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This text is not much by itself. I do not select it except as indicating a class of texts full of practical meaning. We are here invited to consider what may be called, for want of a simpler word, peccadilloes or little sins. We are not exhorted against great crimes only, as murder, drunkenness, theft, and the like; all these are the subject of apostolic comment: but we are also exhorted to be on our guard against the little foxes that spoil the grapes. Many a man is almost irreproachable on great matters who is yet riddled through and through with little holes, small infirmities; insignificant drawbacks they may appear to himself to be, yet there they are, and the Apostle, as the exponent of a spiritual religion, seeks to encourage us to amend ourselves in small particulars. In a Christian congregation no man requires to be warned against murder, at least as murder is commonly understood; but where is there a man who does not need to be warned against little slips, and small sins; who does not hide from himself the smallness of the sins by calling them peccadilloes? Why not call them by the plain, simple, English word? Why hide our shortcomings under the polysyllables of a foreign tongue? After all it comes to this, that the Apostle is careful about the vulnerable heel. He says, You are strong in ninety-nine points out of a hundred, but man is no stronger than his weakest point, and it may just be possible that his whole character is running out at so mean and insignificant a point as being an intrusive meddler in other people's concerns. It is wonderful how character leaks. There is no great breach in the character. The character is, however, oozing away a drop at a time. An incessancy always works either ruin or success. In education, in commerce, in all high and noble endeavour, persistency wins, In your patience ye shall win your souls. But the persistency which is so honourable and successful in noble pursuits becomes the incessancy which eats up the character. Think what incessancy is: figure it to your minds under any action such as the dropping of water, the leaking of gas, the loss of small sums, whatever it may be, never ceasing, going on night and day; no great loss ever occurring at any one moment, but all the moments constitute one period of loss. The Apostle therefore is intensely spiritual; he would say to us in effect, You have escaped murder and drunkenness and theft and all the grosser sins and crimes; now you must come to close work small, fine, detailed stippling, every touch full of meaning; no one touch indicating great progress, but all the touches expressing the last refinement. The text therefore is not complete in itself, but it indicates a considerable number of other texts.
Now in other matters we set great store by fine work. Concerning a painting, we say, What wonderful work it expresses! it appears to have been done by a touch, but the touch itself is a touch expressing prolonged and anxious education; it is not the touch of an amateur, it is not the touch of a beginner, it is the touch of a master-hand. In painting, therefore, we are strong in our admiration of refined, detailed work; so we are in sculpture and in all handicrafts; our common criticism is: This has been worked to the very finest possible point. There is a rough-and-ready way of doing work; there is also a detailed and most careful way of working out results; we always praise the latter form of service, and we are right. The numismatist takes up his coin and says, See how finely this coin is milled! how beautifully it is touched at every point! and notice that nothing has been neglected or left in the rough. What is the man doing? Praising fineness of work, detailed care. He is perfectly right: but in proportion as he is right about his painting and sculpture and coins, or any manner of handicraft, is he not a fortiori bound to go forward, and say, If in mechanics, how much more in character? It is not enough simply to be not a ruffian, not a murderer, not a thief; you must by this time have come into the refinement of spiritual education; now one tap should open heaven's gate widely. Jesus Christ shows his anxiety about this matter of instituting a process of what may be called comparative morality. When he sees men exchanging courtesies, he says, This is good: but do not even the publicans the same? When he sees men abstaining from crime, he says, This is good: but what do ye more than others? When he sees men loving others who love them, he says, This is good: but do not the pagans the same thing? As disciples in my school you should go forward, and do miracles; you should, so to say, give to nature her highest meaning, her widest, sublimest application of thought and purpose; and the Christian should stand unapproached, unapproachable, ineffable, in beauteousness and piety of soul. The Apostle, as a great minister, takes in the whole survey, and he warns men against murder and theft and evil-doing, and yet he adds, Do not suffer as a busybody in other men's matters.
So Paul in speaking of the qualifications of a religious officer goes into very special detail. Who shall be bishop? The Apostle says he must for one thing be a man "that ruleth well his own house." But is this necessary? The Apostle Paul says it is. He proceeds to argue the case, saying, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?" What a wonderful religion this is! setting up its standards on the hearthstone, watching how men live at home. Verily this is morality carried up into divinity; truly this is divinity incarnating itself in morality; surely here earth and heaven meet in one solemn conjunction. We cannot understand all the qualifications of a great official in the Church, but we can understand how an aspirant to high office behaves at home. Home is a unit we must never omit from our most intricate and important calculations. I do not go to the newspapers for a man's character; not to a hired critic do I appeal for an estimate of a soul. I ask, what is he at home? Does he furnish the house when he comes into it? Does he turn his house into a music palace by his very voice? Do the servants and the children rejoice in the sound of his footfall? Is the window filled with the fairest face he ever saw when he draws near to it? No matter what the outside world may think or say of him, he makes a home; he is therefore at least the outline of a bishop, he is at least the shadow of a deacon. He begins well; he may have some larger faculty; having been faithful over a few things he may be qualifying himself to become ruler over many things. We all have a field here. I would not speak to you, except reprovingly, if I thought you did not make your house the very pleasantest little home in the world; I do not want to be associated with men who cannot behave themselves at home. I want your name at home to be a name of love, nobleness, kindness, so that anybody in trouble can come and lay the aching head on your strong breast and cry it all out there, and get healed by that fatherhood which is in every man. It is very noticeable therefore that Paul would not ordain a man to the bishopric or to the diaconate who did not rule his own house well. If this rule were established all through and through life who could be the fault-finder? Yet some persons are quite ingenious in faultfinding; they seem to have a call and an election in this matter. They know how everybody else should behave. The Lord never called a censorious critic to any trust.
The Apostle holds the same argument in his first Epistle to Timothy, and tells certain people their duty in these words "Let them learn first to shew piety at home." Blessed Paul! Sometimes we have been under the temptation of thinking that he cared nothing for home or friends or country or earth or time or space; but then he was in his eagle moods, his opinions darkened all heaven as they ascended towards the sun. At other times he came down and sat in the ingle-nook and told his Christian followers how to conduct their houses. When a man touches spheres so remote as these, surely he is under divine inspiration. The Apostle was not an ascetic; he did not live by himself and snub all manner of intercommunion as between neighbours: but he saw how this kind of action was deteriorating, and therefore he rebuked persons in these terms "wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies" ( 1Ti 5:13 ). He kept his eyes open upon the society in which he lived. What, said he, can ever come of this kind of conduct? You are never to be found at home; you rise in the morning to go into somebody else's house; "wandering about": how can you ever become scholars, hard workers, when you do not submit to the discipline of industry, and keep on doing your honest, simple duty with both hands? "tattlers also," getting hold of little bits of stories, always hearing things that are not worth hearing, and then saying, We could not help hearing them. No, the Apostle would say, Perhaps you could not help hearing them when you went to the place where they were being spoken, but you can help repeating them. When we get rid of all the wanderers, tattlers, and intrusive meddlers, we shall begin to get quite a consolidated army of real, earnest, useful workers.
This kind of doctrine has a wide application. Writing to the Thessalonians his second letter he says in the third chapter and eleventh verse: "For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies." This is the third time we meet with the term "busybody," twice in Paul, once in Peter, and the meaning is an intrusive meddler in other men's concerns. If people would remain at home and attend to their own business, it is wonderful how short they would find the day to be. Time flies when we are working. The idler's day has in it twice the usual number of hours, and every hour has in it twice the usual number of minutes: but when a man is working time flies. The Apostle therefore would bring us back from our wandering and our tattling and our expenditure of energy in misdirected ways, and would fix us down to simple honourable work with a view to the formation and completion of Christian character. These are not trifles. When a man is trying to hold his tongue, knowing that his infirmity is to speak much and think little, he is not engaged in a trifling occupation; he remembers what has just been said, that character is no stronger than its weakest point. A famous sculptor was busy with his chisel. Having finished the face of his figure, which in marble is the soul, he spent day after day in the arrangement of the hair. Said a critic to him, Why spend all this time over the hair when the statue is to be sixty feet high? who will see it? The sculptor replied, "The gods will see it." That is work! If we cannot see it from below, they will see it from above; and the higher up the higher the criticism. If they do these things to obtain a corruptible crown, what shall we do who have to fashion a soul, work out to its finest uses that wondrous mystery which is called character? Is it enough to have a fair outside? Society can see that: who sees the soul, the fine touches, the delicate elaboration, the microscopic refinements? who see these things? The gods to us, the God. Work for him: fashion everything according to his scale of criticism; and then we shall grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, to this purpose, that the outcome may be simple, strong, beneficent character.
We know what it is to have little drawbacks, small infirmities. For example, we say of such and such a man that he is an excellent character but very satirical. Then he is not an excellent character. You are misjudging the man; you are taking away some other man's character to give it to one to whom it does not belong. If the satire be directed against wrong-doing, injustice, falsehood, hypocrisy, and the like, then the more of it the better; but if by satire you mean an instrument by which human feeling of an honest and simple kind is wounded or exasperated, then you are taking the instrument of hell with which to do the work of heaven. Never mock the earnest man; never sneer at the soul that is trying to pray and often breaking down in the great endeavour. Many a hearer has sneered at a speaker when he little knew that that speaker was, as it were, pouring out his soul unto death in some unconceived and inexpressible agony. You are not a good man, if you can sneer at any other man who wishes to be good. We say, This is an excellent man but a little unpolished. Then he may be an excellent man but not so excellent as the Lord designs him to be. We are to be polished stones not in any conventional and pedantic sense. Many a man is courteous, who has rough hands honestly employed in getting daily bread. Many a man is polished, who does not know the grammar of his mother tongue. What do you mean by polished? Do you mean that subtle spiritual refinement which comes from love of great subjects, noble aspirations? Then such refinement is impossible to the most uncultivated person: and social veneer may be covering the most detestable corruption. We say of another man, He would be very good, if he were not so suspicious. Then that is his weak point; he must arm himself against suspicion; he must allow himself to be taken in three times a week for a year or two. He must say, This is my weakness: I am suspecting everything and everybody but myself. You must reverse the process and suspect yourself; do not believe a word you say; tell yourself to your face that you are a lying man, and say when you are going to pray, I am going to add to my hypocrisy: good God forbid that I should do this at the altar. We cannot have this excellence, minus ; this wonderful character attached to the weakness of being a busybody, a tattler, a man who cannot rule his own house, a woman who does not show piety at home. We do not care for your high and mighty occasional doings; we want the simplicity that is lovely down to its very roots.
Seeing then that Christianity would amend character in such matters, what may we infer? We may infer that Christianity is intensely spiritual. There is nothing rough-and-ready about it. It is like the Word of God by which it comes to us, it is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. Christianity would have us holy in the inward parts; the king's daughter is to be all beautiful within, if her covering is to be of wrought gold. Who, then, can be saved? Holy Spirit, dwell with me! Lord, abide with me! We are to infer that character needs long training. You cannot make a character in a day. You cannot hasten the development of character. The element of time enters into the value of reputation. Not the man who has been good for three days, or three years, but the man who has added year to year, decade to decade, and who, winter and summer through, has been faithful, he in the time of snowy hair may stand up as, in some sort, an image of what the Holy Ghost would do in the soul of every believing man. We are to infer that little things are often difficult things. It it sometimes easier to pay money by a cheque than to find coin for it. Many a man has less difficulty in drawing a cheque for fifty pounds than in finding some fractional sum under a sovereign. Many a rich man is often short of small coins and has to borrow of men who are ashamed to ask for their return. We should be careful about all these things. Never borrow without meaning to pay back. Never injure what are called the minor moralities of life, the little flowers in the garden; but be strong there as elsewhere and, if we take care of these little things, it will be wonderful to see how we advance and grow in things that are greater. We are to infer that spiritual education can only be conducted by spiritual agency. What is that agency? It is the ministry of God the Holy Ghost, the continual illumination of the Divine Spirit in the soul. And we are not to take care so much of grand spectacular aspects of character as to take care of the little and unseen phases of conduct. What, is this thy meaning, O Cross Cross of Golgotha? Is conduct thy meaning? And the Cross answers, Yes: not theology, not metaphysics; these have their place, their importance, their inexpressible value: but the Cross has been set up in vain if its believers be not real, simple, honest, honourable, beneficent men. I would not address you in the poetry which means nothing, but in the poetry of discipline. I would stand up as, officially not personally, a general of the army, and would exhort you to be faithful in all small matters; and having done so I would turn sharply in upon myself and say, Apply thine own doctrine; reduce these things to practice; and thus let there be shown to the world such largeness and beauty of character that men shall say, The religion that produces such manhood must have come from heaven.
[from Angus's Bible Handbook .]
The following are among the more important of the truths discussed in the Epistles.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent