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1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection
Here is required of wives subjection towards their husbands; though God made them in many things equal, yet in wisdom He thought meet to make some little inequality, and appointed the husband to be the superior and head, and so to rule, and the wife to be subject to him; yet not so but that he hath his rules to bound his rule, that it exceed not (1 Corinthians 11:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:13).
Neither is this without reason; for if all were equals in the commonwealth there would be confusion; and if all bells were of a bigness, and all the strings of an instrument of one size, there would be a harsh sound, and no melody: so, were there not some small inequality between husbands and wives, there could not but be contention. It is God’s order that wives be subject, as it is His order the sun should shine, the earth bear fruit, the heavens cover us. Accordingly, God hath provided to make man the stronger, woman the weaker vessel, that he might be the fitter to rule, and she (feeling her own weakness) the more willing to be ruled. (John Rogers.)
A quarrelsome wife
There were times when the Rev. Andrew Fuller could be exceedingly severe. He was once spending a few days in a family where the husband and wife were not very happy together, chiefly, I believe, owing to her tyrannical spirit, fostered by perverted views of Divine truth, making her by no means remarkable for kindness to her husband. One evening, having heard Mr. Fuller preach, according to the fashion of the school to which she belonged she remarked: “Ah, sir, we are poor creatures and can do nothing.” “You are quite mistaken, madam,” replied Mr. Fuller, “you can do a great deal.” “Why, what can I do?” asked the lady, somewhat excited. “Why, madam,” replied he, with a tone and manner which can only be imagined by those who knew him, “you can quarrel with your husband.” The lady said no more. (Baptist Messenger.)
If any obey not … they also may … be won.-
Wives must be subject even unto bad husbands
Not only must wives be subject that have good husbands, but even they which hath infidel husbands, unkind, irreligious; for they are their husbands, whom they have chosen, and are now in covenant to God withal, and which God hath laid out for them as a blessing or cross. If any shall say, This is very hard, let such know, that Christians must do difficult things. Every bungler can make good work of good, straight timber, but he that can make good work of that which is crooked and knotty is worthy commendation. (John Rogers.)
The case supposed is one that would occur again and again while Christianity was making its way among the pagan nations. A Christian woman would find it very difficult to win over her pagan husband by direct efforts; she would be thrown back upon the silent influence of her chaste, holy, unselfish conduct and conversation; and the apostle intimates that she should expect this to be a sanctified energy which God would use to accomplish the desire of her heart. A fable is told of a mountain island of lodestone that stood up in mid-ocean, and attracted on every side the ships that sailed over the seas. As soon as ever they came within the line of its influence they were insensibly seized, gradually at first, then ever more swiftly they were drawn, until at last they dashed to destruction on the rocky coast. The Christian should be an influence for Christ on every side of his nature, seizing every barque that sails by on the ocean of life; seizing it by the power of Christian character and Christian consistency, and drawing it into the harbour of God’s love and service.
I. It may be well to illustrate what is meant by our unconscious influence, and to exhibit its importance and value. As we meet together in society, how distinctly tone is recognised and felt! Beyond the influence we can exert on each other by our actions, there is the power of our very presence, an atmosphere around us which we carry with us wherever we may be. You can be a growing power, more decidedly and wholly influencing others for good, as by watchfulness and earnest culture you grow in personal religious worth.
II. Consider the sphere in which the power of this our unconscious influence will be most felt. It will be felt everywhere. It is a necessity of our being that we should exert it. It belongs to us, and flows forth from us as freely as the fragrance of the violet wherever the violet is found. Yet such influence is most felt at home. Much ought to be done by the young Christian’s direct efforts for the happiness and salvation of the household; but the very freeness of life in the home makes such labour difficult, and often there are circumstances which make it impossible to speak the word. So, in your first religious Sphere, you may be thrown back upon the importance of the influence silently exerted by your character. In a home some will be dependent on you, whatever your place may be; the children, younger children, or the servants. These will be very easily affected by the tone and spirit of your life; and they will be very keen to watch for the spirit they know is in harmony with the professions you make. In another way those on whom you depend in the home will be reached by you. On the side of your submissions and obediences you will win power over them. Holy, loving children have been honoured as the means of winning their parents for Christ. And home life includes a circle of friendships; you are not called by your Christian profession to separate yourselves from such circles; but you should carry into such society a fragrance of Christian purities and charities that may ever flow out to bless those with whom you meet.
III. On what the efficiency of this influence will depend.
1. It will depend on our cultivation of Christian graces, and that work includes the repression of all our constitutional infirmities, whether of temper or spirit, and the mastery of all habits that are relics of our sinful states.
2. It will depend on the consistency of our Christian conduct.
3. It will depend on constancy in religious duties. (R. Tuck, B. A.)
The attractive power of Christian character
We adopt the opinion that “the Word” is used in two distinct senses, and we read the passage thus: If any obey not the gospel, they also may without preaching be won by the character and conduct of the wives. The subject before us is this: The gospel reproduced in character and conduct, a means of saving sinners from the error of their ways. In discussing this subject, however, let me guard against even the appearance of underrating the written and the preached Word. Without “the Word,” what revolutions would this void create! The “Word” withdrawn from Christendom would rend the finest pictures, and pull down the most splendid buildings, and take the salt from the best literature, and bury in oblivion the highest science, and darken the brightest homes, and devastate the fairest countries, and undermine all righteous thrones, and send back some civilised nations to barbarism, and bring a huge shadow of death over the whole world. Without “the Word” mankind are without gospel, without light and life.
I. “The Word” received produces a distinctive character in him who accepts it. This is alike its object and tendency. “The Word” reveals the one living and true God-the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost-as the redeeming God, and shows that God is reconciling the world unto Himself. Now, the man who receives “the Word” is translated from darkness to light, he is transplanted from an ungenial to a friendly soil, and he admits to his nature elements which, combining with whatever is Divine within him, will produce a new man and effect a new creation.
II. The character which “the Word” produces is of a nature to attract and win. The character begotten by “the Word” is-
1. Strong. It has in it all the constituents of complete spiritual power, intelligence touching the highest subjects, faith in God, hope of the greatest and most enduring good, love of the purest and most fervent flame, immutable and everlasting principles of action.
2. The character formed by “the Word” is also genial. There is in it the attractiveness of beauty and of pleasantness, as well as of power. The basis of that which is genial in the Christian character is love.
3. This strong and loving character is also reasonable, it is conformed in all points, to rational principles. It has within it none of the elements which constitute the fanatic or visionary. Imagination creates not this character, but faith in a Divine revelation; and that revelation presents nothing contrary to reason.
III. The influence of this gospel-formed character is felt most where association is most frequent and contact most close. The text points to a home as the sphere of Christian influence, but it also directs our attention to woman as influential there, and it leads our thoughts to the presence of unbelief in the family. This suggests two things: firstly, that there is often evangelistic work to be done in families of which Christians are part; and secondly, that this work may be extensively wrought by Christian women. Christian men and women, whatever your hands may find to do beyond, neglect not the home.
IV. Believers of the Word may accomplish the end of preaching by being doers of the Word in the face of unbelievers. The great want of the world at the present time, is the Christianity of the New Testament translated into action. The demand for Christians is more urgent than the demand for churches. Men would see works that they may believe our words. (S. Martin.)
Won by behaviour
A high-born, cultured lady was converted during one of the London missions, and it was a genuine conversion. Immediately she separated herself from the world, revolutionised her household, altered her gay attire; and instead of the theatre or concert or ballroom night after night she was found at the mission service, the prayer meeting, or Bible reading. At first it embittered and angered her worldly husband, but eventually he yielded to what he termed “a new caprice.” When he found out that his beautiful wife was really in earnest, he persecuted her, and stung her with bitter reproaches, which, unfortunately, too frequently aroused her passionate temper, or occasioned an angry retort. One day God used her husband’s bitter words to teach her a great lesson. “When your Christ can do something more for you, Isabel,” he said, “I may let Him try to do something for me-not before.” “Wherein do I fail most?” she asked. “In your temper and tongue, which are sourer than when I first knew you.” “Is this really so?” she asked herself when alone. “If so, O God, forgive me” was the sob which burst from her lips. “What! is it possible that my hastiness may perhaps be keeping my husband from God? Away with it, Lord I Give me, I pray Thee, victory over all sin.” God answered her prayer, but the testing time had yet to come. When her husband found persecution no longer irritated her, he let jealousy get the better of him-jealousy of the little delicate lad, their only child, who monopolised so much of his mother’s time, and filled a large place in her loving heart, One evening when Mr. N-returned home irritable and morose-perhaps the worse for wine-she was singing softly, “There’s a beautiful land on high,” and the patient little sufferer had just said, “I’d like to be there, mother, if I could take you with me,” when Mr. N-entered the nursery, and said, irritably, “Put that child down, Isabel; Norton has come home with me to dine.” “Our little laddie is worse, Edgar,” she said. “May I not stay with him?” “No,” and taking him roughly from her knee he handed the child to the nurse. “All nonsense about his being worse.” But, as he spoke, a loud moan escaped the little lad’s lips. His father had caught his head accidentally’ against the corner of the table, and he cried out to go back to his mother again, “The child is not hurt much, Isabel; leave him at once, and come and attend to my guest.” With an aching heart, Mrs. N-obeyed, trembling lest the blow might prove serious. Before dinner, however, was over, she was summoned to the nursery. The child was worse. Both the doctor and physician had been sent for, and they shook their heads at his condition. In the midst of the confusion and excitement, Mr. N-went out with his friend, heedless of the message which had been sent to him from the nursery, lie did not return until long after midnight. But about midnight his little child died. Isabel N-was childless. There she knelt alone by the bedside of her little darling’s lifeless form. Would it be possible to describe her feelings or to understand the conflict through which she was passing? The Refiner was looking on-watching intently to see the effect of the fire through which He was causing His child to pass. Would it burn up the dross? Would it subdue the will? A few minutes later her husband’s step was heard in the hall, and Mrs. N-knew the butler would tell his master all that had happened. The grief-stricken woman listened for him to come to her at once, but she heard him enter the library and shut the door; and, in the stillness which followed, she cried unto the Lord for guidance and strength. Pride said, “Let him come to you-he has wronged both you and the child”; but love said, “Go to him-be the first to forgive.” Love conquered, thanks be to God. Mr. N-was sitting by the table, his head buried in his hands, when he heard the library door open, and in another moment felt his wife’s soft warm arms encircling his neck, and her lips pressed to his heated brow, while a voice of gentle sweetness said, “Jesus has taken our darling to be with Him, Edgar; but I will love you more, dear.” No stinging reproaches-no hard hasty words-not even a tender rebuke. The man could hardly believe he heard aright. What a miracle! What wonderful love! Yes, and the love broke his heart. “Come upstairs and see our boy, Edgar.” Without speaking he followed her; and while the two knelt alone in that still room and her tremulous voice pleaded that the sorrow might be sanctified, and that one day they too might join their little one in the Better Land, the proud, stubborn man yielded his heart to his God. When he arose he said, calmly, “Isabel, Christ has done so much for you, dear, that I mean to ask Him to do as much for me. There is something in Christianity after all.” (Mrs. Walter Searle.)
Chaste conversation coupled with fear.-
The “chaste conversation coupled with fear” seems to signify purity in an atmosphere of fear, the tremulous grace which is “afraid of the very shadow of wrong.” The “beholding” is in the original a remarkable word. It seems to point at “initiation” into a world of goodness before unknown to the husband. The selfish rhetorician Libanius, who had some Christian acquaintances, is said to have exclaimed: “What wives those Christians have!” A missionary to China has heard Christian women say: “Until we became Christians we never really knew that we were women.” (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
The Christian woman
Let our thoughts be guided by this twofold proposition:-
1. For the unfolding of woman’s character, and the balancing of her spirit, Christianity supplies the only sufficient impulse and guide.
2. Christianity exhibits no more perfect illustration or achievement than in the completed proportions of her spiritual life. The first epoch of trial in woman’s life begins when the period of education ceases. It is a period of dependence, in the first place, with most women-dependence on parents-but still not the less irksome for that, if the woman, with a consciousness of strength, sees the parent worn and anxious with excess of labour; or if, with willingness for effort which her position or social prejudice forbids, she sees her every want met only by reluctant and grudged supplies. It is a period of uncertainty; for it looks straight out upon all those contingencies that determine her future lot-a lot for which she is not so much to lead or choose as to wait and weigh the perils of being chosen, or to learn the calm fortitude that conquers neglect with dignity. It is a period of highly wrought sensibility. The emotions have swelled, from the babbling brook that kept its quiet way within the banks of youth, into the rushing river of impetuous passion. It is a period of comparative irresponsibleness; and who shall say that irresponsibleness is a blessing, when we know so well how occupation dispels morbid introspections, and how daily strain upon the muscles fortifies timid and tremulous nerves? It is not true, I think, of any other condition of human discipline, more than this one, that nothing short of a personal acquaintance with Christian trust can satisfy its wants. Two other and different resources, indeed, the young woman has: and we need not wander far to search for proofs how often She tries their value. They are her womanly pride, and the excitements of society. What will Christianity do? It concentrates the aimless and restless purposes of woman on the one grand object of a personal acceptance with God. It takes off the load, which no human spirit can bear and be cheerful, by its promise of forgiveness for what is lacking, and by its encouraging assurance that when once the life is consecrated to God no single act or thought of good can fail of fruit in the spiritual harvests of eternity. It offers her what the mind of youth more than anything else craves-a friendship at once unchangeable and trustworthy as the heavens; and so it opens the gates of the city of God straight into her closet of prayer, and, when the world looks most inhospitable, shows her friendly angels ascending with her supplications, and descending with counsel and compassion, between her Bethel and her Father. It not only quickens her to a new fidelity in all the homely ministrations of the house where she lives, towards brothers and sisters, parents and servants; it opens to her the lowly door of poverty; it draws her, by cords stronger than steel, to the unclad orphan and the bedside of sick wretchedness; it stimulates her invention, it exhausts her economy, it plies her fingers, it inspires her intercessions for the instruction of poor children’s ignorance, and the redemption of their despair. Another task still Christianity solemnly charges upon woman in her youth. It bids her by every separate obligation of her discipleship be true to immaculate virtue in her intercourse with companions, and in the bestowment of her favour. Would to God that some angel from His own right hand would reveal to her the power she controls for the redemption of those horrible vices that defile and intoxicate the land! for then she might take up her benignant ministry as an apostle of holiness, persuading the tempted by her unbending principle, as well as bearing her own profession incorruptibly. It is time to advance to a later stage of the Christian woman’s experience. If her moral power is so decisive at the time when life has devolved upon her the fewest responsibilities, and neither age nor station has vested in her any adventitious authority, it is only more commanding yet when she has taken up the complicated relations of marriage, and assumed the spiritual governance of that lesser church, that sacred seminary-the family. The chief enemies to her Christian simplicity-and thus to the symmetry of her own character, as well as the integrity of her influence-are social ambition, an appetite for admiration, the passion for indiscriminate excitement, and, in other constitutions, a dull servitude to the routine of mechanical tasks.
1. By social ambition I mean the vulgar appetite for those external distinctions which are even more dangerous to woman than to man, because of the inherent natural aristocracy of her nature. A wife or mother who suffers it to be her supreme exertion to rise in the public consideration has already parted with that artless sincerity which is the chief grace of her womanhood.
2. Appetite for admiration. Could some searching census register the number of those who are kept aloof from the love of God by this foolish vanity alone, should we dare to look into the swelling catalogue? Could some magic reflection be added to mirrors, so that, while they show back the adjustment of garments, they should also reveal the emptiness of soul, what dismal disclosures would startle the sleeping conscience!
3. Passion for indiscriminate excitement. What hold has religion taken of that mind which never rests in its insatiable craving for some public spectacle-is never satisfied except when it is preparing for some scene of social display, or exulting over its conquests? There is no noble type of womanhood that does not wear serenity upon its forehead.
4. On the other hand, in constitutions of an opposite inclination, female life is apt to degenerate, if not inspired by religion, into a tame routine of narrow domestic cares, dwarfing the spirit to its own contracted limitations. The very nature of woman requires animation for its health. Religion, with its infinite mysteries, its deep and stirring experience, its boundless duties, offers that needed stimulus-offers it to the obscurest and the lowliest. The Christian wife and mother is a Christian in the spirit by which she orders her household and nurtures her offspring. Too many mothers make their first request for their sons that of the mother of Zebedee’s children-that they may sit on thrones of wealth and power. What wonder if those sons are worldlings, are hypocrites, are criminals? Too many train up their daughters with no loftier aim than to be beautiful brides, or the centres of meretricious observation at summer watering places, or to value a husband by his income, or not to be over nice in their judgment of men, because they are not expected to be virtuous like women. Infamous effrontery towards God! And thus I have come, finally, to what may be briefly established-that Christianity exhibits no more perfect achievement than in the completed character of a spiritual womanhood; for, passing on one stage later yet, we find the united result of a life’s discipline and a heavenly faith in the Christian woman’s old age. Providence has not withheld that confirmation of the power and beauty of religion from our eyes. We feel new confidence and truth, new love for goodness, new zeal for duty, new trust in God, new gratitude to Christ, when we look on her ripened holiness; and, as her strength faints before the power of decay, behold the crown of immortality descending almost visibly upon her head! I cannot so well finish this account of a Christian woman as by repeating the following touching, simple memorial of his wife written by one of the statesmen of England-Sir James Mackintosh-in a private letter to a friend: “She was a woman,” he writes, “who, by the tender management of my weaknesses, gradually corrected the most pernicious of them. She became prudent from affection; and, though of the most generous nature, she was taught frugality and economy by her love for me. During the most critical period of my life she preserved order in my affairs, from the care of which she relieved me. She gently reclaimed me from dissipation, she propped my weak and irresolute nature, she urged my indolence to all the exertions that have been useful or creditable to me, and she was perpetually at hand to admonish my heedlessness and improvidence. To her I owe whatever I am-to her whatever I shall be. In her solicitude for my interest, she never for a moment forgot my character. Her feelings were warm and impetuous; but she was placable, tender, and constant. Such was she whom I have lost; and I have lost her when a knowledge of her worth had refined my youthful love into friendship, before age had deprived it of much of its original ardour. I seek relief, and I find it in the consolatory opinion that a benevolent Wisdom inflicts the chastisement as well as bestows the enjoyment of human life; that superintending goodness will one day enliven the darkness which surrounds our nature, and hangs over our prospects; that this dreary and wretched life is not the whole of man; that a being capable of such proficiency in science and virtue is not like the beasts that perish; that there is a dwelling place prepared for the spirits of the just; that the ways of God will yet be vindicated to man.” (Bp. Huntington.)
Let it not be that outward adorning.-
The influence of Christianity on dress
To lay down rules for the regulation of dress, applicable to all circumstances, all ranks, all ages, is impossible. To fix the cut of the coat, the shape of the bonnet, were a hopeless and, indeed, ridiculous task. All that we can do is to lay down certain principles, distinctly asserted in, or clearly deducible from, the gospel.
I. Christian principles forbid all dress which is not honestly procured. That dress is dishonestly procured for which you know you cannot pay, or the payment of which is effected by dishonourable means, by falsehood, by embezzlement, or fraud. It is not in the higher circles only that temptations to obtain dress by dishonest methods occur. The servant maid must ape her mistress; but the wages she receives are not equal to the demands of her pride. But even if every tradesman’s bill is punctually paid, still you are guilty of dishonesty if the money thus expended be drawn from other channels in which, in justice to yourselves, or to your families, it ought to flow. You are unjust to yourself if you starve either the body or the mind to decorate the person.
II. Christian principles forbid that dress which is immodest. The author of my text, in another Epistle, charges the women that they adorn themselves in “modest apparel.” “A prudent woman,” says Mr. Jay, “will avoid whatever would appear light and wanton. The apparel of a woman professing godliness should not be the attire of a woman of the world, much less the attire of a harlot. Females sometimes wear a label on which indecency and indelicacy are written, and then appear to be offended because observers can read. I would not always infer too much from these outward hints; but, in the name of a blush, on what principle can we explain the invention and adoption of certain modes? I describe nothing.” Intimately connected with modesty in dress is health; and when it is considered how many thoughtless females have fallen the untimely victims of disease introduced into the frame by the general scantiness, or the partial distribution of their attire, I am persuaded the allusion will not be deemed improper.
III. Christian principles forbid that dress which is unbecoming your station. It is obvious, by a comparison of the text and parallel passages with the general scope of Scripture, that costly attire is not forbidden where the ability of the person is fully equal to its purchase, without injury to any other claims. The virtuous woman is highly commended in the Proverbs, who, through her industry, clothed all her household in scarlet, and herself with silk and purple. Moreover, the good of society requires persons to dress, in some degree, according to their rank and station. But it is excess that the apostle censures.
IV. Christian principles forbid that dress which requires an undue consumption of time. I will not recount the days and years of valuable time which some females spend in cutting, adjusting, adorning, altering, and improving the articles of their dress, till the world of novelties is ransacked and the invention at a stand: I will not number up the hours, or tell the years the aggregate would make, devoted to the toilette, with peevishness and impatience, till every ringlet is properly adjusted, every plait suitably apportioned, and every gem placed to the best advantage at the expense of religion and humanity, and to the ruin of both body and soul!
V. Christian principles forbid that dress which, by its singularity or extravagance attracts peculiar attention. The desire to court observation-the ambition to be singular-the hope of being admired, is the essence of pride, and in this vice both the extremes of finery and of plainness will be found to meet. “Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God.” Surely, look well to thy attire is included in this injunction.
VI. That dress is forbidden by Christian principles which seriously occupies and absorbs the powers of the mind. And yet how many females are there the range of whose information is bounded by these limits-the topics of whose discourse are derived from this subject-who understand no science but that of shapes and colours-are acquainted with no art but that of decoration and display-and are conversant in no history but that of modes and fashions. It yet remains that I should produce some considerations by which the observance of them may be enforced.
VII. These principles should be enforced-
1. By a consideration of the sources whence your dress proceeds. As clothes cannot impart moral qualities or mental endowments to the wearer, so they are little to be gloried in on another account: they are derived from the lowest sources, and composed of the meanest materials. Nay, more than this, is not the dress on which you pride yourself the memorial of your shame? But for sin it had never encumbered the limbs, nor occupied for a moment’s space the care of the unspotted mind.
2. By a comparative view of its intrinsic worth. In a time of universal famine how many jewels would you give for a single loaf of bread? In a raging fever how many diamonds would you sacrifice for a moment’s ease? In a parched desert how many embroidered robes would you exchange for a cooling draught? Why, then, should such enormous sums be expended in glimmering pebbles and sparkling dust? Compare them with your books-your Bibles-your souls-all neglected for their sake! Arise to correcter sentiments and nobler aims. Make the Bible your looking glass, the graces of the Spirit your jewels, the temper of Jesus your attire.
3. Consider the estimation in which dress is held by the wise and good. With them it always occupies its proper place, which is an inferior one; and wherever it rises to excess and glare, indicating the vanity and pride of its possessor, it excites their pity and contempt.
4. The estimation in which you will hold dress in the hour of death and in an eternal world. (T. Raffles, D. D.)
St. Peter does not prohibit absolutely the plaiting of the hair, the wearing of gold, and the putting on of apparel; but he desires that the precedence be given to higher and better things.
I. Let us not hesitate to say that there is nothing in Christianity, rightly understood, which prohibits a woman from endeavouring to dress well and to look well. There is no religion in a mean, unattractive garb. Years ago there lived two Greek philosophers, Diogenes and Plato. Plato, who was a man of wealth and taste, had handsome carpets. Diogenes preferred living in a tub, and saying disagreeable things, under the impression that he was “faithful.” One day he came, in an ill temper, into his brother philosopher’s drawing room; and stamping on the carpets, cried out, “I trample on the pride of Plato!” “Yes,” said Plato, quietly,-“and with greater pride.” Is there not something of this pride in “unworldly.” dressing? Cannot a woman show her Christianity without making herself conspicuous by singularity? But we will take a step farther. We have said that Christianity does not prohibit attention to dress. We wilt now say that Christianity requires of a Christian woman to make the best of herself. God the Creator delights in beauty-beauty of form and hue and outline and arrangement; and surely He would have us, His creatures, delight in beauty also; and surely anyone who shows a marked inattention to the comeliness of outward things, shows himself, so far, out of harmony with the Divine mind.
II. The Christian woman will always subordinate the outward to the inward. But she will want rules to guide herself by. She will not be extravagant in the money she spends upon her dress. If her personal appearance be a talent, so also is her money: and both have to be considered. Another talent, which a Christian woman will think much of, is her time. The highest praise as to dress, which a right-minded woman would desire, would be to have it said of her by the passers-by, “I did not notice her dress; but I noticed herself; and she seemed an unaffected, modest, genuine Christian lady.” (G. Calthrop, M. A.)
I. The capacity of woman for adornment.
1. We say that the female form is adapted for adornment.
2. We say that the female nature is adapted for adornment. Can kindness, gentleness, meekness sit with so good a grace on a man as on a woman? Is not sweetness of temper reflected in every look, and does it not beautify and glorify every feature?
II. The directions for women’s adornment. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
Here, in the Word of life, we have fallen upon a text that deals with female attire, condemning one style of adorning, and commending another. God loves beauty of every kind, both the beauty of nature and the beauty of holiness. How do we know that? Because everything that He makes is beautiful. The works of nature are beautiful on all sides, and on all sides alike beautiful. It is not a bright exterior, and a rough ungainly interior; it is not a polished side to the public road, and a slovenly rubble wall on the shaded side. Nor is the most elaborate design or the most exquisite colour reserved for the most enduring objects. The snow crystals, and the frosted tracery on the windows, are as perfect in design and execution as the monarchs of the forest that outlast fifty human generations. Man is the chief of God’s works, and enjoys most of His care. He was made most beautiful, but has disfigured himself by sin. When His best work was damaged, the Creator did not give it up, and give it over. He framed a plan to restore. He desires to have His own image renewed. A man of feeble intellect, in the north of Scotland, was wont, like most of his class, to be very slovenly in his appearance. To this weakling the gospel of Christ came in power. He accepted God’s covenant love, and found himself a child of the family. Soon after this change the minister met him on a Sabbath morning, and was struck with his unwonted cleanness, and the efforts he had made in his own fashion to ornament his person. Accosting him kindly, the minister said, “You are braw today, Sandy.” “He was braw Himsel’ the day,” replied Sandy reverently; meaning that Jesus, when He rose from the grave on the first day of the week, was arrayed in the Divine glory and the beauty of holiness. The Lord on high, who rejoices to receive the little ones, would, methinks, be pleased to see Sandy’s Sunday clothes, and to hear Sandy’s simple answer. Peter in this text undertakes to tell how the uncomely may be rendered beautiful. Here is the true adorning; and it is for us, for all. Still deeper goes the apostle’s thought when he arrives at the details of the recommended ornaments. “Not that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel”;-what then? “Let it be the hidden man of the heart.” There is a whole Christ in every disciple who lives up to his privileges, as there is a whole sun in the cup of every flower that opens to his shining. When this ornament is worn in the heart within, its beauty is seen on the outward life. In general, a likeness of Christ is in the life of a Christian; and, in particular, “a meek and quiet spirit.” When, in the processes of art, a new and beautiful colour is about to be transferred to a fabric, the hardest portion of the task sometimes is to discharge the dyes that are already there. A terrible process of scalding must be applied to take out the old ere you can successfully impart the new. In like manner, the anger and pride and selfishness that have first possession present the greatest obstacle to the infusion of a meek and gentle spirit into a man. If there be a royal, there is certainly no easy, road to this consummation. It is a striking, bold, and original conception, to propose that an ornament should be hidden in the heart. Ordinarily, we understand that an ornament, from its very nature, must be worn in a conspicuous position. When it is hidden, how useful and valuable soever it may be, it ceases to be an adorning. But in the spiritual sphere the law is reversed. Meekness is spoiled when it is set up for show. This ornament, moreover, is incorruptible. This epithet is peculiarly relevant. With the exception of the metals and minerals, ornaments are, for the most part, perishable commodities. Rain soils them; the sun burns their beauty out, In the accidents of life they are worn or torn, or stolen or lost. The rose and lily that bloom on the cheek are not perennial; the wrinkles of age are creeping on to drive them off and take their place. All these adornings are corruptible. This text recommends one that will never fade. Age makes it mellower, but not less sweet. As it is not a colour of the decaying body, but a grace of the immortal spirit, it will pass unharmed through the dark valley, and bloom in greater beauty on the other side. It will make the ransomed from among men very comely in the eyes of angels, when they stand together round the throne, and serve their common Lord. One grand concern with buyers is to obtain garments that will last-garments whose fabric will not waste, and whose colours will not fade. Yet another quality is noticed of the recommended adorning-it is costly. In the sight of God, and of the godly, it is “of great price.” In the market of the world, alas! we, like inexperienced children, are often cheated. We pay a great price for that which is of no value. We are often caught by the glitter, and accept a base metal for gold. He who counts this ornament precious knows its worth. The righteousness of the saints is dear to God in a double sense. It is both beloved and costly. (W. Arnot.)
Common sense, sustained by Christian principle, will ever reveal what your dress ought to be. The coarse dress is not necessarily the fulfilment of the admonition of the apostle Peter. A young woman is not to affect the repulsive robe of the nun, as if that were religion; nor to dress in the drab of the Society of Friends, as if that were humility; she is to dress as becomes her station, and her rank, and her position. We may depend upon it, it is far more conducive to the universal welfare that the highest classes should dress as becomes them, than that they should lay it all aside, and dress like the Society of Friends. What would become of all the lace, silks, and warehouses in the City of London, and in Manchester, and Nottingham, and Glasgow, and other places; what would become of all the mills that are employed; if men were to try to form, what cannot be formed in character, in wealth, or in industry-a universal dead level? All that Peter insists upon, and all that we require is, that the young woman shall dress as becomes her position in life; good taste, which is always a quiet, never a gaudy thing; and Christian principle regulating her in this: and that the aged woman shall be sober, autumn never trying to deck itself in the flowers of summer, nor cold and dreary winter putting on what is not natural-all the splendours and the glories of June; and young and old recollecting this beautiful thought, “Behold the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (J. Cumming.)
The hidden man of the heart.-
To clothe the foot in costly apparel, and the upper part with rags, were absurd; so to bestow cost in clothing the body, but none on the soul. The soul is immortal, must live forever; it was created according to God’s image, and now the soul is most deformed with sin, and so hath need of clothing, especially seeing God, who is of pure eyes, cannot behold it but with detestation. The Church is all glorious within, and such as would be indeed members of Christ, and heirs of heaven, must look for inward sanctity. This is the most costly apparel that can be, of God’s own making, and which none but His children wear. This is apparel for all sexes, ages, degrees, and callings, whatsoever, and which doth well become and fit each of them. This is never out of season, never out of fashion; it fits in youth, in age, in life, in death, and is to be worn by night as well as by day, in sickness as in health, yea, is then in great account, when other apparel is laid aside, and not regarded; yea, this apparel we carry with us out of this world, when we leave our gay robes behind us; and this apparel lasts ever, being the better for the wearing. (John Rogers.)
Latent goodness and latent evil
If we translate this into modern language, we might say, “The latent good and evil in man.” The heart stands for the source, back of all else, from which our life flows. What we love most, that we are. Wherever our deepest longing goes, there we are going. But this profound tendency of the soul is often a hidden tendency. It is “the hidden man of the heart.” There is in every man a great deal more of good and of evil than we see. Inside of the visible man, whose face and form we see, there is an invisible man of veins and arteries, and another invisible man of nerves, and a third invisible man of bones; and from the co operation of these proceed the actions of the visible man. What we see in nature is only the visible outcome of what we do not see. So, in the processes of the human soul, what we know proceeds from hidden sources which we do not know. What do I mean by the formation of Christian character? I mean that a man may deliberately choose to be pure, honest, truthful, generous, religious, and that he can turn this choice at last into a habit, so that it shall be natural to him to do right, rather than to do wrong. What he did at first by an effort, and with difficulty, he now does without any conscious effort, and easily. Now, all these instincts, whether original or acquired, are wholly hidden from our knowledge. They are latent until they are called out by some occasion; then they show themselves spontaneously. Some are near the surface, and appear on all occasions; others are deep down, and appear only on special occasions. The moral cowardice in the apostle Peter, which could make him deny his Master, was latent, and Peter could not believe it possible that he should act thus. Circumstances develop latent goodness as well as evil. You are living among neighbours whom you do not know very well. But they seem to you commonplace, or perhaps worldly. But some calamity befalls you. This event brings out the goodness which was lying latent in your neighbours’ hearts; latent because nothing appealed to it. How kind they are now! how self-sacrificing! But the sickness of your child was not the cause of this sympathy, but merely the occasion of its manifesting itself and becoming developed. It did not make, it only revealed, these kindly thoughts of many hearts. Just so the great calamities and dangers of a nation arouse as by an electric touch the heroism and self-sacrifice that there may be in the people. Cincinnatus steps from behind his plough; William Tell from his mountain home; Washington from his comforts; to serve his country in council or battle. But “the times which try men’s souls” do not make Washingtons and Tells-they only test them and call out their latent virtue. Woe to the nation, woe to the man who is not equal to the test when it comes! If the test does not cause them to rise, it makes them fall. How many examples there are to prove the existence of this latent evil! We have seen a young man go from the pure home of his childhood, from the holy influences of a Christian community. He leaves his home and comes to the city to engage in business. He trusts in his own heart, in his own virtuous habits. But there is latent evil in his heart, there is a secret selfishness, a hidden and undeveloped sensualism, which is ready to break out under the influences which will now surround him. He becomes a lover of pleasure; he acquires a taste for play, wine and excitement. In a year or two, how far has he gone from the innocent hopes and tastes of his childhood! The latent evil that was in him has come out under the test of these new circumstances. Meantime, another young man, apparently no better than he, has, under the same circumstances, developed the seeds of virtuous and holy purposes, and has become a man of unshaken integrity and virtue. Why this difference? You cannot trace it to education, for their education was similar, you cannot account for it by the influence of circumstances, example and outward temptations; for these were the same in both cases. The difference was in the latent character of the two boys. One in the depths of his soul was then a sensualist; was then a worldly and selfish boy. The other, with no better outward habits, had in reality an inward principle of goodness. And circumstances merely developed the latent good and evil of the two. The fact of latent goodness is as true and important as that of latent evil. If our inmost purposes are right; if we have kept our heart with all diligence; if we have habitually trusted our souls to God, then we have a stock of latent goodness, ready and equal for any occasion which may come to call for it. We need not fear, then, that we shall not be able to meet any emergencies. An unsuspected strength will then manifest itself, a courage and faith for which we dared not hope will triumphantly reveal itself. What, then, is the practical conclusion from these facts? It is that we should both distrust ourselves and trust ourselves; that we should pray. “Lead us not into temptation,” yet “count it all joy when we fall into temptation.” If we are already conscious of our weakness, we may not need the trial which is sent to show us our weakness. But if, nevertheless, God sends the trial, then it was necessary that we should be tried, and let us count it all joy that it has come. If it brings out an amount of latent evil of which we were not aware, then it is well that we should become thus acquainted with our own depths of sinfulness. The disease must be brought out before it can be cured. But if the temptation, on the other hand, reveals and quickens powers of inward virtue and resolution, then let us bless God for this latent goodness which He shows us. (James Freeman Clarke.)
The hidden man
The point is, that one should not expend the whole of life on making the outside beautiful, but that one should see to it that the inside is adorned also. You are not to cheat the soul of all its gems and virtues for the sake of making yourself attractive exteriorly by adornments of that kind. It is not for that general subject, however, that I have selected She passage, but for this phrase, “the hidden man.” You will have been struck in reading, how much this dual life is insisted upon in the New Testament, especially how much use the apostle Paul makes of it. There are two elements running side by side in his philosophy; one the outward, another the inward. The outward man perishes day by day, the inward man is renewed day by day, says the apostle; and he dwells in various phrase on that duality, the inward life, and the outward or physical life. Everywhere there is this reciprocal action, the world on the mind, and the mind on the world. The sense, the physical body, is the instrument by which the world acts upon our hidden man, and by which the hidden man acts back again upon the world. Through the exterior world the soul is thus the recipient of treasures. The soul is like a prince who receives embassies from all the provinces round about; presents and tribute come to him from the uttermost parts of the earth. The air, the storms, all human occupations, all governments, individual men and combinations of men, pleasures-all bring influence to this potentate, the hidden man of the soul. Then, in turn, the soul sends forth energy, speech, will; and as the tide that swells and fills the harbour, then reflows and seeks again the great ocean, so the flux and reflux of force between mind and the physical world is a greater though an invisible and silent tide. The laws of the physical world are almost sterile until they are touched by the human will. Natural laws could give us metals in their foaming, bubbling states, but they never made a knife or a sword. Nature made trees, but never made a house. Nature has made germs, man has made the harvest. All the great laws that make summer and winter and the intermediate seasons, all the laws that are called natural, all the laws that spring from political economy, all those laws which are said, in one respect, to be natural laws, are not natural laws until some human spirit sits astride upon them and directs them. Now, the relative proportion between this receiving and the outgoing power determines character. It is the critical line both as respects quantity and quality. Those who live by their senses, controlled by objects to be seen or heard or felt from without, live animal lives. They are savages. Then come those who, receiving much, only give forth the energy of their passions-not intellectual energy, not moral, not aesthetic. They give forth simply the energy of selfishness, of pride, of vanity, of ambition, of avarice, combativeness, or destructiveness. It is the lower tier of the human, and the upper tier of the animal that is affected in them, and that gives forth some voice or fruit. Then come those who give action, the men who have industries, that dig, that hew, that build, converting impressions and the result of knowledge from without into energies by which they give the fruit of physical combinations and constructions. This includes the vast mass of the respectable people of the globe today. They are constructors and workers. Then there are those who are over and above all this activity, for the upper always owns the lower. He who gives thoughts can also give construction, though he who gives only construction cannot give thought. The upper always carries within it the privileges and the fruit of the inferior, or of all that is below it. So that the next rank are those who give forth thought and emotion, that have it in their power to thrill their time, or to augment it, to build it up, to defend it; men who live in the higher range of their faculties, and give the fruit reaped from these higher fields, higher and richer. Then come those who, over and above all activities, in physics and even in intellect, have a reserved life which has never had expression except through hymns and psalms, the voice of the teacher and the inspirations of the poet-the utterances of those who have given to knowledge a higher character and a winged form. They are sensitive, open to the subtle inspirations that move in the higher realms, and are men who live by faith or by the higher forms of imagination, not by sight nor by the physical fruitfulness of the human body. In regard to this relative activity of different classes, what they receive and what they give forth, it may be said that it determines, not simply individual rank or life, but it determines also the philosophy or the character of different religions. Take, for instance, the contrast between Judaism and Christianity. Judaism was a recipient religion; Christianity is a projecting religion. The Oriental mind generally receives; the Occidental mind gives forth. A word as to the relative productiveness of these two elements. The productiveness of the mind is generally in increasing ratio from the lowest to the highest; the effectiveness of its outgo is generally in the inverse relation or ratio. Man can more easily turn that which is inspired in his animal range and nature into an external influence and substance, than he can that which belongs to his highest nature. How much of thought there is in cultivated men! How much of thought that goes forth in language! But how much more thought that never rides in the chariot of language! How much men think day by day that is only thinking! In my orchards today there are, I think, on single cherry trees more than a million blossoms; and probably all but about a hundred thousand of those will drop without a cherry having formed under them. Men are like such trees. They breed thoughts by the millions, that result in action only in the scores and the hundreds. Waves of feeling rise, roll through the mind, and leave no more effect behind them than the waves of unknown seas that have rolled solitary for centuries by day and by night. How much there is of purpose that is blighted and barren! How much there is in goodness, how much in sweetness, how much in love, that runs the circuits and touches all the shores of human possibility, but never comes out nor shows itself! How many there are doomed by necessity, like fragrant trees in the great tropical wildernesses-fragrant for ages, but neither brute, beast, nor man ever smells their sweetness! How many there are that live in society who are capable of issuing sweetness that should be of influence, and that should make a very summer round about them, but there is no channel, and they die without opportunity! The great hidden soul had no tongue, nor possibility of using it if it had one. This hidden man, then, may be called in respect to those things that are the highest and the best in this life, the silent man; for we can say least of the things most worthy to be expressed; and this great silence may be said to determine character and condition very largely. They that know how to repress the lower and the evil that is generated within, are on the platform of morality ascending towards spirituality; and those that ascend to the highest forms can express but little. Yet they have, as it were, a palace within themselves, out of which in days of trouble or trial come forth inexhaustible stores of strength and of consolation. It is the hidden man which is at once the glory and the shame of mankind-the rich of thought and pure of purpose whose life perhaps can bring forth but little outward fruit, but who store up for the eternities grand knowledges, impulses, and actions; and, on the other side, the men who maintain an external decorum, but are full of all uncleanliness. This hidden man is more beautiful than any of you think, and more horrible. The saint dwells in many a bosom, not far removed from the very angels of the throne itself. Devils inhabit the heart of many and many a “respectable” man. Oh! bring out your silent man, make him speak, unroll what is written in his thought. How many men could hold up their faces then? And how many men who have produced nothing for the market, not much for the neighbourhood, little for the uses that are common on earth; that have neither the pen of the ready writer, nor the tongue of the orator, nor the wings of the poet, are rich unto God! They dwell in their meditations, and their imaginations remain untranslated into human language or into human conditions, but they are rich rewards God. This is a subject that is full of practical meaning; we ought so to coordinate the receiving to the giving-the income to the outgo that we shall strengthen and make better both of them. So ought men to organise their lives that they shall be fertile without, and fruitful and rich and abundant also within. (H. W. Beecher.)
The hidden man
I. It reminds us that it is the inward life that makes the man. The “hidden man” is not what first meets the eye that constitutes a person’s individuality. It is what his will-led, taught yet ignorant, prejudiced yet biassed, free yet trammelled, great yet little-determines.
II. We are reminded that this inward man far exceeds that which is outward and visible.
1. It exceeds it in value. A man would not take the kingdom for his body. Youth or age, beauty or vileness, do not alter the intrinsic nature of the man. Often indeed do we see the noblest spirits inhabit the most unseemly bodies, while those who possess outward beauty are infamous in their lives. As to the stupendous contrast, in value, of the soul over the body, it is impossible to define any just description. A priceless jewel wrapped in a worthless piece of paper is only a faint representation of the contrast which exists between them.
2. The inner man again is the responsible part of our human nature. The body is but the agent.
3. Compare again for one moment the elements of which they are severally composed. The outward, visible man is dust. The soul or living essence is the breath of the living God. Its influence at once exalts the body to the highest step of material creation.
III. We may consider that this inward life is as the text describes it-a “hidden” life. No human eyes can penetrate the veil which hides it from view. It is in our own hearts we live, in our souls we exist, and in our own hearts we must die. It would be mockery to bring the outside world into our inside existence. It would be bad for us, and bad for the world, if we did not live in a hidden world. Thank God that even our sins are hid.
IV. We would warn you that this hidden life is no secret from God.
V. That this inner man deserves and demands more careful cultivation than it generally receives. Now, in order to effectually cultivate the heart, there must be-
1. A continuous course of introspection.
2. There must be self-communion.
3. There must be the admission of Christ as a guest. It is in the heart that Christ must dwell. (Homilist.)
Religion an inward principle
When religion is styled “the hidden man of the heart” this language cannot imply that it is totally concealed from the observation of the world. Effects may be visible, while the principle whence they proceed is removed from our view. A beautiful river, which highly adorns the country through which it flows, will not fail to engage the eyes of every beholder. Yet the source of it may not be the object of our sight. In like manner the fruits of pious dispositions can be witnessed by all. But the dispositions themselves fall not within our notice. The words convey this idea, that genuine religion consists in the inward temper. From this view of it some instructive lessons may be deduced.
1. Religion does not so essentially depend upon any particular mode of faith or worship as some may suppose.
2. This subject teaches us that it is highly unbecoming and presumptuous in men to decide with rashness on the religious character and state of their neighbours. Fallible as we are we cannot read the motives of individuals; and much goodness may exist, which, from various causes, has few or no opportunities of being witnessed by the eye of man.
3. If religion be “the hidden man of the heart” it cannot exist, and still less can it flourish without the agency of God accompanying our diligence, watchfulness, and self-denial.
4. Religion, being “the hidden man of the heart,” cannot easily be in danger from causes altogether external; nor is it amenable to human laws, nor dependent on human patronage.
5. Since religion is a principle, the inseparable alliance between the possession of its spirit and our happiness, both present and future, is placed in a new and striking light. The happiness of man cannot be independent on the mind. The purest happiness of the mind will be the happiness of heaven, and the degree of it will be greatest in the cases of those whose religion is most eminently “the hidden man of the heart.” (J. Kentish.)
The best clothing
It is Tertullian’s counsel to young women: “Clothe yourselves with the silk of piety, with the satin of sanctity, with the purple of modesty; so shall you have God Himself to be your suitor.” (J. Trapp.)
A garment that will never be the worse for wearing, but the better. (J. Trapp.)
Beauty beneath ugliness
A woman, famous as one of the most kindly among leaders of the best American society, once said: “If I have been able to accomplish anything in life it is due to the words spoken to me in the right season when I was a child by an old teacher. I was the only homely, awkward girl in a class of exceptionally pretty ones, and being also dull at my books, became the butt of the school. I fell into a morose, despairing state, gave up study, withdrew into myself, and grew daily more bitter and vindictive. One day the French teacher, a grey-haired old woman, with keen eyes and a kind smile, found me crying. ‘Qu’ as-tu, ma fille?’ she asked. ‘Oh, madame, I am so ugly!’ I sobbed out. She soothed me, but did not contradict me. Presently, she took me to her room, and after amusing me for some time, said, ‘I have a present for you,’ handing me a scaly, coarse lump, covered with earth. ‘It is round and brown as you. “Ugly,” did you say? Very well, we will call it by your name, then. It is you! Now, you shall plant it, and water it, and give it sun for a week or two.’ I planted it and watched it carefully; the green leaves came first, and at last the golden Japanese lily, the first I had ever seen. Madame came to share my delight. ‘Ah,’ she said, significantly, ‘who would believe so much beauty and fragrance were shut up in that little, rough, ugly thing? But it took heart and came into the sun.’ It was the first time that it ever occurred to me that, in spite of my ugly face, I, too, might be able to win friends, and to make myself beloved in the world.” (Great Thoughts.)
The hidden man
“Why do you not wear richer apparel?” once asked a familiar friend of Edward I. “Because,” said the sensible king, “I cannot be more estimable in fine than I am in simple clothing.”
Exterior adornment insufficient
Those who adorn only the exterior, but neglect the inner man, are like the Egyptian temples, which present every kind of decoration upon the outside, but contain within, in place of a deity, a cat, a crocodile, or some other vile animal. (Clement of Alexandria.)
Inner attractiveness the most desirable
Plain women, far from underrating beauty, are apt to place too high a value upon it. Their own lack of comeliness is their lifelong sorrow. They do not realise that the women who are most ardently and lastingly loved by men are seldom very beautiful. Prettiness wins admiration; something much deeper and more subtle inspires and retains affection. No woman need be ugly. If there is a soul in her body it has but to begin betimes to show through, From her earliest girlhood the thought she thinks, the feelings to which she gives way, the tones she utters, the wishes she indulges, are sculpturing lines in her face that are capable of making a beauty all her own-lines whose writing will remain when bloom fades and sparkle falls. It is in the beginning of manhood and in the beginning of old age that a man is captivated simply by a pretty woman, and is in breathless haste to make her charms his own possession. The maturer man is far less subject to a mistaken infatuation. He looks for something less ephemeral than a glowing cheek and melting eye. “As a rule I prefer plain women to pretty ones,” said one of these discriminating persons. “They are less self-conscious and have more regard for the rights of others. When my wife sends me shopping, as sometimes happens, I always select a plain girl to serve me. You see she knows her lack of personal attractions, and that she has nothing to depend on but the excellency of her services. Therefore she takes infinite pains with her customers. She pays strict attention to her business. There is nothing surer in the world than if you go into a store and select a plain girl to wait on you, you will be well served. The pretty girl, on the other hand, knows that she is pretty. It is usually very apparent that she knows it. She trades upon her prettiness. She uses the time and thought she ought to devote to serving you in trying to make you understand and appreciate that she is pretty. And this principle underlies beauty’s conduct in other walks of life. I admire lovely women most men do-but unless they possess more solid attractions than charms of person they are soon outrivalled by their plain and tasteful sisters.” (Daily Paper.)
A reminder or heaven
“To look upon her face,” says Walworth of his mother, “was to feel heaven near. It was within her.”
A meek and quiet spirit.-
I. Some characteristics of the grace.
1. Its leading characteristic is the beautiful. Not so much “the true,” “the good,” is in his mind as “the beautiful.” First-rate Christian excellence assumes lovely forms. “Let the beauty of the Lord our God.”
2. The grace is distinctively feminine. The apostle is speaking to women, commending to them their distinctive glory. Here we come on a mystery of nature. All things are set over against each other in pairs, complemental.
3. But may, ought, to be assumed by all. There is a modification of the principle just laid down as to complemental beings and to complemental excellences. The one side may and must appropriate some characteristics of the other, e.g., a pillar all strength would be ugly; all garlands of flowers must fall. So a man all power would be dreadful; a woman all amiability could not carry the structure of life.
4. It is a grace of the interior life. “A meek and quiet spirit.”
II. The grace itself. The grace commended is that of quietness of soul; but on its two sides, not disturbing, not disturbed.
1. The soul-quietness that is not disturbed. The soul is like a ship on storm-beaten ocean-ever liable to tempest.
(1) Causes and occasions of disturbance. It may spring from conditions of body, mind, estate, in the church, in the world.
(2) Means of quietude. Quietude a decoration, but also a need. How?
(a) Some hints, along the common level of things.
(i) Live so as to have a cool brain and a clear mind.
(ii) Guard against one’s special temperament.
(iii) Face facts, and be not content without evidence.
(iv) Guard against demoniac might of the imagination.
(v) Do not morbidly underrate the kindness of fellow men, or overrate their antagonism.
(b) But rise higher. We need-
(i) Strong and growing dependence on God.
(ii) To be filled with the Spirit, i.e., to be filled with such thoughts and feelings, that storm shall break in regions below the serenities in which we dwell.
(iii) Keep ever in view the quietude of Christ. “See if there be any sorrow,” etc., if there be any patience like to His.
2. The soul quietness that is not disturbing. It is the restless that disturb the peace of others. Ourselves quiet, we shall not till others with wild alarm.
III. Other characteristics of the grace. Some characteristics were mentioned to prepare us to look upon the grace itself; these now are separately and finally pointed out to induce in us the cultivation of this grace also.
1. The soul-decoration is most valuable. One knows its worth. “In the sight of God” it is “of great price.”
2. Imperishable. (Henry T. Robjohns, B. A.)
Of meekness and quietness of spirit
I. What is implied in a meek and quiet spirit.
1. A calm submission under the merely natural evils and calamities which we meet with in the world.
2. A moderation of our anger and resentment upon occasion of moral wrongs or injuries.
3. A sincere desire of the harmony and happiness of society, and a disposition to cultivate peace and friendship with all about us.
II. Why we should acquire and cultivate this temper.
1. The intrinsic dignity and value of meek and quiet temper, which is of great price in the sight of God.
2. The importance of a meek and peaceable spirit in religion, and its necessity for our obtaining the mercy and forgiveness of God.
3. Another argument may be brought from the great examples of God’s clemency and patience, and our Saviour’s meek, gentle, and peaceable behaviour while He was in this world.
4. We should cultivate a meek and quiet spirit from a regard to the peace of mankind and the happiness of the particular persons with whom we have any intercourse.
5. We should cultivate a meek and peaceable spirit for our own interest and satisfaction. There is hardly anything that can be more prejudicial to a man than a wrathful and turbulent temper.
III. The methods of forming and raising a spirit of meekness and quietness is us.
1. For attaining to that part of it, which consists in a patient submission to the purely natural evils which befall us in the world, the great rule is to impress our minds with a deep conviction of the wisdom, equity, and goodness of Providence, by the direction or permission of which all such evils come upon us.
2. As the most difficult part of meekness and quietness of spirit consists in the due government of our resentment with respect to the authors of moral injuries, we must take care to represent such persons in the most favourable light that we justly can to ourselves.
3. When we feel our angry passions beginning to move in us let us carefully guard against their rising to any criminal or unbecoming height in us.
4. Let us observe the direction which our Lord has given us, to express a meek and peaceable spirit when we exercise our devotion and offer up our prayers to Almighty God. From what has been said we may see that the notions which so commonly prevail in the world, concerning the honour, courage, and magnanimity of men are extremely ill-founded. (J. Orr.)
Who is not fond of ornaments? Even those people who pretend to care only for “the useful” are not really quite indifferent to “the ornamental.” We not only have some things simply for ornament, but things which are made for use we like to look as nice as possible. We do not bind books, nor make furniture, nor build houses and churches for the sake of ornament, yet we all admire a pretty book, handsome furniture, a fine house, and beautiful churches. You may remember, in reading your Histories of England, how the early Britons, in their savage state, like many of the heathen still, used to paint their bodies, thinking it improved them. Now, this desire for ornament is laid deep down in our nature, like one of the foundation stones of a house, and, therefore, it is quite right, so long as it is guided properly. St. Peter is certainly not speaking against all ornament. How could it be wrong, when our earth is full of it? But, certainly, St. Peter does not mean we are not to think at all of our appearance. It is not right to be untidy and slovenly in dress. What, then, you ask, is wrong? To make one’s outward appearance the chief thing. Some people give you the impression that they are always thinking of what they have on; they seem to have just come away from the looking glass, for they are so “got up,” as we say, and look more like dressed dolls than like real men and women. But there are other persons who always look nice without seeming to be conscious what they have on, and who never strike you as having spent much time over their toilet, or as if it had cost them much trouble. These are the truest gentlemen and ladies. Now St. Peter tells us what part of ourselves we should be most anxious to make beautiful, and what ornament we should seek for it. And what is the part to be adorned? He calls it “the hidden man of the heart.” It reminds me of the Psalm which says, “The king’s daughter is all glorious within.” But, you say, who ever heard of wearing ornaments inside, where no one can see them? It must, surely, be silly to adorn something that is “hidden.” But no! it is not. For anyone can see the difference between a heart that is adorned and one that is not, though you cannot see either the heart or the ornament itself. For look at the adornment which St. Peter recommends. It is “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” Let us try to think of some persons mentioned in the Bible who wore this ornament. Did not Isaac, when he took that long and tiring journey with his father Abraham, carrying the wood for the sacrifice, quietly obeying and meekly submitting without any explanation from his father? Did not Samuel, when he got up that night three times and went to Eli, thinking Eli wanted him, and saying meekly, “Here am I”? Did not David, when he bore meekly his elder brother’s taunts, reproaching him for neglecting the sheep to come and see the battle; and afterwards in bearing so patiently with Saul’s fickleness and bad temper? Above all, did not Jesus wear this inner ornament all through His earthly life? And how can you tell if you have this “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”? Answer some questions to yourselves, and you will know. Are you rude and rough, or gentle and polite? Are you wayward and wilful, as if you knew better than those who are older and wiser than you are; or do you at once and cheerfully obey your parents and your teachers? Now, people generally keep their best things for Sundays and “special occasions,” when there are strangers or visitors to see them. At other times some persons do not seem to care how they look or what they have; but this “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” is meant to be worn always, out-of-doors and indoors, at work and at play, at church, at school, and at home. And I think you will agree with me that we ought to seek first that kind of adorning which will best commend us to those with whom we live. Whenever you have on “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” they cannot fail to notice it, for, like a lustrous jewel, it will glance out at every turn through a pure, transparent life, and it will make you very dear to all your friends. Yes, this ornament is the most beautiful of all. But again, this “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit” is most precious. The apostle Peter says it is “of great price.” It is precious, truly, in the sense of being scarce, like rare flowers and ferns and precious stones; for one person who possesses it, you may find a thousand without it, yet who have plenty of the commoner and cheaper kinds of ornament. But this one is so precious chiefly because it is an ornament of God’s own making. There is yet another reason why it is so precious. Do you not think the more of a thing if it has cost your parents much money and trouble to get? Well, God made a real and very great sacrifice that we might have this ornament, giving up His Son to show it us in all its loveliness, and to enable us to get it. Then, too, this adorning is most lasting. (C. S. Slater, M. A.)
I. To show what this meekness and quietness of spirit is.
1. There is meekness toward God, and it is the easy and quiet submission of the soul to His whole will, according as He is pleased to make it known, whether by His word or by His providence.
(1) It is the silent submission of the soul to the Word of God: the understanding bowed to every Divine truth, and the will to every Divine precept; and both without murmuring and disputing.
(2) It is the silent submission of the soul to the providence of God, for that also is the will of God concerning us.
(a) When the events of Providence are grievous and afflictive.
(b) When the methods of Providence are dark and intricate, and we are quite at a loss what God is about to do with us.
2. There is meekness toward our brethren, toward all men (Titus 3:2), and so we take it here.
(1) Meekness teaches us prudently to govern our own anger, whenever anything occurs that is provoking.
(a) The work of meekness is to cairn the spirit, so as that the inward peace may not be disturbed by any outward provocation.
(b) Meekness will curb the tongue, and keep the mouth as with a bridle when the heart is hot (Psalms 39:1-3).
(c) Meekness will cool the heat of passion quickly, and not suffer it to continue. As it keeps us from being soon angry, so it teaches us, when we are angry, to be soon pacified.
(2) Meekness teaches and enables us patiently to bear the anger of others, which property of meekness we have especially occasion for, in reference to our superiors and equals. And here meekness is of use, either to enjoin silence, or indite a soft answer. We must be of a quiet spirit. Quietness is the evenness, the composure, and the rest of the soul, which speaks both the nature and the excellency of the grace of meekness. The greatest comfort and happiness of man is sometimes set forth by quietness (Isaiah 32:17-18). In a word, quietness of spirit is the soul’s stillness, and silence, from intending provocation to, or resenting provocation from, any with whom we have to do. The word has something in it of a metaphor, which we would not choose but fairly prosecute, for the illustration of the grace of meekness.
1. We must be quiet as the air is quiet from winds. Disorderly passions are like stormy winds in the soul; they toss and hurry it, and often overset it (Isaiah 7:2), and is an apt emblem of a man in passion. Now meekness restrains these winds, says to them, “Peace, be still,” and so preserves a calm in the soul. It is not well to lie wind bound in dulness and indifferency; but tempests are perilous. What manner of grace is this, that even the winds and the sea obey it? If we will but use the authority God has given us over our own hearts, we may keep the winds of passion under the command of religion and reason, and then the soul is quiet, the sun shines, all is pleasant, serene, and smiling, and the man sleeps sweetly and safely on the lee side. We make our voyage among rocks and quicksands, but if the weather be calm, we can the better steer so as to avoid them:
2. We must be quiet as the sea is quiet from waves. Now meekness is the grace of the Spirit, that moves upon the face of the waters, and quiets them. It casts forth none of the mire and dirt of passion. This calmness and evenness of spirit makes our passage over the sea of this world safe and pleasant, and speedy towards the desired, harbour, and is exemplary in the eyes of others.
3. We must be quiet as the land is quiet from war. It was the observable felicity of Asa’s reign, that in his days “the land was quiet” (2 Chronicles 14:15). Such a quietness there should be in the soul, and such a quietness there will be where meekness sways the sceptre. A soul inflamed with wrath and passion upon all occasions, is like a kingdom embroiled in war.
4. We must be quiet as the child is quiet after the weaning. How easy its days! How quiet its nights! If put into a little pet now and then, how soon it is over!
II. The excellency of meekness and quietness of spirit.
1. Consider how creditable a meek and quiet spirit is.
(1) There is in it the credit of a victory. Meekness is a victory over ourselves and the rebellious lusts in our own bosoms; it is a quieting of intestine broils, the stilling of an insurrection at home which is oftentimes more hard to do than to resist a foreign invasion. It is an effectual victory over those that injure us.
2. There is in it the credit of beauty. The beauty of a thing consists in the symmetry, harmony, and agreeableness of all the parts: now what is meekness, but the soul’s agreement with itself? Exorbitant passion is a discord in the soul; it is like a turnout in the face, which spoils the beauty of it.
3. There is in it the credit of an ornament. The text speaks of it as an adorning much more excellent and valuable than gold or pearls.
4. There is in it the credit of true courage. Meekness is commonly despised and run down by the grandees of the age as a piece of cowardice. He that can deny the brutal lust of anger and revenge, rather than violate the royal law of love and charity (however contrary the sentiments of the world may be), is truly resolute and courageous; the Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. Fretting and vexing is the fruit of the weakness of women and children, but much below the strength of a man, especially of the new man, that is born from above.
5. The credit of a conformity to the best patterns. The resemblance of those that are confessedly excellent and glorious, has in it an excellence and glory. To be meek, is to be like the greatest saints. Let the true honour that attends this grace of meekness recommend it to us: it is one of those things that are honest, and pure, and lovely, and of good report; a virtue that has a praise attending it (Philippians 4:8). A praise, not, perhaps, of men, but of God (Romans 2:29). Consider how comfortable a meek and quiet spirit is. Inward comfort is a desirable good, which has more in it of reality. What is true comfort and pleasure but a quietness in our own bosom? Those are most easy to themselves who are so to all about them.
A meek and quiet Christian must needs live very comfortably, for-
1. He enjoys himself. Meekness is very nearly allied to that patience which our Lord Jesus prescribes to us as necessary to the keeping possession of our own souls (Luke 21:19). How calm are the thoughts, how serene are the affections, how rational the prospects, and how even and composed are all the resolves of the meek and quiet soul! It is spoken of as the happiness of the meek that they “delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalms 37:11). Others may delight themselves in the abundance of wealth.
2. He enjoys his friends: and that is a thing in which lies much of the comfort of human life. Man was intended to be a sociable creature, and a Christian much more so. But the angry man is unfit to be so that takes fire at every provocation.
3. He enjoys his God; and that is most comfortable of all. It is the quintessence of all happiness.
4. It is not in the power of his enemies to disturb and interrupt him in these enjoyments. His peace is not only sweet, but safe; as far as he acts under the law of meekness, it is above the assaults of those that wish ill to it.
Consider how profitable a meek and quiet spirit is. Meekness is gainful and profitable.
1. As it is the condition of the promise. The meek are therefore blessed, “for they shall inherit the earth” (Psalms 37:11).
2. As it has in its own nature a direct tendency to our present benefit and advantage. He that is thus wise is wise for himself, even in this world, and effectually consults his own interest.
(1) Meekness has a good influence upon our health. If envy be the “rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30), meekness is the preservation of them.
(2) It has a good influence upon our wealth, the preservation and increase of it. As in kingdoms, so in families and neighbourhoods, war begets poverty.
(3) It has a good influence upon our safety. Consider what a preparative it is for something further.
1. It makes us fit for duty. It puts the soul in frame, and keeps it so, for all religious exercises.
2. It makes us fit for any relation which God in His providence may call us into. Those who are quiet themselves cannot but be easy to all that are about them; and the nearer any are to us in relation and converse, the more desirable it is that we should be easy to them.
3. It makes us fit for any condition, according as the wise God shall please to dispose of us. Those that through grace are enabled to quiet themselves are fit to live in this world where we meet with so much every day to disquiet us. In general, whether the outward condition be prosperous or adverse, a meek and quiet spirit is neither lifted up with the one, nor cast down with the other, but still in the same poise; in prosperity humble, the estate rising but the mind not rising with it; in adversity encouraged and cheered up; in both even, like a dye, throw in which way you will, it lights on a square side.
4. It makes us fit for a day of persecution.
5. It makes us fit for death and eternity. The meek and quiet soul is at death let into that rest which it has been so much labouring after; and how welcome must that needs be!
III. The application.
I. And now, have we not reason to lament the want of the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit among those that profess religion, and especially in our own bosoms? It is the manifest design of our holy religion to soften and sweeten our tempers, and to work off the ruggedness of them.
1. Superiors are commonly very apt to chide, and that is for want of meekness.
2. Inferiors are commonly very apt to complain. If everything be not just to their mind, they are fretting and vexing.
3. Equals are commonly very apt to clash and contend. It is for want of meekness that there are in the Church so many pulpit and paper quarrels.
II. Have we not reason to endeavour, since there is such a virtue, to attain these things? For your direction in this endeavour I shall briefly lay before you-
1. Some Scripture precepts concerning meekness.
(1) That we must seek meekness (Zephaniah 2:3).
(2) We must put on meekness (Colossians 3:12).
(3) We must follow after meekness (1 Timothy 6:11).
(4) We must show all meekness unto all men (Titus 3:2).
2. Some Scripture patterns of meekness and quietness of spirit.
(1) Abraham was a pattern of meekness, and he was “the father of the faithful” (Genesis 13:8).
(2) Moses was a pattern of meek ness (Numbers 12:3).
(3) David was a pattern of meekness, and it is promised (Zechariah 12:8). When his enemies reproached him, he was not at all disturbed at it (Psalms 38:13).
(4) St. Paul was a pattern of meekness. “He became all things to all men.”
(5) Our Lord Jesus was the great pattern of meekness and quietness of spirit: all the rest had their spots, the fairest marbles had their flaws, but here is a copy without a blot.
(a) He was very meek towards God His Father, cheerfully submitting to His whole will, and standing complete in it.
(b) He was very meek towards His friends that loved and followed Him. First, in His bearing with their weaknesses and infirmities. Secondly, in His forgiving and passing by their unkindnesses and disrespects to Himself.
(c) He was very meek toward His enemies that hated and persecuted Him.
3. Some particular instances wherein the exercise of meekness is in a special manner required. The rule is general; we must show all meekness: it will be of use to observe some special cases to which the Scripture applies this general rule.
(1) We must give reproofs with meekness. It is the apostle’s direction (Galatians 6:1).
(2) We must receive reproofs with meekness.
(3) We must instruct gainsayers with meekness (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
(4) We must make profession of the hope that is in us with meekness (1 Peter 3:15).
(5) We must bear reproaches with meekness.
4. Some good principles or considerations which tend to make us meek and quiet.
(1) That he has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his own passions.
(2) That in many things we all offend.
(3) That there is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skilfully and graciously improved, there is good to be gotten by it.
(4) That what is said and done in haste is likely to be a matter for deliberate repentance.
(5) That that is truly best for us which is most pleasing and acceptable to God, and that a meek and quiet spirit is so.
5. Some rules of direction.
(1) Sit loose to the world, and to everything in it. The more the world is crucified to us, the more our corrupt passions will be crucified in us.
(2) Be often repenting of your sinful passion, and renewing your covenants against it.
(3) Keep out of the way of provocation, and stand upon your guard against it.
(4) Learn to pause. It is a good rule, as in our communion with God, so in our converse with men (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
(5) Pray to God by His Spirit to work in you this excellent grace of meekness and quietness of spirit. It is a part of that comeliness which He puts upon the soul, and He must be sought unto for it.
(6) Be often examining your growth and proficiency in this grace. Inquire what ground you have got of your passion, and what improvements you have made in meekness.
(7) Delight in the company of meek and quiet persons (Proverbs 22:24-25).
(8) Study the Cross of our Lord Jesus.
(9) Converse much in your thoughts with the dark and silent grave. (Matthew Henry.)
In the sight of God of great price.-
In God’s sight
Everything, you know, is in God’s sight. Not the tiniest atom in the heart of the earth, not the faintest twinkle of the farthest star, not a passing smile or frown on your face, or a secret thought in your mind, can be hidden from God. But more than this is meant when a thing is said to be precious in God’s sight. It means that He takes notice of it, is pleased with it, and wishes us to count it precious. Things often look very different to us from what they really are. Coloured glass may look like precious stones. Gilded wood may look like a bar of gold. But God sees things as they really are. This, you see, is beauty of mind, or, as we sometimes say, beauty of character. A statesman had once been a poor lad, but had raised himself by his talents and industry. A rich but vulgar man said to him very rudely, “I remember when you blacked my father’s boots!” Instead of losing his temper, he simply said, “And did I not black them well?” This was a beautiful reply-it was the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” (British Weekly Pulpit.)
The holy women.
Holiness the best commendation
Note that he saith not wealthy women, fair women, but holy women; here is the ground of his commendation. A little holiness is better than a great deal of riches and beauty. Beauty fades with sickness, wealth hath many ways to take it away, but grace holds ever to life eternal, and commends before God, angels, and good men. (John Rogers.)
Whose daughters ye are.-
Sarah and her daughters
1. To begin with, note what a happy circumstance it is when a godly, gracious man has an equally godly and gracious wife.
2. We notice next, as we look to Sarah, that God does not forget the lesser lights.
3. Next notice that it would be well for us to imitate God in this: in not forgetting the lesser lights. I do not know that great men are often good examples. Learn not from the great but from the good: be not dazzled by success, but follow the safer light of truth and right.
4. Further more, another reflection arises, namely, that faith reveals itself in various ways. Faith makes one person this, and another that. Sarah does not become Abraham, nor does Abraham become Sarah.
5. We are led by our text to look at the fruit of faith in Sarah.
I. It is said of her that she did well, “whose daughters ye are as long as ye do well.”
1. She did well as a wife. All the duties that were incumbent upon her as the queen of that travelling company were performed admirably.
2. She did well as a hostess. Though she was truly a princess, yet she kneaded the dough and prepared the bread for her husband’s guests.
3. She did well also as a mother. We are sure she did, because we find that her son Isaac was so excellent a man; and you may say what you will, but in the hand of God the mother forms the boy’s character.
4. She did well, also, as a believer, and that is no mean point. As a believer when Abraham was called to separate himself from his kindred, Sarah went with him. She continued with him, believing in God with perseverance.
II. She proved her faith by a second evidence-she was “not afraid with any amazement.” She was calm, and was not put in fear by any terror. There were several occasions in which she might have been much disquieted. The first was in the breaking up of her house life. An unbelieving woman would have said, “A call from God? Nonsense! Fanaticism! I do not believe in it,” and when she saw that her husband would go she would have been afraid with great amazement. Then, though we do not hear much about her, we know that all those years she had to live in a tent. It is a very trying life for a housewife. Sarah travelled from day to day, and what with the constant moving of the tent, as the cattle had to be taken to fresh pastures, it must have been a life of terrible discomfort; yet Sarah never said a word about it. Remember, they were dwelling in tents as pilgrims and strangers, not for one day, or two, nor for a few days in a year, but for scores of years at a stretch. It was bravely done by this good woman that she was not afraid with any amazement. Now, this is a point in which Christian women, and, for the matter of that, Christian men also, should seek to imitate Sarah: we should not let our hearts be troubled, but rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
1. What is this virtue? It is a calm, quiet trusting in God.
2. When is this virtue to be exercised by us? Well, it should be exercised at all times. If we are not self-composed when we are happy we are not likely to be calm when we are sad.
3. You inquire, Who are to exercise this virtue? We are all to do so; but the text is specially directed to the sisterhood. I suppose women are exhorted to it, because some of them are rather excitable, a little hysterical, and apt to be fearfully depressed and utterly carried away.
4. But this virtue especially serves in time of trouble, when a very serious trial threatens us. Then the Christian is not to say, “What shall I do now? I can never endure it. I shall die of a broken heart.” No. Do not talk so. Try in patience to lift up your head, and remember Sarah, “whose daughters ye are if ye are not afraid with any amazement.”
5. And so must it be in times of personal sickness. A Christian woman should not be afraid with any amazement either in adversity or in sickness, but her holy patience should prove her to be a true daughter of Sarah and Abraham.
6. Christian women in Peter’s day were subject to persecution as much as their husbands.
7. And so if you should be called to some stern duty, if you should be bound to do what you feel you cannot do, recollect that anybody can do what he can do. Be not afraid, then, of any duty, but believe that you will be able to do it, for grace will be sufficient for you.
8. At last, in the prospect of death, may you not be afraid with any amazement! Where others show their fear, and sometimes their terror, there should the believer show his peacefulness and his happy expectancy, not afraid with any amazement, whatever the form of death may be. Now, what is the excellence of this virtue? I answer by saying it is due to God that we should not be afraid with any amazement. Such a God as we have ought to be trusted. He worships best who is most calm in evil times. Moreover, the excellence of this virtue is that it is most impressive to men. Nor is the usefulness confined to others. It is most useful to ourselves; for he who can be calm in time of trouble will be most likely to make his way through it. Calmness of mind is the mother of prudence and discretion; it gives the firm foothold which is needful for the warrior when he is about to deal a victorious blow. Those who cannot be amazed by fear shall live to be amazed with mercy. “How,” says one, “can we obtain it?” Recollect, it is an outgrowth of faith, and you will have it in proportion as you have faith. Have faith in God and you will not be afraid with any amazement. This holy calm comes, also, from walking with God. No spot is so serene as the secret place of the tabernacles of the Most High. When you accept every affliction as a love token, then will your fear be ended. Next, remember the faithfulness of God to His promise, and the fact that there is a promise for your particular position. Search it out, and then grasp it, and say, “He must keep it; He cannot break His word.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Likewise ye husbands.-
The duties of husbands
I. The foundation of domestic life. “Dwell with your wives according to knowledge”-in accord with the light of reason, sense, humanity, and especially revelation. The very attitude and demeanour of life require to be matters of study and thought.
II. The courtesy of domestic life. “Giving honour to the wife as being the weaker vessel.” This consists in a nameless deference, an unfailing regard, a constant forbearance, a remembrance of her bodily weakness, as well as of her subordinate position.
III. The sanctification of domestic life. “As being heirs together of the grace that is given unto you.” (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
The weaker vessel.-
The weaker vessel
Women are weaker in body than men, weaker also in mind, timorous, soon discouraged, soon provoked, quickly take hurt. Yet are not wives so weak but God hath given them competent ability of body and mind to go through with their duties, and as they be the weaker, so they have the weaker works than men, theirs being for the most part within doors.
1. Hereupon let wives submit them selves the more willingly, and the weaker they find themselves, let them trust the more on God, that they may be strong in Him.
2. For husbands, let them use their wives kindly. They must not grieve them, nor disquiet them to their undoing. They be good, costly, and very profitable vessels, for excellent use, but easily cracked; therefore had we more need have the more care of them, as we have of some choice glass.
3. This rebukes those that use their wives ruggedly, sometimes railing at them. A Venice glass well used and looked to may last long, so may a good wife, but some vex and grieve their wives, that they pine away with sorrow. What an account have these to make! (John Rogers.)
Heirs together of the grace of life.-
The blessedness of Christian connections
I. The view here given of future blessedness. “The grace of life.”
1. He calls it “life” in an eminent sense. Now, it is limited. Then the great ends of life will be supremely answered. Its duration will justify the appellation “life.”
2. He calls it “the grace of life” because it is the gift of grace, bestowed in a very gracious way.
II. The endearing and delightful way in which Christians are put in possession of this blessedness in connection with one another. “As being heirs together.”
1. It gratifies our generosity and benevolence.
2. It adds meekness to the intercourse of friendship.
3. Providence has so ordered it that Christians should be not only fellow heirs but fellow helpers to eternal life.
4. It provides such a cordial when friends come to part.
1. How richly and graciously has God ordered it, that the salvation of Christians should be linked together.
2. How anxious should those who are united by natural affection be, to become heirs together of such a life.
3. How important it is that those who are heirs together of such a life should cultivate the dispositions most suited to it,
4. How desirable it is to have reference to these views in time of need.
5. How terrible is the sentiment of the text reversed. (T. N. Toller.)
Duties of husbands and wives
1. The first duty which he enjoins is subjection (1 Peter 3:1).
2. The second duty enjoined on Christian wives is “chaste conversation”; in other words, a deportment governed by principles of modest decorum and unblemished purity.
3. The apostle’s third direction respects fear, “A chaste conversion, coupled with fear,” by which I understand, with Dr. Doddridge, the fear of God, a holy principle of reverence for the Supreme Being, consistent with love and springing greatly from it.
4. The fourth direction to Christian females respects indifference to external ornaments of dress (1 Peter 3:3).
5. The fifth advice is on the cultivation of the mind (1 Peter 3:4). “Whose adorning,” etc.
6. A sixth precept, and the last which he urges on his female friends, is the union of decision and cheerfulness (1 Peter 3:6). Doing well is practical decision. The absence of fear with amazement, or of a perturbed dissatisfaction of mind, implies cheerfulness.
The apostle suggests three motives to enforce these directions,
1. The first is the probable influence of the deport-meet of the pious female in affecting the conversion of an unbelieving husband (1 Peter 3:1-2).
2. The second motive urged by the apostle is the approbation of God (1 Peter 3:4).
3. The third motive arises from example (1 Peter 3:5-6). But let me request attention to the exhortation which is given to Christian husbands (1 Peter 3:7).
The duty of Christian men united in marriage is here represented to consist chiefly in three articles.
1. The first is domestic attachment-“Dwell with them.”
2. The second duty enjoined on Christian husbands is conduct governed by “knowledge.” “Dwell with them according to knowledge.”
3. The third duty which is here inculcated on believing husbands, in reference to their wives, is that of respectful as well as affectionate attention, which the apostle calls giving them honour. Dr. Doddridge supposes this to intend a suitable and, as far as may be, a liberal maintenance. Certainly this is included; but the precept appears to go much further. It is a guard against the abuse of that domestic authority which Providence has lodged in the hands of the husband. For how can despotic power reign in his breast, who honours the wife of his bosom? Various considerations to enforce these duties arise out of the apostle’s statement of the wife as “the weaker vessel.” (The Evangelist.)
Heirs of the grace of life
I. Let us attend to their joint privilege. They are “heirs together of the grace of life.” The happiness of the marriage relation is generally dependent on the resemblance of the persons entering into it. The significant expression used by the sacred writer implies-
1. That both are partakers of “grace”; in other words, that they are real Christians. It is not always so.
2. That they are not in present possession of all the happiness designed for them-“the grace of life.” This inheritance, in its largest extent, they do not possess; they are “the heirs.” They have many toilsome steps to take in the journey of their present existence before they reach their heavenly inheritance. Uncertainty hangs over every event.
3. They have glorious prospects in futurity. The heirs of God are joint heirs with Christ.
II. The influence of this privilege on the general deportment of Christians united in marriage.
1. In the promotion of personal religion. Marriage should be improved to form and refine the individual character, but the duties of the individual character can never be annihilated by the social bond. Being heirs together of the grace of life, each of you is bound to be uniformly, decidedly, eminently devoted to God and the Redeemer. The same consideration should operate.
2. On the mutual advancement of piety in each other’s hearts. The converted wife or the converted husband is never to be regarded by the other party as one standing in need of no helps to the advancement of the highest interests of the soul.
3. In the engagements of domestic worship and discipline. Wherever Christians pitch their tents, they should without delay erect an altar.
4. On resolutions made before God with regard to relations not yet in existence. Such relations, young people entering into the bonds of marriage ought to anticipate. “We may hereafter be parents” is consideration which forces itself on their minds.
5. On the general conduct. Married people, feeling reciprocally the influence of religion, will practically recommend it to the approbation of all who behold them.
III. The connection of the performance or the neglect of the duties of the marriage relation, with the acceptance and usefulness, or with the hindrance, of prayer, “That your prayers be not hindered.”
1. To a deep sense of the necessity of prayer, which will be encouraged in the one case, and wretchedly hindered in the other.
2. To the constant exercise of the external duty of prayer.
3. To the cultivation or the neglect of the spirit of prayer.
4. To the experience, and to the diminution of the advantages of prayer. Prayer, if an acceptable, is an operative service. (The Evangelist.)
I. Marriage is a divine institution, and ought to be accompanied by a religious ceremony.
1. The original institution might alone suffice to satisfy our minds of this. It is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency.
2. Nor can it have escaped your notice that marriage was at all times treated as a religious ceremony.
3. Moreover, I cannot conceive of anyone possessed of godly feeling within him who can contemplate a rite so instituted of God as otherwise than religious.
4. And next I ask, How can that be a mere civil contract which we are so plainly taught in the Bible is distinctly figurative of Christ’s love for His spouse the Church.
II. Marriage was intended to be indissoluble, and the reversal of this is a proof of our degradation by sin.
1. The original appointment implies nothing less than this.
2. Christ distinctly said that marriage was intended to be indissoluble (Matthew 19:3-9).
3. The figure of the spiritual union betwixt Christ and His Church wholly fails if marriage was not intended to be indissoluble.
4. But if so, the question arises, “How conies a law of divorce in God’s Word, or in our own laws?” To the former question the answer is simply in the words of Christ, “It was not so from the beginning, but Moses, for the hardness of your hearts, suffered this law to be given.” “And this,” says the Fulfiller of all righteous law, “is the one only cause of divorce being ever permitted among you: it was not so from the beginning.”
III. Attention to the text would do much to render marriage what it was originally intended to be.
1. St. Peter tells you to regard yourselves as “heirs together of the grace of life.” Marriage is for this life, and in heaven they “neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God.” And yet St. Peter introduces this reference to eternal life in connection with it; and it would be hard to say why he does so, unless it be that a right fulfilment of that condition is a great help in Christianity between man and wife. But this becomes quite certain, if only you will observe one word in the text. St. Peter does not call you “heirs of the grace of life,” but “heirs together of the grace of life.” This plainly asserts that in religious matters husband and wife are intended to be helps-meet for one another-but who will think of this that recognises marriage as a legal ceremony?-that they are not to live a life through with, perhaps, much confiding love and esteem in other matters, but without any care and interest whatsoever in each other’s future state.
2. One other remark here must suffice; it is on the importance of praying together. How many unhappy wives and miserable husbands would be rendered blessed if only they prayed together as “heirs together of the grace of life”! Who could rise to quarrel that knelt to pray? (G. Venables.)
There are some husbands and wives whose conduct to each other depends entirely upon surrounding circumstances. When there is plenty of money at the bank, and prosperity is shining upon the homestead, their affinity and love for each other is intense. But in the gloom of adversity, and under sombre influences, they have no mutual attraction whatsoever, and their affections are kept in isolation. This type of the matrimonial life may be called the chlorine-hydrogen type. Chlorine and hydrogen are gases having a powerful affinity for each other-that is to say, they will unite when brought together in the daylight; but if we change the conditions, if we bring them together in the dark, their affinity is never manifested; and thus, while in the sunlight they rush together with even explosive force, they will remain quiescent in the darkness, and there for all eternity would form no combination whatever. (Scientific Illustrations.)
That your prayers be not hindered.-
Unfit for prayer
The breach of conjugal love, the contentions of husband and wife, do, out of doubt, so embitter their spirits, that they are exceedingly unfit for prayer, which is the sweet harmony of the soul in God’s ears; and when the soul is so far out of tune as those distempers make it, He cannot but perceive it whose ear is the most exact of all, for He made and tuned the ear, and is the fountain of harmony. It cuts the sinews and strength of prayer, makes breaches and gaps, as wounds at which the spirits fly out. When the soul is calm and composed it may behold the face of God shining on it. And those who pray together should not only have hearts in tune within themselves, in their own frame, but tuned together; especially husband and wife, who are one, they should have hearts consorted and sweetly tuned to each other for prayer. (Abp. Leighton.)
Hindrances to prayer
I. First, there is such a thing as being hindered from prayer.
1. That may be done by falling into a generally lax, lukewarm condition in reference to the things of God. When a sick man is in a decline his lungs suffer and his voice; and so when a Christian is in a spiritual decline the breath of prayer is affected, and the cry of supplication becomes weak.
2. Prayers may be hindered by having too much to do. In this age this is a very common occurrence. We may have too much business for ourselves. The rich man in the parable had no time for prayer, for he was busy in planning new barns, but he had to find time for dying when the Lord said, “This night shall thy soul be required of thee.” We may even have too much to do in God’s house, and so hinder our prayers, by being like Martha, cumbered with much serving. I never heard of anyone who was cumbered with much praying.
3. There can be no doubt, also, that prayer is hindered by having too little to do.
4. very large proportion of Christians do too little. God has given them enough wealth to be able to retire from business; they have time upon their hands, and they have even to invent ways of spending that time. I wish that all could say with one of the Lord’s saints, “Prayer is my business and praise is my pleasure”; but I am sure they never will till the zeal of the Lord’s house shall more fully consume them.
5. Some people hinder their prayers, again, by a want of order. They get up a little too late, and they have to chase their work all’ the day and never overtake it, but are always in a flurry, one duty tripping up the heels of another.
II. Secondly, we must watch that we be not hindered in prayer, when we are really engaged in that holy work.
1. Let us note that some are hindered in prayer by selecting an unfit time and place. There are times when you may expect a knock at your own door, do not just then knock at God’s door. There are times that are demanded of you by the necessities of the household and your lawful calling; these are already the Lord’s in another way, let them be used for their own purpose. Give to God and prayer those suitable times in which you can reasonably expect to be alone. A pious lad who had no place at home to pray in, went to the stable and climbed up into the hayloft; but very soon some one came up the ladder and interrupted him: the next time he took care to pull the ladder up after him, a very useful hint for us. Select the fittest time and place, that your prayers be not hindered.
2. Worldly cares are frequent and most mischievous hindrances to prayer. A Christian man should be the most careful man in the world, and yet without carefulness. Oh, for more grace and less worry! More praying and less hoarding! More intercession and less speculating! As it is, prayers are sadly hindered.
3. Earthly pleasures, especially of a dubious kind, are the worst of hindrances. How can you come home from frivolity and sin and then look into the face of Jesus? How can the fashions of the world be followed, and communion with God be maintained?
4. Further, prayers may be hindered equally much by worldly sorrow. It is right to be sorrowful, for God intends that affliction should be grievous, and not joyous; but when sorrow is right it will drive us to prayer, and not drive us from it; and when we find our grief at the loss of some dear child, or at the decay of our property, hinders our prayers, I think we should say to ourselves, “Now I must pray; for it must be wrong for me to be so rebellious against my Father as to refuse to ask anything at His hands.”
5. There are cases in which prayer is very greatly hindered by bad temper. We cannot pray for forgiveness unless we forgive the trespasses of others against us. Prayer can be very terribly hindered in three ways: if we dishonour the Father to whom we pray, or the Son through whom we pray, or the Holy Ghost by whom we pray.
III. We may be hindered in the speeding of our prayers. We may pray, but yet the prayer may not be heard.
1. First, there must be holy living in a believer if his prayers are greatly to succeed with God. If you do not do Christ’s will He will not do your will.
2. In addition to obedience there must be faith. The prayer which avails most with God is the prayer of one who believes that God will hear him, and who therefore asks with confidence.
3. Thirdly, there must be holy desires, or else prayer will be a failure; and those desires must be founded on a promise. There is no use in asking money of a banker without a cheque: at the counter they do not know you; they know the promise to pay, and if you present that you will get the amount, but not else.
4. Furthermore; if prayer is to speed, there must be fervour and importunity. The arrow must be put on the bowstring, and the bow must be drawn with all our might.
5. There must be, next, a desire for God’s glory-for that is the white of the target-and if we do not shoot towards that, the arrow will avail nothing.
6. We must also have holy expectancy, or we shall hinder prayer. The man who shoots must look to see where his arrow goes. We must direct our prayer unto God, and look up. Presumption in prayer shoots with the bow of self-confidence, not for God’s glory, but for the gratification of itself, and therefore it fails. Some have the idea that, ask what they like of God, they are sure to have it: but I would ask them, first, “Who are you?” secondly, “What is it you are going to ask?” and, thirdly, “What right have you to expect it?” These inquiries must be clearly answered, otherwise prayer may be an insult to God. Straightforward transactions you may pray about, but do not mix up the Lord with your financing. I am requested to pray for a young man who has lost his situation, through a defalcation, that he may get another place, but instead of doing so I suggest that he should himself pray to be made honest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Peter 3:8-9
Finally, be ye all of one mind.
I. What unity is.
1. It is a mutual agreement.
2. It is a mutual care of the common interest. If there be ever so much agreement in opinion and judgment, yet if the interests are divided it is not unity.
3. The terms of union and all the means of it must be lawful. Otherwise it is not unity, but conspiracy.
II. The advantages of unity.
1. It is the safety of all societies.
2. Unity best serves the purposes of religion. I need not say that dissensions destroy the beauty and charity of religion, that thereby God is dishonoured.
3. It is the perfection of all political virtues, and for the most part of the Christian virtues also. Good government, wholesome laws, mutual security, arts and sciences, trade and commerce, are all the children of union. And as unity is the perfection of political, so it is for the most part of Christian virtues also. The apostle tells us that love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:10). And then for these other Christian virtues, peace, humility, forgiveness, patience, contentment, charity, these do all as naturally flow from unity as a stream does from its fountain.
III. The relation that is between unity and charity. I cannot express this better than in St. Augustine’s similitude. If there be a thorn in the foot, the back bends, the eyes search, the hands are ready, and all parts are quick and active to relieve the member that is grieved. And this is the just resemblance of that charity that arises from unity. The whole body feels the smart and needs of a suffering member.
IV. Some considerations that may engage us to the love and practice of unity and charity.
1. The practice of these virtues recommends our religion to the world; that is, it gives people occasion to respect it, and speak well of it, and the least of it is that it gives them no just occasion to speak ill of it.
2. The practice of these virtues makes us like God.
3. It is the state of heaven. Unity and charity are immortal graces; they live at God’s right hand, and are part of the employment and the happiness of the other world. (Thos. Wagstaffe.)
Unity between Christian people
I. Wherein does unity between Christian people consist? Leighton suggests that St. Peter here describes five graces, of which love is the root or stalk, having two on either side: on the one side, like mindedness and compassionateness, on the other side, tender-heartedness and humble-mindedness.
II. How is unity between Christian people manifested?
III. What is the method for attaining this unity?
1. There is a direction as to detail of speech. Refrain from-
(1) The malicious.
(2) The false.
2. There is a deep and wide precept applying to the whole of life.
IV. What are the motives for being all and doing all that will insure this unity.
1. The Christian man is called to inherit blessing.
2. The cultivation of the spirit that promoted social unity ensures the summon bonum of the individual life.
3. Relationship to God is the great determining condition and motive in all that leads to true Christian unity.
(1) God knows what we are doing.
(2) God cares for what we are doing. (U. R. Thomas.)
Not that he would have these Jews to be of one mind with the idolatrous and profane Gentiles amongst whom they lived; but that, being believing Jews, they would all agree together in the matters of faith and religion of Christ, that they would all embrace the Lord Jesus, the only Foundation; and that some only should not look for salvation by Him, some by the law, and some by both, but that all should seek unto Him alone. And as they were thus to agree in matters of faith, so also in their civil affairs, avoiding contention and strife. (John Rogers.)
Beware of two extremes that often cause divisions.
1. Captivity to custom.
2. Affectation of novelty. (Abp. Leighton.)
The social ideal
All of one mind, cemented into a holy unity by a common sympathy. Ministering to the saints. Pitiful to the weak, erring, and poor. Courteous to equals. Calm and forgiving under abuse and injury. Seeking peace. Living under the smile of God. Where in all the world can we discover such a community of Christians? It were a fair vision, worth going far to see, An oasis in the desert. A snatch of celestial harmony amid the jarring discords of human selfishness. The New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven. Yet nothing less than this is the Christian ideal, as it is also that which our Lord died to secure. And it would well become us, if, without waiting for others, each one would adopt the injunctions of these verses as the binding rule of daily life. This would be our worthiest contribution to the convincing of the world, and to the coming of the kingdom of our Lord. And it would spread. And does not the apostle’s use of the word “finally” teach us that all Christian doctrine is intended to lead up to and inaugurate that life of love, the bold outlines of which are sketched in these words? (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Oneness of mind
This oneness of mind does not demand the monotony of similarity, but unity in variety. Not the oneness of a hop pole, or of a pile of hop poles; but of the plant which, with tendril, leaf, and fruit, rears itself aloft in the summer air. Not the oneness of a brick, or of a pile of bricks; but of the house, in which so many different materials and contrivances combine to shelter human life. Not the oneness of a child; but of a family of children who differ in age, character, temperament, and chosen pursuits, but are one in love and tender sympathy. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Having compassion one of another.-
We have got into a strange way of thinking about that word “compassion.” It seems to imply a sense of superiority in the person who experiences the emotion for which it stands. We talk about sympathising with people in misfortune; but how do we set about it? I ant afraid the usual way is to go to some one in distress and say something like this: “You poor thing; I am so sorry for you.” And then, if it is a kind of distress that appeals to our superior power for help, we give a little alms, or we do some little act of kindness before we go away, and dismiss the subject from our thoughts. But if it is grief that excites our sympathy, we too often make matters worse by offering consolations in which we do not half believe, such as saying it is all for the best, or time will wear it out. It is easy enough to say that other people’s misfortunes are all for the best. But is it always true? Should we like to be told so in a case of our own? Everything that happens is for the best in the wise counsels of our Father in heaven. But it is for us to turn it to the best account. The true sympathy is to enter into the feeling one’s self, and share it with the one to whom it properly belongs. And if we believe in the structure of Christ’s body, of which we call ourselves members, we must know that what belongs to one belongs to all-“And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it,” etc. The sympathy suggested by St. Peter’s word is a comprehensive feeling. It is not limited to any one kind of experience, such as grief or pain. It must diffuse itself throughout the whole capacity of loving hearts. Let it once but take possession of us all and see how all jangling discords will subside before its gentle touch. There will be no more room for envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. Let us seek this precious stream of harmony at the fountainhead. Let the love of Christ constrain us to be of one heart and one soul. And now, as to the thoroughness of this sympathy, it must be a partaking of the results of every impression made upon each other. There is nothing truer than the common saying that habit is a sort of second nature, and we all know that we have it in our power to contract very much such habits as we wish. This fact is at the bottom of all our plans for bringing up our children, that is to say, if we try to bring them up after any sensible plan at all. Some of us are naturally more disposed to personal affection than others. And these take more kindly, as the saying is, to the exercise of a general sympathy with humanity at large. It is well for such persons if they do not rest satisfied with the emotion alone and pride themselves on being holier than their hard-hearted brethren. But the fact of being less disposed to feel for other people is no excuse for not trying to do it. We may cultivate it like any other habit, only far more effectually by the grace of God, till it almost seems natural to us to have compassion one of another. I remember urging this once upon a man, hard and unloving by nature, who had trouble in his family, and his answer struck me very forcibly. “I see,” he said, “you want me to force sympathy in a hot bed.” And that is just one of the ways in which it may be done, and as a tender plant it will repay the greatest care. But, perhaps, all this while, you have no very clear idea what I mean by sympathy. It seems to me that it is another way of expressing a very common idea-that of doing as you would be done by. It is the putting of one’s self into the person of another-so far as it is possible or right to do so. That is to say, so far as it comes within our province as brethren, members of the same family of God-nay, more than that, of the same body of Christ-to care for each other’s concerns. Think of it when your friends are cross and you are tempted to answer them back-think of it when they are tired and you would worry them into your activity, or when they are cheerful and eager for some enjoyment and you would depress them with your selfish cares. Think of it again when you are judging of other people’s conduct under trials to which you have never been exposed, and when words of thoughtless censure or bitter scorn are welling to your lips. (H. C. Atwool, M. D.)
A good many years ago there lay in the streets of Richmond a man dead drunk, his face exposed to the blistering noonday sun. A Christian woman passed along, looked at him, and said, “Poor fellow!” She took her handkerchief and spread it over his face, and passed on. The man roused himself up from his debauch, and began to look at the handkerchief, and lo! on it was the name of a highly respectable Christian woman of the city of Richmond. He went to her, he thanked her for her kindness, and that one little deed saved him for this life, and saved him for the life that is to come. He was afterwards Attorney-General of the United States; but higher than all, he became the consecrated disciple of Jesus Christ. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Love as brethren.
I. Some qualities of brotherly love.
1. It is a peculiar and Divine principle.
2. It is comprehensive and universal.
3. It should be sincere and fervent.
4. It must be constant and permanent.
II. The way in which it should be manifested.
1. It will produce unanimity.
2. It will lead to the exercise of compassion and sympathy.
3. It will be regulated by Christian courtesy.
4. It should be manifested by Christians in their uniting in social exercises of devotion, and in the public worship of God. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Notwithstanding the many clear marks of wisdom and goodness which are found in creation, it must be confessed that the present world abounds with misery. How few can be found whose welfare is not more or less dependent on the will or humour of others; considering how much easier it is to injure than to promote human happiness, who can believe that the common Parent of all would have so little tenderness for His offspring as to leave them in a world thus constituted, without some better defence and stronger security than that of reason. But observe how admirably both the accidental and the necessary defects of reason are supplied by the active, uniform, instinctive principle of pity. For by giving to all men this principle, and placing them in a state of mutual dependency, God hath plainly constituted them the guardians of each other’s welfare. This tender affection is accordingly found so essential an ingredient in the composition of our nature, that the absence of it is termed inhumanity-a word which carries with it the deepest infamy. For it marks the outrage which nature suffers before it can take place. Interest or passion may put men upon acts of cruelty, and these acts by degrees may be formed into habits. And it were well if certain nations, among the most civilised in other respects, were more sensible of this danger. Nor is it any excuse to say that, for the safety of society, actions must be punished with severity. For though all this be true, yet is anyone so much a member of the community as to forget that he is a man? Or does sound policy require that the celestial justice should be transformed into an infernal fury, and employed in a Christian country in torturing malefactors by arts and inventions which are truly diabolical? As errors and corruptions in religion and government may account for these instances of national cruelty, so those of education may generate in particulars the same barbarous spirit. The veriest caviller must admit, unless he is stout enough to combat conviction, that benevolence and pity are qualities as proper to the whole species as modesty and chastity are peculiar to the one half of it. When God was pleased to place us in this state of trial, to render it the more supportable He gave men social and benevolent affections. And when He is pleased to admonish them by the mouth of His inspired apostle to be pitiful or compassionate, it is only referring them to those very feelings with which He has impressed, to those very faculties with which He has endowed them. (J. Mainwrigg, B. D.)
The apostles are not only careful to lay the foundation, but to build up. How comprehensive this whole verse, “Cherish fervent charity,” and discover it in acts of pity or courtesy, according to circumstances. By courtesy we are to understand “a considerate regard to the feelings and accommodations of others, resulting from a principle of Divine love, and discovering itself by a corresponding behaviour in all the various circumstances of our ordinary intercourse with mankind.”
I. Simplicity and Godly sincerity. The courtesy of the world is an imposing form, a delusive shadow, an artificial mode or fashion which persons acquire under the discipline of their dancing master.
II. Disinterestedness. The courtesy of the world is selfishness disguised.
III. Uniformity. The courtesy of the carnal mind is a sickly, humorsome, capricious thing, altogether incapable of persevering exertion.
IV. It is invariably associated with humility. In honour preferring one another. The men of the world do this in appearance. It is not the habit which properly belongs to them; it is the costume of a better country than that which claims them for its own; a foreign dress, which, like the traveller in his journey, they find it convenient to assume; a mere cloak worn in public to cover the deformity of their natural disposition. The courtesy of those who follow Jesus is the unaffected expression of a poor and contrite spirit.
V. To this may be added vigilance. It watches for opportunities of exertion, yet is not troublesome-not officious. It originates in a certain kindness of heart which may be called the wakefulness of love. Lessons:
1. Courtesy is a duty of more than human obligation. A breach of good manners is therefore not merely a departure from an arbitrary rule imposed by the fashion of the world, but a breach of charity. It is a violation of the law of love.
2. Courtesy to man is perfectly consistent with faithfulness to God. A good soldier of Jesus Christ must bear his testimony against sin; but our subject prescribes the manner only of so doing.
3. Man cannot practice Christian courtesy till he has renounced the world; for the world is not the school in which true politeness can be acquired. To be kind to the evil and to the unthankful is a lesson of heavenly wisdom. (J. Summerfield, M. A.)
When the writer was a boy, there was in his neighbourhood a stable where a troublesome horse was kept. This horse had a most inveterate habit of kicking. His owner, however, took care always to explain that though his horse was a furious kicker, “it did not mean anything.” Poor consolation certainly to anybody who received a kick-that the horse had no particular ill-will to him! It was just a way it had! Since we grew up to manhood, we have discovered that the quadruped in question was the type of many bipeds. Some Christians have a genial disposition which falls like sunshine on all around them. Such a man was Wilberforce; we wish there were more of this class-“Gentle unto all men, apt to teach; patient.” “He is a good man at bottom, but has a troublesome temper,” is a character which has many representatives in the Church. And for such the apology is usually made that “it is just their way!” Their way, forsooth! and is that all that grace is doing in them? There is certainly much to annoy in this world of ours. We are engaged, for instance, in some matter of business which requires concentration of thought, when we are interrupted by a visitor whose errand is of the most commonplace description. We feel a rising irritation at the unreasonable intrusion, but the text, “Be pitiful, be courteous,” forces us into complacency, and we are the better for the lesson. Or we are enjoying that very pleasant thing, a busy leisure, say on some quiet Saturday evening, when some acquaintance for whom we have no particular esteem looks in, “just to pass an hour or two, knowing that we were not likely to be engaged.” This is a little provoking, no doubt, and we are apt to give our visitor a very cold shake of the hand, till, “Be pitiful, be courteous,” sounds in our conscience, and we perhaps discover at the close of the evening that we have had a valuable opportunity both for giving and getting advice. Did either of those visitors intend to annoy us? No, by no means. The inconvenience in both cases arose from ourselves, and not from our visitors. How very unreasonable, therefore, would it have been in us to get angry at them, and send them away smarting under some cutting words, in all likelihood to be our enemies forever after! One advice we would give; it is the result of experience. If you really are so engaged that you cannot afford a visitor a few minutes’ conversation, tell him so. Do it plainly, frankly, politely; and you may be sure that he will be thankful to you for preventing him intruding unreasonably on your time. We pass, however, to another class of cases. We remember hearing it said of the manager of a bank, who died many years ago, that he could say “no” with a better grace than most men could say “yes.” He spoke what was painful in the least painful manner possible. How much does usefulness in the world depend on manner! Often have we seen a harsh manner destroy much good. And living examples there are everywhere of Christian men who would have done much good but for that abominable manner of theirs. No doubt there is an opposite extreme-a silky, whining, namby-pambyism, which in the eyes of all sensible people is despised as silly and suspicious. This, however, is much rarer than the bad manner-the icy coldness, or suspecting distance, or rudeness of the rough Christian. Some years ago a friend of ours was in an omnibus passing from the heart of our city to one of the suburbs. The omnibus stopped to pick up a passenger, who, from being welcomed by the others, was evidently well known and esteemed. Our friend admired the hearty old man, who had a kind word for everybody; and his kind words were evidently considered compliments, though spoken in broad Scotch. From some words that dropped from him, he was evidently a man of unusual talent, and a Christian. Our friend wondered who he could be, and all the more as the unknown, with the most polite attention, gave a poor servant girl some information which she desired about a house she had been told to call at. Who could this lovable yet mysterious stranger be? It was Dr. Chalmers. The genial old man had room in his large heart for sympathy and kindness to all. If we are to do good to all as we have opportunity, we must abound in kind words. Passing along the street a few days ago, we saw a little child who had tripped his foot, and fallen down. He was crying over his distress. We lifted him up, instinctively saying, “Poor little fellow!” These little words of sympathy were very cheap, but they brushed away his tears, and spread sunshine over his face again. The poorest on earth can say a kind word to his struggling brother or sister; and who can tell the good that may be done by a single kind word? It may cheer an inquiring sinner; it may send a faint believer on his way rejoicing. (D. Dickson.)
The words “courtesy” and “courteousness” are derived from the term “court,” and are used, in their primitive sense, to describe that refinement of manners which prevails in the palaces of princes and distinguishes the intercourse of the great; and because, from the corruption of courts, those who move in them have often used the manner and phraseology of respect when feelings directly the reverse have been rankling in the heart, the terms themselves have been associated in many minds with all that belongs to flattery, insincerity, and falsehood. Courtesy unquestionably refers to all that belongs to affability of manner in intercourse with one another; but Christian Courtesy involves along with it the internal principle from which that affability should proceed. All true courtesy presupposes the principle of benevolence, or goodwill towards men; a desire to promote, and complacency in, the happiness of others. It has been called “benevolence in trifles”-a care in little things, in words and manner and acts, by minute attention, to guard the feelings and to consult the comfort and happiness of others. It comprehends a readiness to conform to their tastes and habits in matters of indifference, an obvious preference of their accommodation to our own; a solicitude to avoid whatever may give pain, when no principle forbids; and, in short, a constant endeavour to prevent pain and impart pleasure.
I. Let us, then, examine some different aspects of courtesy. Towards superiors it is respect and deference; towards inferiors it is condescension and civility; towards equals it is bland and affable attention. Or we shall see better what it is by looking at its opposites. Christian courtesy stands opposed to gross defects and errors in the behaviour. In relation, for instance, to superiors, it is opposed not only to impertinence and presumption, but to obsequiousness. In relation to inferiors it stands opposed to coldness, to neglect, to pride, to positive contempt of them altogether, or a disregard of their feelings. In relation to equals it stands opposed to moroseness, or an unwillingness to be conciliated; to sullenness, or a kind of settled gloom of countenance and carriage; to impertinence of remark and rudeness of reply; to inattention of two kinds, inattention either positive or negative that is, either to do something for others, or kindly to receive what is done for us. It stands opposed to whatever is eccentric, or the indulgence of what is not tolerated by the general usages of society. It stands opposed to fretfulness-that is, the art of determining never to be pleased, and the want of disposition even to appreciate the sacrifices made for the very purpose of promoting their pleasure. Finally, it stands opposed to pride-to pride of family, to pride of intellect, to pride of money, to pride of accomplishments, and to the worst of all pride-the pride of spiritual pretensions. It is to be observed that the possession of this virtue in full play implies two things. It implies that benevolence exists in the mind of the individual as a principle; not merely as a fluctuating feeling, according to the flow of the spirits and the circumstances of the day, but as a principle-that is, the steady purpose of the reason, based upon the remembrance of the relation of man and man, and a just regard to the will of God. It implies, secondly, that it is so regular as to be habitual; that an occasion of failure from a sudden irruption of what remains, either of unsanctified or incurable depravity, is felt and lamented; that an endeavour to repair the injury accompanies the neglect; and that the principle is reestablished in the moment of the judgment regaining the ascendency. Let us now observe more particularly the sphere in which this virtue is to act and to display itself; of course, this is commensurate with our social relations, but we may mention some a little more particularly.
1. It should be seen in the family, and should regulate the intercourse of kindred. Here it is the mode of manifesting love, properly so called; and it preserves and purifies affection, by requiring that its expression be respectful and delicate; it keeps it from being disordered and debased by vulgar familiarity; it prompts to little ingenious devices, by which it is sustained.
2. But, further, the virtue to which I refer should be seen in the Church. As far as the present condition of society allows, it will promote among the members of a church the expression of interest and sympathy.
3. Again, it should accompany the Christian into the world. In the transaction of business a Christian should be distinguished by a readiness to oblige, and a carefulness to observe whatever may diffuse pleasure and give satisfaction. In social and familiar intercourse it requires to be often and habitually observed. But I remark, more particularly, that in argumentative conversation courtesy is eminently required. It should make us fair in argument, just to objections, calm in reply, capable of combining affability of manner with firmness of opinion, and respect for conscience with opposition to mistake. It should lead us to despise a spirit of personality. But two observations still remain.
(1) I wish it, then, not to be supposed that Christian courtesy extinguishes all strong feeling, and forbids the excited and powerful expressions of benevolence. Goodwill towards man implies no approval of his vices; love to humanity does not destroy distinctions of character.
(2) Neither is it to be supposed that courtesy to others involves a forgetfulness of what we owe to ourselves, or a just sense of what others owe to us. There are two extreme opposites to which the man whose courtesy is Christian and conscientious cannot go; and, therefore, his character may sometimes be mistaken. He cannot give, as is said in Scripture, “flattering words”-that is one extreme. And he cannot return “railing for railing”-that is another. In this descriptive account of courtesy it may not be amiss to make a remark, suggested by our Lord’s conduct. It is to be distinctly noticed that in all His allusions to publicans and sinners He never uttered anything against them like the language He employed towards the Pharisees; it was their profession of religion, in connection with their vices, which called forth His terrible rebuke. Now, from this circumstance we learn that in the exercise of courtesy a greater degree of it may be expressed towards decidedly worldly characters than towards inconsistent professors of religion.
II. The obligations under which we lie to the cultivation of this Christian grace.
1. In the first place, it rests upon the very same authority with every other part of the Divine law. God has expressly enjoined it; and we are thus, at once, in possession of the most infallible of all arguments to vindicate its propriety.
2. Secondly, to Divine authority we join Divine example. Our Lord during His incarnation exemplified this virtue.
3. In the third place, to the example of our Divine Master we add some of the examples of eminent saints. Abraham, when he stood up before his dead and “bowed himself to the people of the land”; Solomon’s bearing towards the Queen of Sheba, rising and paying her distinguished regard; many of the prophets, from their deportment to the kings, though armed with messages to which the monarchs had to bow; but, above all, Paul-Paul, the most distinguished for zeal as an apostle, was the most remarkable for courtesy as a man.
4. I conclude this part of the subject by simply repeating a few passages of Scripture, which either especially inculcate or obviously involve the exercise of the duty. I merely enumerate them: “Be gentle towards all men.” “Let all wrath, and anger, and clamour, and malice, and evil speaking, be put away from you; and be ye kind one to another, with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another.” “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”; that is, avoid selfishness, and cultivate courteousness and reciprocal sympathy. “Let each man please his neighbour to his good for edification.” “Let your speech be always with grace.” “Give honour to whom honour is due.” “Honour the king.” “Honour all men; love the brotherhood.” “Give none offence to any man, neither to Jew nor Gentile, nor to the Church of God.” “Let love be without dissimulation.”
III. Inducements to the exercise.
1. Now, in the first place, in relation to this virtue of courteousness, we may begin with the very lowest by remarking that an inducement to the cultivation of courtesy towards others arises from the pleasure we experience when it is exercised towards ourselves. We cannot help being conciliated by attention when it seems to be sincere. It prepossesses us in favour of a person. It removes prejudices which we entertain.
2. Secondly, the consciousness of the power should lead us to reflect that others may be acutely pained by little omissions and acts of which it is possible we were not aware at the moment, and by which we meant no evil.
3. In the third place, another inducement, equally worthy the attention of persons professing godliness, arises from the effect which a courteous or an opposite behaviour may have upon men of the world. “Let not your good,” says the apostle, “be evil spoken of.” This want of courtesy often has the effect of destroying the influence of distinguished excellence,
4. Lastly, in looking at a character distinguished by this virtue in its real principle, as well as in its manifestation, we cannot but be impressed with the worth to which it conducts and the dignity it confers. It sup poses-in its higher state and more perfect exercises-it supposes a very great degree of self-government, a noble superiority to little weaknesses, by which many are characterised.
5. In fine, we should discover an inducement to this duty in the charm with which, when sincere, it embellishes existence. If all mankind were perfect in the principle and expression of courtesy, the world would be the scene of perfect and exalted felicity. (T. Binney.)
True courtesy, and how to attain to it
I have sometimes seen in the neighbourhood of large towns streets of houses half-built; the foundations have been laid, the walls run up, the roof put on; but the mere shell is there, with no window frames, no flooring laid on the joists, no paper on the walls, etc. It seems to me that there are many men and women whose lives have been built up by religion about as far as these unfinished houses. They have sterling goodness, they are sober, the foundation is there; but oh! for a little paper and furniture to add comfort and softness, some of the graces of life, and especially the grace of Christian courtesy.
I. Distinguish true courtesy from false imitations of it.
1. We must distinguish true Christian courtesy from snobbishness. Many people think that to be courteous means to bow down to a man who has a longer purse, a better coat, or bluer blood than they have.
2. Again, we must not mix up this grace with the mere observance of certain elaborate and artificial rules of etiquette, which men who are occupied all day long with hard work, and who are naturally simple and direct in their way of life, dislike.
3. Courtesy is the natural result of grasping the second great principle of the Christian religion, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Grasp the thought that your neighbour has as much claim to your respectful consideration as you have yourself, and you will become courteous. This consideration will be tempered by a further feeling, produced by the actual position of the person towards whom it is extended. Towards woman the consideration is tempered with tenderness, and becomes chivalry. Towards great leaders in state, religion, literature, art, it is qualified by respect.
II. Point out plainly our deficiencies in it. Are husbands always courteous towards their wives? There is a neglect, it is to be feared, of this virtue sometimes among Christian Churches. Nonconformists and Church people are not always courteous to one another. Then there is often discourtesy in politics. But why should we impute wrong motives to political opponents? Lastly, is there not room for more courtesy between class and class? Is there not something of an aggressive tone in the “I-am-as-good-as-you” manner of some of us towards those who are richer than ourselves? Of course, you are as good, if by “good” you mean that your soul and your rights are as precious in God’s sight. But why needlessly flaunt this in the face of those who have no desire to question it? Those who are poor need not be servile nor blunt. “Be courteous.”
III. How shall we attain to this spirit of Christian courtesy? The only true way of attaining to it is by living in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (C. H. Irwin, M. A.)
The precept of the text does not, indeed, belong to the highest order of Christian precepts. It does not rank with self-denial, purity of heart, patience, forgiveness of injuries, love of the brethren, love to Christ Himself, and heavenly mindedness; yet it enjoins a duty of very great importance, and of everyday use. The demands for courtesy are continually occurring. Every person with whom we have intercourse may give an occasion for the observance or neglect of it. It is, moreover a duty which every man has it in his power to perform. It costs nothing.
I. The nature of courtesy as a Christian duty.
II. Its beneficial effects on society.
III. The strength which it adds to Christian principle. Courtesy, as a Christian duty, is, in fact, nothing more or less than a particular exercise of Christian love. It is one of the outward acts wherein is manifested that disposition of heart which the new commandment of Jesus Christ inculcates. Yet, as courtesy is but the out ward expression of that inward excellence, it may be shown by those in whose hearts the grace of love does not dwell. The very same things to which love would prompt may be done on lower grounds, and from inferior motives. Indeed, the perfection of good breeding is simply this, that it makes a man seem to be what love causes him to be indeed. But then, where the principle of Christian love is wanting, the courtesy which springs from mere good breeding is very partial and very irregular-sometimes it falls short of the mark, at other times it goes beyond it; towards inferiors it is often scanty in its attentions; towards superiors, excessive. “The poor,” says Solomon, “useth entreaties, but the rich answereth roughly.” This is but too true where the intercourse between these two grand classes of mankind is regulated by no higher law than the law of politeness. But it is the character of Christian love in no case to behave itself unseemly. Shall I answer such a one roughly because he wears a coarser garment or feeds on meaner fare? Politeness may not forbid it; but Christian love surely will. There is another irregularity in the courtesies of politeness which is not found in those of love. It is one main office of courtesy to keep in check those petulant tempers which, wherever they are not checked, create uneasiness and give offence. Now, if there is any place where it is peculiarly important that a man should restrain these tempers, it is at home. Yet good breeding, which leads a man to curb his sullen humours when he is abroad, by a strange contradiction suffers him to let them loose at home. And here I would observe that the good which is done by Christian courtesy is also done by the imitation of it. The counterfeit, when well executed, passes current, and produces the same effect as the sterling coin. It is here just the same as in the case of almsgiving; the alms which are given from ostentation do the same good as those which are given from love. It makes a great difference to the giver, but none at all to the receiver. Take courtesy on the very lowest ground: suppose there to be nothing of Christian love in it, yet think what it prevents that is contrary to love. Many a quarrel has arisen, and many a deadly feud been caused by the mere absence of courtesy. Where courtesy prevails, no affronts are offered, no feelings are wounded; nothing is said or done which can provoke to wrath. And the benefits hence arising are incalculable. But the most important view of courtesy is that which we proceed, in the third place, to consider, viz., the strength which it gives to Christian principle. Here, however, I must premise that it must be a Christian principle itself before such a principle can be strengthened by its exercise. It must proceed from love, or it cannot strengthen love. And in making this inquiry we may observe that where courtesy is not there is reason to suspect that love is wanting also. It is true some minds are cast in a rough mould, and cover much substantial kindness under a rough exterior. It is pity it ever should be so; and when it is so, the reality of Christian love appearing in so questionable a shape is not lightly to be taken for granted. Is the grace of God to do nothing for a man? These are considerations well worth being weighed by those who would excuse their want of courtesy upon the plea of a naturally rugged temper. It behoves such to examine themselves whether they be in the faith. Courtesy alone is not sufficient to prove a man a true Christian.
1. In the first place, then, is your courtesy irrespective of persons, shown to the poor as well as to the rich?
2. Does not your courtesy sometimes go beyond the mark, as well as fall short of it? Does it not sometimes degenerate into flattery or a hypocritical gentleness? If, on fairly considering these questions, you have good reason to conclude that the spirit of Christian love does indeed dwell in you, be thankful for so excellent a gift, and let it exercise itself in truthful courtesy as much as possible. By every such exercise the principle of love itself is strengthened. Such is the very law of our nature. And though this courtesy does not of itself take so high a rank as the other graces which have been mentioned, though it is a very familiar, and may be thought trivial thing, yet it has this advantage, that the opportunities which it affords for the increase of love are far more numerous than those which can be obtained from any other source. They are continually occurring. Rut two things are to be remembered. It has been already shown that love must be formed in the heart before it can be exercised. From what source, then, does love proceed? It springs front faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and from nothing else. But though I say this, I would observe, in the last place, that I do not mean by so speaking to shut out the continued agency of the Holy Spirit in strengthening the principle of love, nor the necessity of prayer for the supply of that Spirit. (J. Fawcett, M. A.)
1. There is a reciprocal action between an outward deportment and the radical condition of the heart. Religion is real refinement. It is not surface work, but begins within, with the motives of the heart. It acts outward, and then reacts inward, as the root shoots upward into the branch, and then, by pruning the branches, the life of the root in turn is improved. As Demosthenes said of oratory, so may we say of religion-action is of the first and last importance.
2. A great deal of Christian kindness is pent up by solid stiffness of life, and so inoperative. Therefore, manners should be studied. A spring of pure water may be obstructed by leaves and twigs, and so is the stream of inward affection clogged by outward hindrances in its manifestation.
3. Considerateness is an essential element of Christian politeness. “Be pitiful, be courteous.” It is because your neighbour is weaker and ready to halt that you “make straight paths,” etc. (Hebrews 12:13). (Hugh S. Carpenter, D. D.)
General Lee was in the cars going to Richmond one day, and was seated at the end farthest from the door. The other seats were filled with officers and soldiers. An old woman, poorly dressed, entered at one of the stations, and, finding no seat, and none having been offered to her, approached the end where the general was seated. He immediately rose and gave her his seat. Instantly there was a general rising, each one offering his seat to the general. But he calmly said, “No, gentlemen, if there was no seat for the infirm old woman, there can be none for me.” The effect was remarkable. One after another got out of the ear. The seats seemed to be too hot for them. The general and the old lady soon had the car to themselves. The Hon. Daniel Webster was walking with a friend in Washington, when a coloured man passing by bowed very low to him. Mr. Webster returned as deep an obeisance. “Do you bow in that way to a darkey?” asked his friend. “Would you have me outdone in politeness by a negro?” replied the great statesman. And in his reply there is great wisdom. None of us can afford to be outdone in this by one of either a poorer or richer position.
There has been for many years now in England a depreciation of the courtesies of manners as old-fashioned and out of place. We agree with Locke, “Good manners are the blossoms of good sense, and, it may be added, of good feeling too.” Up-right and down-straight people need not diminish these excellent qualities, but they might often remember that politeness is not all French polish. (W. M. Statham.)
The reward of courtesy
A few years ago, a couple of gentlemen, one of whom was a foreigner, visited the various locomotive workshops of Philadelphia. They called at the most prominent one first, stated their wishes to look through the establishment, and made some inquiries of a specific character. They were shown through the premises in a very indifferent manner; and no special pains were taken to give them any information beyond what their own inquiries drew forth. The same results followed their visits to the several large establishments. By some means they were induced to call at one of a third or fourth-rate character. The owner was himself a workman of limited means; but, on the application of the strangers, his natural urbanity of manner prompted him not only to show all he had, but to enter into detailed explanation of the working of his establishment. The gentleman left him not only favourably impressed towards him, but with a feeling that he thoroughly understood his business. Within a year, he was surprised with an invitation to visit St. Petersburg. The result was, his locomotive establishment was removed there bodily. It was an agent of the Czar who had called on him. He has recently returned, having accumulated a princely fortune, and still receives from his Russian workshops a hundred thousand dollars a year, and has laid the foundation of the largest fortune in this country: and all are the results of civility to a couple of strangers. When Zachariah Fox, the great merchant of Liverpool, was asked by what means he contrived to realise so large a fortune as he possessed, his reply was, “Friend, by one article alone, in which thou mayest deal too, if thou pleasest-civility.”
During the American War of Independence an old lady, who had a store in Philadelphia, used to say that the most profitable thing she kept in her shop was politeness, it drew the very children to her even better than sweeties. What was it that gave Miss Nightingale such powerful control over the soldiers and seamen in the hospitals during the Crimean war, so that they would have done any thing for her in their power; and in her presence they would not have uttered a single coarse, vulgar, profane, or improper word. It was, no doubt, largely owing to her refined, cultured, polite manner, dominated by a truly Christian spirit.
