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1 Peter 4:1-6
Christ suffered in the flesh.
The Redeemer of the world is in one sense infinitely above us; but in another sense He is actually beside us. His sympathy is as true as His sovereignty.
I. Try to understand what the sufferings of Jesus were. “He suffered in the flesh.” No one can read the Gospels without seeing indications of those sufferings.
1. There can be no doubt that Jesus was exempted from many of the physical ills from which we suffer. We can only think of Him as healthy, not only because of His birth, but because the exacting nature of His self-forgetful work required a perfect physique. Besides this, we must remember that many of our physical sufferings we bring on ourselves. Idleness, self-indulgence, artificial modes of life, irregularities, are the causes of many of the ills which flesh is heir to; but the life of Jesus was exquisite in its simplicity and unstained by a single vicious propensity. And this reminds us further that He could not have suffered, as we do, from a sense of personal sin, from the remorse which follows after our utterance of an unkind word, or the indulgence of an evil propensity, or from the tumult of passion which rises up within a sinful heart. Yet He was a sufferer. “He was a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” “Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses.” But besides these His whole life was a martyrdom. His sensibility, not only to physical pain, but to mental and moral agony, must have been exquisite.
2. Think, too, of His utter loneliness. His was the solitude of a holy soul surrounded by sinners; of a heavenly spirit in contact with things earthly and sensual; of a mind whose higher thoughts not a single being on earth could appreciate; whose truest objects in living and dying as He did none could comprehend.
3. That expression, “in the flesh,” reminds us of His uncongenial surroundings. He lived and died among a despised people, and was regarded as an outcast even by some of them! Often must He have felt as the Jews did when, exiled from home and fatherland, they hanged their harps upon the willows, and wept as they remembered Zion, saying, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
II. How these sufferings were endured by Him.
1. It is evident that He accepted them as God’s appointment for Him here. “The cup which My Father hath given Me shall I not drink it?” indicates His attitude to trouble right through. If a day’s ministry brought Him no result, He did not repine; if His own nation rejected Him, He meekly accepted the result, though with unutterable sorrow over the issues of it to them; if the Cross was to be faced, He went forth willingly to Calvary, there to die-the just for the unjust-to bring us unto God.
2. Notice also that our Lord never allowed Himself to be absorbed in His own sorrows. He was always ready to enter into other people’s joys and griefs, whatever His own sorrows might be. He is not so absorbed in the joys of heaven that He will not listen to the faltering cry of the lowliest penitent. I have known some sufferers who have been armed with the same mind. Their unselfishness has been sublime. Their couch of pain has proved the centre of joy and peace to those who circle round them.
III. But how can we do this? (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
I. Christ suffered in human nature. His sufferings in the flesh were-
1. Great, corporeal, social, mediatorial.
2. Ignominious. Poverty, obloquy, persecution, crucifixion.
II. Christ suffered for men.
III. Christ suffered with a spirit which men should cultivate.
1. Profoundly religious.
2. Self denyingly philanthropic.
IV. The possession of this spirit is the power to deliver us from moral evil. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Use sin, as Christ was used when He was made sin for us; lift it up, and make it naked by confession to God. And then pierce-
1. The hands of it, in respect of operation, that it may work no more.
2. The feet of it, in respect of progression, that it go no further.
3. The heart, in respect of affection, that it may be loved no longer. (J. Trapp.)
Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.-
Conformity with Christ
I. The high engagement to this conformity. “He suffered for us in the flesh.” We are the more obliged to make His suffering our example, because it was to us more than an example; it was our ransom. This makes the conformity reasonable in a double respect. It is due that we follow Him, who led us as the Captain of our salvation; that we follow Him in suffering and in doing, seeing both were for us. What can be too bitter to endure, or too sweet to forsake, to follow Him? Were this duly considered, should we cleave to our lusts or to our ease? Should we not be willing to go through fire and water, yea, through death itself, yea, were it possible, through many deaths, to follow Him? Consider, as this conformity is due, so it is made easy by His suffering for us. Our chains which bound us over to eternal death being knocked off, shall we not walk, shall we not run, in His ways?
II. The nature of this conformity, to show the nearness of it, is expressed in the very same terms as in the pattern; it is not remote resemblance, but the same thing, even “suffering in the flesh.” But that we may understand rightly what suffering is here meant, it is plainly this, “ceasing from sin.” So that this “suffering in the flesh” is not simply the enduring of afflictions, which is a part of the Christian’s conformity to His Head, but it implies a more inward and spiritual suffering. It is the suffering and dying of our corruption, the taking away of the life of sin by the death of Christ: the death of His sinless flesh works in the believer the death of sinful flesh, that is, the corruption of His nature, which is so usually in Scripture called “flesh.” “Ceased from sin.” He is at rest from it, a godly death, as they who die in the Lord rest from their labours. Faith so looks on the death of Christ, that it takes the impression of it, sets it on the heart, kills it unto sin. Christ and the believer do not only become one in law, so that His death stands for theirs, but one in nature, so that His death for sin causes theirs to it (Romans 6:3).
III. The actual improvement of this conformity. “Arm yourselves with the same mind,” or thoughts of this mortification. Consider and apply the suffering of Christ in the flesh, to the end that you with Him suffering in the flesh, may cease from sin. Think that it ought to be thus, and seek that it may be thus with you. “Arm yourselves.” There is still fighting, and sin will be molesting you; though wounded to death, yet will it struggle for life, and seek to wound its enemy; it will assault the graces that are in you. You may take the Lord’s promise for victory in the end; that shall not fail; but do not promise yourself ease in the way, for that will not hold. If at sometimes you be undermost, give not all up for lost; he hath often won the day who hath been foiled and wounded in the fight. But likewise take not all for won, so as to have no more conflict, when sometimes you have the better in particular battles. Now the way to be armed is this, “the same mind.” How would my Lord Christ carry Himself in this case? And what was His business in all places and companies? Was it not to do the will and advance the glory of His Father? Thus ought it to be with the Christian, framing all his ways, and words, and very thoughts, upon that model, the mind of Christ, and studying in all things to walk even as He walked; studying it much, as the reason and rule of mortification, and drawing from it, as the real cause and spring of mortification. (Abp. Leighton.)
I. The cardinal truth of Christianity Christ hath suffered for us.”
II. The Christian’s cardinal duty-“Christ having suffered for us, arm yourselves with the same mind.”
1. Arm yourselves with the same mind as to the method of conduct.
2. Arm yourselves with the same mind as to the purpose in view.
III. The Christian’s daily course of life-that we should no longer live, etc. (J. J. S. Bird.)
Christ the grand necessity of man
I. Christ’s “mind” is the weapon with which man is to fight his way on to moral perfection. His moral perfection is here taught. But to reach this what a battle man has to fight! By the “mind of Christ” we are to understand, of course, not His mere intellect, great as it was, nor His conscience, sublimely pure though it was; but the moral spirit that inspired and directed all His intellectual and moral powers. By His “mind” we mean, in one word, His moral character. Now this is the weapon by which alone man can win victories over evil, and obtain the crown of life, namely, conformity to the “will of God.” Doctrines will not do it, however Scriptural; religious rites will not do it, however studiously observed. Who is the man in our world the most successful in putting down wrong? Not the legislator, however just the laws he enacts; not the moralist, however cogent his arguments and powerful his rhetoric; but the man who has the “mind of Christ” as his armour.
II. Christ’s “sufferings” are the argument for the employment of this weapon. First, the sufferings of Christ were “in the flesh.” He was in the flesh, but not flesh. Secondly, Christ suffered “in the flesh” in order to establish human holiness. “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lust of men, but to the will of God.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The rest of his time in the flesh.-
“The rest of his time in the flesh”
Who can tell how long that may be for any one of us? The sands run swiftly through life’s hour glass. The shadow hastens to go down upon the dial. The waves eat away so quickly the dwindling shoal of land which crumbles beneath us. The Christian finds nothing in such thoughts to make him sad. Every milestone marks the growing nearness of his home. The waves cannot be crossed too swiftly by the eager traveller. Before us lie the ages of eternity, filled with a blessedness of personal enjoyment and rapturous ministry which defy tongue to tell or mind to picture. But the blessed future must not divert our thoughts from the duties to be discharged during the rest of the time which we are to spend in the flesh. We must not be dreamers, but warriors. To arms! Arm yourselves with the same mind; and when we ask, “What mind?” we are told to arm ourselves with the mind that took Jesus to His death. In a venerable old church at Innsbruck, famous for containing the tomb of the great Emperor Maximilian, there is a magnificent bronze statue of Godfrey of Boulogne, the illustrious crusader. His head is covered with a helmet, and on the helmet rests a crown of thorns. Of course, there was a meaning in the mind of the artist other than that with which we now invest the strange conjunction. He doubtless designed to represent the sacred cause for which that helmet was donned. But we may discover an apt symbol of the teaching of our apostle, who unites in these verses the armour of the Christian soldier, and the recollection of Christ’s suffering in the flesh. This witness of the sufferings of Christ first takes us to the Cross; and after gazing reverently on that spectacle of love, we are brought to a point where two ways diverge. And the only way of discovering and maintaining the right path is to imbibe the spirit of that wondrous death; nay, to bind it around us as a talisman of victory. “In hoc signo vinces.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The right use of the residue of our time
I. Negatively. “Not to the lusts of men!” This does not mean that we are to neglect our bodily interests. What are the lusts? Animal instincts grown to a dominant force.
II. Positively. “To the will of God.” This implies-
1. That God has a will.
2. That God has a will concerning men.
3. That God’s will is revealed.
What is the will of God concerning men? First, it is His will that we should believe in Christ (John 6:29; 1 John 3:23). Secondly, it is His will that we shall be purified from sin. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Thirdly, it is His will that we should cultivate a practical gratitude for all the blessings of life (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Fourthly, it is His will that every man shall be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The time in the flesh
I. Our time in the flesh is chequered.
II. Our time in the flesh is short.
III. Our time here is uncertain.
IV. Our time here is important. (Homilist.)
To the lusts of men.
Men’s lusts opposed to God’s will
1. To live after the lusts of men and to the will of God are opposite each to other as light and darkness.
2. We cannot at one and the same time both walk after our lusts and live to God’s will. One lust loved, sufficient to condemn.
3. In the course of sanctification, we must begin at renouncing our own will, and the lusts of men. None sow a plant till weeds be pulled up; none put on new apparel till they have put off their rags.
4. It is not sufficient that we renounce our lusts and evil, except we yield obedience to the will of God.
5. It is not one action or two whereby a man is discovered what he is, but his constant course of walking or living. (John Rogers.)
The flesh rightly used
The flesh itself, under the calm subduing influence of your purer spirit, will become a dignified servant in waiting on its superior. Good gardeners know a better way of conquering the wild thorn than by uprooting and destroying it. They set it in their garden. They graft it on some queenly rose. Then the wild thorn expends its energy not upon itself, but upon that which is above itself; and as a reward is crowned with a glory which itself could not possibly produce. (G. Calthrop.)
To the will of God.-
Will of God
1. It is a good will.
2. A holy will.
3. A just will.
4. An impartial will.
5. A practicable will.
6. A supreme will.
7. An obligatory will. (John Bate.)
Living to God’s will
I. This is the lesson of man’s past evil life.
(1) Enough of sin, because of its-
(2) Degradation to self.
(3) Injuriousness to others.
(4) Rebellion against God.
(1) Forgiveness for time past.
(2) Deliverance from time past.
II. Notwithstanding bad men’s wonder at good men’s conduct, what Peter said two thousand years ago is true today. The thoroughly corrupt man finds it impossible to understand the Christly man.
1. He thinks his conduct strange, and so, perhaps, ignores him altogether.
2. Or he thinks his conduct strange, and is aggravated by it.
3. Or he thinks his conduct strange, and it leads him to inquire. This is the good effect.
III. Both Christ’s judgment and Christ’s Gospel are for all. (U. R. Thomas.)
The perfection of a man’s nature is when his will fits on to God’s like one of Euclid’s triangles superimposed upon another, and line for line coincides. When his will allows a free passage to the will of God, without resistance, as light travels through transparent glass; when his will responds to the touch of God’s finger upon the keys, like the telegraphic needle to the operator’s hand; then man has attained all that God and religion can do for him, all that his nature is capable of.
The will of God
What a glorious contrast to the will of the flesh is “the will of God”! This was the food of Jesus. To do this He came to earth. It was the fire cloud that lit His pathway, the yoke in carrying which He found rest, the Urim and Thummim, which dimmed or shone with heavenly guidance. There is no course more safe or blessed than to live in the will of God. God’s will is good will. Where the will of God lies across the wilderness pathway, there flowers bloom, and waters gush from rocks of flint. Sometimes the flesh rebels against it, because it means crucifixion and self-denial, but under the rugged shell the sweetest kernel nestles, and none know the ecstasy of living save those who refuse the broad, easy road of the lusts of men, to climb the steep, upward path of doing the will of God from the heart. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1 Peter 4:3-5
The time past of our life may suffice us.
The consideration of misspent time an incentive to repentance
1. The time spent in sin, we know how much it is, but what is behind we know not. The devil is sure of his part, but what God shall have, whether half or a quarter, so much is uncertain. If we knew we should live twenty years more to serve God as we have done twenty years in sin, God should have but the half, but we know not whether we shall live twenty days. Should we then defer?
2. Time is very precious, above gold and silver, and hereof we have squandered a great part.
3. There is no time to be spent in sin, but we are to serve God in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Therefore, having robbed Him of some of His due, is it not well He will take this that remains?
4. Whatsoever time is spent till we return to God is all going out of the way; and if a man hath gone out of the way but till eight or nine o’clock, assuredly that is more than enough.
5. Whatsoever time is spent that way is but doing that that must be undone again and repented of. Is not a little of this too much? Who will willingly so do his work that it must be ravelled out again?
6. All that is done this way is for the devil, our sworn enemy, for whom even the least is too much; for the flesh, to which we owe nothing; and for the world, which is our deadly enemy.
7. It is all done against God, to whom we owe all; and is it not then sufficient we have wronged Him so far?
8. And all is against our own souls; and have we not wounded them enough already? (John Rogers.)
What is time? Without regard to philosophic niceties, I may say that it is limited duration, vouchsafed to man for moral purposes, through the mediation of Christ.
I. As a portion of probationary existence. “Time past of our life.” Take three views of the years that have departed.
1. Look at what they have given us.
2. Look at what they have taken away from us. The warm impulses and tender sensibilities of childhood and youth. Precious gifts are these! What friends are gone!
3. Look at what they have left us. They have left us life, reason, memory, religious privileges, augmented responsibility, wider memories, and greater power for good and evil. Many precious germs of blessedness.
II. As a course of wrong moral conduct. The apostle intimates that those to whom he wrote had, during the past years, “wrought the will of the Gentiles.” During the time past of their lives they had not been passive but active. What was this will of the Gentiles? The will of corrupt humanity. Nothing more, nothing less. Every wheel in its vast and complicated machinery is moved and ruled by this. It is true that this will works in different men with different instruments and under different phases of character. Its language in some is vulgar, in others classic; in some obscene, in others refined.
1. That this will is generally the ruling power in the first stages of man’s history.
2. That there is a danger even of good men yielding to its influence.
III. As an argument for immediate improvement. “For the time past of our life may suffice,” etc. The urgency of this will appear from two considerations.
1. The will of God ought to have swayed with an absolute power from the commencement of our responsible life.
2. All the time that has been spent in neglect of this has been spent in contracting guilt and increasing our exposure to ruin. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The voice of the past
Life! What mystery is wrapped up in life! How great the power needed to originate it! What transcendent worth be longs to human life! to-
I. “Our life.” “Our life” is redeemed life. It was great to speak a world from nought; greater to create moral life and fashion it after the Divine original; greatest to redeem.
II. “The past of life.” How little we know of the past-taking the word in its comprehensive relationship to the world! As question of history we know something of the world’s civilisation, science, art, human laws, etc. But what do we know of the individual experience of mankind-its joys and sorrows? But there is a past for which God holds us responsible-an individual past.
III. “The time past of our life.” Nothing that I have is my own. I belong to God, in body, soul, and spirit. I am, therefore, accountable to Him for my time. Life is God’s loan to man, and time man’s “life rent of the world.” In the great day we are to stand before God to give an account of our stewardship. The “life rent” which the great Proprietor claims is service. He has put us into His beautiful world to make it more beautiful by adding moral to material beauty. If we fail to render this service we shall lose our life, in a sense which human language is not adequate to express. “And now what have we to say with respect to this strange, solemn thing-Time?-that men do with it through life just what the apostles did for one precious irreparable hour of it in the garden of Gethsemane-they go to sleep! What opportunities have we lost! What privileges forfeited! What work for God neglected!” The secret of all the failures which have been enumerated is expressed by the apostle in one word, self-will-“the will of the Gentiles.” Man doing his own will is the history of the world’s sin and woe. Adoption into the family of God does not exempt us from its insidious workings. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” asks us to let the past “suffice to have wrought the wilt of the Gentiles,” to renew our early vows, our first love, to be henceforth inspired with the holy ambition to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” To attain unto this we must yield our wills to God. What are we living for?-for God or for self? (A London Suburban Minister.)
The old year and the new
Look at the qualities that are here forbidden. Lust, lasciviousness, drunkenness, carousings-all these are especially mentioned; and the apostle declares that the time past suffices. You have had experience enough in regard to those things; it is time to leave them. There are multitudes of men that are sacking their very constitution; for whatever may be the opinions of men as to the morality of lascivious conduct, there can be no doubt as to the folly of it. And what shall I say of the concurrent danger of drunkenness, or excessive indulgence of the appetite? Surely I need not point out how base the life of a man is whose whole being circles around about that carnal, animal appetite; upon whom the habit is growing, and, like a maelstrom, swings into its centre, destroying everything that is pure and beautiful that comes near it. It sacks and ransacks the whole nobility of a man. The time past is sufficient for such things. But then there are a great many men that do not consider themselves either lascivious or drunkards. Nevertheless, carousings are familiar to them. What an ignoble way of living to make the whole of life consist, not in building up, but in the commerce of the lower feelings, and the prostitution of the sanctities of friendship to make the friendship of the cup, in all that wild excitement which breeds no single new idea, cleanses no single passion, throws light upon no single element of beauty, but is pure buoyancy of the flesh and the enjoyment of animal life! Higher than these, but still under the ban, are all forms of life where feeling and endeavour are concentrated upon frivolous social enjoyments, with their very selfishness and vanity and pride. I would not restrict the enjoyment of the young, except it trenched upon higher and nobler obligations. I love elasticity of spirit, overflow of pleasantry. All these things I believe belong to life; and just as much under the gospel as outside of it-yea, more. Now in regard to these passions, and the lower forms of intense self-indulgence particularly, the apostle is speaking here, and says, “The time past ought to suffice.” All these wastes and degradations ought to cease absolutely. They shut out a man’s reason. They shut out his best nature. They stand in the way of the accomplishment of the final ends of life. There are times when all these indulgences may be left. The time past gives men sufficient experience and knowledge, both of their uselessness and of their wastefulness, and also of their peril; and that is the time when men should stop and say, “Well, I have had enough of that, now and forever.” Time enough to bring the higher qualities of your mind to sit in judgment over the lower. The conscience is Chief Justice. Call up those criminal appetites. Let them hear the judge decide, and follow the decision. The time past is sufficient for knowledge and for judgment. That which is true of these lower passions and appetites is lust as true of the higher and inanimate one of a frivolous, self-indulgent, wasteful life that proposes nothing, but dances on from hour to hour, with no more purpose than the butterflies or the insects of a summer day have. The time past is sufficient. Now, allow me to ask you: Are there not in your life some things palpitating, fresh and warm in your bosom, that you know to be wrong in your career? Is it not time for a change? And if your faults are superficial, if they are simply faults of temper, or of balance in the development of your life outwardly, is there nothing in your home life, is there nothing in your friendship life, is there nothing in your business life, judged by the canons of morality, and still more judged by the higher forms of supreme duty, that needs to be changed? Are you the chief occupant of your own self? or are there vermin that dwell in the cracks and crevices and partitions of the soul house? And if there is something more than faults, if there is something that lies deeper, ought you not, above all, for this to make a solemn pause? Be manly, and take a nobler view of what a man is born for, and of what his duty is to himself, to his fellow men, to society, to God, and to eternity; and form a judgment of your self for the old year; and on that deliberate personal investigation of facts and dispositions in your own case put the question to yourself, “Have not I carried this thing far enough?” If you will do that, you will have taken one step; and will you follow that up by proposing to yourself a deliberate decision? Now, in all these changes that are going on in the human soul it is too often the case that a man says, “I mean to try it; but I am not going to expose myself to ridicule, because I may not be able to carry this thing out; and if I don’t, well, nobody will know it, and I will be no worse off than I was before.” That is to say, you leave a door of retreat open for yourself. I would not give the turn of my hand for a man’s purpose who says he is going to change, but leaves all the old influences at work, and all the means of escape from his resolution at command. It is an illusion, and it is the repetition of these things that discourages men finally, and makes them believe they cannot reform and cannot do what they ought to do. If you are going to make a decision, do it on business principles. As all resolutions are so fugitive, so unstable, and as experience has shown that they are so unless when a man wants to correct a habit, commit yourself. What is the effect of committing yourself? Your pride and your vanity now work toward you and for you, whereas otherwise they would work against you. It is going with the current, instead of against it; with the wind, instead of against the wind. Therefore, hedge yourself; trust in somebody. Now is the time for thought; now is the time for purpose; now is the time for declaring your purpose; now is the time to begin. Whatever changes are necessary, will you make them now? (H. W. Beecher.)
A sinner changed by grace
I. The walk of a natural man described. He works “the will of the Gentiles,” and lives in sin.
II. The great change that the grace of God makes in a natural man. The change we mean is far more than the mere reformation of a sinner’s life; it is an inward, supernatural change wrought by the Spirit of God, and by means of the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16).
III. The reasonableness of this change.
1. Sin is a dreadful waste of precious time.
2. Sin is a useless thing.
3. Sin is extremely hurtful and dangerous to ourselves and others.
4. Sin is highly dishonourable to the blessed God.
5. A life of sin is directly contrary to our Christian profession.
IV. The usage which a changed person may expect to meet with from a wicked world. Now, here observe that where such a change as this takes place it is visible; for if the world did not see it, they could not hate it. The change cannot be hid. Carnal companions will be deserted; places of vain amusement forsaken. This will excite hatred. “The carnal mind is enmity against God,” and everything godly and Godlike (Romans 8:7). (G. Burder.)
I. The world silently condemned by the Church. This is often done not so much positively as negatively. It is very peculiar, for they condemn them without saying a word, simply by “not running into the same excess of riot”; and this, it seems, is exceedingly well understood by the worldly party. Noah condemned the world by what he did, as well as by what he said; every stroke of his hammer was a sermon. The marked avoidance of the prevailing sins and follies of the world is often felt to be a powerful condemnation of them. But why should Christians thus refuse to mingle themselves up with the evil of the world?
1. Love to Christ requires it. “Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves, therefore, with the same mind.”
2. The painful remembrance of the past prompts it. “The time past may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles.” It is always a sad thought to the Christian to look back upon his past devotedness to the sins of the world.
3. Christian consistency requires it. “Let every one depart from iniquity.” A wicked life in a Christian is an indignity committed upon his Master in the disguise of a friend, and an outrage against the gospel. It seems to declare either that this religion tolerates immorality, or that it has not sufficient authority to enforce its own laws.
4. Your own highest interests demand it.
II. The Church censured by the world.
1. In their thoughts. “They think it strange that ye run not into this excess of riot”; but pardon me if I say they would think it stranger if you did. They may dislike you now, but they would certainly despise you then. “They think it strange.” Why? Because they know nothing of the high standard of excellence which Christians possess; nor of the elevated principles by which they are actuated; nor of the superior sources of pleasure which are open to them. The Christian and the worldly man have both reason to wonder at each other. The worldling wonders that the Christian loves Christ so much: the Christian wonders that the worldling loves Him so little.
2. In their speeches. They speak evil of you, and contemptuously, as precise, formal, unsocial, repulsive. The Jews spoke evil of the prophets; Ahab spoke evil of Micaiah: “I hate him, for he always prophesies evil of me.” The disciples were “a sect everywhere spoken against.”
3. In their writings. Pliny wrote to the Roman emperor to complain of the Christian converts, as addicted to a morose and severe superstition. Infidel and irreligious men have indited many a sarcasm against the Christian cause.
4. By their conduct. That is, towards Christians, whom they persecute in various ways.
III. The judgment of God concerning both. “Who shall judge both quick and dead.”
1. The certainty of the judgment. “They shall give an account.”
2. The speediness of the judgment. “He is ready to judge.”
3. The universality of the judgment. “The quick and dead.”
4. The consequences of the judgment. The awards of eternity are final, and they are extreme. (The Evangelist.)
Counteracting the good
God’s law is a guide which conducts surely to the goal. His precepts are nought but communications of free favour. But what does the blinded world see in these precepts, testimonies, and statutes? First, we are told, it surprises, seems unaccountable to them, that believers run not in their ways. They put on an air of astonishment when you decline doing so. “Why then,” they ask, “do you refuse? Thousands upon thousands are on this side, and among them so many men of note, so many prominent members both in Church and State!” But we are told they blaspheme all who are not moved from their stedfastness. Their blasphemy consists, first, in their accusing God’s true witnesses of blasphemy. They stand up and say, “This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law”; or, this is the man “that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place” (Acts 6:13; Acts 21:28). They abide by the old slander, “We have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). To the righteous acts of the pious man unworthy motives are attributed, and he is made a mark for the arrows of evil tongues, solely because he seeks the good of Israel all his life long. If he rest in the promises of God, even these are made the subject of mockery! But such blasphemy and pretended surprise is very painful to the righteous, and a real snare to their feet, out of which they do indeed need to be helped. How often are the weak, and even the apparently strong in faith, induced for a time to run with those who make either a mock or a sport of sin! Yes, verily, nothing short of almighty grace will suffice to enable a man calmly to take on himself the dishonour with which his Lord was dishonoured, and to bear with a chivalrous courage the contempt and shame which, for Christ’s name’s sake, the world heaps upon him! (H. F. Kohlbrugge, D. D.)
The pleasures of a holy life inexplicable to the ungodly
The Roman soldiers, at the sacking of Jerusalem, entered the temple, and went into the Sanctum Sanctorum; but seeing no images there, as they used to have in their own idolatrous temple, gave out in a jeer that the Jews worshipped the clouds. And thus because the pleasures of righteousness and holiness are not so gross as to come under the cognisance of the world’s carnal senses (as their brutish ones do), therefore they laugh at the saints, as if their joy were but the child of fancy, and they do but embrace a cloud instead of Juno herself, a fantastic pleasure for the true; but let such know that they carry in their bosom what will help them to think the pleasures of a holy life more real, and that the power of holiness is so far from depriving a man of the joy and pleasure of his life, that there are incomparable delights and pleasures peculiar to the holy life, which the gracious soul finds in the ways of righteousness. (J. Spencer.)
Excess of riot
A strong and expressive metaphor, especially in countries where, after violent rain, the gutters are suddenly swollen and pour their contents together with violence into a common sewer. Such is the apostolic figure of vicious companies rushing together in filthy confusion for reckless indulgence and effusion in sin. (C. Wordsworth.)
to virtue are like breezes of air to the flame: gentle ones will fan it, but strong ones will put it out. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
must first have the warrant that it is without sin; and then the measure, that it is without excess. (T. Adams.)
1 Peter 4:7-11
The end of all things is at hand.
The end of all things
I. The solemn truth here announced.
1. The end of your earthly engagements is at hand.
2. The end of your worldly enjoyments is at hand.
3. The end of trial and sorrow to the godly is at hand.
4. The end of our privileges and opportunities is at hand.
5. The end of our probation is at hand.
II. The important considerations founded on this truth.
1. Be sober.
2. Be watchful.
3. Be prayerful. (Pulpit Studies.)
The end of all things at hand
“The end of all things is at hand.”
1. This is literally true of all those objects which we see or which are obvious to any of our senses. They are temporal; they have had a beginning, they shall have an end. The material universe, in all its beauty, forms but a single link in the plans of that adorable Being who is without beginning of days or end of time; and its whole duration is but a single step in the march of that government which is from everlasting to everlasting.
2. The end of all things earthly is at hand, so far as we are concerned with them, or take an interest in them, because we shall soon leave them all behind. To each of us the time is short. Our days are but an hand’s breadth. Shall we devote ourselves to pursuits we must so soon abandon? Shall we heap up treasures in this world as if it were our eternal home, when we know not at what moment we shall be summoned to bid a last adieu to all things earthly?
3. The end of all things is at hand, because all the objects of time and sense are frail and fluctuating; human society, in all its relations and interests, is full of change; and the world itself, with everything fair and excellent that it contains, is constantly fading and dying around us. And now what practical lessons ought we to learn from the view we have thus taken of ourselves, as dying creatures, and of this as a fading world? Surely we ought to give heed to the exhortation, “Be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer.” Shall we not subdue and restrain within the strictest bounds of temperance those appetites and passions which belong only to these dying bodies, and which, if indulged, will destroy our souls? But the subject should teach us lessons of devotion as well as of soberness. “Watch unto prayer.” Shall we forget that awful eternity on whose very threshold we daily walk, or fail to recognise our relations to that adorable Being whose glorious perfections will so soon break in unclouded splendour upon our souls? Forbid it, reason, duty, conscience; forbid, Parent of our mercies. (W. J. Armstrong.)
The nearness of eternity
I. The end of all things is at hand. Nothing abides around you. Like the stream which wanders through the valley, everything is flowing by. A single year is often sufficient to change the whole complexion of life. The Christian contemplates, if with awe, yet in peace, the breaking up of all human schemes, and societies, and pleasures, and gains, and losses. He anticipates the wreck, but he feels himself to be in the ark.
II. The practical influence of this consideration.
1. Sobriety of mind is that temperate use of all earthly things, and that moderate estimate of their worth, which disposes the Christian rather to detach his affections from present objects, than to be inordinately excited by them. The near view of eternity peculiarly assists him in this moderation as to worldly enjoyments.
2. Prone, however, to be misled by his senses, he feels the necessity of incessant watchfulness. “Be ye therefore sober, and watch.” His natural love of ease, his reluctance to self-denial will but too readily dispose him to adopt the theory rather than the practice of sobriety. Hence it becomes his duty to be ever vigilant over his own spirit, to examine candidly the actual habit of his mind; to watch diligently lest he act inconsistently with his professed principles; lest the world exert an undue influence over his heart; lest self-delusion put him off his guard.
3. But the apostle directs believers to connect this sobriety and this vigilance with prayer. Indeed prayer is the only source of this sobriety and this watchfulness of mind. The brightest impressions fade from the soul if they are not renewed continually by the grace and blessing of God. Hence prayer is to the Christian the very life and health of his soul. (G. S. Noel, M. A.)
The nearness of eternity
There is a great contrast between the believers of the apostolic age and ourselves. The voyager detects the near proximity of land by the fresh land breeze which breathes in his face, wafting the sounds and scents of forest, or prairie, or heather covered hill. So through these Epistles we inhale another atmosphere than that with which we are so familiar in Christian societies. We live in the world and pay occasional visits into the unseen and eternal; they lived in the unseen and eternal, and paid periodic necessary visits into the world. We conform to the world; they were transformed by the daily renewing of their minds. We read the society papers, discuss society gossip, send our children into society, and strive to hold our own in dress and appointments with the cream of society around us; they, on the other hand, were thought strange and ridiculous, because they lived amongst men as “the children of the resurrection.” Surely the contrast is not to our credit, although we vaunt our fancied superiority. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Waiting for the end
The warning of the apostle meant one thing to the Jew, another to the Christian. To the Jew it meant that the end of his nation, as a nation, had come. It meant that all the types and signs of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Christ, the true Light had appeared, and the shadows must flee away. But for the Christian the text moans more. For each of us, in one way or another, it is true that “the end of all things is at hand.” Yes, of all things which belong to this life.
1. The end of earthly greatness, or wealth, or pleasure, is at hand. We read of our most famous heroes, conquerors, statesmen, and all we can see of them is a tomb in our calm cathedral. When the famous General and Conqueror Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, was old they used to beguile the tedious hours by reading aloud the history of his own campaigns. Then he would turn to the reader and ask the question, “Who commanded?” He had forgotten all the glories of Blenheim, and of Ramillies, of Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. I saw but lately a lock of King Charles I’s hair, that is all that remains of the martyr king of England. The end of earthly greatness is at hand.
2. Again, the end of earthly friendship and connections is at hand.
3. Next, the end of our opportunities is at hand. Ah! make the most of your chances; once lost, they come not back again. Wisely did the old Greeks write upon the walls of one of their temples, “Know thy opportunity.”
4. Once more, the end of our time of trial and waiting is at hand. Peter bids us prepare ourselves for that great beginning which commences when this life is ended. He bids us to be sober, to be watchful in prayer, to have fervent love for one another, and to show it in deeds as well as words. You would not expect the flowers to grow in your garden if the weeds were allowed to have the upper hand. Neither can you expect the graces of the soul to flourish if your body is your master. And not only should we be sober in our bodily passions, but in our words. There are many good people, sober people in other things, who are very intemperate in their talk. And again, we need to be sober in our religion, especially in these days. I do not mean that we are to be idle and indifferent, but we need not be noisy. Next, we are bidden to watch unto prayer. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
Be ye therefore sober.-
Soberness and watchfulness
I. The solemn fact, by the mention of which it is evidently the design of the apostle to arouse thought, to set the religious imagination on the full stretch of all its powers. “The end of all things is at hand.” Different interpretations have been put upon this expression. Some understand it of Christ’s coming at the end of the world; others only the dissolution of the Jewish ecclesiastical polity, then about to receive its last blow at the hands of the armies of Vespasian. The predicted accompaniments of the destruction of Jerusalem were so overwhelmingly awful, that, for all practical purposes to the men of that generation, the event might as well have been the winding up of the present economy-the termination of the life of all human kind. And we see at once the force of the motive drawn from this reference to “the end of all things.” It is to make us connect with everything belonging to our present state the idea of unsettledness; to keep our hearts from growing to particular places, or being bound up with particular forms of happiness; to make us feel that everything we love or look upon, in the present state, is waning, shifting, and of doubtful life. Oh! surely the anticipation of future good things should elevate, purify, solemnise, bless. It should teach moderation. It should incite to diligence.
II. Consider what duties devolve upon us in view of these expected consummations.
1. “Be sober.” The expression may be taken in many ways. For instance, we are to be sober in the use of God’s providential gifts. It is constantly assumed, in Scripture, that all habits of luxurious living, all undue con cessions to the desires of the lower nature, have an injurious effect upon character. They tend to impair the delicacy of the religious susceptibilities. They induce a dislike and reluctance to spiritual employments. They incapacitate for sympathy with distress and need. They tend to degrade and sensualise the whole man.
2. Again, the text may be considered as warning us to be sober in our aims of life; to keep clear of an entangled, perplexed, and cumbered spirit; not to raise the scaffolding of our worldly hopes too high, nor to have too many buildings going on at the same time. The reason for the admonition is to be found in the tendency of these overheated contests in the race of life to enslave, and pervert, and unspiritualise the best affections of the heart.
3. Further, I think the text would teach us to be sober in our griefs-whether in time of sickness, or sorrow, or adversity, or bereavement.
III. “And watch unto prayer.” The exhortation to “watch” supposes danger, weakness, a proneness to fall asleep, or the near presence of a foe. The text seems to point especially to certain dangers or hindrances we are liable to in the exercises of devotion: we are to “watch unto prayer.”
1. Thus we are to watch against weariness, and coldness, and faintings of heart in prayer. If prayer be the soul’s strength, the heart’s repose, the world’s antidote, the devil’s dread, why is it that we pray, not only so languidly, but so little? It is therefore languidly, because little. We do not tarry long enough in the exercise to realise that without which prayer is no prayer-namely, mental communion with the Infinite, something in our heart felt to be reciprocated and returned by the heart of God. To watch against the stealthy encroachments of the world, we shall do well to be early with our devotions.
2. Again, we should watch against the distracting influence of an over-anxious and careful spirit in prayer. A perplexity, a disappointment, a fancied grievance, a slight difference with a friend, an issue hanging in suspense, a feared evil which may never come-any one of these, if not watched against, may rob us of all peace in devotion for days together. But we must learn to drive these intruders from the altar, as Abraham drove the fowls away. A Christian is to commit his way unto the Lord, and all his way-his burden, and all his burden. And having cast his care upon the Lord, he leaves it where it is cast.
3. Further, we must watch against any unsubdued tendencies to evil in our own hearts, in prayer. These tendencies may show themselves either in act or in spirit; and, in either case, will raise up a cloud between us and the eternal throne, which no prayer can pass through.
4. Lastly, I would regard our text as an exhortation to watch against Unbelief in prayer; against any allowed misgivings of Christ’s love to pity or of His infinite ability to save. (D. Moore, M. A.)
There are sins of the spirit as well as sins of the flesh which the truly sober man will abstain from. The temperance commended in the New Testament is no one-sided, one-limbed virtue. It forbids the lust of wealth, and an extravagant devotion to business, and an inordinate indulgence in recreation, as truly as it forbids excess in drinking or gluttony in eating. It commands a wise self-government and a strong self-restraint in relation to all earthly pursuits and enjoyments and honours. The Puritanism that still lingers amongst us does not think too much about the quality, but it does think too little about the quantity of pleasure that is pursued. It is too often overlooked that probably people are spiritually damaged more by the extravagant amount than by the questionable character of their recreations. We prescribe some and we permit others; but discrimination as to the quality needs to be supplemented by an equal care as to the quantity. The exhortation of the apostle could be enforced by many facts from modern experience. Some wander away along the path of excessive pleasure-taking, and so the name is legion of those who, if they confessed truly, would have to say-
“The world is too much with us; late and soon
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
Watch unto prayer.-
Watchfulness and prayerfulness
In explaining this injunction we shall show the importance of a watchful and prayerful spirit by considering the innate disposition of the human heart.
I. The first characteristic of man’s sinful disposition, requiring watchfulness upon the part of a Christian, is its spontaneity. This is that quality in a thing which causes it to move of itself. The living spring spontaneously leaps up into the sunlight, while standing water must be pumped up. Were man reluctantly urged up to sin by some other agent than himself, there would be less call for watchfulness. But the perfect ease and pleasure with which he does his own sinning calls for an incessant vigilance not to do it. The imperfectly sanctified Christian needs not to make a special effort in order to transgress. Can religion in the heart conquer sin in the heart if we do not bring the two into close contact and conflict?
II. A second characteristic of man’s sinful disposition, requiring watchfulness and prayerfulness in the Christian, is the fact that it can be tempted and solicited to move at any moment. How easily is the remaining sin in us drawn out into exercise by tempting objects, and how full the world is of such objects! A hard word, an unkind look, a displeasing act on the part of another, will start sin into motion, instanter. Wealth, fame, pleasure, fashion, houses, lands, titles, husbands, wives, children, friends-in brief, all creation-has the power to educe the sinful nature of man. Consider what inducements to forget God, and to transgress His commandments, come from the worldly or the gay society in which we move. Is not the powder in the midst of the sparks? If unwatchful and prayerless, it is inevitable that we shall yield to these temptations.
III. A third characteristic of man’s innate disposition, requiring watchfulness and prayer, is the fact that it acquires the habit of being moved by temptation. It is more difficult to stop a thing that has the habit of ,notion, than one that has not, because habit is a second nature and imparts additional force to the first one. This is eminently true of sin, which by being allowed an habitual motion becomes so powerful that few overcome it. The cravings of unresisted sin at length become organic, as it were. For though the will to resist sin may die out of a man, the conscience to condemn it never can. The “ruin” of an immortal soul is no mere figure of speech. There is no ruin in the whole material universe to be compared with it, for transcendent awfulness. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire was a great catastrophe; but the decline and eternal fall of a moral being, originally made in the image of God, is a stupendous event. (J. T. Shedd, D. D.)
Watchfulness associated with prayerfulness
The word “watch” is a military term. It teaches us that the same alacrity and watchfulness which distinguish the soldier on duty and the sentinel at his post ought to characterise the Christian; and, as you know, the safety of an army, the chance of a victory, the success of a campaign may all be endangered without watchfulness on the part of the soldier and the sentinel. A like contingency may befall the Christian who is not watchful. Now, I would say, there are three ways in which this watchfulness is to be exercised. There is to be watchfulness over ourselves, watchfulness against our enemies, and watchfulness that we get Divine assistance to help us in our struggles. I would liken the Christian to a general commanding a besieged fortress, who has to watch that he may keep down mutiny within the garrison, who has to watch that he may repel the assaults of the enemy assailing the garrison from without, and who has to watch that he may get assistance from friends who are advancing to help him. And now notice, there is to be prayer in addition to watchfulness. Prayer is the breath of the soul, the life of the spirit, without which you can no more conceive of the Christian existing than of an eye seeing without light, or an ear hearing without being subjected to the sense of sound. Prayer is to the soul of the Christian what his senses are to his body. He not more surely tells his natural wants and gets them relieved, looks upon the beautiful objects in nature, holds intercourse with his friends, and feels himself in contact with the material world by means of his senses, than he tells his spiritual wants and gets them relieved, and holds intercourse with the Former of his body and the Father of his spirit by the exercise of prayer. And what is calculated to enhance the value of prayer is this, that while my senses permit me to look upon many beautiful objects, and urge me to possess them, because they are not mine, I am not permitted to enjoy them; whereas there is not a single possession within the wide domain of the spiritual world that is not placed at my disposal by prayer. If the Christian be weak, then he is strengthened by prayer. If he be in doubt, then his doubts are removed by prayer. If he be in difficulty, his difficulties are surmounted through prayer. But I have to tell you, in order to issue in such gracious results, prayer must be possessed of certain qualities.
1. And here I would say, first of all, prayer must be intelligent. In all cases, our first prayer needs to be, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
2. Further, I have to say, besides being intelligent, prayer must be humble. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth (and, of course, in answer to prayer) grace unto the humble.”
3. But, besides being intelligent and humble, prayer must be offered in faith. Just as you cannot get your diseased bodies cured without submitting to the prescriptions of your physician, which implies faith in his skill, so you cannot get your sick souls healed without faith in the Saviour’s willingness and ability to heal. You must approach Him as David did-and this implies faith-when he prayed: “Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.”
4. Further, I would say prayer must be in earnest. It is only the fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous man that availeth much. God only promises to answer earnest, importunate prayer.
5. I observe finally, here, that prayer must be constant. We have thus looked at these words separately. We will now look at them in their relation to each other. Like those other two features of our religious character-faith and works-which act and react upon each other, so that in proportion to the strength of our faith will be the number and excellency of our works, so in proportion to our spiritual watchfulness will be our prayerfulness. This, I hold, must be so from the necessity of the case; for the man who watches over himself is the man who discovers his own failings, the obstacles that impede his progress in the life of faith, and the number, the strength, and the power of his spiritual adversaries. What is the reason of the vast number of petitions that are presented to the Commons House of Parliament? Why, the inhabitants of these islands have watched the working of the British Constitution, and they have discovered that they have wants to be relieved, and grievances to be redressed, and think the Commons of England in their wisdom can relieve these wants and sweep away these grievances, and hence the table of the House is being constantly flooded with petitions. Well, the Christian watches and discovers his own weakness and liability to fall, the number, the vigilance and wiles of his spiritual foes, and he prays for Divine help to overcome them all. He watches, and, as a necessary consequence, prays. Indeed, such is our condition that we do not simply need to watch and pray to resist temptation, but to watch and pray that we may not enter into it, for there is every reason to believe that, were we to enter into it, we would yield to it; so that the only true course is, avoid it, and pass away. (J. Imrie, M. A.)
Watch unto prayer
Strange words for Simon Peter to use! For him, the impetuous, the thoughtlessly self-confident, to say, “Be sober,” seems a strange contradiction. Well were it for us if our failures led to a similar recovery. Human nature is impatient; we would overleap all barriers, and plunge at once into the full transport of enjoyment, just as the soldier prefers the dash of a sudden assault to the tediousness of a regular siege. Delay looks to us like defeat, like sure disappointment. Why should we have to wait when God might conclude all in an instant? Surely, though the Saviour has ascended up on high, there is enough of tits influence left in the world to sustain our courage for a little further delay. Why, with such precious gifts around us, should we avariciously demand the bestowal of all His store? It is “the patience of the saints” that God is looking to; He would see what we can bear for His sake, how long we can stay without doubting the sureness of His Word. I deny not the tryingness of waiting, but in that the real benefit of waiting consists. We fret for peace in the world, and men try, in one way or other, to force the current of the river and spread the fertilising waters over tracts so high that the forced stream cannot stay in the upland where they wish it to remain. Some would crush out the violence of nations and put down war by the sheer force of superior strength. The remedies to be used are-
1. Be sober. The universe cannot bend itself to your will, therefore look not for too great results.
2. Pray. The only instrument which man possesses for hastening on the triumph of good, the only reliable argument for converting the world, the only channel for peace to ourselves, is prayer.
3. Watch unto prayer. How is it that men become disheartened and cease to pray? The wish is uttered with all earnestness, but it is the convulsive effort of a moment, not sustained, nor followed up. And often the prayer is heard, but the suppliant heeds it not. Watchers see where others notice nothing, their senses are more acute. Act on the firm faith that every earnest prayer is heard, and then you will receive insight enough to trace the coming answer. Wait for it if it comes not at once; it will surely come, it will not tarry. Blows that would crush others will only prove the buoyancy of your faith. Failure in business, beggary, friendlessness, will not prevent your knowing the riches of contentment and of spiritual blessings. (G. F. Prescott, M. A.)
Watching in relation to prayer
How often it happens that when night comes a man prays rather from force of custom than from a sense of need. He has no prescribed form of prayer, and yet he finds himself continually repeating the same things. His supplications lack variety and force and definiteness. He is “as one that beateth the air.” This comes in a great measure from the fact that he does not “watch unto prayer.” He has taken little notice of his own spirit, and therefore he knows not his own weakness and his own necessities. The events of the day are not so remembered as to give form and colour and life to his evening supplications. The prayer that suits one day cannot effectually serve for all other days. Changes in ourselves and in our circumstances call for changes in our petitions. If a man pass through the day observing himself and increasing his self-knowledge, his devotions cannot always keep in old formal and familiar ruts, but they must sometimes flow with new vigour along the new channels which the new facts have made for them. We frequently confess that we know not what to pray for. Sometimes this ignorance is a weakness for which we are to be pitied. We cannot tell what tomorrow will bring forth, and therefore cannot tell what special grace to pray for. But sometimes our ignorance is our sin. We know not what to ask for because we have not by watching acquired the wisdom which guides supplication. (C. Vince.)
Watching for answers to prayer
When an archer shoots his arrow at a mark he likes to go and see whether he has hit it, or how near he has come to it. When you have written and sent off a letter to a friend you expect some day that the postman will be knocking at the door with an answer. When a child asks his father for something he looks in his face even before he speaks to see if he is pleased, and reads acceptance in his eyes. But it is to be greatly feared that many people feel when their prayers are over as if they had quite done with them. Their only concern was to get them said. Sailors in foundering ships sometimes commit notes in sealed bottles to the waves for the chance of their being some day washed on some shore. Sir John Franklin’s companions among the snows, and Captain Allen Gardiner, dying of hunger in his cave, wrote words they could not be sure anyone would ever read. But we do not need to think of our prayers as random messages. We should therefore look for reply to them, and watch to get it. (J. Edmond, D. D.)
The preeminence of charity
I. What charity is. It is not easy to find one word which adequately represents what Christ and His apostles meant by charity. Charity has become identified with almsgiving. Love is appropriated to one particular form of human affection, and that one with which self and passion mix inevitably. Philanthropy is a word too cold and negative.
1. Let us define Christian charity in two sentences.
(1) The desire to give. Let each man go deep into his own heart. Let him ask what that mysterious longing means which we call love, whether to man or God, when he has stripped from it all that is outside and accidental, when he has taken from it all that is mixed with it and perverts it. Not in his worst moments, but in his best, what did that yearning mean? I say it meant the desire to give. Not to get something but to give something. And the more irrepressible this yearning was, the more truly was his love. To give-whether alms in the shape of money, bread, or a cup of cold water, or else self. But be sure sacrifice in some shape or other is the impulse of love, and its restlessness is only satisfied and only gets relief in giving. For this, in truth, is God’s own love, the will and the power to give.
(2) The desire to bless. It wishes the well-being of the whole man-body, soul, and spirit, but chiefly spirit. And the highest love is the desire to make men good and Godlike; it may wish, as a subordinate attainment, to turn this earth into a paradise of comfort by mechanical inventions; but far above that, to transform it into a kingdom of God, the domain of love, where men cease to quarrel and to envy, and to slander and to retaliate. “This also we wish,” said St. Paul, “even your perfection.”
2. Concerning this charity we remark two points.
(1) “Fervent.” Literally intense, unremitting, unwearied. Give us the man who can be insulted and not retaliate, meet rudeness and still be courteous; the man who, like the Apostle Paul, buffeted and disliked, can yet be generous and make allowances and say, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you the less I be loved.” That is “fervent charity.”
(2) It is capable of being cultivated. When an apostle says, “Have fervent charity among yourselves,” it is plain that it would be a cruel mockery to command men to attain it if they could do nothing towards the attainment. How shall we cultivate this charity? Now I observe, first, love cannot be produced by a direct action of the soul upon itself. You cannot love by a resolve to love. That is as impossible as it is to move a boat by pressing it from within. Love is a feeling roused not from ourselves, but from something outside ourselves. There are, however, two methods by which we may cultivate this charity.
(a) By doing acts which love demands. It is God’s merciful law that feelings are increased by acts done on principle. Let a man begin in earnest with I ought, he will end, by God’s grace, if he persevere, with the free blessedness of I will. Let him force himself to abound in small offices of kindliness, attention, affectionateness, and all those for God’s sake. By and by he will feel them become the habit of his soul. By and by, walking in the conscientiousness of refusing to retaliate when he feels tempted, he will cease to wish it; doing good and heaping kindness on those who injure him he will learn to love them.
(b) By contemplating the love of God. You cannot move the boat from within, but you may obtain a purchase from without. You cannot create love in the soul by force from within itself, but you may move it from a point outside itself. God’s love is the point from which to move the soul. Love begets love. It is easy to be generous and tolerant and benevolent when we are sure of the heart of God, and when the little love of this life, and its coldness and its unreturned affections are more than made up to us by the certainty that our Father’s love is ours.
II. What charity does. It covereth a multitude of sins.
1. In refusing to see small faults. That microscopic distinctness in which all faults appear to captious men who are forever blaming, dissecting, complaining, disappears in the large, calm gaze of love. And oh! it is this spirit which our Christian society lacks, and which we shall never get till we begin each one with his own heart. What we want is, in one word, that graceful tact and Christian art which can bear and forbear.
2. Love covers sin by making large allowances. In all evil there is a “soul of goodness.” Most evil is perverted good. Now there are some men who see all the evil, and never trace, never give themselves the trouble of suspecting the root of goodness out of which it sprung. There are others who love to go deep down and see why a man came to do wrong, and whether there was not some excuse or some redeeming cause, in order that they may be just. Just, as “God is just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Now human life, as it presents itself to these two different eyes, the eye of one who sees only evil, and that of him who sees evil as perverted good, is two different things. Take an instance. Not many years ago a gifted English writer presented us with a history of ancient Christianity. To his eye the early Church presented one great idea, almost only one. He saw corruption written everywhere. In public and in private life, in theology and practice, within and without, everywhere pollution. Another historian, a foreigner, has written the history of the same times, with an intellect as piercing to discover the very first germ of error, but with a calm, large heart, which saw the good out of which the error sprung, and loved to dwell upon it, delighting to trace the lineaments of God, and discern His Spirit working where another could see only the spirit of the devil. And you rise from the two books with different views of the world: from the one, considering the world as a devil’s world, corrupting towards destruction; from the other, notwithstanding all, feeling triumphantly that it is God’s world, and that His Spirit works gloriously below it all. You rise from the study with different feelings: from the one, inclined to despise your species; from the other, able joyfully to understand in part why God so loved the world, and what there is in man to love, and what there is, even in the lost, to seek and save. Now that is the “charity which covereth a multitude of sins.” It understands by sympathy. It is that glorious nature which has affinity with good under all forms, and loves to find it, to believe in it, and to see it. And therefore such men-God’s rare and best ones-learn to make allowances, not from weak sentiment, which calls wrong right, but from that heavenly charity which sees right lying at the root of wrong.
3. Lastly, charity can tolerate even intolerance. St. Paul saw even in the Jews, his bitterest foes, that “they had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” St. Stephen prayed with his last breath, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Earth has not a spectacle more glorious or more fair to show than this-love tolerating intolerance, charity covering, as with a veil, even the sin of the lack of charity. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. A description of charity.
1. A sincere love to God as the spring of our love to our Christian brethren.
2. Charity comprehends such a habit of benevolence in the soul as disposes us to wish all good to others in all their capacities, in respect either of their souls, their bodies, their reputation, or their estate.
3. Wherever this benevolent principle is it will discover itself by a readiness to assist and relieve all men, especially those who stand in need of our help, according to our abilities.
4. That our charity may be complete, and deserve to be called fervent charity, it must extend to all men, even to our enemies.
II. Some arguments to improve and strengthen all tendencies in us to charity.
1. Fervent charity of all other things is most beneficial to society, nay, it is absolutely necessary to the good order, peace, and happiness of every society. And in this respect charity well deserves to be called the bond of perfectness.
2. The exercise of charity is agreeable to our natures. By being charitable we gratify the noblest of our inclinations and appetites.
3. It naturally follows from the former argument that the exercise of charity is the most delightful exercise we can choose for ourselves.
(1) This satisfaction doth not only just accompany a charitable action, but it is permanent, and endures as long as our lives.
(2) This pleasure and joy that attends charitable actions doth herein exceed all fleshly delights, that it is then at the highest when we stand in most need of it.
4. To be charitable, to wish, and to do good to others, is the most God-like qualification that we are capable of.
5. Another argument to excite us to the exercise of charity is taken from the command of Christ, the author of our religion. This is a very powerful consideration when we reflect what He hath done for us, and upon the example which He hath left us for our imitation.
6. We all partake of the same human nature, and are all born for society, so I might persuade to charity from this consideration, that we are all the children of the same heavenly Father, we have all the same Saviour, we have all one faith, and we expect to attain to the same perfect happiness in the end.
7. Let us exercise charity that we may adorn our Christian profession, and cause it to be well spoken of in the world.
8. To persuade us to exercise fervent charity among ourselves, let us consider that charity is the main part of the Christian religion, and as we shall be found to have or want charity, so must we stand or fall in the great day of judgment. Charity is the most acceptable sacrifice we can offer or service we can perform to God. It is said to be the fulfilling of the whole law. (P. Witherspoon.)
Dissuasives from uncharitableness
I. Your own character and habits.
1. Remember that you have the very same feelings which led to those faults you usually rail at, to their vices whose vices you condemn. Did vanity lead them to folly? that same vanity dwells with you. Did pride overthrow them? pride dwells royally with you. Did selfishness make them mean? are not you selfish? Did their appetites seduce them? are not those same seducers at work in your bosom?
2. But there is an additional reason for forbearing uncharitable censures in the multitude of your actual overt transgressions. They may not, to be sure, be of the same kind as those which you unfeelingly reprehend. Are they slovens? Perhaps you are wasters. They may be fickle whom you blame, you may be obstinate. If we looked as sharply at ourselves as we do at censured persons we might find their faults matched in every point in ourselves.
3. Even this, however, does not exhaust the point in hand. For in weighing relative guilt circumstances are always to be considered. Men may be so situated that a foible will be less excusable in them than a vice in others. While you freely rail at all around you perhaps God is putting you down, with all your proud morality, as the less excusable creature of the two. You may have a better mind, you may have been better trained, you may have been better educated, you may be in better circumstances, you may be surrounded by the influence of better associates, you may have ten restraints to others’ one, they may have ten temptations to your one.
4. The fourth particular is the remembrance of our past mischiefs as a motive for leniency of judgment.
II. The indignation experienced in view of evil is in a large proportion of cases selfish, and sometimes hypocritical and detestable, in the sight of God. I suppose that the feeling of condemnation is frequently more wicked than the thing condemned.
1. The first bill purporting to be a true indignation at evil has the plainest marks of a clumsy counterfeit. The feeling has no respect whatever to the moral qualities of the evil it chastises. It is simply an outcry raised to contrast our own excellences with the censured evil. Some men inveigh against squandering because they are economical. Some rail at parsimony because they are open handed. Some cry out at indolence that men may note their industry.
2. On the success of this device may issue another counterfeit of moral indignation. They are clamorous against evildoers to hide the fact that they themselves are such.
3. Vociferous indignation is not unfrequently the mere creation of fashion and of sympathy with bad feelings. Each clamours because all the rest do.
4. A seeming virtuous indignation is often only an ebullition of wounded pride and vanity. Is there a misstep from virtue? The guardian angel weeps, mercy flies swiftly to the penitent, and Christ says, “Neither do I condemn thee, only go, and sin no more.” Not thus do fellow mortals of like passions. All the slights and petty offences, all the ignoble strifes of envy and sensitive vanity, are raked out of the embers, and the bitter taunt is but the revenge of these covered with the garb of virtue. A hated rival is down, a haughty head a little higher than mine is in the dust, superior beauty is humbled, the wearer of better clothes, the recipient of more pointed attentions, the immovable rival, the one who once said this or that of me-these are the real archers lurking in the ambush of virtuous or religious indignation which bend the bow and infix the venomous shaft.
5. Revenge is almost invariably cloaked under the guise of moral indignation. And of this, as of almost all that I have mentioned, it may be said, the uncharitableness of the censor is often more malignantly guilty than the offence of the sinner.
III. Reasons against censoriousness and uncharitableness springing out of the feelings and affections of the victim.
1. Severity exercised without pity tends to provoke rather than reform the transgressor. That man is the most influential against vice who, to a hearty abhorrence of it, adds a cordial desire to rescue the evildoer. Uncharitableness promotes evil, while pity reforms it.
2. Then, me thinks, our pity should flow out with our indignation in view of the sufferings often of those whom we scourge. There is something peculiarly touching in that vice and crime which prevail among the ignorant and neglected. Multitudes have had no childhood instruction. Others have been too fatally taught by renegade parents. Look in, then, upon the motley throng of ignorant and vicious. Are they happy? Does the fulness of the cup of pleasure take away the necessity of pity from you? Of all the sun shines on, none need pity more than those whose career of vice and crime is near to its close. Suffering has made every feature haggard, and there is war in every limb, anguish in every nerve, and groaning at every bone. Want torments them. Their own demoniac passions scorch them. (H. W. Beecher.)
I. The exhortation.
1. The Apostle urged upon the Christian converts the importance of charity. It was the exercise of a grace, and not merely good temper, upon which he insisted.
2. This love is a Divine virtue. Philanthropy may exist in the sphere of nature, but love, in this higher sense, can only exist in the sphere of grace. This charity is a Divine thing, the work and a fruit of the Spirit in the soul.
3. This charity was to be kept “fervent.” It is a word which implies great earnestness and intensity (Luke 22:44). It was to be some thing very unlike cold propriety. The metal was to be kept glowing, and the chill of selfishness warded off. It was to be continuous in its exercise, and its exercise was manifold.
4. The sphere of this charity: “among yourselves,” that is, among Christians. As natural love, as a rule, is governed by propinquity, so is spiritual. This “fervent charity” was to be exercised primarily amongst those who had the closest union, inter se, through their union in Christ.
5. The Apostle marks the momentousness of his precept: “above all things.”
II. The result of its fulfilment.
1. The interpretations that the love in question is God’s love for man, or Christ’s love in His Passion, cannot certainly be accepted, though, of course, true in themselves. It is quite evident that the Apostle is speaking of the effect of mutual love.
2. The word “cover” does not simply mean “hides,” the sins leaving them where they were, but causes their remission, in fact, obliterates them.
3. Whose sins does the text refer to?
4. Charity covers over our sins in the sight of God, because charity is to sin what water is to fire-it puts it out. It is written of St. Mary Magdalene, “Her sins which are many are forgiven her; for she loveth much.” Love is the soul of contrition. An act of fervent charity can obliterate the sins of a life. It is the solvent of guilt and of penalty. But repentance does not purchase pardon. It is the condition of receiving it, not its source. Christ gives remission of sins in ways of His own appointment.
5. Charity also covers the sins of others. It has a way of seeing the good in people rather than the bad: “Charity thinketh no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:5). (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
The greatness of love
Love is like gravitation, the great attracting power, keeping all things in their place. Without gravitation the universe would become a chaos, without some measure of love society would be impossible. The world could perhaps rub along somehow without philosophy, but I defy it to do so without love, as animals can exist without light but not without warmth. Love is the water of life, of which whosoever will may take freely without money or price; it is the heaven springing stream which quenches all thirst, removes all impurities, and also, as in the case of Naaman, the very simplicity of the means causes the proud to disdain it. But like the grand and wonderful simplicity of the laws of nature, fulfilling themselves in the greatest and least phenomena, so is the law of love, prompting equally the widest public service man can perform and the smallest act of private friendship. No matter how deformed or twisted a man’s way of thinking if love once gets access to him, for, like water, it will find its level in the most crooked as in the best proportioned vessel. Like snow falling so quietly and equally on all manner of objects, however mean or base, creeping in at every crevice, so also is love, its voice not heard in the streets, covering a multitude of sins, insinuating itself into every cranny that selfishness leaves open. (P. H. Sharpe.)
Above all things-love
It were better to dispense with all else in the Christian’s character and work than to miss love, though, in point of fact, where this is in operation all that is likely to impress and touch men must be present also. This love must, of course, go forth in its sympathies and activities to all the world, but it should begin at home. We must have love among ourselves as believers in the same Lord before we can presume to speak of our love to the great world of men around. Nor must it be a platonic love, a love of the cold light of reason, it must be fervent, at boiling point, on full stretch, going to the farthest extents of love, and in doing so learning the breadths and lengths of the unsearchable love of God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Love must be fervent
The manner or kind of love required is a large, continued, stretched out, constant love. As a cloth folded up is in a little room, but when it comes to be cut is stretched out into many men’s uses, so our love must be stretched out to many persons, to many duties; as in giving and doing good to body, soul, goods, good name, and that not sparingly, but liberally, so in forgiving both much and often, neither must this be only when we can well do it, or when we have nothing else to do, but when it is against our profit, pleasure, ease, etc., so as we neglect not ourselves too much, and thereby more pleasure may be done our neighbours than hindrance come to us. (John Rogers.)
Charity shall cover the multitude of sins.-
Love covereth all sins
It is strange that this verse should have been so often misunderstood. This is closely parallel with that last verse in St. James, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death,” and, as a necessary part of that conversion, “shall hide a multitude of (that converted man’s) sins.” “Love shall cover multitudes of sins” from God and man. Only observe carefully, not our own sins; never, in any sense, does love do that; but other men’s sins, love, by silence and by veiling, hides from man; and by prayer and by converting, hides from God. And yet, in all ages of the Church, and in every Church, people have built from my text the fallacy, that a man’s charities are, in some way, a set off against his sins. So some people of the world take a satisfaction every day, that, if they are living rather too gay lives, they are kinder than others who are called serious. It is often put thus, that Christ’s righteousness covers our unrighteousness, i.e., in other words, that His obedience is accounted to us in place of our disobedience. But I would much rather say that Christ Himself-His own immensity-comes in and covers us. Then the view of you, passing through Him, comes out to the eye of God a beautiful object. It is all white, the dark places are not seen. And when I think of the immense amount of evil, which now, and at the day of judgment, will thus be hid, never to be seen by God, through that interposition of Jesus Christ, what an emphasis may it throw into the words, “Love shall cover the multitude of sins.” We are, therefore, never nearer to Christ than when we are making ourselves, in any way we can, the coverers of sin. Now there is a way by which a man can cover sins from God. In the same sense in which I can convert a man I can cover that man’s sins from God. Your mission as a Christian is to be a coverer of sins. There is seldom a greater thing done in this world than when we can manage anyhow to put a sin out of sight. Therefore, let me offer to you one or two rules respecting this high duty. If you know anything to anyone’s detriment, hold it as a sacred deposit, to be used religiously. Do not tell it unless the necessity be urgent, or the utility great. Never tell of a man what you have not first told to the man. Never think that you can make yourself great by making another less. Make a principle of always putting in the foreground persons’ good qualities. If a fault be mentioned, see and mention the extenuating circumstances, the palliating considerations. Look out for them, and you will find them. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Charity covering a multitude of sins
And wherefore does the apostle inculcate this precept so earnestly? It is not that the duties of self-denial and humility, of soberness and prayer, can be dispensed with in the formation of a truly Christian character; it is not that charity alone will suffice to atone for our deficiencies in other respects; but charity is the distinguishing mark of a Christian spirit; our Lord Himself has said that “by this should His disciples be known.”
I. First, for the force of the apostle’s injunction, “Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.” I have before called charity a disposition of the mind; and it is of importance that we should remember that it is such. Our grand errors on this point arise from our mistaking the effects for the cause; in making no distinction between particular acts of a charitable nature, and that disposition which produces them. When the favour of God, the present blessings of this life, and the eternal joys of another, are promised to charity, it is not such and such special acts of benevolence which shall be so signally rewarded; but it is the earnest inclination to benefit our fellow creatures, and the continual and diligent habit of doing good which are of such high price before God. Our conduct will, of course, have more or less influence upon the good and the happiness of mankind, according to the circumstances under which we act, and the situation which we occupy in society. But though a charitable disposition may in one case have a wider sphere of action than it has in another, still the disposition itself is altogether independent of these external circumstances. The desire to benefit mankind may be as sincere and as fervent in him whose means are limited, as in the richest and the most powerful of the sons of men. And though the practical consequences of that disposition may not be as extensively felt in the one case as in the other, still God regards the sincerity and the fervency of that love, which prompts us both to labour and to endure, in such sort, as the particular duties of our station may require. Two truths are to be deduced from what has been said: first, a few acts of a charitable nature do not necessarily prove the existence of a charitable spirit in him who performs them-because these may be prompted by very different motives, and because true charity is not exemplified merely on a few particular occasions, but in the general tenor of our conduct, and in the habitual discipline of our tempers. The second truth we learn is this: no man can possess a spirit of genuine charity who does not seize every opportunity of being actively beneficial to his fellow creatures; and so many opportunities are there of this kind, which every one, even the poorest among us, must possess, that it is easy for any man, who will take the trouble of examining into the tenor of his daily intercourse with those around him, to determine whether he indeed possesses “that most excellent disposition of charity, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before God.”
II. But, in the second place, the apostle says, in the text, that charity “shall cover the multitude of sins.” Now it is evident, from the definition which we have just given of this disposition of the heart, that they cannot be the sins which we commit against our fellow creatures that charity shall cover; for did we possess this grace in perfection, we should not trespass against our fellow creatures at all. True charity would lead us to the unfailing fulfilment of all the duties which we owe to our brethren. It is equally certain that charity towards men cannot atone for our sins against God; for though the love of our neighbour be a characteristic badge of our Christian profession, though it is vain to pretend our love towards our Heavenly Father, whilst we hate our fellow creatures; though the second commandment necessarily springs from the first, and is like unto it in its nature, still it cannot be made in any degree to supersede it. It can only mean, therefore, that charity will cover, or conceal, and forgive the sins which they commit against us. And this will appear yet more evidently if we consider, in the first place, from whence St. Peter quotes this proverbial expression; and in the next, if we attend to the general object of this Epistle. First, then, we must remark that these words are quoted by St. Peter from the Book of Proverbs. In the twelfth verse of the tenth chapter, the wise man says, “Hatred stirreth up strife, but love covereth all sins.” Here the opposite line of conduct which is suggested by hatred and love is sufficient to guide us to a right interpretation of the passage. The one stirreth up strifes, it dwells upon them, and rouses them up afresh, and does not allow them to be forgotten. But the contrary disposition of love covereth all sins; it is desirous that offences should be hidden and die away, and instead of enmity and dissension, is anxious for peace and goodwill, and mutual forbearance. It follows, then, that as St. Peter introduced into his Epistle this latter part of the proverb, he intended it to be understood in the same sense in which it stood in the original language of Solomon. This is, moreover, still further confirmed if we regard the general tenor of St. Peter’s Epistle. It seems to have been one of his principal objects to reprove and reform those dissensions and disputes, which, even in those early days, prevailed in the Christian world. (T. Ainger, M. A.)
Love covers sins
The whole conception may have been based on the filial act of Noah’s sons, of whom it is recorded that they took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders and went backward, and covered their father’s drunken sin.
1. Love forgives. We are to be imitators of God in the swiftness and completeness of His forgiveness.
2. It avoids giving occasion for sin. It has been said that if you have a favourite horse, which always takes fright and shies at a certain point in the road, you are careful to come along another road, if possible, or to coax him, by speaking to him kindly, to go by without fear. So if you are aware that a certain subject will always invoke an outburst of hot temper in your friend, true love will lead you to avoid it. You will not needlessly incite to sin if you know how to avoid giving the first inducement.
3. It is quick to discern some generous construction to put upon the fault, or to quote some consideration to weigh in the opposite scale. “True, he was unpardonably dull and slow, but then how trustworthy and reliable.” “Yes, he was very irritable and abrupt; but, then, remember what a strain he has been under lately in his business, not leaving the factory or counting house till late at night, and going back early in the morning, with no recreation or respite.” “Granted, that he is now becoming soured and crabbed; but, then, what a glorious man he was in those earlier days, when he stood in the breach.” “Are you sure that there is not some other explanation possible for his action?” In some such ways as these, Christian love argues with itself and others, and, as the result, many a sin is hindered on its way, and many a fault condoned.
4. It rebukes with great tenderness. There are eases where duty demands public censure. The sore must not lie covered up lest it prove to be deadly. It must be lanced or it cannot be cured. But the lancing is done with exquisite tenderness. The wrong-doer is reproved, rebuked, and exhorted, hut with all long-suffering (1 Timothy 4:2). The man overtaken with a fault is restored in the spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Charity covering faults
“Dear Moss!” said the Thatch on an old ruin, “I am so worn, so patched, so ragged; really, I am quite unsightly. I wish you would come and cheer me up a little; you will hide all my infirmities and defects, and through your loving sympathy no finger of contempt or dislike will be pointed at me.” “I come!” said the Moss; and it crept up and around, and in and out, till every flaw was hidden, and all was smooth and fair. Presently the sun shone out, and the old Thatch looked glorious in the golden rays. “How beautiful the Thatch looks!” cried one. “How beautiful the Thatch looks! “cried another. “Ah!” cried the old Thatch, “rather let them say how beautiful is the loving Moss, that spends itself in covering all my faults, keeping the knowledge of them all to herself, and by her own grace making my age and poverty wear the garb of youth and luxuriance.” (Great Thoughts.)
Use hospitality one to another.-
To God the intention of the heart is all-important. He loveth a cheerful giver. He takes such delight in doing good that He has no sympathy with anything like reluctance. Not that hospitality should necessarily he profuse; for, if it be, it is difficult to maintain, besides reminding the guest that he is regarded as a stranger; only that which is done should be done freely, gladly, with the whole heart. There is no hospitality so grateful as that which makes the stranger feel at home, because there is nothing forced or restrained, and he is permitted to feel completely at his ease. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The warmth of hospitality
If the two hands be plunged, one in water at the temperature of 200°, and the other in snow, and being held there for a certain time are transferred to water of the intermediate temperature of 100°, this water will appear warm to one hand and cold to the other-warm to the hand which has been plunged in the snow, and cold to the hand which has been plunged in the water at 200°. The anomaly is easily explained. The sensation of heat is relative. When the body has been exposed to a high temperature, a medium which has a lower temperature will feel cold, and when it has been exposed to a low temperature, it will feel warm. Now this fact will suggest, by analogy, a way for testing hospitality. It is not uncommon to hear a man speak about the warmth of somebody’s hospitality. Perhaps that same “warmth” seemed very much like coldness to us. How are we to explain the difference in the sensations of our friend and ourselves? Simply by remembering that hospitality, like heat, is a relative thing. A man who has just come out of the cold house of Mrs. Niggard will feel the tepid house of Mrs. Moderate to be quite a warm, hospitable place. On the other hand, a man who goes to Mrs. Moderate’s house after a prolonged stay at the genial mansion of the generous Lady Bountiful, will feel that establishment to be rather chilly in its hospitality. (Scientific Illustrations.)
As every man hath received the gift.-
I. The number and variety of spiritual gifts in the Church. The term “gift” represented by nine different words in the Greek, occurs in three different shades of meaning, viz., “a present,” “an offering to God,” and “a personal endowment.” The last is evidently the gift of our text.
1. Every believer has a gift, and his own gift (Luke 19:13; Matthew 25:15). The little wheels in an engine, the little stones in a building, and the little gifts in the church, occupy a place for which the larger would be quite unsuitable. An organism is healthy only when all its members perform their functions; and efficiency in the whole is the gross result of efficiency in every part.
2. The gifts of the Church are a revelation of the manifold grace out of which they spring. “Gifts,” the most general class, such as wisdom, knowledge, and faith, are referred to the Father. “Administrations,” a more limited class, as healing, prophesying, and speaking with tongues, are referred to the Son. “Operations,” the smallest class, such as miracles, discerning of spirits, etc., are referred to the Holy Ghost. Individual character determines largely individual spiritual gifts. A ray of light passing through a crystal heptahedron is broken up into seven different colours, one of which is appropriated by each of its seven sides. So entering the prism, the Church, the white light of the Spirit is analysed into its various elements, and each soul appropriates the particular one that suits it. The gifts acquired are thus as various as the cast of the acquiring minds.
II. The meaning and purpose of the bestowal of spiritual gifts on the Church. “Ministering it among yourselves.” This is a noble thought.
1. It implies that we study our gifts, and so make no mistake as to the work we are fitted to do. This is a matter of great importance. The navigation of a ship will be bad with children at the ropes, and a landsman at the helm. A ministry without ministerial gifts is a machine incapable of moving, even if the power were there.
2. It implies that we train and cultivate our gifts so as to use them at their best. He would be an eccentric farmer who allowed his land to lie untilled because the soil was rich. It is the richest land and the highest gifts that, being cultivated, will yield the best return. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the Alpha, but not the Omega, of qualification for spiritual work. The apostles had this to begin with, yet were all carefully trained by Christ, and Paul warns Timothy to “stir up” his gift.
3. Our gifts in their most highly cultivated form are all to be used for the common good. “Among yourselves.” The perfection of reciprocity exists in the religious life (Matthew 5:23; Matthew 7:12). There is no place for selfishness in it; the peculiar quality of it being the look outward, instead of inward (Philippians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 10:24). The selfish soul shrivels and dies, and the maimed and weakened Church suffers in all its functions. It is incredible the moral power that is lying dormant in the Church. The power once latent in steam and inaccessible is now evoked by the millions of horsepower daily. The power once hidden in electricity is now in exercise in every village, carrying on swift and silent wing the thoughts of men across the continents, “and their words to the world’s end.” But the ten thousandfold greater power sealed up in the napkinned talents of idle Christian people is still unreached. What an amount of religious machinery would be in motion if an ecclesiastical James Watt or Stephen Gray would come and unlock this magazine of spiritual force! Nothing could stand against it. Darkness would be dissipated, sin would be jostled off the earth, and misery would spread its sable wings and fly away. (Homiletic Quarterly.)
God’s gifts and their use
I. It is assumed that every Christian has some gift from God.
1. All our endowments are blessings received (1 Corinthians 4:7).
2. All are received from the multiform goodness of God. “Manifold.”
(1) How gracious is this procedure, by which God’s gifts come to us tinged by the infinite variety of the substances on which they fall! When He might have poured His influences in one indistinguishable flood of radiance, He rather sends them reflected differently from each different mind, diversified by all the colours of the rainbow, and sparkling with manifold hues. For thus we are brought to admire and rejoice in not only God Himself as the primal source of all good, but in our fellow men through whose “manifold” concurrence this “manifold grace” has been diffused around us.
(2) It shows itself in all sorts of persons, with all sorts of endowments, in all sorts of offices, for all sorts of duties.
3. All must be accounted for to God.
II. Each man’s gift is to be used for the good of his fellow men. The funds put into our charge must be administered. We must neither misuse them nor neglect them.
1. We must not appropriate them to ourselves through selfishness.
2. We must not withhold this grace from others through negligence. The sluggishness of our nature is as much to be watched against and overcome as its selfishness.
III. God will bless the proper use of His gifts. Look only at the works of nature. See how the little, almost imperceptible, seed, being cast into the ground in the proper season, with proper care, is blessed by the bounteous Author, and is made to bring forth thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. Will God be more niggard of blessing to spiritual husbandry than to earthly? No effort to do good is ever lost. (T. Griffith, M. A.)
Gifts and responsibility
I. First, then, the idea of personal responsibility lies at the foundation of all morality. It is not distinctively Christian-it is human; it is inherent in man as a moral being. If we would trace it to its immediate source, it springs from the testimony of conscience-the personal experience of the Light which lighteth every man. It not only enlightens and instructs, but it counsels and exhorts. These are the conditions of our personal responsibility. But behind all these there lies the idea of the personal God, whose holy life has ordered the distinctions of right and wrong. I have dwelt upon these points because it seems to me that in these days there is a tendency to lay the foundations of moral conduct and of the religious life rather in the emotions and affections than in the demands of conscience and the obedience of the will. By such methods the sense of responsibility is inevitably weakened, and our duties, both mortal and religious, become only a higher kind of self-gratification. It is true that the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and that the religious life is rich in present rewards of both peace and joy. But these are not its true or highest motives. It is a great step in the Christian life when this responsibility is recognised.
II. But the text further reminds us of the diversity of gifts. Every man hath received a gift-not the gift-not all men the same gift. The gifts and endowments of individual men are as various as their outward appearance. Every man has some gifts; no man has all gifts. It is this diversity that gives a chief interest, and even beauty, to human life, and affords opportunity for the exercise of some of its highest virtues. If all men were equally gifted, the intercourse of life would become drearily monotonous. It would be as if in the natural world all mountains were of one height and one outline; all the now changeful clouds of one permanent form; all trees of one kind and colour and shape, like the trees in the toy box of a child. But this variety of gifts brings with it a varying responsibility, differing according to the character of the gifts which each has received. There is a tendency among men to esteem some gifts more highly than others; and this estimate varies in different places, and under different circumstances, and at different times. But in themselves they bring no real honour to those who possess them. No man deserves credit for mere intellectual power any more than for brute force. But it is in the use of these powers that the man himself is to gain credit and honour. So far as the gifts themselves are regarded, they are, as the apostle reminds us, the gifts of God. The man of quick intelligence and retentive memory who gains easily his place in the tripos may be far less worthy of honour than one of humble gifts and feeble powers. For the most part it is the union of great gifts with diligent work which ensures success; but it has sometimes been otherwise. But how often the less gifted man, feeble in his mental power and slow in its exercise-painfully acquiring the needed knowledge with continuous effort, how often is such a one regarded only with a half-contemptuous pity. But the diversity of gifts of which our text speaks is not only a difference of degree, but of kind. Even here we see this distinction in a limited degree. The man who is strong in mathematical may be weak in classical studies. And, again, how constantly does experience prove that there is a special gift of imparting knowledge distinct from that of attaining it. The gifts of personal influence, of discerning sympathy, of persuasiveness of speech, of practical wisdom, as distinct from knowledge. All these have their own great value. But under all these diversities of gifts there lies upon each of us the great responsibility declared in the words of my text, “As every man hath reserved the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
III. To every one of us it speaks in very solemn tones, remembering the account that we must one day give. But far above all these gifts of God, which we call gifts of nature, are those higher gifts, which we call gifts of grace-the gifts which find their exercise, not in the work of the world, but in the training and perfecting of the soul. These are gifts which are common to all, and within the reach of all. The gift of grace which comes in answer to our private prayers, the grace which comes to us through the daily study of the Word-the grace of the holy sacrament of the body and blood. All these gifts we have received in promise, and our responsibility lies in seeking and claiming them for our own. (Bishop of Lichfield.)
I. The Christian privilege. The text first of all speaks of receiving-that is the privilege to which it points. We get in order that we may give; but we can give nothing until we are first of all put into possession. And what the Christian does receive, he accepts as a gift-not as the equivalent of service rendered, or achievements accomplished, or worth acknowledged-but as a something to which he has no sort of claim, sent down out of that boundless Divine treasury which the apostle, at the end of the text, describes as “the manifold grace of God.” Whatever gift you have, it is of God’s sending: all spiritual endowment and all natural capacity, your influence, your wealth, your leisure, your power of speech, or action, or organisation; all is God’s giving; you have won nothing, deserved nothing. You have received all, freely, unconditionally, as so many pledges and foretastes of “the manifold grace of God.” We all have gift, and all we have is gift. And the dissimilarity in individual cases is the most patent fact in experience. One man can do good work at home, another finds his proper element in the school, or in the streets, or the cottage meeting.
II. The obligation. “As ye have received even so minister.” God’s gift then is not intended to terminate with ourselves. It is not meant for self-gratification, least of all for personal parade. It begins with the individual always; it ends with him never. This is involved in the ultimate aim of Christianity itself. The apostle asks us only to give out what and as we take in. “As every one hath received, minister the same.” Give in measure and in kind as ye have received. Give what you have got, and do not distress yourself because you cannot give something else which you do not have. However much you admire another man’s gift, and profit by it, there is no call to imitate it. Do what you can, and you will do as well as the brother whose work you so greatly appreciate. You will receive as high a reward and as lofty a commendation.
III. And now notice the Christian position. The redeemed are required to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Now, a steward is not an absolute owner but a responsible administrator. And all gifts, according to the apostle, are trusts. No Christian in his view gets his natural talents or material possessions, still less his spiritual endowments, for himself alone. This is the position here set forth; but how miserably its obligation is responded to. How scant a return does our stewardship yield. (Hugh Ross.)
The great Giver of the universe is the great Economist too. He has written it everywhere. The fulness of nature is not kept up by new creations, but by that power of self-repair which He has made the law of its life. It is the same in the kingdom of grace. God gave it a beginning by His own direct and almighty power; by the same power He could carry it on to its final completion. But this is not His manner of doing. He expects it, by virtue of that principle of life which He has communicated to it, to carry itself on now, not independently of Him, but in reliance upon Him, and receiving from Him, just as nature is dependent on Him for the continuance of its vitalising force. But still, in so far as instrumentality is concerned, the work is its own, not His.
I. The nature of the thing here spoken of ministry-service. We are apt to look on service as a menial thing. There is nothing more glorified in the Bible. Service, mutual helpfulness growing out of mutual dependence, is the law of the universe. The man who lives for himself is not worthy of the name of man. He is as unlike Christ, the ideal man, as it is possible for him to be. Service-tender, considerate, beneficent work for others-ennobles a man, and is the first thing to do so. Till then it is all receiving with him, and no giving; all incurring obligation, no discharging of any; and that is death to any character.
II. The range of the duty. It is universal.
1. “As every man,” etc. This makes the matter very simple. It puts an end to all casuistry and all excuses. God is the centre of the universe which He has made, and He ministers to all. “To Him belongeth power.” But as all rational life is after the pattern of Himself, He has put into it everywhere something of this ministering power, and we fulfil His idea, and show ourselves to be His children, rising into His likeness, just in proportion as we exercise that power in our several spheres.
2. “One to another.” Here is the idea of reciprocity added. It is not to be all giving with some, and all receiving with others. The thing is to go round-a perpetual interchange of blessings and gifts, a mutual well-doing, a generous commerce of souls, supplying each other’s lack out of each other’s abundance from the highest to the lowest, and from the lowest to the highest.
III. The rule of the duty. “Minister the same.” It is idle to say that you can do nothing, for if you are a Christian you have received something-“the gift.” The apostle does not assert this, but takes it for granted. “As every man,” etc., and gift is faculty, for which God holds us all directly responsible. Now, observe, this rule applies both to the form and the measure of the gift, both to its kind and to its degree. It applies to its form. It differs in this in different individuals, and hence the apostle speaks of the “manifold” grace of God. It is very plastic this grace of God, and accommodates itself to the constitutional peculiarities of men. However unpretentious our gift may be, it may count for more than we think. If our life and conduct say what is true about Christ, and nothing but what is true, representing His yoke as easy, His burden as light, His service as love, His reign as righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, then it does not matter how humble our work may be in its outward form, it will still be work for God, work for Christ, and for truth, and the souls of men. We shall be ministering “as we have received the gift.” But now observe, this “as” applies to degree as well as to form. We are to minister one to another up to the extent to which we have received the gift, that is, to the full extent of our ability. (A. L. Simpson, D. D.)
God’s gifts and their purpose
I. All our possessions are the gifts of God, being part of His manifold grace.
1. When we consider the shortness of the time for which these gifts are granted, we may consider them as loans, returnable to the lender when the term for which they are lent is expired.
2. These gifts are not committed to us merely for our own enjoyment, but that we may use them to the benefit of the whole body of the Church. This is evidently God’s purpose. His grace is manifold. He is no maker of favourites.
3. That which is shown to be true of God’s natural gifts is true in a still higher degree of His gifts of grace. The imagining that spiritual privileges are bestowed for the exclusive benefit of their possessors was the error which destroyed the Church of Israel.
4. The gifts which we receive of God we receive of Him through the Eternal Son.
(1) This is true even apart from the fact of the Incarnation. He is the Word of God, by Him all things are made. Through Him God goes forth to His creatures.
(2) This is true in a much higher sense since the Word has become Incarnate, and through His Incarnation reconciled us to God. Having fulfilled all the will of God, to Him is given all power in heaven and in earth. In the might of that power He bids His apostles go forth to claim all human souls as His rightful inheritance.
II. What gifts has God bestowed upon us, and how are we to use them? These gifts are:
(a) spiritual, and
1. Spiritual gifts are such as we receive through our membership with the mystical body of Christ. They consist in redemption if we will accept it; sanctification if we will seek for it; and all the blessed means whereby the life of the Incarnate Word is bestowed upon us and kept alive within us, if we will use them.
2. Among our natural gifts some are common to all. Life, a sphere of usefulness large or small, health, powers of mind and body. There are other gifts bestowed upon some persons, and withheld from others. The power of influence, the possession of talent or of wealth, the gift of utterance, the advantages of position. While it is possible to claim these natural gifts as our own without reference to our Incarnate Lord, yet it is only when we possess them in Him that we may be said to possess them truly. Otherwise, they are as likely to possess us as we are to possess them, to be our masters as we are to be theirs.
3. Thus ministering the gift as we have received it, whether it be large or small, whether it be natural or spiritual, we find upon gathering up the fragments that remain over and above to those to whom we have ministered, that there is greater store than we knew, greater because more full of God’s blessing! (Canon Vernon Hutton.)
1. Whatever man has is a gift from God.
2. Whatever man has he should benevolently employ for the advantage of others.
I. Personal Christliness is a divine gift.
1. It is the greatest gift. Qualifies man to please his Maker, bless humanity, serve the universe, and inherit all things.
2. It is the costliest gift.
II. Personal Christliness is a Divine gift to be socially employed. This social ministry is-
1. The divinity of a Christly life.
2. The test of a Christly life. Genuine social benevolence. (Homilist.)
Minister the same one to another.-
Gifts to be communicated for the good of others
Though a Christian be the freest man in the world (as being freed from Satan, sin, hell, the law, etc.) yet is he to be of all others the most serviceable; he must not put his light under a bushel, nor hide his talent in a napkin.
1. As the sun shines not for itself, nor the earth bears for itself; so have not we a gift for ourselves, but for the common good.
2. The perfection of gifts consists not only in the having of it, but in the use thereof.
3. The communion of saints, which we believe, requires it.
4. This brings most peace to our conscience both in life and death.
5. This procures credit while we live, as a good name and memory when we die.
6. We are divers ways partakers of the gifts of others, and so must make them partakers of ours.
7. Our gifts increase by using; the more we bestow them, the more we have them. (John Rogers.)
Receiving and ministering
Clouds when full pour down, and the spouts run, and the eaves shed, and the presses overflow, and the aromatical trees sweat out their precious and sovereign oils. (J. Trapp.)
The “grace of God” means His liberality. It is called “manifold,” because God’s gifts are so various in kind and in degree. They are of many descriptions, and variously proportioned. On some the Divine bounty seems to pour itself in torrents, while to others it comes in very slender rills, or apparently in drops only. Still we know that God “is good to all.” And, doubtless, were the least gifted among us more quicksighted and pious, they would find themselves possessed of far more considerable gifts from God’s hand than they acknowledge or discern. Our corrupt selfishness makes us dull of sight, coldhearted, and ungrateful. Now the apostle asserts, in the text, that we are all sharers in God’s manifold grace. “According as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another.” He has just before been enjoining the mutual exercise of ungrudging hospitality. And afterwards he signifies, that our powers of speech and action are all to be employed in a holy and charitable manner for the welfare of our brethren, and to the glory of God our common Father, through Christ. You see, then, that to each of us is allotted a ministry. We must lay ourselves out to do good; not wait lazily for an almost constraining impulse of circumstances. And that we may be useful and not hurtful, it is our duty to ascertain what our gift is; and not to attempt what lies beyond our province, and so mar instead of making or mending. One obstacle of our own making to the useful exercise of our talents is a reluctance to cooperate with those who possess that quality which is wanting in ourselves, but which needs to be combined with ours in order to its efficiency. Now I believe that God has distributed His gifts variously for this very purpose among others, to force upon us a partnership in good works. He has made us so necessary the one to the other, that selfish separatism is hardly less consistent with human well-being than with Divine philanthropy. The man of sagacity is not always good in action: he wants an energetic coadjutor. Moses, good in counsel, requires the help of Aaron ready of speech. Nay more, it is better for the business of the world that high attributes should not be so justly blended in the several individuals, called to act an important part, as to constitute what is nearest to perfection; but rather that what is excessive in one should be balanced and corrected by an excess of another kind in his helpmate. The vehemence of Luther was a blemish in him, while Melancthon was cautious to a fault. Yet who can doubt that the glorious Reformation was better accomplished by two such fellow labourers, than it would have been by the same men, had there been an equal distribution between them of their respective characteristic properties. Such then is God’s way of dispensing His gifts. He divides “to every man severally” as He pleases. In the Church He has given “some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”; and all this is arranged with a view to unity-unity of faith, unity of love, unity of action. Nothing can be clearer than the duty of turning our means and opportunities to good account. We are prone to view our talent under false and vicious limitations; to confine our notions of the proper sphere of assiduous kindness to one’s own immediate connections. The gospel vastly expands our field of duty. It urges upon us that we are all brethren. Therefore, whatever gift we possess is meant for the general welfare. Let me here say a word or two upon our accountableness. People are not seldom anxious to believe that by declining to undertake a certain work they avoid a serious responsibility. No doubt that is sometimes true. But if that work be a duty, then you cannot escape the responsibility which lies upon you to engage in it. (J. N. Pearson, M. A.)
In what a variety of ways we may serve and benefit others
Doing good to others rejoices every human heart that is not totally callous and corrupt. Doing good to others engages the approbation of every man.
I. How great is, first, the diversity of situations among mankind, and how various therefore the opportunity and the inducement to be useful to one another in different ways! How many classes and descriptions of persons fill up the interval between the monarch or the prince and the meanest of his subjects! And how various their destination; how various the sphere of action assigned them; how manifold the good and useful that each may contrive, adopt, and do therein! If the government is watchful over the public tranquillity and safety; if the magistrate maintains the laws in their due respect, and protects the individual in his property; if one preceptor teaches the child the elements of human knowledge, another instructs the youth in the higher branches of science; if the statesman is attentive to the several exigencies of the country and provides for its great concerns; the countryman produces a plentiful supply of food from the furrows of his plough and the fields he industriously cultivates; the manufacturer and the mechanic work up and improve the products of the country; the tradesman brings them into circulation, and the merchant barters the surplus against those of other nations; thus thousands of hands are set in motion which none of those could perform without neglecting their own, and which are equally indispensable with theirs. And how much good now may every one do, if he does what belongs to him with willingness, with fidelity, with a heart benevolently affected towards his brethren, participating in their happiness and cheerfully concurring to promote it!
II. Consider again how different the wants of mankind and how various their sufferings, and thence judge in what a variety of ways one may serve and be useful to another. Here are wants of the body-food, raiment, lodging, health, strength; there wants of the mind-information, knowledge, wisdom, virtue, inward peace, pleasure, hope, content. Here is the want of necessaries; there the want of the commodious, the elegant, the agreeable. Here are corporeal sufferings-weakness, debility, mutilation, decrepitude, pain, sickness, lingering death; there are sufferings of the soul-vexation, trouble, anxiety, grief, dejection, doubt, remorse, pangs of conscience, melancholy, despondency, peril of despair. Here is the want of advice, there of support; here of courage, there of prudence; here of means and implements of trade, there of abilities for it; here of understanding, there of alacrity and application; here of moderation, there of patience; here of modesty and diffidence, there of self-importance and confidence. And thus the matter stands in numberless other cases. The necessities of the one are not the necessities of the other; the sufferings of the one are not the sufferings of the other. What is wanting to the former is possessed by the latter. Every one may therefore in various methods give “rod receive, administer relief and accept relief, comfort and be comforted, serve and submit to be served, communicate benefit and satisfaction and enjoy benefit and satisfaction,
III. Consider thirdly, how numerous and various the capacities and powers, the gifts and acquirements of mankind are, and thence judge how great the variety of ways in which they may serve and assist and benefit each other. No one is exactly that which another is; no one has precisely that which another has; no one knows all that another knows; no one can and may do whatever another can and may. One has understanding; and how various the species of it are! Here is a profound, collected, there a comprehensive and excursive; here a quick but volatile, there a slow but solid understanding. Another has authority and strength, and how various are these in their kinds! Here is strength of mind, there strength of body; here the power of beauty, there the power of eloquence; here the command of oneself and the passions, there the authority of the ruler and the commander over his subjects; here impetuous, overwhelming, there mild, insinuating, yet more irresistible force. And who is able to recount the infinite variations of human capacities and powers and endowments and their analogies to each other? One has ingenuity, an extensive, strong turn for invention; the other has judgment and dexterity in execution. One quickness and pliancy to the business of the present moment; the other persevering, indefatigable patience for intricate and tiresome undertakings. One an ardency to animate all around it; the other cool consideration and resolution to put a stop to this devouring flame. And now let each exchange his capacities and endowments and possessions against those of the other; now let every one apply the particular talent entrusted to him, as often as he has the proper motive and opportunity for it; what a blessing would the prodigiously various commutation of kind offices, of assistance and support, of benevolence and beneficence, be to all in general and to each in particular!
IV. Consider lastly, how manifold and different the methods in which ye may serve your brethren, in which ye may do them all the good that ye are able. Thinking and speaking, keeping silence and hearing, giving and lending, partaking and borrowing, bearing and suffering and relieving, doing and not doing, are so many different methods of serving and being useful to others, and each the best in its proper season, the most productive of beneficial consequences. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
“As” and “so”-the method of ministry
You and I can only give large sums of money to God’s service, as God makes us wealthy. It is so in earthly things, and surely it must be so in spiritual things. If we are living in the fulness of God, then the promise of Jesus Christ shall be fulfilled in our case-“Out of our belly shall flow rivers of living water.” If, on the other hand, we are straitened in ourselves, then what wonder that our life should be unprofitable, and that we should scarcely to any degree minister the gift, simply because we receive it so scantily. But when I look again at that word “as,” another thought occurs to me. It strikes me that we have not only there a law of proportion, we have also a law of quality, qualifying the bestowal of the gift. The gift is bestowed by the hand of Him who is an example to us in giving, as well as in every other respect. As we receive, so we are to give. There ought to be a certain God-like liberality in our efforts to distribute the favours with which God loads us. But further, that word “as” seems to teach us more than this. Not only have we received the gift freely, but we have received it wisely; that is to say, God, in bestowing the gift upon us, exercised a wisdom which belongs to His own nature, preparing us for its reception, and bestowing upon us just the gift appropriate to our state. Are we not too often very clumsy in this respect? We get into a kind of stereotyped way of working for God. I cannot but feel that, if we would minister the gift as the Lord would have us minister it, we require greater delicacy of touch, keener discernment of human character, and a fuller appreciation of God’s different methods of dealing with different souls than are commonly to be met with. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
As good stewards of the manifold grace.-
The Christian stewardship
The manifold grace of God-the term is a remarkable one-it is that word by which the Greeks expressed infinite variety of hue or of design-the shiftings and glistenings of richly-mingled colours, or the dappled patterns of skilful embroidery. We have not, I think, been good stewards of this manifold grace. We have been ever apt to look on the grace of God in one or at most in some few of its aspects only. We have forgotten its manifoldness. In other words, we have assumed for the gospel of Christ too exclusively theological a character. We want to raise up the new life within men. Now it seems to me, that in doing this we have been too long acting contrary to all natural analogies. Have we, like the unskilful workman, been utterly careless about minutiae? O when will men begin to see that religion is not a separate trade or profession, but the business of life? When will they begin to apprehend the grace of God in its manifoldness? to see that it was sent to win every affection, to brighten every smile, to shed fresh interest over every pursuit, to light up new hopes in every prospect-to embrace every variety of human temperament, assist every degree of human capacity? We never shall be good stewards, till we know and apply this truth, and carry it out in practice in our own times, and among those with whom we live. “Am I a good steward of this manifold grace?” “Am I occupying with it, that at my Master’s coming He may find it increased and fructified?” We will first speak, as the most obvious case, of the bestowal of God’s grace in the position and opportunities afforded by rank, wealth, and influence among men. It is God who putteth down one and setteth up another. The purpose for which He has ordained various ranks in human society, is that He may thereby be glorified in the Christian use of influence over others, the Christian bestowal of worldly means. Who can overestimate the value of such an one as a centre of influence for good? A blessing to his own relatives, to his dependants, among whom he is ever moving and speaking; a blessing to his equals, with whom he communes in the intercourse of social life; a blessing to general society in checking all that is evil and encouraging all that is good. And a word on mere wealth, considered as a stewardship. The question in every case for them is not an absolute, but a relative one; not “what?” but “what proportion?” As a man’s worldly means increase, so his charities ought to increase. Then there is another matter belonging to this part of our subject; the stewardship of administration of charity, or of any money laid out for the general good. The labour of love is essential not only to good stewardship, but to the Christian character itself; and every man may make-and ought to make if there be any difficulty in the way-leisure and opportunity for such labour of love. The ways and occasions for it are manifold, as the grace which will help us in it. Let me now speak of another stewardship of God’s manifold grace; that which we ordinarily know as talent; ability of various kinds, wherewith many are considerably, and some few eminently, endowed. Great numbers of ordinary men are made very much by that which they read, or that which they hear, of the sentiments of those who are abler than themselves. With what a vast responsibility does this invest those who thus stand in the first rank, and lead mankind! How great a difference, to take an example, will be made in general society in the matter of Christian belief, according as one commanding man of genius, who has power over thought and language, makes use of that power. We are all, as was said of the Spartan army of old, commanders of commanders; we all work upon those, who work in their turn upon others. And therefore our ability, be it ever so small is our stewardship, of which God will most certainly have an a count from us. But influence over others is not the only matter in which we are to be good stewards of His manifold grace. It was given us for influence over ourselves; that our whole body, soul, and spirit might be sanctified wholly-that it might fill us to our utmost capacity with the fulness of God, and render us efficient for promoting His glory. (Dean Alford.)
The idea and duty of human life
I. The true idea of human life. “Stewards.” We are not principals, proprietors, masters, but trustees; our gifts must not be used for ends of personal indulgence; we must please our Lord. Do we always remember this theory of life? Surely we often practically forget this, and act as if our gifts were our own, to be used simply for personal gratification and aggrandisement. A gentleman walks into his grounds on a summer morning, and delighted with certain flowers, says to his gardener, “These are very line; send a few into the house.” The gardener distinctly declines to do anything of the sort. “I am keeping these against the Show,” is his reply, “and I cannot permit them to be cut.” By and by the gentleman orders his carriage to be sent round at a given time when once again the coachman refuses to obey. “The roads are bad,” “It is inconvenient,” and the carriage is not forthcoming. Arrived at his counting house, the gentleman orders his cashier to write him out a cheque for £50, but to his astonishment the clerk decisively objects to draw the cheque; he “will not allow the balance at the bank to be disturbed.” How long would a master endure that kind of conduct, and consent to be shut out of the disposal and enjoyment of his own property? But we often set thus in dealing with God, using His gifts capriciously and selfishly, forgetting God’s absolute authority and life’s larger purpose. Whatever we have, we have received; whatever we have, we must restore.
II. The grand work of human life. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another.” The individual trees of a forest do not need much from one another; they grow the better, perhaps, for growing in a brotherhood; they shelter each other, they benefit by a certain neighbourhood and reciprocity, but they are not absolutely essential to one another; if there were but one oak tree in England it would grow pretty much as it does today in the forests of oak. But it is far otherwise with the human species; we are essential to each other; one man in Leeds, one man in Europe, would hardly prosper; it is only in mutuality that the individual can live and come to the fulness of his glory and fruitfulness, that the race can reach its ideal life. The rich must help the poor. As long as the mountain and valley exist the inequalities of society will exist; but as in the economy of nature there is no antagonism between the height and the depth, the mountain sending its streams into the valley, and the valley sending its fertility creeping up the mountain side; so there need be no war between rich and poor, between capital and labour, because together they establish that interdependence among men which is essential to the growth and perfecting of all. The wise must help the ignorant. God has given us gifts of imagination, knowledge, expression, music, song, that we may plant intellectual flowers in waste places, and make dull, sad lives bright with thoughts of truth and hope. The strong must help the weak. “Ye that are strong must bear the infirmity of the weak.” Thank God that you are the strong, and not the weak; that you are the helper, and not the helped. But there is another side to all this; the poor, the illiterate, the weak, the obscure may also truly minister in many ways to the world’s enrichment and blessing. In Italy it is a delight to see the rich vines creeping from tree to tree. But when I was in that country I used to look with much interest on what is generally overlooked-the dwarfed, mutilated, hidden bits of trees, which to a large extent support the clinging vines, and hold them up into the sun. These hidden props have for the most part few leaves and less fruit, but their service and glory are that they bear up the goodly vine, with all its wealth of gold and purple; and however entirely these stumps may be forgotten in the day of vintage, they made a splendid contribution to the joy of harvest. So humble people often make great men possible, although the world knows the great men only, and forgets the lowly helper. In the biography of the Earl of Shaftesbury we have an illustration of the ministry of the obscure. “Although there was little in the home to foster, while there was much to discourage, the growth of that piety which was to characterise so signally his afterlife, one source of helpful and tender influence was preserved to him. There was in the household a faithful old servant, Maria Millis, who had been maid to young Ashley’s mother when she was a girl at Blenheim, and who was now retained as housekeeper. She was a simple-hearted, loving, Christian woman, faithful in her duties to her earthly master, and faithful in her higher duties to her heavenly Master. She formed a strong attachment to the gentle, serious child, and would take him on her knees and tell him Bible stories, especially the sweet story of the manger of Bethlehem and the Cross of Calvary. It was her hand that touched the chords and awakened the first music of his spiritual life.” The great ameliorative movements of the world are also vastly indebted to the weak and poor. Everybody knows of Livingstone, of Bishop Hannington, of Paten, of Calvert; but the sublime enterprise conducted by these heroes would be impossible if it were not for the self-denying work of labouring men, farm servants, domestic servants, little children who give and collect coppers through the land and through the year. Do you say, “Yes, if I were a Garibaldi, or a Victor Hugo, or a John Bright, I would rejoice to serve my generation; but my talent is small, I am only one of the million”? The lily in the field is one of a million, but it makes the summer air a little sweeter for all that; the star of the sky is one of a million, but it is not less a thing of glory for that; the dewdrop of the morning is one of a million, yet it leaves a spot of fresh beauty as it exhales into the light. The Orientals have a wise saying, “A little stone in its place weighs a hundredweight.” The most inconsiderable people are valuable in their place. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Let him speak as the oracles of God.-
The preaching of the Word
I. Particular rules for the preaching of the word may be many, but this is a most comprehensive one which the apostle gives; “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.”
1. In fidelity, it is supposed that a man should have a competent insight and knowledge in the Divine oracles, that first he learn before he teach.
2. A minister must speak holily, with that high esteem and reverence of the great Majesty whose message he carries, that becomes the divinity of the message itself, those deep mysteries that no created spirits are able to fathom.
3. The Word is to be spoken wisely. By this I mean, in the way of delivering it, that it be done gravely and decently. Now you that hear should certainly agree in this too. If any hear, let him hear “as the oracles of God,” not as a well-tuned sound, to help you to sleep an hour; not as a human oration, to displease or please you for an hour; not as a school lesson, to add some what to your stock of knowledge, or as a feast of new notions; but hear as the oracles of God.
II. The end of all this appointment is, “that in all, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ”; that in all, in all persons and all things; the word includes both, and the thing itself extends to both. All persons and all things shall pay this tribute, even they that most wickedly seek to withhold it; but this is the happiness of the saints, that they move willingly thus, are not forced or driven. “Through Jesus Christ.” The Christian in covenant with God, receives all this way and returns all this way. (Abp. Leighton.)
The oracles of God
I. The oracles of God are of Divine origin and are therefore of supreme authority. The heathen oracles owed all their influence to the belief that prevailed that they were the answers of the god enshrined in his temple.
II. That these oracles of God are accessible to us, and may be consulted by us, in the diversities and perplexities of our condition. The heathen oracles were accessible too, but only under circumstances that forbid universal approach.
III. The oracles of God clearly announce the Divine Will, and are therefore to be believed and obeyed. The oracles of the heathen were mysterious but useless mutterings. (W. G. Barrett.)
That God in all things may be glorified.-
The import and application of glorifying God through Jesus Christ
I. The import. The glory of God, as alone it can be affected by His creatures, consists in the homage and service which they render Him, and in the manifestation of His glorious perfections and the accomplishment of the great ends of His moral administration-the virtue and happiness of His intelligent offspring.
II. The application.
1. God is glorified by the diffusion of such knowledge respecting His works, as tends to give a lively conviction of His existence, and His attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness.
2. God is glorified by all that manifests His providential and moral administration respecting man kind.
3. God is glorified in an especial manner, by the effectual diffusion of the gospel, since there His perfections are most plainly illustrated, His dealings towards mankind most clearly displayed, and His requirements of homage and service most forcibly delineated and sanctioned.
4. We glorify God, whenever we act under the influence of religious principle, from a sense of Christian duty, prompted by the example and Spirit of Jesus, and guided by His commands; by a sincere regard to Him as our Maker, our Preserver, our Witness, and our Judge. (J. B. Beard.)
God glorified by Christ
Glory is the manifestation of the hidden attributes of the ever-blessed God. He dwells in light which is so transcendent in its burning purity that no mortal eye could bear the blaze which enwraps His being. But if unknown He would be forever unappreciated and unloved. How could men or angels worship an inaccessible and unknown God? But Jesus Christ, who has dwelt forever in the bosom of the Father, has declared Him, has brought out His attributes from their dark obscurity, and has displayed them. The prism, which shows the exquisite tints that hide in sunbeams, glorifies the sun and its Maker. The artist who reads nature’s secrets, and catches bewitching smiles which are only seen by her lovers, glorifies Him who lives behind all nature. The student who shows some unsuspected beauty in our favourite author, adds to that author’s glory in our esteem. So, though in an infinitely superior sense, as the Son has been the medium through which the Father has shone forth, and has attracted the admiration and homage of all intelligent creatures, we may rightly say that in Him He has been glorified. This was so in creation, when the creative qualities of the Almighty passed through the Son into efflorescent beauty. It has been so in providence, wherein the sustaining grace of God has been revealing itself through successive ages of activity. It was especially so in the life and words and death of the Redeemer. These were windows into the heart of God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
When the sunbeams fall upon a mirror, it flashes in the light, just because they do not enter its cold surface. It is a mirror, because it does not drink them up, but flings them back. The contrary is the case with these mirrors of our spirits. In them the light must first sink in before it can ray out. They must first be filled with the glory, before the glory can stream forth. They are not so much like a reflecting surface as like a bar of iron, which needs to be heated down to its obstinate black core before its outer skin glows with the whiteness of a heat that is too hot to sparkle. The sunshine must fall on us, not as it does on some lonely hillside, lighting up the grey stones with a passing gleam, but as it does on some cloud cradled near its setting, which it drenches and saturates with fire till its cold heart burns, and all its wreaths of vapour are brightness palpable, glorified by the light which lives amidst its mists. So must we have the glory sink into us before it can be reflected from us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
How Christians may glorify God
A painting that is a work of art may be so inappropriately framed, and hung at such disadvantage as to light and shade, that only a master recognises its merits. Or it may be so worthily framed and so fitly placed that the skill and power of the artist’s work appeal to the most casual beholder. So a Christian heart may be enshrined in such meagre and unworthy human qualities that they detract from the recognition the grace of Christ ought to receive, the impression it should make. Where religion is in disrepute, it is largely because of its association with unworthy human qualities, and its consequent identification in the minds of many with them. It is unfortunate when a Christian man is not also a man among men, able to hold his own place, and make for himself a higher. The youth who is first at the bat or the oar; the student who leads his college class; the man who has made a reputation or a fortune in his profession or business, the woman whose grace and accomplishments are the delight of her friends; these, having the grace of Christ in their hearts, are not by these attainments detracting from its power, they are enshrining that grace more worthily; even as a diamond is more fittingly set in a ring of gold than in one of pinchbeck.
1 Peter 4:12-16
Think it not strange.
Not so strange
“Think it not strange!” But it does seem strange that the waters of a full cup should be wrung out to the saints, whilst sinners walk on the sunny side of the hedge! Strange to find some of the sweetest and noblest of God’s children racked with agony, dying of cancer, beset with poverty, misunderstanding, and hatred. And yet it would be stranger still if it were not so. Let us look into the considerations which rob suffering of its strange ness.
I. This world is in revolt. Is it to be wondered at that the servants of the Divinely designated Prince should experience rough treatment at the hands of the rebel forces? It could not be otherwise.
II. Along this way the Master went.
III. This is the way home. If we were universally beloved, and no voice were ever raised in hatred or calumny, we might truly question whether we were at all on the heavenward track. As mountain climbers after a snowstorm can tell the path by the line of posts placed at intervals along the mountain side, so may Christians tell that they are on the track of the Church by the antagonism manifested against their religion in Jesus Christ.
IV. There is an object in such suffering. It is carefully designed by the skill of the great Artificer. There may have been many a previous secret prayer for growth in grace and usefulness, and the answer has come in the use of fire, file, and hammer, wielded by God, though furnished by the hatred of the sons of men. There is no other way of eliminating much of the selfish dross of our natures.
V. Herein we partake of Christ’s sufferings. His life in us meets the same treatment as it did in Him. Ah, it is good to share anything with Him. Sweet things are bitter when He is absent, and bitter things sweet if He is near.
VI. Look on to the end. His glory shall be revealed! His sufferings quicken our anticipations of that blessed day. Too much comfort might make us think ourselves at home, so that we might not so ardently reach out our hands towards our coming glories.
VII. We are compensated for such suffering by the presence of the Spirit of glory. When such suffering lies heavily on the soul, God sees to it that it is no loser. What is lost from without is replenished from within. As water is thrown on the fire from the one side of the wall, a bright angel on the other pours in oil through a tiny aperture, till the flame breaks out as coals of juniper. Ah, what compensations are ours! The Jews who walk the streets of Tangier and other Moorish towns, the hatred of all the people, are said to have exquisitely furnished rooms within their ordinary looking dwellings, where they surround themselves with every luxury. So, as the spiritual man turns from the hatred of man to the special bestowments of God, he is compensated a hundred fold, When we have least human love, we have most of God’s. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The proper temper of Christians in affliction
I. The sufferings of Christians are neither “strange,” in themselves, nor so to be reckoned by them.
1. The nature of their principles accounts for opposition from men of the world. These are principles of holiness. They condemn, by contrast, the men of the world. Christians must cease to be what they are, or the world cease to be what it is, for them to escape persecution.
2. The genius of their dispensation renders probable a greater share of outward ills to them than to the saints of the Old Testament. They have a fuller revelation of the mind of God, and are put more upon future hopes, and less upon present things. “Prosperity was the promise of the Old Testament; adversity of the New” (Mark 10:30).
3. The partial renewal of their character calls for a corrective discipline. The buddings of evil dispositions require nipping frosts to check their growth.
II. All the sufferings of Christians are intended for trials to “try” them.
1. They detect the presence of sin, as fire brings out the latent dross in metals.
2. They make manifest the sincerity of our profession. Persecutions and afflictions keep the church from being overrun with hypocrites.
3. They purify and improve our Christian virtues.
III. Christians ought to “rejoice,” notwithstanding all their sufferings, and even because of them. “Think it not strange, but rejoice,” etc.
1. They increase our spirituality. The overflowing of the Nile distressed Egypt for a time, but when it retired, left behind it fertility and abundance.
2. They furnish ground for the comfortable assurance of a gracious state. If the storm that uproots others leaves us standing, it gives evidence of being well-grounded in faith.
3. They enhance our future glory.
1. Let this check the over anxiety of some Christians to avoid affliction, or to prevent themselves, if possible, from feeling it.
2. Let the subject correct our judgment respecting affliction.
3. Be brought by affliction to enter more deeply into the sufferings of Christ.
4. Let sympathy with others in their sufferings be promoted by our own. (The Evangelist.)
Trials no strange thing
Men are apt to fancy, in their misfortune, that it exceeds the usual measure, or comes in an extraordinary shape. They aggravate their suffering by surprise and disappointment. They make exaggerated estimates of it by self-tormenting reflections. It is too heavy to bear. We could submit to anything better than this. It is “strange” that the “fiery trial” should scorch just in this or that place, or should consume what they were specially anxious to preserve. It is “strange” that I should be prevented, deprived, disabled. “Strange” you call it.
1. And this word of yours implies, in the first place, that you are on the whole graciously dealt with; that the order of things which encircles you, and carries you forward, is on the whole merciful. For why else should you find fault with what afflicts you, as if it were a departure from that order? The hand of Providence-how much oftener it is open to give, than clenched to strike! Do you not prove yourselves unreasonable, there fore, if you chide with it, when it withholds your desire or admonishes you with its unwelcome dispensations? And this is one side of our subject that is worthy of attention. But there is another. It is, that the afflictions of life, though few when set by the side of the innumerable kindnesses that are so continuous as to be unregarded, are yet neither uncommon nor light. They form a regular part of the great system of heavenly appointments, in which we, with our changing circumstances and vanishing life, are included. They are more impartial than they are supposed to be. They spare none. They are not to be bought off by the opulent, nor fought off by the strong. “Think it not strange,” so run the words of the apostle, “concerning the fiery trial that is to try you.”
2. You there read what is the design in view. It is to prove and not to destroy you. You are tempted by pleasures and prosperity to see if you are weak enough to be seduced. You are searched by hurts and deprivations to see if you are strong enough to endure. If you are sick, secure the inward health that knows neither the fever of passion nor the consumption of care. If you are poor, learn to feel that everything else is destitution, if compared for a moment with the incorruptible wealth of conscious integrity, and the thoughts that turn confidingly towards God, and the substance that no reverses can make less. (N. L. Frothingham.)
Trial no strange thing to the Christian
It is said by the wise man in the book of Ecclesiastes-“That which hath been, is now; and that which is to be, hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.” The assertion here is, that of there being great uniformity in the dealings of God; so that the history of any one generation is little more than the repetition of that of any other. From such a description of the dealings of God, it would follow that there cannot be anything “strange,” at least not to those who live in a remote age of the world; for nothing can happen to them, which has not often happened before, and for which therefore they might not have been prepared by due attention to the experience of others. The case is evidently very different with ourselves and the earlier converts to Christianity, the difference being much the same as between the later and the earlier inhabitants of the world. We can appeal to the history of many ages for the workings of Christianity; we can show its predictions fulfilled, and its promises verified, in the progress of events and the experience of the Church. But the first converts were obliged, in a great degree, to take all upon trust. With them the whole was matter of experiment. There was therefore great room, as it would seem, for what was “strange” in their case, though not in our own. With us, the experience of a Christian may be mapped out beforehand. His own experience may not be an exact copy of that of any one of his predecessors in the faith; but there shall be nothing in it which has not been experienced before, the parallel to which may not be found in the history of any other believer, and therefore nothing which ought to come upon him unexpectedly, or to take him as it were by surprise. But it was not thus with the earlier Christians. They were themselves to furnish experience for those who came after; but had scarcely any power of appealing to the experience of those who went before. And yet in one great particular, it appears from our text that there is no difference betwixt the earliest and the latest converts, so far as the foreknowledge of God’s dealings is concerned. With ourselves it amounts almost to a truism, that “they who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” and that “through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It were expecting God to change the established course of His dealings, to expect Him not to chasten where He loves, and therefore to “think it strange concerning the trials which are to try us.” But can the same be said of the earliest Christians? Had they not embraced the religion of One, who was promised by the auspicious title of “Prince of peace”; whom seers of old had beheld in visions, glowing and tranquil and beautiful? And might they not therefore have justly expected that their lot would be one of freedom from trouble? No, saith the apostle; a “fiery trial” can be no unlooked for thing.
I. Now the first thing which I would argue from this alleged absence of “strangeness” from the dealings of God, is that there were more points of correspondence than of difference between the Christian and the Jewish dispensations. It is true that they could not co-exist, but not because they were in any measure opposed the one to the other. The dawn and the noon tide cannot co-exist; yet the one does not so much displace the other, as it is that other in a more advanced stage. The Mosaic economy was the Christian in its dawn, or in its bud, presenting the same truths, though in a more shadowy form, and proposing the same way of salvation, though with less clearness and precision. The Christian dispensation superseded the Jewish, but only in the manner in which history supersedes prophecy. And this must necessarily have been the case, if you only consider how God had from the first determined the plan of our redemption, and virtually announced it ere Adam was driven from Paradise. There was not one method of being saved in one age, and another in another, so far as the method of reconciliation is concerned; neither can there be thought to have been any such variation, so far as the method of application is concerned. In all ages there has been the same necessity for a renewal of nature in order to a meetness for the kingdom; and therefore must it be supposed that in all ages the dealings of God with a view to these ends have borne in the main the same features. But undoubtedly God had from the first made sorrow one of His chief engines in weakening attachment to the things of time and sense, and directing the affections towards heaven. Was it therefore for a moment to be expected, that because there came a dispensation of greater light, a dispensation of substance in place of shadow, sorrow was to depart and no longer to be used in preparing men for heaven? And, indeed, without tracing accurately a sameness in the dealings of God, we might venture to say that the discipline of affliction is indispensable in the case of depraved creatures like ourselves. It is not that under this economy, but not under that, sorrow is a wholesome thing for those whose nature is corrupt; it is rather that in every condition and estate, man cannot do without affliction, if he is to be kept up to the task of preferring the future to the present. Hard it may be, bitter it may be, but “strange” it can never be, that whilst “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” God should constantly verify the saying, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” “Are ye not men?” might be the address of the messenger of God: “are ye not sinners? and is it not your sanctification which is proposed? Oh! then, ‘beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.’”
II. But possibly these remarks on what we may call the necessity for affliction, and therefore on the truth that it ought never to seem “strange,” hardly clear up the point which is presented by our text. The case of those addressed by St. Peter is not that of men exposed to trouble in its ordinary sense, but of those on whom was coming a great onset of persecution. The “fiery trial which was to try them,” was to result from the efforts of the enemies of Christianity to destroy by violence what they could not disprove by argument. What is strange, if it be not strange that heaven’s best gift should be received with loathing; that the very remedy, which at an immeasurable cost God prepared for the evils which have pressed on this creation, should meet not only with scorn, but hatred; that they whom it is designed to benefit, should agree with themselves to cast it out from the earth? Yet the apostle does not hesitate to tell them in our text, that nothing “strange” had happened to them, when a “fiery trial” arose and they had to maintain their profession in the face of persecution and death. We close with this statement of St. Peter, and we wish you to see whether it may not be vindicated by almost self-evident reasons. The results which Christianity proposes, and which beyond all question it is calculated to effect, are those of a widespread peace and a dominant happiness: but the processes, through which it would work out these results, are those of self-denial and restraint, of mortified passions and curbed affections; and they who would be quite in love with the results, may be quite at war with the processes. There is not after all, anything surprising in persecution, whether in the bold shape it assumed in early days, or the more modified which it exhibits in later; it is, we might almost say, but a natural result of the rejection of Christianity-whether of the open rejection of the sceptical, or of the more covert of the indifferent. Doctrines which are not embraced must be disliked, when they are doctrines which would bind us to practices, which conscience secretly pronounces to be right, but which inclination vehemently opposes; and disliking the doctrines, men must also dislike those who hold them, for every believer is a reproach to the unbeliever, condemning by his example those whom it does not excite to imitation; and there is only a step from dislike to persecution. Persecution is but dislike in action the effort to remove what annoys by reproving. Then till Christianity be universal, persecution, in some form or other, is unavoidable. It is not the product of a dark age, rather than of a light; it is the product of human nature-the same in its corruption, acted upon by a system the same in its holiness.
III. But we cannot suppose that St. Peter used these remarkable words, in order merely to correct an erroneous impression which had been made on the minds of the first Christians-an impression as to the likelihood that Christianity would disarm rather than provoke opposition: we may further believe that he designed to offer a topic of consolation and support-to suggest what ought to reconcile the suffering to their lot. “You ought not,” St. Peter seems to say, “to be amazed or confounded; you are called to no affliction which others have not sustained; and where there is nothing but what has been experienced, why should there be surprise, as though it were unexpected?” And truly the distressing thing to a believer would be, if he were able to show that God’s dealings with himself were quite different from what God’s dealings with His people had ordinarily been. Suppose the registered course of God’s proceedings had been, that where there was belief in His Word there was comparative freedom from trouble, so that religion and temporal happiness went hand in hand: what fearful thing would it then be, for a Christian to find himself in trouble! It would not be the amount of the trouble, so much as its strangeness, that would overwhelm him. His inference would be-“Surely I am not one of the people of God: if I were, He would not deal with me in so unusual a manner.” Or, to take what might be thought a more supposable case: let righteousness and peace of mind be almost invariably found together, so that a righteous individual is seldom, if ever, disquieted with doubts and apprehensions: if, then, a Christian feels himself depressed and cast down, his hopes darkened through the suggestions of his great adversary the devil, do you not see that the bitterest thing in his portion would be, not the depression, but the consciousness of this depression being a “strange thing” in a believer, and therefore almost an evidence of his not being a believer at all? But now take the opposite, which is the actual case, namely, that the Christian has nothing strange to undergo, nothing befalling him but what is common to believers; and do you not perceive that this very circumstance is full of consolation, and ought to do much towards producing in him patience and resignation? The tempest may rage, the sword may glitter, the destroyer may ravage; but he is calm, he is confident, because he can never “think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try him, as though some strange thing had happened unto him.”
IV. And now, lastly, there is yet another remark which, in a practical point of view, is perhaps of greater importance than the foregoing. It may be questioned whether our translators have given the exact meaning of the original, in saying, “Think it not strange.” The more literal meaning is, “Be not strange in fiery trial.” It is not so much an opinion, as a deportment, to which the apostle has respect. What he enjoins on Christians is, that when the fiery trial came, they were not to receive it as an unexpected thing; they were not to be like strangers, but rather to show that they had been waiting the onset, and had prepared themselves to meet it. An old writer justly says, “Things certainly fall the lighter upon us when they first fall upon our thoughts.” Arm yourselves therefore beforehand; it is hard to have your weapons to seek, when the foe is upon you. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The Christian’s persecutions
I. The connection of religion with trial-“Do not wonder at the burning which is to try you.” It is no wonder; it is a natural consequence.
1. Is it likely God would commit the keeping of His honour and glory into the hands of untested witnesses?
2. Is it likely that God would give the work of saving souls to untried emissaries?
3. Is it likely God would admit to His eternal kingdom unproved citizens? By no means.
II. The connection between trial and suffering-“The burning.” What more potent picture of suffering than that which is expressed by this terrible word?
III. The connection of suffering with joy. Strange apparent inconsistency!-“Think it not strange, but rejoice.” We may gather-
1. That anything which brings us into harmony with Christ is to be desired. Suffering brings us into sympathy with Him. We appreciate the sacrifice which His atonement entailed when we feel something of its consequences.
2. That the only true way to triumph is through the vale of tears. Christ became Conqueror through submitting.
IV. The connection of joy with glory-“For the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.” (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
The fiery trial which is to try you.-
Afflictions are trials
1. To try whether we have any truth of grace in us, whether we be sound or hollow.
2. To try what measure of grace we have, whether as much or more or less than we thought.
3. To purify and refine that measure of true grace that is in us. In the days of peace and prosperity, the best men are subject to gather soil, as standing waters putrefy, bodies without exercise prove full of gross humours. (John Rogers.)
A rejoicing heart
A heart rejoicing in God delights in all His will, and is most surely provided to the most firm joy in all estates; for, if nothing can come to pass beside or against His will, then cannot that soul be vexed that delights in Him, and hath no will but His, but follows Him in all times and in all estates-not only when He shines bright on them, but when they are clouded. That flower that follows the sun, doth so even in cloudy days-when it doth not shine forth, yet it follows the hidden course and motion of it: so the soul, that moves after God, keeps that course when He hides His face; is content, yea, is glad at His will, in all estates, conditions, or events. (Abp. Leighton.)
Partakers of the sufferings of Christ.-
Participation in the sufferings of Christ
It is strange what a power there is in suffering to unite in deepest intimacy those who have nobly borne it together. It would seem as if the affections could never be welded so firmly as when they have been exposed to the fiery solvent of adversity. Perhaps it is that we never so truly understand each other as when great and common trials sound the depths of our nature, and show to each what is in brother’s heart. Or it may be that love is strengthened most of all by the trials and hardships endured for the sake of its object. The survivors of the wreck who can recall the days and hours of danger and exposure, of alternating hope and despair, which they bore together; the remnant of the forlorn hope, who have stood side by side while shot and shell were raining death around them; or the few brave and true hearts who together have struggled through the protracted and terrible siege, and whose friendship is cemented by a thousand associations of sympathy and endurance, cannot choose but feel in each other a deeper than common interest. Now, some such thought as this may have been present to the apostle’s mind when he congratulated his suffering fellow Christians on the fact that they were partakers of the sufferings of Christ. The secret depths of that sorrowing heart they could better understand in virtue of the approximation to His grief which their own hearts had felt, and a fuller appreciation of His ineffable love could be theirs, when by experience they had learnt something of that penalty of suffering and sacrifice which for them He so willingly had paid. Instead, therefore, of regarding it as a “strange thing” that theirs should be a lot of suffering and trial, it would rather have seemed unnatural had it been otherwise. But it is not all kinds of suffering in which we have community with Jesus. There are sorrows, obviously, of which the infinitely pure and holy Saviour could have no experience, and in the endurance of which no man can appropriate the consolation of fellowship with Christ. Let us endeavour, therefore, to find out what sort of suffering for sin is possible to a pure and holy nature. How far may suffering for sin be really noble and worthy? What elements must we eliminate from suffering caused by sin in forming our ideal of suffering purity?
1. One element of suffering for sin, and that a most bitter one, of which Christ could have no direct experience, is conscious guilt. With all godly sorrow Jesus sympathises, but He knows nothing, and never can, “of the sorrow of the world that worketh death.”
2. Another element in suffering for sin, of which a perfectly holy nature could have no experience, is a personal sense of Divine wrath. Betwixt the experience of a guilty soul writhing under the frown of God, and His, even in His darkest hour of sorrow, there is an impassable gulf.
3. Nor, finally, though Christ “tasted of death for every man,” could He ever experience personally that which constitutes to the sinner the very bitterness of death-the fear of what comes after death. On the contrary, death to Jesus was an escape from protracted banishment to endless and unutterable union with His Father. It was the passing from a world in which all had been to Him toil and weariness and woe, to one on which the sweet memories of an eternity of joy were resting.
Death to Jesus, in one word, was but a going home.
1. I now go on to inquire what kind of suffering for sin may be conceived of as noble and worthy, and so not impossible to a pure and holy nature.
(1) Amongst these kinds of suffering I notice, first, that which a pure and holy nature must feel from the mere contiguity of evil. The mere spectacle of sin, the life-long contact of the sinless with the vile-implied on His part bitter suffering. To man or woman of pure mind and tender conscience it would be intolerable to be forced to read through an obscene book; what agony of mind then-what pain and distress of spirit more unendurable than sharpest bodily tortures-would be involved in a similar lifelong contact with sin, not recorded merely, but hideously displayed in act!
(2) Another element of Christ’s suffering for sin, in which, as we grow in kindred purity of nature, we shall learn to participate, is the reflected or borrowed shame and pain which noble natures feel for the sins of those with whom they are closely connected. Christ was not a mere spectator of the world’s sin, He was deeply implicated in the fortunes of the guilty, related to them by the closest ties of kindred and affection. There is a borrowed humiliation which we feel from the sins of those who are dear to us; there is a keen and cruel pain which pierces a good and generous heart in the contemplation of a brother’s wickedness, and which is second only, and in some respects not second, to the agony of personal guilt.
(3) Once more, Christ suffered for sin, not only as bearing relatively its guilt, but also as its victim. In the persons of those He loved, sin transmitted to Him a borrowed humiliation; but it hurt Him more deeply than thus, for it rose up against Him, to hate and assail and destroy Him. And this to such a nature as His was the saddest thing of all. (J. Caird, D. D.)
Participation in Christ’s sufferings
It has often been said that the Christian faith gives dignity to every kind of suffering. If we may so speak, the light shines from Christ’s Cross as a fringe of glory upon every cloud which environs human life. You have given up that false notion which belonged rather to the heathen age, that the gods would not visit in pain or suffering those who were their special favourites. It is the other way in Christian conception. According to the Christian, those whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. “Think it not strange the fiery trial which is to try you”-that is coming for this purpose to put your life to the test, but see how far your faith needs consolidating, how far your love needs being drawn forth as often love only can be in the hours of sorrow. But he rises higher than this. He seems to say: “Do not merely look upon suffering as a certain ministry for good, but that he that suffers may be brought into the charmed circle of fellowship with Christ.” But we are met at once by the thought: Are not the sufferings of Christ wholly unique in character? Are they not such that none may share them?
I. In what sense is it true that the Christian can have a partnership with the sufferings of Christ? In the first place it is not of the ordinary sorrows of life that the apostle is speaking; because he does not speak respecting the sufferings which Christ shares with us, but rather of certain sufferings which we share with Christ. There is all the difference in the world between those sorrows which are rather the sorrows of humanity, and which Christ, in becoming man, of necessity became a participator in, and those sufferings which belong to the Christian life, and which only Christian lives can share with Christ. And I think that just as those sorrows cannot be in any fair sense called the sufferings peculiarly of Christ, so the whole analogy of similar passages in the New Testament shows us that the apostle is speaking of the sufferings which we suffer as Christians. What, then, does he mean? If we exclude the sorrows of life which are common to all mankind, if we exclude the special sufferings of Christ on the Cross as our Redeemer, what are the sufferings which we are privileged to share with Christ? In one sense the work of Christ was complete; He wrought a perfect and complete work upon the Cross. But, on the other hand, there is a real sense in which the work of Christ is not complete. Christ may, if I may use the figure, be supposed to have formed a great steel plate, on which every line and letter is engraved, but still the work of striking off the impressions is left for the Church of Christ to do. He formed every feature of the Christian character which was to be stamped upon mankind; He wrought all that great and glorious work which was the great picturing of Divine love in the eyesight of man; but having wrought that, He left it to His disciples to carry forth that image to the world, and they were to impress it upon the characters of men; they were, in fact, to work out that which Christ had left them to work. He had given them the rule, they were to work out the examples; He had given them the great completed seed, they were to sow it into the hearts of men. Christ’s Church is built up in suffering. There is not a truth which is incorporated in our creeds, there is not a single aphorism of Christianity which is dear to your hearts that has not been consolidated by the blood of suffering men and women. But there is another sense in which we may also share the sufferings of Christ. All Christian life is progressive. Against all the knots, and against all the awkward angles of character, the grace of God has to contend, and in contending with these it is purging out the evil and implanting the good. And as Christian life is thus progressive, so the capacity of sharing a certain order of Christ’s sufferings is growing within us. If a pure-minded person were made by necessity to go through the obscene details of the police records, even physical agony would be preferred to that. And just so he who feels that his spiritual life is growing, that the sanctifying influences of the Spirit make him more enamoured of purity and more hostile to evil, begins to understand what intense pain Christ must have endured in daily contact with sin; and so he becomes a partaker in that degree of the sufferings of Christ. The judiciousness of the apostle’s language is to be seen in this: he says, “Rejoice, in so far as” (and no further) “you are partakers of the sufferings of Christ.” That is to say, he shows to them that their cause of rejoicing can only lie in this-their consciousness that they are suffering with Christ. He who feels that the spiritual life within him is growing may know that in proportion as he is conscious of that pain which sin must bring to the pure in heart he is able to share somewhat in the sufferings of Christ.
II. What, then, are the sources of the joy? These we have partly anticipated. The joy, and that which the apostle wishes the Christian to rejoice in, is precisely the thought that he is suffering with Christ. The faithful servant will feel that the hours are not merely wasted, but are positively dishonestly employed that are not being used in his master’s service; and thus the Christian feels that his hours are not, indeed, his own, but belong to his Master; and even if those hours must be employed in pain, if constant conflict against the powers of evil be that which he is called upon to endure, he can rejoice, for it is for his Master. Not that he is indifferent to sorrow, but that he feels the sorrow is glorified by the fact that it is for Christ. And just as thus it is a joy to him to rejoice in suffering for Christ, so also is it so because he sees in it a witness of his own progress. Do I find sin a greater pain, do I find that the presence of it causes more agony than before? Then I am glad, for at least I can so far feel that I am growing in the image of Christ; I would rather feel sin to be ten thousandfold the agony it was before than that I should live a life which is utterly indifferent to Christian progress. And there is yet another reason of joy. The love which the Christian has is that which the apostle assumes. But what is one of the first features of love? Is it not to be linked with the object it loves? We always long to appropriate that which we love, because there is the straining desire of the soul to be drawn nearer to the object of its love. And so the Christian feels that the desire of his love is to be linked with Christ. And where is the link? Look round the world and answer, where can the link with Christ be? Is it in joy? I know no joy as long as sin reigns in the world. Is it to be found in the mere amusements of life? These are impossible. The only law by which the soul of man can be linked with Christ is the law of suffering; it is the very law of our physical being, it is the very law of society, it is the very law of God’s universe, because of the strange distortions which sin has introduced, that all love is a bond in suffering. Not one has suffered; not one has loved without feeling that love and suffering are always co-relatives in life. It was not because your life was easy and smooth together that you loved one another so intensely; it is because you have fought together, because you have struggled together, because you were partners in the same sorrow and in the same care. And not merely thus; those who have suffered the same loss, for example-see what a freemasonry of love that establishes! But it is not merely this; it is more. It is not merely the same loss you are suffering. “For the zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me”; but the sorrow which men endure together in establishing the same cause, is not that a link which binds them fast? None have suffered for Christ without loving Christ the more, and none have loved Christ the more without feeling Christ’s love the more, and none have felt Christ’s love the more without feeling that He has stooped down to their very side to be near them. (Bp. Boyd Carpenter.)
Let none of you suffer as a murderer.-
Righteous and evil suffering
I. The apostle distinguishes between deserved and undeserved suffering. Many of the early martyrs brought on their own deaths through incautious and foolish utterances, or want of that meekness which ought to characterise a professor of the gospel.
II. The apostle urges the higher responsibilities of professors of the gospel. They possess a higher standard of moral conduct than the worldling.
III. The apostle reminds us of the terrible end of the finally impenitent. The shipwrecked mariner who has lashed himself to a spar, and is striving frantically to reach the shore, is far more likely to be saved than the sailor who stays on the burning vessel. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
A busybody in other men’s business.-
It is very common to compare ourselves with other men, and to draw flattering conclusions from the fact of their conduct being marked by more of open flagitiousness than our own. Yet it may be the very grossest of self-deceptions. The degree of criminality must evidently depend, not only on the sin committed, but on the amount of temptation and the measure of resistance. I am not necessarily better than another, unless better under precisely the same circumstances; and it is impossible for me to know and to judge what all those circumstances are. It is not necessary that we suppose the busybody to be equally criminal with the murderer and the thief, but at all events there must be much greater criminality in the busybody than we are accustomed to suppose; otherwise an apostle would hardly have so combined offenders as they are combined in our text.
1. Now it is certainly far from the design of the Christian religion to separate us one from another, to shut us up in our individual capacities, and confine our attention to our individual interests. Christianity, on the contrary, enjoins universal brotherhood and love; brotherhood and love, which are entirely at variance with the supposition that we take no concern in the affairs of our neighbour. The great general rule, in this as in every case of Christian casuistry, must evidently be fetched from the motive by which we are actuated. If it be honestly our aim to promote the Divine glory by promoting the good of our fellow men, we can scarcely go wrong, whether in the measure or the manner in which we concern ourselves in the affairs of other men. Whensoever there is opportunity of doing good to another, whensoever, more especially, his soul may be benefited through our instrumentality, then and there indeed it were worse than absurd to suppose it playing the busybody’s part to concern ourselves in his affairs. Let no one, therefore, think to shelter himself under the plea that non-interference is a duty, and thus excuse himself from all public endeavour at discountenancing vice, defending truth, relieving misery, or propagating Christianity. It is at a far remoter point that interference becomes sinful. And we may begin our investigation by stating that probably St. Peter had respect to a species of meddling, which is sufficiently common, though hardly thought criminal. The one compound word in the Greek (for there is but one), which is rendered by us “a busybody in other men’s matters,” might be more literally rendered-a bishop in another man’s diocese; as though what the apostle specially wished to denounce were that interference with constituted authorities, whether civil or ecclesiastical, which in those days and countries exposed men to punishment Just because those in power bring not forward the precise measures which these men think the best, they will break at once into injurious expressions; as though they must be better judges of what is good for an empire, who have no means of looking into all the intricacies of the machine, than others who are placed at the wheel, and have the power of observing the most secret springs. But it is a more private sort of meddling with which the busybody is generally occupied; he, or she, is prying into family secrets, as well as into state, and presuming to adjust the affairs of neighbours as well as the intricacies of government. The man who, unasked, obtrudes his opinions on others in matters in which they alone have any concern, who infringes the liberty of others where they have undoubted right to follow their own inclination, who sets up on every occasion for a teacher of others, as though he must be wiser and better informed, who is always for adjusting his neighbour’s business, and is so disinterested that he will do it at the neglect of his own: such an one-one who is guilty whether in any or in all of these particulars-is emphatically a “busybody in other men’s matters.” The woman who plays the spy upon her neighbours, as though she were the constituted inspector of themselves and their households, who is not easy except she knows every particular of their domestic arrangements, who, if she have a visit to pay, is sure to talk over the affairs of the family she last left, only leaving herself time to find out something to tell at the house to which she goes next, who is critical alike upon character and upon dress, so that she will pronounce with equal fluency what people ought to do and what they ought to wear: such a woman is undeniably a “busybody in other men’s matters.”
2. But now you will inquire what great criminality, after all, attaches to the busybody, or with what show of justice he can be associated with those whom even human laws sternly reprobate and punish.
(1) The busybody violates justice; because, by meddling with other men’s affairs, does his best to deprive them of their office, which is certainly to manage their own business.
(2) The busybody, again, is conspicuous in arrogance; for he who is always obtruding his advice is always proclaiming himself wiser than others.
(3) The busybody neglects himself, and those affairs which are specially his own.
(4) And who does more harm than the busybody? Half the dissensions in a neighbourhood are his or her work. The parties into whose affairs the busybody pries are naturally incensed or irritated by the interference; and in this feeling is evidently laid the foundation of enmity. Besides, what is found out by the inquisitiveness of the busybody is sure to be propagated by the industriousness of the tale bearer; so that the secrets of families become public talk, and chief friends are separated by injurious reports of things which were perhaps never done, or remarks which were perhaps never made. There is another assassin besides he who kills the body-he who wounds the reputation; and who does this more than the busybody? (H. Melvill, B. D.)
A hint to meddlers
Some people do not understand how to cooperate for public ends without interfering with the privacy of domestic life. The seals teach a good lesson in this respect. They can work together at proper times; but they honour the sanctity of home. They live sociably, and in great numbers frequent the same localities. Although, in the sea, these animals cooperate in numerous herds, and protect and valiantly defend each other, once emerged from their favourite element they regard themselves on their peculiar rock as in a sacred domicile, where no comrade has a right to intrude upon their domestic tranquillity. If one of them approach this family centre, the chief-or, shall we say the father?-prepares to expel by force what he considers a foreign aggression; and there invariably takes place a terrible combat, which only ends in the death of the lord of the rock, or in the compulsory retreat of the indiscreet stranger. This proceeding is well worth the attention of every busybody. It is full of sense, and shows a discrimination between public cooperation for the common good, and officious interference in private life, which would do credit to even human beings. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Mind your own business
“Come, hurry up!” said the second hand of a clock to the minute hand; “you’ll never get round in time if you don’t. See how fast I’m going,” continued the fussy little monitor, as it fretted round on its pivot. “Come, hurry up!” said the minute to the hour hand, utterly oblivious of being addressed by the second hand. “If you don’t be quick you’ll never be in at the stroke of one.” “Well, that’s just what our young friend there has been saying to you.” At this point the clock pealed forth the hour as the hour hand continued, “You see we’re all in time-not one of us behind. You take my advice: Do your own work in your own way, and leave others alone.” Moral-Mind your own business. (Great Thoughts.)
1 Peter 4:16-19
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian.
The two-fold sorrow
One often hears it insinuated that a godly life is free from care and sorrow, but those persons do much harm who would cheat people into becoming religious by any such delusive hopes. All have troubles, but it makes a very great difference whether we sorrow with God or without Him. Let us now consider some of the sorrows of righteousness and compare them with the no less certain sorrows of unrighteousness. We divide the sufferings of the Christian into, first, those which spring from his struggles with outer things; secondly, those arising from his own nature-the world within. Every one knows how the first professors of Christianity had to suffer when that religion was in its infancy, and paganism or indifferentism was the creed of respectability. They were tortured, thrown to wild beasts, “butchered to make a Roman holiday.” The men of noble aims find their lot a sad and lonely one still. They are smiled at as enthusiasts, sneered at as hypocrites. And then there is the pain which is felt by every one who bravely contends against the besetting sins of his inner life. Oh, who can escape from himself-this slothful, vain, selfish, lustful, envious self? To conquer this is indeed a struggle. But do not fancy for a moment that the sorrows of unrighteousness are at all less real. Suppose a man did gain the whole world at the trifling cost (as he might think it) of his own soul, what then? We know that Alexander was troubled because he had not another world to conquer, and is there not such a thing as satiety, monotony of success, and the want of not having a want? Ruined homes and cursed lives proclaim the penalties of unrestrained passions. The sufferings in this world of the murderer, thief, evil-doer, with death for wages, are at least as great as those of the Christian to be followed by God’s gift of eternal life. Certainly it is difficult to resist our unholy natures, to tame rebellious passions; but there is one thing even more difficult, and that is to endure the misery which their unrestrained indulgence invariably brings along with it. Suffer we all must; but surely it makes a great difference whether God’s love is seen through our sorrow, or we have the additional misery of feeling that we are in rebellion against our Heavenly Father, and that, therefore, the whole constitution of the world is against us. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
The character and privileges of a Christian
I. His character.
1. A Christian is one who fully and cordially believes the testimony that is given concerning Christ.
2. A Christian is one who permanently obeys the commandments of Christ.
3. A Christian is one who receives his faith and holiness, and his desert in them, by the Spirit of Christ.
II. His privileges.
1. A Christian is justified from the guilt and condemnation of sin.
2. A Christian possesses friendship and constant inter course with God.
3. A Christian possesses the certainty of victory over death.
4. A Christian has the prospect of perfect and immortal happiness and glory. (J. Parsons.)
The Christian described
I. The origin of the name (Acts 11:26).
II. The commonness of the appellation.
1. In one aspect this commonness is astonishing, and should be convincing. “This is the finger of God.”
2. In another view this commonness is reasonable.
3. In another view the commonness of the name is lamentable. The word Christian was once very significant and distinguishing. But, alas! in numberless instances now, it is not distinguishable at all.
III. The real import of this title.
1. A Christian is one who has a relation to Christ; not a professed, but a real relation-not a nominal, but a vital relation-yea, a very peculiar and preeminent relation, arising above every other you can mention; spiritual in its nature, and never ending in its duration; and deriving the possession and continuance of every enjoyment from Christ.
2. A Christian is a lover of Christ’s doctrine.
3. A Christian is a lover of Christ’s person.
4. A Christian is a copier of Christ’s example.
5. A Christian is a dependent on Christ’s mediation.
6. A Christian is expectant of Christ’s coming. (W. Jay.)
Glorify God on this behalf.-
The pious sufferer exhorted to glorify God
I. What is implied in suffering as a Christian.
1. To suffer in the character of a Christian. Where piety has its seat in the heart it will appear in the life, to be seen and identified by all (Matthew 5:13-16).
2. To suffer for discharging the duties of a Christian. Christianity frees its possessors from the slavery of custom; they are governed by the high principles of religion.
3. To suffer in the spirit of a Christian (Luke 21:19).
II. Why characters who thus suffer should not be ashamed.
1. Because they suffer innocently.
2. They suffer in a good cause.
3. They suffer from the purest motive.
4. They suffer for a blessed Master.
5. They suffer in imitation of the brightest examples.
III. Their duty under suffering circumstances, viz., to “glorify God on this behalf.”
1. Devoutly acknowledging Him and His gifts (1 Chronicles 29:11-12; confessing Him “worthy to receive honour, glory, might, and majesty” (Revelation 4:11). The very circumstance of their suffering should prompt them to this.
2. By firmness in the day of trial. Let nothing shake their firmness (1 Corinthians 15:58); but imitate the example of the disciples, who continued with their Lord in His temptations (Luke 22:28-29).
3. By a faithful and patient endurance of suffering.
IV. To this act of glorifying God, they are encouraged from-
1. The declarations and promises He has made. These are many, great, and various (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 34:2; Isaiah 54:17; Matthew 10:32; James 1:12; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 22:7).
2. The honour it will confer upon them.
1. Let us examine our experience by this test.
2. Let us encourage ourselves in the Lord.
3. Let us pray for our persecutors. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
1 Peter 4:17-19
Judgment must begin at the house of God.
The Church’s visitation
How we may know when some judgment approacheth. God usually, before any heavy judgment, visits a people with lesser judgments.
1. “This, and this have I done,” saith the Lord, “and yet ye have not returned unto Me” (Amos 4:6-7). There be droppings before the ruin of a house.
2. Again, usually before some great calamity, God takes away worthy men, “the councillor, and the captain, and the man of war” (Isaiah 3:2-3). This is a fearful presage that God threateneth some destruction, for they are the pillars of the church and the strength of the world; for they keep away evil and do good by their example and by their prayers many ways.
3. God usually visits a people when some horrible crying sins reign amongst them, as-
(3) When divisions grow amongst a people. Union is a preserver.
4. Again, when sin goes with some evil circumstances and odious qualities, which aggravate the same in the sight of God, as when sin grows ripe, and abounds in a land or nation.
(1) When it is impudent; when men grow bold in sin, making it their whole course and trade of life.
(2) When sin grows common and spreads far. It is an ill plea to say, Others do so as well as I. Alas! the more sin the more danger.
(3) When there is a security in sinning, without fear of the Almighty, as if men would dare the God of heaven to do His worst.
5. Unfruitfulness threateneth a judgment upon a people. When God, the great husbandman in His Church, sees that upon so great and continual cost bestowed upon us, we remain yet unfruitful, He will not suffer us long to cumber the ground of His Church.
6. Decay in our first love is a sign of judgment approaching. (R. Sibbes.)
Difficulties in the pursuit, despair in the neglect, of salvation
I. That the conduct of God to His Church is such, that “judgment” may be said to “begin at the house of God,” and “the righteous” to be “scarcely saved.”
1. The Church is here often subject to persecution.
2. The Christian life is a painful course of exertion and warfare.
3. Many serious apprehensions and fears are felt by the people of God respecting their final salvation.
4. “The righteous is scarcely saved,” as, to be saved, he must endure to the end.
II. We proceed to the solemn inquiry, which the apostle infers from such a conduct of the Lord toward His servants; “What shall be the end of those who obey not His gospel? where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear; if judgment begin at the house of God; if the righteous be scarcely saved?”
1. Now if these require such a process of afflictive correction and purification, what shall be the doom of those who experience none; those who live without God? If His corrective dealings were so severe, what will be His severity, when justice alone, without mercy, shall preside?
2. The saints are prepared for glory by a course of privations and endurances; by learning to deny themselves: what then may be expected by those who never aimed at following the will of God as their rule? those that live at large after the desires of the flesh and the mind.
3. If the righteous had so many fears and anxieties regarding their state; what then shall be the portion of those who had no such fears, who lived in a reckless disregard of all that is most serious?
4. The followers of Christ, in the midst of all their difficulties, endure to the end: but if thus only are they saved, what shall be the doom of those who persevered in an opposite path? acquiring only, at every step, fresh degrees of obduration, a more fixed habit of resistance to the will of God! “Where shall they appear?” (R. Hall, M. A.)
The Church’s visitation
I. The Church of God is His own house.
1. God hath two houses, the heavens, which are called His house, because He manifests His glory there, and the Church here below, wherein He manifests His grace. Yea, the whole world, in a sort, is His house, because He manifests His power and wisdom in it; but heaven and His Church, in a more peculiar manner; and that in these respects-
1. Because God by His graze hath residence in His Church.
(2) Because by the means of salvation-the Word and sacraments there administered-He doth feed His Church, as in a house.
(3) A man rests and takes contentment in His house; so God takes His best contentment in His Church and people; they are the most beloved of all mankind.
(4) As in a house we use to lay up our jewels and precious things; so God lays up in His Church whatsoever is precious-His praises, His graces, yea, whatsoever is good and of high esteem, that He bestows upon His Church and people.
2. God provides for His Church as His own house. First, a man provides for his family; so doth God provide for His Church. And as a man protects his house from all enemies, so will God protect His Church and people, and be a wall of fire, and a defence round about them.
3. The heart of true Christians is God’s private closet. And as in every house or building, there are some open places, and some private closets, etc., so is it here. God hath His private chamber, and His retiring place, which is the heart of every true Christian.
II. The house of God needs visiting and purging.
1. Such is the weakness of man’s nature, that evil things soon discourage us; and good things, except we wrestle with our spirits, prove a snare to the best. Even the Church of God, after a long time of peace, is apt to gather corruption, as water doth by standing, and as the air itself will do if it have not the wind to purge it.
2. Most certain it is that the Church of God cannot be long without some affliction, considering that it is now in a state of pilgrimage, absent from God, in another world as it were.
III. God will come to visit and purge His house when need is. He afflicts His own people before others, because-
1. They are of His own family, and are called by His name (Numbers 6:27). Now the disorders of the family tend to the disgrace of the governor of it.
2. The gospel suffers much through the sins of professors.
3. The sins of the godly are more heinous than others.
(1) Committed against more light.
(2) More benefits and favours.
IV. God appoints a particular time for His visitation.
1. The time of visiting the Church of God is from Abel to the last man that shall be in the earth. The whole days of the Church are a time of persecution.
2. The Church is afflicted when the light of the gospel hath most clearly shined.
3. Now is the time of the Church’s affliction.
V. Judgment must begin at the house of God. God begins with His own Church and people-
1. Usually because He uses wicked men and the enemies of His Church for that base service, to correct and punish them.
2. To take away all excuse from wicked men.
3. That His children might be best at last.
4. That when He sends them good days afterwards, they might have the more taste and relish of His goodness. (R. Sibbes.)
Afflictions amongst the people of God
I. Afflictions must begin with God’s servants. Jacob’s house first, afterwards the Egyptians, felt the famine; first the Israelites were oppressed, afterwards the Egyptians; the Jews were first carried into captivity, but afterwards the Assyrians were destroyed by the Medes and Persians.
1. In respect of their sins, they are full of terror ere they can get any comfort, and when they have obtained it, it is often eclipsed, and they go mourning.
2. They are subject to many sicknesses, grievous pains, diseases, losses, crosses, disgrace, persecution at the hand of the wicked, etc.
(1) To humble them for sin past.
(2) To fetch them into the way from wandering, and teach them obedience.
(3) To humble them.
(4) To mortify their lusts, wean them from the world, and quicken them to duty.
(5) Hereby also God showeth that He will not bear with sin in His dearest servants.
(6) To confute the devil, and show that God’s people serve Him not for wages.
(7) To show them their happiness is to come, and that if God thus school His servants, that then He will deal severely with the wicked, so that this may be a looking glass to them.
II. It is of necessity that God’s servants must here suffer troubles.
1. In respect of God’s will. He hath appointed us thereunto.
2. In respect of our necessity. Sin is so riveted into us, and in our very nature, as it must be no easy thing to pluck it out from us. (John Rogers.)
God’s judgment of the world
I. The human world morally is divided into two grand sections.
1. “The house of God.” All good men are members of one great family, They have one Father, one Elder Brother, one spiritual life, and one common home.
2. Those who “obey not the gospel of God.”
II. These two sections are alike subject to suffering.
1. The best men, in their greatest suffering, feel that their sufferings are deserved.
2. That they are disciplinary.
III. The suffering of the one is far more terrible than that of the other.
1. The one has resignation to the Divine will; the other has not.
2. The one has peace of conscience; the other has not.
3. The one has the hope of a better life; the other has not.
4. The one has fellowship with the Father; the other has not.
1. The transcendent importance of moral character.
2. The fallacy of judging from appearances.
3. The influence of the gospel upon man’s destiny. (Homilist.)
Judgment beginning at the house of God
The stormy shower lighteth first on the high hills, and having washed them, settleth with all the filth in the valleys. (J. Trapp.)
Judgments of grace
It is necessary to distinguish the judgment of grace from the judgment of wrath, and temporal punishment from eternal. (J. P. Lange.)
What shall the end be of them that obey not.-
What is the doom of those who die impenitent
I. Not annihilation.
1. Future punishment of some kind seems essential to the moral government of God.
2. The fact of there being various degrees in punishment makes it impossible for that punishment to be annihilation.
3. All that is said about the sinner’s doom shuts out the idea of annihilation (Luke 12:4-5; Matthew 13:41-42; Mark 9:43).
II. Not merely a temporary punishment. The most general argument brought against eternal punishment is that it is opposed to the perfect justice of God. “The punishment,” they say, “being eternal must at last exceed the sin.” In order to understand aright the nature of the sin, you must bear in mind the being against whom the sin is committed. It is against Jehovah, the Infinite One, and against one to whom we are under infinite obligations. “But,” say others, “God is infinitely merciful, and the very idea of eternal suffering is opposed to that attribute.” it may be according to your idea of that mercy, and yet not against that mercy itself. Remember God is as just as He is merciful. That mercy can permit eternal suffering is proved by the fact that it does in the case of Satan and the rebel angels. There will be nothing in hell to refine or alter the sinner. Hell fire is no “refiner’s fire,” to purge the dross away. (A. G. Brown.)
The ultimate destiny of the wicked
The question concerns those who “obey not the gospel.” Observe, the gospel is not to be treated as a mere subject for study; although a more noble subject comes not within the reach of man. Nor as a means of mere excitement. It is not a book for entertainment, such as a tale, a poem, a drama. The gospel is a statute, a law to be obeyed; it comes with the highest authority. Unless it is translated into our lives, and embodied in our actions, it is a curse.
I. The question in the text is one that it is impossible to determine with certitude. No less than three theories have been propounded, in order to render an answer to this tremendous problem’s utter extinction-eternal torment- ultimate restoration.
II. Certitude on such a subject is of no vital importance.
1. Genuine religion is the one thing essential for man.
2. Genuine religion is independent of any certitude of the future.
3. Whilst genuine religion is independent of any certitude of the future, it is dependent upon the knowledge of some things, and these things are clearly revealed.
(1) Our great moral obligations.
(2) Our means of spiritual improvement. (Homilist.)
The end of the ungodly
This is a verse of implication. It affirms nothing, but by its own species of argument causes us to gather some very striking lessons.
I. We have implied the meaning of religion. “Obedience.” This is God’s due as-
II. We have implied the law on which obedience is to be founded. “The gospel of God.” The gospel is the revelation of good-
1. On account of its Author.
3. Practical influence.
III. We have implied that the punishment of the unbeliever will be severe. The answer, left here as a great hiatus, is fully given in other parts of Scripture-
1. In the threats which it utters.
2. In the examples it affords.
3. In the logical course of sequence.
IV. We have implied a warning to the sinful. They stand on the brink of an awful precipice, in which at any moment they may fall.
V. We have implied a consolation to the righteous. If their lot here is hard, it is nothing to that in store for the disobedient. Sin may be pleasant for a season, but it brings forth death. (Pryce Thomas.)
The end of the disobedient
I. That there is an end to the unconverted.
II. That this end is fraught with fearful contingencies.
III. That the nature of this end demands urgent and careful consideration.
IV. That this end is shrouded, even to the most earnest investigation, in obscurity. (Homilist.)
The sin and danger of not obeying the gospel
I. The great privilege of having the gospel.
1. It is good news, the best news that ever reached our fallen world-news sent from heaven, news of a reconciliation for a fallen world.
2. Though it was intended for universal man and suited to meet all his spiritual wants, yet through the supineness of the Church its universal proclamation has been withheld, and millions of our fellow creatures left without it. But we are blessed with it in all its purity, freeness, and fulness (Psalms 16:6; Hebrews 4:2).
II. The great sin of not obeying the gospel. It is not enough to go and hear the gospel, to converse about it, to approve it, unless we obey it (Titus 2:11-14).
III. The awful consequences of not obeying the gospel.
1. It will be the end of their hope and happiness, but not of their existence.
2. It will be to die, not only under the curse of the law, but under the gospel. (Pulpit Studies.)
The ungodly’s misery
I. The seeming prosperity of the wicked shall have an end. See what a fearful judgment follows the wicked! That which he sins for-his honour, riches, delights-all shall vanish and come to nothing.
II. The happiness of the wicked is momentary, their misery endless. When we are tempted to any sin or unlawful course, consider thus with ourselves: “Shall I, for a pleasure that will end, have a judgment that shall never end? For the favour of men that will fail, shall I lose the perpetual favour of God? Shall I, for a little profit, lose my soul eternally?” I beseech you therefore, whenever you are solicited to sin, for profit or pleasure, etc., set before your eyes the perishing condition of these things, and the everlastingness of that judgment which attends upon them.
III. Those that obey not the gospel.
1. Sins against the gospel are sins against those attributes wherein God will glorify Himself most, as His grace, mercy, loving kindness, etc.
2. Sins against the greatest light are most sinful.
3. Another aggravation of sins against the gospel is that they sin against the better covenant. (R. Sibbes.)
The criminality and the consequences of unbelief
I. The criminality of your disobedience. This will appear if you consider-
1. The excellency and importance of that gospel which you have hitherto disbelieved.
2. The source in which your unbelief has originated.
(1) Immoral conduct.
(2) Inattention and inconsideration.
(3) Worldly mindedness.
3. The motives and appeals which your unbelief has resisted.
(1) Birth in a Christian family
(2) Afflictive dispensations.
(3) Conversion of ungodly companions.
(4) Impressions and convictions.
4. The injurious influence which your unbelief may have produced on the minds and destiny of others.
II. The ruinous consequences of your disobedience.
1. You are now in a state of condemnation.
2. You are in the greatest danger of being suffered to continue in impenitence and unbelief. What will be your condition in the next world? (J. Alexander.)
If the righteous scarcely be saved.-
The righteous scarcely saved, and the misery of the wicked
To be saved is what the generality of persons in the world wish for. I am satisfied that the genuine sense of our text hath a particular reference to temporal salvation from calamity, for the copulative particle “and” makes a connection between it and the foregoing verses, where we have the apostle speaking unto God’s people about their suffering for the cause of Christ. He tells them of judgment beginning at the house of God, by which we are to understand affliction and calamity, wherewith God exercises His people. But the text need not be particularly confined to this sense, but may hold good with respect to eternal salvation.
1. That the people of God are a righteous people. They are called so in the text, not that they are so in themselves or by nature. They are righteous in the righteousness of Christ, who is called the Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6; 1 Corinthians 1:30). A principle of righteousness is planted in them at their conversion, from whence flows a righteousness of conversation (Luke 1:6).
2. That the people of God shall be saved. Our text plainly supposes it, though while in the world they are persecuted. Now what is it for them to be saved but to be delivered from sin and misery, and brought into the enjoyment of eternal glory by Jesus Christ. “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”
(1) They shall be delivered from sin and misery. From sin, both from the guilt, filth, power, and being of it.
(2) They shall be brought to the full enjoyment of eternal glory; and their bodies shall also be saved.
3. That though the righteous be saved, yet it is with abundance of difficulty. In temporal calamity the Lord may suffer things to run to the very last extremity before He appears for His people’s salvation. Now their being scarcely saved is not for want of power in God, for “He is able to save to the uttermost,” nor is it for want of will, for He win give grace and glory (Psalms 84:11), nor is it for want of an appointment, for He hath not “appointed them to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9); but the difficulty lies in the things they meet with in the way to salvation.
(1) At their entrance into the way to heaven they meet with abundance of difficulty. The gate of conversion is strait, and a crowd of oppositions meet them at their entrance. Many temptations does Satan lay before young converts, and such a mighty advantage has he against them, their corruptions being strong and grace weak, that they find it a very hard thing to escape. The world also, sometimes with its charms and sometimes with its frowns, bears hard upon the poor creature, so that if he escape being entangled it is with great difficulty.
(2) In their progress on the way to heaven they meet with so many oppositions that they are but scarcely saved. The way to heaven is but a narrow way. God’s people, like those in the shipwreck with Pard, escape all safe to land, yet it is with a scarcely, they get over the turbulent sea of this world. Oh, the snares that are laid for them!
(3) At their exit out of the world they meet with abundance of difficulty, so that though they be saved, yet it is with a scarcely; their enemies would not suffer it if they could hinder it. When their souls are ready to take their flight into another world, then is Satan most busy to hinder their salvation. Now though it be impossible for him to hinder their salvation, yet he may so molest them as to make it difficult to obtain salvation, so that they shall find they are but scarcely saved.
This further appears-
(1) From the frequent apprehensions they have of their being in danger of hell and destruction.
(2) This is further evident from the fears there are in the people of God about their salvation.
4. That as it is impossible for the ungodly and sinner to be saved as such, so their misery is unspeakable. Where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?
(1) Negatively, I shall show where they shall not appear. Not in heaven. Not in the presence of God, for the foolish shall not stand in His sight; He hateth all the workers of iniquity. Not among the righteous. Sinners shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous. Where, then, shall the wicked appear?
(2) Positively, they shall appear in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” They shall appear at the awful tribunal of God, before His judgment seat. And are the righteous scarcely saved? Hence learn-
1. That going to heaven is not so easy a thing as some imagine. It is not an empty profession of religion that will serve the turn.
2. Are the righteous scarcely saved? Hence we learn what a miserable disappointment many meet with, who, instead of getting to heaven, fall into hell.
3. If the righteous be scarcely saved, then we may from hence learn the miserable condition of the wicked in the other world, who are not saved.
(1) O ye sleepy, secure sinners! where will you appear?
(2) O ye drunkards! where will you appear-you that waste your time and estates, that spoil your constitution, and abuse the good creatures of God?
(3) O ye fornicators and adulterers! where will you appear?
(4) O ye sabbath breakers! where will you appear?
(5) O ye swearers! where will you appear?
(6) O ye scoffers at religion! where will you appear? (J. Sedgfield.)
If so-what then
“Scarcely saved” points out the difficulty of salvation. It is no light thing to be saved; omnipotent grace is needed. It is no trifling thing to be lost, but it can be done by neglect.
I. The fact. “The righteous scarcely are saved.”
1. From the connection we conclude that the righteous are saved with difficulty because of the strictness of Divine rule.
2. From the experience of saints we come to the same conclusion. They find many saving acts to be hard, as, for instance-
(1) To lay hold on Christ simply, and as sinners.
(2) To overcome the flesh from day to day.
(3) To resist the world, with its blandishments, threats, and customs.
(4) To vanquish Satan and his horrible temptations.
(5) To perform needful duties in a humble and holy spirit.
(6) To reach to gracious attainments and to continue in them.
(7) To pass the tribunal of their own awakened and purified conscience, and to receive a verdict of acquittal there.
3. From the testimony of those who are safely landed (Revelation 7:14).
II. The influence from the fact. “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
1. If even the true coin is so severely tested, what will become of the “reprobate silver”?
2. If saints scarcely reach heaven, what of the ungodly? What can they do who have no God? What can they do who have no Saviour? What can they do who are without the Spirit of God? What without prayer, the Word, the promise of God, etc.?
3. If saints are so sorely chastened, what will justice mete out to the openly defiant sinner?
III. Another inference. Where will the mere professor appear? If the truly godly have a hard fight for it-
1. The formalist will find ceremonies a poor solace.
2. The false professor will be ruined by his hypocrisy.
3. The presumptuous will find his daring pride a poor help.
4. He who trusted to mere orthodoxy of creed will come to a fall
5. Height of office will do no more than increase responsibility.
IV. Another inference. Then the tempted soul may be saved. It seems that even those who are truly saints are saved with difficulty; then we may be saved, though we have a hard struggle for it.
V. Another inference. How sweet will heaven be! There the difficulties will be ended forever. There the former trials will contribute to the eternal bliss. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The salvation of the righteous difficult
I. The character of the persons here spoken of.
1. The righteous.
(1) None are such legally (Romans 3:10; Job 9:15).
(2) They are such as have believed in Christ, are pardoned and justified (Romans 3:25-26).
2. The ungodly sinner. They are such as remain in their native, unconverted state. Particularly they are such-
(1) Over whom Satan exercises an uncontrolled dominion (Ephesians 2:2).
(2) Alienated from the love of God (Ephesians 4:18).
(3) Rebellion against God (Romans 1:28-32).
(4) Neglecting, perhaps rejecting, the only way of salvation by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:3; Hebrews 10:28-29).
II. The difficulty of the salvation of the righteous.
1. The text admits that the righteous shall be saved; their salvation is certain upon their being found faithful unto death.
(1) The testimony of Scripture secures it (2 Timothy 1:12; 2Ti 4:17; 1 Peter 1:3-5. This is the purpose of God concerning them (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
(3) It was the ultimate end of Christ’s sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
(4) Of His ascension into heaven (Hebrews 6:20).
(5) God hath promised it (Revelation 2:10).
(6) The work of salvation in the righteous is already begun (Philippians 1:6).
2. Nevertheless, their salvation is here represented as being with difficulty obtained.
(1) This difficulty is not owing to any deficiency in the love of God, which is universal (John 3:16).
(2) Nor in the death and merit of Christ, which are infinite (Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2).
(3) Nor in the influence of the Spirit (John 14:16-17; John 16:7-8). But it is owing chiefly-
(4) To the difficulty of the work they have got to do (Titus 2:11-14).
(5) The opposition they meet with from the world.
(6) The influence of evil example which abounds in the world (John 15:19).
(7) The opposition they meet with from Satan (1 Peter 5:8).
(8) The remains of corruption within.
(9) The instability of some Christians (James 1:8), and the apostasy of others (1 Timothy 1:19-20).
III. The certain and dreadful misery that awaits the ungodly sinner. The question in the text relating to such may refer-
1. To a time of popular calamity (Luke 21:25-26).
2. To death (Psalms 9:17).
3. To the day of judgment. Let the wicked tremble for the consequences of their conduct. Should they live and die such, their destruction is inevitable. (T. Hannam.)
The difficulty of salvation
Let us consider the solemn truth assumed-“If the righteous be scarcely saved.” The meaning of this is that the righteous are saved with difficulty, or, as Steiger well expresses it, “it costs believers much to remain steadfast in their endurance of trials and to glorify God.” The radical cause of the difficulty is with the righteous-original sin. The external causes of the difficulty are around believers-the world, which is in league with their infected nature, and offers corresponding objects to all its evil propensities. It is readily admitted that they are surrounded also with the helps of the Church. Now to notice the particular causes of such difficulty. Observe, first, that the faith of the righteous, which is always imperfect, has, like a physical power, a constant tendency to decrease in strength and firmness through its exercise being neglected. The temptations to such neglect are many and great. The righteous, for the most part, are leading a busy life. Hence they are tempted not to find time for the exercise of faith. Besides, sensible things ever surround them, try to press into their souls by every avenue of their senses, and exclusively, fill their affections and engage their thoughts; hence their disinclination to exercise faith would be proportionately increased. True, if the righteous are exposed to temptation to neglect the exercise of faith, they have incentives to attend to the duty. One incentive is a sense of sin. Another incentive is special temptation, or trouble, or difficulty, which often besets them, and urges them to look to their Saviour for deliverance or support. A third incentive is the impulse of the Holy Spirit, inciting thoughts of Christ. Further, the faith of the righteous is liable to decrease in strength and stability, through their failure to properly seek its nourish meat. Thus may their faith decline and waver through defect in spiritual appetite or neglect of spiritual food. And their exposedness to this may hardly be obviated by the frequent calls they may have to the healthy and invigorating exercises of devotion. Again, the faith of the righteous is liable to decrease in strength and firmness, through being exposed to attacks from the unbelief of their fallen nature, called in Scripture the evil heart of unbelief. Natural unbelief, therefore, needs to be much watched and prayed against, and an increase of faith to be much encouraged and prayed for. But further, the danger which their faith is in does not only arise from the unbelief of their fallen nature, but from the encouragement which such unbelief meets with in the world-ah! and the professing Church. For infidelity in sonic degree, practical or avowed, is everywhere manifest. The manner of such injury to their faith will be different at separate times. Sometimes, to notice the two extremes, when it is violently assailed by doubts within and infidel expressions and actions without, its injury will be sudden and apparent, like that of a plant which in spring is smitten with the blast of the east wind, so that one hour its roots are firm and its leaves green, the next its roots are loose, and its leaves dried up and withered. At other times, when its exercise or its nourishment is neglected through a worldly spirit, its injury will be gradual and imperceptible, like that of a plant which, while it is left uncultivated, has a worm at its roots. The righteous are saved with difficulty, secondly, because, in consequence of the general causes mentioned, their holiness is exposed to some degree of failure. It is exposed to this through decrease of faith, like the fruit of a tree through injury of its root, and also, like faith, through its exercise and nourishment being neglected. The holiness of the righteous is exposed to failure in measure through temptations. Again, the holiness of the righteous is exposed to failure through trials. Further, the righteous are saved with difficulty, because they are exposed to failure, in measure, in holiness, through difficulty in certain parts of obedience. It is no easy matter for the righteous, depraved as they are in nature, to perform their various duties in their entirety. But even this is not all; some duties which the righteous have to perform are especially difficult, through their direct opposition to their natural tendencies. I mean such as are involved in the following sayings of the Master:-“If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14). Now I have two inferences to draw from this solemn subject.
1. The first is, if the righteous are thus scarcely saved, must not many professors of religion be in a sad mistake?
2. The second inference is that the righteous have great cause for earnest striving that the evidences of their conversion may be clear to themselves and to others.
3. In a word, let them “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling,” and “give all diligence to make their calling and election sure.” (C. H. Coleman.)
The salvation of the sinner impossible
1. The faith in Christ of the righteous is maintained with difficulty. But the ungodly and sinners have no living faith in Christ at all. Thus they not only have not faith and seek not after it, but they yield themselves to be bound and fettered in infidelity. Yet without faith is it not impossible that the ungodly and sinners should be saved?
2. I observe, the holiness of the righteous is maintained with difficulty in resisting and overcoming the evil dispositions which are inherent in their fallen nature. But the ungodly and sinners are entirely destitute of holiness in principle and in practice. How, then, can the ungodly and sinners be meet for heaven?
3. The righteous often find it difficult to bear their trials with Christian consistency, being liable to impatience and irritability, through want of watchfulness in trials comparatively light and transient, and strongly urged to discontent and resistance of will, through distrust of God and failure in spiritual firmness, in trials severe and lasting. But the ungodly and sinners almost always, under any trials, allow themselves in discontent, bad temper, and resistance, whether the trials come the more evidently from God or from man. But the ungodly and sinners being thus refractory under trials, how is it possible that they can be finally saved?
4. The righteous frequently experience great difficulty in performing some of the harder duties of the Christian life. But the ungodly and sinners neglect them altogether. If they render bodily service, they render no spiritual service to God. How is it possible, then, that the ungodly and sinners can find favour before the judgment seat? (C. H. Coleman.)
Salvation difficult to the Christian-impossible to the sinner
I. Why the salvation of the righteous is difficult. The difficulty in the salvation of either the righteous or the wicked turns not on any want of mercy in the heart of God. It is not because God is implacable and hard to be appeased. Again, it is not in any lack of provision in the atonement to cover all the wants of sinners. But, positively, one difficulty is found in the nature of God’s government, and in the nature of free agency in this world. God has so constituted man as to limit Himself to one mode of government over him. This must be moral, and not physical. That physical omnipotence which sweeps the heavens and upholds the universe could find no difficulty in moving lumps of clay so small and insignificant as we. But mind cannot be moved as God moves the planets. Physical force can have no direct application to mind for the purpose of determining its moral action. Such being the case, the great difficulty is to persuade sinners to choose right. God is infinitely ready to forgive them if they will repent; but the great problem is to persuade them to do so. God may and does employ physical agencies to act morally, but never to act physically. There are a great many difficulties in the way of converting sinners, and saving them when once converted. One class of these difficulties is the result of an abused constitution. When Adam and Eve were created their appetites were doubtless mild and moderate. They did not live to please themselves and gratify their own appetites. Their deep and all engrossing desire and purpose to please God was the law of their entire activities. Sin introduced another law-the law of self-indulgence. Every one knows how terribly this law tends to perpetuate and strengthen itself. Their appetites lost their proper balance. No longer subordinate to reason and to God, they became inordinate, clamorous, despotic. Now in order to save men, they must be restored to a state in which God and reason control the free action of the mind, and appetite is held in due subjection. Here is the difficulty. Some have formed habits and have confirmed them until they have become immensely strong, and it becomes exceedingly difficult to induce them to break away. The rescue must be effected by moral, not by physical means, and the problem is to make the moral means powerful enough for the purpose. Again, we must notice, among the difficulties in question, the entanglements of a multitude of circumstances. I have often thought it well for Christians that they do not see all their difficulties at first. If they did, its discouraging effect might be disastrous. The great difficulty is living to please self rather than God. It is wonderful to see how much this difficulty is enhanced by the agency Satan and sin have had in the framework of society. It would seem that a bait is held before every man, whatever his position and circumstances may be. There is a man chained to a wife who is a constant source of temptation and trial to him. There is a wife who sees scarce a peaceful moment in all her life with her husband-all is vexation and sorrow of spirit. Many parents have children who are a constant trial to them. They are indolent, or they are reckless, or they are self-willed and obstinate. Their own tempers perhaps are chafed, and they become a sore temptation to a similar state of chafed and fretted temper in their parents. On the other hand, children may have equal trials in their parents. Who but God can save against the power of such temptations? Many children have been brought up in error. Their parents have held erroneous opinions, and they have had their moral constitution saturated with this influence from their cradle and upwards. How terrible such an influence must inevitably be! Or the business of their parents may have been such as to miseducate them. When the mind gives itself up to self-indulgence, and a host of appetites become clamorous and impetuous, what a labour it must be to bring the soul into harmony with God! How many impulses must be withstood and overcome l how great the change that must be wrought in both the physical and moral state of the man! No wonder that the devil flatters himself that he has got the race of depraved men into his snares and can lead them captive at his will. Many are not aware of the labour necessary to get rid of the influence of a bad education. Ofttimes the affections become unhappily attached, yet the attachment is exceedingly strong, and it shall seem like the sundering of the very heart strings to break it off. Sometimes we are quite inadequate to judge of the strength of this attachment, except as we may see what strange and terrible means God is compelled to use to sever it. Oh, what a work is this which Christ undertakes that He may save His people from their sins! How strange and how complicated are the difficulties 1 Who could overcome them but God? Again, the darkness of nature is so great and so gross that it must be an exceedingly great work to save them from its influence and pour the true light of God through their intelligence. Indeed, Christians never know themselves except as they see themselves in God’s own light. Finally, the greatness of the change requisite in passing from sin to real holiness-from Satan’s kingdom into full fitness for Christ’s, creates no small difficulty in the way of saving even the converted, Remarks: We see why the Scriptures are so full of exhortations to the Christians to run, run, and especially to run by rule. They must, however, give all diligence. A lazy man cannot Bet to heaven. To get there costs toil and labour. For his will must be sanctified. The entire voluntary department of his being must be renovated. The Christian is also commanded to watch-not to close his eyes for a little more sleep and a little more slumber. We see, also, why the Christian is to pray always. We may also see why Christians are exhorted to separate themselves from the world. Mark, also, why Christians are exhorted to spend the time of their sojourning here in fear, and to walk softly and carefully, as before God, through all the meanderings of their pilgrimage. When candid men come to consider all these things-the human constitution, the tendency to unbelief, the impulses towards self-indulgence, and the strength of temptation-they cannot but see that there is abundant occasion for all those faults in Christian character and conduct which they are wont to criticise so stringently. Yet often, perhaps commonly, wicked men make no allowance for the faults of Christians, but assume that every Christian ought to be spotless, while every sinner may make so much apology for his sin as quite to shield his conscience from conviction of guilt.
II. Show how and why the salvation of the wicked is impossible. Vitally important to be considered here is the fact that the governmental difficulty in the way of being saved, growing out of your having sinned, even greatly, is all removed by Christ’s atonement. The difficulty in the way of saving sinners is not simply that they have sinned, but that they will not now cease from sinning and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The salvation of sinners is therefore impossible.
1. Because it is impossible for God by any means He can wisely employ to persuade them to desist from sinning. It may not be wise for God to bring all the moral power of His universe to bear upon the sinner in this world. If this were wise and practicable, it might avail-for aught we can know; but since He does not do it, we infer that He refrains from some wise reason. Certain limitations are fixed in the divine wisdom to the amount of moral influence which God shall employ in the case of a sinner. It is in view of this fact that I say God finds it impossible to gain the sinner’s consent to the gospel by any means that He can wisely employ.
2. Again, the sinner cannot be saved, because salvation from sin is an indispensable condition of salvation from hell. The being saved from sin must come first in order. If salvation implies fitness for heaven, and if this implies ceasing from sin, then, of course, it is naturally and forever impossible that any sinner can be saved without holiness.
3. The peace of heaven forbids that you should go there in your sins. What sort of happiness, congenial to his heart, could the sinner hope to find there? And now will heaven let you in? No. Nothing that worketh abomination can by any means go in there.
4. Besides, it would not be for your own comfort to be there. You were never quite comfortable in spiritual society on earth.
5. The justice of God will not allow you to participate in the joys of the saints. His sense of propriety forbids that He should give you a place among His pure and trustful children.
III. If, then, the sinner cannot be saved and go to heaven, where shall he appear? The question is a strong negation. They shall not appear among the righteous and the saved. This is a common form of speaking. Nehemiah said, “Shall such a man as I flee?” No, indeed. Where, then, shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? In no desirable place or position-certainly. Not with the righteous in the judgment, for so God’s Word has often and most solemnly affirmed. It is asked, Where shall the ungodly appear? I answer, Certainly not in heaven, nor on the heavenly side. (C. G. Finney.)
Saved with difficulty
I. The people of God will be saved with difficulty.
1. Owing to their strong remaining corruptions.
2. To their long and inveterate habits of sin.
3. To the strong and numerous foes that oppose his march.
4. A great amount of labour will be requisite to push him forward in his heavenly pilgrimage.
5. There will await him many other dangers, of which he can have yet no conception.
II. But “where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?” All the difficulties, and more yet, that obstruct the way of the Christian heavenward, are surely before the man who has not commenced his route thither.
1. The man who is not a Christian has yet to enter upon the way.
2. He may have yet more corruptions. He may have taken a more wayward course.
3. But his iniquities must all be uprooted.
4. He has more foes, in addition to those planted in the way of the Christian.
5. He must do more labour than if he had set out earlier.
6. The same, and more yet dangers await him than await the Christian.
1. Would I have the sinner despair, lie down and die? Will not heaven be worth all the efforts he has yet to make?
2. Oh, then, how anxious should sinners be to commence the great work of their salvation!
3. How anxious, too, should the Church be that sinners might live! (D. A. Clark.)
The difficulties that are to be encountered in the way of salvation
That the righteous should scarcely be saved seems hardly reconcilable with the grace and deign and promises of the gospel. Did not Christ come to save sinners?
I. In what sense the righteous are said to be scarcely saved. That may be understood two ways.
(1) With respect to accidental difficulties arising from the particular circumstances of times and persons. For the difficulties of religion are not alike in all times, nor to all persons; for they are not like a geometrical measure, which is always exactly the same; but rather like a voyage at sea, which is to be managed by the same compass and to the same port; hut it sometimes proves calm and pleasant, and at other times stormy and tempestuous. Which chiefly happens when a religion appears new, or goes about to reform the old; for then it is sure to meet with all the opposition which the passions and interests and prejudices of partial men can raise against it. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? i.e., Christ hath foretold desolation and ruin to come upon the Jewish nation. Sincerity and constancy are the necessary conditions of salvation, which may be tried much more in some than it is in others. We must all have the same journey’s end if we hope to get to heaven, but some may meet with a freer road, and a calmer season, and better company, in their journey than others. But herein mankind are apt to be deceived, as though all the difficulties lay in a suffering condition; whereas a soft and careless life is rather more dangerous to their souls, because persons are less apt to suspect their danger. The temptations of the suffering side are apt to awake the sleepy powers of the soul, whereas the gentle and easy condition of life often lays them asleep. But this is not all; for there are many things which make it more difficult to some than others, which are of another nature. Some tempers are more flexible and pliable than others; more capable of hearkening to reason, and more apt to reflect on their own actions; whereas others are naturally stiff and obstinate, who stick fast to an opinion or prejudice which they have once taken up. Some, again, are very easily convinced of a fault, but very hardly reclaimed. Again, some have had the advantage of a pious and religious education. For although the difficulties be not alike in all, yet, of one kind or other, they are such as cannot be overcome by ourselves without the power of Divine grace exciting, preventing, and assisting of us.
(2) Having thus showed what difficulties there are which arise from the different circumstances of times and persons, I am now to consider those which arise from the terms of salvation, which are common to all persons and times.
Here we must suppose salvation to be the thing aimed at as the chief end or happiness of such men, and here are two kinds of difficulties to be inquired into.
(1) Such as are implied in the general pursuit or happiness. For happiness is not a thing of chance or necessity, but a matter of choice and design.
(1) That happiness did consist in one uniform design of life, i.e., that a man must choose one proper and chief end to himself, and so order his thoughts and actions that he may attain it.
(2) That there must be a careful and attentive mind to pursue this design.
(3) That any man who desired to be happy must, above all things, take pains about himself.
(4) That those who consulted most the ease and pleasure of mankind were forced to put men upon some hard and unpleasant things to make anything like happiness to consist in pleasure. For they cast off all riot and excess, because the pain which followed exceeded the pleasure; and therefore they made temperance and chastity necessary to the true pleasure of life. So that all were agreed that it was impossible to attain to anything that looked like happiness without some real difficulty, which was necessary to be undergone, although the success Were uncertain.
(2) Let us now consider the difficulties relating to salvation, or that happiness which Christians expect. And here I shall show-
(1) It is more reasonable to expect difficulties in the way of salvation. For the more excellent and desirable the happiness is, the more it is worth the while for us to take pains about it; especially when there is a certainty of attaining it
(2) The difficulties in our way to salvation are not such but we may reasonably hope to overcome them; i.e., if we set ourselves about it; otherwise a very mean difficulty will appear too great for us.
And there are two things to show that we may hope to overcome them.
(1) That the most difficult duties are in themselves reasonable to be performed by us.
(2) That God offers His gracious assistance for the performance of them.
II. And this helps us to reconcile the difficulty of salvation with the easiness of the terms of the gospel. For that which is not only hard, but impossible to us, in our own strength, may, by the mighty power of Divine grace, become not only possible but easy to us.
III. And from hence we see what encouragement there is still for us to hope to be saved, if we be righteous. There is none for the ungodly and sinner. “But what is it,” some may say, “to hear that the righteous are scarcely saved, when we are so conscious to ourselves of our own unrighteousness?” (Bp. Stillingfleet.)
The difficulties of salvation
This imports not any uncertainty in the thing itself as to the end, in respect of the purpose and performance of God, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way, “fightings without, and fears within.” All outward difficulties, however, would be us nothing, were it not for the incumbrance of lusts and corruptions within. Were a man to meet disgraces and sufferings for Christ, how easily would he go through them, yea, and rejoice in them, were he rid of the fretting impatience, the pride, and self-love, of his own carnal heart! And many times, after much wrestling, he scarcely finds that he hath gained any ground: yea, sometimes he is foiled and cast down by them. And so in all duties the flesh is dragging downwards! When he would mount up, he finds himself as a bird with a stone tied to its foot; he hath wings that flutter to be upwards, but is pressed down with the weight fastened to him. What struggling with wanderings and deadness in hearing, and reading, and prayer! And what is most grievous, is, that, by their unwary walking and the prevailing of some corruption, believers grieve the Spirit of God, and provoke Him to hide His face and withdraw His comforts. How much pain to attain anything, any particular grace of humility, or meekness, or self-denial! And if anything be attained, how hard to keep and maintain it against the contrary party! How often are they driven back to their old point! If they do but cease from striving a little, they are carried back by the stream. And what returns of doubtings and unbelief, after they thought they were got somewhat above them, insomuch that sometimes they are at the point of giving over, and thinking it will never be for them! And yet, through all these, they are brought safely home. There is another strength than theirs, which bears them up and brings them through. But these things, and many more of this nature, argue the difficulty of their course, and that it is not so easy a thing to come to heaven as most imagine it. (Abp. Leighton.)
A solemn appeal
I. Consider the appeal in its reference to temporal calamities.
1. The righteous are saved, when the existence of the Church is preserved.
2. The righteous are saved personally, when their lives are preserved.
3. The righteous are saved, while the life and welfare of their souls are secured, whatever may otherwise befall them.
II. Consider the appeal in its reference to spiritual and eternal salvation.
1. The righteous are scarcely saved-
(1) Because their salvation could not be purchased but at the greatest conceivable expense.
(2) Because the purchased redemption could not be applied but by supernatural power.
(3) Because even when salvation is thus attained, it is not persevered in without the same supernatural aid, and the utmost diligence.
(4) Because after death is the judgment. The righteous shall be saved, but it will be scarcely when the matter comes to a scrutiny of sterling evidence.
2. It remains now to ponder the inference which the apostle chiefly designs to impress on our minds, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” It is as if he had said, How certain their doom!
(1) How certain! “Where shall they appear?” Not surely in a saved state. This is the simple answer to the question.
(2) How dreadful must it be! The abrupt and pungent form of expression suggests the horrors of their doom.
(3) How reasonable will be their doom! For this, too, the question strongly implies, not only as an appeal to reason, leaving themselves to decide, but as an allusion to the mode of procedure in courts among men. “Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” On what ground shall they stand? What can they plead in their own behalf at the bar of the eternal Judge? Inferences:
1. What construction ought to be put on the little difference made between the righteous and the wicked in the dispensations of Providence. This has often been mistaken by the former (Psalms 73:1-28), and abused by the latter, as if religion were of no value. A real distinction exists, and will eventually be manifested. The ungodly have no reason to glory, indulging atheistical thoughts because of the sufferings of the godly.
2. What views ought to be entertained of spiritual salvation? It is not that easy trifling matter which many take it to be. “Who then can be saved?”
3. Propose this question to yourselves in a less limited form, “Who can be saved?” Through the grace of God, all sinners, even the chief. But, who will be saved? Only those who live a life of faith, and make their calling and election sure. (The Christian Magazine.)
The difficulty of salvation
The way to come to salvation is full of difficulties-
1. Because there is much ado to get Lot out of Sodom, to get Israel out of Egypt.
2. Again, it is hard in regard of the sin that continually cleaves to them in this world, which doth, as it were, shackle them, and compass them about in all their performances.
3. Besides, it is a hard matter in regard of Satan; for he is a great enemy to the peace of God’s children. Pharaoh after the Israelites.
4. Then, by reason of great discouragements and ill-usage which they find in the world from wicked men.
5. Besides this, scandal makes it a hard matter to be saved; to see evil courses and evil persons flourish and countenanced in the world.
6. This, likewise, makes the way difficult; we are too apt to offend God daily, giving Him just cause to withdraw His Spirit of comfort from us, which makes us go mourning all the day long; wanting those sweet refreshments of spiritual joy and peace we had before. When Christ wanted the sweet solace of His Father upon the Cross, how did it trouble Him? (R. Sibbes.)
Why God will have the righteous with such difficulty saved
God will have it thus to sweeten heaven unto us. After a conflicting life peace is welcome; heaven is heaven indeed after trouble. We can relish it then. Because God will discard hypocrites in this life, who take up so much of religion as stands with their ease and credit in the world, avoiding every difficulty which accompanies godliness, but, so they may swim two ways at once, go on in their lusts still and be religious withal. This they approve of. Therefore, God will have it a hard matter to be saved, to frustrate the vain hopes of such wretches. Alas! it is an easy matter to be an hypocrite, but not to live godly. (R. Sibbes.)
The righteous scarcely saved
Peter means this, “If Christians have such a hard tug to get into heaven, there is no chance at all for anybody else.” The soul that has long been driving before the winds of pleasure cannot so easily turn round and cut the wind’s eye. If religion were something you could wear like a cane in your hand, or a band of crape on your hat, or if it were portable, in the shape of a Bible or Psalm book that you could carry under your arm, it would not seem so hard; but to have it as a principle in the soul, looking over your shoulder when you write out your ledgers, coming in to make suggestions when you are making a trade, breaking over the walls of Sunday, and running by your side from Monday morning to Saturday night, verily that seems a troublesome religion. How many postpone conversion because they think that it is so easy to become religious-they can begin at any time! They can shed sin as naturally as a bird his feathers, or a tree its bark. One crack of the whip of resolution will frighten out the drove of their iniquities. No! no! St. Peter himself was “scarcely saved.” It was not until every passion of his soul was in agony of earnestness that he fastened on to life. Oh, if in this instance it required the girding up of the soul in order to obtain the hope and joy of Christ’s salvation, what shall become of those who make no effort, reach forth no strong prayer, lay hold of no Bible promise, and sleep when peril stands at the helm? If the righteous be “scarcely saved,” where will the ungodly and sinner appear? But after pardon is obtained, there are batteries of strength which must be passed on our way into the heavenly harbour. All the Christian’s foes are marshalled under three sturdy generals-the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Business, entrenched behind counters, and bales of goods, and safes, attempts the overthrow of our souls. Disappointments fret, and fraud exasperates us, and meddlesome curiosity makes our lip curl. Gains lift us up, so that losses can better hurl us down. The Christian has to contend against temptations which made Adam disobey, and Abraham lie, and Moses get angry, and Job swear, and David sin against chastity, and Peter deny his Master. Satan makes assault. Having gathered skill by six thousand years of chicanery in making devotion profane, and integrity lie, and honesty cheat, and humility proud, and generosity tight-fisted, he knows just where to strike the Christian. Bad spirits are ever on the wing, coming to us on steps of sunshine, and floating on the dark wave of midnight, seated on the wings of the morning, and dropping with the evening dew. Guns cannot shoot them, swords cannot pierce them, fire cannot burn them, cold cannot freeze them. They fly with wings tireless, eye dimless, swifter than arrows, deadlier than plagues, cutting like hail, drowning like surges, crushing like rocks. Who can resist them? Only that arm which clasps God’s arm, and that heart sustained by God’s heart. If, with heavenly shield and sword, the righteous are only scarcely saved, where, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The victorious general in the hour of triumph has not unfrequently reason to remember how nearly, through oversight or miscalculation, he had lost the day: a little more pressure on this wing or that, a trifling prolongation of the struggle, a few minutes’ further delay in the arrival of reinforcements, and his proud banner had been dragged in the dust. The pilot guiding his barque safely into port sometimes knows how through lack of seaman ship he nearly made shipwreck. And the successful merchant remembers crises in his history when he found himself on the brink of ruin, when the last straw only was wanting to precipitate the catastrophe. Men who have won the prizes of life have cause to wear their honours meekly when they recall the errors of judgment, the lack of courage, the acts of rashness, the ignorance, the credulousness, the hesitation, which so nearly deprived them of fame and fortune. Our religious history furnishes parallels to these narrow escapes on the lower level. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Commit the keeping of their souls to Him.-
The saint’s hiding place in the evil day
1. That the state and condition of God’s children is to suffer.
2. The dispensation of that suffering, they suffer not at all adventures, but according to the will of God.
3. Their duty in this estate, namely, to commit the keeping of their souls to God.
In the duty we have these particulars comprehended-
1. An action, to commit.
2. An object, what we must commit, the soul.
3. The person to whom, to God.
4. The manner, in well-doing.
5. The reason which should move us hereunto, implied in these words, as unto a faithful Creator.
1. That the state of God’s children is to suffer, yea, to suffer of God; for sometimes He seems to be an enemy to His dearest servants, as unto Job. But chiefly they are in a militant estate here.
(1) Why God’s children must suffer here. Because they live among those that they cannot but suffer from, wheresoever they live.
(2) They must suffer also in regard of themselves; for the best of us all have many lusts to be subdued, and a great deal of corruption to be purged out, before we can come to heaven, that holy place into which no unclean thing can enter. In the best estate there will be suffering one way or other. Then, suspect thyself to be in a bad estate, for every true Christian suffers in one kind or other, either from without or within. We must be conformable to our Head before we can come to heaven. But the dispensation of our suffering is according to the will of God. God’s will concerning our suffering is permissive in respect of those that do us harm; but in regard of our patient enduring injuries, it is His approving and commanding will. We are enjoined to suffer, and they are permitted to wrong us. It seems, then, there is some excuse for those that persecute the saints. They do but according to God’s will; and if it be so, who dares speak against them? It is not God’s commanding will, but His suffering will. He useth their malice for His own ends. But observe further, that we never suffer but when God will. And His will is not that we should always suffer, though generally our estate be so in one kind or other. God is not always chiding (Psalms 103:9), but hath times of intermission, which He vouchsafes His children for their good. And this the Lord doth out of mercy to His poor creatures, that they might not sink before Him, but gather strength of grace, and be the better fitted to bear further crosses afterwards. And it is for matters better than life that God lets His children suffer here; for, alas! this life is but a shadow, as it were, nothing. I beseech you, therefore, considering all our sufferings are by the appointment and will of God, let us bring our souls to a holy resignation unto His Majesty, not looking so much to the grievance we are under as to the hand that sent it.
I. Now this well-doing must be distinguished into two times.
1. Before our suffering. We must not go out of our sphere, but serve God in our standings, that if trouble comes it may find us in a way of well-pleasing, either doing works of charity or else the works of our particular calling wherein God hath set us.
2. So likewise in suffering we must commit our souls to God in well-doing in a double regard.
1. We must carry ourselves generally well in all our sufferings.
2. In particular, we must do well to them that do us wrong. First, I say, in affliction our carriage must be generally good in respect of God, by a meek behaviour under His hand, without murmuring against Him.
3. In regard of the cause of God, that we betray it not through fear or cowardice, through base aims and intentions, etc., but endeavour to carry it with a good conscience in all things. When we make it clear by managing anything, that we are led with the cause and conscience of our duty, it works mightily upon them that wrong us.
(1) It wins those that are indifferent.
(2) Confounds the obstinate, and stops their mouths.
Therefore, let us carry ourselves well, not only before, but in suffering. We should have an eye to God, and an eye to ourselves, and an eye to others, and an eye to the cause in hand; so we shall do well. We must not commit our souls to God in idleness, doing nothing at all, nor yet in evil-doing, but in well-doing. But I cannot do well, but I shall suffer ill. Labour, therefore, to carry thyself well in suffering evil, not only in the general, but even in particular, towards those persons that do thee wrong; endeavour to requite their evil with good. There is a great measure of self-denial required to be a Christian, especially in matter of revenge, “to pray for them that curse us, to do good to them that persecute us,” etc., and so “heap coals of fire upon our enemies’ heads” (Proverbs 25:22; Romans 12:20). How is that?
1. Coals of conversion.
2. Coals of confusion.
Some will say, Christianity is a strange condition, that enforceth such things upon men, that are so contrary to nature. It is so, indeed, for we must be new moulded before ever we can come to heaven. But suppose a man carry himself ill in suffering. There is not the least promise of comfort in Scripture to such a man, unless he return, and seek the Lord by timely repentance; for all encouragement is to well-doing.
II. But what must we commit to God in well-doing? The keeping of our souls. The soul is the more excellent part, witness He that purchased the same with His dearest blood. Therefore, whatsoever estate thou art in, let thy first care be for thy soul, that it may go well with that. You know in the firing of an house, that which a man chiefly looks after is his jewels and precious things, “I have some wealth in such a place, if I could but have that I care for no more, let the rest go”; so it is with a Christian, whatsoever becomes of him in this world, he looks to his precious soul, that that may be laid up safely in the hands of God. But what should we desire our souls to be kept from in this world? From sin and the evil consequences thereof. But must we not commit our bodies and our estates to God, as well as our souls? Yes, all we have; for that is only well kept which God keeps; but yet in time of suffering we must be at a point with these things. If God will have our liberty, if He will have our life and all, we must hate all for Christ’s sake; but we must not be at such a point with our souls, we must keep them close to God, and desire Him to keep them in well-doing. Suppose it come to an exigent, that we must either sin and hurt our souls, or else lose all our outward good things? Our chief care must be over our souls. We must desire God to preserve our souls, whatsoever becomes of these; our principal care must be that that be not blemished in the least kind; for, alas! other things must be parted with first or last. The soul is the better part of a man, and if that miscarries, all miscarries. If the soul be not well, the body will not continue long in a good estate. Bernard saith sweetly, “Oh, body, thou hast a noble guest dwelling in thee, a soul of such inestimable worth that it makes thee truly noble.” Considering therefore that it is Satan’s aim to unloose our hold from God, by defiling our souls with sin, oh! let it be our chief care to see to that which Satan strikes at most!
III. But to whom must the soul be committed? To God. Indeed, He only can keep our souls.
IV. But why must we commit our souls to God? Because He is a faithful Creator. Whence observe-That the soul of man being an understanding essence, will not be satisfied and settled without sound reasons. Comfort is nothing else but reasons stronger than the evil which doth afflict us; when the reasons are more forcible to ease the mind than the grievance is to trouble it. It is no difficult matter to commit our souls to God when we are once persuaded that He is a faithful Creator. We must take God here as a Creator of our whole man, body and soul, and of the new creature in us. Yea, God became man to enrich us with all grace and goodness, to free us from the hands of Satan, and bring us to an eternal state of communion with Himself in heaven. (R. Sibbes.)
The Christian’s duty under trials
I. Christians must expect to suffer.
1. Sometimes by adversity. Poverty; Christ so suffered; so did His disciples; bodily affliction, etc.
2. In their reputation. Holiness of life and zeal in religion will provoke the ungodly (Matthew 11:18; Luke 7:33; Hebrews 11:25-26).
3. In their property. Persecution in olden times; spoiling of their goods; loss of custom; piety a bar to temporal promotion.
4. In their liberty and life. Though the age of martyrdom has passed, let us cherish and honour the memory of those, etc.
II. Christians suffer according to the will of God.
1. These sufferings are for the trial of faith (verses 12, 13; 1 Peter 1:7). It is the day of battle that tests the valour and fidelity of soldiers. Then the believer feels his own helplessness and trusts in God alone.
2. They promote spiritual prosperity and happiness. The graces of the Spirit generally languish under worldly prosperity (Matthew 13:22). Under trials God gives “more grace”(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
3. They promote the glory of God. Show what His grace can do in supporting the mind of the sufferers, and in filling their hearts with gratitude. “He hath done all things well.”
III. The conduct of Christians under sufferings.
1. They should be characterised by well-doing. Obedience a sign of resignation. The more we are tried the stronger must be our attachment to Christ (Job 5:19-22) Active usefulness a cure for trouble.
2. The soul is to be more valued than the body.
3. Enlarged views of the love and care of God.
4. The actual surrender of the soul to His keeping. “What can separate us?” etc.
1. See the dignity, wealth, and happiness of God’s people; He loves and protects them, and is their portion (Psalms 44:16).
2. Learn the folly of trusting in human resources amid the trials of life.
3. Note the folly of those who persecute the Church of God (Isaiah 54:17). (The Lay Preacher.)
Tranquillity in suffering
These words contain the true principle of Christian patience and tranquillity of mind in the sufferings of this life, expressing both wherein it consists and what are the grounds of it.
1. It lies in this, committing the soul unto God in well-doing. If you would commit your soul to the keeping of God, know that He is a holy God, and an unholy soul that walks in any way of wickedness, whether known or secret, is no fit commodity to put into His pure hand to keep. Therefore beware of wilful pollutions and unholy ways. Loose ways will loosen your hold of Him and confidence in Him. If thou give thy soul to Him to keep upon the terms of liberty to sin, He will turn it out of His doors, and remit it back to thee to look to as thou wilt thyself. Yea, in the ways of sin thou dost indeed steal it back, and carriest it out from Him; thou puttest thyself out of the compass of His defence, goest without the trenches, and art, at thine own hazard, exposed to armies of mischiefs and miseries. So much sin as gets in, so much peace will go out. Afflictions cannot break in upon it to break it, but sin doth. All the winds which blow upon the earth from all points, stir it not; only that within the bowels of it makes the earthquake. I do not mean that for infirmities a Christian ought to be discouraged. But take heed of walking in any way of sin, for that will unsettle thy confidence. Commit the keeping of their souls. Their chief concern is, that whatsoever be lost, this may not; this is the jewel, and therefore the prime care is of this. If the soul be safe, all is well; it is riches enough. What shall it profit a man, though he gain the whole world, says our Saviour, and lose his own soul? And so, what shall it disprofit a man, though he lose the whole world, if he gain his soul? Nothing at all. Now the way is this, commit it to God: this many say, but few do. Give your souls into His hand, lay them up there, so the word is, and they are safe, and may be quiet and composed. Learn from hence what is the proper act of faith; it rolls the soul over on God, ventures it in His hand, and rests satisfied concerning it, being there. And there is no way but this to be quiet within, to be impregnable and immovable in all assaults, and fixed in all changes, believing in His free love. The ground of this confidence is in these two things, the ability and fidelity in Him in whom we trust. There is much in a persuasion of the power of God. If He was able to give them being, surely He is able to keep them from perishing. This relation of a Creator implies likewise a benign propension and goodwill to the works of His hands. And as He is powerful, He is no less faithful, a faithful Creator, truth itself. Those who believe on Him, He never deceives or disappoints. There is another ground of quietness contained in the first word, which looks back to the foregoing discourse, “Wherefore”-what? Seeing that your reproaches and sufferings are not endless, yea, that they are short, they shall quickly end in glory, be not troubled about them, overlook them. The eye of faith will do it. A moment gone, and what are they? (Abp. Leighton.)
The soul’s refuge
I. The sufferance of the saints. Let this teach us two duties. First, to prepare for evils before they come; next, to make them welcome when they are come. So they shall neither meet us with fear, nor leave us with sorrow.
II. The integrity of that sufferance. They only are said to suffer according to God’s will, who suffer first innocently, then patiently.
III. The comfort of this integrity. He that suffers for Christ’s testimony is confident of God’s mercy.
IV. The boldness of this comfort.
1. God loves us, as our Creator.
2. God is faithful to us, however unfaithful we have been to Him.
V. The caution of this boldness. “In well doing.”
1. The wicked man may commit his soul to God’s keeping, but how is he sure God will take the charge of it? What should God do with a foul and polluted soul? The soul must at last be committed to some; now He only is the receiver of it in death, that was keeper of it in life. If Satan have always ruled it, God will not embrace it.
2. A man may do good, yet come short of this comfort; it is given to them that do well. It is not doing good, but doing well that gets God to keep the soul. You have served Me, says God to Israel, but after your own lusts. To serve God is doing good, but after their own lusts, is not doing well. To build a church is a good work; yet if the foundations of it be laid in the ruins of the poor, their children come not to pray for, but curse the builder. (T. Adams.)
The support of good men under their sufferings for religion
I. When men do suffer really and truly for the cause of religion and God’s truth, they may with confidence commit themselves (their lives and all that is dear to them) to the more especial care of His providence. When men may be said to suffer truly for the cause of religion and God’s truth, and when not.
1. When men suffer for not renouncing the true religion, and because they will not openly declare against it, and apostatise from it.
2. When then they are persecuted only for making an open profession of the Christian religion, by joining in the assemblies of Christians for the worship of God.
3. When they suffer for not betraying it by any indirect and unworthy means.
4. When they suffer for the maintenance and defence of any necessary and fundamental article of it, though they be not required to renounce the whole Christian religion.
5. When they suffer for maintaining the purity of the Christian doctrine and worship; and for opposing and not complying with those gross errors and corruptions which superstition and ignorance had, in a long course of time, brought into the Christian religion.
6. When they suffer for not disclaiming and renouncing any clear and undoubted truth of God whatsoever; yea, though it be not a fundamental point and article of religion.
Cases wherein men may seem to suffer for the cause of religion, but cannot truly be said to do so.
1. When they rashly expose themselves to danger and run upon sufferings for the sake of religion.
2. When they suffer not for their faith, but their fancy, and for the wilful and affected error of a mistaken conscience.
3. When they suffer for the open profession and defence of truths not necessary.
II. How far they may rely upon the providence of God to bear them out in these sufferings. To which I answer: that provided we do what is our duty on our part, the providence of God, will not be wanting on His part to bear us out in all our sufferings for His cause, one of these three ways.
1. To secure us from that violent degree of temptation and suffering, which would be too strong for human strength and patience.
2. In case of such extraordinary temptation and trial, to give us the extraordinary supports and comforts of His Holy Spirit.
3. In case of a temporary fall and miscarriage, to raise us up by repentance, and a greater resolution and constancy under sufferings.
III. What ground and reason there is for good men to expect the more peculiar and especial care of God’s providence in case of such sufferings. The providence of God extends to all His creatures, according to that of the Psalmist: “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” But He exerciseth a more peculiar providence towards mankind; and more peculiar yet towards those who study to please Him by obeying Him and doing His will (Psalms 11:7; Psalms 33:18). When, in all our sufferings for the cause of religion, we may, with confidence, commit ourselves to the more especial care of God’s providence.
1. Provided always that we neglect no lawful means of our preservation from sufferings, or our deliverance out of them.
2. Provided, likewise, that we do not attempt our own preservation or deliverance from suffering by evil and unlawful means.
3. Provided, also, that we do trust the providence of God, and do indeed commit ourselves to it; relying upon His wisdom and goodness, and entirely submitting ourselves to His will and disposal, both as to the degree and duration of our sufferings.
4. Provided yet further, that we pray earnestly to God for His gracious help, for His merciful comfort and support under sufferings; that He would be pleased to strengthen our faith, and lengthen out our patience, in proportion to the degree and duration of our sufferings.
5. Provided, moreover, that we be not confident of ourselves, and of the force and strength of our resolution.
6. Provided furthermore, that, according to our ability, we have been much in the exercise of alms and charity.
7. Provided, above all, that we be sincere in our religion, and endeavour to be universally good, and “holy in all manner of conversation,” and “to abound in all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of God.” This is the largest sense of well-doing, and the most necessary, to prepare us for sufferings, and to give us courage and constancy under them; and likewise to engage the providence of God to a tender care of us, and concernment for us, if He shall see it fit to bring us into a state of suffering. (Abp. Tillotson.)
The keeping of the soul
I. Observe both the mystery and the mercy of the believer’s sufferings in this world.
1. It is a mystery that God should be pleased to subject His people to suffering.
2. Though we may sometimes deem it a mystery we may readily see that it is a mercy-it is according to the will of God-both as to the end to be answered by it, and as to the measure and degree.
II. There is one supreme subject which in all our sufferings should be our chief care-that is the soul.
1. It is infinitely more precious than the body.
2. Everlasting happiness depends upon committing the soul to God now.
III. The text shows us who alone is qualified to be the keeper of this invaluable treasure-our immortal soul.
1. The soul belongs to God.
2. This Divine and merciful Creator has provided for the keeping of our souls. Sent a Saviour for them-engaged to accept and keep them.
IV. Here is an act of sacred resignation and confidence to which all, and especially all sufferers for righteousness’ sake, are invited. Let them commit the keeping of their souls to Him, etc.
1. This is an act of faith resting on His promise of salvation through a Mediator.
2. This act must be accompanied with well-doing. It must be in the way of righteousness. (The Evangelist.)
A faithful Creator.-
This is one of those Biblical phrases upon which in many a time of need the souls of men may fall back and rest, The phrase was intended originally for the support of some in the early Church who had been compelled to suffer for Christ’s sake. Commit your souls, the Apostle writes to such, in well-doing to God as a faithful Creator. The first truth involved in this simple, large phrase is that the Creator has character. A certain well known and fundamental character, that of faithfulness, we are warranted by this Scripture in ascribing to the Creator. It is one of the general characteristics of revelation throughout the Bible that it attributes to God certain distinct moral qualities; that it brings out by these the character of God, rather than the nature or mode in which God may be conceived to exist or to create. This is the grand peculiarity of the Old Testament. This one feature lifts it up above all the literature of the ancient times, as a clear mountain above a jungle; this feature renders it an inspiring Bible for the world, that it exalts the Lord God as having character-true, holy, righteous, merciful, supremely moral character. You have known some man who had this character of faithfulness. He may have accomplished little which men will remember; but he has kept on his way faithfully. He was always to be found where others had reason to expect to find him. Many a faithful woman’s life has been the one scarce noticed, continuous thread, slight, but not to be broken, on which has been bound and kept together all the happiness and success of sons and daughters. A faithful life resembles the sure, unceasing roadway, which runs on and on over the hills, and through the woods, and by the homes of men, into which we may always come back at evening time, no matter how far we may have wandered afield or how long we may have followed the winding brook, at our own sweet will during the day. Now this familiar, homelike, often unnoticed, but fundamental character is described by this Scripture directly to our God. He is the faithful One. Other Scriptures ascribe to Him characters more transcendent, and the very glory of them renders God to our thought unspeakable and high as the heavens above us. Carrying our thought of this character a step further, observe, secondly, that in this Biblical phrase is included the truth that God has some regular method in whatever He does. For regular habit, or methodical action, is a quality of faithfulness. The person who is here and there and everywhere, and whose belongings are never in their place; the person whose life follows no conceivable method may have some other attractive qualities, but would not be counted on as faithful. So that in speaking of the Creator as faithful we must mean that He has followed some method in creation. We say that our God has His regular habits of procedure: that He does not deal with His creation now on one plan and then on another; that He does not let His divine affairs run on of themselves from age to age without thought, system, or order. The faithful Creator is the God of regular habits, the God of system, the God who has His own time and place for everything. Now, think how very much it means for us to know that God is methodical, whether in the realm of nature or of redemption. Two helpful things in particular let me mention as of daily importance for us in the methodical habit of the Divine faithfulness; the one is that because God all through nature and history has been following His one chosen method, we can study what He has been doing, and find out to some extent at least what His method is, and as we find it out we can trust it and adjust our plans of life and our efforts and hopes to it. So we can live surely, as we live in accordance with God’s method. Consider thus God’s method in the natural creation. It is the business of all our sciences to find that out. And as our science discovers God’s method in nature, we may learn to use it in our acts. We propel our street cars, we light our houses, we run our machinery, we multiply our conveniences, because we have found out something about God’s regular habit or method of the light and the electricity and the admirable mechanics of the creation, to which from the beginning He has been faithful. As we learn what the laws of life are-the laws of development, survival, and fruitfulness-we discover still further truth concerning the methods of the faithful One from eternity; and we; must trust these laws of life, and adjust our free action to them, or we shall perish. It is so, likewise, in the kingdom of heaven. God has His providential methods of soul training, and soul enlarging, and soul ripening. Experience discloses to some extent these spiritual methods of the faithful One; and there is life, hope, and peace in submitting our souls to them. The other particular which I would bring out from this general truth of the methodicalness which the faithful Creator observes is this: a good method, as we know, is not to be set aside every now and then because it may seem not to meet exactly all cases and contingencies. So the fact that God has method, and must have it in order to be faithful, is reason enough why He does not vary the course of His providence to meet some of our desires, however much the good God might wish to gratify us. We indeed some times have to change our methods, because we find that they do not work. But God’s regular ways of doing things, whether in the evolution of the creation or in His redemptive work of making all things new-God’s methods have been formed in wisdom, and are on the whole the methods which can be trusted to work out the largest amount of possible creaturely good. There is no new reason, therefore, arising in any juncture of natural forces, or even from any emergency of human history, which should lead God to change the laws of life or to give to His Church some different method of redeeming love than that which has been followed, and is now pursued, by the Divine wisdom on this earth. If, then, God’s persistency in keeping straight on along His well known ways of nature and grace may seem at times to work incidental evil; if God’s steadfastness in letting fire burn, and lightnings blast, and devouring floods overwhelm, as well as the sweet sunshine restore and fructify, may at times destroy human homes or lay desolate for a season human hearts-nevertheless, it is His faithfulness which is involved, and that same faithfulness holds in its own persistent method the possibility of future good in place of present evil, and of even larger and eternal good in consequence of temporal hardship. A third element goes with those just mentioned. This text contains also the kindred truth that God has aim or object. Faithfulness is fidelity to one’s aim or object. It requires that the goal be kept in sight. Faith fulness in the highest is for us to be true to our ideals. It is the same kind of loyalty in the Creator. This likewise is a grandly uplifting thought for us, that the Creator from the beginning, and through all the method of His working, has never lost sight of the goal; that He is faithful to the divine ideals; the divine ideal of a free life of the creature capable of sinning and suffering, because made also to achieve a righteousness and love which only along the way of spiritual freedom can ever be reached; the divine ideal also of embodied spirit, capable of being raised through death to celestial perfection. This likewise belongs to the faithfulness of God. One other characteristic might be added to these three elements of moral character, method, and aim, which are comprehended in the faithfulness of our God-viz., responsibility. This last, however, might be regarded rather as the resultant of all the others, or as a consequent of faithfulness. God is responsible. Think of that in relation to your own personal being and life, as well as in relation to the affairs of God’s world. Perhaps we are more ready to think of it in the latter relation, and to admit God’s responsibility for the world at large and its government, than we are to trust it in reference to our own individual lives. But it is equally true of both. We must assume the Divine responsibility on the large scale of history. When brave Martin Luther was once hard pressed, and inclined to be over anxious concerning the prospects of the Reformation, quiet Philip Melancthon by his side would say to him, “Martin, let God be Governor of the world.” The faithful Creator is the responsible One. There is not a verse of prophet or apostle, there is not a word spoken by Jesus Christ, to lead us to suppose for an instant that God on high would avoid His responsibility for His world; or that He would for a moment put off upon any man the least of His Divine responsibility for affairs. There would be indeed no use and no hope for anything we may do or say to make things human better were it not for this prior and this final responsibility of God, the faithful One from eternity to eternity. Let Martin Luther do and dare as the great reformer, because God is Governor of the world. Let us do with our might whatsoever our hands find to do, because we are but servants, and the responsibility is God’s. Finally, let us take this same truth into our daily thought of ourselves, and of those with whose lives ours are bound in this world and beyond. God gave you and them power to live together in common affections and pursuits. He will be faithful to His own gifts. He will not deny Himself in the being and the powers of life, of thought, of love, which He has given you and them. God made these human hearts capable of love immortal, and even in their mourning capable of proving and deepening their power of love; He is faithful; He cannot deny Himself in the human hearts which He has made. (Newman Smyth.)
A faithful Creator
Suppose, in the place of God as Creator, we substitute chance, or fate, or law, what a blank we have at once in the highest regions of thought and feeling! If you are only the offspring of a blind, unintelligent, unknown force; if you are the product of something that men call “a tendency” or law, are you not immediately let down from a conscious dignity, which has been one of the most ennobling factors and influences of your life? As a child of God you have a supreme motive to be Godlike; as a creature of force you are deprived of all such motives.
I. God the creator is faithful is His relations to us His creatures. It is surely not a presumptuous thing to assert that God has assumed, by the very act of creating us, something like responsibility for our well-being. We cannot conceive of a God calling sensitive creatures like ourselves into existence, and then leaving us to our own poor hapless devices. We reason from analogy-we say, in the common arrangements of society, that parentage involves the idea of obligation. But let us come to declarations and facts-the declarations of Scripture and the facts of human life. In the Book we read, from one end to the other, that God has the charge of our existence; that He acknowledges our claim, as His creatures, as His children, on His bounty and wisdom and love. We take the third step in the inquiry, and look at the facts of life. Just as a parent will seek to adapt the surroundings of a child to its powers and capacities, to place him in a position where he shall obtain all the enjoyment that is compatible with his growth and development; so God has provided the things that are. He has furnished the world as the fitting nursery and schoolhouse for the family of man that He is educating for an immortal and perfect life.
II. God the creator is faithful to the great purpose for which He made us His creatures. We here and now cannot see what the design in the creation of mall is-that is, not to the full of what God purposes to make of us; how He intends by and by in another state of being to use us. We are here only preparing for the sublime work of some future, preparing to fulfil what our Father has had in view for us from the beginning. It could have been for no insignificant position and service that He did actually make men in His own likeness, giving them the high honour of resembling Himself in those spiritual characteristics which constitute the essence of His being. Some time since I stood looking with melancholy interest on the magnificent desolations of Kenilworth Castle. It was a spectacle that filled the heart with regret, but beneath one part were some workmen busily engaged in introducing new layers of stone. On inquiring what they were doing, I was told they were supporting the ruin to prevent its getting any worse. That was all that the owner of that once famous place could do-support the ruin! With that he must be content; but it would not be surprising if he left it alone to the swift process of decay. Human nature is ruined, but not left to decay, not simply kept from getting worse. The will of God is complete recovery, restoration to even greater glory in all its parts, and to this end nothing the Divine Father could expend that would serve this purpose has been withheld. A faithful Creator! Who is like unto Him? He has never left and never forsaken us. And He will not until we again reflect His glory in the fullest measure, and are prepared to take that high place and do that grand service for which we were originally designed. Being faithful to us, can we not trust Him and commit our souls to Hint? (W. Braden.)
The faithful Creator
I. God is faithful in responding to the claims of His creatures. Even of the animal creation this is true. God’s “tender mercies are over all His works.” The “springs of the valleys give drink to the beasts of the field.” “He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle.” “Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father.” And surely God is faithful also in responding to the claims of man. The appetites, desires, and affections with which man has been endowed, have theft’ correspondent means of satisfaction in the world around him. There is nourishment for his body-for his intellect-for his heart. If God is thus faithful in responding to the claims of His creatures, surely He is faithful also in the sense of being worthy of our trust.
II. God is faithful in adhering to His original purpose in creation. Humanity, in His idea, is a holy and blessed thing; and this idea must yet be realised. God has not created sin, but He will triumph over it. As man has chosen that he shall not be educated by standing firm, he must be educated by and through his very fall. And so the “faithful Creator” becomes the merciful Redeemer. How faithful is that love which will even send sorrow upon us-yes, and take sorrow upon itself-rather than permit us to come short of the destiny for which it created us. It is God’s purpose to make you holy and blessed. For this He created you. For this Christ died. For this God is educating you. And surely, if He is thus faithful in adhering to His own purpose concerning you, He is faithful also in the sense of being worthy of your trust. If He crosses your wishes and thwarts your projects, this may be simply because He is unwilling to let you ruin yourself. He would lead you into humility. He would subdue your selfishness and self-will. He would enrich your whole spiritual nature. He would lead you to Christ or into closer sympathy with Christ. (J. C. Finlayson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Peter 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent