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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ 1-peter-3.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
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The epistles of Peter are addressed to the elect Jews of his day, believing of course on the Lord Jesus, and scattered throughout a considerable portion of Asia Minor. The apostle takes particular care to instruct them in the bearing of many of the types that were contained in the Levitical ritual with which they were familiar. But while he contrasts the Christian position with their former Jewish one, in order to strengthen them as to their place and calling now in and by Christ, he takes care also to maintain fully whatever common truth there is between the Christian and the saints of the Old Testament. For it is hardly necessary to say to any intelligent believer, that whatever may be the new privileges, and consequently fresh duties which flow from them, there are certain unchangeable moral principles to which God holds throughout all time. These were insisted on in the Old Testament, particularly in the psalms and the prophets. And the apostle guards against the wrong conclusion, that, because in certain things we stand contrasted with the Old Testament saints, there are no grounds in common.
Let it then be well borne in mind, that God holds fast that which He has laid down for all that are His as to the moral government of God. That government may differ in character and depth; there may be at a fitting moment a far closer dealing with souls (as undoubtedly this is the case since redemption). At the same time the general principles of God are in nowise enfeebled by Christianity, but rather strengthened and cleared immensely. Take, for instance, the duty of obedience; the value of a gracious, peaceful walk here below; the degree of confidence in God. It was ever right that love should go out towards others, whether in general kindness towards all mankind, or in special affections towards the family of God. These things were always true in principle, and never can be touched while man lives on earth.
It is equally true, however, that from the beginning of his first epistle, Peter draws out the contrast of the Christian place with their old Jewish one. It is not that the Jews were not elect as a nation, but therein precisely it is where they stand in contrast with the Christian. Whatever may be found in hymns, or sermons, or theology, scripture knows no such thing as an elect church. There is the appearance of it in the last chapter of this very epistle, but this is due solely to the meddling hand of man. In 1 Peter 5:1-14 we read, "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you;" but all concede that the terms " the church that is " have been put in by the translators: they have no authority whatever. It was an individual and not a church that was referred to. It was probably a well known sister there; and therefore it was enough simply to allude to her. "She that was at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you." The very point of Christianity is this, that as to election it is personal strictly individual. This is precisely what those who contend against the truth of election always feel most: they will allow a sort of body in a general way to be elect, and then that the individuals who compose that body must be brought in, as it were, conditionally, according to their good conduct. No such idea is traceable in the word of God. God has chosen individuals. As it is said in Ephesians: He has chosen us, not the church, but ourselves individually. "The church," as such, does not come in till the end of the first chapter. We have first individuals chosen of God before the foundation of the world.
Here too the apostle does not merely speak, nor is it ever the habit of scripture to speak, in an abstract way of election. The saints were chosen "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father;" for it was no question now of a Governor having a nation in whom He might display His wisdom, power, and righteous ways. They had been used to this and more in Judaism, but it had all passed away. The Jews had brought His government into contempt by their own rebellion against His name; and Jehovah Himself had found it morally needful to hand over His own nation into the power of their enemies. Consequently that nation as a display of His government was a thing of the past. A remnant, it is true, had been brought up from Babylon for the purpose of being tested by a new trial by the presentation of the Messiah to them; but alas! only to their responsibility, not to their faith; and if it be responsibility, whether to do the law or to believe the Messiah, it is all one as far as the result in man is concerned. The creature is utterly ruined in every way, and with so much the speedier manifestation the more spiritual the trial.
Thus, as is known, the rejection of the Messiah was incomparably more fruitful of disastrous consequences to the Jew than even had been of old their breach of the divine law. This accordingly gave occasion for God to exercise a new kind of choice. Undoubtedly there was always a secret election of saints after the fall and long before the call of Abraham and his seed; but now the choice of saints was to be made a manifest thing, a testimony before men, though of course not till glory come absolutely perfect. Accordingly God chooses now not merely out of men but out of the Jews. And this is a point that Peter presses on them, a startling thought for a Jew, yet they had only to reflect in order to know how true it is: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." He is forming a family, and no longer governing one chosen nation. Those addressed from among the Jews were among the chosen ones, "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father."
But there is more than this: it was no longer a question of ordinances visibly separating those subject to them from the rest of the world. It was a real inward and not merely external setting apart; it was through "sanctification of the Spirit." God set them apart unto Himself by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost,. We do not hear now of the gift of the Spirit. Sanctification of the Spirit is altogether distinct from that gift. His sanctification is the effectual work of divine grace, which first separates from the world a person, whether Jew or Gentile, unto God. When a man for instance turns to God, when he has faith in Jesus, when he repents towards God, even though it may be faith but little developed or exercised, and although the repentance may be comparatively superficial (yet I am supposing now real faith and repentance through the action of the Holy Ghost), these are the tokens of the Spirit's sanctification.
There are those who constantly think and speak of sanctification as practical holiness, and exclusively so. It is granted that there is a sanctification in scripture which bears on practice. This is not the. point here, but if possible a deeper thing; and for the simple reason, that practical holiness must be relative or a question of degree. The" sanctification of the Spirit" here spoken of is absolute. The question is not how far it is made good in the heart of the believer; for it really and equally embraces all believers. It is an effectual work of God's Spirit from the very starting-point of the career of faith. Elect of course they were in God's mind from all eternity, but they are sanctified from the first moment that the Holy Ghost opens their eyes to the light of the truth in Christ. There is an awakening of conscience by the Spirit through the word (for I am not speaking now of anything natural, of moral desires or emotions of the heart). Wherever there is a real work of God's Spirit not merely a testimony to the conscience but an arousing of it effectually before God the sanctification of the Spirit is made good.
If asked why this should be accepted as the meaning of the expression, I acknowledge that one is bound to give a reason for that which no doubt differs from the view of many, and I answer, that in my judgment the just and only meaning of the word is proved from the fact that the saints are said to be "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."
The order here is precise and instructive. Now practical holiness follows our being sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ, whereas the sanctification of the Spirit of which Peter here treats precedes it. The saints are chosen through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience. This is somewhat difficult for theology, because in general even intelligent and godly souls are much shut up in the prevalent commonplaces of men. Never should I for one blame their tenacity in adhering to the truth and duty of advancing in practical holiness, or what they call sanctification. This is both true and important in its place. The fault is in denying the other and yet more fundamental sense of sanctification here shown by Peter in its right relation to obedience. A truth is not the truth. True growth in practice confessedly is after justification; sanctification in 1 Peter 1:2 is before justification. It is very evident when a man is justified, he is under the efficacy of the blood of Christ. He is no longer waiting for the sprinkling of that precious blood, he is already sprinkled with it before God. But the sanctification of the Spirit laid down here is in order to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus; and therefore unless you would destroy the grace of God, and reverse a multitude of scriptures as to justification by faith, this sanctification cannot be one's practice of day by day.
