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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Peter 4

Verses 1-19

Manifold Grace

1 Peter 4:10

The whole verse reads thus, 'Let every man that has received the gift even so minister the same one to another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God'. What is 'manifold'? Many? No. The word 'many' would be misleading, though it does enter into the larger and truer interpretation of the term. Manifold in this case means variegated, many in colour and light and bloom and beauty. Manifold is not in this relation a question of quantity or quality, but of variety; every colour a poem, all the colours belonging to one another and totalling up into one ineffable whiteness. Every man hath received the gift, therefore let him minister the same, and let one give to another, and let every man bring his colour to every other man's colour, and let all the world see how variegated in charm and hue is the total grace or gift of God. Every man holds his own colour of grace as a steward. Your colour is not mine, mine is not the colour held by some other man, but every man hath received his gift of God, his shade of colour. The shades of colour do not look well when they are taken away from one another; therefore they should be arranged into poems of brightness and bloom and fragrance; for God is the giver of them all. The holders of the variegated grace of God are only stewards.

I. This word 'manifold' occurs in many places, and it applies to good things and to bad things alike. There is nothing in the descriptive word itself, it is only when it is related to some substantive that it acquires a character or indicates a special utility of its own. Who expected to find this expression in Nehemiah, the busiest of the books, the wall-building book, the Balbus before the time. 'In Thy manifold mercies thou forsookedst them not' (Nehemiah 9:19 ). The mercy is one, the mercies are ten thousand. Always distinguish between the substantial central quality and its radiations or offshoots or incidental distributions of forces. Mercy comes in many forms.

II. In that most wondrous of the psalms in many respects, the 104th, we read in the twenty-fourth verse, 'O Lord, how manifold are Thy mercies!' Why not say, How great is Thy mercy! That should be said, that has been said, but most of us are still in the lower school, and we have not quite got into the way of amalgamating and unifying the divers plurals and bringing them into one sublime and glowing unity. The Apostle Paul, most wondrous of writers and speakers, in one unconscious effort united the plurals and the singular in one grand expression, Ephesians 3:10 that album of wisdom, that temple of the uppermost and innermost piety. Paul there speaks of 'the manifold wisdom of God'. It is another variety of the text, 'the manifold grace of God' the grace split up into attributes, into lines, separate individuality accentuated, and yet all gathering themselves up into grace, wisdom, love.

III. I must recall an idea just referred to, namely, that the word manifold is applied not only to things good, Divine, beautiful, but to other things. 'I know your manifold transgressions and sins' (Amos 5:12 ). Every man sins in his own way, and every man condemns the sins of every other man. That is how we come to have the little clay idol called Personal Respectability that miserable imp, that worst species of infidelity, if exaggerated and unduly applied and construed. Every man tries to make himself respectable by remarking upon the want of respectability in the man who is sitting next him: as who should say, You observe how critical I am, and how different I am from this person, although we are seated near to one another and are actually in the closest bodily proximity; yet how different I am from him! But the other man is saying exactly the same thing! That is the awkward part of the criticism. Mind yourself, take heed unto thyself. Pulling down another man's house does not make your own any the more secure.

So then the word 'manifold' may be applied not only to the grace of God, the wisdom of God, and the mercy of God, but to the transgressions and the sins of men and to the temptations through which all souls that are being educated for heaven must needs pass. Be ye stewards of the grace which God has committed to you. It is a grace of wealth, a grace of leisure or of patience or of tenderness; you are gifted with the love of mankind, you have yearning hearts after the Lord; you have a great skill in seeing the best side of every man's character, and working upon the lost from the point of hope and the centre of possible restoration. Oh, do not look at the weed, look at the flower; do not look at the hardships, but look at the enjoyments. Wondrous is the mercy, the grace of God.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II. p. 13.

References. IV. 10. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 13. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 126. A. E. Tonkin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 323. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons (2nd Series), p. 46. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 275.

'The Ability Which God Giveth'

1 Peter 4:2

I. 'The ability which God giveth': a religious ability, a spiritual faculty, a way of looking at things and doing things that is not common, that traces itself back to the sanctuary and the altar, and comes forth with some redness of blood upon it. This is a mystery we cannot put into words; yet we feel it We feel fire, though we may not be able to understand all its composition and trace all its history. 'As every man hath received the gift.' That is the fundamental principle. We receive gifts; we do not invent them, we do not create them in any sense. All true gifts are gifts of God; from the Father of lights there cometh down every good and every perfect gift.

'As every man hath received the gift, let him be a good steward.' What of? 'Of the manifold grace of God.' The word 'manifold' means in that case many-coloured the vermilion and the indigo and all the colours. It is a many-coloured grace. There is nothing monotonous in God. He never gives to two men the same gift. If they are openly and patently the same gift they are not so inwardly and spiritually; each has a note of its own, a comment of its own, a subtle expressive accent, that no other man can steal or successfully duplicate.

II. Here, then, we are called into the great doctrine of responsibility. What is the animating thought in the Apostle's mind? One likes to get back to the original impulse. There is a secret within a secret. You do this or that not because of the manifold reasons which are on the surface; all these may be only excuses, not reasons, not conclusions of the logical faculty, but something put forth that will do for the moment. What is the original impulse in Peter's fervent mind? The same impulse that was in Paul's still greater intellect. He said: Do all these things, for 'the end of all things is at hand'. Anybody can see beginnings but to see the end! The Apostles grandly caught the spirit of their Master. They said, Jesus Christ will be here presently; He is at hand, He is almost visible; neglect no duty, discharge every obligation, regard life as a solemn responsibility, and be up! That is true; that is the spirit in which we ought to work. Work while it is called day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work. It is night in one aspect, it is the kingdom of morning in another. You shake hands with your friends and say, We will meet you tomorrow. Your friend is not at the trysting-place. How is this? Here is a telegram for you. What does it say? He died an hour after he parted from you. Is the tenure of life so brittle as that? Exactly; we are tenants at will; we have no lease; it is, so to say, a word-of-mouth arrangement, and one of the mouths has nothing to say about it, which is the Lord's mouth.

III. What, then, have we to do with regard to this doctrine, that all things are coming swiftly and suddenly to an end? What is the monition arising out of the declaration that the kingdom of God is at hand? It is this, that we are to do all our work as if it were the only work we have to do. Death is at the door; there is but a step between thee and death; thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. That is the atmosphere in which we have to work. We do not like it, but we did not create it, and we cannot abolish it; we can, so to say, utilise and sanctify it.

IV. 'As every man hath received the gift.' Here is individual endowment. Is that a fact? Yes, that is a fact. That is your opportunity and mine. I have been envying the endowments of a man or woman poet, statesman, preacher and the Lord says, Why envy? The man who has the five gifts did not give them to himself; the five talents were given by the Lord; now it is for you to remember that you your own very, very self you have a gift. That should make men of us. Seeing that the image and the superscription of that gift is God's, how can we account ourselves penniless, how can we shiver as if we were orphaned and poor and driven out upon the face of the earth as mean mendicants? The question for each man to consider is, What is my one particular gift? I must burnish it, or use it, or, changing the figure, I must plant it, and set it in relation to all that spiritual chemistry which is proceeding throughout the whole creation, and who knows but that from that little root there may come something, perhaps beautiful, perhaps nutritious, perhaps fragrant?

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iv. p. 280.

References. IV. 11. W. M. Sinclair, Christ and our Times, p. 245. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 143. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iv. p. 280. IV. 12, 13. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 232. IV. 12-19. C. Brown, Trial and Triumph, p. 157. IV. 13. J. Caird, Sermons, p. 167. IV. 14. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 382. IV. 14-16. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 144. IV. 15. J. Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 97. J. G. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 296. J. Parker, ibid. vol. liii. p. 296. IV. 16-19. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 114.

