to be disengaged from Egypt, and ready to march and leave it behind. For us to have this command, is to stand in a sort disengaged from the present world and all its concerns, and to be ready at a moment’s call to quit the stage. I do not mean by this, that we are to be unemployed in life, but that there is a danger lest, amidst the necessary duties of life, the heart should not be fixed upon God, nor fixed upon the crown of immortality before us.
The next branch of the apostolic exhortation is “be sober.” Sobriety is the opposite of intemperance, the opposite of intoxication. Intemperance or intoxication is of two kinds, sensual and mental. To be sober undoubtedly stands opposed to sensual indulgence, as is intimated in the next verse, “as obedient children, not fashioning yourself according to the former lusts in your ignorance.” At all events, Christians should stand aloof from sensual pursuits; it is mean—it is degrading—it is unworthy a man to roll in intemperance—to place your happiness in that which is common to the meanest of the brute creation. It is degrading to man, and much more to a Christian, to place his happiness in eating or drinking, or any sensual enjoyments whatever. Christians are called to be sober, to be temperate even in the enjoyment of lawful pleasures. Nor is sensual intemperance the only kind of intemperance against which we are here guarded. The mind is in danger of being intoxicated as well as the body. The mind may be intemperately fixed upon things of this life, and we may be drunken with the cares of this life, and so that day come upon us unawares. Be sober. Sober in what? in the pursuits of wealth—in the pursuit of honours; be sober in all your plans and in all your pursuits. There is a kind of chastisedness of spirit that becomes a Christian; it requires that the soul of man in the present state be held in, as it were, with bit and bridle. We are apt to go to extremes in our pursuits, and, when once we have formed our plans, to pursue them with such ardour and eagerness, even plans of a worldly nature, as to intoxicate our minds in them. Beware that we be sober—sober in our plans—sober in our pursuits, and sober while we are viewing the great events that are passing in the world.
The last branch is expressed in these words, “and hope to the end.” Hope is the great stimulus of human life,—the great support of the heart under the various pressures which it sustains. Without it a man would sink in all his pursuits, and, without it, a good man would not be able to persevere. Hope is that which buoys up the heart, and it is here put, I suppose, in opposition to despondency. “Hope to the end.” There may be periods in which you may be under temptation to relinquish your hope—sometimes owing to the great pressure of outward ills—sometimes to the length of them—I imagine more the latter than the former. Afflictions very frequently are more trying owing to their duration than to their greatness. A heavy affliction—a sharp affliction may be borne, if it be but short; but, where there is a lesser affliction, if it be continued without intermission, the mind desponds, the heart sinks through the continuation of it; our business is then to hope to the end. As we must expect a number of ills of various kinds to attend us through life, hope is given us to counteract them, and to preserve us from despondency to the close of life. Blessed be God, there is an end to all the ills of life—there is an end to persecutions—there is an end to temptations—there is an end to afflictions—they do not last forever, and God has graciously given us hope as an anchor to the soul to preserve us till we arrive safe in the desired haven.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). “The Christian’s Preparation for Future Glory,” Sermon XXXIII in Sermons and Sketches. The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.; Vol. 1, pp. 391–394). Sprinkle Publications.