Adam Clarke Commentary
1 Peter 4
We should suffer patiently, after the example of Christ, 1 Peter 4:1. And no longer live according to our former custom, but disregard the scoffs of those who are incensed against us because we have forsaken their evil ways, who are shortly to give account to God for their conduct, 1 Peter 4:2-5. How the Gospel was preached to Jews and Gentiles, 1 Peter 4:6. As the end of all things was at hand, they should be sober, watchful, charitable, benevolent, good stewards of the bounty of Providence; and, when called to instruct others, speak as the oracles of God, 1 Peter 4:7-11. Of the persecutions and trials which were coming upon them, and how they were to suffer so as not to disgrace their Christian character, 1 Peter 4:12-16. Judgment was about to begin at the house of God, and even the righteous would escape with difficulty from the calamities coming upon the Jews; but they must continue in well-doing, and thus commit the keeping of their souls to their faithful Creator, 1 Peter 4:17-19.
As Christ hath suffered - He is your proper pattern; have the same disposition he had; the same forgiving spirit, with meekness, gentleness, and complete self-possession.
He that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sin - This is a general maxim, if understood literally: The man who suffers generally reflects on his ways, is humbled, fears approaching death, loathes himself because of his past iniquities, and ceases from them; for, in a state of suffering, the mind loses its relish for the sins of the flesh, because they are embittered to him through the apprehension which he has of death and judgment; and, on his application to God's mercy, he is delivered from his sin.
Some suppose the words are to be understood thus: "Those who have firmly resolved, if called to it, to suffer death rather than apostatize from Christianity, have consequently ceased from, or are delivered from, the sin of saving their lives at the expense of their faith." Others think that it is a parallel passage to Romans 6:7, and interpret it thus: "He that hath mortified the flesh, hath ceased from sin." Dr. Bentley applies the whole to our redemption by Christ: He that hath suffered in the flesh hath died for our sins. But this seems a very constrained sense.
That he no longer should live - in the flesh - Governed by the base principle of giving up his faith to save his life; to the lusts of men - according to the will of his idolatrous persecutors; but to the will of God; which will of God is, that he should retain the truth, and live according to its dictates, though he should suffer for it.
The time past of our life - This is a complete epitome of the Gentile or heathen state, and a proof that those had been Gentiles to whom the apostle wrote.
They think it strange - Ξενιζονται· They wonder and are astonished at you, that ye can renounce these gratifications of the flesh for a spiritual something, the good of which they cannot see.
Excess of riot - Ασωτιας αναχυσιν· Flood of profligacy; bearing down all rule, order, and restraints before it.
Speaking evil of you - Βλασφημουντες· Literally, blaspheming; i.e. speaking impiously against God, and calumniously of you.
To judge the quick and the dead - They shall give account of these irregularities to Him who is prepared to judge both the Jews and the Gentiles. The Gentiles, previously to the preaching of the Gospel among them, were reckoned to be dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1-5; under the sentence of death, because they had sinned. The Jews had at least, by their religious profession, a name to live; and by that profession were bound to give to God.
Was the Gospel preached also to them that are dead - This is a most difficult verse; the best translations I have seen of it are the following: -
"For this indeed was the effect of the preaching of the Gospel to the dead, (the unconverted Gentiles), that some will be punished as carnal men; but others, (those converted to Christianity), lead a spiritual life unto God." - Wakefield.
"For this purpose hath the Gospel been preached even to the dead, (i.e. the Gentiles), that although they might be condemned, indeed, by men in the flesh, (their persecutors), yet they might live eternally by God in the Spirit." - Macknight.
"For this cause was the Gospel preached to them that were dead; that they who live according to men in the flesh, may be condemned; but that they who live according to God in the Spirit, may live." - Knatchbull.
There are as many different translations of this verse, and comments upon it, as there are translators and commentators. That of Sir Norton Knatchbull, could the Greek text bear it, appears the most simple; but that of Dr. Macknight, which is nearly the sense given by Mr. Wesley in his Paraphrase, is more likely to be the true one among those already proposed.
But if the apostle had the same fact in view which he mentions, 1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 3:20, then the antediluvians are the persons intended: For this cause - that Christ is prepared to judge the quick and the dead, and to dispense righteous judgment in consequence of having afforded them every necessary advantage, was the Gospel preached by Noah to them also who are dead - the antediluvian world, then dead in trespasses and sins, and condemned to death by the righteous judgment of God; but in his great compassion he afforded them a respite, that though they were condemned as men in the flesh, (for this was their character; my Spirit will not always strive with man, forasmuch as he is Flesh, Genesis 6:3;), yet, hearing this Gospel by Noah, they may believe, and live according to God in the Spirit - live a blessed life in eternity according to the mercy of God, who sent his Spirit to strive with them. This appears to me to be the most consistent sense; especially as the apostle seems to refer to what he had said of the Spirit of Christ in Noah preaching to the spirits in prison - the rebellions that lived before the flood. See the notes on 1 Peter 3:19-20; (note).
But the end of all things is at hand - I think that here also St. Peter keeps the history of the deluge before his eyes, finding a parallel to the state of the Jews in his own time in that of the antediluvians in the days of Noah. In Genesis 6:13, God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me. This was spoken at a time when God had decreed the destruction of the world by a flood. Peter says, The end of all things is at hand; and this he spoke when God had determined to destroy the Jewish people and their polity by one of the most signal judgments that ever fell upon any nation or people.
In a very few years after St. Peter wrote this epistle, even taking it at the lowest computation, viz., a.d. 60 or 61, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. To this destruction, which was literally then at hand, the apostle alludes when he says, The end of all things is at hand; the end of the temple, the end of the Levitical priesthood, the end of the whole Jewish economy, was then at hand.
If these words could be taken in any general sense, then we might say to every present generation, The end of all things is at hand; the end of all the good which the wicked enjoy, and the end of all the evil which the righteous suffer.
Be - sober, and watch unto prayer - Be sober - make a prudent and moderate use of all you possess; and watch against all occasions of sin; and pray for the supporting hand of God to be upon you for good, that ye may escape the destruction that is coming upon the Jews, and that ye may be saved from among them when the scourge comes.
Have fervent charity - Αγαπην εκτενη· Intense love; for love shall cover a multitude of sins. A loving disposition leads us to pass by the faults of others, to forgive offenses against ourselves, and to excuse and lessen, as far as is consistent with truth, the transgressions of men. It does not mean that our love to others will induce God to pardon our offenses. See the note on James 5:20.
Use hospitality - Be ever ready to divide your bread with the hungry, and to succor the stranger. See on Hebrews 13:2; (note).
Without grudging - Ανευ γογγυσμων· Without grumblings. Do nothing merely because it is commanded, but do it from love to God and man; then it will be without grumbling.
Hath received the gift - Χαρισμα· A gift; any blessing of providence or grace. I cannot think that the word means here the Holy Ghost, or any of his supernatural gifts or influences; it may include those, but it signifies any thing given by the mere mercy and bounty of God: but perhaps in this place it may signify some or any office in the Church; and this sense, indeed, the connection seems to require.
Stewards of the manifold grace - Whatever gifts or endowments any man may possess, they are properly speaking, not his own; they are the Lord's property, and to be employed in his work, and to promote his glory.
If any man speak - In order to explain or enforce God's word, and edify his neighbor, let him do it as those did to whom the living oracles were committed: they spoke as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost. Those, therefore, at Pontus, etc., who undertook to teach others, should speak by the same influence; or, if not under this immediate influence, should speak as or according to the oracles already delivered, grounding all their exhortations and doctrines on some portion of that revelation already given. This command is sent to every man upon earth in holy orders, in pretended holy orders, or pretending to holy orders. Their teaching should be what the oracles of God, the Holy Scriptures, teach and authenticate.
Of the ability which God giveth - Perhaps the ministering here may refer to the care of the poor, and the ability is the quantum of means which God may have placed in their hands; and they are to minister this as coming immediately from God, and lead the minds of the poor to consider him as their benefactor, that he in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus. This is implied in the essence of any charitable act: the actor is not the author, God is the author; and the poor man should be taught to consider him as his immediate benefactor. Those who give any thing as from themselves, rob God; for to him the praise for all good, and the dominion over all men and things, belong for ever and ever.
Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial - Πυρωσει· The burning. The metaphor is old, but noble; it represents the Christians at Pontus as having fire cast upon them for the trying of their faith, as gold is tried by fire, 1 Peter 1:7, to which the apostle alludes - Macknight.
St. Peter returns here to what he had often touched upon in this epistle, namely, to exhort the Christians to behave with patience and integrity under their present severe persecution; to which purpose he uses the following arguments: -
First, He intimates that it was not a strange or unusual thing for the people of God to be persecuted.
Secondly, That if they suffered here as Christ did, they should hereafter be glorified with him.
Thirdly, Besides the prospect of that future glory; they had at present the Spirit of God for their support and comfort.
Fourthly, That it was an honor for any of them to suffer, not as a malefactor, but as a Christian.
Fifthly, Though the afflictions began with the Christians, yet the weight of the storm would fall upon the unbelievers. From these considerations he exhorted them to persevere in their duty, and trust all events with God. See Dodd.
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ - To be reproached for the name of Christ is to be reproached for being a Christian, that is, for being like Christ. This is the highest honor to which any man can arrive in this world, and therefore the apostle says to such? Happy are ye.
The Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you - As this Divine Spirit rested upon Jesus, so does it rest upon his persecuted followers. There is a various reading here, και δυναμεως, and of power, which is found in some of the chief MSS., (the Codex Alexandrinus, and above twenty others), the later Syriac, all the Arabic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, some copies of the Itala, Athanasius, Theophylact, Cyprian, and Cassiodorus; and in them the whole verse reads thus: If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory, And of Power, and of God, resteth upon you. This is agreeable to our Lord's words, Matthew 5:11, Matthew 5:12. So that what constituted them unhappy in the sight of the world was their chief happiness in the sight of God; they carried Christ the fountain of blessedness in their heart, and therefore could not be unhappy.
On their part he is evil spoken of - Κατα μεν αυτους βλασφημειται, κατα δε ὑμας δοξαζεται· By them he is blasphemed, by you he is honored.
But let none of you suffer - as a busybody in other men's matters - Αλλοτριοεπισκοπος· The inspector of another; meddling with other people's concerns, and forgetting their own; such persons are hated of all men. But some think that meddling with those in public office is here intended, as if he had said: Meddle not with the affairs of state, leave public offices and public officers to their own master, strive to live peaceably with all men, and show yourselves to be humble and unaspiring.
Yet if - as a Christian - If he be persecuted because he has embraced the Christian faith, let him not be ashamed, but let him rather glorify God on this very account. Christ suffered by the Jews because he was holy; Christians suffer because they resemble him.
The word Χριστιανος, Christian, is used only here and in Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28. See the note on the Acts 11:26; (note).
Judgment must begin at the house of God - Our Lord had predicted that, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem, his own followers would have to endure various calamities; see Matthew 24:9, Matthew 24:21, Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:12, Mark 13:13; John 16:2, etc. Here his true disciples are called the house or family of God. That the converted Jews suffered much from their own brethren, the zealots, or factions into which the Jews were at that time divided, needs little proof; and some interpreters think that this was in conformity to the purpose of God, ( Matthew 23:35; : That on you may come all the righteous blood shed from the foundation of the world), "that the Jewish Christians were to be involved in the general punishment; and that it was proper to begin at them as a part of the devoted Jewish nation, notwithstanding they were now become the house of God, because the justice of God would thereby be more illustriously displayed." See Macknight. But probably the word κριμα, which we here translate judgment, may mean no more than affliction and distress; for it was a Jewish maxim that, when God was about to pour down some general judgment, he began with afflicting his own people in order to correct and amend them, that they might be prepared for the overflowing scourge. In Bava Kama, fol. 60, 1, we have the same sentiment, and in nearly the same words, as in Peter, viz.: "God never punishes the world but because of the wicked, but he always begins with the righteous first. The destroyer makes no difference between the just and the unjust, only he begins first with the righteous." See Ezekiel 9:1-7, where God orders the destroyer to slay both old and young in the city: But, said he, begin at my sanctuary.
And if it first begin at us - Jews, who have repented, and believed on the Son of God; what shall the end be of them - the Jews who continue impenitent, and obey not the Gospel of God? Here is the plainest reference to the above Jewish maxim; and this, it appears, was founded upon the text which St. Peter immediately quotes.
And if the righteous scarcely be saved - If it shall be with extreme difficulty that the Christians shall escape from Jerusalem, when the Roman armies shall come against it with the full commission to destroy it, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Where shall the proud Pharisaic boaster in his own outside holiness, and the profligate transgressor of the laws of God, show themselves, as having escaped the Divine vengeance? The Christians, though with difficulty, did escape, every man; but not one of the Jews escaped, whether found in Jerusalem or elsewhere.
It is rather strange, but it is a fact, that this verse is the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 11:31; : Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner. For this the Septuagint and St. Peter have, If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Such a latitude of construction can scarcely be accounted for. The original is this: וחוטא רשע כי אף ישלם בארץ צדיק הן hen tsaddik baarets yeshullam aph ki rasha vechote : "Behold, to the righteous it shall be returned on the earth; and also to the wicked and the transgressor."
The Chaldee paraphrast has given this a different turn: Behold, the righteous shall be strengthened in the earth; but the ungodly and the sinners shall be consumed from the earth.
The Syriac thus: If the righteous scarcely live, the ungodly and the sinner where shall he stand?
The Arabic is nearly the same as the Septuagint and the apostle; the Vulgate follows the Hebrew.
I have on several occasions shown that, when Cestius Gallus came against Jerusalem, many Christians were shut up in it; when he strangely raised the siege the Christians immediately departed to Pella in Coele-syria, into the dominions of King Agrippa, who was an ally of the Romans, and there they were in safety; and it appears, from the ecclesiastical historians, that they had but barely time to leave the city before the Romans returned under the command of Titus, and never left the place till they had destroyed the temple, razed the city to the ground, slain upwards of a million of those wretched people, and put an end to their civil polity and ecclesiastical state.
Suffer according to the will of God - A man suffers according to the will of God who suffers for righteousness' sake; and who, being reviled, reviles not again.
Commit the keeping of their souls - Place their lives confidently in his hand, who, being their Creator, will also be their preserver, and keep that safely which is committed to his trust. God is here represented as faithful, because he will always fulfill his promises, and withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.
But they had no reason to hope that he would care for their lives and souls unless they continued in well-doing. He who is employed in God's work will have God's protection. The path of duty ever was, and ever will be, the only way of safety.
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