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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Peter 4

 

 

Verse 7

CHRISTIAN EXPECTATION*

‘Watch unto prayer.’

1 Peter 4:7

Of old, certain Sundays in the Church’s year were known by particular names or titles, and in some measure this practice is still kept up. The ancient title by which the Sunday after Ascension Day was known was Expectation Sunday, and the title gradually extended itself to the whole week, and even sometimes the concluding days of the previous one, so that the whole interval between Ascension Day and Whit-Sunday was stamped with this mark of expectation or waiting. That this idea is prominent in the passage selected as the Epistle is evident from the opening words of the text, ‘The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer,’ or, as the Revised Version has it, ‘Be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer.’ No doubt the thought that was prominent in the Apostle’s mind when he penned these words was, the second coming of his ascended Lord. That was the end of all things, and was the daily expectation of the primitive Church. Nor ought it to be otherwise with the faithful Christian to-day. The one chief delight of his heart should be the prospect of meeting the Lord Who has loved him and given Himself for him. For that great event he should be waiting with hope, with joy, with sober joy watching thereunto with prayer.

I. The expectation of the Power.—But the choice of this passage for the Epistle at this season transfers the idea of watching and waiting for the Christ’s second coming, to the similar attitude which the Apostles must have adopted at this time in expectation of the fulfilment of our Lord’s promise that He would send the Comforter to them. His instruction to them was, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father. We are not left in doubt as to how they carried out that instruction. St. Luke, both in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, tells us this specifically. In the one he tells us that they were continually in the Temple praising and blessing God, in the other that they continued with one accord in prayer and supplication. Two points are specially observable here, the union and peace that reigned in the body of early believers and the manifestation of their unity of purpose in joining in devotions, whether in public or private. They watched unto prayer and they did this with one accord. They watched and prayed, their waiting was thus consecrated by prayer, and so when He did come He found them in a state of fitness to welcome Him.

II. God’s promises not unconditional.—Our Lord, Who by His death hath led captivity captive, and by His ascension hath given gifts to men, has promised them unto us in fullest measure, if we are ready to receive them, for we must not forget that God’s promises are not unconditional. He will not help those who do not feel the need of His assistance. He will not bless those who care not for His blessing. They are to hunger and thirst after righteousness who are to be filled. The rich, self-satisfied, who are conscious of no need and are quite content with their condition, these are sent empty away, and so there must be this strong and fervent desire for something better and higher than ourselves. We must realise what we mean by the spiritual life, and what is implied in spiritual gifts. We are apt to use these expressions without due consideration or sufficient thought. There is a great danger of unreality in our language as also in our conceptions. The great majority of men seem disposed to ignore the very existence of the spiritual world, the presence and actions of the Holy Ghost upon the souls of men. They are engrossed with earthly matters. If we pause and reflect and prove our own hearts and endeavour to find out the truth of the matter, we shall be obliged to confess that it is not so much the time for the highest pursuits that is wanting as the inclination.

III. This desire after spiritual growth will not come naturally and unsought for.—We shall have to get our hearts into a receptive frame for the gifts. We cannot expect that they will be thrust upon us without our being ready, willing, and able, and anxious to receive them. Here we may learn from the example of the Apostles already alluded to. Their watching unto prayer fitted them in a remarkable degree for the coming of the Holy Spirit when He came. They were setting their affections on things above. Their treasure was in heaven, for their Lord had ascended thither and their heart was there also. And so when the Comforter came He found a ready access. We may say, then, without hesitation that if we are to have any full measure of spiritual gifts, if there is to be any real growth of spiritual life within us, we must watch and pray, we must be men of prayer.

IV. The greatest hindrance to spiritual life is scantiness of devotion.—Prayer is the great spiritual act of our life. It is spirit communing with spirit. The spiritual life can no more grow without devotion than the bodily life can exist without breathing. So we have always found that the most spiritually minded men were the most devotional. We have known this possibly in our own experience. We certainly may see it in the lives of those worthies of former generations. Those who were most saintly in their lives, most fully endowed with all spiritual gifts, were those who in public and private were most earnest, most regular, most persevering, in their prayers and devotion. Would you have their graces, their gifts? Would you grow in the spiritual life as they did, would you advance in personal holiness day by day to this excellence which would make your character more like your Divine Master, and more meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, then you must watch unto prayer. You must be men of prayer.

—Archdeacon Barber.

Illustration

‘To him that believeth all things are possible. But to make this possibility a fact, we need, and we all know sadly that we need, the fresh conviction of a Spiritual Presence in our troubled world, and spiritual fellowship with the unseen realised through the fulness of our humanity. Many seek it in strange, unhallowed ways, and all the while the blessing is offered to us by the Spirit sent in Christ’s name.’


Verses 7-11

THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM

‘The end of all things is at hand … watch unto prayer.… Have fervent charity.… Use hospitality.… Speak as the oracles of God … that God in all things may be glorified.’

1 Peter 4:7-11

These verses teach us how our earthly calling is to be made a preparation for the complete coming of the kingdom of heaven. And four conditions of this completion are here mentioned.