Confound the one with the other and you upset the gospel: distinguish sanctification in principle from the beginning for all from sanctification in practice in the various measures of believers, and you learn the truth of what Peter here teaches, which is forgotten for the most part in Christendom. If you say that practical holiness precedes the being brought under the blood of Jesus, I ask, How is one to become holy? Whence is the power or the growth in holiness? Certainly such is not the teaching of God's word anywhere, still less is it what the apostle Peter insists on here. There is a wider and, if possible, a deeper thought than the measure of our walk, which, after all, differs in all the children of God, no two being exactly the same, and all of us depending on self-judgment as well as growth in the knowledge of the Lord and of His grace. The word of God, prayer, the use that we make of the opportunities that His goodness affords us, both public and private, all the means that teach and exercise us in the will of God no doubt contribute to this practical holiness.
But here the apostle speaks of none of these things, but only of the Spirit separating the saints to obey as Jesus obeyed, and to be sprinkled with His blood. And so we find it in fact and in Scripture. Thus, for instance, Saul of Tarsus had this sanctification of the Spirit the moment that, struck down to the earth, he received the testimony of the Lord speaking from heaven. He went through a profound work in his conscience after that. For three days and nights, as we all know, he neither ate nor drank. All this was thoroughly in season; and after it, as we are told, the blindness was taken away, and he was filled with the Holy Ghost. This is not the sanctification of the Spirit. It was clearly the consequence of the Holy Ghost being given to him, but the gift of the Spirit is not the sanctification of the Spirit. Sanctification of the Spirit is that primary action that was experienced before Saul entered into peace with God. When a man is roused to hate his sins through God's testimony reaching him, and convicting him before God, and not in his own eyes, when a man is ashamed of all that he has been in presence of God's grace, ever so little known and understood, still where a real work goes on in the soul, sanctification of the Spirit is true there. Now this ought to be a great comfort even to the feeblest of God's children, not an alarm. There is not one of them who has not really sanctification of the Spirit They may be troubled as to the question of practical holiness, but the fundamental and essential sanctification of the Spirit is that which is already true of all the children of God. I am not speaking of a particular doctrine. It is not a question of that; but of a soul quickened by the Spirit through the truth received in ever so simple and limited a manner. But it is a reality, and from that time this sanctification of the Spirit becomes a fact.
But then, to what are they sanctified of the Holy Ghost thus? Unto Christ's obedience and the sprinkling of His blood; for "Jesus Christ" belongs to both these clauses. This again is a difficulty to some minds. They would rather have placed the sprinkling of the blood first, and obedience next. I can understand them, but do not in the least agree with them. Indeed such difficulties serve to show where people are. The root of all is that people are occupied about themselves first, instead of leaning on the Lord. No doubt if a person were at once to be brought into the comfort of full peace with God through the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, this would suit the heart's sense of its own need. But it is not what the word of God gives us by that converted soul, to whose case I have adverted. What is it that Saul of Tarsus says as the effect of the light of God shining on his soul? "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" And was not this before he knew all the comfort and blessing of the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus?
The first impulse of a converted man is to do the will of God. There may be no sense of liberty yet, nor even joy in the Lord; there can be no solid peace whatever. All this will come in due time, and it may be very rapidly, even the self-same hour; but the very first thing that a soul born of God feels is the desire at all cost to do the will of God. It is exactly what filled Jesus perfectly. It was not a question of what He was to gain or what He was to avoid; but as it is written, "Lo, I come, to do thy will, O God." To my mind, nothing is more wonderful in our blessed Lord here below than this devotedness to His Father, not merely now and again, but as the one motive that animated Him from the beginning to the end of His course here below. He came to do the will of God, and this not as the law proposed, in order that it might be well with Him, and He might live long in the earth; He never had such a motive though He fulfilled the law perfectly. On the contrary, He knew quite well before coming that He was not here for a long life, but to die on the cross. He was about to be a sacrifice for sin, giving Himself up spite of suffering, not only from man, but from God. But at all cost God's will must be done; "by the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The self-same principle is true in the believer, although of course it is pure grace toward him, whereas it was moral perfectness in Jesus. In our case it is all through Jesus. It is the Holy Ghost no doubt producing it. It is the instinct of that new nature, of life in the believer, who, being born of God, has this necessary feeling of the new nature, the desire to do the will of God. In point of fact Christ is the life of the believer; and we can well understand, therefore, that the life of Christ, whether viewed in all its perfection in Him, or whether it is seen modified in ourselves, is nevertheless just the same life, in our case hindered alas! by all sorts of circumstances, and above all by the evil of our old nature that surrounds it, in Him, as we know, absolutely perfect and without mixture.
In this case, then, it seems to me that the order is divinely perfect, and manifestly so. Being sanctified of the Spirit, we are called to obey as Christ obeyed. It is another character and measure of responsibility. The Jew, as such, was bound to obey the law. To him it was a question of not doing what his nature prompted him to do. But this was never the case with Jesus. He in no case desired to do a single thing that was not the will of God. Now the new nature in the believer never has any other thought or feeling; only in our case there is also the old nature which may, and which alas! does struggle to have its own way. Therefore God has His own wise, holy, and gracious mode of dealing with it. We shall see that this comes later on in our epistle, and therefore I need say no more upon it now.
Here we have the first great primary fact, that the Christian Jew does not belong any more to the elect nation; but is taken out of this his former position, and is elect after a wholly new sort. In this case, those actually addressed had belonged to that elect people, but now they were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. It was no afterthought, but His settled plan. It was the foreknowledge of God the Father in virtue of ( ἐν ) sanctification of the Spirit, and this unto the obedience of Jesus Christ (that kind of obedience), and the sprinkling of His blood. These two points are carefully to be weighed Christian obedience, and the sprinkling of His blood. I consider them both to stand in manifest contrast with the same two elements under the law in Exodus 24:1-18, which appears to be in view. In that chapter we have Israel agreeing to do whatever the law demanded, and thereupon the blood of certain victims is taken and sprinkled on the people, as well as on the book that bound them.
It is a great mistake to suppose that the blood there is used as a sign of the putting away of sin. This is not by any means the only meaning of blood, even where it was sacrificially employed. The meaning in that sense I take to be this: that the people formally pledged themselves to legal obedience, and bound themselves in this solemn manner to obey. Just as the blood sprinkled was from the animals killed in view of the old covenant, so they shrank not from that dread and extreme exaction if they failed to obey the will of God. It was an imprecation of death on themselves from God if they violated His commandments. Therefore it is observable there was the sprinkling of the book along with it. This had nothing at all to do with atonement a supposition which only arises from people closing their eyes to other truths in the Bible, to their own great loss even in the truth they hold. We must leave room for all truth. Atonement has its own incomparable place. But certainly when the Israelites were binding themselves to obey the law, it was as far as possible from a confession of atonement. It is a total fallacy, injurious to God's glory and to our own souls, to interpret the Bible after this fashion. It only makes confusion in jumbling up law and gospel, to the detriment of both, and indeed to the destruction of all the beauty and force of truth.
In the case of the Christian all is changed. For Christ communicated a new nature which loves to obey God's will, which accordingly is given us from conversion, before (and it may be long before) a person enjoys peace. From the time that this new nature is given, the purpose of the heart is to obey. Such was, unhindered by imperfection, the obedience of Jesus.
But besides this, the gospel, instead of putting a man under blood as a threat or imprecation of death in case of failure, the awful sign of his doom before his eyes if he disobeyed, puts him under the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, which assures him of plenary forgiveness. With this he is intended to start as a Christian; he begins his career with that blessed shelter which tells him that, although he has entered on the path of Christian obedience, he is a forgiven and justified man in the sight of God. Such is the suited and striking preface with which our apostle commences, contrasting the portion of the believer in Christ with that of the Jew, as it stands in their own sacred books, which we as well as they acknowledge to have divine authority.
Next follows the salutation, "Grace unto you, and peace," the usual Christian or apostolic style of address. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to he revealed in the last time." Thus he loves to bring out again confirmatorily the new relationship in which they stood to God. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is not here blessing them in heavenly places in Christ. Such is not., the topic of Peter; it had been given to another instrument more fitted for revealing the heavenly position of the believer. But if it is not union with Christ, if not our full place in Him before God, there is a clear statement of our hope of heaven. And this is what Peter immediately enlarges on. Speaking of God he says, "Who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven." It is not the universal inheritance of which the apostle Paul treats, so that clearly we have the distinction between his testimony and Paul's very definitely.
Bear in mind that the one is just as truly Christian as the other. There is no difference in their authority, but each has its own importance. The man that would make all his scripture to be the epistle to the Ephesians would soon find himself in want of Peter. And I am persuaded that a hardness of character, quite intolerable to men of spiritual minds, would inevitably be generated by making all our food to consist in what could be extracted from Ephesians and Colossians, the effect of which would soon become painfully sensible to others. The consequence would be that much of the exercise of spiritual affection which humbles the soul, a vast deal which renders needful the gracious present care of the Lord Jesus as advocate and priest on high, would be of necessity left out. In other words, if we think of firmness, as well as the sense of belonging to heaven, a bright triumphant consciousness of glory, surely we must enter into and enjoy the precious truth of our union with Christ. But this is not all; we need Christ interceding for us, as well as the privilege of being in Christ; we need to have Him active in His love before our God, and not merely a condition in which we stand. Peter treats chiefly of the former, Paul of both, but chiefly of the latter. Such was the ordering of matters under God's hand for both. The epistle to the Hebrews of all the Pauline epistles is that which most approaches the testimony of Peter, and coalescing in it to a large extent. There we have not union with the Head, but "the heavenly calling;" and substantially the latter line of truth is that which we have in 1 Peter.
Nor is it only that we find here the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, but the life that grace has given us is characterized by resurrection power. "We are begotten again," says he, "to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." The blood of Jesus Christ, however precious and indispensable, does not of itself constitute a man a Christian either in intelligence or in fact of standing. It is the foundation for it; and every one who rests on the blood of Christ is surely a Christian; but I repeat that, both for position before God and intelligent perception and power of soul, we need and have much more. Supposing God only gave the believer according to his own thoughts (often meagre); supposing one believed in the power of the precious blood of Jesus ever so truly, and had nothing more than this our real portion by the Spirit, such an one, I maintain, would be a sorry Christian indeed. No doubt as far as it goes it is all-important, nor could any one be a Christian without it. Still the Christian does need the effect of the resurrection of Jesus following up the sprinkling of His blood I do not say the resurrection without His blood, still less the glory without either. A whole Christ is given and needed. I do not believe in these glory-men, or resurrection-men either, without the blood of Jesus; but, on the other hand, as little are we in scripture limited to that most wonderful of all foundations redemption through Christ Jesus our Lord. To restrict yourself to it would be a wrong, not so much to your own soul as to God's grace; and if there be any difference, especially to Him who suffered all things for God's glory and for our own infinite blessing.
In this case then we have the Christian by divine grace possessed of a new nature which loves to obey. He is sprinkled with Christ's blood, which gives him confidence and boldness in faith before God, because he knows the certainty of the love that has put away his sins by blood. But, besides this, what a spring is conveyed to the soul by the sense that his life is the life of Jesus in resurrection. So, he adds, there is a. similar inheritance for the saints with Christ Himself "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven," where He has already gone. More than this, there is full security, spite of our passing through a world filled with hatred and peril, for the Christian above all. "For you," says he, "who are kept;" for Christian doctrine is not, as men so often say, that of saints persevering. In this I, for one, do not believe. One sees alas! too often saints going astray, comparatively seldom persevering as the rule, if we speak of their consistent fidelity and devotedness. But there is that which never fails, "the power of God through faith," by which the believer is kept to the end. This alone restores the balance; and thus we are taken out of all conceit of our own stability. We are thrown on mercy, as we ought to be; we look up in dependence on One who is incontestably above us, and withal infinitely near to us. This ought to be the spring of all our confidence, even in God Himself, with His own power preserving us. There is given to the soul of him who thus rests on God's power keeping him a wholly different tone from that of the man who thinks of his own perseverance as a saint. Far better is it, then, to be "kept by the power of God through faith." In this way it is not independent of our looking to Him.
But there is discipline also. God puts us to the proof; and, undoubtedly, if there be unbelief working, we must eat the bitter fruit of our own ways. It is good that we should feel that it is unbelief, and that unbelief can produce nothing but death. This may be in various measures, and therefore no more is meant than so far as want of faith is allowed to work. In the unbeliever, where it does work unhinderedly, the consequences are fatal and everlasting. In the believer the evil heart of unbelief is modified necessarily by the fact that, believing on Christ, he has everlasting life. But still, as far as unbelief does work, it is just so far death in effect. The saints, then, are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation." And here it is well to observe, as an important fact to be recognised, that salvation in Peter's epistle looks onward to the future, where it is not otherwise qualified. Salvation is here viewed as not yet come. In the general sense of the word, salvation awaits the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. It supposes that the believer is brought out of all that is natural even as to the body that he is already changed into the likeness of Christ. "Salvation," says Peter, "ready to be revealed in the last time." This is the reason why he connects it with the appearing of Jesus Christ. It is not merely the work effected, but salvation revealed; and hence it necessarily awaits the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is another sense of salvation, and our apostle, as we shall shortly find, does not in anywise ignore it; but then he qualifies the term. When he refers it to the present, it is the salvation of souls, not of bodies. This also is a very important point of difference for the Christian, on which it will be desirable to speak presently. On the other hand, as here, when salvation simply and fully is meant, we are thrown on the revelation of the last time. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations." Such is the path of trial through which the believer goes forward, putting to the proof the faith which God has given him:" That the trial of your faith" (not of flesh as under the law) "being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
It is not said to be at Christ's coming. The trial of our faith will not be revealed then, but "at the appearing of Jesus." This is the reason why the appearing of Jesus is brought in here. The coming of Jesus might be misunderstood, as being a much more comprehensive term than His appearing or revelation. His coming ( παρουσία ) is that which effects the rapture and reception of the saints to Himself; and His appearing is that which subsequently displays them with Himself before the world, and therefore expresses but a part of His presence, being the special (not the generic) term. The appearing of Jesus is exclusively when the Lord will make Himself visible, and be seen by every eye. It is evident that the Lord might come and make Himself visible only to those in whom He is distinctly interested, and who are themselves personally associated with Him; and such, I have no doubt, is the truth of scripture. But then He may do more and display Himself to the world. Such is the "appearing" of Jesus, and of this the apostle Peter speaks when the revelation of the sons of God in glory will take place. Then it is that the trial of the faith of the Christian will be made manifest in glory. Wherever the saints have shown faith or unbelief, whether hindered by the world, the flesh, or the devil, whatever the particular snare that has drawn them aside, all will be made plain then. There will be no possibility of self-love keeping up appearances longer: unbelief will cost as dear in that day as it is worthless now; but the trial of faith, where it has been genuine, will be "found unto praise and honour" then. Proved unbelief will be certainly to the praise of none, but where feeble faltering faith has been put in evidence by the trial, while surely forgiven in the grace of God, nevertheless the failure cannot but be judged as such. The flesh never counts on God for good. All unbelief therefore will be shown plainly to be of the flesh, not of the Spirit, and never excusable.
But this gives the apostle an occasion to speak of Jesus, especially as he had spoken of His appearing, and this in a way that remarkably brings out the character of Christianity. "Whom," says he, "having not seen, ye love." It is a strange sound and fact at first, but in the end precious. Who ever loved a person that he never saw? We know that in human relations it is not so. In divine things it is precisely what shows the power and special character of a Christian's faith.
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith," not yet the body saved, but soul-salvation "the salvation of souls." This at once gives us a true and vivid picture of what Christianity is, of signal importance for the Jews to weigh, because they always looked forward for a visible Messiah, the royal Son of David the object, no doubt, of all reverence, homage, and loyalty for all Israel. But here it is altogether another order of ideas. It is a rejected Messiah who is the proper object of the Christian's love, though he never beheld Him; and who while unseen becomes so much the more simply and unmixedly the object of his faith, and withal the spring of "joy unspeakable and full of glory."
While this is in full and evident contrast with Judaism, it needs little proof that it is precisely what gives scope for the proper display of Christianity, which could not be seen in its true light if at all till Jesus left the world. Whilst the Lord was here, it is ignorance and error to call such a state of things, however blessed and needed, Christianity. Of course it was Christ, which, after all, was far more important in one sense than the work He wrought for bringing us to God. All on which one could look with delight and praise was concentrated in His own person. What were the disciples then? Members of His body? Who told you this? None eau find it in Scripture. Up to that time membership of Christ, or to be in Christ, was not a fact, and consequently could not be testified to any soul, nor known to the most advanced believer. What Christ was to them then was all: not in the least did any suspect (for indeed it was not yet true) that any were in Him. The Lord spoke of a day when they should know it; but as yet the foundation was not even laid for it. This was done in the mighty work of the Saviour on the cross; and not the fact only but its results were made good when Christ, after having breathed His own risen life into them, went up to heaven and sent down the Holy Ghost that they might taste the joy and have the power of it. This gives room for all the practical working of Christianity. It was necessary to its existence that Jesus should go. There could have been no Christianity if Jesus had not come; yet as long as He was visibly present on earth, Christianity proper could not even begin.
It was when He who died went to heaven that Christianity appeared in its full force; and accordingly then came out faith in its finest and truest character. While He was here, there was a kind of mingled experience. It was partly sight and partly faith; but when He went away, it was altogether faith, and nothing but faith. Such is Christianity. But then, again, as long as Christ was here, it could not be exactly hope. How could one hope for One who was here, however different His estate from what was longed for and expected? Thus neither faith had its adequate and suited sphere, nor had hope its proper character till Jesus went away. When He left the earth, especially as the Crucified, then indeed there was room for faith; and nothing but faith received, appreciated, and enjoyed all. And before He went away, He had left the promise of His return for them. Thus hope also could spring forth as it were to meet Him; as, indeed, it is the work of the Holy Ghost to exercise the faith and hope He has given.
This, then, may serve to show the true nature of Christianity, which, coming in after redemption, is founded on it, and forms in us heavenly associations and hopes while Jesus is away, and we are waiting for Him to return. Perhaps it is needless to say how the heart is tried. There is everything, as we have seen, to give not only faith and hope their full place, but also love. As we are told here, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing," no wonder he adds, "ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." But none of these wonders of grace could have been, unless by redemption we receive the end of our faith meanwhile, namely, soul-salvation.
A very important development follows in the next verses. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you." How little, it seems, the Old Testament prophets understood their own prophecies! How much we are indebted to the Spirit who now reveals a Christ already come! The prophets were constantly saying that the righteousness of God was near at, hand, and His salvation to be revealed. Thence, we see, they did speak of these very things. They "prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching), what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories after these." Take Psalms 22:1-31 or Isaiah 53:1-12, where we have the sufferings which belonged to Christ, and the glories after these. But mark, "To whom it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to us they did minister the things which are now reported to you in virtue of the Holy Ghost sent from heaven. This is Christianity. It is very far from identifying the state and testimony of the prophets with ours now under grace and a present Spirit. He shows that first of all there was this testimony of that which was not for themselves but for us, beginning of course with the converted Jewish remnant, these Christian Jews who believed the gospel which in principle belongs to us of the Gentiles just as much as to them.
Christianity is come to us now; but when really known, it is not at all a mere question of prophetic testimony, even though this be of God, but there is the preaching of the gospel by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. The gospel sets forth present accomplishment redemption now a finished work as far as the soul is concerned. At the same time, the day is not yet come for the fulfilment of the prophecies as a whole. This is the important difference here revealed. There are three distinct truths in these verses, as has been often remarked, and most clearly, as we have seen. "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the appearing of Jesus Christ." Then the prophecies will be fulfilled. Thus the Lord Jesus, being already come and about to come again, brings before us two of these stages, while the mission of the Holy Ghost for the gospel fills up the interval between them. Had there been only one coming of Christ, then the accomplishment that we have now, and the fulfilment of the prophecies that. is future, would have coalesced, so; far as this could have been; but two distinct comings of the Lord (one past, and the other future) have broken up the matter into these separate parts. That is, we have had accomplishment in the past; and we look for future fulfilment of all the bright anticipations of the coming kingdom. After the one, and before the other, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven is the power of Christian blessedness, and as we know also of the church, no less than of preaching the gospel everywhere.