The Forlorn Rescue

1 Peter 4:18

The righteous are vividly conscious of the fact that more than once they escaped by a hair's breadth. Such are the weakness and folly of human nature that our salvation is rendered possible only in the infinite power and grace of God. The evolutionist knows that in the great struggle of nature competitive forms are so evenly balanced against each other that the slightest advantage determines the successful plant or animal. Darwin's words are these: 'A grain in the balance may determine which individuals shall live and which shall die; which variety or species shall increase in number, and which shall decrease or finally become extinct'. 'A grain in the balance.' Very astonishing is the vast part that the grain plays in deciding the mighty fortunes of nature. The presence or absence of the grain in the balance is equally decisive in society. That which determines between the successful and the unsuccessful, the rich and the poor, the famous and the forgotten, is often singularly insignificant a mere particle. So the moral triumph of man repeatedly seems due to superiority in strength by just a degree. 'Scarcely saved.'

I. The special lesson we would now enforce is the immense importance of any gain whatever in the religious life. Many Christian people do not appreciate this fact, and accordingly despise the minute accessions of light and strength secured by daily study, vigilance, and effort. The minute gain of daily faithfulness is in its significance immense. Truth, a trifle more clearly discerned; faith, enhanced as by a grain of mustard seed; love, clinging by an added tendril; and hope, the anchor of the soul, somewhat more surely biting the solid ground, mean much in the history of a soul.

II. Let us take to heart the fact that the working out of our salvation is a serious thing, attended by infinite difficulty. We are familiar with peril in our natural life. There is far move tension of awareness in our natural life than at first appears. Yet the peril of the soul is certainly not less; and the best are conscious that they have nothing of which to boast. The most thrilling rescues of fire-ladder or life-boat are dull metaphors of the wonderful deliverances of the soul from sin and hell. Heaven must have held its breath several times over the best of us. Let us, then, take care that henceforth we put our whole soul into the work of its own salvation; despising nothing, neglecting nothing. There is no telling in our spiritual life with what vast consequences microscopic gains are fraught, or what tragedies the lack of those gains may entail. The atom becomes a spiritual rock which guarantees our salvation; the grain turns in our favour the balances of eternity.

W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 52.

References. IV. 18. H. Windross, Preacher's Magazine, vol. x. p. 558. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3047.

God's Faithfulness

1 Peter 4:19

Faithfulness is the most beautiful thing which we have on earth. How, then, does this most touching characteristic appear in God? You will notice the special form in which St. Peter brings home his great conviction and appeal. In order to speak of faithfulness in God, especially as a faithful Creator, he might have taken the uniformity of nature, or he might have taken the faithfulness in history. But St Peter chooses by preference another great field upon which may be tested the faithfulness of God. He chooses the land of Trouble. What a wonderful land that is! Just as nothing is so foolish as to underrate difficulties about religion, so nothing is so shallow as to underrate the crushing burden of the troubles which men and women have on earth sometimes to bear.

I. I ask those who have explored the land of Trouble whether they cannot witness to these three things: (1) First, that although the fire of suffering is sometimes very hot indeed for, remember, He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver, and it wants a great deal of heat to purify silver yet if a man does pray that prayer, 'Not my will, but Thine be done,' if he has prepared himself in Gethsemane, then he is conscious of an unseen and mysterious strength which is given him in the time of trouble; he is conscious of a great strong hand, as it were, holding him; he is conscious of some power which is tempering the fire so that he can just bear it. (2) Is it not true that in the darkness of the land of Trouble comes also a mysterious form Jesus Christ? (3) And, as in the beginning the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of order, brought the kosmos order out of chaos, so now that same Holy Spirit takes His part in the time of trouble.

II. But one word as to the conditions of receiving the faithfulness of God. St. Peter, with his wonderful touch, gives three of them. (1) Those that differ must suffer according to the will of God. (2) The suffering of others must be according to the will of God. (3) And, lastly, 'in welldoing'. No morbid retrospect, no craving after a lost Paradise if it is lost no wrapping one's self up in selfish sorrow. No, the soul must fling itself forward in 'welldoing,' in good works. It must throw itself all the more forward for the sorrow of the past The soul that does so inherits and deserves the faithfulness of God.

Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 115.

References. IV. 19. Newman Smyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 43. V. 1. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2610. V. 2. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 469. V. 3. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 397.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-peter-4.html. 1910.