I. Prayer. (1 Peter 4:7).—The complete coming of the Kingdom of God is this—that God may be all in all; that all things, as they have their origin in Him, may in Him also find their completion; that Jesus Christ, Whom He had sent to us in order to make an end of our sinful separation from God, and assure us of reconciliation with God, may be found in each of us, and mankind perfectly transformed into His image. But that we may more and more and nearer and nearer approach to this goal, we must keep open the channel between God and our Saviour and ourselves, in order that through it His grace may flow into our present earthly life. And the power by which this is effected is prayer. In prayer our soul rises from the transitory to the eternal, from human weakness, from all anguish and earthly grief, to the Father in heaven, Whose is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory; and in prayer the Almighty God comes down into the human heart with His superabounding grace, with His all-availing power, with His rich blessing. And hence, lest the world disunite us from God, we are told by the Apostle to ‘watch unto prayer,’ to ‘pray without ceasing.’ We are to learn to pray as our Saviour prayed. In early youth He was in the Lord’s house; in the wilderness He conquered by the might of prayer; in Gethsemane He entered upon the death-struggle with prayer; and on the cross He prayed with perfect confidence in God. This example is the answer to all those pleas which would set aside prayer as needless because of the joyful certainty of present union with God. If He despised not this help, ought we? With prayer are connected sobriety and watchfulness, that we do not sacrifice our spiritual life to the good things and joys of this world. We are not to be possessed intemperately with either the joys or the cares of life, so that we lose the true end of our being and forget the transitory nature of all earthly blessings. Thankfully may we remember that the sighing and longing of the contrite heart for higher good, and its felt dissatisfaction with the mere earthly, is the beginning of true prayer. Hold fast to this prayer. Let us ask that we may be rooted and grounded in love.

II. Next we are to exercise fervent brotherly love.—Though the Apostle puts prayer in the first place, yet he says, ‘Above all things have fervent charity,’ for the communion with God which we seek in prayer can only be had by the sure dwelling in love; for ‘God is love.’ His love to us procured our salvation, and by this are we bound not to seek our own things, but think of the welfare of our brethren. God’s love to us binds us to mutual affection. Now this brotherly love is fervent. It does not glow like a faint and dying spark, which the lightest breath of indifference or disinclination may extinguish. It does not flame and flicker like a mere earthly affection, and consume itself by its own wild intensity; rather does it burn and glow with a mild and beneficial warmth. All the storms of inimical resistance and all the waters of trouble fail to quench it; nor does it consume away to ashes, but receives fresh fuel from the inextinguishable flame of Divine love. It is penetrated with the consciousness that by the infinite love of Christ to us an infinite debt of love is laid upon us. It can never do enough; and when it has done all in its power, it is still far from satisfied. And this holy, fervent charity is such as willingly covers the multitude of sins. It cannot easily forget how much God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. It does not eagerly seek to see how little can be forgiven; it does not rejoice in passing judgment on a brother’s errors, but would fain cover with the mantle of love. It strives to heal the wounds of offence, to abolish hatred and ill-will and overcome prejudice. And so the fervent love in the heart prepares by its mild sway for the coming of His kingdom, ‘the end of all things.’

III. Next we notice that brotherly love is to prove itself by brotherly help.—‘Use hospitality to one another without grudging,’ etc. That ‘fervent charity’ is to display itself in several ways of usefulness is the teaching of these words, and that the particular as well as the general fulfilment of this requirement of love is a preparation for the completion of the Divine kingdom is manifest from our Lord’s own words recorded by St. Matthew (Matthew 25:35-46). The only-begotten Son of God came down from heaven, offered a sacrifice for sins, and has returned to His Father’s right hand to receive into His eternal kingdom those who prove by their brotherly love that His work and grace have not been in vain. Such as wash one another’s feet will He alone joyfully receive at the last great Supper of the Lamb. True hospitality does not expend itself only on those who are able to return it; it thinks of the poor and the destitute, the oppressed and the suffering. When St. Paul wrote, the greater number of the Christians were poor; and amid the enmity of Jew and Gentile alike, there was great need of this exhortation that those who were able should not grudge needful hospitality to their poorer brethren. How much men ought to take this command to heart, and to act in accordance with this precept!

IV. Finally, in our calling in the world and in the Church we are to be good stewards of God.—He who holds any office in the Church of God must exercise it so as to edify the Church of God; and all living Christians, all parents, teachers, and ministers of God, ‘are to speak as the oracles of God,’ to use the ability that God has given to build up His Church, to seek in all these things the glory of God, remembering that each may do his share to bring about that completion of God’s kingdom for which we now especially pray.

Let us pray, and God will hear; let us exercise fervent charity, and God will love us; let us be hospitable, and God will be gracious; let us be faithful stewards, and God will reward us with ‘ten cities.’

Illustration

‘In the kingdom of grace, as in the kingdom of nature, God turns everything to account. He gave it a beginning by His own direct and almighty power; and He could just as easily, by the same power, carry it on to its final completion. But this is not His manner of doing. He expects it, by virtue of that principle of life which He has communicated to it, to carry itself on now, not independently of Him, but in reliance upon Him and receiving from Him, just as nature is dependent on Him for the continuance of its vital and vitalising force. But still, in so far as instrumentality is concerned, the work is its own, not His. God did not give us the faculty for nothing. He gave it for use; He gave it that it might come out in its appropriate life, thereby always becoming more faculty, while it continues to yield more fruit.’


Verse 8

INTENSE CHARITY

‘Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.’

1 Peter 4:8

The charity about which St. Peter and St. Paul wrote is love; that love for each other, perfect, honest, intense (that is the word that brings out the true meaning of the original), which is the outcome of true and perfect love for God. It is love for every fellow-creature upon whom we see stamped the Image of the One Father—be he stranger or kinsman, friend or foe—love such as—what?—such as God has for us.

Now this love has many marks and shows itself in many ways. You have only to read that thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians to see this. I wish to speak now only of one aspect of true charity. ‘Have intense charity among yourselves, for charity covers [a better reading] a multitude of sins.’

I. One mark of true charity is that it keeps us from spreading abroad, cackling over, exposing the faults and failings of others. Charity would always rather cover such up. There is a book of devotions in which one of the evening prayers contains these words—some of you will recognise them—‘Vouchsafe both to our enemies and to ourselves constant charity. May we all have patience, kindness, and pity, and may envy, wrath, and bitterness be far from us!’ Ah! well may we daily use such words. This world would be a happier, a brighter world, were we all seeking heartily this spirit of true Christian love. The charity which ‘covers sins’ shows itself in a spirit of true kindness. One who is truly charitable will never take pleasure in exposing the weaker side of a neighbour’s character—in blazing abroad another’s sins, but will seek rather to cover them. Do you not know how we do this in our own homes—how careful we are to keep secret the faults and failings of some member of the family? Not because we condone them, but for love of the erring one, and ‘for the sake of the family’! Do you not know how a wife will do this for her husband, a mother for her child? No one knows the sin, the failing, better—aye, no one mourns over it more, prays over it more than the brave, sad, true-hearted wife, the anxious, loving mother. ‘Yes, the fault is there.’ They know it—but oh! it must be covered up—the hard, censorious, cold world must not get hold of it—it must be covered up! Well, God would have us act thus towards every fellow man and woman, as we act in our own homes. Do we know something discreditable to another? Then do not, for the love of God, let us go and make it known in every home, and at every tea-table, and every tennis-party in the parish! That is not charity which turns up its hands and its eyes over ‘poor So-and-so’s sin,’ which the hearers never suspected till it was mentioned. It is the hateful spirit of envy, the opposite of charity, which is sorry for another’s success, and glad at his disgrace. There are some whose lives would be better, more hopeful lives to-day, had more charity of this kind been extended to them in days gone by.

II. Then charity shows itself in a spirit of patience.—How impatient we are! how ready to take offence and feel ourselves slighted, when no slight whatever was meant, and when a little patience would have proved it. And we want patience in our judgment of others. Even when appearances are very bad indeed, and very much against one, charity says, ‘Never mind—believe the best—hope the best. This may all be explained.’

III. And finally, it tries to find something good, even in the worst.—You know there are some people who always find a good word to say for another who is being abused in their presence. Lovable souls these whose presence in the world makes it warmer and brighter, of whom you hear it said sometimes, ‘I have known So-and-so for ten—fifteen—twenty years, and I don’t think I ever heard him say an unkind word about any one!’ It is a Christ-like spirit, this!

—Rev. J. B. C. Murphy.

Illustration

‘There is an Eastern tradition which says that Jesus arrived one evening at the gates of a certain city, and He saw at the corner of the market-place some people gathered together looking at some object on the ground; and He drew near to see what it might be. It was a dead dog with a halter round his neck by which he appeared to have been dragged through the dirt; and a viler, a more abject, a more unclean thing never met the eyes of man. And those who stood by looked on with abhorrence. “Faugh!” said one, “it pollutes the air.” “How long,” said another, “shall this foul beast offend our sight?” “Look at his torn hide,” said a third, “one could not cut even a shoe out of it!” “And his ears,” said a fourth, “all draggled and bleeding.” And Jesus heard them; and looking down compassionately on the dead creature, He said, “Pearls are not equal to the whiteness of his teeth!” Then the people turned to Him with amazement, and said among themselves, “Who is this? This must be Jesus of Nazareth; for only He could find something to pity and approve even in a dead dog.” And, being ashamed, they bowed their heads before Him, and went each on his way. Is it not even thus that the good God looks upon us? Are we in His sight, the sight of the All Holy, any better than that dead dog in the eyes of the Eastern crowd? and yet He says of the most depraved, the most worthless, “He was innocent once! I cannot but remember it! And precious beyond pearls is his soul in my sight—‘All souls are Mine.’”’

(SECOND OUTLINE)

‘THE GREATEST OF THESE’

Charity is the very queen of graces. There is only one word in our language which exactly and adequately represents the true, full meaning of charity, and that world is the golden one of love. It is directly from God, and most like God.

I. Its nature.—It never faileth, and is as immortal as the soul itself.

(a) Brotherliness. While it is exercised in relation to all men, as a sanctified affection it is specially devoted to ‘all them who are sanctified,’ to the Christian brotherhood. But it is not confined to these; it embraces those of every order, condition, age, and country; and rises infinitely superior to all the outward observances of religion, which are merely the scaffolding, not the building ‘fitly framed together’ (Ephesians 2:19-22).

(b) Intensity. It is a burning affection. The flame on its altar is greater and higher and stronger by commiserating others, praying for others, helping others. It would transform this earth into another paradise; and in this desire it finds a heaven of delight.

II. Its action.—Hatred, the opposite of love, finds an evil satisfaction in multiplying and exposing the sins of men. Not so charity (Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 17:9). But whose sins does it cover? Those of the charitable man himself, or those of others? Some exceedingly wise men have said the first; but St. Peter speaks of the latter.

(a) It cannot delight in thinking on other men’s sins, nor in talking about them. Malevolence can and does. Nay, it watches for eccentricities, miscarriages, blemishes, so that it may talk loudly and strongly of them.

(b) It never magnifies other men’s sins, but rather lessens them. Not that it would apologise for sin, if that were possible, but it leans naturally towards the side of virtue.

(c) It always tries to hide other men’s sins, that they may be concealed in obscurity. The sons of Noah took a garment and covered their father. Charity does the same with the sins of others—throws the robe of mercy and pity over them. This is indeed God-like (Isaiah 43:25).

We should covet earnestly this best gift; and when we possess it we should cherish and display it; so shall we adorn our high profession, and glorify Him Whose grandest and sweetest name is ‘love.’


Verse 10

THE EDIFICATION OF THE CHURCH

‘As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another.’

1 Peter 4:10

The weight of the Apostle’s exhortations is strengthened by reminding those whom he addressed of the ‘end of all things.’ The Son of Man, Who ascended to heaven, left behind Him a Church pledged not only to individual but to collective holiness. And this Epistle therefore treats of the spiritual life and edification of the whole Church.

I. The edification of the Church in its fundamental conditions.

(a) The edification of the Church rests on the present living activity of its great Head.

(b) It reposes, too, on the work of the Spirit poured out by Christ on His Church. The Spirit of God works: (1) through the Word; (2) through the offices of the Church, whether those derived immediately through Him, and of express Divine appointment and apostolic origin, or those of purely human invention for purposes of Church work.

II. The edification of the Church in its actual realisation.

(a) Through the sobriety and watchfulness of its members (1 Peter 4:7).

(b) Through prayers (1 Peter 4:7), the public prayers of the Church; the plural surely intended to be inclusive of that worship of God in prayer variously offered in hymn, in supplication, in liturgy, in the house of God.

(c) Through fervent love (1 Peter 4:8), manifesting itself in: (1) frequent forgiveness of offences. ‘Love covereth a multitude of sins.’ (2) Kindly hospitality. ‘Using hospitality to one another without murmuring.’ (3) By friendly offices of advice and counsel. ‘If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.’ (4) By mutual help. ‘Ministering.’

III. The edification of the Church in its great end—the glory of God in Christ. ‘That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to Whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.’

Illustration

‘What gift? The gifts of the Holy Spirit are infinitely various, but the greatest of all is the gift of Himself, the gift of loving God, of caring for the things of heaven, of having even a definite desire to be on the side of Christ, and not on that of His enemies. This is indeed a gift, and, like all gifts of God, it brings with it a responsibility. It is something which demands not only to be appropriated, but also to be traded with and devoted to the relief of others. If any one has, through God’s grace, been brought to hate sin and to see its ruinous, soul-destroying character, let him not shut up this holy conviction in his own heart, but let him be glad to find opportunities for imparting it to others. By so doing, he will greatly confirm his own sense of its importance, and he will have done much to confirm the faith and courage of his brethren. For there is no cordial so cheering to the Christian soldier as the discovery that he is not alone, but that, while he has been striving to serve his Master in secret, others also, unknown to him, have been engaged in the same struggle.’


Verse 12-13

THE PROBLEM OF PAIN

‘Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you … but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of His glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy.’

1 Peter 4:12-13 (R.V.)

The thought which runs through the text is this, that when sufferings or trials of any kind come upon us we are not to be surprised, as if they were foreign visitors, speaking a strange tongue, which we cannot understand. As followers of Christ we know, or ought to know, what they are, whence they come, Who sent them, and what they mean. We cannot rejoice in the sufferings, nor are we asked to do so; but we can rejoice in the blessings they bring.

As it was the eternal purpose of God that His Son should be a partaker of human suffering, even so it was and is His purpose that, through such afflictions as He is pleased to send, and which are borne by us in submission to His will, we should be partakers of the sufferings of His Son.

I. It is obvious that this participation cannot hold good of those ‘sacrificial sufferings which He bore as the one perfect oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ But there were sufferings, other than these, which Jesus bore as part of the burden of the human lot. In all the physical, mental, and spiritual pain to which the Man of Sorrows was subjected we can be sharers. In any of the thousand ways in which distress may come upon us, we can enter into the fellowship of His sufferings, by bearing it for His sake and in His spirit. Nothing will make us so strong in bitter pain as the conviction—I am not only bowing to the will of God, but I am bearing something like what Jesus bore? I have Him with me, and He will see me through. The mental and the bodily torture is there all the same, but by laying it on Christ, and holding His hand in ours, there come a fortitude, a resignation, and a peace which will astonish none more than ourselves.

II. There is another truth taught us.—St. Paul is a prisoner in Rome, and is dictating a letter to his Colossian converts (Colossians 1:24) when, looking at the shackles on his hands which prevented him from writing, a gleam of joy seems to flash upon him. This unspeakable honour and privilege filled the Apostle with a gladness which helped him to bear his burden. These words are just as true of the Christian sufferer to-day as they were of the great Apostle. As each man’s trouble is his own and belongs to no other, each sufferer is entitled to say, My Divine Lord has sent this trouble upon me that, bearing it gladly for His sake, I may fill up something which he sees to be lacking in the sorrows which He bore upon earth. I am certain that you have only to reflect upon it, and, if your day of trial come, to test this much-forgotten truth, in order to learn, as I have done, how much strength and comfort lie in the conviction that you are partakers of the afflictions of Christ.

III. The other great truth of the text is this, that partaking of Christ’s sufferings here is the preparation for partaking of His glory hereafter. His own words on the day of His resurrection are the key-note of this great truth, ‘Ought not Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?’ What is true of Christ is true of the Christian. ‘If we suffer with Him we shall also reign with Him.’ Interwoven with the whole system and spirit of Christianity are these incomparably glorious truths—that suffering is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end; that that end is not directly or mainly material and temporal; that the beneficent results of suffering stretch through the seen into the unseen, and that these results, in their fulness, can be obtained only by those who regard and weigh them not in the light of the temporal but of the eternal. It is in the Cross of Christ, and only there, that you will find the true philosophy of pain and of evil in every form. There, in the fact that God’s eternal Son became man in order that He might suffer and die, and in the fact that His inconceivable sufferings resulted directly from the love of God to man, and were the highest possible expression of that love, a light is thrown on the otherwise insoluble mystery that the universe, so far as we know it, has been constructed on lines of suffering; that all through animated nature back to its first beginnings in our planet, wherever there has been life there have been struggle and pain, and that mainly through struggle and pain has animated nature become what it is. We learn from the Cross that, as it was the love of God which made suffering necessary for the salvation of man, so it was the love of God which made suffering necessary as the means of the physical, intellectual, and moral development of man.

IV. In the Cross we learn that the full meaning, purpose, and results of suffering can be unfolded, not in this world, but in that which is to come. Not only so, we have hints in Scripture that the results of the Redemption accomplished there may reach to the whole animated creation of God. Boundless hopes open up to the soul of man in those great Scriptures, which tell us that if we suffer with Christ we shall also be glorified with Him. The man who from want or weakness of faith estimates the troubles of life only in their effect on the present and the seen, is weighing them in a false balance and putting much too low a value both on himself and them. It is not only the strength and the comfort—it is the dignity of a man to keep up his connection in everything with the unseen and the eternal, and not least on the suffering side of his life. Affliction’s blessed work can be wrought in us only when we realise and are concerned with the spiritual world within us, above us, and before us. The connection between the suffering and the glory is no more arbitrary than the connection between the two states, the seen and the unseen. Here the work, there the wages; here the schooling and apprenticeship, there the service and the true life at last begun.


Verse 13

FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING

‘Ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.’

1 Peter 4:13

If you do think of the troubles of others when you are in trouble yourselves, you should always think how mercifully you have been spared, and thank God that the burden you are called upon to bear is not so heavy as the burdens which are often laid upon others.

I. No trials or troubles come by chance.—There is no such thing as chance. Nothing ever happens without a cause. We may not always be able to detect the cause, it is true, but it exists nevertheless. It is not right, therefore, to say that troubles are the result of ‘bad luck.’ No trouble ever comes upon us for which there is not a reason. Whatever our afflictions and trials may be, they are always consistent with the wisdom and justice of God. We should always be ready to say with David, ‘I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.’ All who have real faith in God know well that He does nothing without a good reason, and so they never complain at occurrences which interfere with their plans and cross their desires.

II. Whenever it comes, and however it comes, suffering is for our good.—This, naturally, is a hard lesson to learn, and it is only after you have become true followers of Christ, Who suffered as man never will suffer, that you will realise the blessedness of suffering. For as long as you regard the business and pleasure of this world as all that is worth living for, so long will you rebel against everything that interferes with your enjoyment of earthly things. From the constant experience of life, as well as from the Scriptures, we learn that suffering is a blessing. But notwithstanding this, it too often happens that professing Christians will never acknowledge that suffering is a Godsend when it comes to themselves. They are ready enough to speak of the blessings of tribulation when they are free from grief and trouble, but the moment they feel the chastening hand of God they begin to repine, to question God’s mercy, and to harden their hearts just as Pharaoh did hundreds of years ago. This very often happens, even in the case of those who are really striving to follow the example which Christ has given us. You will find that, unless you are very watchful indeed, you will fall into the same error whenever any great trouble comes upon you. Besides, you may be very certain that Satan will do all in his power to make you think that you have been unjustly afflicted every time trouble does come. We have need to pray for that faith which sees the loving hand of God even in the hour of the bitterest trial.

III. Patience in suffering.—It is quite possible to understand that suffering is for our good, and yet at the same time to feel impatience if our trial is heavier or if it lasts longer than we think necessary. But as we are not fit judges in the matter, and as we know that God never lays upon us burdens heavier than we can bear, we must learn the lesson of patience under suffering, however hard that lesson may be. You may sometimes feel tempted to think that your trials are too severe, but such thoughts imply a want of confidence in the mercy of Christ. If you are called upon to suffer much and to suffer long, pray for strength to endure it patiently. Pray that you may be able to say from your heart, ‘Not my will, but Thine be done.’

IV. Let us learn to imitate Christ in our behaviour towards those who may be the instruments of our affliction.—Much of the suffering endured in the world is inflicted by those around us. Pain and trouble of every kind is brought upon Christians by the malice and sinfulness of the godless. But because the wicked are often the instruments in the hand of God for our correction, just as the heathen tribes of old became the instruments which God made use of to chastise the rebellious Israelites, it does not follow that we should bear any ill-will to them on that account. For if we show un-Christian resentment towards them, we not only show resentment towards God, but we fail to imitate Christ’s conduct towards those who were instrumental in causing Him so much suffering. If ye are counted worthy to be ‘partakers of Christ’s sufferings,’ pray for grace to follow His example Who, when He was reviled, opened not His lips.

—Rev. W. S. Randall.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Two painters were employed to decorate the interior of a large cathedral in Rome. They stood on a platform fixed high above the pavement of the building. One of the painters, forgetting where he was, began to step slowly backwards to judge the effect of the painting before him. His companion suddenly saw his danger. There was no time for words. In another moment his friend would have fallen to certain destruction, so with great presence of mind he seized a wet brush and flung it against the picture, spattering it with great blotches of paint. The painter started forward to save his work, and so was at once out of danger. He then learned how his life had been saved, and with tears of gratitude thanked his preserver. Thus it is in life. We get altogether absorbed with the pictures of this world. We become so entirely taken up with the favourite occupations of life that we get into great peril unconsciously—greater peril by far than the painter was in when he stood on the edge of that scaffolding. He was only in danger of losing his life, but those who become absorbed with the world are in danger of losing their souls. Then it is that the hand of God in mercy dashes out the pictures we have been forming of earthly happiness, and clouds the fair prospect of uninterrupted prosperity which we have been contemplating from our position of fancied security. This He does to save us from everlasting ruin.’

(2) ‘A few years ago there lived in a village near Burnley a little girl who was cruelly persecuted in her own home because she was a Christian. She struggled on bravely, seeking her strength at the altar, and rejoicing because she was a partaker of Christ’s sufferings. The struggle was too much for her weak frame, but He willed it so. One day the angel of death came for her suddenly. She had fought the good fight, and her sufferings were ended for ever. When they came to take off the clothes from her poor dead body, they found a piece of paper sewn inside the front of her dress, and on it was written, ‘He opened not His mouth.’ A poor simple village maiden, and yet what a noble example her short life was of true Christian resignation under suffering. It is not easy to do good to those that hate us; to bless them that persecute us; to keep silence when the godless taunt; to hear bitter words without feeling revengeful thoughts; but if we intend to follow the example of Christ we must learn, as that village maiden did, to endure persecution patiently.’


Verse 15-16

THE TWOFOLD NATURE OF SUFFERING

‘But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.’

1 Peter 4:15-16

As we cannot escape anxiety and trouble, the only question for us to answer is this, which sorrow is best for us to have, God-like sorrow or devilish sorrow, Divine discontent or infernal discontent, the sorrow of Christ or the remorse of Judas. Choose well, your choice is brief but yet endless. We divide the sufferings of the Christian into two classes.

I. Those which spring from his struggles with outer things.—Every one knows how the first professors of Christianity had to suffer when that religion was in its infancy, and paganism or indifferentism was the creed of respectability. They were tortured, thrown to wild beasts, ‘butchered to make a Roman holiday.’ Then, certainly, those who aimed at worldly advancement did not cant about their Christianity, for in those days profession meant suffering. The less the generality of easy-going prosperous Christians, whose aim is to make the most of both worlds, talk of suffering the better. But if a man will live godly in Christ Jesus; if he do his best to oppose the unchristian current of public opinion; if he resist temptations to court the rich and great and despise Christ’s poorer brethren; if he will not be as unscrupulous in business as his fellow-tradesmen and fellow professional men; if he brave ridicule rather than run into debt, gamble, tell falsehoods; if, in a word, he dare to be different from others in order to be more like his Master, shall he not still have to suffer in many ways? Suppose our Lord came on earth again under altogether different circumstances, would He not be hated and despised? Would not those of us who desire to reconcile the indulgence of all our wishes with respectable religion of the strictly moderate kind, would we not avoid Him as ‘unpractical,’ ‘disturbing,’ and ‘unsafe,’ that is to say tormenting? Would not St. Paul be again considered, what Felix thought him, a madman, if he were in the midst of us? Would the Apostle find his thorough devotion to the name of Christ, to the higher life, easier now because the outward profession of Christianity is generally approved? Certainly not. The men of noble aims find their lot a sad and lonely one still. They are smiled at as enthusiasts, sneered at as hypocrites. The prizes of the world are not for them. Others are praised, they are blamed. Little comfort indeed they have except the thought that to them, at least, the words of their Master do not apply, ‘Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you.’

II. There is the pain which is felt by every one who bravely contends against the besetting sins of his inner life.—Oh, who can escape from himself—this slothful, vain, selfish, lustful, envious self? To conquer this is indeed a struggle. Do not fancy for a moment that the sorrows of unrighteousness are at all less real. We have spoken of the pains and difficulties which are caused by resisting the current of evil without us and within us. Let those who shrink back after counting the cost reckon up as impartially the cost of swimming with the tide of successful wickedness, of wallowing in the sty of swinish pleasures. Suppose a man did gain the whole world at the trifling cost (as he might think it) of his own soul, what then? We know that Alexander was troubled because he had not another world to conquer, and is there not such a thing as satiety, monotony of success, and the want of not having a want? Even in this world we certainly do find the working of a power that makes for righteousness. Ruined homes and cursed lives proclaim with loud moans the penalties of unrestrained passions. Disgust of life, remorseful consciences, the pains and penalties of idleness, the torments of selfishness—are not these to be found in the houses of the dishonestly rich and luxuriously idle? The pain of swimming with the world’s current is just as great as the pain of resisting it for Christ’s sake. The sufferings in this world of the murderer, thief, evil-doer, with death for wages, are at least as great as those of the Christian to be followed by God’s gift of eternal life. Certainly it is difficult to resist our unholy natures, to tame rebellious passions, to root out by God’s help selfishness from our hearts; but there is one thing even more difficult, and that is to endure the misery which their unrestrained indulgence invariably brings along with it.

III. We see, then, that what we have before us in life is not escape from sorrow, but only the choice of the kind of suffering we shall endure.—Suffer we must in such a world as this with such a nature as ours. There are the two sorrows—the sorrow of the righteous, the sorrow of the unrighteous; the sorrow of the self-centred, the sorrow of the self-sacrificing; the sorrow of the self-controlled, the sorrow of the profligate; the sorrow of him who grasps and spends, the sorrow of him who gives and is spent; the sorrow of the thief, murderer, evil-doer, the sorrow of the Christian. Your choice is between them. You must take one or the other, which will it be? Oh let us not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian rather than as an evil-doer, for along with the sorrows of Christ-like lives there is a deep joy such as never brightens the lives of the wicked. And must not godly sorrow end well and godless sorrow end miserably, for the simple reason that God is not mocked? Suffer we all must; but surely it makes a great difference whether God’s love is seen through our sorrow, or we have the additional misery of feeling that we are in rebellion against our Heavenly Father.

—Rev. E. J. Hardy.


Verse 19

SUFFERING ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD

‘Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.’

1 Peter 4:19

There are occasions when the commonplaces of consolation fail; when our hearts, appalled by the extent of the evil and suffering which we see around us, or overwhelmed with our own personal grief, are disposed to cry out in despair: ‘To what purpose is all this misery, all this waste? If God be, as we are told that He is, all-merciful and all-loving, as well as all-powerful and all-wise, could He not and would He not have so framed the world and so constituted human nature as to have rendered His creatures exempt from all this woe?’ To reply that suffering and death are the natural and inevitable consequence, the wages (to use St. Paul’s word) of sin, is an answer to this question, but it is only a partial answer. It is not a complete solution of the problem.

How are we as Christians to deal with the difficulty? We may do so in one of two ways. We may refuse to argue or reason about it altogether. We may adopt the old mediæval standpoint that faith demands the absolute surrender and subjection of reason; that we are bound to believe in a Christian doctrine, however unreasonable and impossible it may appear; and the greater its impossibility and antagonism to reason, the greater is the merit of our faith in it. I do not believe in this attitude. I believe in the other way of meeting the question; that of bringing to bear upon it, to the best of our ability, the reason which God has given to us. But then we must do so humbly and reverently, and under three conditions.

I. With a deep sense of our own sin and unworthiness.—This is taught us in that book of the Old Testament which discusses the problem now under our consideration. We all remember the narrative of Job. An exceptionally righteous man was subjected to exceptionally severe afflictions. His three friends were convinced that he must have deserved them, and that, in spite of his apparent uprightness, he must really have been a very bad man, or else God would not have permitted him to endure such suffering. They were wrong, and were shown to be wrong. But at the same time Job was shown that, however superior in goodness he was to his fellow-men, yet he fell far short of God’s standard of perfect holiness. Compared with this standard, he was forced at last to cry, ‘Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ Although, therefore, suffering and sorrow are not measured out in this world in proportion to each man’s merits or demerits, yet the very best of us has no right to say, when even the very heaviest affliction overtakes him, ‘This is a visitation greater than I deserve.’

II. But while, if we know our own hearts, we dare not murmur at what befalls ourselves individually, this does not prevent our minds being exercised by the problem of the existence of evil and suffering in the innocent brute creation and the human race generally. Here, however, we are bound to remember the limited nature of our knowledge and reasoning powers. Even the unbeliever must admit this. He may say that God ought to have created the world differently, and ought to have secured perfect and unbroken ease and freedom from pain for all His creatures. But when we ask our objector how this could have been done without the sacrifice of something higher and better, he is unable to tell us. If he is honest he will admit that heroism is better than painlessness, that self-sacrifice is better than ease, and virtue than pleasure. He will admit that freedom of will and of choice is a higher condition than bondage to Fate. But if we ask him to tell us how heroism and self-sacrifice and virtue could have been displayed in a world where there was no labour or suffering or pain, and how freedom of will and of choice could exist concurrently with the impossibility of willing what is evil and choosing what is bad, he will be unable to tell us. Modesty, therefore, if nothing else, would seem to require of us, worms of the earth, that, so far as we are taught by our reason alone, we should suspend our judgment as to the Almighty and His ways, and should be content in this life to say, with the Apostle, ‘Now we see through a glass darkly … now I know in part.’

III. But thirdly, we are not left to our unaided reason in this matter.—The Incarnation, the coming of God in the flesh, has put an entirely new complexion upon it. As long as we conceive of Him as an Almighty Creator, Who has called into existence countless millions of beings, all subject to more or less of sorrow and pain and death, from which He is Himself wholly exempt, we may abstain from irreverent questioning; we may bow our heads and our minds in awe before an insoluble mystery; but we can hardly regard Him with feelings of active love. When, however, we realise that, whatever sufferings He has allowed His creatures to endure. He has borne and felt to the uttermost Himself, the case is entirely different. The prophets of old had some dim conception of this. One of them could say, ‘In all their affliction He was afflicted’ (Isaiah 63:9). But it was reserved for Christianity to reveal the truth in its full measure. We have learnt that God Himself, in the person of our Blessed Saviour, Jesus Christ, has not only taken our nature, but has undergone the utmost sorrow and suffering that any of His creatures has ever been called upon to endure. We have learnt, further, that He feels all the pains and woes to which His children are subjected as acutely as if they were inflicted on Himself personally. We have learnt, too, that He can, and does, bring good out of evil, joy out of sorrow, and benefit out of suffering. With this knowledge all doubt as to His wisdom and love in permitting evil and suffering must necessarily vanish. While it still remains true that at present we only see darkly and only know in part, yet enough of the evil has been lifted to afford us the certainty that the whole mysterious scheme of the world is based on deepest, truest love, and to enable us, when we suffer, to realise that it is according to the will of God, and to commit the keeping of our souls to Him, our faithful Creator. Truly, as St. Paul has said in language repeated and reiterated in more than one passage (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20), ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself; not reconciling Himself to the world—there was no need for that—but taking from the world the smallest semblance of an excuse for looking upon Him as its enemy and for remaining in hostility to Him.

—Chancellor P. V. Smith.

Illustration

‘We know how unbelievers deal with this difficulty. They maintain that it proves either that there is no God, or else that He is not such an One as we believe in, both all-powerful and all-loving. If God exists, they say. He must be deficient either in power or in love. Otherwise He would have created a world in which moral evil and unhappiness would have been impossible. The difficulty is one which we cannot ignore. As described by one of our greatest living statesmen (who has, however, himself no sympathy with it), “it lies in the belief that an all-powerful Deity has chosen out of an infinite or at least an unknown number of possibilities to create a world in which pain, bodily or mental, is a prominent and apparently ineradicable element. His action on this view is, so to speak, gratuitous. He might have done otherwise. He has done thus. He might have created sentient beings capable of nothing but happiness. He has, in fact, created them prone to misery, and subject by their very constitution and circumstances to extreme possibilities of physical pain and mental affliction. How can One of Whom this can be said excite our love? How can he claim our obedience? How can He be a fitting object of praise, reverence, and worship? So runs the familiar argument accepted by some as a permanent element in their melancholy philosophy: wrung from others as a cry of anguish under the sudden stroke of bitter experience.”’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/1-peter-4.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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