The true gentleman does not indict pain
It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him, and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself. He care fully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast-all clashing of opinion, or collision of feeling, all restraint, or suspicion, or gloom, or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender towards the bashful, gentle towards the distant, and merciful towards the absent. He guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate. He has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Here is an illustration of true politeness exhibited by both classes of society. One day, in hastily turning the corner of a crooked street in the city of London, a young lady ran with great force against a ragged little beggar boy, and almost knocked him down. Stopping as soon as she could, she turned round and said, very kindly, to the boy, “I beg your pardon, my little fellow; I am very sorry that I ran against you.” The poor boy was astonished. He looked at her for a moment in surprise, and then, taking off about three-quarters of a cap, he made a low bow and said, while a broad, pleasant smile spread itself all over his face, “You can have my parding, miss, and welcome; and the next time you run agin me, you may knock me clean down, and I won’t say a word.” After the lady had passed on he returned to his companion and said, “I say, Jim, it’s the first time I ever had anybody ask my parding, and it’s kind o’ took me off my feet.” (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
is the oiled key that will open many a rusty lock. (J. C. Lees, D. D.)
Small courtesies not overlooked
When the Duke of Wellington was ill, the last thing he took was a little tea. On his servant’s handing it to him in a saucer, and asking him if he would have it, the Duke replied, “Yes, if you please.” These words were his last words. How much kindness and courtesy are expressed by them! He who had commanded the greatest armies in Europe did not despise or overlook the small courtesies of life. How many boys do! What a rude tone of command they often use to their little brothers and sisters, and sometimes to their mothers! This is ill bred, and shows a coarse nature and a hard heart. In all your home talk remember “if you please.” Among your playmates don’t forget “if you please.” To all who wait upon you and serve you, believe that “if you please” will make you better served than all the cross or ordering words in the whole dictionary. Don’t forget three little words-“if you please.”
Politeness and its place
Sir Arthur Helps had the happy faculty of putting expressions of wisdom into a few words. It was he who said, “Familiarity should not swallow up courtesy.” Probably one half of the rudeness of youths of this day, that later in life will develop into brutality, is due to the failure of parents to enforce in the family circle the rules of courtesy. The son or daughter who is discourteous to members of the family because of familiarity with them is very likely to prove rude and overbearing to others, and very certain to be a tyrant in the household over which he or she may be called on to preside. There is at this day undeniably among the rising generation a lack of courteous demeanour in the family. Of all places in the world, let the boy under stand home is the place where he should speak the gentlest and be the most kindly, and there is the place above all where courteous demeanour should prevail. The lad who is rude to his sister, impertinent to his mother, and vulgar in the house, will prove a sad husband for a suffering wife, and a cruel father to unfortunate children. The place for politeness, as Helps puts it, is where we mostly think it superfluous.
Goodness spoilt by rudeness
Goodness with rude manners is in fact like a coquette; or a beautiful river that dives into dark coves and reappears; or a star with two faces; or an instrument that plays sweet and angry tunes by turns. (Good Words.)
Not rendering evil for evil.-
Do not retaliate
The old law of an eye for an eye is repealed, in favour of that nobler legislation which bids us do good to those that hate us, and pray for them who despitefully use and persecute us. Let us be like the rock on the wilderness march, which when smitten yielded water to the thirsty hosts. (F. B. Meyer.)
Railing for railing
To render railing for railing is to think to wash off dirt with dirt. (J. Trapp.)
Fire does not extinguish fire
Fire is not extinguished with fire, but with water; likewise wrong and hatred, not with retaliation, but with gentleness, humility, and kindness. (Chrysostom.)
Good for evil
While George Wishart in 1512 was descending the steps of Cowgate, Dundee, from preaching to the plague-stricken people, one of the priests, who determined to get rid of him, stood ready to strike him. George knew he meant no good. “Friend, what would you?” and quick as thought wrested the dagger from the would be murderer’s hand, and flung it on the ground. The bystanders now cried with indignation, “Kill him, kill him, the murderer, the assassin!” and, drawing their dirks, they rushed on the priest. “Stay, friends, harm him not.” And George Wishart bravely stood between the angry men and the scowling priest, who slunk against the wall, saved by the one he had sought to kill, whilst the reluctant citizens allowed him to get away unhurt.
Called, that ye should inherit a blessing.-
The work and wages of the Christian worker
I. To bless is the Christian’s work, for thereunto is he called.
1. The first thing to be noted with regard to this blessing as the calling of the Christian is that it is conceived of not as a mere matter of words and form, but as something real and effective. In order to bless we must not only have goodwill, but we must also have sufficient power and suitable means at our command. Whom the Lord blesses he is blessed. And the manner of our blessing must be as His. Whom we bless must receive from us the blessing, and to do this we must bless him from the house of the Lord, with the Lord’s blessing.
2. Again, to bless is to do something more than to bestow a gift. The multitude which pressed around Jesus and received from Him abundant food out of the five loaves and two fishes had obtained a precious gift, but it was a blessing in the true sense only to those who afterwards confessed before Jesus: Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God. The gift may be merely material; the blessing must be spiritual. The Lord blesses that man in whose soul He reveals His Son. These, then, are the leading characteristics of the blessings of the Lord-it is real and effective, and it is spiritual. Our Lord’s life on earth from first to last was one continuous act of blessing as thus understood. And now as He is, so are we in this world. As Christ was called to bless, and has, in the fulfilment of His calling, blessed us, so we are called to follow in His steps, and bring to others the blessing which we ourselves enjoy. To continue Christ’s work in the world, to be Christ’s representatives upon the earth, this is at once the highest and the most comprehensive description of the Christian’s rank and position. Seeing, then, that this is our heavenly calling, we ought to consider it, so that we may accomplish our calling, and by word and deed bless as we have been blessed. “Our calling”-the phrase is well understood in the affairs of everyday life. Whatsoever a man’s calling may be, upon that he is expected to concentrate his attention. The slave of Satan is diligent in doing his master’s will, he yields his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. Surely we must show a like diligence in our heavenly calling by yielding ourselves to God and our members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Our calling is to bless, and this calling we realise just in the measure in which we surrender ourselves to God, and put all our powers at His disposal, to be used by Him as instruments in His work of grace and salvation.
II. We are called to bless, and we are encouraged to labour on in our calling by the assurance that we shall not miss the inheritance, We are called to bless that we may inherit a blessing. In the keeping of God’s commandments there is a great reward. Simply to be called of God is to receive a blessing. But for the encouragement of the worker in the presence of those who render him evil and rail upon him, so that in his mission of blessing he may not become weary in well doing, the apostle assures him that even over and above the blessedness of being called to bless, there is blessing in store for him-an inheritance of blessing of which he shall have certain foretastes here and full experience in the bliss of heaven’s rest. What is the blessing which those who bless inherit here and now?
1. There is, first of all, the joy that comes from the assurance that we are obeying the command of Christ and realising His expressed desire.
2. Then, again, there is the joyful experience of a growing likeness to Christ. It is the truest joy of the disciple’s heart to know that he is being conformed unto the image of the Saviour who is so dear to him.
3. And now, finally: What is the blessing which those who bless hope yet to enjoy amid the bliss of heaven? The fulness of the inheritance is entered upon only when all differences between us and the Heir have ceased. And in order that this consummation may be attained unto, we must go on prosecuting our calling, which is to bless as He blessed, who went about doing good, yearning over the unthankful and the evil whom He had come to seek and to save. (John Macpherson, M. A.)
1 Peter 3:10-11
He that will love life.
The true life worth living
The text is a quotation from a psalm (Psalms 34:12). The quotation in the original is slightly varied in the old Greek translation, and by St. Peter. One is tempted to wish that the R.V., instead of adopting “he that would love life,” had just added a few letters to the Authorised translation. We should then read, “he that willeth to love life,” that is, “he whose deliberate will it is to love life; he who sets himself to love a life, which is true life.” Let us, then, address ourselves to the question now so often asked, “Is life worth living?”
I. What is meant by life? There are two words in the New Testament which, from the necessities of our language, are alike rendered “life.” One of these words, βίος, signifies the principle of animal life, the things by which that life is preserved or gladdened, and the span of time through which it is continued. The other word belongs to a higher sphere, ζωή. It is the new life; which may be stunted or strengthened, as grace is used or abused; and which, after the resurrection, is to be clothed upon with a fitting framework. The question, then, for us as Christians really is, not whether life, in the New Testament sense of the word, ζωή, is worth living, but whether existence, βίος under mere animal or external conditions, is worth living? The last, no doubt, is an intricate question, and much may be said in favour of a reply in the negative. We may be reminded of the transitoriness of human existence. The vanity of our expectations may be appealed to, the compression of the successive objects of hope in the iron grasp of the coarse hand of necessity. The loss of those we love is a condition of advancing years. And this is accompanied by the protracted humiliation of the breaking up of the machine, by the sure martyrdom of gout, or of some other bodily torture. With this comes weariness of life. Much, very much, may of course be justly urged in mitigation of this pessimism. “Life rightly used,” exclaimed a great statesman, “has happiness for each of its ages.” The sweetnesses of domestic love; the pleasures of human society and friendship; the overplus of health over sickness and pain; activities, expectations, little surprises that come to the weariest lot; the air, the sky, the sunshine;-these, and a thousand like things, are woven into a contexture of no funereal tint. “We bless Thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.”
II. But about the answer to the question, is existence elevated into life worth living? We as Christians can make no doubt.
1. Present acceptance makes life worth living. “A tranquil God tranquillises all things, and to see His peacefulness is to be at peace.”
2. There are times of exquisite pleasure in communion with God. These compensate for the languor of old age and for the slow “martyrdom of life.”
3. Nor must we forget the pleasure which there is in work for God. The study of Scripture is a perpetual delight for those who pursue it. The Church’s sacramental life is full of joy. The teaching of the young, the ministry to the sick, the gathering in of the fallen, the adornment, the quickening, the elevation of service and worship, have pleasures of their own which give animation and variety to life. But what is to be said of one form of sorrow inseparable from true religion-the sorrow of repentance? “That kind of sorrow is its own consolation”; “He has given a new kind of tears upon earth, which make those happy who shed them.” “Oh that we could understand that the mystery of grace gives blessedness with tears!”
4. That life is worth living is, above all, proved by the view which Jesus took of it. Does He not say of Himself, “My delights were with the sons of men”? He is in some measure (if we may reverently say it) like a great artist, when, after the preparatory toil and thought, his idea stands out before him in its definite unity and beauty, and he cannot rest for joy until it smiles before him in marble, or is fixed in the music of deathless lines. No doubt human life is tragic and pathetic, yet there is a magic smile on the face of the drama after all. (Bp. Alexander.)
The way to secure good days
I. A reasonable desire. We have, in common with the beasts the intense desire to preserve our lives, a natural shrinking from death; and it would be easy to show you the important place of this universal sentiment in the Divine economy. It is indeed the basis of society; the secret of man’s right relations with his brother. For his jealousy in guarding the treasure of his own life makes him careful to preserve the treasure of life for his brother. But it may be thought that the supreme interest which the Christian has in the life to come should make him indifferent to the continuance of this life. But that notion belongs to extravagant sentiment, and has no countenance from Bible teachings. It is only morbid feeling that leads to ill-speaking of present scenes and opportunities. But St. Peter uses another expression for the befitting Christian desire. A man should hope for “good days”: days filled up with goodness, in the sense of good doings, and consequent good enjoyings. Ours cannot be “good days” unless we enjoy a fair measure of health, have useful occupation, and the pleasure of loving friendships.
II. This reasonable desire attained. The apostle lays down three conditions, and they are all thoroughly practical.
1. He who would see good days will have to rule his speech: “let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile.” If we would see how this “ruling of our speech” stands related to “seeing good days,” let us think how many of the misunderstandings and separations and troubles of our lives have come out of hasty, unwise, unkind, impure speeches.
2. He will have to order his conduct. And that involves work of two kinds, each closely related to the other. As soon as we take our life into our hands, and resolve to get it into fair shape, we find there is much to cut off. The attaining of good ever goes along with the clearing out of evil. And this makes the moral conflict of our lives. We must be doing good, seeking good, filling up our lives with good, that evil cannot even squeeze in edgeways. Activity in goodness is our safeguard. Temptation gains its effective power upon the idlers.
3. He will have to tone his relations. “Let him seek peace, and ensue it.” By peace we must understand peaceableness, the spirit of the peacemaker, gentle, considerate, charitable. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Let him refrain his tongue from evil.
The words of our lips
Most important among Christian duties is control of the tongue, and yet it is much neglected. Many who would hesitate to do a foolish or wicked thing do not scruple to say what is both unwise and wrong.
I. Let us guard against the unkind word of every class.
II. Another which we must guard against is the discontented word. Count up God’s mercies and blessings every day, and you cannot murmur.
III. Let us guard against the untruthful word of every kind. A lie is no less a lie because it is printed in a prospectus, or written up in a shop window. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
The evil of the tongue
“From evil.” This is a large field, the evil of the tongue; but I give it too narrow a name: we have good warrant to give it a much larger-a whole universe, a world of iniquity; a vast bulk of evils, and great variety of them, as of countries on the earth or creatures in the world. There be in the daily discourses of the greatest part of men many things that belong to this world of evil, and yet pass unsuspected, so that we do not think them to be within its compass, not using due diligence and exactness in our discoveries of the several parts of it, although it is all within ourselves, yea, within a small part of ourselves, our tongues.
1. Profane speech, that which is grossly and manifestly wicked; and in this part lie impious speeches, which directly reflect upon the glory and name of God; blasphemies and oaths and cursings, of which there is so great, so lamentable abundance amongst us; and to these join scoffs and mockings at religion, also impure or filthy speaking, which either pollutes or offends the hearers, and is the noisome breath of a rotten, polluted heart.
2. Consider next, as another grand part of the tongue, uncharitable speeches, tending to the defaming and disgrace of others; and these are likewise of two sorts-open railings and reproaches, secret slander and detraction. The former is unjust and cruel, but it, is somewhat the less dangerous because open. It is a fight in plain field; but truly it is no piece of a Christian’s warfare to encounter it in the same way. But the other kind, detraction, is more universal amongst all sorts, as being a far easier way of mischief. The former are the arrows that fly by day, but this is the pestilence that walketh in darkness; it spreads and infects secretly and insensibly, is not felt, but in the effects of it; and it works either by calumnies altogether forged and untrue, of which malice is inventive, or by the advantage of real faults, of which it is very discerning, and these are stretched and aggravated to the utmost.
3. Vain, fruitless speeches are an evil of the tongue. Not only those they call harmless lies, which some people take a pleasure in and trade much in, light buffooneries and foolish jestings, but the greatest part of those discourses which men account the blameless entertainments one of another, come within the compass of this evil; frothy, unsavoury stuff, tending to no purpose nor good at all.
4. Doubleness and guile; so great a part, that it is here particularly named a part, though the evil of it is less known and discerned; and so there is in it, as I may say, much terra incognita; yet it is of a very large compass, as large, we may confidently say, as all the other three together. What of men’s speech is not manifestly evil in any of the other kinds is the most of it naught this way; speech good to appearance, plausible and fair, but not upright; not silver, but silver dross, as Solomon calls it (Proverbs 26:23); each, some way or other, speaking falsehood and deceit to his neighbour; and daring to act thus falsely with God in His services; religious speeches abused by some in hypocrisy, as holy vestments, for a mask or disguise; doing nothing but compassing him about with lies, deceiving indeed ourselves, while we think to deceive Him who cannot be deceived and will not be mocked. But to add something for remedy of these evils in some part discovered-for to vanquish this world of evils is a great conquest-it must begin at the heart, otherwise it will be but a mountebank cure, a false, imagined conquest. The weights and wheels are there, and the clock strikes according to their motion. A guileful heart makes guileful tongue and lips. It is the work house, where is the forge of deceits and slanders and other evil speakings; and the tongue is only the outer shop where they are vended, and the lips of the door of it; so then such ware as is made within, such and no other, can be set out. In like manner, a purified heart will unteach the tongue all filthy, impure speeches, and will give it a holy strain; and the spirit of charity and humility will banish that mischievous humour, which sets so deep in the most, of reproaching and disgracing others in any way, either openly or secretly; for it is wicked self-love and pride of heart whence these do spring, searching and disclosing the failings of others, on which love will rather cast a mantle to hide them. Be choice in your society, sit not with vain persons, whose tongues have nothing else to utter but impurity or malice or folly. But frequent the company of grave and godly persons, in whose hearts and lips piety and love and wisdom are set, and it is the way to learn their language. Use a little of the bridle in the quantity of speech. Incline a little rather to sparing than lavishing, for “in many words there wants not sin.” In the use of the tongue, when thou dost speak, divert it from evil and guile by a habit of and delight in profitable and gracious discourse. Thus St. Paul makes the opposition (Ephesians 4:29): Let there be no corrupt or rotten communication; and yet he urges not total silence, but enjoins such speech as “may edify and minister grace unto the hearers.” And are not such discourses much more worthy the choosing than the base trash we usually fill one another’s ears with? An excellent task for the tongue is that which David chooseth, “And my tongue shall speak of Thy righteousness, and of Thy praise all the day long.” Were the day ten days long, no vacant room for any unholy or offensive or feigned speech! And they lose not who love to speak praise to Him! for He loves to speak peace to them; and instead of the world’s vain tongue liberty, to have such intercourse and discourse is no sad, melancholy life, as the world mistakes it. (Abp. Leighton.)
Speak no guile.-
One of the attributes by which the Most High specially desires Himself to be known by His intelligent universe is absolute and unchanging veracity. Whatever He reveals to us He would have us receive as the pure and simple verity. Whatever He has promised, though heaven and earth should pass away, He will assuredly perform. In this attribute of inviolable truth God commands us to be imitators of Him. He wills us never to utter anything but the exact verity. In the commandment given to our race by Moses it is written, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” In the text, as in other places, He has promised His special favour to those that speak no guile. Our Lord Himself has declared that liars are the children of the devil; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. It is manifest that these teachings have not been without effect wherever the Bible has been openly and plainly spread before the people. Wherever the Word of God is freely circulated, and generally read, a barefaced and habitual liar is rarely to be met with among men who lay any claim to the respect of their fellow citizens. While, however, such cases are rare, I fear that indirect, and what are termed minor variations from strict veracity, are by no means uncommon. The law of absolute veracity would require that we should utter nothing but the perfect verity. We are, however, limited in comprehension, and imperfect in knowledge. To this our imperfection the law of God has respect, and it requires of us no more than our nature can perform. But some one may ask, Are we obliged to tell every one whom we meet all that we know and all that we are thinking about? Do we violate the law of veracity because we do not make a confidant of every companion, or reveal all our thoughts even to our most intimate friends? We may ask ourselves, and it would be well if we asked ourselves much oftener, whether it is or is not our duty to speak. If we decide, either from moral or prudential reasons, that it is our duty to be silent, it is clear that the law of veracity has no command to utter. If we, on the other hand, decide that it is our duty to speak, then the law pronounces its decision, and forbids us to speak anything but the truth. But the inquiry may arise, Are we always obliged, when we speak, to speak the whole truth? If we intend to convey the impression that what we say is the whole truth, when we know that it is only a part, we violate the law of veracity. If we have no such intention, but merely relate the fact as a fact, without any design to create any other impression, then we are innocent. The same law applies to promises. A promise is the expression of our intention to do something, with the design of creating in another the expectation that it will be done. Simply to express an intention is not to make a promise. If, in the course of ordinary conversation, I happen to mention my purpose to leave town tomorrow, this is not a promise, for I did not intend to create an expectation. If I not only say that I am going, but enter into an engagement with another to accompany him, this constitutes a promise. We are morally bound to fulfil the expectation which we have voluntarily created. If a moral obligation exists, it must be fulfilled. If a doubt remains, we must decide against ourselves, or leave the question to the decision of others. In no other manner can we retain our love of veracity unimpaired. By the habit of deciding doubtful cases in our own favour, selfishness gains the victory over our love of truth, and, before we are aware of it, we become reckless of our obligations and regardless of the sanctity of our word. And here, again, it may be asked-for questions on this subject seem to be almost innumerable-Are we bound to fulfil to the letter every promise which we make, even when it is without any condition? I would not say even so much as this. The very object for which the promise was made may have become unattainable, and of course the whole engagement falls to the ground. But if I break an engagement from idleness, or because I prefer at the moment to read some book which happens to interest me, I am guilty. It is of no avail to say my friend will excuse it: this may be, but it alters not the fact that I have trifled with my conscience, degraded my moral nature, and sinned against God. All this should plainly teach us several important lessons. In the first place, a promise should always, if possible, be definite, and distinctly understood by both parties. Again, if there be from a necessity a contingency, this contingency should be as accurately defined as the promise itself. And, lastly, when we are in doubt respecting the validity of any obligation-that is, when there is a conflict in our minds between the claims of veracity and those of interest and convenience-it is always safe to decide in favour of veracity. This may, it is true, cost us trouble, and sometimes apparently useless trouble, but it will confirm our virtue and teach us practical wisdom. Such, then, is the law of God, revealed to us in the Scriptures. But, let us ask, Is this law obeyed? Let us glance at a few of the occasions which give rise to the violation of the precept, and we shall see how easily men are seduced into disobedience to the law of God.
1. The inordinate love of wealth gives occasion to frequent violations of the plainest precepts of veracity. When large profits can be secured by falsehood, I am told that, in our large commercial centres, lying and even false swearing are matters of daily occurrence. The common adulteration of articles of traffic comes under the same condemnation. Men take every means to give to a worthless compound the appearance of a general product, and then solemnly declare it to be what they know it ,is not. Or we may come to facts which transpire every day, in every city and village in our land. The seller represents his goods as of the very best quality, and offers them to the buyer at a price which he declares to be scarcely above cost. The buyer, on the other hand, considers the quality inferior, the price unreasonable, and, at most, is willing to purchase only on a very long credit. The bargain is at length concluded, the goods are delivered, and the parties separate. All at once the language of these men is suddenly transformed. The seller is rejoicing that he has disposed of his merchandise at so handsome an advance, the buyer that he has received so good an article at so low a price.
2. Idle curiosity gives occasion to a large amount of false speaking. Many persons have an insatiable desire to know all the affairs of their neighbours, their likes and dislikes, their domestic arrangements, their opinions on all matters and of all persons, and thus to worm themselves into the most secret recesses of their confidence. This is commonly done from no malicious design-for such persons are commonly good natured-but from mere childish inquisitiveness. To accomplish our purpose, however, not a little management is necessary, and we are obliged to pretend to know already much of which we are entirely ignorant. This is the first departure from truth. We obtained our knowledge under the injunction of secrecy. But a secret which does not belong to us is not easily kept, for this intense desire to know is always accompanied by an equally intense desire to tell. We must reveal it to our intimate friends; and here is departure from truth the second. Or, again, we may meet with another person as inquisitive as ourselves, in whom we dare not confide, and whose prying curiosity we can elude in no other way than by falsehood or prevarication; here is departure the third. Thus the habit grows upon us.
3. Another frequent occasion for falsehood is found in the fear of speaking or acting at variance with received conventionalities. We express joy when we feel none. We counterfeit sadness when we suffer no sorrow. We use the expressions that are in vogue without any regard to the truthfulness of their application, but merely because we hear them used by others. Many a family has become habitual liars by the daily repetition of these conventional falsehoods. Children know that such language is false, and they must have more than usual virtue if they are not fatally corrupted. But some one will say, To do as you advise, and avoid the errors against which you have cautioned us, would require great care and intense watchfulness in all our conversation. We should be obliged to think before we speak, abandon many of the ordinary topics of discourse, and be content to improve men rather than amuse them. Be it so. In this we shall only follow the examples of better and wiser men. It was the prayer of David, “Set a watch, O Lord, over my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” But you will say, To obey these precepts with strictness, to speak nothing but the simple verity, and utter only what God will approve, would render us very peculiar. The world lieth in wickedness, and how can a child of God live in it, and not be peculiar? Wicked men imitate the example of the father of lies; and can we be imitators of the God of truth without being peculiar? Was there ever a being on earth so peculiar as Jesus of Nazareth, the Author and Finisher of our faith? Unless the teachings of Christ exert their effect on our intercourse with our fellow men, what do we more than others? and how shall the world be the better or the wiser for our having lived in it? But, you will say, this is a lesson most difficult to be learned. It requires that we should be always on our guard, watching over ourselves with a vigilance such as we had never imagined. The gospel of Christ has provided for us all needful assistance. The cure must be performed in the inmost spirit, and the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. (F. Wayland.)
The evil of sin
This we must eschew, as the bullet shot out of a gun, or to be stricken with a sharp sword; we must abhor it, as a toad or poison; we must abhor it with a deadly, an utter hatred, and accordingly avoid it most carefully. (John Rogers.)
Why sin must be avoided
1. God is thereby dishonoured (1 Samuel 15:23).
2. God’s wrath is provoked, and that must needs be dangerous (Psalms 106:29; Jeremiah 7:17).
3. God hates it and such as commit it (Psalms 5:4; Deuteronomy 28:15; Leviticus 26:14)
4. It brought misery into the world, with shame and confusion upon all, and hath always been the cause of all evils.
5. It bringeth eternal destruction both of body and soul. (John Rogers.)
All sins to be eschewed
1. We are to eschew all evil, even the least.
2. All persons are to eschew the same, not the greatest excepted; God’s law binds them, be they princes, magistrates, ministers, etc. They should eschew it most, for by their example they do most hurt.
3. At all times. Some things be in season at one time, some at another, but sin is never in season.
4. In all places. God is the God of all places, neither can any place change the nature of sin. Thou must eschew sin as well abroad as at home; in thy house, chamber, shop, as well as at church.
5. All kinds of sin are also to be avoided. Error in judgment and wickedness in conversation, evil against God, our neighbours, or ourselves.
6. We must also avoid evil under what colour or pretence soever it comes. (John Rogers.)
Dangers in life to be avoided
I think we ought to buoy for ourselves in our course, as we buoy a harbour. Off this shoal a black buoy floats, and says to those who sail by, as plainly as if it spoke in all languages, “Keep to the right here”; and over against it floats another, and says, “Keep to the left here.” Now, in life’s ocean, wherever we know the quicksands are, wherever we have once been stranded, let us sink the buoy and anchor of memory, and keep to the right or the left, as the shoal may be. (H. W. Beecher.)
Eschew evil and do good
In an old English work entitled, “Warwick’s Spare Moments,” we find the following excellent remarks: “When I plant a choyse flower in a fertile soyle, I see nature presently to thrust up with it the stinging nettle, the stinking hemlocks, the drowzie poppie, and many noysome weeds, which will either choake my plant with excluding the sunne, or divert its nourishment to themselves; but if I weed but these at first, my flower thrives to its goodnesse and glory. This is also my case when I endeavour to plant grace in the fertile soyle of a good wit; for luxurious nature thrusts up with it either stinging wrath, or stinking wantonnesse, or drowzie sloath, or some other vices, which robb my plant of its desired flourishing, but these being pluckt up, the good wit produceth, in its time, the faire flower of virtue. I will not, there fore, think the best wits, as they are wits, fittest to make the best men, but as they are the purged best wits. The ground of their goodnesse is, not the goodnesse of their wit’s ground, the good weeding and cleansing it. I must first eschew the evill ere I can doe good; supplant vices, ere I can implant virtue.”
And do good.-
Christians must be doers of good
1. It is good and amiable of itself, as the Lord is.
2. God commands it, who is our Sovereign Lord and King.
3. All promises in Scripture of good things, here and hereafter, are made to well doing (Leviticus 26:1-46; Deuteronomy 28:1-68).
4. This brings us peace of conscience in this world.
5. This brings us to eternal happiness in the world to come (Matthew 7:21; John 5:29; Romans 2:10).
6. It is the glory of a man when he is dead. (John Rogers.)
The extent of well-doing required
1. We must do all good that we can, and our places require, having respect unto all God’s commandments (Psalms 119:6; Luke 1:6; 2 Kings 23:25).
2. We must do good at all times. Aguish fits of goodness, as before the Communion, or in afflictions, etc., God cares not for; He will have us to be ever doing some good.
3. We must do good in all places; not in the church only, but everywhere.
4. So in all companies we must do good, or take good; if we cannot do what we would, we must do What we can; it is some good to keep away evil.
5. We must do good to all persons, all duties towards God-publicly, privately, on His Sabbaths, on other days; so towards our families, neighbours, friends, superiors, inferiors, equals. We must do good as occasion offers itself, yea, towards our enemies,
6. We must do good in our general calling as Christians, by a holy conversation agreeable to our profession, and by our counsels, exhortations, admonitions, reproofs, prayers. We must do good also in our particular callings, as magistrates, ministers, husbands, wives, parents, masters, etc.
7. We must do good also, though it be hard and difficult so to do. If one way will not serve the turn, whereby to bring to pass our religious purposes, we must set upon another, as Luke 5:18.
8. We must do good, though we have no thanks for our labour, yea, though we have ill-will and hard measure.
9. We must do good also, though we have few encouragements and small company (Joshua 24:15).
10. We must do good while we may, while life and means last, yea and constantly.
11. We must also do the same in a particular faith, and in uprightness of heart, declaring the same by the reformation of our lives; and this must be in obedience to God, aiming at His glory, and not seeking ourselves, either in our profit, pleasure, or credit, etc., all which must be done willingly. (John Rogers.)
All are doing good or evil. Men are sowing to the flesh or to the spirit. Every man is working iniquity or righteousness. To do good is Godlike. The Most High has never left Himself without witness, in that “He did good and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” We ought to be like God. Because God is holy, and perfect, and beneficent, we ought to be pure, and upright, and useful. To live for the good of others makes us like Christ. He went about doing good. He is our Pattern as well as our Redeemer. Then we are often commanded to be doing good. Here are a few words of Scripture: “Trust in the Lord, and do good”; “Depart from evil, and do good”; “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you”; “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men”; “To do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”; “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Our redemption by Christ was to this very end (Titus 2:14). It is well to have some rules for doing good. Here are some:
1. Set your heart on doing good. Be instant in season and out of season. Be in dead earnest.
2. Begin at once. The opportunity is never wanting.
3. Study how to do good. Read God’s Word and the lives of good men and see how others did good. Ingeniously find out right ways, the best ways, of working.
4. Pray for Divine direction. God is all-wise. Beseech Him to use you for His glory and the good of men.
5. Never despise the day of small things. I have been at the heads of some of our noble rivers, and a barrel would have held all the waters they sent forth in an hour. One grain of wheat has in a few years been so multiplied as to produce millions of bushels in a year.
6. Be not afraid of trials. They are sure to come, but go on. Expect opposition, but do not needlessly provoke it.
7. Aim high. Earnestly covet the best gifts and the largest success. He who strives to do but little will commonly do less. Plan great things.
8. Keep your heart with all diligence. Watch against pride, and vanity, and self-seeking.
9. While you love God supremely, love all men fervently. Cherish the purest and most kindly feelings.
10. Give no just cause of offence. Be not morose or censorious. Meddle not. Be not a critic, nor a judge, nor a busybody; but be the servant of all men for their good.
11. Never discourage others in their good works.
12. Not only work your self, but set others to doing good according to their ability. “He who makes a king is greater than a king.” He who incites another to a life of usefulness, doubles his own.
13. Be prepared for delays, disappointments, and discouragements. God may design to cure your hot haste and rashness by subjecting you to many hindrances.
14. Be diligent. Be always at it. He that soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Blessed are they that sow by all watercourses.
15. Cheer fully and trustfully leave all issues with God. Duty is yours. Results are the Lord’s.
16. Always do the best you can under the circumstances. If you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, crawl; if you cannot crawl, your strength is to sit still. But let nothing fail through your inadvertence, or unbelief, or vanity, or cowardice, or prayerlessness.
17. Waste no time on unwise plans and impracticable schemes. Be sure you are right, then go ahead. Prove all things. Learn to discriminate. All is not gold that glitters.
18. Beware of all superstition. God has no pleasure in fools. We cannot honour Him in things whereof we ought to be ashamed. Follow divinely sanctioned methods of doing good.
19. Guard against fanaticism. God has no use for our delusions. Mild enthusiasm is a great foe to better piety. Like a fire in a forest, it burns up all the tender plants of righteousness.
20. But never confound pure, humble, intelligent zeal with its counterfeits. Superstition and fanaticism are from beneath, holy zeal is from above. Be keenly alive and ready to every good work.
21. Count nothing of much value in comparison of the soul.
22. Obtain and retain a deep sense of the great price put into your hand to do good and to lay up treasure in heaven. In the great gospel harvest, he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life eternal.
23. Put a high estimate on the value of time and opportunity. “I have lost a day” ought to be a dreadful sound in the ears of any mortal. Be on the alert.
24. Keep your eye on the person and grace of Christ. Without Him you can do nothing. He is our wisdom and strength and righteousness and sanctification and redemption. None ever followed Him too closely nor relied upon Him too exclusively. (W. S. Plumer, D. D.)
Seek peace, and ensue it.-
On seeking peace
I. What we are obliged to do.
1. To reform our hearts and lives. We must subdue our lusts and bridle our passions, and govern our tongues, and conduct ourselves by the holy laws of our religion.
2. To obey our superiors as far as lawfully we can.
3. In those things in which we dissent from others we are to judge for ourselves only, and not for others.
4. That we be very diligent in the search after truth, as well as sincere lovers of it.
5. That we preserve in our minds a difference between the great things of religion and the smaller things relating to it, and let them have a proportionable regard and esteem.
6. That we endeavour to be exemplary in all those things in which we are all agreed.
7. We must put as favourable a construction upon things and judge as charitably of all men as they are capable of.
8. We must be careful that we give no offence to our weak brother in things that are indifferent.
9. Let us often consider how great mercies we enjoy, and with all thankfulness bless the holy name of God. This method will divert our complaints into praises, and greatly tend to the peace of the Church.
10. Let us put up our fervent prayers to God for the peace of the Church and State: to God, who maketh men to be of one mind: to God, who is the God of peace and unity and love.
II. Some of the advantages of peace and unity, and its tendency towards our happiness. Peace and unity hath given us the advantage of waiting upon God without distraction; it strengthens us against a common enemy and commends our holy religion to those who are strangers to it. It abates from the care and burden of our superiors and secures our rights and properties. It is at once our glory and our defence, and the summary of all the blessings of this lower world. It encourages all worthy and useful undertakings, and makes us formidable to those who wish us evil. Applications-
1. It is evident from what hath been said that our irregular heats and disputes are to be imputed to our lusts.
2. This may serve for the reproof of those among us who by their profligate lives and their intemperate speeches, their rash censuring and notorious uncharitableness, lay a foundation for new quarrels and contentions. These are the men that trouble the world.
3. Let me exhort you all to comply with my text. But what words shall I make use of to persuade you to unity and concord?
(1) I cannot forbear to tell you that it is your interest as well as your duty to seek peace and ensue it.
(2) I might exhort you to it for your brethren’s sake also.
(3) I pray and beseech you for the Lord’s sake also: for His sake who hath commanded it; for His sake who came to restore it to the world, who is the great Mediator, and came to reconcile us to God, and to one another. (Bp. Kidder.)
How we must seek peace
1. By living innocently and harmlessly with our neighbours.
2. By living helpfully, and doing good in our places.
3. By passing by such small wrongs as are done unto us.
4. By parting with some of our right to have peace.
Herein we must not stand upon terms, though haply it were fit an adversary should come to us, as being younger, inferior in place, or who first gave the cause of offence. (John Rogers.)
Why we must seek peace
1. Because it is so pleasing to God. He is the God of peace; He gave His Son to make peace; and He loves that we should live in peace, and therefore gives us the gospel of peace and spirit of peace; yea, He so likes it that He pronounces them blessed that help it forward.
2. This shall be a sign that we are taught of God, and whereby our prayers will become the more acceptable (1 Timothy 2:8).
3. This is most comely (Psalms 133:3).
4. Great is the profit hereof.
5. If we live in peace, we are fit to do good to one another; else we can do no good, but evil. (John Rogers.)
1 Peter 3:12
The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.
God’s different regards to saints and sinners
I. The two sorts of persons here spoken of.
1. The righteous. They have a true love to all God’s commandments, and will not allow themselves in anything which they know to be contrary to the will of God.
2. Those that do evil. Good men sometimes may do evil, through ignorance, or the power of temptation; but this is not the bent of their minds: when sensible of it, they are sorry for it. The persons here spoken of are of a different spirit; they are evil-doers in the strict sense of the word. Iniquity is their practice and delight.
II. How the Lord stands affected both to the one and to the other.
1. His eyes are over the righteous; which implies-
(1) His knowledge of them, their condition and circumstances (Psalms 139:2-3).
(2) His affection to them. The eye of human creatures is apt to be very much where the heart is (Psalms 146:8; Psalms 11:7).
(3) His providential care of them. He acts for their benefit-to guide, guard, and deliver.
2. His ears also are open to their prayer. This implies-
(1) That prayer is the common practice of the righteous (Ephesians 6:18).
(2) That this their practice is pleasing to God.
(3) That it is a wise and reasonable practice, as it hitherto has been the practice of all good men.
3. His face is against him that doeth evil. This signifies, in general, that He is displeased with such persons (Psalms 7:11). This implies-
(1) That He observes them and their actions; therefore, His face is against them, because He sees and knows them to be evil-doers.
(2) That their conduct is highly offensive to Him.
(3) That He will certainly treat them as enemies, if they do not repent and reform (Proverbs 28:9).
Conclude with some reflections.
1. We may see that happiness is the certain consequence of holiness, and misery as certainly the fruit of sin.
2. We may hence take occasion to reflect on the folly of sin, and the wisdom of being religious.
3. This shows us that good men have a great deal of reason to hope in the most threatening external circumstances; and that bad men have much to fear, even in the most prosperous circumstances.
4. Consider seriously what is said in the words of our text, and let it influence your choice and conduct. (T. Hannam.)
The Divine attentiveness to the righteous
Let us consider, first, who are the persons spoken of as “righteous”; secondly, what is the consolation and the assistance which they expect from heaven. You might say, if the eyes of the Lord are over only the righteous, who shall presume to hope for His favourable regard? But you well know that the term “righteous” in Holy Scripture is not always used to signify a faultless perfection. They who love and fear God, who strive earnestly to obey and please Him, are frequently denominated righteous. Their righteousness, indeed, is ever very defective; but they are called righteous, because it is their prevailing quality to be so. These, St. Peter assures us, are the objects of God’s paternal regard. With regard to the eyes of the Lord spoken of in the text, we may observe that Scripture mentions them in three different ways.
1. First, an eye of knowledge, which extends to all things without exception. This is over not only the righteous, but the wicked also, and over all creatures.
2. God looketh with an eye of displeasure (Amos 9:4; Amos 9:8; Ezekiel 9:10). The eyes of the Lord are over the wicked, observing all their evil doings, and preparing for them the correction which they deserved.
3. There is another aspect of the Deity contrary to that last mentioned; namely, of love and favour, with which He regards His faithful servants (Deuteronomy 11:12; 1 Kings 9:3). Great indeed must be the blessedness of being thus looked upon by the eyes of God. It is not a mere contemplative view, but infinitely powerful in operation. The sun in the firmament is a faint resemblance of it; when He enlightens, warms, animates all earthly things on which his rays descend. But here I must acknowledge that sometimes the outward circumstances of the righteous are calamitous; as if God did not look upon them, as if He had forgotten them. The eyes of the Lord may be over the righteous, whatever be their condition. St. Peter adds, “And His ears are open unto their prayers” (Psalms 50:15; Matthew 7:7; Matthew 7:11). But God does not always answer the prayers of the righteous in their own time and manner, and this sometimes tempts them to imagine that He is averse to their prayers. If God do not at present grant your requests, it does not follow that He hears them not, or that He is not inclined to do you good. But it may not be the fit time; or, lastly, because He reserves His blessings as the recompense of assiduity and perseverance in praying. But another objection may be urged: Do we not find several examples in Scripture of God refusing to the most holy persons the fulfilment of their prayers (Deuteronomy 3:26; 2 Corinthians 12:8)? There are two different ways in which God hears our prayers. One is, according to our wishes; the other, according to our real and final good. We are in adversity and affliction, and we cry unto God for deliverance, which He does not vouchsafe to us. But by this trial He awakens our slumbering zeal, He revives our fainting piety. Has not God, then, done better than their prayers desired? But let us carefully remember that this merciful kindness of the Lord is not promised to all men without regard to their fitness for it. “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers,” “but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” “God heareth not sinners.” (S. Partridge, M. A.)
1 Peter 3:13
And who is he that will harm you?
The harmed and the unhatched
The primary sense of these words is this: A man’s best safeguard is benevolence; if we are ourselves inoffensive in our behaviour, others will be less likely to injure us; in proportion as we are anxious to do good, we shall be less likely to suffer evil. It is true, indeed, that the main scope of the argument is to show the manifold blessings which even in this world attend on the righteous. We are taught that he who will love life, and see good days, is to refrain his tongue from evil, etc. We are taught to eschew evil and do good: to seek peace and ensue it. And why? Because God’s favour is thus secured to us, and man’s enmity in a great measure disarmed. “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous,” etc. The believers were to suffer; but they could take no harm. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” Wonderful question! in its very calmness and simplicity. Who shall harm you? What, when the whole world was leagued in a malignant confederacy against them! “Who shall harm you?” What, when there was everything to harm them! Ignominy, torture, famine, the sword, dishonoured life or violent death. Neither, again, did they affect insensibility under their sufferings. How, then, were they sustained? They were sustained by God’s holy Spirit, and by a reliance on their Master’s infallible promises, and by an undoubting confidence in the life to come. Such is the application of the text with reference to the time at which it was written, and the circumstances of the first promulgators of the blessed gospel of Christ Jesus. With respect, again, to ourselves, it is far more directly true that no one “will harm us, if we be followers of that which is good.” I do not mean that there no longer remains any opposition whatever between the spirit of Christianity and the spirit of the world. But I believe that these adversaries, be they who they may, will not be able to do him any essential injury. I believe, also, that a steady and consistent godliness will go far ultimately to convert enemies into approvers, and rob all opposition of its sting. But, again, if we may trace an intimate connection between holiness and happiness, between physical and spiritual advantage-not invariably, perhaps, as to outward circumstances, because such a law, if altogether universal, might foster mistaken notions of God’s providence, while it would be incompatible with a state of probation-the converse proposition, or the inseparable union of vice and wretchedness, of impiety and fatal damage both to body and soul, must be still more obvious to every man. We might well alter the text, and ask, “Who is he that can do us any benefit, if we be not followers of that which is good?” If you are followers of that which is evil, you harm yourselves to the uttermost, and render even your temporal felicity an impossible thing. You may possess all the elements of felicity; but you so vitiate them that they become powerful only for your destruction. The noblest gifts of nature and of fortune you turn absolutely into curses for yourselves. For, take any endowment which God’s loving kindness may bestow, and see what becomes of it in the hands of the wicked. Is it health, and a vigorous constitution, and the prospect of long life? These advantages are transmuted into instruments of perdition, by inducing a more entire neglect of the concerns of eternity. Is it strength of will, energy, and decision of character? That decision only plunges men into crime with a more headlong zeal, with a more desperate recklessness. Is it acuteness of perception and an abundant measure of intellectual capacity? Alas, this superiority of understanding serves to make men more subtle in confounding truth and falsehood, in perverting right and wrong, in beguiling and destroying themselves with their own frightful sophistries. Is it beauty of person? Yet, ah! who has not had opportunity of seeing that personal beauty without religious principle is the most dreadful of all snares, the most terribly fatal of all possessions? Is it wealth, and station, and influence? Yet these things without holiness only enable men to spread mischief and profligacy around them, and dig for their own souls a deeper place in the pit of hell. The scorpion lash is made of our own vices. That which harms us is sin; they who harm us are those who would debauch our principles, and corrupt our moral feelings, and teach us to take right for wrong and wrong for right, good for evil and evil for good. Finally, then, as to all others, if you pretend to care for the happiness of mankind, labour strenuously for their spiritual improvement. As to your family and those about you, aim not so much to make them clever or accomplished, as to make them religious and upright. (J. S. Boone, M. A.)
The safety of the righteous man from injury and harm
I. The following of that which is good is the ready way to preserve us from violence and hurt, because this inoffensive and religious deportment commands the respect and love of those who are not enemies to piety and virtue.
II. The following of that which is good, the habitual practice of religion and charity, will shelter us against harm and wrong, because it entitles to those promises, whereby God has assured His servants, that so far as shall be suitable to His glorious designs in governing the world, and gracious purposes towards them, He will protect them against the malice of those who intend or attempt their hurt (2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalms 91:1-4; Psalms 121:5-7; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 52:4; Isaiah 54:14; Isaiah 45:17; Proverbs 16:7).
1. God sometimes accomplishes His promises of protection to His servants by changing the hearts and dispositions of their bitterest enemies, so that they become favourers and friends (Proverbs 21:1). Esau (Genesis 32:7; Genesis 32:11); Egyptians (Exodus 11:3).
2. God preserves the honest followers of that which is good from harm, by so chaining up and overawing the malice of their enemies, that however their inward hatred remain, yet they do not manifest it by outward injuries (Genesis 31:42; Exodus 34:24).
3. As the enemies of the righteous are often constrained to conceal their malice; so, when God thinks it fit to interpose His power, He screens the righteous from the most furious assaults of their open hatred and wrath, Red Sea; Saul and David; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Mordecai.
III. The following of that which is good, though it does not always mollify the hearers, nor manacle the hands of men, yet it does that which is much better, viz., it turns the greatest injuries of their most deadly enemies to their profit and advantage. This effect it produces sometimes in their temporal, but always in their spiritual and eternal interests (Romans 8:28). Conclusion:
1. We are informed from the truth already cleared, of the most certain, the most innocent method of securing ourselves and our interests against oppression and wrong, viz., the sincere following of that which is good (Isaiah 32:17; Isaiah 23:18; Isaiah 33:16; Proverbs 18:10).
2. Seeing God has taken the followers of that which is good under His protection, this should fill their hearts with joy and courage, and banish from them sinful and disquieting sadness and fear, even when their enemies are most powerful (Isaiah 26:1; Psalms 5:11-12; Psalms 27:1-3).
3. The consolation which this doctrine yields to the sincerely good is much enhanced while he considers that the greatest injuries are turned by the sovereign providence and grace of God to their benefit, sometimes in their temporal, and always in their spiritual and eternal interests.
4. Since the safety of our persons and interests from oppression lies chiefly in the following of that which is good, it should endear unto us religion and virtue, and powerfully dissuade us from ungodliness and vice.
5. Since the harming of those who are the followers of that which is good is so unreasonable in itself, and such a perfect contradiction unto God, who is the great Patron of holiness, this should make men both ashamed and afraid to be guilty thereof.
6. Though they who, after serious examination of their ways, see their own uprightness, need not suspect the same because of those evils they meet with from the world, yet persecution, as all other afflictions do, fairly invites us to search and try our heart and behaviour, that so we may know, whether or not by our turning aside from that which is good, we have provoked God to expose us to the spite and violence of men. (David Ranken.)
The godly protected
It may justly be asked whether this is consistent either with experience or with other passages of Scripture, seeing that piety appears to have practically no power in subduing enmity or destroying its injuriousness. We cannot deny that in a great variety of cases, religion, so far from disarming hostility and securing goodwill, exposes a man to insult and persecution. The man may not be altogether a follower of that which is good; there is much even in the best which requires to be amended, and which must be disapproved of by a heart-searching God. Now you will have gathered from these observations, with regard to the apparent non-fulfilment of the promise of our text, that it is attributable to a defective performance. In the question before us St. Peter unequivocally intimates that where such is the experience there must have been some deviation from the strict path of duty. And we would therefore contend for the literal truth of the words of our text, notwithstanding all which may elsewhere be said of the persecutions attendant on righteousness. And first we observe, that it is in the power of God, without visible interference with the fixed order of things, to bring about such results as seem good to His wisdom. It is not needful that He should suspend any known laws or work by any strange processes. He can effect whatsoever He wishes to accomplish by touching some secret spring, or putting some hidden force into action, while all along there shall be nothing apparent but the ordinary operations of effects and causes. This may be specially true with regard to the human heart; on which, beyond all doubt, God can mysteriously work, and yet give no outward signs of supernatural agency. If God have the human heart thus entirely at His disposal, He may evidently cause it to lay aside lust, and may turn its affections into a different channel, without anything of violence, and without open restraint to its designs and its desires. The wicked man may not be converted to righteousness; there may not pass on him that great spiritual change which would necessarily lead him to give friendship where before he had given hatred; and nevertheless there may be a soothing of the irritated feelings, a dethronement of his anger, and even a substitution of something like favour for dislike, of which perhaps he cannot himself give account. The cases are far from uncommon, in which God thus secretly diverts or disarms enmity. It is just the same with countries or communities as with individuals. In the case of the Israelites, their history is little more than a practical demonstration of the truth of our text. At any point of their history, if you find the nation endangered by enemies, you infer at once that there has been disobedience and idolatry; whilst, on the other hand, if you find them living in conformity with God’s laws, you may conclude, without further examination, that the national condition was prosperous and flourishing. We would not indeed overlook the peculiarities of the Jewish Dispensation; therefore we do not take what happened to the Israelites as precisely the model of what may be expected by ourselves. But we know that God acts on general principles, and we therefore believe that the high road to national prosperity, under one dispensation, must, in the main, be also the high road to it under any other. Let the laws of a nation be laws framed in the spirit of the Bible; laws which discountenance vice in its every form and patronise piety; let the upholding of Christianity be proposed by rulers and pursued by people as the great end to which all others should be postponed; let there be at all times a public recognition of the supremacy of God, and the paramount importance of obedience to His statutes, and of His inalienable right to the homage, the love, and the services of His creatures, and we may affirm of this nation that it is a “follower of that which is good,” just as might anyone be a follower who is “adorning in all things the doctrines of the Saviour.” Yea, and if a nation did this, we believe that it would as much insure itself prosperity as did the Jews when obeying the laws which were given to them by Moses. May it not be that the enmity of the world is allowed to injure and harm the righteous man, just because he has been remiss in the duties of righteousness; because there has been some portion of conformity to the present evil world, or some undue attachment to a perishable good? And let it, too, be learned, from the words under review, that there cannot be a greater delusion than the thinking to produce or preserve peace with men by means which must hazard the favour of God. Think not to avert danger except by braving it. Do all you can to please men, except by displeasing God. And be sure that the attempt to secure human favour at the expense of Divine will always issue in the loss of both. The traitor to his God becomes, sooner or later, the scorn of his fellow men. Remember, for your consolation, that in this, as in every other respect, God hath made your interest at one with your duty, so that Divine favour shall be the best security for human. And there are more hurtful enemies than angry relations and unprincipled opponents. A man’s foes may be those of his own household-ay! of his own heart-the lusts, the passions, the desires of corrupt nature. These are the enemies with which the Christian has the hardest struggle, and through which he is exposed to the greatest danger. But if he be a “follower of that which is good”; if he be sincere in his wishes and earnest in his efforts to be “holy even as God is holy,” he will gradually be enabled to keep those enemies in check, and find that grace has the mastery of nature. Those who speak most of the strength of their passions are often those who take least pains to resist them. In fact they make that strength an excuse for submission, whereas God would put bands on that strength if they were honest and desired to overcome. There approaches another enemy-one emphatically described as “the last enemy-death.” Can this enemy be stayed from doing harm to the Christian? Why, it is beautiful to observe how Christians, who have felt a dread of death, have found their anxiety depart as the foe drew nigh. They have been “followers of that which is good,” striving to cast all their care upon God, believing that He careth for them. Therefore, as death approached it appeared less harmful, and they who feared him most, but whom the fear only made more fervent in prayer, are enabled to look him calmly in the face, and even cheerfully resign themselves to his embrace as to that of a friend. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The advantage of imitating the good
There is something in a meek and holy carriage that is apt, in part, to free a man from many mischiefs which the ungodly are exposed to. It will be somewhat strange to rage against the innocent.
I. The carriage, “followers of that which is good”; the Greek word is imitators. The Word of God contains our copy in its perfection, and so the imitation of good, in the complete rule of it, is the regulating of our ways by the word. But even there we find, besides general rules, the particular tracks of life of divers eminently holy persons, that we may know holiness not to be an idle imaginary thing, but that men have really been holy; though not altogether sinless, yet holy and spiritual in some good measure; have shined as lights amidst a perverse generation. Why may we not then aspire to be holy as they were, and attain to it? Would you advance in all grace? Study Christ much, and you will find not only the pattern in Him, but strength and skill from Him to follow it.
II. The advantage, “Who is he that will harm you?” In the life of a godly man, taken together in the whole frame of it, there is a grave beauty or comeliness, which oftentimes forces some kind of reverence and respect to it even in ungodly minds. Though a natural man cannot love them spiritually, as graces of the Spirit of God, yet he may have and usually hath a natural esteem of some kind of virtues which are in a Christian, and are not, in their right nature, to be found in any other, though a moralist may have somewhat like them. Meekness, and patience, and charity, and fidelity-these and other suchlike graces do make a Christian life so inoffensive and calm, that, except where the matter of their God or religion is made the crime, malice itself can scarcely tell where to fasten its teeth or lay its hold; it hath nothing to pull by, though it would; yea, oftentimes, for want of work or occasions, it will fall asleep for a while. Whereas ungodliness and iniquity, sometimes by breaking out into notorious crimes, draws out the sword of civil justice, and where it rises not so high, yet it involves men in frequent contentions and quarrels. (Abp. Leighton.)
Doing good, as security against injuries from men
I. The qualification supposed is, that we be “followers of that which is good.” But what is that? The apostle does not go about to define it, but appeals to every man’s conscience to tell him what it is. It is not anything that is controverted, which some men call good and others evil, but that which is universally approved by heathens as well as Christians, that which is substantially good, and that which is unquestionably so. It is not zeal for lesser things, about the ritual and ceremonial part of religion, and a great strictness about the external parts of it, but a pursuit of the weightier things of the law, a care of the great duties of religion, mercy, and justice, and fidelity; those things wherein the kingdom of God consists-righteousness and peace.
II. The benefit and advantage which may reasonably be expected from it, and that is, security from the injuries of men: “Who is he that will harm you?” etc. The apostle doth not absolutely say none will do it, but he speaks of it as a thing so very unreasonable and so unlikely that it will not often happen. And this will appear-
1. If we consider the nature of virtue and goodness, which is apt to gain upon the affections of men, and secretly to win their love and esteem. True goodness is inwardly esteemed by bad men; it carries an awe and majesty with it, so that bad men are very often restrained from harming the good by that secret reverence which they bear to goodness.
2. If we consider the nature of man, even when it is very much depraved and corrupted. There is something that is apt to restrain bad men from injuring those that are remarkably good-a reverence for goodness, the fear of God, and of bringing down His vengeance upon their heads; and many times the fear of men, who, though they be not good themselves, cannot endure to see them oppressed, especially if they have found the real effects of their goodness in good offices done by them to themselves.
3. If we consider the providence of God, which is particularly concerned for the protection of innocency and goodness.
III. And yet we are not to understand this saying of the apostle, as declaring to us the constant and certain event of things without any exception. For good men are sometimes exposed to great injuries of which I shall give you an account in these following particulars-
1. Sonic that seem to be good are not sincerely so, and when they, by the just judgment of God, are punished for their hypocrisy, in the opinion of many goodness seems to suffer.
2. Some that are really good are very imperfectly so, have many flaws which do very much obscure their goodness; they are “followers of that which is good,” but they have an equal zeal for things which have no goodness in them, or so little that it is not worth all that bustle which they make about them, and will contend as earnestly for a doubtful opinion as for the articles of “the faith which was once delivered to the saints,” and will oppose a little ceremony with as much heat as the greatest immorality. In these cases it is not men’s goodness which raiseth enmity against them, but their imprudent zeal and other infirmities which attend it.
3. The enmity of some men against goodness is so violent and implacable that no innocency can restrain their malice. Against these the providence of God is our best safeguard.
4. The last and chief exception is that of the cross, when the sufferings and persecutions of good men are necessary for the great ends of God’s glory, for the advancement of religion, and the example and salvation of others. (Abp. Tillotson.)
The practice of virtue the greatest security against our enemies
I. If a man be a follower of that which is good, ‘tis probable no man will have any desire to harm him.
II. If we be followers of that which is good, ‘tis certain no man, whatever his will be, shall have any power to do us any real harm.
1. The providence of God does in a peculiar manner watch over the righteous, to preserve them under all events.
2. The enemies of a righteous man cannot do him any real harm, because they cannot take from him anything wherein his true and proper happiness consists.
3. Whatever loss a good man sustains in the world upon the account of his concern for truth and virtue, shall be abundantly made good to him in that which is to come; and consequently ‘tis so far from doing any real harm, that it ought rather to be accounted a gain than a loss. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The protection of God
So long ago as the time of William Penn the efficacy of arbitration was demon strafed. He proposed to come to America without any weapons, and treat with the worst savages. Charles
II. scoffed at him and said, “What: venture yourselves among the savages of North America! Why, man, what security have you that you will not be in their war kettle within two hours after setting your foot on their shores?” “The best security in the world,” said William Penn. “I doubt that, friend William,” said the king. “I have no idea of any security against these American cannibals but a regiment of good soldiers with their bayonets and muskets: and I tell you beforehand, with all my goodwill for you and your family, to whom I am under obligations, I will not send a single soldier with you.” “I want none of your soldiers,” said William Penn. “I depend upon something better.” “On what?” asked the king. William Penn answered, “On the Indians themselves, and their moral sense, and the protection of the Almighty God.” And it is a fact in American history that for seventy years the red men kept that treaty, and it was not broken until the white men broke it.
Good still left unharmed
I have fallen into the hands of the publicans and sequestrators, and they have taken all from me. What now? let me look about me. They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse; and, unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance, and my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience: they still have left me the providence of God, and all the promises of the gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them too: and still I sleep and digest; I eat and drink; I read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbour’s pleasant fields, and see the varieties of natural beauties, and delight in all that in which God delights, that is, in virtue and wisdom, in the whole creation, and in God Himself. (Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)
Followers of that which is good.-
I. Its prospectiveness.
1. A desire for future good.
2. An expectation of future good.
II. Its sociality. It has a community of-
1. Paramount interest.
2. Leading aims.
III. Its reasonableness.
1. Our nature was made for goodness.
2. Christ came into the world to give us goodness.
3. God works to make us good.
4. The great struggle of our nature is to be good.
IV. Its reverence. Genuine religion is modest, devout, meek. (Homilist.)
1 Peter 3:14-17
But if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake.
The sufferings of Christians
I. Why Christians must expect to meet with persecution or suffering in the world.
II. Real Christians are happy even in the midst of their present sufferings. This will appear, if we consider the object, the nature, and the foundation of the Christian’s happiness.
1. His happiness is placed beyond the reach of accident, and the fear of change: a God reconciled through Jesus Christ is the supreme object of his happiness and desire.
2. As the object, so is also the nature of the Christian’s happiness, such as to justify the assertion that he is happy in the midst of external sufferings. Did the ultimate happiness or salvation of believers depend on any temporary frame or feeling, many of the most eminent saints might often be pronounced miserable. No! the Christian’s happiness is founded on the eternal purposes and love of God; and this constitutes at once its security and perfection. (Thomas Ross, LL. D.)
Suffering for righteousness
I. Suffering is supposed, notwithstanding righteousness, yea, for righteousness; and that, not as a rare accident, but as the frequent lot of Christians. Think not that any prudence will lead you by all oppositions and malice of an ungodly world. Many winter blasts will meet you in the most inoffensive way of religion, if you keep straight to it. Look about you, and see if there be any state of man or course of life exempted from troubles. The greatest are usually subject to the greatest vexations, as the largest bodies have the largest shadows attending them. Take what way you will, there is no place or condition so fenced but public calamities or personal griefs find a way to reach us. Seeing then we must suffer whatever Course we take, to suffer for righteousness is far the best. What Julius Caesar said ill of doing ill, we may well say of suffering ill, “If it must be, it is best to be for a kingdom.” But I shall prosecute this suffering for righteousness only with relation to the apostle’s present reasoning. His conclusion he establishes.
1. From the favour or protection of God. The eyes of the Lord being over the righteous for their good, and His ear open to their prayer.
2. For the other argument, that the following of good would preserve them from harm, it speaks truly the nature of the thing, what it is apt to do, and what, in some measure, it often doth; but considering the nature of the world, its enmity against God and religion, it is not strange that it often proves otherwise. But if thou knowest who it is whom thou hast trusted, and whom thou lovest, this is a small matter. What though it were deeper and sharper sufferings, yet still, if ye suffer for righteousness, happy are ye.
II. That a Christian under the heaviest load of sufferings for righteousness is yet happy, and that he is happier even by those sufferings.
1. All the sufferings of this world are not able to destroy the happiness of a Christian, nor to diminish it; yea, they cannot at all touch it; it is out of their reach. If all friends be shut out, yet the visits of the Comforter may be frequent, bringing glad tidings from heaven, and communing with him of the love of Christ and solacing him with that. Banishment he fears not, for his country is above; nor death, for that sends him home into that country.
2. But if in other sufferings, even the worst, the believer is still a happy man, then more especially in those that are of the best kind, sufferings for righteousness. Not only do they not detract from his happiness, but they give accession to it; he is happy even by suffering.
(1) It is the happiness of a Christian, until he attain perfection, to be advancing towards it; to be daily refining from sin, and growing richer and stronger in the graces that make up a Christian, a new creature; to attain a higher degree of patience, and meekness, and humility; to have the heart more weaned from the earth and fixed on heaven. Now as other afflictions of the saints do help them in these things, their sufferings for righteousness, the unrighteous and injurious dealings of the world with them, have a particular fitness for this purpose.
(2) Persecuted Christians are happy in their conformity with Christ, which is love’s ambition. A believer would take it as an affront that the world should be kind to him, that was so cruel to his beloved Lord and Master.
(3) Suffering Christians are happy in the rich supplies of spiritual comfort and joy, which in times of suffering are usual; so that as “their sufferings for Christ do abound, their consolations in Him abound much more.”
(4) If those sufferings be so small that they are weighed down even by present comforts, and so the Christian is happy in them, how much more doth the weight of glory that follows surpass these sufferings! Now these sufferings are happy, because they are the way to this happiness and the pledges of it. (Abp. Leighton.)
The wrongful suffering of good men
I. The fact that good men often suffer for their goodness from their fellow men. Peter uses the phrase “but and if,” not because the suffering he describes is infrequent, but because it may not be absolutely universal, and because the reflections on which he is dwelling might seem to have made such suffering impossible For-
(1) It might seem as though the promised guardianship of God would have ensured security to good men. But, no. Or
(2) It might seem that an upright, benevolent life would have won the gratitude and kindness of one’s fellows. But, no. “If you would follow the Church in her history, it will be by the track of her blood; if you would see her, it is by the light of the fires in which her martyrs have been burned.”
II. The inspired direction for men in such wrongful suffering.
2. Consecration to Christ.
3. Intelligent conviction.
5. True triumph.
“All may not be able to wield the sharp sword of argument, but all can wear the silver shield of innocent lives.”
III. The lofty privilege of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake.
1. They are blessed.
2. Their suffering is better than that of those who suffer for wrong doing.
3. Their suffering brings them into intimate fellowship with the Man of Sorrows.
IV. The impossibility of men who in this spirit suffer wrongfully being really injured. To all wrongful treatment by the mean, envious, or malicious, the true Christian can say, “You may embarrass my circumstances, undermine my health, filch my reputation, shorten my mortal life, but you cannot ‘harm’ me.” (U. R. Thomas.)
The causes of the world’s hatred of Christians
They are many and obvious.
1. For instance: The man of God should be an embodied conscience. The one endeavour of ungodly men is to drown the remonstrances of conscience. For this they plunge into gaiety, or business, or exploration; for this they hurry from scene to scene; for this they studiously avoid all that savours of God or His claims. But in a holy life they meet with a devout and constant recognition of those claims, coupled with a faithful endeavour to fulfil them. There is an embodiment of righteousness without them, which arouses into instant and unwelcome activity those convictions of their duty which they have done their best to quell.
2. The pride of heart which resents superiority in another. The envy which grudges the influence that goodness always attracts. The malice which broods over the contrast that purity presents to impurity, until the fact of its doing so bulks as a positive injury. All these strong passions of the unrenewed heart, like Pilate and Herod of old, become friends in their common antagonism to the saintliness which intrudes upon their privacy and menaces their peace.
3. Besides, there is always an aggressiveness in true Christianity which arouses strong resistance. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Happy are ye.
The blessedness of those who suffer for righteousness
I. The patient suffering for righteousness’ sake is the giving obedience to one of the commandments of Jesus Christ, and that upon the doing thereof depends the truth of their Christianity in this life, and their salvation in the next (Matthew 10:37-38; Matthew 16:21-25; Mark 8:31-38).
II. The cheerful endurance of those evils which befall the Christian in professing the truths of God and obeying His commandments, is an instance of the most heroic virtue, and a happy proof of the sincerity of his piety and faith. It is the most glorious victory over ourselves, our own passions and fears, and that natural inclination which prompts us to secure our life and the conveniences thereof.
III. The Christian’s being engaged in the state of persecution, and his valiant endurance of the same, is a happy indication of God’s special favour to him, and esteem of his fortitude and uprightness (Acts 9:15-16; 1 Peter 4:16; Philippians 1:28-29; Acts 5:40-41).
IV. As God lovingly calls true Christians to the honour of suffering for His name, so he graciously reckons himself to be honoured by their religious courage and fidelity in the doing thereof (John 21:18-19; 1 Peter 4:14).
V. The constant integrity of the good man, under all his sufferings for righteousness, creates in him that inward pleasure and peace of mind which is the constant and genuine effect of holiness and virtue, and of the soul’s being conscious to itself of its own innocence. And it likewise obtains for him these supernatural joys and assistances, which in the hour of temptation flow in from the Holy Ghost (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 1 Peter 4:14).
VI. That which is a very considerable proof of the blessedness of those who endure in the spirit of patience and penitence, those sufferings which meet them in the way of their duty; they powerfully contribute to purify their souls from remaining corruption, and to perfect them into the highest degrees of holiness (Isaiah 27:9; Hebrews 12:10-11; 2 Corinthians 4:16).
VII. That which, without the possibility of a reasonable contradiction, clears and completes the evidence for the truth of the happiness of these pious ones, who suffer for righteousness’ sake, is: that they are secured of the blessedness of heaven, that though it be future, yet with respect to it St. Peter might very well say in the present tense, “Ye are happy” (Matthew 5:10; Matthew 19:29; James 1:12). Conclusion:
1. From the truth of the fore-said doctrine, viz., the happiness of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, we see the lamentable ignorance and error of carnal and worldly minded men.
2. We learn from the evidence of this great truth, that it is our wisdom, as well as duty, to adhere unto righteousness and truth, even in the time of the most terrible threatenings and persecution.
3. The suffering Christian is taught hereby, that instead of repining against the Divine Providence on account of his sufferings, he ought rather to magnify God, that He graciously affords him the blessed opportunity and means of knowing his own sincerity, of promoting the Divine glory, of partaking of unspeakable spiritual joys, and of being advanced to the most eminent holiness in this life, and happiness in the next.
4. Serious reflection on the felicity of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake would be very useful to mitigate the sorrow of those whose dearest friends may at any time be involved in persecution for their keeping the faith and a good conscience.
5. The belief of this truth should stifle our revenge against our most malicious persecutors; seeing we know that, however evil their intention may be, yet the persecution itself through God’s grace, turns about in the end to our inexpressible advantage.
6. It is comfortable to observe that the happiness asserted of the sufferers for righteousness is not restricted to any particular instance either of righteousness or suffering.
7. The happiness of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake affords a very powerful motive and encouragement to patience and constancy, in the time of the hottest persecution. (David Ranken.)
Be not afraid of their terror.-This is commonly explained as the terror which their menaces might excite; but considering the undoubted reference to Isaiah 8:12-13, it seems probable that St. Peter means such terror as dismays those who do not fear God supremely. (Canon F. C. Cook.)
The earthworm meets threatened danger in a most unphilosophic way. Directly it feels a slight shock in the earth it will hasten to the surface, because it attributes that to the proximity of its enemy the mole. The knowledge that the worm can easily be panic stricken has been acquired by the lapwings (Vanellus)
, and these birds use it for their own advantage and the destruction of their victim. The lapwings settle down on fields recently ploughed, where they can find an ample supply of worms, and striking against the ground with their feet, induce the worms to come to the surface under fear that the shock is caused by the mole. As fast as the worms come in fear to the surface they are snapped up by the lapwings. Thus by endeavouring to escape an imaginary danger, the worm encounters a real one. There are many creatures, far higher in intelligence than the poor worm, who follow exactly the same panic-stricken policy in the supposed presence of danger. All weak natures, in fact, ale naturally impelled to adopt it. Hence amongst mankind, for want of self-control and discretion, half our miseries, and often our doom, may be traced to acts caused by the dread of a danger which has existed only in our fears. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Be not afraid of their terror
I. Christian courage in not being sinfully afraid of those evils which men may threaten us with, for righteousness sake, is a duty frequently recommended to us in scripture, and timidity or irregular fear forbidden (Isaiah 8:11-12; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5; Philippians 1:27-28; Jeremiah 1:5-7; Ezekiel 2:6; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 21:7; Revelation 12:8).
II. The being sinfully afraid of persecution, or the wrath of man, is extremely unworthy of a Christian.
1. A Christian is the sworn soldier of Jesus, and Jesus has expressly obliged him by an unalterable statute to take up his Cross and follow Him through the most terrible dangers and inconveniences.
2. The Christian professes to believe in an Almighty God, the best friend and sorest enemy; and in Jesus Christ who cheerfully suffered the greatest evils for his sake; and that there is an everlasting life both of happiness and misery, to be bestowed upon men, according to their final constancy or apostasy.
3. The Christian may continually look upon the glorious example of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith; and upon the great cloud of witnesses or martyrs, who feared not the wrath of man, nor loved their lives unto the death.
III. Holy fearlessness and magnanimity is, under God, a strong guard to the Christian’s uprightness and piety; whereas fearfulness and pusillanimity do woefully endanger and betray them (Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13; Proverbs 29:25; John 12:42).
IV. The enemies of the Church of God are so entirely subjected to His providence, and the Church, upon the other hand, is so watchfully regarded by the same providence, that the Church’s enemies cannot injure it without the divine permission, or extend their persecutions against the righteous beyond the limits which God has fixed (Psalms 37:32-33; John 19:10-11; John 7:30; Luke 22:52-53).
V. The highest pitch to which the malice of the most implacable and powerful adversaries of truth and piety can arrive is, to molest and ruin the faithful professors and friends of the same, in their outward, bodily and transitory state (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4). Conclusion:
1. That we may attain to Christian fortitude and intrepidity in the time of persecution, it will be necessary for us with a humble importunity to make our addresses to God, that He would be graciously pleased to endue us therewith (Colossians 1:11).
2. If we would not be afraid of men, let us use our utmost endeavours to get our hearts possessed with the awful and holy fear of God; and then we will find by happy experience that the latter fear drives away the former.
3. They whose hearts are inflamed with the love of God, are strongly fortified against the impressions of sinful fear and cowardice, when wrathful persecutors either threaten or attack them (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).
4. The exercising a lively faith about the glory and happiness which is provided in the world to come for those righteous persons, who valiantly endure all these persecutions, would inspire the Christian with invincible fortitude, fill his soul with a noble contempt of men’s terror, and carry him forward triumphantly in the way of his duty, notwithstanding the fiercest opposition of enraged and powerful men (Hebrews 11:1-40).
5. They who would not be sinfully afraid of human terror, who would not for the fear of it deny any known truth, or neglect any known duty: let them entertain just sentiments concerning the good and evil things of this present world, the advantages and disadvantages, the honour and dishonour, the pleasures and pains thereof; taking care that they do not overrate them, and that they do not place their happiness in the enjoyment of the former, nor their misery in suffering the latter.
6. It would be very useful to the Christian, for preserving him from cowardice, that he had continually before his eyes the most glorious example of Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation, and the heroic bravery and patience of the saints. For then he would be ashamed basely and sinfully to turn his back upon these dangers, which not only his Lord and General, but also his fellow soldiers did boldly encounter and overcome. (David Ranken.)
One fear drives out another
There seems here a reminiscence on Peter’s part of words heard long before: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.” “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” How may we obtain this lion heart, which knows no fear in the presence of our foes? There is but one answer possible. Expel fear by fear. Drive out the fear of man by the fear of God. “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” How often we see fear expel fear. The fear of being burnt will nerve a woman to let herself down by a water pipe from the upper storeys of a house in flames. The fear of losing her young will inspire the timid bird to throw herself before the steps of man, attracting his notice from them to herself. The fear of the whip will expel the horse’s dread of the object at which it has taken fright. Oh for that Divine habit of soul which so conceives of the majesty, and power, and love of God, that it dares not sin against Him, but would rather brave a world in arms than bring a shadow over His face. “So did not I,” said a sincere and noble man, “because of the fear of God.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Neither be troubled.-
Deliverance from trouble
1. The ordinary causes of astonishment and perplexity of spirit in the time of adversity are these-
(1) When the evil a person lies under was wholly unexpected.
(2) When a man in his calamity is quite forlorn and destitute, has no friend to condole his misery, nor to support him under it.
(3) When the evil is lasting and invincible, such as the miserable patient can reasonably propose to himself no deliverance from.
2. These grounds of perturbation are not to be found in those afflictions which the righteous meet with for righteousness sake.
(1) Persecution of one kind or other is what the true Christian may expect, and so forearm himself (Luke 9:2; John 15:20; John 16:20; John 16:33; Mark 10:29-30; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12).
(2) The righteous, in the extremest heat of persecution, are not entirely forsaken; but even then they have a great and faithful friend, viz., the Almighty God, who commiserates their distress, bears the heaviest end of the burden, and encourages them under all their troubles (Psalms 91:15; Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 49:13-16; 2 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 13:5).
(3) The calamity with which the righteous are afflicted for righteousness’ sake is not past hope and remedy. No; they are fully assured of deliverance from it, if not after the manner which they desire, yet in the way which is best for them (Psalms 34:19; Psalms 91:14-16; 2 Chronicles 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:16-18).
I. God can deliver His Church and people while they are in the extremest dangers and difficulties (2 Peter 2:9).
II. In such cases He hath very often delivered them.
1. Some of these deliverances were accomplished, not by prodigious and amazing strokes of Divine power in suspending or transcending the force and course of natural causes, but by gentle and ordinary means, gloriously conducted by the wise providence of God (Exodus 2:1-25; 1 Samuel 23:1-29; Esther 6:1-14).
2. Whereas it is said that we are no more to look for miracles, I answer that it is presumptuous to limit the Holy One of Israel, peremptorily to set bounds to the infinitely wise and powerful God where He has not expressly set them to Himself.
3. Let this matter be as it may, yet I hope it will be granted that God is still the God of salvation; that “His hand is not shortened that it cannot save,” etc.; that He even is the Lover and Protector of truth and righteousness and the Helper of the helpless; that He can abate the pride, assuage the malice, and confound the devices of the Church’s enemies; and, finally, that He can raise up deliverers to the persecuted when and where it was least expected.
III. There are the strongest reasons for their believing that at length God will deliver them one way or other.
1. He will deliver them by a temporal deliverance, if that be most agreeable to His wise counsels, to the methods of His providence in governing the world and His Church, and to their true and greatest welfare.
2. If He think it not proper to remove sufferings from them, He will remove them from suffering.
IV. By hearkening to this counsel of St. Peter the Christian will exceedingly consult the peace of his own mind.
1. Excessive and irregular sorrow is of itself a very great calamity; it enfeebles the soul; at once it increases a man’s affliction and disables him from bearing the same (Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 18:14).
2. As for anxiety of mind, it distracts and disquiets those who are under its dominion after a most miserable manner.
3. Who can express the misery of those who, in the time of persecution, give way to anger, revenge, impatience, and murmuring? By their blustering passions they raise a perpetual storm within, and are like the troubled sea which cannot rest.
4. Whereas, if they who are persecuted for righteousness sake do wisely follow this direction; if, instead of abandoning themselves to immoderate grief and to pernicious impatience, they maintain a holy cheerfulness of spirit, patience, and contentedness of mind, and cast all their care upon God; then they will find, to their unspeakable comfort, that the blessed fruits of this prudent and religious practice are these: a reviving and supporting cordial to their hearts; an admirable and sweet repose within, while there is nothing but storm without; and that vigour of soul which will enable them bravely to bear up under the heaviest load of adversity.
V. Special motives and considerations for which the Christian should avoid any of those particular inward troubles or disorders of mind to which he is liable in the state of persecution, if he be not upon his guard and continually supported by the grace of God.
1. Anxious and disquieting thoughtfulness and sorrow are very expressly forbidden the Christians (Matthew 6:25, etc.; John 14:1; John 14:27; John 16:33; Philippians 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7).
2. An undisturbed, well-grounded, and governed quietness and alacrity of spirit under sufferings is the highest pitch of faith, and a signal honour done to the attributes and promises of God. Whereas dejecting sorrow and anxious perplexity of mind is too great a proof of the want or weakness of faith, and a tacit reproach to God.
3. This holy cheerfulness and tranquillity of mind does exceedingly become the servants of God, especially in the time of persecution, and the opposite temper of irregular sorrow and anxiety is extremely unsuitable.
4. The Christian will entertain a horror at immoderate sorrow and anxiety of mind when he seriously considers the dreadful spiritual inconveniences and evils which may follow thereupon, if they be not prevented by the singular goodness of God.
(1) Excessive sorrow and anxiety are apt to create in those over whom they prevail an indisposition to the exercise of several graces and duties, the exercise whereof is nevertheless highly necessary in the conjuncture of persecution and distress, viz., faith and dependence on God, resignation, prayer, thanksgiving, etc.
(2) Though the persecuted and afflicted Christian has much need of Divine consolations from the Word of God and the immediate influences of His Spirit, yet excessive sorrow and anxiety do exceedingly stand in the way of his partaking of these consolations.
(3) Immoderate sorrow and anxiety expose those over whom they prevail to many other dangerous evils and inconveniences. These sinful infirmities incline men to be weary and faint under the cross, to be over-desirous of shaking it off, and to hearken to sinful overtures for that effect. (David Ranken.)
Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.-
God sanctified in the heart
“Sanctifying the Lord God” means, not making Him holy, for He is already most holy, but regarding Him as holy, treating Him, the idea of Him, and all that is His, sacredly, and in a manner different from that in which we regard all other things and ideas. Then, further, it means treating Him as thus holy, not only in our outward deeds or words, but in our secret hearts, where men do not see us nor know what passes in us. And we must remember, moreover, that when the Apostle says, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,” he does not only give us a negative rule, as though he said, “Think of God no otherwise than reverently,” but he gives us a plain affirmative one, “Ever have the thought of Him before your pure minds, and take care that it be a holy, reverent, and most sacred thought.” To sanctify the Lord God in our hearts, therefore, is to keep up by every means in our power a holy regard of Him. And again, sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts must surely, as a Christian precept, have a more specific meaning, for not only do we believe that the great God is, from the very force and meaning of His Being and omnipotency, present always and everywhere, but we believe that the Deity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are in some more signal and more mysterious way present and indwelling in the hearts of those who have been made children of God and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. This sanctifying of the Lord God in our hearts forms, as it were, the real safeguard and sanctification of our imaginations. It will serve to keep holy much within us which is very apt to run wild. For consider what a large portion of our lives there is of which we take little or no account at all, which we think little of as it passes, nor remember when it is past. Consider, for instance, in any day for what a small proportion of the hours we can give an account or recall the true and real occupation of our imaginations and feelings. It is in this respect, then, that the “sanctifying of the Lord God in our hearts” becomes so signally important. This we may maintain always. In activity and repose, by night and by day, in all seasons and circumstances, the sacred thought of God before us, God with us, will abash every thought and feeling which is at variance with His will. Is it of fear of men and their ill-treatment of us? How can such fear remain or be effectual with us if we habitually remember who and what He is, who is all-powerful and all-present? Is it a thought of unholiness or impurity? How can it stand and not perish from our minds if they are accustomed by constant effort to represent to themselves hourly the sanctity of God, who dwelleth in them? Is it a thought of unkindness, ill-opinion, disrespect? How, again, can it live in a heart which is continually recalling itself to remember that the Lord God, who is infinitely great and infinitely good, dwells within it? Is it a feeling of vexation or impatience when things do not go exactly as we would have them, or when bodily pain or distress assails us? How soon will that heart check and calm its impatience, which is habitually taking pains to keep the sacred thought of God before it-God in His sanctity, His majesty, God who dwelleth in our hearts! (Bp. Moberly.)
God reverenced in the heart
I. Sanctify the Lord God. He is holy, the fountain of holiness. It is He alone who powerfully sanctifies us, and then, and not till then, we sanctify Him. We sanctify Him by acknowledging His greatness and power and goodness, and, which is here more particularly intended, we do this by a holy fear of Him and faith in Him.
II. In your hearts. We are to be sanctified in our words and actions, but primarily in our hearts, as the root and principle of the rest. He sanctifies His own people throughout, makes their language and their lives holy, but first and most of all their hearts. It fears, and loves, and trusts in Him, which properly the outward man cannot do, though it does follow and is acted on by these affections, and so shares in them according to its capacity.
III. This sanctifying of God in the heart composes the heart and frees it from fears.
1. The fear of God overtops and nullifies all lesser fears: the heart possessed with this fear hath no room for any other. It resolves the heart, in point of duty, that it must not offend God by any means; yea, rather to choose the universal and highest displeasure of the world forever than His smallest discountenance for a moment.
2. Faith in God clears the mind and dispels carnal fears. It is the most sure help. “What time I am afraid,” says David, “I will trust in Thee.” It resolves the mind concerning the event, and scatters the multitude of perplexing thoughts which arise about that: What shall become of this and that? What if such an enemy prevail? No matter, says faith, though all fail, I know of one thing that will not; I have a refuge which all the strength of nature and art cannot break in upon or demolish, a high defence, my Rock in whom I trust. (Abp. Leighton.)
Sanctifying the Lord in the heart
What is meant by “sanctifying the Lord”? The phrase occurs elsewhere (Isaiah 29:23; Leviticus 10:3; Numbers 20:12; Ezekiel 36:23). They sanctify Him who give Him His due, who treat His claims as real and absolute, who look away from all other powers, from all imagined resources or grounds of confidence, to Him as the origin and centre of their existence.
1. St. Peter was thinking immediately of apprehended suffering, and this at the hands of men, unconsciously acting as the instruments of a Master who saw fit thus to “prove” the patience and fidelity of His servants. But a great deal of actual suffering, apprehended or really imminent, comes apart from such instrumentality, or, at any rate, is only indirectly connected with human wills. For instance, suppose we learn that a severe outbreak of disease, infectious and perilous to life, is among us. Should we be likely then to be scared by the terror of such a prospect? or should we have faith enough to sanctify in our hearts, as Sovereign and Lord of all things, the Redeemer who healed sickness in others and accepted crucifixion for Himself? Could we suppress unworthy agitations, adopt all reasonable precautions, and make daily acts of faith in the spirit of Psalms 91:1; Psalms 91:6? But again, we know that very often our fears enormously exaggerate real evils, and very often we are haunted by fears which are altogether imaginary. Why not simply take the Lord at His own word, and put aside faithless “anxiety about the morrow”?
2. Remember, further, that the drama of spiritual life and death can be performed on a humbler stage, under conditions devoid of any impressive brilliancy. A youth, let us say, goes out from some quiet country home into an area which presents new tests to his moral and religious fidelity; the scene may be a college or a workshop, a messroom or house of business-it matters not; suppose he falls in with a bad set; suppose he is mercilessly laughed at if found to persevere in religious habits; suppose that he is accused of self-righteousness, or even of self-interest; suppose that, whether in rough or in polished phrase, the creed of his boyhood is called an obsolete delusion, fit only for those who are content to be tutored by the clergy; is there nothing here like a fiery trial? How will he stand it? Will he begin the downward course by “assuming a vice although he has it not,” affecting an indifference to religion beyond what he really feels? Suppose that, on the contrary, he retains that holy fear of God, and perseveres in his duty, just “as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10): what will be said of him above? That, young as he is, he is playing the man; that he is responding to grace, and “witnessing a good confession”; that he is “sanctifying Christ in his heart as Lord.”
3. And once more: when we are depressed and anxious as to the prospects of the Church and of the faith; when unbelief is increasingly aggressive, confident of speedy success; when prejudices against that truth of which the Church is the pillar and ground work reappear in all their old force, unallayed by explanations or by conferences; when large masses of European society seem possessed with a spirit of revolutionary lawlessness, which fears God as little as it regards man; then the problem appears too hard, the task too onerous, the promised success past hoping for. But the history of the Church may remind us that as we certainly are “not better than our fathers,” so we are not undergoing trials from which they were wholly exempt. But as they could and did fall back, so must we fall back on the invincible conviction that the cause is God’s after all. Let the Most High look to it. (W. Bright, D. D.)
Be ready always to give an answer.-
The true Christian apologist
Some thirty years after this letter was written to the Christians, amongst others, of Bithynia, another letter was written about them from the Roman governor of Bithynia to his imperial master at Rome. The answer to that letter is also preserved. The magistrate asks advice, and the emperor gives it, as to the treatment of these Christians. Such questions as these were presenting themselves: Is the name itself of Christian to be a crime apart from any proof of accompanying offences? Is recantation to be accepted in exemption from punishment? Hitherto his practice has been to give time to reply to the interrogation. He has brought out the images, the emperor’s image among them; and if the accused would repeat after him a form of adoration of the heathen gods, and if he would add execration upon the name of Jesus Christ, he has dismissed them; if not he has ordered them for execution. Trajan replies that he entirely approves the course adopted. No search had better be made for Christians; if accused and convicted they must still be allowed the alternative of recanting, but in default of thus purging their crime they must take the consequences. Anonymous informations, he adds, as it were in a postscript, are not to be attended to; they are a bad precedent and quite out of date. I make no apology for recalling these few well known particulars of a famous letter, as giving great reality to the position of Christians in the age and even in the very region in which St. Peter here writes. It is quite plain that the account which St. Peter speaks of as likely to be demanded of them is a judicial proceeding, and that the answer which he bids them to have ready is the plea of guilty or not guilty when they are asked-and know too well what it means-“How say you, are you Christians or not Christians?” There are persons in this London to whom the straightforward dealing, creditable to them on the whole, of Pliny and Trajan with those Christians of Bithynia would have presented an alternative of intolerable embarrassment. Such direct demands for a “Yes” or a “No,” to the inquiry, “Christian or no Christian?” are out of date; they would make no allowance for the intellectual difficulties of the nineteenth century; they are too rough and peremptory for us; we are balancing, we are waiting to settle a hundred things ere we get to this. Of course we do not worship images, of course we shall utter no anathema of Jesus Christ, but to go to the stake for Him, to be sent to Rome to be executed for Him-no, no. You must not suppose us indifferent to the difficulties of the age; you must not suppose anyone undervalues the difficulties of believing or exaggerates the satisfactoriness of the evidence. It is not so. But neither can we consent to throw back or to throw forward the whole question of Christian or not Christian, as though we might live and die without settling it for ourselves either way. Be very glad that we do not incur the sharper alternative of the great first struggle between Heathenism and Christianity, that we find ourselves in days of public toleration and mutual civility imposing no condition of faith or speech upon those who would buy or sell in the market place or eat and drink at the banquet tables of the world. We will look into this; and we are struck before all else with the title given to our Christian possession. The account demanded of one of those Christians of the first age in Bithynia was not of their opinions, not of their doctrines, not even of their beliefs, it was of their hope. St. Peter, wishing to animate these Bithynians into a readiness to make answer at the bar of some emperor or proconsul, “I am a Christian,” goes to the root of the matter by calling their Christianity a hope. He says to them in that word, “Remember Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light by His gospel. Keep Him and you have a sure, a blessed hope through Him who loved you; part with Him, and you are thrown back at the very best upon the one guess among many of a heathen philosophy.” That hope which was the secret of courage in days when to be a Christian was to be in danger of being a criminal under a capital charge is no less the one thing needful when the answer must be given with no penal consequences in the counting houses and drawing rooms of Christendom. It is the hope which attracts; it is the hope which animates; it is the hope which convinces and which persuades. It may be doubted whether hope occupies quite the place it ought to have in the Christianity of this generation. We hear much of duty, much of effort, much of work, much of charity, and something of self-denial; but these things are often found in almost absolute isolation from peace and joy in the “good hope through grace”; much time is given to controversial or speculative theology, little to the actual anticipating and foretasting of the powers and glories of a world to come. And this silence springs from the secret or half-avowed thought, it is out of date; it was the privilege, or it was the fancy of days gone by. These things ought not so to be. If a man would settle it with himself quite in the early days of his believing that he means to look for the life of the world to come on the definite ground of the atonement and promise of his Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ, and if he would have out this treasure every morning, handling, admiring, cherishing it, so that it should never be out of his thought or out of his heart and soul, and so that he should positively intend to carry it with him to and through the grave and gate of death, then there would beam in his very countenance such a light of hope as would make young men and old take knowledge of him that he knew Jesus Christ and was on his way to Him; ready always, such would be the result, to make his defence to every one that put him on his trial concerning the hope that is in him. Oh! be able to tell these unsatisfied questioners that you have a hope-a hope that serves as your anchor, a hope that keeps you steady amidst the swelling and surging waves of circumstance; a hope that makes you happy; a hope that quickens and concentrates energy; a hope which enters within that veil, which hangs and must hang here between the visible and the invisible! Be able to say and to mean this, and then you will be Christian apologists in the best of senses, not excusing the inquirer, which would be a fatal indulgence, one iota of definiteness which we feel regarding the personality and regarding the inspiration of the Saviour, but making him feel that there is a ready access and a joyous welcome for him “to enter with boldness into the holiest by the blood of Jesus Christ.” We end with the two words with which St. Peter ends this verse. Ready, he says, to defend your hope “with meekness,” to defend your hope “with fear.” Oh! what mischief has arisen to the acceptance of the gospel, and so to the salvation of souls, by the neglect of these two rules on the part of Christian apologists! Make answer, but let it be for a hope which is first in you, and let it be also with “the meekness” of one who knows himself dust and ashes, and with the reverence of one who feels God near, and sees in the man opposite to him a soul for which Christ died. (Dean Vaughan.)
A reason of the hope that is in you.-
The nature and reason of the Christian’s hope
I. What is the Christian’s hope? Hope is the desire of some attainment, attended with expectation or conviction that the object of desire is attainable. It is, therefore, an operation of the mind, which involves the action of reason and judgment. It is a mental state in contrast to despair, where all expectation of success is extinguished. But the Christian’s hope is distinguished from all other by its object and end. The object of the Christian’s hope is heaven, as a state of holiness and communion with God.
II. What is the reason of the Christian’s hope?
1. He has felt himself to be a lost sinner. Christ came to seek and to save them that were lost. Not against their will, but by their own consent. Therefore we see that provision is made for enlightening the mind, so that it may be led to an intelligent choice.
2. He feels that he has fled to Christ for salvation. He is a Saviour, and is embraced and loved and honoured as such.
3. The true Christian finds a third reason to encourage a hope that he is personally interested in the gospel plan of salvation, in the effects of this faith on his life. (R. H. Bailey.)
The true Christian defence
I. The need of a defence or apology. Religion is always the thing in the world that hath the greatest calumnies cast upon it, and this engages those who love it to endeavour to clear it of them. This they do chiefly by the course of their lives; yet sometimes it is expedient, yea, necessary, to add verbal defences, and to vindicate not so much themselves as their Lord and His truth, as suffering in the reproaches cast upon them. Christian prudence goes a great way in the regulating of this; for holy things are not to be cast to dogs. But we are to answer every one that asks a reason or an account, which supposes something receptive of it. We ought to judge ourselves engaged to give it, be it an enemy, if he will hear; if it gain him not, it may in part convince and cool him; much more should he be one who ingenuously inquires for satisfaction, and possibly inclines to receive the truth, but is prejudiced against it by false misrepresentations of it.
II. All that we have to give account of is comprised here under this-“the hope that is in you.” Many rich and excellent things do the saints receive, even in their despised condition here; but their hope is rather mentioned as the subject they may speak and give account of with most advantage, both because all they receive at present is but as nothing compared to what they hope for, and because, such as it is, it cannot be made known at all to a natural man, being so clouded with their afflictions and sorrows. And, indeed, this hope carries its own apology in it, both for itself and for religion. What can more pertinently answer all exceptions against the way of godliness than this, to represent what hopes the saints have who walk in that way? If you ask, Whither tends all this your preciseness and singularity? Why cannot you live as your neighbours and the rest of the world about you? Truly, the reason is this-we have somewhat farther to look to than our present condition, and somewhat far more considerable than anything here; we have a hope of blessedness after time, a hope to dwell in the presence of God, where our Lord Christ is gone before us; and we know that as many as have this hope must purify themselves even as He is pure. The city we tend to is holy, and no unclean thing shall enter into it. The hopes we have cannot subsist in the way of the ungodly world; they cannot breathe in that air, but are choked and stifled with it; and therefore we must take another way, unless we will forego our hopes and ruin ourselves for the sake of company.
III. The manner of this. It is to be done with meekness and fear; meekness towards men and reverential fear towards God. “With meekness.” A Christian is not to be blustering and flying out into invectives because he hath the better of it against any man that questions him touching this hope; as some think themselves certainly authorised to rough speech, because they plead for truth and are on its side. On the contrary, so much the rather study meekness for the glory and advantage of the truth. “And fear.” Divine things are never to be spoken of in a light way, but with a reverent grave temper of spirit; and for this reason some choice is to be made both of time and persons. The soul that hath the deepest sense of spiritual things and the truest knowledge of God is most afraid to miscarry in speaking of Him, most tender and wary how to acquit itself when engaged to speak of and for God.
IV. The faculty for this apology. “Be ready.” In this are implied knowledge and affection and courage. As for knowledge, it is not required of every Christian to be able to prosecute subtilties and encounter the sophistry of adversaries, especially in obscure points; but all are bound to know so much as to be able to aver that hope that is in them, the main doctrine of grace and salvation, wherein the most of men are lamentably ignorant. Affection sets all on work; whatsoever faculty the mind hath it will not suffer it to be useless, and it hardens it against hazards in defence of the truth. But the only way so to know and love the truth and to have courage to avow it, is to have the Lord “sanctified in the heart.” Men may dispute stoutly against errors, and yet be strangers to God and this hope. But surely it is the liveliest defence, and that which alone returns comfort within, which arises from the peculiar interest of the soul in God, and in those truths and that hope which are questioned: it is then like pleading for the nearest friend, and for a man’s own rights and inheritance. This will animate and give edge to it, when you apologise, not for a hope you have heard or read of barely, but for a hope within you; not merely a hope in believers in general, but in you, by a particular sense of that hope within. (Abp. Leighton.)
A reasonable hope
There is a play upon the words in the original which it is difficult to transfer into English. “Be always ready to give a justification to those who ask you to justify the hope that is in you,” or, “to show a reasonableness of the hope that is in you to those that ask you a reason for it.” The Bible is a book of hope. The gospel is a glad tidings of hope. The religion of Jesus Christ is preeminently a religion of hopefulness; it differs in this respect from other religions. Now and then a glimmer of light shines from ancient philosophy, as in the writings of Socrates; but, for the most part, the religions of paganism, though they may be religions of reverence and of duty and of fidelity and of conscience, are not religions of faith or of hope. Now, the message of Christ enters into the world bright with hope. It comes to men as a ship comes to shipwrecked mariners on a desert island; it comes as the bugle blast comes to men starving in a beleagured city; it comes with the same note of rescue in it that the besieged at Lucknow heard in the Scotch pibrochs sounding across the plains. Now, Peter, recognising that the Christian religion is a hopeful religion, and that the Christians are to walk through life with the brightness of hope shining in their faces-Peter says: “You must have a reason for this hope; it must not rest merely in your temperament. You must have a reasonable ground for your hope; and when men who have not a hopeful temperament, and men who have a wider view of life than you have, and see the evils that infest society and life-when they come to you with their dark vision, and their dejected spirit, it is not enough for you to say, ‘I am hopeful’; it is not enough for you to say, ‘Look on the bright side of things’; you must be prepared to tell them what reason you have for hope, what is the ground of your hopefulness.” Let us see what are the grounds for our hopeful ness for ourselves, our families, or nation, and the world. In the first place, then, we believe in God. We believe that He knew what He was about when He made the world; and that He made the world and made the human race because the product of that making was going to be a larger life, a nobler life, and therefore a more blessed and a more happy life; that in the very beginning, when He sowed the seeds, He knew what kind of harvest was going to grow out of it, and He was not one that sowed the seed of tares, but one who knew that the wheat would over balance the tares in the last great harvest. We believe that He is a God of hope. He understands life better than we do; He understands the tendencies that are at work in society and government better than we do. With all that understanding, with the clear vision of the dark side of things as well as the bright side of things, He has an invincible hope for the future, and we borrow our hope from His hopefulness, and, because of His hope, we, in our ignorance, hope also. He has given definiteness to this hope. He has put before us unmistakably in human history not only what He hopes, not only what He desires, but what He expects, and what He means the human race to be. We look upon humanity and we say, “What is man?” And we go down to the savage, and look at him: “No, he is not man.” And we go to the prison house: “No, these are not men; they are the beginnings of men, they are men in the making, but they are not men.” We look out upon society, with its frivolity and its fashion and its pride and its vanity and we say, “No, this is not yet man.” We look out into the industrial organisation, and see men hard at work for themselves and for one another, and we say, “This is not our ideal of man.” We go into statecraft, but we do not find our ideal of man in the politician and statesman. We look along the paths of history; it is not to be found in the general or the monarch. It is not even in the father and the mother, though we come nearer to it then. And finally we come to the New Testament, we come to the life of Christ, and we say, “This Jesus of Nazareth was above all others the Son of Man.” He stands as the ideal of humanity. He is the pattern and the type of what God means man shall be. And then we hear the voice of God saying, “You also are to become as He was, sons of God”; and from all the radiance of Christ’s face, and from all the glory of Christ’s character, we borrow inspiration and hopefulness, because this is what God hopes we shall become. Moreover, we see-dimly, it is true, and imperfectly, but we see-by faith, more and more, God entering into human life; we see Him moving upon human souls, and we see Him shaping them according to His ideal and according to His purpose. We look on human life, with its carnage, with its wrestling, with its battle, with its selfishness, with its corruption-ay, with its grave and its decay; we see civilisations perishing and literatures perishing, we see nations buried deep, and yet we say: This is but the carboniferous period; this is but the movement of the chaos; there is a God that is brooding on this chaos; there is a law in all this antagonism and battle of life; God is in human history, as God is in human hearts and lives; God is bringing order out of the chaos, and a new-created world will spring up at His command. Oh, our hope is not in princes or potentates, or leaders or politicians-it is in a God that is at work in humanity! Churches, creeds, nations may disappear, but human character will grow and grow, because God is begetting men and working out His own conception of manhood, because all these things are the instruments through which He is accomplishing a definite creation-not moulding men from without, but entering into men and fashioning them from within. And so we believe God is not only using all these outward instruments environing man, but He is entering into him and lifting him up, as the mother lifts the child, little by little. But this, you say, is hope for the world at large. “How about myself personally? How about my little life? How about my baby and my cradle? I do not care so much about the universe, as I do about my cradle and my baby.” There are no large things with God, and there are no little things with God. There are no large things in life, and there are no little things in life. It is a small rudder that directs the course of the ship. And we believe in a God that is not merely brooding over the whole globe, but that is determining the fall of every leaf and the shaping of every limb; in a God that not merely deals with nations in the mass, but that broods and watches above every cradle and every soul. Some one of you will say, “How can you believe this? Looking out into life, and seeing what it is, can you escape the conclusion that many things are going wrong, and much is running to evil?” Ah! I do not think you see what life is. You are just in one room of the great school; you are just watching one episode of the great drama. Can you tell me what are the resources of the Infinite Mercy? (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
The Christian’s duty, to know the principles and reasons of his holy faith, and to own and adhere to them in the time of persecution
I. It is the duty of every Christian to use his most serious endeavours that he may understand the reasons and grounds of the Christian faith.
1. Scripture enjoins the exercise of our reason and judgment about religion (1 Corinthians 14:20; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 6:11-12; Joh 5:31-40; 1 Corinthians 10:15; Acts 17:11).
2. The sincere and humble performing of this duty would contribute very much to render our religion and the acts thereof acceptable to God; as being thereby more suitable both to His nature and ours, more fit for us to offer, and for Hint to receive (Mark 12:33; Deuteronomy 15:21; John 4:22-24).
3. That which should very much excite the Christian’s endeavours, to understand the principles and reasons of his holy religion is that his being ignorant of them would be a most shameful and ignominious thing. How extremely reproachful is it that men whom God hath adorned with judgment for the direction of their actions should be stupid children, or very brutes in their religion!
4. This ignorance is also extremely dangerous to the Christian, because it exposes him to all the attempts of the enemies of the truth, and makes him a cheap and easy conquest to persecutors and impostors.
5. The duty of inquiring into the reason of religion is particularly incumbent upon those who disclaim an infallible judge of controversies upon earth, and reckon it to be a Christian privilege and right to receive no articles of faith upon the sole credit of human authority.
6. The woeful divisions of Christendom in matters of religion, the high pretensions of each party to the truth, and our being surrounded not only with heresy and schism, but also with downright infidelity, do loudly call us to a most impartial inquiry into the grounds and principles of faith, that so we ourselves may be well instructed and confirmed therein, and be likewise ready to give an answer to those who ask us a reason of the hope that is in us.
7. Consider the most effectual methods for attaining the knowledge of the grounds and reasons of our holy religion, and our ability to vindicate and explain them to others as we shall have occasion.
(1) We must in all humility by frequent and importunate prayer apply ourselves unto God the Father of lights, the great Author of wisdom and knowledge (Ephesians 1:17-18; James 1:5; Colossians 1:9).
(2) We must make the Scriptures our continual and serious study (2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 3:17).
(3) We must exercise ourselves unto godliness (Psalms 25:12-14; Psalms 119:100; Proverbs 2:7; Proverbs 3:32; John 7:16-17; John 14:21).
(4) A devout and conscientious attending upon religious assemblies will be very profitable to the Christian in this affair (Ephesians 4:11-15).
II. The Christian is indispensably bound constantly to adhere to the truths and precepts of the gospel, and, when called thereunto, to confess the truths and observe the precepts thereof, even in the most discouraging junctures.
1. Our Lord has in the plainest and most peremptory terms, and with the most weighty sanctions, obliged all His follower’s constantly to adhere to His doctrines and precepts; and, when called thereunto, to confess the one and obey the other, when persecution threatens or attends the doing either of them (Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:24-26; Luke 14:25-27).
2. The Christian is bound to the performance of this duty by the laws of the highest equity and justice; and the doing otherwise would involve him in the guilt of the most criminal iniquity and unrighteousness to his sovereign Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
3. The wilful and deliberate renouncing of the Christian faith, or any of the articles and precepts thereof, with a design to avoid persecution thereby, or to retain or acquire the advantages of this world, is at once an instance of the most horrible impiety, of the vilest falseness and dishonesty, and of the most abject cowardice. The apostate plainly declares that he fears weak man more than Almighty God, that he prefers the transient things of time to the infinite joys of eternity.
4. What in the most dangerous seasons ought to prevail with the Christian to be steadfast and firm in professing the truths, and obeying the precepts of his holy religion, is that his constancy would tend very much to the glory of God, the interest of religion, and the advantage both of the friends and enemies of truth and righteousness.
5. The disciples of Jesus Christ are both exceeding encouraged and obliged to a noble and bold adherence to the truth and their duty in the time of persecution, by His glorious example, and that of confessors and martyrs under the Old and New Testaments.
III. The qualifications which must accompany and adorn the Christian in the discharge of the duties contained in this injunction.
1. Calmness and patience of spirit, whereby the Christian may avoid exasperating the adversaries of the truth by wrath and passion while he vindicates the same.
2. A holy and religious fear, lest by an indiscreet and unwarrantable zeal, or any other sinful misbehaviour, he should offend God, or give just offence unto men, and particularly to his lawful governors.
3. A good conscience founded upon a blameless and Christian behaviour, by which he may be able to silence or refute the calumnious reproaches of heathens and infidels. (David Ranken.)
The Christian ready to account for his hope
I. The reliever may be questioned concerning his hope-l. By the infidel. To the mere scoffer the Christian is not required to reply. With such our only aim should be so to speak as to awaken the conscience, and arouse and touch the heart.
2. By the worldling. The hope of the believer will stand the severest scrutiny; while the worldling is often found to confess that the advantages of the present state are with him who is living under the influence of a hope that has respect to the future.
3. The sincere inquirer after truth may question him. One who has just been made sensible that he is a sinner against God, and needs pardon. His mind is full of anxiety; and he feels that he needs direction, instruction, and guidance.
II. The believer should be ready to answer those who inquire concerning his hope.
1. He should be ready to answer, not forward, but prepared, competent to reply.
2. The reply should be an answer. It should be to the point; adapted to the character, and appropriate to the circumstances of the questioner. “A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
III. The disposition with which the inquiry should be answered.
1. With meekness. By a harsh manner of vindicating the truth, the enmity of the carnal heart against it may be increased.
2. With fear. With holy fear and jealousy of ourselves, that we may speak only that we have known, and testify only that we have seen.
1. Believers, aim to be intelligent Christians.
2. Be humble, meek disciples of your great Master.
3. Many of you may never while on earth be questioned concerning your hope. The day is fast coming when “the fire will try every man’s work of what sort it is.” What will be the character of the worldling’s hope then? (S. Steer.)
Christians required to be prepared to give a reason of the hope that is in them
I. That if we are true Christians, there is a hope that is in us. If we are true Christians, Christ is in us the hope of glory.
1. This hope may be distinguished from the hypocrite’s hope by its objects. It regulates all its expectations by the Word of God.
2. This hope may be farther distinguished by its basis. This is the inviolable truth of God’s promises, made to sinners through Christ.
3. This hope may be farther distinguished by its effects. It purifies the heart.
II. That there is a reason for this hope. It is a reason for this hope, that the Word of God, written by the inspiration of His own Spirit, correctly defines its objects. A true Christian can also give a reason for the ground of his hope. It is Christ. There is a reason for the hope that is in us, in the effects which we are conscious it has produced upon us. It has a holy tendency.
III. That we are to expect that men will ask us a reason of this hope. Some may ask a reason of the hope that is in us, from a sincere desire to know and to embrace the truth. But others may ask us a reason of the hope that is in us, from a wish to weaken our confidence, or to tear us away from the hope of the gospel.
IV. That we are to be prepared to give an account to those who thus ask, a reason of the hope. That is in us. Have I searched the Scriptures with becoming diligence, so as to know the evidence on which my faith rests? Have I been so convinced of the truth and power of the gospel by the Spirit of God, that I am prepared to defend it as the wisdom of God and the power of God?
V. That we are to be so prepared as to be able to do this with meekness and fear.
1. With meekness. We are to defend the gospel in the spirit of the gospel.
2. With fear. Not terror, but reverence.
1. If you are disposed to question the reality of the religion of the heart, it is not because there can be no proof given of it, but from an indisposition to believe it.
2. Be sure that nothing but a “lively hope” implanted within you will avail to the good of your soul, and that all profession without it will be ineffectual to your salvation.
3. Dread being the subject of a delusive hope.
4. If you have reason to fear that hitherto your hope has been a deceptive one, seek and pray to be made the subject of a good hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, that abandoning all other dependence, you may be led to Christ for salvation, on whose merits and righteousness you shall not depend in vain. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The Christian’s hope
I. All real Christians possess a hope peculiar to themselves. It is a hope in connection with Christ, a hope arising from the gospel. The hope of the Christian is called a living hope. It is a hope that sustains the spirit here, and embraces celestial happiness hereafter.
II. This hope rests on grounds the most solid and indubitable. This hope is generated in them by the resurrection of Christ. They have the testimony of all holy men in all ages, and they have their own experience.
III. This hope cannot be concealed, and ought not to be concealed. The Saviour commands that those who have this hope in them should confess Him.
IV. Those who have this hope in them may sometimes be questioned concerning it.
V. There are times when we are called upon to explain, to vindicate, and even to recommend the religion which brings us such a hope. There might have been Jews anxious to know what Christianity was; there might have been Gentiles doubting as to the truth of their systems, and desiring to be instructed in the doctrines of Christianity; and there may still be those with whom we have to do, who may be anxious for information, and it should be our delight to explain, to vindicate and to recommend the hope that we cherish.
IV. This vindication and recommendation of our hope ought always t o be done in a spirit becoming the seriousness of the subject. It is no light thing to deal with questions of this sort. Peter says, “Be always ready”-qualified, fitted for it. (R. Littler.)
The words suggest four things in relation to religion.
I. Its prospectiveness. It is a “hope.” Personal religion is a great hope in a man.
II. Its sociality. Here is asking questions and answering them. Genuine religion excludes the anti-social and dissocialising element-selfishness.
1. It has a community of paramount interest. All religious souls have the same imperial concerns.
2. A community of leading aims. One grand purpose runs through all godly hearts.
III. Its reasonableness. “Give a reason for the hope.” Every godly man can give a reason for this hope. It does not require erudition or talent to enable him to do so. Ask him why does he hope to become good, and he could give such answers as these:
1. Because my nature was made for goodness
2. Because Christ came into the world to give me goodness.
3. Because God works to make me good.
4. Because the great struggle of my nature is to be good. These are good reasons, are they not?
IV. Its reverence. “With meekness and fear.” (Homilist.)
Reasons for our hope
I. The Christian hope? Why is the word hope used instead of that of faith? Usually it is faith that stands so conspicuously in the foreground in Christianity. Faith has mainly a reference to the hard dry facts of the intellect. Of course there is in Christianity a living, vital faith, and every Christian must possess this. But hope is a much softer word, and has to do more with the emotional part of human nature. Hope to be worth any thing must be based upon faith. Yet hope is the higher state of the two. The reason why St. Paul so often speaks of hope is twofold:
1. It had a reference to the early state of his people.
2. This hope was connected with something personal and future. Hope will, of course, differ according to the disposition of the man. The miser hopes for gold, the ambitious man for power, the vain man for applause. But we have to do with the Christian’s hope.
(1) The Christian has a hope in the purpose of his life. He has a mission in the world which God has planned, and he knows that whatever happens will be for the best. He allows all his arrangements to depend upon the Divine Will. In the most minute events of life, as well as in the most gigantic schemes that the human brain can evolve, God rules.
(2) The Christian has a hope in the trials and afflictions of life.
(3) The Christian has hope in death. The most brilliant human lives must end.
(4) The Christian has hope in the hereafter. This is the most glorious hope of all.
II. This hope has a rational basis. The hope of the Christian may be cheering and consoling, yet if it had not a rational basis it might after all be a delusion. But Christianity is as much in harmony with reason as it is with the emotional side of man’s nature. And it is the only religion that has a rational foundation. The necessity for a revelation from God has been felt in all ages and amongst all peoples. And if such revelation has been made it must be found in the Bible, for it can be no where else. Then the evidences of the truth of Christianity are overwhelming. The resurrection of Christ is a fact established by conclusive evidence.
III. Every Christian should be prepared to defend his hope. “Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.” Each man is expected to be able to defend his faith. This reason must be-
1. Intellectual. Christians ought to study the evidences of the truth of their religion.
2. Moral. Every Christian’s life ought to be morally higher than that of others.
3. Spiritual. The Christian religion is an experimental religion. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.”
IV. The spirit in which our reasons are to be given.
1. Meekness. There must be no self-sufficiency. Humility is a Christian virtue. A religion of love must be defended lovingly.
2. With fear. This means reverence to God and respect to man. He must take care that the great truths which he has to teach do not suffer from his ignorance or incompetency. We must each make this hope our own. Christianity is a personal matter. (George Sexton, LL. D.)
Ready to give an answer
The ability to state our convictions with clearness and completeness yields two benefits.
1. It makes our convictions respected. There is persuasion in the forceful putting of a thought, and in sentences sharply drawn and well considered. The effect of words, as of soldiers, can be trebled by their manner of marshalling. A word aptly chosen is an argument, and a phrase judiciously contrived a syllogism. And so Peter would have his readers study to state their hopes and the grounds of them in an orderly and intelligent manner, and procure for their convictions in this way a respect, at least, among those whose opinions differed or even antagonised.
2. Another benefit intended was the effect which the rational statement of an opinion has in giving to that opinion firmer establishment in our own minds. Our religious beliefs are sometimes irresolute, because we do not know with precision what they are, nor with definiteness why they are. We are established by feeling the grounds of our establishment. The boat drifts till it feels the pull of its anchor. We get a sense of stability by inspecting the means of our stability. If we are crossing a stream upon a bridge of ice or timber, even though assured of safety, we contemplate with earnest pleasure the massiveness of its icy or oaken beams. Even confidence loves to be reminded of the grounds of its confidence, and wins bravery from their review. The architect Jets the buttresses and the broadened courses of basal masonry as far as possible lie out in the light. Such a disposition of facts satisfies the eye because it satisfies the mind. We get a sense of stability by inspecting the means of stability. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
Ready to give an answer
Observe, they are not required to be always disputing about their hope, or obtruding it upon others, without regard to the proprieties of time, place, and person, but to “be ready” in their own clear apprehension of the subject, and ready also in a loving concern for the guidance and salvation of others; “ready always” on the humblest occasions, as well as the more public and formal; ready in the house, and by the wayside, and amidst the ordinary businesses of life, no less than when brought before the kings and judges of the earth; “ready always for an answer,” apology, vindication, defence, as when Paul spoke for himself on the temple stairs and before Agrippa’s throne; but, so far from waiting for rare opportunities of that sort, “be ready always for an answer to every one,” rich or poor, learned or unlearned, “Greek or Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, bond or free”; what you have to say is of equal moment to one as to another, and they have all an equal claim on your benevolence; “to every one,” therefore, “that asketh of you,” and so manifests a degree of interest, greater or less, and howsoever awakened, in the topic so dear to yourselves; “that asketh of you,” not merely “a reason of,” but, in general, an account of, a statement concerning, “the hope that is in you,” its nature, ground, object, and influences. Tell him how you, too, like your heathen neighbours, were lately living without hope in the world-with no hope for eternity. Then speak to him of “God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, our hope.” Open to him the glorious mystery of His person, and work, and death, and resurrection, and ascension. Explain to him, moreover, your own personal interest in all this through your living union by faith with this blessed Son of God, the world’s Redeemer, and the consequent indwelling and gracious witness of His Spirit with your spirit. (J. Lillie, D. D.)
The value of personal experience
There is a power in direct personal testimony which transcends all laboured argument. A skilled topographical engineer would be prompt to yield his convictions as to the lay of the land beyond him in a new country, if a trusty rodman or chainman of his party were to return from a scout in advance, and say that he had actually found a road or a stream which the engineer had been positive could not be there. So, also, it is in the higher realm of spiritual truth. He who has experienced the loving ministry and fellowship of Jesus, can carry more weight, in an interview with an unbeliever, by bearing his simple witness accordingly, than by any processes of skilful reasoning. If only this truth were more generally recognised, there would be less of arguing and more of witnessing, with better results to those who need to be convinced of the truth concerning Jesus.
With meekness and fear.-
Logic aided by good temper
Here our A.V., following the T.R., unfortunately omits the emphatic word but: of two Greek words so rendered, the more forcible is found here in all the best MSS. and ancient versions. St. Peter presses this condition most urgently; of all dangers that of angry, arrogant, and irreverent demeanour on the part of men closely, and often captiously, questioned, is the most common and subtle. Sweetness, coupled with awe, remembering whose cause is defended, will commend true reasoning, and they will be in themselves evidences calculated to impress and often to win opponents. The word “fear” may also include anxiety to avoid giving offence by inconsiderate or intemperate arguments, but it certainly does not mean fear of magistrates. The Christian is bound to submit to law, but is released from all fear of personal Consequences when put on his trial. (Canon F. C. Cook.)
Having a good conscience.-
A good conscience
I. The possession of a good conscience is possible for man.
1. A conscience that rules the entire man.
2. A conscience that is ruled by the will of God.
II. The possession of a good conscience does not protect from the tongue of calumny. The man who lives in a corrupt world, ringing out a good conscience in every tone of his voice, and radiating it in every action, has ever awakened the most antagonism amongst his contemporaries, and will ever do so.
III. The possession of a good conscience will utterly confound your enemies.
1. Slanderers of the good are often confounded now in courts of law.
2. Slanderers of the good will be overwhelmingly confounded one day in the moral court of the universe.
IV. The possession of a good conscience is vitally connected with a Christly life. (Homilist.)
A good conscience
I. Conscience is an essential attribute of personal being. It is that in which we are consciously bound in allegiance to the Great Supreme in truth, righteousness, and goodness. Its function is-
1. Prospectively, to incite to good and to restrain from evil; and-
2. Retrospectively, to fill with joy when the evil has been overcome and the good achieved, and to reprove and fill with shame and remorse when the good has been eschewed and the evil e done.
II. A good conscience is a most desirable possession.
1. It must he a conscience binding its possessor to the right and good. It is not always thus with conscience. It binds, indeed, to what the man judges to be right. But his judgment may be wrong (John 16:2; Acts 26:9). It needs to be enlightened to see light in God’s light (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
2. It must be a faithful conscience. Some consciences are insensitive, cauterized (Ephesians 4:17-19; Ephesians 5:7-14; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). A good conscience is faithful, and performs its proper function.
3. A good conscience is a peaceful conscience. If burdened with guilt and fear it is essentially “an evil conscience.” For such a conscience there is only one source of peace (Hebrews 9:13-14; 1 John 1:7; Romans 5:1).
4. A good conscience is a self-approving conscience (2 Corinthians 1:12; Acts 23:1). It involves the abiding consciousness of integrity.
III. The virtue of a good conscience. It is a precious possession.
1. For the man himself. It makes him strong to toil, contend, endure, die. It ensures continual victory and final triumph (Romans 5:3-6; Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 11:1-40).
2. For the Church and the world. A church made up of such members, of meal firmly holding “faith and a good conscience,” must be a mighty power amongst men; “putting to silence” the ignorant and foolish (1 Peter 2:15); and lending the observant “to glorify God in the day of visitation.”
1. By penitent faith in Jesus secure a good conscience.
2. By obedient faith in Jesus keep a good conscience. (W. Tyson.)
What is a good conscience
Conscience is that faculty of the human mind by which rational creatures endeavour to form an estimate of their own principles and practices, so as to determine whether they are good or evil. It is universally admitted to be one of the most valuable of those powers which our all-wise and ever-gracious Creator has been pleased to impart to us. But it, like every other faculty of the mind, has been exposed to all the baneful effects of the Fall. It is by nature-in common with the human heart-ignorant, and perverse, and polluted. It must, before it can fully accomplish the purposes for which it is intended, be instructed, and purified by the Holy Spirit.
I. Mistaken views on this subject are, it is to be lamented, very common.
1. Natural amiableness of disposition is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. How many a friend, whose heart is desperately wicked in the sight of God, still cherishes the strongest earthly friendship! How many an individual, whose heart never entertained any just sense of the enormity of sin as perpetrated against a holy God, has yet sighed and cried over the miseries of mankind, and has done what he could to alleviate human wretchedness! But these emotions are no proof whatever of the conscience being right. Guilty, indeed, must that conscience be which can resist so much natural tenderness.
2. Partial contrition on account of sin is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. Who experiences at times greater anguish than the drunkard? but who returns so readily or so speedily as he to his wonted practices?
3. Limited abstinence from evil is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. Many are to be found who cautiously shun some sins, while they confidently rush upon others. All such partial turning from sin, or abstinence from evil, must prove that the conscience is not right before God.
II. What, it may now be asked, is, in the scriptural sense of the term, a good conscience?
1. It is a conscience renewed by Divine grace.
2. It is a conscience regulated by the holy Scriptures. Even after holy principles are implanted within us, the conscience is liable to err unless a standard is provided by which its decisions may be governed. That standard the Word of God supplies. To it we must appeal in every situation in which we are placed. From it we must derive all that instruction in righteousness which we need. (Alex. Reid.)
The word “conscience” does not occur often in the Bible. It does not occur once in the Old Testament, but the thing “conscience” is in the Bible from first to last. Why was it that our first parents, when they had eaten the forbidden fruit, were ashamed to look in each other’s faces; and why was it that they hid among the trees? That was conscience. Or take the very next story in the Bible-the death of Abel. Why did Cain hear a voice rising from his brother’s blood to heaven, and why did he flee from it, a fugitive and a vagabond? That was conscience. Conscience, in fact, is everywhere in the Bible. Without conscience there would be no religion. But let us define clearly what conscience is, and what it does. Conscience has been called the moral sense. Now, what does that mean? It means this: that as by the sense of taste we distinguish what is sweet and what is sour, and by the sense of hearing we distinguish what is harmonious and what is discordant, and by the other bodily senses we discriminate the qualities of material things, so in the soul there is a sense which distinguishes right from wrong, and that is the conscience. There have been many nations who have never seen the Ten Commandments, and yet they have known quite well that to lie, and to steal, and to kill are wrong. How did they know that? St. Paul seems to tell us when he says, in one of the profoundest passages of his writings, “When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law,” etc. In opposition to this sceptical philosophers have pointed to the barbarities which have claimed the sanction of conscience, and from these undeniable facts they have drawn the inference that conscience knows no more and no better than custom; but the power resident in human nature of rising out of superstitious practices, and seeing the better life when it shows itself, appears to prove that behind such mistakes there is a power of discerning “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,” etc. The conscience is the categorical imperative. That is a name given to it by the German philosopher Kant. I suppose it is too big a name. It brings out a second feature. As soon as it is ascertained that one course is right and the opposite one wrong, the conscience commands us to follow the one course and avoid the other. Thus it is imperative; and it is a categorical imperative-that is to say, it accepts no excuse. The course which conscience commands may apparently be contrary to our interests; it may be dead against our inclinations; it may be contrary to all we are advised to do by friends and companions; but conscience does not on that account in the least withdraw its imperative. We must obey. We may yield to temptation, or be carried away by the force of passion; but we know that we ought to obey. It is our duty, and that is the grand word of conscience. It is conscience that tells us what duty is. I am sure you all remember in the “Heart of Midlothian” how Jeanie Deans, with her heart bursting with love for her frail sister, yet refuses to deviate one hair’s breadth from the truth, although her falsehood would save her sister’s life. But such scenes do not occur merely in fiction. Perhaps the grandest scene of modern history is the appearance of Luther at the Diet of Worms, when, facing the hostile powers of all Europe, he said, “It is neither safe nor honest to do anything against conscience. Here stand I; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” There is never an hour passes but in the secrecy of some man’s soul or in the obscurity of business life some one, putting aside the promptings of self-interest and the frowns of power, pays the same tribute to conscience by doing right and taking the consequences. Conscience has often been compared to a court of justice, in which there are the culprit, the judge, the jury, and the witnesses; but, strange to say, these all are in every man’s own breast. Ay, and the executioner is there too who carries out the sentence. There is not one of us who does not know in some degree both the pain and horror of a condemning conscience, and the pleasure of an approving conscience. A habitually approving conscience gives even to the outward man elasticity and courage, while a habitually condemning conscience gives to a man a look of confusion and misery. One of the great writers whom I have already quoted has a wonderful passage in which the two characters are put in contrast. I wish I could quote it all, but I will quote a few of the most significant sentences. Here is first the picture of a very good man, with a habitually approving conscience: “He was sleeping peacefully, and was wrapped up in a long garment of brown wool, which covered his arms down to the wrists. His head was thrown back on the pillow in the easy attitude of repose, and his hand, adorned with the pastoral ring, and which had done so many good deeds, hung out of bed. His entire face was lit up by a vague expression of satisfaction, hope, and beatitude-it was more than a smile, and almost a radiance. There was almost a divinity in this unconsciously august man.” And here is the opposite picture. The burglar, on the contrary, “was standing in the shadow with his crowbar in his hand, motionless and terrified by this luminous old man. He had never seen anything like this before, and such confidence horrified him”; and then he adds, “The moral world has no greater spectacle than this-a troubled, restless conscience, which is on the point of committing a bad action, contemplating the sleep of a just man.” In all ages the higher imaginative literature has found its best resources in depicting the horrors of a guilty conscience. The ancient Greeks represented these terrors by the Furies, who with shadowy, silent, but remorseless steps, pursued the criminal until they pulled him down; and in such dramas as “Macbeth” and “Richard III” Shakespeare is dealing with the same theme. You all remember how, when King Duncan was murdered, a paralysing and agonising terror fell on his murderer; and how, in “Richard III,” on the night before the battle in which the tyrant received the reward of his deeds, ghosts of the victims of his tyranny passed one by one through his tent, summoning him to meet them on the battlefield, until the man, streaming with perspiration, sprang from his bed, crying-
“My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.”
But observe this, that not only does a man’s own conscience pass sentence on his conduct; but the consciences of others, if they chance to be acquainted with it, do so too, and to this may be due a great intensification either of the pleasure or the pain which conscience causes. For instance, a man may have committed a crime and suffered for it in his conscience, but gradually time assuages his pain, and he is forgetting it. Well, suddenly it is found out, and the conscience of the public is brought to bear on him. He is put out of respectable society, and feels now for the first time the full enormity of what he has done. The conscience is an intuition of God. We have seen that as soon as the choice is made and the deed done, conscience inflicted immediate reward or punishment. But it has another function. It hints unmistakably at reward and punishment yet to come, and from another source. You remember how Hamlet expresses this when contemplating the crime of suicide:
“The dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourne
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.”
In the Egyptian book of the dead, which has just been published in Europe, but is many centuries older than the Christian era, two hundred and forty figures are represented as meeting the soul when it enters the other world. These are virtues, and to each of them the soul has to answer how far it has practised these virtues in this life; and besides this strict inquiry, up in the corner of the picture God is represented weighing the heart. Analyse your own consciousness when conscience is acting, and see if it does not inform you that God is looking on. For instance, when you have done something wrong, and are feeling ashamed and horrified, are you not aware that God is near you, and that it is from His hand that retribution is to come? Will you permit me to say a word about the cultivation of the conscience? Conscience is the foundation of character. Does a man listen to the voice within him? Can he look himself straight in the eyes? That is the most important question you can ask about any man. There are some men and women that would almost as soon meet a tiger in the jungle as meet themselves in solitude. But if a man is accustomed day by day to bring his conduct under the survey of his own conscience, and if he is moved with joy and sorrow according to the sentences which conscience pronounces, that man is safe. He will not need to mind much what the opinion of other people is about him. Yet conscientiousness is not everything. It may be only a petty and self-satisfied pharisaism. There are few things that astonish me so much as to find how many people there are whose final judgment on themselves is this, that they have never done anyone any harm, and they have not much to reproach themselves with. That betrays an unenlightened conscience. The conscience requires to be made observant and sensitive by acquaintance with the law of God, as revealed in His Word, and especially as expounded by Christ Himself, when He taught that even when the outward conduct is correct the law may be broken, in the secret thoughts and wishes. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
The conscience of a Christian
Wherever a man acts consistently on higher principles than are generally current, his very example is a silent rebuke which worldly society is apt to resent. It cannot reconcile his conduct with its own generally received maxims. It cannot rise to a conception of his loftier principles. What is the consequence? Surely this, that society will impute to him lower principles, will fix a bad name upon him, hypocrite, bigot, and the like, and so seek to justify itself, and put him in the wrong. Against this power of prejudice, deepening often into malice, the power of a Christian’s conscience informed by faith and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is his great resource. Let us see how it operates.
1. By making him feel directly the presence of God, the conscience of the Christian becomes an organ of the Holy Spirit. “Greater is He that is with us, than he that is in the world,” is his constant thought. He feels thus: I have the moral power of the universe on my side. Truth must prevail, with God to back it, in the end.
2. A good conscience sets a man free from all unworthy motives. Whether those around him persecute or approve, to him matters little. He does not derive his principles of belief and conduct from any censure or approval of theirs. He feels that he need conceal nothing. He can afford, in every sense, to “walk in the light.” How much anxiety and inward disquietude is saved by this; how much perilous manoeuvring is made needless!
3. As a consequence of this, a directness of aim and simplicity of character distinguishes the man. He will not flatter, he will not violently condemn. How different this from seeking human applause as an object, and then bribing for it in its own base coin, by adulation, by trimming to prejudices, by adopting false views and echoing mere popular cries. (H. Hayman, D. D.)
The man inside
“I cannot do this,” said a Christian merchant, in reference to some business operations in which he was asked to take part-“I cannot do this. There is a man inside of me that won’t let me do it. He talks to me of nights about it, and I have to do business in a different way!” Oh! those talks of night about the business of the day, when the “man inside” has our ear and there is no escape from the judgment he pronounces! Thrice blessed is he who is able to hear it in peace!
A good conscience
It is a conscience which is purged from dead works (Hebrews 9:14), sprinkled with the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22), borne witness to by the Holy Ghost (Romans 9:1), whilst a joy, which is full of glory, wells up within it (2 Corinthians 1:12), and as a calm, unruffled lake of peace it reflects the cloudless heaven of God’s good pleasure above. Such a conscience is a good companion for our days, and a good bed fellow for our nights. Every effort should be made to preserve its integrity. And when life is moulded by such an inward influence, it will live down all misrepresentation and slander, it will outshine all the mists of envy and malice which have obscured its earliest beams, it will falsify false reports. Detractors shall be ashamed at the triumphant answer made to their accusations by the unblemished beauty of a holy Christian life; whilst those that love God shall take heart. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1 Peter 3:18-20
Christ also hath once suffered for sins.
The great atonement
I. The glorious person who suffered for sin and sinners.
II. The sufferings by which he made atonement for sin.
1. Sin was the procuring cause of them.
2. His human nature was the immediate subject of them.
3. They were the sufferings of a Divine person.
4. They were not imaginary but real.
5. The sufferings of Christ were necessary.
9. By them the justice of God was fully satisfied.
10. Though they are long since finished, they have the same merit and efficacy that ever they had.
III. The end of Christ’s sufferings.
1. How, or in what respects, sinners may be said to be brought to God. Their being brought to God-
(1) Implies their being brought into a state of reconciliation and favour with God.
(2) It implies their having access into the gracious presence of God.
(3) It implies their being admitted to communion and fellowship with God.
(4) Sinners are brought to God when they attain to likeness and conformity to God.
(5) Sinners may be said to be brought to God when they forsake the service of sin, and cordially engage in the service of God.
(6) Sinners are brought to God, in the fullest sense, when they are brought to the full enjoyment of Him in heaven.
2. What influence the sufferings of Christ for sin have on the bringing of sinners to God. By the sufferings of Christ all grounds of controversy between God and sinners were legally removed (Colossians 1:20). (D. Wilson.)
The sufferings of Christ
I. Their reality. Christ suffered from-
2. Satanic hostility.
II. Their atoning nature.
1. The character of Christ.
2. The doctrine of substitution.
3. The solitariness of the sacrifice,
(1) Nothing more is needed.
(2) Nothing more will be given.
III. Their design. “That He might bring us to God”-
1. In penitential sorrow.
2. To obtain mercy and peace.
3. With entire self-surrender.
4. Unto God’s immediate presence.
1. There is hope and help for all.
2. Christ is the way of access to God. (M. Braithwaite.)
The saints coming home to God by reconciliation and glorification
The scope of the apostle in this place is to fortify Christians for a day of suffering. In order to their cheerful sustaining whereof, he prescribeth two excellent rules.
1. To get a good conscience within them (1 Peter 3:16-17).
2. To set the example of Christ’s sufferings before them (1 Peter 3:18). The sufferings of Christ for us is the great motive engaging Christians to suffer cheerfully for Him.
I. The sufficiency and fulness of Christ’s sufferings intimated in that particle [once]; Christ needs to suffer no more, having completed that whole work at once.
II. The meritorious cause of the sufferings of Christ, and that is sin, “Christ once suffered for sins”; not His own sins, but ours.
III. The admirable grace and unexampled love of Christ to us sinners. “The just for the unjust”; in which words the substitution of Christ in the place of sinners is plainly expressed. Christ died not only for our good, but also in our stead.
IV. The final cause or design of the sufferings of Christ. “To bring us to God.”
1. What Christ’s bringing us to God imports.
(1) That the chief happiness of man consisteth in the enjoyment of God: that the creature hath as necessary dependence upon God for happiness, as the stream hath upon the fountain.
(2) Man’s revolt and apostasy from God (Ephesians 2:12).
(3) Our inability to return to God of ourselves; we must be brought back by Christ, or perish forever in a state of separation from God (Luke 15:5).
(4) That God’s unsatisfied justice was once the great bar betwixt Him and man.
(5) The peculiar happiness of believers above all people in the world: these only shall be brought to God by Jesus Christ in a reconciled state; others, indeed, shall be brought to God as a Judge, to be condemned by Him. All believers shall be solemnly presented to God in the great day (Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24). They shall be all presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.
2. What influence the death of Christ hath upon this design.
(1) It effectually removes all obstacles to it.
(2) It purchaseth (as price) their title to it. (John Flavel.)
The Saviour’s mission
I. The character of the Saviour’s mission.
1. It was one that involved Him in suffering.
2. It was one of innocent suffering.
3. It was one unconquered by suffering.
II. The purpose of the Saviour’s mission.
1. We are away from God.
2. We can be restored to God.
(1) In thought.
(2) In will.
(3) In resemblance.
(4) In filial fellowship and friendship.
3. God Himself brings us back by Christ.
III. The extent of the influence of the savior’s mission. (U. R. Thomas.)
I. The due consideration of Christ’s sufferings doth much temper all the sufferings of Christians, especially such as are directly for Christ. It is some ease to the mind in any distress, to look upon examples of the like or greater distress, in present or former times. It diverts the eye from continual poring on our own suffering; and when we return to view it again, it abates the imagined greatness of it. The example and company of the saints in suffering, is very considerable, but that of Christ is more so than any other, yea, than all the rest together. Therefore the apostle, having represented the former at large, ends in this, as the top of all (Hebrews 12:1-2).
1. Consider the greatness of the example; the greatness of the person “Christ.” There can be no higher example. Since thus our Lord hath taught us by suffering in His own person and hath thus dignified sufferings, we should certainly rather be ambitious than afraid of them. Consider the greatness and continuance of His sufferings, His whole life was one continued line of suffering from the manger to the Cross. Art thou mean in thy birth and life, despised, misjudged, and reviled, on all hands? Look how it was with Him, who had more right than thou hast, to better entertainment in the world. But the Christian is subject to grievous temptations and sad desertions, which are heavier by far than the sufferings which the apostle speaks of here. Yet even in these, this same argument holds; for our Saviour is not ignorant of those, though still without sin. If any of that had been in His sufferings, it had not furthered but undone all our comfort in Him.
2. Consider the fitness of the example. As the argument is strong in itself, so, to the new man it is particularly strong; it binds him most, as it is not far fetched, but a home pattern; as when you persuade men to virtue by the example of those that they have a near relation to.
3. Consider the efficacy of the example. “He suffered once for sin,” so that to them who lay hold on Him, this holds sure, that sin is never to be suffered for in the way of strict justice again, as not by Him, so not by them who are in Him. So now the soul, finding itself rid of that fear, goes cheerfully through all other hazards; whereas the soul perplexed about that question, finds no relief in all other enjoyments: all propositions of lower comforts are troublesome to it.
II. Having somewhat considered these sufferings, as the apostle’s argument for his present purpose, we come now, to take a nearer view of the particulars by which he illustrates them, as the main point of our faith and comfort. Here are two things to be remarked, their cause and their kind.
1. Their cause; both their meritorious cause and their final cause; first, what in us procured these sufferings unto Christ, and, secondly, what those His sufferings procured unto us. Our guiltiness brought suffering upon Him, and His suffering brings us unto God.
2. We have the kind of our Lord’s sufferings: “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” “Put to death.” This is the utmost point, and that which men are most startled at-to die; especially a violent death. “In the flesh.” Under this second phrase, His human nature and His Divine nature and power are distinguished. But the “Spirit” here opposed to the “flesh,” or body, is certainly of a higher nature and power than the human soul, which cannot of itself return to re-inhabit and quicken the body. “Put to death.” His death was both voluntary and violent. That same power which restored His life could have kept it exempted from death; but the design was for death. He therefore took our flesh, to put it off thus, and to offer it up as a sacrifice, which, to be acceptable, must of necessity be free and voluntary; and, in this sense, He is said to have died even by that same Spirit, which here, in opposition to death, is said to quicken Him; “Through the eternal Spirit, He offered Himself without spot unto God.” And yet it was also expedient that His death should be violent, and so the more penal, to carry the more clear expression of a punishment, and such a violent death as had both ignominy and a curse tied to it, and this inflicted in a judicial way; that He should stand, and be judged, and condemned to death as a guilty person, carrying in that person the persons of so many who would otherwise have fallen under condemnation, as indeed guilty. “Quickened.” For all its vast craving mouth and devouring appetite, crying, Give, give, yet was the grave forced to give Him up again, as the fish to give up the prophet Jonah. The chains of that prison art strong, but He was too strong a prisoner to be held by them. That rolling of the stone to the grave was as if they had rolled it towards the east in the night, to stop the rising of the sun the next morning; much farther above all their power was this Sun of Righteousness in His rising again. That body which was entombed, was united to the spring of life, the Divine Spirit of the God-head that quickened it. (Abp. Leighton.)
The sufferings of Christ
Suffering is universal in the world. It comes from the first wailings of the infant to the last enfeebled cry of old age. It is found in the silent endurance of weakness and in the bold struggle of strength. It is in every station and rank of life. It is so various in its manifestations, that it seems as if we took a new lesson in it every day. To pass it by, to try to deny it, to make the ignoring of it a victory over it, is very short-sighted policy; it is what we would do with no other fact of like universal significance and power. And therefore, when Christ begins His gospel with the fact of suffering, we are at a loss whether to admire most the wisdom or the love of the method; together the boldness and the reasonableness of what He does startle us into asking the secret of One who could thus utilise the world’s greatest enemy, and turn in defence of mankind the very weapons which have so long wrought their destruction. The man who taught to his fellow men the uses of destructive fire was the hero of ancient mythology; the men who have bridled the lightnings, and chained the forces of air and water, are the great names of modern civilisation. But what shall we say of Him, who stopped not with the powers and material of the earth, but, going into the heart and life of man, found there the fact of suffering, and out of that formed the cornerstone of His kingdom? who, out of the cries and groans to which we close our ears, made the praises of God resound through the world? In this bold action the first element of strength is, that all suffering is traced to one source. Suffering is made to flow from sin. Christ suffered for sin, suffered as a criminal, suffered because of sin, under the weight of sin. The wisdom of Christ, the singleness of His purpose, the central power of His action, start out before us then; and we feel that He was indeed one who was fitted to deal with the great fact of human suffering, as He could thus put His finger on the very place whence it all flowed. It is only by getting at the true nature of a difficulty that we are able to conquer it; the new and deeper knowledge opens ways of approach unthought of before. There stood in proud seclusion the steepest peak in the Alps. Men looked at it, and said that human foot could never scale its heights. Bolder spirits tried every way which they could devise, approached it from all sides but one; and they succeeded in reaching certain points, but still there towered above them that inaccessible point. At length a wiser, more experienced eye was turned to that very side which had been pronounced evidently impossible; and, as he thus faced what had seemed the most despairing side of the problem, he saw that the strata of the earth below, broken sharp off in the upheaval of that majestic peak, furnished a series of steps which made the passage possible directly to the summit; and now every year even unexperienced feet make their way over the path thus opened. If any of us stand wondering how the mountain of our own or the world’s suffering shall be conquered, and have never seen the path opened on the side of man’s sin, have tried every way but the fight against sin, have shed tears over every calamity but the depravity of our nature, have done everything but confess our sins in the sight of God, nay, have dismissed that as too dark and hard a side of the problem for us to face, now let the way opened by One who knew the secrets of our nature and of the generation of that mountain of suffering,-let that way be the one for our feet to follow. One of our greatest troubles, under the suffering which we feel ourselves or see in the world, is, that it does not seem to come upon the right people. But when this great Master approaches this very fact of suffering, as the one which He will use in His work, we have reason to expect a word of authority from Him on this most distressing feature of it. And it is here; “the just for the unjust,” Christ suffered. That runs through all His life, the thought that it was the very sinlessness of His life that made Him able to do the work for sinful men, that made Him able to take up the load of sin. The fact that He came from the Father, and was ever bound to the Father, was the very thing that made Him able to call men back to the Father. It is the privilege of strength to suffer for weakness. As it does so, strength is glorified; it conquers weakness, it spreads the power of its own life, it becomes strength in its right place. Only the mighty can help; and, as He thus helps, we look to His might as the reason for it, and through the work for us we find our Saviour. It is not gratitude alone-that, indeed, moves us as we think of what He did for as-but it is the opening of the source of strength by which He was able to do it. We come to Him through gratitude; and, as we reach Him, we find Him one who is mighty to save, because He could bring us near to God. This shows us the meaning and power of the last clause of our text. The apostle has been saying that Christ’s sufferings were so like the sufferings of the disciples, that they could feel the sustaining power of them. But here it is not likeness, it is dependence, that is brought out. These sufferings were to bring to God the very men who were now exhorted to imitate them. Never were they to forget that they had been brought to God by those sufferings. They had opened His love. They had drawn to Him who was able to reveal God to them. They had made the world a different place, one that had the power and presence of God as well as of man in it; never were they to forget that. But, as they remembered it, it would affect their lives, and change the whole character of them. The mystery of life’s power would be made theirs. They, too, would have but one object-to bring men to God. Never was there a time when the suffering of the world was so keenly felt as it is today. A philanthropic age needs the Cross, men anxious to alleviate the sufferings of the world need to have their own hearts broken for their sins, and all of us need to cling to these events of the suffering and death of Christ, and to feel that they contain the very power of our lives within them-the power of forgiveness and redemption, the power of happiness, the power of true labour, the power of the life eternal for this world and for the world that is to come. (Arthur Brooks.)
The unrepeatable sacrifice
The sufferings of Christ were in many respects peculiar:
I. They were officially undertaken and endured. The designation by which the Redeemer is here distinguished, and the emphatic statement whereby He characterises His sufferings must be taken together-“Christ once suffered for sins.” Suffering is no uncommon thing; “Man is born to trouble.” But Christ was not an ordinary man. Here then is a marked distinction between His and all merely human suffering. Man was not made man for the purpose of suffering; on the contrary, it is the result, the penalty, of his sin; but the very end for which the Christ became man was that He might suffer. In this sense, therefore, it may be said that He “once suffered”-the entire of His sufferings from the very first lay before Him. To us it is a merciful provision which leaves us in ignorance of future ills. “Christ once suffered.” His sufferings stand alone. Where can we find a just comparison for them? Here then is another peculiarity. The statement is that “Christ suffered for sins.” Were His sufferings the consequence of His own desert? Had this been so, His bitter enemies would not have failed to convict Him of sin; but His challenge in this respect was never answered. The sufferings of Christ were expiatory, substitutionary and vicarious. What was the doctrine of atonement under the law? Was it not that the innocent suffered for the guilty, and that on account of this suffering the guilty might go free? Hence the care in selecting the sacrificial victims that they might be without blemish or defect. How far from satisfying the requirements of such language as this is the view that would reduce the death of Christ to the mere result of a life of disinterested and self-sacrificing benevolence employed in turning men to righteousness; the seal of His doctrine, and a distinguished example of passive virtue!
II. To set forth the design of Christ’s sufferings, and to aim at its accomplishment in bringing men to God. Let us reflect upon the connection between sin and suffering, as viewed in relation to Christ’s suffering for sins.
1. Apart from personal interest in the sufferings of Christ, suffering regarded as the result of sin-suffering for sin-is a fact, the most terrible and unrelieved in the experience and history of our world. Men may quarrel with the suffering while they hug the sin, but the connection is there. Science may be invoked, and art and artifice may be employed to make sinning physically safe; but all this cannot remove or alter the fact-the goads are there.
2. To those who have a personal interest in His sacrifice, Christ’s suffering for sin takes away the sting of suffering.
3. The removal or lessening of sin must ever be the most effectual way of removing or lessening suffering. That is a spurious philanthropy which seeks to depreciate the gospel. (J. W. McKay, D. D.)
The sufferings of Christ
I. The character of the sufferer, and of the persons for whom he suffered.
1. Christ hath suffered, the just for the unjust. The expression intimates the perfect purity of His nature. But the expression, “the just,” intimates not only the perfect purity of His nature, but also the perfect purity of His life. His life was as pure as His nature. “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.”
2. He suffered for the unjust. As the term, “just,” expresses the perfect purity, both of the nature and of the life of the Saviour; so the term, “unjust,” must express the impurity, both of the nature and of the life of those for whom He suffered.
II. What he who is the just hath done for the unjust, he hath once suffered for their sins.
1. This language intimates, that Christ the just One hath suffered. He suffered in His body. He was wounded, bruised, scourged, crucified. He suffered in His character. Crimes were laid to His charge which His righteous soul abhorred. He suffered in His soul. Satan tempted Him; His friends forsook Him; God hid His face from Him.
2. The language intimates that Christ the just One, hath suffered for the sins of the unjust. Why, then, if Christ had no sin in His nature, no sin in His life-why did He suffer? Why did not His perfect sinlessness screen Him from all evil? To answer these questions, we must have recourse to the doctrine of the substitution and atonement of Christ, and then to such questions it is easy to give an answer.
3. The language intimates that the just suffered only once: Christ hath once suffered for sins. The expression “once,” denotes the perfection of His atonement.
4. The language intimates that Christ suffered once for sins voluntarily. He is the just One, the equal of Jehovah, and who could have compelled Him to suffer? Or, if it had been possible to compel Him, His sufferings would have possessed no value.
III. The design of the just suffering for the unjust, that he might bring them to God. (Wm. Smart.)
Christ’s sufferings; or, the basis of evangelism
I. They were endured once. He hath “once suffered.” The word “once,” is capable of being taken in two senses. The sense of actuality: that is, the mere expression of the fact that He had suffered. Or, it may be taken in the sense of onlyness. “Once for all”:-“never again,” as Bengel has it, “to suffer hereafter” (Heb 4:28). Taken in this sense, two ideas are suggested:
1. That nothing more for the purpose is needed. His sufferings are sufficient.
2. That nothing more for the purpose will be vouchsafed. “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.”
II. They were endured by a just person. The “Just.” Christ was “without sin.” He was at once the foundation, standard, and revelation, of eternal rectitude.
III. They were endured on behalf of the unjust.
1. This is a proof of His amazing love. “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die,” etc.
2. This is an encouragement for the greatest sinner. “The unjust” of all grades and types of wickedness.
IV. They were endured to bring the unjust to God. “That He might bring us to God.”
1. Legally: They remove all governmental obstructions to reconciliation.
2. Morally: They remove the enmity of the human heart, and are the means of uniting the soul in love to its Maker.
3. Locally: Although God is everywhere, yet in heaven He is specially seen and enjoyed.
V. They were endured to the utmost extent. “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit.”
1. Here is the death of His human nature;-“the flesh.” “He suffered even unto death.”
2. Here is the revivication of His human nature by the Divine Spirit:-“quickened in the Spirit.” The subject furnishes-First: Encouragement to suffering Christians. Secondly: A rebuke to those who limit the provisions of the gospel. Redemptive mercy is not for a favourite few:-it is for the unjust. Thirdly: A lesson to the impenitent. What ingratitude is yours! (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. The highest instance of undeserved persecution.
1. We see that suffering is not necessarily a mark of sin.
2. We see that sufferings are not necessarily the sign of a bad cause.
3. We see that sufferings are not always a sign of defeat.
II. We have a distinct and direct statement of Christ’s substitutory sacrifice.
III. We have a reference to the object of Christ’s accomplishing this object-“To bring us to God.” We can only appreciate this suggestion by realising what is implied in being away from God. For man to be away from God is as if a flower were separated from its root, a babe from its mother.
IV. We have the great mystery of Christ’s death alluded to-“Put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit.” Our Lord’s soul could not die; no more can man’s soul die. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
The sufferings of Christ our atonement and our example
I. Our atonement. Christ’s sufferings.
1. Unique (ἄπαξ), once for all.
2. Propitiatory. “For sins.”
3. Vicarious. The just for the unjust.
4. Effectual. “That He might bring us to God.”
II. Our example. (F. Dobbin, M. A.)
The sufferings of Christ
I. The sufferings of Christ are here asserted.
II. The meritorious cause of them is assigned.
III. A material circumstance relating to his sufferings is taken notice of.
IV. The opposite characters of Christ, and of those for whom he suffered, are laid down.
V. The great design of his sufferings is declared.
1. The ends of Christ’s sufferings are various.
(1) That He might set us an example of patience and resignation to the Divine will, under the troubles and difficulties of this life.
(2) To teach us self-denial and mortification.
(3) That He might exercise tender compassion towards us, under our trials and sorrows.
2. But the great end of His suffering for sins, the just for the unjust, was to bring us unto God.
1. Our hearts should be greatly affected with the representation which has been made unto us of the love of Christ.
2. How should we hate and abominate sin!
3. Let us draw nigh to God.
4. All our approaches to God should be through Jesus Christ. (S. Price.)
The design of Christ’s sufferings
I. The person who suffered. It was “Christ, the just.”
1. His official character. The word Christ properly means one anointed or consecrated to some sacred office.
2. His personal character-“the just.”
II. The sufferings He endured. “For Christ also hath once,” etc.
1. The nature of His sufferings. “Christ suffered, being put to death in the flesh.”
2. The period of His sufferings.
3. The object of His sufferings.
4. The issue of His sufferings. He was “quickened by the Spirit.”
III. The design He accomplished. “That He might bring us to God.”
1. The natural state of fallen sinners.
2. The personal efficacy of Christ’s atonement. It “brings us to God.” (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The just for the unjust.-
The just suffering for the unjust
I. The nature of Christ’s sufferings.
II. The purposes of Christ’s sufferings. “That He might bring us to God.”!
1. By His atoning sacrifice, thereby removing every obstacle in the way of the sinner’s access to God.
2. By the operations of His Holy Spirit.
3. By the prevalency of His intercession. (W. J. Brock, B. A.)
Christ’s sufferings for us
We accept the life and the death of Christ as an atonement, as a substituted suffering, the just for the unjust; but we do not feel that He was a sufferer only when He was on earth, and that His suffering then was all the suffering that was needful to the salvation of the world. It was the nature of Christ to suffer for sinners. He was embodied in the physical form that we might judge of what that nature was in the past, and what it was to be in the future, for the atoning nature of God existed from all eternity, and is going on to all eternity. The Lamb was historically slain in the time of Christ; but long before the coming of Christ there was the Divine atoning love, there was the vicarious suffering of the Saviour. And now, although no longer humbled in the flesh, Christ has not lost that peculiar element and attribute of the Divine nature-namely, substitution, imputation, vicariousness. Still He suffers in all our sufferings. He is afflicted in all our afflictions.
1. Sin becomes exceedingly sinful when judged by such a test as this. There is nothing that the whole world revolts at more than at flagrant ingratitude.
2. It is the presentation of such a Saviour as this that makes confession easy to pride. There are a thousand things that hinder men that have done wrong from forsaking their wrong-doing. But if God be for you, who can be against you? If the bosom of Christ’s love is open, and is a refuge to which you may fly for safety, why should you not avail yourself of it?
3. When we stand, at last, in Zion and before God, and look back upon our past career, how inevitable will it be that every one shall turn disgusted from the thought of his own strength, and that we shall take our crowns and cast them at the feet of Christ, and say, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name be the praise of our salvation!” The patience of God, the gentleness of God, the forgiveness of God, the sufferings of God for us-these will stand out in such illustrious light in that day that every one wilt be filled with joy, and gratitude, and triumph, and new pleasure in the consciousness that it was of God that he was saved, and not of himself. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christ the substitute
I. The need of pardon, suggested by the word in our text-“sins.” Unless you come to know and feel your need of a thing, you will never desire or welcome it. If I wished to convince you that you needed pardon, from your father, for instance, in an ordinary matter, I should first have to show you your offence. I am afraid many young people do not feel their need of pardon in a far higher sense. I wish I could write the word “sins” on your hearts today. This is one of the greatest words in all the Bible-in all the world. It tells about our offences against God-about our breaking of His holy law-about the evil we have done against our loving Father in heaven. And when once we come to get a sight of our sins as against God, we never can rest until we have got His pardon.
II. The gospel way of pardon. Some people think it is enough to ask pardon. Others think the way of pardon is to be sorry for their sins. Others think the way of pardon is trying to be as good as they can-saying their prayers, and striving to do what is right. Now the gospel way of pardon, though it might be said to include all these, is yet different from them all. It is very simple. It is very shortly told. I have heard an esteemed Edinburgh minister tell of his visiting an aged Christian man on his deathbed, and saying to him, “Is it not a happy thing that we have the gospel set forth in so few and in such simple words?” The old man looked up and said, “One word, sir!” His friend said, “What is the one word?” He replied, “Substitution!” The whole gospel in one word-substitution! If anyone were to ask me, “What is the way of salvation?” and I wanted to put it as shortly and as fully as possible, I would say, “It is the immediate, present acceptance of Christ as the substitute on the authority of God’s word and offer.” There is a touching story told regarding a body of men who had taken part in a rebellion, and were sentenced to have every tenth man of their number shot to deter others from doing what they had done. Among these were two, a father and son. We can fancy we see the men drawn up in a long line. Fixing, perhaps, on the first man by lot, he is marked out for death, and every tenth man thereafter, counting from him. The father and son stand together, and as the son runs his eye along the line he discovers that his father is a doomed man. He realises what it will be to have their family left without a head, his mother a widow, the old home stripped of its light and joy, and, quick as thought, he steps in where his father stood, and falls in his stead. He becomes his father’s “substitute,” and, if you ask the father in after years how he was saved, with the tear in his eye and a quivering voice, he will tell you he was saved by a substitute-that substitute his most loved and loving son. This, then, is what I want to bring out as the most important thing. The gospel way of pardon is by substitution-by One taking the place of another, by the Just taking the place of the unjust-the Good taking the place of the evil-the just Jesus, the good Jesus, taking the place of the unjust and the evil. God is just and holy, as well as merciful and loving. He is a King and Judge, as well as a Father. The authority of His law must be maintained. His justice must be vindicated. The law in its precept and penalty must be satisfied. It must be perfectly obeyed; and in the event of disobedience, the penalty of the broken law-death-must be suffered, either by each man himself, or by another in his room. We have all disobeyed, and so there is no hope for any one of us, except in the obedience and death of Christ. I would come to each of you and say, “You are lost, and unless you get pardon you will be lost forever. The Lord Jesus Christ is willing to be your substitute now and here, and in God’s name and on the authority of His own Word I offer Jesus Christ to be your substitute. Here is One willing to take your place. Will you have Him? If you take Him you are saved, you are pardoned.” When visiting our Jewish Mission Schools at Pesth, the capital of Hungary, a few years ago, I heard the truth on which I have been dwelling strikingly brought out by one of the pupils. The lesson was about the crucifixion of Christ, and the teacher asked, “What connection have we with the work and death of the Lord Jesus?” A young Jew held out his hand, as being prepared to give an answer, and said, “It is just as if we had the merit; it is just as if we had been crucified!”
III. The results of pardon-that is to say, the consequences of being pardoned through the substitution of another-through the Lord Jesus taking our place.
1. The first thing that follows gospel pardon is safety. There is no more danger. There is no condemnation to them who are thus in Christ Jesus.
2. There is happiness.
(1) This is the secret of happy living. A young friend, who had been in much anxiety about her soul, was shown into my study one night. Her face was quite radiant. It was such a change from what had been before that I could not help asking, “What has happened tonight?” The brief but expressive answer was, “I have taken Him to be my substitute!” That explained all.
(2) This is the secret of happy dying. Dr. Carey, the great Indian scholar and missionary, tells of his visit to one of the wards in an Indian hospital. On a bed, in a corner of the room, lay a dying soldier. Stepping gently up to him, he knelt at his bedside, and whispered into his ear, “My dear brother, are you afraid to die?” Looking up with a smile, the dying man answered, “Oh, no, sir; I have died already!” He meant that Jesus, his substitute, had died for him, and he had not to die, but only to fall asleep in Jesus.
3. There is gratitude-thankfulness.
4. There is love.
5. Lastly, there is service. It is told of the Duke of Orleans (“Philip Egalite”), father of Louis Philippe, the last king of the French, that on one occasion he was out riding, followed by his servant, who was also on horseback. The Duke had crossed an old bridge over a rapid stream in safety, but when his man servant was following, the bridge gave way, and horse and rider were thrown into the river. In a moment the Duke leaped from his horse’s back, plunged into the stream, and with considerable difficulty succeeded in saving the drowning man and bringing him to land. Need I describe the scene that followed? All dripping as he was, you might have seen the grateful servant prostrated at his master’s feet, promising the gratitude and service of a lifetime, and asking what he could do to serve one who had done so much for him. You know the story of “The Heart made Captive”-the slave bought with British gold, who vowed he would never serve his purchaser. But when he learned that the stranger had bought him to set him free, there were no bounds to his love and gratitude, and no limits to his service. When asked as to the secret of his constant and devoted service, there was but the one answer, “He redeemed me! he redeemed me!” Such is the secret of all right-hearted service done for Christ, as well as of all holy living. “He is my substitute. He suffered for me. He died for me. Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits unto me?” (J. H. Wilson, D. D.)
The just for the unjust
I. That Christ suffered should make suffering Christians patient. Not that I would make light of trials; far from it. I know they are often bitter and so long continued as to put a sore strain on clinging faith. Remember there is a ministry of suffering. The very trials of our life are ordered by a wiser will than ours, and are parts of a Heavenly Father’s discipline. As the stress of the storm strains the ship and shows where the weak parts are, so by our trials God would show us the weak points in our character, that we may strengthen what is weak and supply what is wanting.
II. Christ’s sufferings were for his people and on account of their sins. A man leaps overboard from the deck of a steamer on the broad Atlantic, and you think him a fool or a madman. But wait a little; why did he do it? He saw a sailor on the bulwarks overbalance himself and fall over the ship’s side, and he, a strong swimmer, leaped overboard to save him. And if you found that that drowning man had in time past often reviled the one who in his sore need risked his own life to deliver him, how could you find words to express your sense of the nobleness of such self-sacrificing conduct? And do you not think that the man thus plucked from the jaws of death would be heartily ashamed of his past reproaches, and would nevermore cease to love his deliverer? Is not this something like the case of the sinner and his Saviour Christ?
III. Consider now the object with which the saviour suffered. It was “that He might bring us to God.” This plainly implies a state of alienation and estrangement. O man, how far off hast thou wandered! How deep the enmity, how dire the distance between thee and thy God! How shall the awful gulf be bridged which thy sins have opened between thy God and thee? You now see how false is the common notion which many have of religion. They regard it as a thing to be turned to when one comes near to die-as a sort of desperate remedy to be taken when one can do no better. On the contrary, religion is a walk of fellowship with God; a thing for the daily round of duty; a life of obedience flowing from love and gratitude for redemption; a life unselfish, Christ-like, God-glorifying. (Wm. McMordie, M. A.)
Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by [in] the Spirit.-
The quickening influence of suffering
The main idea is of course a comparison between the experiences of our Lord and those of His suffering followers. The sacred writer was striving to the utmost to sustain and comfort them under the severe stress of persecution through which they were passing. “Take heart,” he seems to say; “your sufferings are not exceptional; they run in the Divine family; even our Master was not exempt from them; He also suffered in the flesh; but His sufferings did not stay His blessed ministry; nay, they even augmented His sphere of usefulness; ‘He was quickened in spirit,’ in which also he went forth to herald His accomplished work in regions to which, but for death, He had not obtained access. So shall it also be with you. Your sufferings shall not clip your wings, but add to your powers of flight. The things which happen to you shall fall out rather to the furtherance of the gospel; and it is through death that you must pass up to share His glorious resurrection and imperial power.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The resurrection of Christ
No man ever yet came out of a great work the same as he went into it; he has always lost something, and gained something. A great effort for a noble purpose taxes a man’s strength; but it builds up character, confidence, and reputation. A great effort for a selfish purpose drains a man’s moral resources, he has to surrender nobler considerations and higher purposes; but it leaves him better off in the things of this world, with a larger fortune, and a greater command of earth’s luxuries. It is this process of gain and loss to which our attention is called in the review of Christ’s death and resurrection. It was a great transaction, nothing less than the attempt to overthrow the reign of sin and suffering in the world. The character and success of the great work would be largely indicated by the effect on Him who undertook it; the question which all must ask is, What part of Him gained, and what part of Him lost? As that is known, it ought to determine whether it is a work in which we wish to join. Flesh and spirit were both strong in Christ through all His life. Then came the contest with sin and suffering, and the body succumbed. It suffered, and went down into the grave. When its work was through, the spirit, which had never been daunted, which had relied upon the Father in its darkest moments, had an opportunity to show its strength. It was the spirit of the Son of God. It belonged to Him who was the incarnate Son of God; and it must take that same body, and show its own power, and do what the flesh had been unable to do. The spirit must assert itself: it must be seen to be the lifeguard of the body; it must be evident as the great protecting, rescuing power. And when that was once done, there was no defeat. What had been lost by the flesh had been more than made up by spirit, and the great transaction was a victory. Can we wonder, then, at the Christian’s joy at Easter? It is not as a single event by itself that the resurrection stirs our hearts: it is because it is connected with the whole nature of our being, with the whole work of Christ’s life, and with the mysteries of our existence, and of the world forever. We see spirit triumphing over flesh everywhere; not always, but on every side and in all departments, giving us the hope and key to this great fact. A poor weakened body labours under pain and disease for years; but the mind grows brighter day by day, and the spirit becomes more refined. It sometimes seems as if spirit could do anything; and it can, if it is the right spirit. It is its duty to animate the flesh, and it shows itself able to do it; and time after time it manifests its ability far above and beyond all the powers of flesh, making that flesh do things for which it has seemed to have no capability. Now let it be the perfect spirit, the spirit of the Son of God, and directly in a line with all our experiences is that resurrection from the dead. We find no hope of the resurrection but in the greatness of Christ, in His intimate and personal connection with the Father. It was the Father’s witness to His being the Son of God; in that He has raised Him from the dead. Spirit is nobler than flesh. Place two men side by side, one of whom has always lived for the flesh, the other of whom has always tried to find the spiritual side of everything, and of every event with which he has come in contact. The former weighs you down with his grossness. His talk of the pleasures of the table, his gossipy narration of things that have taken place, his dull, unimaginative dealing with all that happens, his narrow interests and selfish aims, they are dreadfully unsatisfying and wearisome. The other always seems to be buoyant with joy and hope of something better. He hates all grossness enough to drop it out of his life; and yet, with a sympathy with all souls, he finds gleams of hope in those of whom the world can say nothing but evil. You know the two types of men, and of the approaches to them in every degree and form, from your daily experience with those about you; you know it still more from the experiences within you. Every transaction upon which you enter has its two sides-it can exalt the flesh and kill the spirit, or it can kill the flesh and exalt the spirit. You may come out of a successful business or social career with all that the flesh can possibly give you, and find that the virtues of the spirit-the unselfishness, the purity, the honour, the thought of better things have been put out of existence; you are quickened in the flesh, you are put to death in the spirit. Here again we see that the resurrection of Christ was not an isolated fact, and did not stand alone. It gathers to itself all the words of the Sermon on the Mount, all the exhortations of nobleness of life, and living above this world, which had been dropping from Jesus’ lips ever since He began His ministry. They cannot stand alone; they ask a great completion, a victory on their side, that they may have power, and not meet with discouragement. It seems as if Christ would say, “I appreciate how great a weight of conduct I have put upon you; I would help you bear it. I know how the forces of the flesh press on every side; a greater force of the spirit shall be with you through Me. See what the spirit can do to the flesh, and be encouraged in every battle.” The power of a risen Saviour is to show itself in spiritual lives. Do you say that this may demand the giving up of certain things? Then let them go; be “put to death in the flesh,” if you can but “live in the spirit.” That was Paul’s desire: “If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.” It was a matter of present attainment in the triumph of the spirit day by day; and for that we too are to labour, if our Easter joy and songs do indeed mean all that they say. We saw that this greatest feature of Christ’s resurrection was based on the fact that no man comes out of a transaction the same as he went into it. The same fact can lead us to the most complete participation in that resurrection, to which our minds are always turned. Are we to rise as He did? Had it hope for victory to any beyond Himself? We never come out of the great transaction of life the same as we went into it. We begin with spirit in the infant body, so unable to provide for itself. Then the flesh grows and asserts itself, until at length its hour of weakness comes, and, in the failure of disease or of old age, it loses its power, and sinks once more into the earth. What happens then, we ask? We never have any doubt as to that question about Christ. We find a clearer view and statement of His nearness to the Father coming out each day, as His life goes on. More and more He is bound to Him, until at last, in the great occasion of His death, it is not surprising that the trained and strengthened spirit conquers and raises Him. We can all tell of lives that have so followed Him, have so learned of God’s presence and love in the world through Jesus Christ that at every step in life their spirits have grown stronger, and without effort, nay, of necessity, our hearts include them in the Easter rejoicing, because we know which side of them the great transaction of life strengthened. (Arthur Brooks.)