And when the Lord Jesus appears by and by, there will be not the gospel as it is now preached, nor the Holy Ghost as He is now sent down from heaven, but the word going forth and the Spirit poured out suitably to that day. There may be a still more diffusive action of the Holy Ghost when He is shed upon all flesh, not merely as a sample, but to an extent (I do not say depth) beyond what was accomplished on the day of Pentecost. In due time there will be the fulfilment of the prophecies to the letter. Christianity accordingly, it will be observed, comes in between these two extremes after the first, and before the second, coming of Christ; and this is exactly what Peter shows us in this epistle. "Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope perfectly," etc. Again in the 14th verse: "As children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, be ye also holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy." There is an instance of what I referred to that the essential moral principles. of the Old Testament are in nowise disturbed by Christianity. And, indeed, you find this not merely in Peter but in Paul. Paul will tell you so, even after he shows that the Christian is dead to the law; and then a term is used to show that he does not at all mean that the righteousness of the law is not fulfilled in us, but that it is. In fact, the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in no one but the Christian. A man under the law never fulfils the law: the man who is under grace is the one that does, and the only one; for the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." So Peter takes up a passage of Leviticus, and shows that it is strictly true yea, if one can employ such an expression, more true (of course meaning by this more manifestly true) under the Christian than under the Jewish system. As all know, many things were allowed then for the hardness of the heart, which are thoroughly condemned now. That is, the holiness of the Christian is fuller, and deeper than that of the Jew. Hence he can fairly take up the quotation from the law, not at all conveying that we were under law, but with an à fortiori force. As Christians, we are under a far more searching principle, namely, the grace of God (Romans 6:1-23), which assuredly ought to produce far better and more fruitful results.
It is clearly seen how he treats these Jews, and what they used to boast of. "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father" that is, if ye call on Him as Father "who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." What can be more magnificent than this setting of the Christian on his own proper basis?
It will be observed here that there are two motives to holiness: the first is that He has called us; the next, that we call Him, and this by the sweet and near title of Father. It is no longer relationship with and recognition of a God that rules and governs. This was known in Israel, but it could in no wise draw out the affections in the same way as calling Him Father. We are told and meant to know, that as He called us by His grace, so we should call on Him as Father. It is after the pattern, not of a subject with a sovereign, but of a child's dependence on a parent. To this double motive there is added another consideration on which it all rests, and without which neither of these things could be. How is it that He has been pleased thus to call us? and how is it that we can call Him Father? The answer is this: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ." The Jews were all familiar with a ransom price that used to be paid in silver. But it did not matter whether one gave silver or gold, it was all corruptible; and to what did it come at last? The precious blood of Christ is another thing altogether; and there alone is efficacy found before God; so also His incorruptible seed revealing Himself is planted in the heart of the saint.
They were redeemed then with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. It was no new thought. Though but newly brought out, it was in point of fact the oldest of all purposes. Did they boast about their law, the apostle can say that Christianity the present blessed revelation of grace in Christ was in God's mind before the foundation of the world. Therefore there could be no comparison on that score, not even for a Jew. And this was an important point; for the Jews reasoned, that because God brings out one thing today, He could not bring out another tomorrow. They consider that, because God is unchangeable, He has not a will of His own. Why even your dog has a will; and I am sure you have a will yourselves. And here is the wonderful infatuation of unbelief. That very system of reason that makes so much of the will of man, and is not a little proud of it, would deprive God Himself of a will, and under penalty of man's accusation of injustice forbids its exercise according to His own pleasure. But thus it is He brings out one part of His character at one time, and another part at another time. Therefore be would have them know that, as to the novelty with which they reproach Christianity, it was altogether a mistake; for the Lamb without blemish and without spot, though only lately slain, was foreordained before the foundation of the world. When he refers to Him as a "lamb without blemish and without spot," he evidently points to their types, yea, to Christ before the types, because we had that from the very beginning in the first recorded sacrifice, long before there was a Jew and still more before the law. To what did it all point? To "the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." It is plain that, if God foreordained it, He at the same time took care to act on it, and this is long before either Judaism or the law.
Thus there was a most thorough conviction of the folly of the Jewish argument as to Christianity being a mere novelty; but it was "manifest in these last times for you who by him do believe in God." Here it is not merely believing in the Messiah, but believing in "God that raised him up from the dead."
Now I do not believe there ever can be settled peace in a man's soul till he has confidence in God Himself, according to the truth of His raising up Christ from the dead. Simply to believe in Christ may make a man quite happy, but it never of itself gives solid unbreakable peace. What brings a man into that peace which resists all efforts from without to take it, all weakness within in giving it up, is the certainty that all is clear with God. It is He that raises the question of conscience in His sight, and this is so much the more dreadful, because when renewed we know better our own subtlety and His unstained essential holiness. It belongs to the condition in which man is that, being fallen, and yet having a conscience of the good that alas! he does not do, and of the evil that he does, he has a dread of God, knowing that He must bring into judgment the good that he knew but did not, and the evil that he knew and did. So guilty man cannot but quake, still by scepticism he may reason himself out of his fears, or he can find a religion that soothes and destroys his conscience. But that man has this conscience in his natural state is most certain.
Christianity alone settles all questions. There we have not merely the blessed Saviour who in unspeakable love comes down and attracts the heart, and searches the conscience, but He settles all for us with God by redemption. Nor is it only that He comes down from God, but He goes up to God. That we receive the peace we need as Christians is mainly connected, not with His coming out from God, but with His going back to God; as it is said here, "Who by him do believe in God that" what? Gave Him to shed His blood? There can be nothing without this: impossible to have any holy and permanent blessing for the soul without it; nevertheless this is not what is said. We have the value of Christ's blood already spoken of, but now it is added of God that He "raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory." Where? In His own presence. Even the kingdom on earth does not suffice. According to Christian light nothing will do but ability to stand before the glory of God. And this by Christ's work is made good for us, because the very one that became responsible for our sins on the cross is in glory now. God has raised Him from the dead and given Him glory. The consequence is that all for ever is made clear and settled for those who believe in God, that our "faith and hope might be" not " in Christ," though it is so, assuredly, but more than this "in God." This is the more important, because of itself it completely dissipates a thought as common as it is grievous to the Lord, that Christ is the one in whom the love is, and that His task for the most part is to turn away the totally opposite feeling that is in God Himself. Not so; for as He came out in the love of God, who none the less must by this very Christ judge every soul that lives in sin and unbelief, He would not go back to heaven until He bad by His own sacrifice completely put sin away. But this was the will of God. (Psalms 40:1-17; Hebrews 10:1-39) Thus He goes in peaceful triumph into the presence of God, establishing our faith and hope in God, and not merely in Himself.
But there is another thing to be considered. "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren," for this is the sure effect "see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." There was the best and weightiest reason for this, because the nature thus produced in them is this holy nature that comes by grace from God Himself. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth; because all flesh is as grass, and all its glory as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
1 Peter 2:1-25. Next he shows some of the privileges as well as wants of the Christian. First he is surrounded by an evil world, but, besides, he has not lost in fact something nearer that is quite as bad as what is in the world. "Laying aside," he says, "all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby to salvation." "To salvation" you will not find in your common Bibles, but it is none the less true for all that. The apostle represents us as growing by the word to salvation ( i.e., the end in glory). It is not often that words are thus left out. The more usual fault of those who copied the scriptures was that they added words. They assimilated passages one to another; they thought that what was right in one case must be right in another; and thus the tendency was to blunt the fine edge of the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. But in this case they omitted. At first sight, perhaps, these words may be startling to some, that is, to such as think that the sense of "salvation" is weakened thereby. But you need never be afraid of trusting God or His word. Never fear for the honour of the scripture, never shrink from committing yourself to what God says. I have no hesitation in saying that this is in my judgment what God said, if we are to be guided by the most ancient and best authorities.*
If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious; to whom coming as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Two characters of priesthood are here shown us. We have first seen one of them, "a holy priesthood;" there is another lower down, in verse 9, where he says, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." Both flow from Christ and are in communion with Him who is now carrying on a priesthood according to the pattern of Aaron, but in His own person is a priest after the order of Melchisedec. That is, He is a royal priest just as truly as His functions are now exercised on the ground of sacrifice, interceding after the Aaronic pattern within the veil but a veil that is rent. He is now fulfilling the Levitical types in the holiest of all. On this is founded the spiritual priesthood, and in consequence we who are His draw near and offer up spiritual sacrifices. Besides that, not only is there holiness in drawing near to God, but royal dignity stamped upon the believer. This too is of the greatest importance for us all to remember and seek to realize by faith. Where is each to be proved? Before God we bow down in praise and adoration; before the world we are conscious of the glory grace has given us. We do honour to the world and shame to this our place by seeking its favours. Alas! how often and readily the. Christian forgets his proper dignity. Let us then bear in mind that we are a royal priesthood "to show forth," as it is said here, "the virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light." But when it is a question of drawing near, let us not forget that we are a holy priesthood. We can all understand this: holiness, when one has to do with God; royalty, before the world when the temptation is to forget our heavenly honour.
*In fact but one uncial (Cod. Angelicus Romanus) of the ninth century with many cursives warrants the omission; but , A, B, C, K, more than fifty cursives, and all the versions but the Arabic of the Parisian Polyglott support the words. The early quotations, Greek and Latin, save of Oecumenius, point to the same reading.
"Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." Here again we have a scripture of the Old Testament applied; and this has often been, and still is to this day, exceedingly misunderstood; as if the persons here spoken of must be Gentiles because they are called the strangers of the dispersion. It means Jews, and none but Jews, who believe in the Lord Jesus. What he refers to is the loss of their title to be the people of God, which Israel sustained at the time of the Babylonish captivity. They then ceased to be manifestly God's people. Accordingly their land became the possession of the Gentiles; and so it has gone on to this day. As we know, from that day to this there has never been a real recovery, but only the return of a remnant for special purposes for a season. The times of the Gentiles are still in course of accomplishment. They are not yet finished; and they must be punctually fulfilled. Hence it is evident that, as long as the times of the Gentiles proceed, the Jews cannot regain their ancient title, nor become the real owners of Emmanuel's land. Indeed, it is too plain a fact for any one to dispute. All this time they are not a people; they are dependent on the will of their Gentile masters. But even now grace gives the believer (here believing Jews) to enter that place; we are now God's people. We do not wait for times and seasons. Israel must wait; but we do not.
This is just the difference between the Christian and the Jew. The Christian does not belong to the world, and consequently is not bound by accidents of time. He has everlasting life now, and is a heavenly person even while upon the earth. This is Christianity. Thus he says to the Jews addressed that they were not a people (that is, in the days of their unbelief), but are now. So far was their believing in Christ from taking them out of the people, it is then alone that they became, a people. They "were not a people, but now are the people of God;" they" had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." It is a quotation from Hosea 2:1-23.
And this is exceedingly interesting, because if the prophet be compared, it will be seen to illustrate what has been remarked before the difference between the present accomplishment made good in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, and the future fulfilment of the prophecies. If persons take the actual application as the fulfilment of the prophecies, it in fact not only nullifies the future of scripture, but destroys the beauty and point of the present; for what the apostle intimates is, that they had obtained mercy now, though none were yet sown in the earth. These Christian Jews were not sown in the earth. The earth will be sown with the seed of God when the Jewish nation, as such, obtains mercy. They will be the greatest people on the face of the earth, and all the Gentiles shall own it. They will have everything at their command, and worthily use all for God. Not only are they to be set publicly at the head of the nations, but God himself will link His own glory from above with them as His earthly people here below, and nothing but peace, righteousness, and plenty will be found all over the earth in that day of glory. Such will be "that day," and of that day Hosea prophesies. You can easily judge whether that day is come now. It is only a theologian who finds a difficulty. His traditions wrap him up in fog.
I do not think it requires much argument to show whether under the gospel the Jews or the world are in such a condition as the prophet describes, or whether there, is anything in progress that is intended or calculated to bring about such a result. But what will not men believe, provided it be not in the Bible? I admit that what is in the Bible requires faith; and this is as it should be. It is, however, too evident that there is nothing like incredulity for swallowing anything that panders to the first man, and leaving out the glory of the Second. In the word of God, then, we find that the accomplishment of the prophecy supposes an earthly place, with visible power and glory given to the Jewish people. But the wonderful place given to the Christian is that, though we do become the people of God now, whether Jew or Gentile, and although the believing Jew does obtain mercy now, he is not sown on the earth, but called out for heaven, and, in consequence, becomes a pilgrim and stranger here below till Jesus appears. This will not be the case when the Jews shall be brought back to the land. In a certain sense they are strangers now; but it is an awful sense, because it is the fruit of judgment. They are scattered over the earth, and can find no rest for their souls, any more than their feet. This is notorious to every one even to themselves. Least of all can the Jews be said to be sown in the land of Palestine. I do not mean that they may not acquire previously a delusive glory; nor that the antichrist by fraud will not palm himself off as the Messiah, and settle some of them in the land, according toDaniel 11:1-45; Daniel 11:1-45. Nor do I believe that this day is far off. The hour of temptation is near.
But while fully looking for this, it is sweet to see the place of the believing Jew now as divine wisdom here applies Hosea, mutatis mutandis. Although he is of the people of God, instead of getting an earthly character by Christianity, on the contrary he becomes a pilgrim and stranger. "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." It is as if God had purposely put verse 11 to negative the conclusions which men have drawn from a misunderstanding of verse 10.
Then he begins his exhortations, and first of all with the personal snares of every day, with what the Christian had to contend with in himself. Next he proceeds to bring in what had to do with others. There he says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as to them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and praise to them that do well."
I suppose there was a danger of these Christian Jews being somewhat turbulent. Certainly the Jews of old were rarely good subjects. They were apt to rise against oppression and to fail in obedience to a superior, at least among the heathen. They were ever a rebellious people, as we know; and the Christian Jews were in danger of using their Christianity in order to justify insubjection. We can easily comprehend it. They could see how gross, dark, and dissolute these Pagan governors were; and in such circumstances one needs the distinct sense of God's will to abide in the duty of obedience. "How can we obey men that worship stocks and stones, whose very religion makes them immoral and degraded?" However this may have been, it is of all importance for the Christian that he should be established in the place of patient submission; as we see Paul elsewhere taking especial pains to insist that the Christians in Rome should obey, even where they had to do with one of the most abandoned men that had ever governed the empire, persecuting themselves to death a short time after. Nevertheless the apostle there claims the most unqualified subjection to the powers that be. So here we find that the Christian Jews, who might have exonerated themselves from the burden laid on them by their heathen masters, are earnestly exhorted by the apostle Peter to do their bidding for the Lord's sake. I do not say that there are no limits. Obedience is always right, but not to man when he would force the dishonour of God. Nevertheless obedience abides the principle of the Christian. But the lower obedience is absorbed by the higher one when they come into collision; and this is the only seeming exception.
After this Peter not only branches out into the outward life, but takes particular note of the family and its relationships. Some of those addressed were domestics, whether or not they were slaves. The apostle Paul pressed on the Christian slave the beauty and responsibility of obedience; but Peter insists on it whether a man be a slave or not. This is founded on the very principle of Christianity itself; that is, doing good, suffering for it, and taking it patiently. I admit it requires faith; but then the Lord cannot but look for faith in Christian people. Nay, we have Christ Himself brought in to enforce and illustrate it. It is not merely the Christian who is called to this, but this is what Christ was called to. "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again." To be reviled was a pain to which as domestics they would be particularly exposed, as well as to suffer in all sorts of ways. What had Christ not gone through in the same path?
"When he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." He suffered in other ways; in this He stands alone for us; "that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." Since He came and showed the perfect pattern, it was less than ever the time to sanction disobedience; it was more than ever unbecoming to shirk the path of suffering.
The exhortation is not limited to slaves. Here we find the various relations of life practically met. At any rate the most important part is noticed; and in particular the great social bond, wives and husbands (1 Peter 3:1-22). Then comes the general exhortation: "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, pitiful, lowly-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing." What a place for the Christian! called to blessing, and to be a blessing. And this is fortified, singular to say, (but confirming what has been already remarked) by the Psalms. He had quoted the law in 1 Peter 1:1-25, the prophets in1 Peter 2:1-25; 1 Peter 2:1-25, and now the psalms in 1 Peter 3:1-22. Thus all the living oracles of God are turned into use for the Christian, only you must take care that you do not abuse them or any part of them.
"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." And then he asks, "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts."
This leads to another important point; that if we do suffer, it ought never to be for sin, and for the affecting reason that Christ has once for all suffered for sins. Let this be enough. Christ has suffered for sins; He has had there, if we may so say, a monopoly; and there let it end: why should we? He alone was competent to suffer for sin. We ought never to suffer but for His name, unless it be for righteousness, as is said here, "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison."
Carefully observe that Peter does not say that Christ went to prison and preached to the spirits there. No such words are used, nor is this what he means. The spirits are characterised as in prison. They are waiting there for the day of judgment. God may have judged them in this world, but this is not all. He is going to judge them in the next world. There may have been a judgment, but this is not the judgment. So he says these very spirits which are spoken of were "once disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls, were saved through water."
It is not a description of all that died in unbelief, but of a generation favoured with a special testimony and smitten by a particular stroke of judgment. The preaching was in the days of Noah. It was just before that judgment fell on them, and this because they despised the testimony of Christ through Noah. Just as the Spirit of Christ prophesied in the prophets, so the Spirit of Christ preached by Noah. There is no difficulty that I see about it. There is nothing at all in the verse that warrants a web of doctrine strange to the rest of the Bible. It is a mistake to construe it of one that knows not what took place in the lower parts of the earth. Nothing is said of preaching in prison, but to the imprisoned spirits not when they were there. He is speaking about the people that heard Noah, and despised the word of the Lord then. It was not Noah's own spirit that preached; it was the Spirit of Christ.
It may be well to point out that the Spirit is used particularly in connection with Noah, as we find in Genesis 6:1-22: "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh." There was a term of patience assigned: "Yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." That is, the Spirit went on striving in testimony to men all that time. Then the flood came and took them all away; but their spirits are now kept in prison waiting for that judgment which has no end. And why does Peter notice them particularly? For this reason, that very few were saved then, whilst. a great many perished. On reflection it will be evident that there is no instance so suitable as this for the argument in hand so few saved and so many perishing. The unbelieving might taunt the Christians with their scanty numbers, while the great mass still remained Jews, and with the absurdity of such a conclusion to the coming of Messiah. There is no force in that argument, the Christian can reply; for, when the flood came, only a few were saved after all, as is shown by the first book of Moses, their own indisputably inspired history. It is beyond cavil that the many perished then, and still fewer were saved than the Christian Jews at that time. Thus the passage is sufficiently plain. There is not the slightest excuse for misinterpreting the language, or for allowing anything unknown to the rest of scripture. It is a solemn warning to unbelief founded on plainly revealed facts before all eyes in this world, and not something to be understood as relating to another world.
"The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request. of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." This, again, is somewhat peculiarly put in our version. It is not exactly "the answer of a good conscience." The real meaning may make the difficulty appear to be greater for a moment (as, I suppose, the truth often, if not always, does); but when received and understood, what has such strength of appeal to the conscience? The word is a somewhat difficult one; but I believe the force is that it is what conscience wants and asks for from God. Now, when a conscience is touched by the Holy Spirit, what is it that satisfies such a conscience? Clearly nothing less than acceptance in righteousness before God; and this is precisely the position that baptism does set forth. That is to say, it is not simply the blood of Christ, which indeed is never the meaning of baptism; still less is it the life of Christ: baptism means nothing of the sort. It really is founded on the death of Christ; and therein further our due place is shown us by His resurrection. Thus he says, "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us." Never do we see salvation in its real force so affirmed apart from resurrection. You may find that which meets guilt in death, but never is salvation short of or separable from the power of resurrection. Hence, when he says it saves us, he necessarily brings in resurrection. "Baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh . . .") He did not mean the mere outward act of baptism. This could save nobody; but what baptism represents does save. It declares that the Christian man has a new place and standing not in the first Adam at all, but in the Second in the presence of God man without sin, and accepted according to the acceptance of Christ before God. This it is that baptism sets forth; and what of course as a sign it brings one into. "Baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him."
"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind." In this chapter (1 Peter 4:1-19) we come to the divine government in dealing with nature opposing itself to the will of God. "For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." If you yield to nature, you gratify it; but if you suffer in refusing its wishes, then "he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." It is practical; and holiness costs suffering in this world. Suffering is the way in which power in practice is found against the flesh; so that "he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." The time past might well suffice for the wretched gratification of self. Do men wonder at one's abstaining? They are going to be judged. "For for this cause was the gospel preached to the dead also, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." Thus he shows that even if you look at those that are dead, there was no difference. They too, those who had been before them, had been put to the proof in this way. He is keeping up the link with saints of old by a general principle. Whatever the form, God never gives up His righteous government, though there is His grace also. Hence, if any received the gospel, they were delivered from judgment, and lived according to God in the Spirit. If they despised it, they none the less suffered the consequences.
"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." After this episode which has to do with men here, not in the unseen world, he returns to the relative duties of Christians, and exhorts them to watchfulness with sobriety, to fervent love, and also to "use hospitality one to another without grudging." And then he takes up what is distinctly spiritual power, which should be used not in charity only but with conscience before God, and for His glory through our Lord Jesus. We saw in a similarly characteristic way in the epistle of James the connection of his moral aim with teaching. But they both suppose an open door for ministry among Christians in the Christian assembly. Why was there the mighty action of the Spirit of God producing such various gifts for profit if they did not create the responsibility to exercise them?
No Christian should think or talk about a right of ministry; for although liberty of ministry may be legitimate enough in itself, still I think it is a phrase apt to be misunderstood. It might easily be interpreted as if it meant a right for any one to speak. This I deny altogether. God has a right to use whom He pleases, according to His own sovereign will and wisdom; but the truth is, that if you have received a gift, you are not only at liberty but rather bound to use it in Christ's name. It is not a question of merely having license. Such a principle may be very well for man; but responsibility is the word for men of God, "as each man hath received the gift." It is not merely certain men, one or two, but "as each man," whatever the number, whether few or many.
"As each man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, [let him speak] as [the] oracles of God." According to this none ought ever to speak unless he has a thorough conviction that he is giving out God's mind and message, as suited for that time and those souls. Were this felt adequately, would it not hinder a great many from speaking? Nor is there any reason to fear that silence in such a case would inflict a real loss on the church of God. It does not seem to be of such prime importance that much need be said. The great matter is, that what is spoken should be from God. Persons ought not to speak unless they have a certainty that what they wish to say is not only true (this is not what is said) but the actual will of God nor the occasion. The speaker should be God's mouthpiece for making His mind known there and then. This is to speak "as oracles of God." It is not merely speaking according to His oracles, which is the usual way in which men interpret the passage, and thence derive their license for speaking as they judge fitting without thinking of God's will. They think they have an understanding of scripture, and that they may therefore speak to profit; but it is a totally different thing if one desire only to speak as God's mouthpiece, though it is granted that one may here as elsewhere mistake and fail.
The principle, however, is sound; and may we heed it in conscience, looking to the Lord's grace in our weakness. "If any man speak, [let it be] as oracles of God; if any man minister, [let it be] as of the ability which God giveth." Let it be observed here that ministry is distinguished from speaking. What a vast change must have passed over Christendom, seeing that now a man is chiefly thought a minister because he speaks! whereas real service of the saints is as precious in its place as any speaking can be. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth." Ministry, then, is clearly in itself a distinct thing from speaking; it is another kind of service to which he is called of God. It is granted that, even in connection with spiritual gift in the way of speaking, there is such a thing as the natural ability of the person taken into account; but this is not the gift, though it be the suited vehicle for it. We must always distinguish the ability of the man from the spiritual gift which the Lord gives; and, besides both, there is also the right use of the gift. One must exercise and give oneself up to the cultivation of that gift which God has given. There is nothing contrary to sound truth or principle in that, but indeed a very great defect in those who do not believe it; in fact, it is flying in the face of scripture. And scripture is clear and peremptory as to all these things. "He," it is said of Christ, "gave them gifts, to each man according to his several ability." There we have the gift, and this given according to the man's ability before he was converted. That is the outward framework of the gift, which latter is suited no doubt to that ability; but the gift itself is the power of the Spirit according to the grace of Christ. No ability constitutes a gift; but the spiritual gift does not supersede natural ability, which becomes the channel of the gift, as the gift is given and works in accordance with that ability. But there is need also of present strength from God to those who look to Him. Thus He is in all things glorified through Jesus Christ, "to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever."
Next we have the trial that the saints were passing through alluded to, and the call to suffer not for righteousness merely but for Christ's sake. Finally a warning is given as to the importance of suffering according to God's will, committing meanwhile their souls in well-doing to Him as a faithful Creator. He is righteous; He is jealous of His house; but if this be serious for His own, where shall the sinner appear?
Again we have an exhortation to the elders (1 Peter 5:1-14). Here it is a pain to be obliged once more to make a depreciatory remark on our common English version. It is indeed a forcible and, in general, a faithful version, but it not seldom fails in accuracy. The elders are told to feed or shepherd the flock of God which was among them, exercising the oversight, not by necessity, but willingly; not for base gain, but readily, etc. They have to bear in mind first that the flock is God's. If a man does not carry the sense in his soul that it is God's flock, I do not think he is fit to be an elder or in any other office of spiritual trust: he is far from the right ground for being a blessing to what, after all, is God's flock. In short, we find here too a guard which shows the meaning more clearly. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage." It will be observed that "God's" is inserted in italics. Now there need be no hesitation in declaring that the phrase does not mean God's heritage at all, but another idea wholly different. The true drift is this "Nor as lording it over your possessions." The elders are not to treat the flock as if it belonged to them. This is exactly what modern presbyters think they may and ought to do every day of their lives. It is into this very snare that unbelief has brought men in Christendom. It is the constant and notorious source of the difficulties that one has continually to contend with, because feelings are roused by this all sorts of jealousies and wounded feelings are created by a position so false. In short, one may find here and there a truly excellent man, and, we will suppose, a number of godly people. But then they are "his congregation;" they think so, and the godly man really believes it. He thinks they are his congregation, and they think so too. The consequence is that when minds get disturbed, it may be, about their position, then all sorts of difficulties come in. He feels exceedingly wounded because, as he will tell you very often, "Why, it is one of the best of my people. I have lost the cream of my congregation." Accordingly he is exceedingly annoyed because one of the most spiritual of his congregation goes away, though it may be to follow God's word more faithfully; and no doubt there is a great deal of pain and feeling on the part of the member of the congregation who is leaving his minister.
Now all this is here judged and set aside as quite wrong The elders are exhorted and warned. There are those who guide, and it is a most proper thing. At the time of this epistle, it was in due order. Now, I need not tell you, things are in a certain measure of confusion. You may have the real substance of the truth, but you cannot have it in all official propriety at the present time. However, apart from that, on which I do not mean to enter more tonight, one thing is remarkable, that even when all was in apostolic, order, and where pastors and teachers and prophets and so on were, and besides, where the elders had been fitly appointed by the apostles themselves or by apostolic men, even there and at that very time they were exhorted against the notion of considering, "This is my congregation, and that is your leader." Nothing of the sort is ever said in God's word but what excludes it.
What they were here directed to was to "feed the flock of God." I repeat, it is God's flock, not yours; and you are not to lord over it as if it were your own belongings. If it were your heritage, you would have certain rights; but the truth is that he who stands in the position of an elder has no small responsibility. Assuredly he is to shepherd the flock, and this as God's flock, not his own. Where this is duly weighed, it is wonderful what a change is produced in the mind, tone, and temper a change both in those who tend the flock, and in those who are cared for; because then God is looked to, and there is no petty feeling of infringing the rights of man in one form or another. It is not then a question of wounding; for why should it hurt you, if I see a particular truth and must act according to it? Why should this be a cause for vexation? The truth is that the assumption of "my flock," or "yours", is the root of endless mischief. It is God's flock; and if a person is charged of the Lord to shepherd His flock, how blessed the trust!
The rest of the chapter consists of exhortations to the younger ones, and finally to all, with a prayer that "the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, when ye have suffered a while, himself shall make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be the glory and the might for the ages of the ages. Amen. By Silvanus, the faithful brother, as I suppose, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. She that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and Marcus my son. Greet ye one another with a kiss of love. Peace be with you all in Christ Jesus."