He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.-
The gospel preached to the dead
Who is here spoken of? He. The form of the expression resembles that in our Creeds. “He suffered and was buried. He descended into hell.” The text does not say that the flesh of our Lord was put to death nor that His spirit was quickened. It states that He was Himself put to death qua flesh, and Himself quickened qua spirit. The flesh denotes His living body and animal soul; the spirit denotes here not the Holy Spirit nor the proper Deity, but the higher principle of the human spirit life, which was especially united to the Deity of Christ. He who is very God and very man, one person in two natures, did suffer death-in which nature?-not in His Divine nature-that is impassible-but in His human nature, which is passible. In the whole of His tripartite humanity? Not so: in a part of it, even in the flesh, and having there suffered death He, the same person, was quickened in the life, which never for a moment was quenched, of His own spirit. In that highest compartment of His human nature He experienced a transition to a new mode of existence, which issued in the resurrection of His incorruptible body. Meanwhile in the intermediate state-between the crucifixion and the resurrection, He, the Lord of Life, neither slumbered nor slept. His activity of philanthropy never ceased. Through the gates of death in the new life of the disembodied spirit He went, He made a journey. He the Crucified One, His body still hanging on the tree, passed away from the Cross of Calvary to the place of custody, where the souls of the departed were in confinement. These spirits in prison are they who, when they were in the flesh, in the midst of a universal apostasy saw not the signs nor felt the shadow of the coming judgment, nor heeded the voice of the righteous preacher, and therefore perished in their sins and in the flood. Their bodies were buried in the deep of the Deluge, and their spirits were carried into the deeper abyss of Hades. To these imprisoned souls was revealed in Hades the presence and the form of one like unto the Son of Man, clothed in human spirit. Thus disembodied and spirit ensphered the Son of God to the departed souls of the antediluvian world made a journey-and made a preachment. What was that preachment? Did He, in whom death could work no moral change, speak in His disembodied spirit to disembodied spirits, as He spake in the flesh to men in the flesh? Did He, the Apostle on earth of His Father in heaven, continue to pursue His Divine mission in Hades? There is a palate in this same Epistle which, rightly considered, makes it evident that St. Peter believed that to the dead in Hades the gospel itself had been proclaimed. To what class or classes of the dead it was proclaimed he does not specify; by whom it was proclaimed he does not specify; but, if we compare the two statements in the same Epistle-
(1) that “Christ went and preached to the spirits in custody,” and
(2) that “to the dead also the gospel was preached”-we must conclude that, according to St. Peter, our Lord in the world of spirits, between His own crucifixion and resurrection, announced “glad tidings of great joy.”
It is certain that the offer of salvation formed a part at least of His Divine message. And it is likely that this offer was made to all. Why not? Was not this their first opportunity of hearing of the great salvation wrought for all believers? There are some who have thought that the substance of our Lord’s preaching in Hades was of two kinds-that to some He preached salvation, to others perdition; that to the irreclaimably lost He preached a concio damnatoria. Surely this could not be; such a theory could never be in harmony with what we know of His Divine mission. Far better, and far more true, is it to suppose that He preached Himself, the One Saviour, to all alike. Not that all to whom He preached were alike susceptible of the message of glad tidings; because the multitude of the antediluvian unbelievers had indeed died in their sins, but still had so died in a very unequal measure of sin. To the class of incorrigible sinners the preaching of Christ in Hades would, we may believe, be in vain. They had sinned away their receptivity of the Divine message. They listened, indeed, from their sullen prisons to the heavenly Herald of mercy, and, as they listened to Him, they learned that He had died for the sins of the whole world, that He had died even for their sins, but at the same time they knew of themselves that He was not their present Saviour but their future Judge. Thus they would stand before the Preacher self-convicted and self-condemned. I conclude by mooting the question whether this interpretation of the text after all involves any abnormal teaching; whether, in fact, it is an exception to the general rule of Christian doctrine. It seems to me that there are some few passages in Scripture which indicate the broad theory that all men of all ages, who in this life never had the opportunity of hearing of Christ and of His salvation, will not perish hereafter for lack of that opportunity given some time, but failing this world will find that opportunity in the world to come; and if they are equal to it, if by patient continuance in well-doing here they are able to meet it, then they will embrace the gospel, and become par takers of the kingdom of heaven, if not as princes and rulers in Israel, yet as subjects. From this interpretation of the text an inference may be drawn. If Christ, through all His several stages of existence, was a forerunner and pioneer to His apostles and faithful followers, it may be that as the Personal Head of the Body Mystical did in that unseen world preach the gospel to departed spirits, so some or many of His living members, as they have disappeared one by one behind the veil, have also in their turn, and after His example, preached the same gospel there. If this idea is akin to truth, then it is possible that “through the ages all along” the gospel which St. John calls “the gospel of the ages” has not been hidden, but preached to such departed spirits as never heard, nor could hear, the glad tidings when they were in the flesh, and that it is not from lack of opportunity that any soul perishes. (Canon T. S. Evades, D. D.)
The spirits in prison
St. Peter is urging his readers to endurance under suffering. He sets before them the example of Christ. He suffered not only unjustly but for the unjust. “That He might bring us to God”-us, the erring and straying, the sin-bound and self-exiled. This is the starting point. St. Peter expatiates in the field thus entered. He bids us contemplate the effect of Christ’s suffering upon Himself. He bids us contemplate the two parts of His humanity-the flesh and the spirit. Death dissolved the compound. He was “put to death” as regards the one; He was “made alive” as regards the other. It is as though the dropping of the one gave new energy to the other. He had spoken in the days of His flesh of being “straitened” till the great “baptism” was accomplished. There was a compression in that enclosure of flesh and blood which would be taken off instantly by its removal. While the lifeless body was hanging for its last hour on the tree, He, the living spirit, was using the new liberty in a special office and mission-He was on a journey-He was making Paradise itself a scene of activity-“in the spirit,” St. Peter says, “He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” St. Peter defines with great precision the objects of this unearthly visitation. They are “spirits in prison”-they are dead men fast holden in Divine custody, as guilty aforetime of a great disobedience, which sealed their fate here, and swept them promiscuously into a condition which men must call “judgment.” These “spirits” were “disobedient once”-and the tense suggests an act of decisive and definite disobedience-“at the time when the long suffering of God was waiting in the days of Noah.” They were “judged” for their disobedience to this call-men, from the side of flesh and time, could not say otherwise than that these men had died in their sins-but a miracle of mercy sought them out, after long ages, in their prison house-the “three days” of Christ’s sojourn “in the heart of the earth” were used, of special grace, in their evangelisation-in the sight of men they lie still under judgment, but in spirit, according to God, they have been quickened into a supernatural life. Let us see if there is anything elsewhere in Scripture that will help us in bearing up under the weight of this remarkable disclosure. Yes, St. Paul has something very like it in his discourse on the communion-where he says that, for dishonouring this holy sacrament, many of the Corinthians not only “are weak and sickly,” but even “sleep”-have been, as he goes on to say, “judged of the Lord,” not only with “divers diseases,” but with “sundry kinds of death”-and goes on to explain to them that, when thus “judged,” punished even with death itself, they are “chastened” lest they should be “condemned”-death itself, judicial death, may be but a “chastening” to save from that “condemnation” which yet (the same verse says) is for “the world.” What is this but St. Peter’s “judged, according to men, in flesh,” yet “living, according to God, in spirit”?-a judgment, not of condemnation, but of “chastening” unto salvation? Before we pass to our last words of counsel, let us throw the light of St. Paul and St. Peter upon some of those darkest passages in the history of the Old Testament which seem to consign to a disproportionate doom men of a single sin, or men sinning half under compulsion. Take such an instance as that of the disobedient prophet-a man lied to by another prophet-and failing, under that persuasion, to keep the safe rule, what God has said to thee thyself is more true, for thee at least, and more concerning, than that which God is said to have said, in correction of it, or in repeal of it, to another. That man, for that yielding, is executed, within the day, under God’s death warrant. But is there any man to tell us, on the word of God, that the disobedient prophet is among the lost-that his is so much as one of the “spirits in prison”? “Judged according to men in flesh”-judged so far as the body, and the life of time, goes-for is it not judgment to be cut off hastily from this life of the living, and by a sentence written for evermore upon the page of God?-not necessarily “condemned with the world”-“living” possibly all the time, and to live, according to God the Judge, and in that higher part of the man, which is “spirit.” How many of the supposed injustices of God’s dealing may have their reconciliation and their justification in this hint of the apostle’s-in this more profound study of the Scriptures! Use the text thus, and it has life in it. Let it open to thee just a glimpse of realities out of thy sight! (Dean Vaughan.)
Christ in the flesh and in the spirit
Christ dealt with the living in the body, with the spirits in the spirit. (A. J. Bengel.)
Spirits in prison
I. That there are human spirits actually in the prison of hell.
1. A prison is a scene of darkness. Impurity, remorse, despair, constitute “the blackness of darkness forever.”
2. A prison is a scene of guilt.
3. A prison is a scene of bondage. Chains of iron confined the miserable culprit.
4. A prison is a scene of thoughtfulness. Hell is a dark realm of thinkers. But there are two features connected with hell that distinguish it from all the prisons on earth.
(1) It is self-erected. Each prisoner constructs his own prison.
(2) It is spiritual. The spirit is in prison. Earthly prisons cannot confine the soul.
II. That there are human spirits who have been in the prison of hell for centuries. Christ preached to them, by Noah, when on earth. Peter speaks of them now as being in hell. What period of time has elapsed between this lengthened suffering, however, impresses me with two considerations-
1. The fearful enormity of evil.
2. Man’s capacity for endurance. Diseases soon break up the body; time withers the patriarchal oak, crumbles the marble; and “the waters wear away the stones” of the mightiest rocks; but, through ages of agony, the soul lives on!
III. That there are human spirits who have been in the prison of hell for centuries, to whom the gospel was once preached. Christ was “in the world” before His incarnation. The fact that there are spirits in hell to whom the gospel was once preached suggests two very solemn considerations:
1. That there is no necessary connection between hearing the gospel and salvation. “He that heareth My words, and doeth them not,” etc.
2. That the final misery of those who have heard the gospel must be contrary both to the disposition and agency of Christ. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The spirits in prison
I. Their state.
II. Their condition.
1. A prison is a place of gloom.
2. A place of restraint.
3. A place of punishment.
4. A place of confinement for trial.
III. Their history.
1. They had the gospel preached to them.
2. God’s long suffering waited for them.
1. Let not disobedient men doubt the certainty of future punishments.
2. Let not sinners question the justice of future punishment.
3. Let not the wicked be emboldened by numbers.
4. Let not the righteous be discouraged by their fewness.
5. Let not those who are alarmed despair. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The longsuffering of God waited.
The patience of God
The term applied here to the Almighty represents Him as we are not very apt to think of Him, i.e., as having before Him all the evil, of every kind, in His children, and bearing it; our ingratitude, our disobedience, our folly, our fickleness, our obstinacy, our selfishness, our wilfulness, our sensuality, our irreverence, our vanity-the whole dark and diversified mass of our sin. The catalogue of its shapes and degrees is well-nigh inexhaustible, yet it does not exhaust His patience. We have, it is true, as men and women, our disapprobations and even our little indignations at wrong-doing. But what marks a special contrast between them and the Divine displeasure is this, that as they gain in strength our human antipathies toward transgression are apt to grow hot and hasty. We want to see judgment against evil works executed speedily, forgetting that it was only just now that we began to see them to be evil works. Our brother trespasses against us, and, not considering that he is our brother, moulded of just such clay and subject to just such infirmities as ourselves, we cry out for the magistrate and the prison, if not the lash; and sometimes because there is no lash in the jailer’s hand, we take one up with our tongue. This is the impatient spirit that vitiates so many of our remonstrances against our neighbours’ crimes. Let us give a little wider reach to the treatment of the subject by contemplating the patience of God in its sublime delay, its slowness as men count slowness, in bringing about the most beneficent ends. He shows us this patience first as the Maker of things. You find it in the unhurried order of the natural creation; the slow building and furnishing of the outer worlds; the slow succession of geologic ages; the slow procession in ascending ranks, one only so little above another, of the races of plants and animals, affording an epoch for a reptile or a fern; the ‘slow preparation of the planet for its final purpose in the rearing of an immortal family, the revelation of the spiritual glory of the Divine Man in the flesh, and the manifestation, by that incarnation, of a new earth with the sons of God for its kings and priests. We rise from the physical to the moral world. Take the broadest divisions of the human family-races and nations. From their beginnings in the East, as an eastern shepherd leads out his flocks, the Everlasting Father has brought His tribes out of their native sheepcotes and stationed them here and there over the globe. Vast territories, with fertile soils and blooming vegetation, with the wealth of navies and harvests in their bosom, were waiting to receive them: and some are waiting still. God waited His own good time for occupying them with human industry. Nor is this the chief exercise of His patience. One after another these nations have broken away from their Creator’s commandment. For each one of them He kindled the light of conscience or of revelation, to show them the way, and they shut their eyes upon it. Every national life has grown corrupt. No sooner have they come to prosperity than they have come to luxury, idleness, and the beginnings of decay. They have tempted and betrayed each other; cheated, fought, enslaved, murdered each other. Very seldom has He come to them with sudden judgments or wide spread desolations. He has waited till they would destroy themselves. He has tried them again and again. When one has gone down He has set up another, and waited patiently for that. Even the one people that He chose out of all the rest for His own, folding and guarding them, turned itself into the bitterest offence against Him. But His long suffering waited, and waited not only in the days of Noah, as the text says, but waited through the age of the patriarchs, waited through the age of Moses, and of the judges, and of the kings, waited till the captivity, waited and brought them back after it, waited till the fulness of time. But we can bring the doctrine home much closer to our personal feeling than this. We all know well enough what those things are that try and irritate us, in the common intercourse of life, and where our patience gives way. We know what the provocation is, when our motives are misjudged, or our self-respect is insulted; when mean calculations take advantage of our friendship; when our children are forgetful or wilful, our pupils dull, our servants careless, our neighbours arrogant, our beneficiaries unthankful or impertinent. We all know the sting that hurts us in contempt, in estrangement, in forgetfulness. Now, all these hateful things, in every instance, are known to God. They are full in His sight. Just so far as they are real offences at all, they are offences against Him before they are to us. He does not overlook them, but looks directly at them all. He sees the tyrants, the traitors, the hardened profligates, living out their many days, and some of them dying natural deaths in their beds, the Alvas and Torquemadas, small and great, of every age-His judgment seat not moved forward one hair’s breadth to meet them this side the grave. Some one says, God is patient because He is eternal; and so we make excuses for our impatience. God is patient because He is good, as well as because He is strong and wise. He waits for men that they may return to Him. He spares them that they may spare each other. And then, if we could look far into the heart of God, might it not: appear that He has-considering their light, their calling, their privileges, and promises-quite as much occasion to let His patience have her perfect work in the inconstancies of Christians as in the crimes of unbelievers? the cold affections, lifeless prayers, halting steps. He has to wait even for His own people that He has redeemed-the Church that He has purchased with His blood-in her backward and worldly living. It is quite noticeable that one of the apostles of our Lord dwells on this grace of patience with peculiar earnestness, returning to it as if it had a special power to his conscience and a special sacredness to his heart; and this is St. Peter, from whom my text is taken. Have we not a reason for this, and at the same time a deeper look into his warm heart, when we turn to his personal character and history? His was just one of those impressible, impetuous temperaments, with great faults and great virtues, which lay a heavy tax upon the patience of friends, and yet inspire, beneath all that, a lively interest. So he must have felt how repeatedly and bitterly he had tried that one Divine Friend. Nor is the whole Scripture less clear and strong as to the practical value of this virtue in the Christian standard of character. Thus it shows us the kneeling suppliant at his lord’s feet crying, “Have patience with me and I will pay thee all.” It pronounces its blessing on those that bring forth fruit with patience. It casts in a beam of light on the dark mystery of our sufferings by telling us that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, bidding us rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Nay, further yet; by one true and deep interpretation of it the Cross of our Saviour is but the symbol of this doctrine. Patience and passion are but varied forms of one word; the sacrifice of long suffering. In the Son of Mary the patience of God comes down among men, and we behold His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, in the face of Jesus Christ giving His life for the world, and waiting for its faith. (Bp. Huntington.)
While the ark was a preparing.-
Safety in the ark
I. In the first place, we see by the parallel drawn between the faith of a Christian and the preservation of Noah in the deluge, that we must look for a deluge answering to that which then came upon the world. Who can seriously think of the world blaspheming its Maker, rebelling against Him, and then proudly contending that there is very little evil in that rebellion, and not see that some signal proof from the Governor of all, that that rebellion shall not be tolerated? The deluge of wrath, then, will come, like the deluge that swept away the millions of mankind in the days of Noah.
II. But then, as there was an ark which Noah constructed for his preservation and that of his family, we have an ark too, built not by our own hands, but built by our great Creator and Redeemer. Christ is to His people now the one Ark. There is one Shelter from the coming deluge of God’s wrath, one only Ark, for a lost soul; unless we are saved by that, we perish. Christ is the only thing between us and eternal destruction.
III. But as Noah was saved, not merely by understanding its construction and not merely by looking at its fair proportions and its massive timbers, but by entering within the ark and being shut within it by God, so the disciples of Christ are saved by entering into their Ark; and the one thing by which they enter in is faith. So that unless we come to Christ as our only hope, we are excluded from that Ark. It is built by the hand of God, it will float in safety over the deluge, and whoever is in it will be gloriously saved; but we must get within it. We may talk as Christians, we may belong to a Christian church, we may think ourselves safe; but unless we have climbed into the true Ark by faith, and have been shut in by the hand of God, we have no more possibility of safety than a person could have been saved by walking round the ark which Noah had constructed, or examining with surprise and admiration its massive construction.
IV. But there is another similarity between the disciples of Christ and Noah and his family. That similarity is in the water of baptism, as compared with the water of the deluge to Noah. Anti-typical to which, the apostle says, “Baptism doth now save us.” And therefore, just as the water bore up the ark of Noah, and it was when the waves dashed upon the ark in which he floated that his preservation was completed, so it is by baptism that the disciples of Jesus Christ are likewise saved. The water of baptism could no more save the baptized man, of itself, than the water of the deluge could save the antediluvian sinners who were outside the ark. It was the ark which saved; and then the water completed the salvation, by bearing up the ark upon its flood. And the water of baptism is the antitype of that water of the deluge, because it completes the figure which makes the person safe in Christ, who is the only Ark of the soul from the deluge to come. That this was the apostle’s meaning is further manifested by the expression which he used himself, to correct the imagination which might arise in any mind, that the external rite had in itself any such efficacy. He adds, “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh”; external washing cannot save anyone; but it is the “inquiring after God of a good conscience,” it is the seeking God with the heart and with the soul-it is this which is the essence of the baptismal profession. There are two more points of comparison on which I must dwell. In the days of Noah there were multitudes that disbelieved, and but few that believed, the warning God gave; eight only out of the millions of mankind believed. The millions disbelieved. And so it is with the threatenings of God now; there are few that credit them, and millions that disbelieve them; which are right, the few or the millions? Christians! hold fast the truth, even if you were much fewer than you are; and never let your opinion be in the least shaken by any allegation of the presumption, the enthusiasm, or the folly of entertaining the opinions which are against those of the great mass of mankind. Hold them fast, and it will be for your happiness. And lastly, there is one final comparison between the two cases. The multitudes of those who disbelieved, in Noah’s days, perished, and the few that believed were saved. Oh! that a warning voice could reach the millions of this world! (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
Baptism doth now save us.-
The two baptisms
It is questionable whether we would have had skill enough to discover that the two facts mentioned in the text contained essentially the same revelation, if the union had not been expressly pointed out to us in Scripture. The wild flood that destroyed the ancient world, and the gentle waters of baptism in Christian times-these two at first sight seem to have little in common. The connection is by no means so obvious as in some other types; but it is net less real.
I. The salvation of Noah and his family by water. As long as you think merely of Noah being saved from death by drowning, you miss the grand design of God in bringing the flood upon the earth. If the purpose of the Supreme had been to preserve the lives of those eight, it could have been accomplished by preventing the flood from coming, better than by constructing an ark to float on its surface. What object did the Almighty Ruler contemplate in those stupendous arrangements? To preserve His truth, and the earthen vessels that contained it, not from the flood of water, but from the flood of sin. The water flood, so far from being the source of danger, was the instrument employed to save. God employed one flood to wipe away another. The salvation which God works for His own, both in its whole and in its several parts, is a twofold operation. It is deliverance by destruction. In the Old Testament times, this principle of Divine government was exhibited in acts and ordinances of a more material kind. Christ had not yet come; and the personal ministry of the Spirit had not yet been fully developed. The providential dispensations and religious rites in which the principles were embodied, accorded with the infant state of the world and the Church. In form the manifestation was childish; but even in form all that was childish has been done away, and the self same truths are set forth in the ordinances of a more glorious ministration.
II. The salvation of Christians by baptism is like the saving of Noah by the waters of the flood.
1. The danger. In God’s sight the ailment of humanity is sin. Sin entered into the world, and death by sin. Find the way of making an end of sin, and the sting of death is instantly taken away. If it were not for sin we should have nothing to fear. We could smile at death, and at him who hath its power, if we were free from sin.
2. The deliverance. It, too, is like Noah’s. We are saved by a flood. We are saved by baptism. And what is meant by baptism? In the first place, it is not “the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” It is not the out ward act of washing with water that can save a soul from the dangers that surround us. It is not a corporal and carnal thing. Not this; but “the answer of a good conscience toward God.” It is the cleansing of the conscience from its guilt, so that when God makes inquisition for blood, He finds no spot or wrinkle there; so that the conscience, when put to the question, answers peace to the challenge of the Judge. “Baptism doth now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” It is by being in Christ that we may get our sins purged away, and yet be ourselves saved. He stands before God to receive what is due to His people’s sins. “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished,” That baptism to which He looked forward from the first of time, and which He met on Calvary, was none other than the wrath of God against sin, which He had in covenant engaged to bear. The Messiah met that deluge, and emerged from it triumphant. From that baptism He rose again. The salvation of believers lies not in meeting God for themselves, when the vials of His wrath for sin are poured out; but in being found in Christ, when He receives His people’s due. It is the part and privilege of a believer to be baptized into Christ, and specifically to be baptized into His death (Romans 6:3; Romans 6:5). Our baptism is into Him, and He meets the baptism for us which would have carried us away. We have received the baptism, when in our Substitute we have received it. As Noah remained safe, shut up within the ark, while it received the surges of the deluge; so we, in Christ our refuge, are unhurt, while He meets and exhausts in our stead the justice due to sin. As the flood saved Noah, by destroying the wicked that swarmed on the earth, while he escaped by being shut within the ark; the baptism wherewith Christ was baptized saves Christians, by destroying sins and sinners, so that they who are found in Him in the time of visitation shall step out with Him upon a new earth, under a new heaven, wherein dwelleth righteousness. (W. Arnot.)
The apostle speaks of “baptism” as saving us; that is the point that concerns us most. Of course the question starts, How does baptism save us; in what way is it helpful to us in our Christian life and career? If you look at the passage you will see that the apostle guards himself carefully. He says, “Not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” We cannot too distinctly assert that there is nothing saving in “baptism” itself. In what way, then, you may ask, does baptism save us? How can it be made helpful to us in the cultivation of Christian character and in the living of Christian life? The apostle tells us, “But the answer of a good conscience toward God.” The Greek term here translated “answer” means a question or interrogation. It is used to signify the mutual return of question and answer, which implies compact. You know that when two parties present themselves to the minister for marriage he requires them to say certain words after him; those words form what we may call the marriage oath, or declaration, or compact. When that declaration or compact has been made by both parties the man puts the ring on the finger of the woman as a sign or evidence that such declaration has been made. Now, what the wedding ring is to the married couple and society, baptism is to the believer and Christ. It is the sign, token, symbol of the covenant, compact, which the believer has entered into with his Saviour. In this sense it has an element of salvation in it, and it may be made helpful to you in the cultivation of Christian character and life by reminding you of the terms of that covenant.
I. That you have repented of your past life and conduct. There are some in whom the process or change we call “repentance” is not very marked or great. In some, from their natural temperament, or from the advantages of early surroundings, the religious life seems a gradual development. As the lovely bud opens under the genial influence of the spring’s sun, so their hearts open under the genial influence of the heavenly Father’s love. In others, as in the case of the prodigal, there is a time, sharp and distinct, when reflection arrests them in their course of sin and folly. Now, “baptism” is a standing perpetual reminder of that solemn crisis-that solemn resolve in your history. Hence Paul writes: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?” etc. (Romans 6:3-13). The act of baptism is an open public renunciation of sin, of sinful pleasures, of the follies of the world.
II. That you have accepted Christ as your Saviour. The compact you now make with Christ, and of which your “baptism” will be the standing sign and symbol, is that you accept, believe in Him as your Saviour. In accepting Christ as your Saviour you promise Him that you will give yourself up to Him. When tempted to relax or disobey, you will answer your tempter, “I have placed myself in the hands of Christ; I am not my own. I have His prescription, and, unless I attend to that, I cannot expect spiritual healing or health.” You will point your tempter to your “baptism” as a standing symbol of your covenant with Christ; and in this way your “baptism” will be helpful to you, and will save you.
III. That you have consecrated yourself to Christ’s service. The wife sees the ring on her finger, and she says, “I am married; I am no longer my own. I am pledged to give my husband as much real pleasure and joy as lies in my power, to abstain from everything that would grieve or displease him, to make any and every sacrifice if necessary to contribute to his comfort and well-being.” In the same way, remembering your “baptism,” you will say, “I am married to Christ; I have pledged myself to His service as the great purpose of my life.”
IV. That you sustain the most honourable relation to Christ, I wish I could, so fire the hearts of our young men and women that they could adequately realise the dignity and the honour of the relation they sustain to Christ, and of which “baptism” is the standing sign and seal. You know how the soldier is fired with the sense of his dignity as a soldier. There are many things that he would not do because it would disgrace his profession. And so I would that you should be ever conscious of the dignity and honour of the relation that you sustain to Christ. Remembering your “baptism,” the standing seal of that relation, you will say, “I am a baptized Christian, one of Christ’s soldiers. How can I do this mean act, speak that false word, do that great wickedness, and sin against Christ?” In this way, too, “baptism” may be helpful to you, and so save you. (B. Preece.)
Who is gone into heaven.-
Our Lord’s ascension
The ascension of our Lord was, in one point of view, only a result of His resurrection, and the proper completion of His triumph then achieved. That is, no new work was done by Him after His resurrection which brought about His ascension. It was His pleasure to remain on earth during those forty days, in order to show Himself alone to His disciples, and to establish beyond doubt the fact that He was risen from the dead; but they were only a delay interposed before that triumphant departure whose way was already prepared. First of all, then, the ascension of Jesus was the seal of the accomplishment of redemption. His work which He wrought in our nature was the rescuing it from the dominion of sin, and bringing it into union with God. This His glorious state of final perfection of humanity is not His alone. It belongs not to Him any more than His death and resurrection belonged to Him, as man individual. It belongs, in its actuality and in its effects, to our whole nature, which He bore on Him and bears on Him at this moment. In, and as accomplished in, that humanity thus glorified, does the Father behold all His creatures and all His purposes; in Him it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, and that all things in heaven and in earth should be summed up. O how blessed an encouragement is this, in all our difficulties and under all our troubles. Thou feeble Christian, who believest and prayest and strivest, but hast never laid firm hold on the hope set before thee, who day by day art conning over thine own imperfections, turn thine eyes from looking inward, and look upward on Him where He is. That human Body, pierced but glorified, marred above measure, but also exalted above measure, let that be thy one object of contemplation. There is thy safety; there thy guarantee of God’s favour; on that blessed Form falls no frown of the Father’s countenance, but an everlasting smile of approval, and under that smile thou, His lowly and fainting member, art included. Fix thine eyes on Him and fear not; in Him thou hast all; through Him thou shalt rise after all thy falls; shalt enter into the kingdom after all thy doubts; for he that hath the Son hath life. I want in my belief which is to sustain me, which is to renew me in holiness, something as present to me as the world and the flesh and the devil are present with me; not only a past fact, however gracious and glorious; but a present fact, which I may look upon as part of this moment in which I live and struggle onward. And I can find this only in the glorified form of my Lord, now in heaven at God’s right hand, holding together this world, creating, blessing, vivifying, governing all things. This is no past matter. Far above this earth with her living tribes and her waving blossoms, far above these bright stars which bound the vision of the outward eye, I see that form of Him in whom I live; there is He who is made to me wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; His life is my obedience; His blood is my ransom; His resurrection is my justification. Earth and hell may combine against my weak nature; but there I see that nature standing in the Godhead glorified, and I know that I am safe. Outward appearances may discourage me to the utmost. Both the Church and the world are summed up in and ruled by that glorified One, who reigns above them both. Besides being the seal and pledge of our accomplished redemption, He is, in this His glorified state, our continuing High Priest and Intercessor. There, in the centre of the Father’s glory, He rests not idle, nor is He unmindful of those whom He came to save. They are ever borne on His thoughts, and not the least of their cares or wants is forgotten by Him. Through Him, not as an unconscious medium, but as the living and conscious offerer, all prayer is made. Again, our glorified Saviour is the giver of the Holy Spirit. From Him all spiritual influence comes direct, and without union with Him no man has the Spirit of the Lord. And this is a most important consideration. For men are apt to imagine of our blessed Lord as withdrawn from His Church; and the participation of spiritual gifts and spiritual life to be derived from a long succession of secondary instruments, and ordinances of grace; whereas it is by direct contact of every believing soul with Himself in glory, that all spiritual grace and gifts are derived, and means and ordinances are but helps to lifting the soul by faith into realisation of His person and office, and into communion with Him. (Dean Alford.)
Our ascended Lord
I. The circumstances.
1. They begin thus-“Who is gone into heaven.” “He is gone”: that sounds rather dolorous. Yet we dare not raise a monument to Christ as one who is dead. Let us complete the sentence-“who is gone into heaven.” Now you demand the trumpet, for the words are full of soul-stirring music, and create intense delight. Still, there are the words, “He is gone”: He is gone away from you and from me; we cannot now embrace His feet, nor wash them, nor lean our head upon His bosom, nor look into His face. Henceforth we are strangers here because He is not here. He intends us to remove, for He has removed. We are not at home on earth. He seems to say, “Upwards, My brethren, upwards from off this earth; away from this world to the glory land. I am gone, and you must be gone, This is not your place of resting, but you must prepare yourselves for a time when it shall be said of each one of you, ‘He is gone.’” Now let us consider that He “is gone into heaven.” What does this signify but, first, that He is gone out of the region wherein our senses can perceive Him? But then we know that our Lord, as man, is gone into a greater nearness to God than ever; “He is gone into heaven,” where is the throne of the great King. Let us joy and rejoice that our covenant Head is now in the bosom of the Father, at the fountainhead of love and grace, and that He is there on our behalf. In going into heaven there is also this thought, that our Lord is gone now into the place of perfect happiness and of complete glory. The Lord Jesus is filled with ineffable satisfaction, which is the reward of His passion and His death. Thinking this over, let us reflect that nothing could stop His going there. “He is gone up into heaven, despite all who raged against Him.” But I beg you to remember that He is gone up into heaven as our representative. Jesus does nothing by Himself now. All His people are with Him. He says, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me.” They are always in union with Him. This is the best seal that our faith could desires the resurrection and ascension of Christ being practically the resurrection and the home bringing of all His redeemed.
2. Secondly, His sitting at the right hand of God: “Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God.” Remember that this being on the right hand of God relates to the complex person of our Lord; it relates to Him not as God alone, but as God and man. It is His manhood that is at the right hand of God. Wonderful conception! The next being to God is man. Infinite leagues must necessarily lie between the Creator and the created; but between God and man in Christ Jesus there seems no distance at all, the man Christ Jesus sits at God’s right hand. What meaneth it that Christ sits at the right hand of God? Does it not mean, first, unrivalled honour? To sit at the right hand of God is the highest conceivable glory. Does not it also signify intense love? When Solomon would describe the love of the King to his bride, he said, “Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.” It means also communion and counsel. We speak of a person with whom we take advice as “the man of our right hand.” God taketh counsel with the man Christ Jesus. When you have a friend at court, you hope you will do well; but what a friend have we in the King’s courts; even Him who is the Wonderful Counsellor! Does it not also signify perfect repose? Jesus is gone up to the right hand of God, and sitteth there. O restful Saviour, we labouring, come to Thee and find rest in Thee; we also sit down expecting the time when Thou shalt put down all our enemies, and we shall tread even Satan under our feet.
3. The third fact is, His dominion: “Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” Angels are subject to Him whom they nailed to the Cross, and at whom they wagged their heads. This is one of the wonders of heaven. Men in countless myriads are in heaven white robed, praising God; and one Man is actually on the throne of God, vicegerent, Lord over all; having every knee to bow before Him, and every tongue to call Him Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
II. The lessons of these circumstances.
1. The religion of Christ is true. Our doctrine is not sentiment, and view, and opinion, but fact.
2. Christ’s cause is safe. Let not His church tremble, let her not think of putting out the hand of unbelief to steady the ark of the Lord. The wheel will turn, and they that are lowest now shall soon be highest; they that have been with Him in the dust shall be with Him in His glory.
3. Now I can sea that His saints are safe; for if Jesus has risen and gone into His glory, then each individual in Him shall be safe too.
4. This explains the way in which Jesus deals with sinners. That which took place in His own person He makes to be a picture of what takes place in the men whom He saves. If you come to Him you can only get to know the fulness of His gracious power by being buffeted with conviction and repentance, and by having self, especially self-righteousness, crucified and slain.
5. I think, since Christ has gone into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, it shows which way we ought to go. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” He draws them to the Cross, and you may be sure He will draw them to the crown. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ at home
I. His residence.
1. He has gone there as to His proper abode.
2. To prepare for His disciples.
3. To attract the hearts of His disciples.
II. His position. “On the right hand of God.” The figure implies-
1. Might. Christ is at the fountainhead of power.
III. His authority.
1. Co-extensive with the universe.
2. Exercised for the promotion of moral excellence everywhere.
3. Specially contemplates the good of His followers. (Homilist.)
Angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.-
All angels subject to Christ
Both good and bad; the good willingly, the others against their will.
I. For the good angels.
1. If such glorious creatures be subject to Christ, then-
(1) How great a one is He, and how glorious is His kingdom.
(2) The greater honour and dignity our Head hath, the more joy and comfort may we have, who are His members.
2. In that He appoints them to watch and guard us-
(1) What a great honour is this to us.
(2) How may we hereby be comforted and encouraged against Satan’s malice.
(3) We must keep within com pass, and walk carefully in God’s ways.
II. For the evil angels.
1. All these are subject to Christ, and He hath triumphed over them.
2. As it is no small honour to Him our Head to have all these under Him, so the meditation hereof cannot but be comfortable to us, both in regard of Him and ourselves.
3. Those evil angels cannot do that evil they would, and if they cannot, much less can their instruments. (John Rogers.)
Christ the King of angels
We indeed are but little able to enter into the thoughts of apostles when they saw Him in His crucified body, ascending up into heaven. But we may understand that this was a part of their feelings; that now One, who is true Man as we are, who can enter into our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, He is set in the highest place, over all created things. And He carries with Him there the same tender love towards the meanest of His faithful servants which He ever vouchsafed to exercise here. It was, in some sort, as if one’s nearest and dearest relation were made absolute king of the country. If persons who care for earthly things would rejoice in such a change as that, and consider their own fortune made, how much more joy to those who care for heavenly things, when we set our hearts to consider that He who laid down His life for us, He is made the great King in heaven and earth, and has all the treasures of grace and glory put forever into His hand. In this we see at once is included every good thing. But for the present there is one blessing in particular. It is the subjection of the spiritual world to our Saviour, “Angels and authorities and powers were made subject” to the Son of Man when He went into heaven, and sat down off the right hand of God. We naturally think, even from our childhood, a good deal of the spiritual world; of beings out of sight, who yet, for aught we know, may often be very near us, and may have great power to do us good, or to hurt us in body and soul. And the thought of our Lord gone up into heaven, and sitting on the right hand of God, is a thought of great power to set us right in our feelings towards both sorts of angelic beings. Consider, first, what a thing it is to know that the good angels are on our side, that they camp about us to deliver us. This certainty of angelical aid, so far as we are on Christ’s side, we have by His exaltation into heaven, and the subjection to Him of angels, authorities, and powers. But those words, doubtless, mean the evil angels as well as the good; our unseen enemies, as well as our unseen friends. Let us not try to put out of our minds the notion of the bad angels being around us, until we have turned in serious prayer to Him who for our sake holds them in chains. Imagine Christ our Lord on His throne, how His eye is ever fixed, both on you in your helpless slumbering condition, and on your adversary waiting to hurt you. And be sure, that if before you lay down you seriously and reverently committed yourself to Him in prayer, with sincere penitence for all your sins, He will not let the roaring lion devour you. You may, without presumption, imagine Him, then, saying to some of His good angels, “Here is one who lays down to rest, desiring to dwell under the defence Of the Most High; he hath set his love upon Me, and tried to know My name; therefore do you, My good angels, take charge of him, and keep him from the evil that walketh in darkness.” (Plain Sermons by Contributors to “Tracts for the Times.”)
“Who is gone into heaven.” It is the correction of all that is carnal and all that is superstitious in our religion. It is the Christian application of “God is spirit.” It bids us not to rest in forms; not to multiply services as services, not to rest in sacraments as sacraments, but to look through all to One who is not here, but ascended; and to be sought therefore as one deeply sympathising with human infirmity, but exercising that sympathy not in weak indulgence but in transforming strength. “Who is gone into heaven,” and therefore can “fill all things.” Such is St. Paul’s argument in his Epistle to the Ephesians. He reminds us that the Saviour Himself, remaining below, must have been confined by earth’s conditions. It is ascension which makes Him the Omnipresent. “Gone into heaven.” There then seek Him, There, when you have found Him, with Him dwell. (Dean Vaughan.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Peter 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent