Click here to join the effort!
This Epistle is called "General" because it is catholic. The word "General" therefore literally describes the scope and purpose of the letter. We must not have in God's New Testament anything petty, narrow, merely local; anything that is discoloured by the faintest tinge of exclusiveness or selfishness. Peter says, "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass." He is not talking about the body, he uses the word "flesh" in an ethnic that is, in a racial signification. The Jews were very proud of being the only flesh worthy of God's notice. They had no association with other races; they could not stoop to the vulgarities of human nature. The Apostle Peter, once so punctilious, says concerning flesh in this invidious signification, "all flesh" the best of it, Abrahamic flesh "is as grass, and the glory of man" racially, locally "is as the flower of grass," a thing to admire for a moment, but a thing doomed to pass away: you Jews and Christians of the dispersion must learn that you are no longer ethnic, or race, or class, men, you are born again you are "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever!" So you are no longer Jews and favourites, you are now a part of the great sum total of humanity, you belong to the redeemed world, and wherever you see a man you see a brother, wherever you go into another land you go into another home: now, in the largest, divinest sense, the earth is the Lord's. The Apostle Peter was speaking about the funeral of ethnic distinctions, of class peculiarities; he said, All these must be buried, so that they can know no resurrection, and henceforward we must live the new humanity. That is Christ's conception of growth, evolution, sanctification.
Now we are prepared for the specific text, which is in this second chapter, "Wherefore" for this very reason of universality; because we are no longer Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, great and small, men and women, divided, subdivided, and classified by pedantic distribution of taste or colour or faculty, "Wherefore," seeing that in the Second Adam we are all one, federally united, fraternally identified, kin, "Wherefore," because of all this, a certain very definite moral discipline must be accepted and obeyed. The moral discipline itself is laid down in great simplicity of language; it may therefore profitably be our business to stand awhile to look at separate phrases, and see what we can make out of their meaning.
Thus: Here is the phrase "Laying aside." This could be pictorially represented better than it could be verbally described. All dictionaries should be pictures; for want of the picture we often do not see the meaning. "Laying aside" is a picture-phrase, and requires for its illustration a man who is taking off his garments. That is the literal signification of the word. The idea is that there was a certain race of men clothed with malice, with bad feeling, or if not with positive malignity, yet with an ignorance that in some of its practical expressions amounted to the expulsion of the majority of the human race from the love and complacency and protection of God. The Apostle, speaking in the name of Christ and in the Spirit of Christ, says, Seeing that all these distinctions have been abolished by the great act of the incarnation of the Son of God, take off that imposing robe, tear it away, and lay it aside, and forget it. The expression is not, Loosen your garment of malice a little, will you; or take it off for a little while and put it beside you, that you may feel the benefit of it when you go out again. That is not the lexicographical idea at all; it is, Tear it off! do not get anybody to help you to take it off, but pull it off, and lay it, throw it, aside: stand up in the loveliness of your new nature, a nakedness that is not ashamed. These words are heroic and bold in any speaker: but how heroic and noble they were in the case of Simon Peter can only be realised by those who have studied that man's peculiarity, his intense Judaism, his bitter Jewishness of feeling, his determination to exclude from his sympathy anybody who did not go to his particular synagogue. Words have meanings according to the speakers who employ them. If certain men used little mincing words they would be guilty of the most palpable irony; such words do not belong to their capacity and stature of manhood. Peter is now speaking, not his mother tongue, but a tongue he has learned at the Cross. Blessed Teacher, thou Teacher of Nazareth, thou Christ of Golgotha, thou dost make all thy men big men; never did one come to thee and leave thee a little, localising, pedantic moralist; "when men have come away from thee to do thine errands they have come with great speeches, broad, generous, eloquent; proclamations meant to fill all the winds, and be carried everywhere to the most distant and desolate parts of the earth. This of itself is an argument in favour of Christian thought and action.
But having laid aside something, including "all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings," something positive must be done. That particular something is indicated in the second verse "desire." What is the meaning of "desire" in this connection? It is a very simple and beautiful meaning; literally, Get an appetite for. You cannot live upon yourself; every man has to go out of his own limits in order that he may support even his body, not to say his mind. The mind has to go to the book, the body has to go to the fields; we live not in ourselves or upon ourselves, but upon the bounty that is round about us. The Apostle Peter says, Get an appetite for the new food. The food is plentiful, the appetite is finical. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst; blessed are the men of large appetency for spiritual bounties and luxuries: for they shall be filled, and yet never know the burden or the pain of satiety. What we want is the appetite. Every chapter of the Bible would be a banquet of food for an eternity if we had the right appetite. The appetite must be keen, a hunter's appetite; the man who comes in from the mountains and brings the mountains with him, he is the man who knows what is meant by keenness of desire for food. We want that same keenness in our spiritual appetite, a real downright hunger.
What is the hunger for? "The sincere milk of the word." "Sincere milk," what is the meaning of that expression? The word is not "sincere" at all; it is another word, almost as much out of place to the mere seeming of the eye: Desire the reasonable milk of the word, the milk of reason. And yet we are told that the Bible is against the reason, the Bible discountenances the exercise of reason. Only ignorant persons so describe and so degrade God's book, which is a perpetual appeal to be more reasonable, to be wiser far. Get an appetite for the reasonable milk, or the milk of reason; the spiritual, the mental milk. How are we to take it? Not as critics. No critic is really in a flourishing condition; at best he is a pinched, nipped-up, bloodless creature. He might easily be mistaken for a vinegar cruet; be not surprised if some morning you read that a really noble soul took up a critic, thinking he was going to take vinegar for something that he was eating. We are not to drink the mental milk as critics, but as "newborn babes," and the object of our taking the mental milk is to "grow." The Apostle Peter had a fondness for that word "grow." He himself was a grown man. He began at a very small point, at a very faraway place, and we have seen how gradually he came up, until he who had never eaten anything common or unclean stopped whole days with one Simon a tanner; and now he tells the Jews that all their flesh boasting is as if the grass of the field stood up and said, Behold my majesty. The Apostle Peter would even grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we can only grow as we imbibe with a keen appetite the mental milk, the milk of reason.
Peter describes our Lord as "a living stone." This has always been known by certain men as the "name passage." "Living stone," the word "Peter" means stone, "To whom coming, as unto a living Peter," the first of Popes, the plasm of the boundless St. Peter's of Rome. It is true that "Peter" does come from a word which means stone, but unfortunately for that particular criticism the word petros or petra is not used here at all. That is a fatal drawback: "To whom coming, as unto a living lithos . Petros is the stone in the quarry, the natural rock; lithos is the stone taken out, hewn, smoothed, shaped, made ready for a building. This living stone was "disallowed" of men. What is the meaning of the word "disallowed?" It has a meaning full of suggestion. It signifies that the stone has been examined. Not neglected, not that it has escaped attention, not that men were unaware of its existence and went on building without it, because they did not know that it was available; the word "disallowed," as Peter used that word, signifies that the stone was well known; the stone had been examined, estimated, appraised, and when men had exhausted their criticism upon it they voluntarily and of set purpose put it aside as disallowed, purposely, and, in a sense, intelligently put away. There is the basis of responsibility. Now ye say, We see, your sin remaineth: if ye had not seen, ye would have had no sin; but if you had pronounced an opinion upon the Christ, if you had run through, however hastily, the evidences which belong to his personality and history and purpose, you have incurred the responsibility of setting yourselves against the whole testimony of Scripture and against the whole testimony of the Church the invisible, spiritual, influential Church of Christ. That is a very different standpoint from that which is occupied by the ignorant heathen who never heard of the Saviour. They do not, in this sense, disallow Christ, they know nothing-concerning him; only they can disallow, in the Petrine sense of the term, the Son of God who had read about him, heard a statement of his claims, and had been brought into conscious contact with appeals regarding his personality and priesthood.
The figure is full of graphic beauty. The stone is a living stone, and upon it are to be built stones that are "lively" or living. There can be no death in this house of God, which is called the "spiritual house." All the stones are not of one size, all the stones are not equally beautiful, all the stones have not had equal labour bestowed upon them; some stones are very little, some of them are hardly put into shape at all: but they are living stones, and they are placed upon a living foundation, and are built up a spiritual house. The house is not made of one stone; the stone that is under belongs to the stone that is upper, and the stone that is upper could not be where it is but for the stone that is under. The foundation means the pinnacle, and the pinnacle, far up in the blue sky with finger pointing towards the immeasurable spaces, could not be there but for the sunken and unseen foundation. It is one house built of many stones, all the stones are living, and it is the life that gives the value to the stones. "To offer up spiritual sacrifices," no longer bullocks and heifers and goats and birds, no longer lambs and sheep a thousand in number; but spiritual, reasonable sacrifices; sacrifices of the soul. A man shall come to say to God, "Not my will, but thine, be done": when the man so says he offers up a spiritual sacrifice. When a disciplinarian of the Christian sort shall take an appetite and lay it upon the altar and cut its throat, he has offered up a spiritual sacrifice. When a man who was born an evil speaker, one of those unfortunate creatures who seem to have been doomed to talk mischief, has become converted, and when the old nature sometimes suggests a stinging speech to him, by which he could inflict pain on some brother man; when he feels the speech on his tongue and casts it out without articulation, so that the man for whom it was designed will never know of its existence, God will say concerning that victorious Christian, He is crucified with Christ; he was going to utter a bitter speech, it was formed in his mind, it was half-way on his tongue, a moment more and it would have gone; but just then prayer prevailed, the man never spoke the speech, and he is written down in heaven as a son of God.
Peter quotes something that is "contained in the Scripture," note, not in the Scriptures. Whenever we find the word "Scripture" used in the singular, as it is here, it refers to the particular book from which the quotation is made; when the word "Scriptures" in the plural number is used it refers to the whole revelation, and may be part of this book and part of that book, put together by inspired genius.
The word "confounded," with which the sixth verse closes, should be "ashamed," because that will suit the rest of the reasoning better, falling into balance and harmony and so making music. "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious." How many delightful sermons have been preached from these words that ought never to have been preached! A great felony is being committed on many ministers by the Revised Version sometimes depriving them of their special sermons. "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious": there is no reference to Christ at all. The words "he is" are in the Authorised Version in italics, and therefore they ought not to be there: "Unto you therefore which believe... precious"; more literally and graphically still, "Unto you therefore which believe is the honour." What honour? Now, remember that the word "confounded" is turned into the word "ashamed," and then attach the word "honour" as the balancing word, and you have two classes of persons: those who disallowed Christ bowed down in shame, saying, We were wrong, we misjudged that man, we have made a profound and fatal mistake in our estimate of qualities, we did not know that he is what he has turned out to be: and therefore they hold down their heads in shame, and their cheeks are wet with tears. That is the picture on the one side. "Unto you therefore which believe is the honour": you were right, your faith is vindicated; Christ is proved to be the corner stone, the living stone, the one foundation, elect, precious: hold up your heads! That is the picture. The men who disallowed him all bowed down like broken bulrushes, saying, Ah me, ah me! how foolish, how wicked I am! On the other side, the men who did believe in Christ are crowned with honour; they know in whom they have believed, there is no shame in their attitude, there is no indication of fear in their voice; they are the avowed and crowned sons of God.
Out of all this there will come "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." One would say that "peculiar" means singular, odd, eccentric, whimsical, fantastic: along that line of words we might choose our equivalents for this term "peculiar." In so choosing equivalents we should make a grievous mistake. We speak of a man's peculium , that is, of something which belongs to him, and to no one else; it is his own; now we are getting nearer the meaning of the word. It has been well said that when a child says, concerning property or a little corner of the garden, "This is my own, my very own," that we have the right meaning of the word "peculiar" in this connection. Christ is represented as saying, I won you by hard work, you are my own, my very, very own, my peculium . He shall have the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth shall be his peculium: he knoweth his own; the Lord is mindful of his own. How wondrously all things are lifted up by this touch of the Cross! We are no longer mere men, creatures attesting a Creator; we are not our own; we are Christ's, and Christ calls us his peculium, something that belongs to him by right of labour, right of gift, right of service. It is a grand characterisation. May it include us all!
Almighty God, behold us at the Cross of Jesus Christ thy Son, and have mercy upon us according to thine own great love. We wonder at the Cross; we look up and behold, and are amazed: for we cannot tell all the meaning of this agony. We read strange writing on the Cross: He was wounded for our transgression, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, by his stripes we are healed. This we read, and herein we are amazed with great wonder. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son: this also we see written upon the shameful Tree. And again: Herein is love that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us; he was delivered for our offences, he was raised again for our justification. These words are full of the mystery of love, and the mystery of Suffering. Whilst we gaze upon this Tree in the shameful desolation of winter it already begins to put forth signs of life, and we see that this is the Tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. We would be crucified with Christ, we would know the fellowship of his sufferings that we may afterwards know the power of his resurrection. We would be born with Christ, and with Christ we would rise again. Enable us in our sorrow and darkness and despair of soul to behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. For this Cross we bless the Lord; it is our refuge in the time of accusation, it is the asylum of our soul when our soul has no other sanctuary. Simply to the Cross we cling: God forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we not diminish its meaning, but magnify it; may we see in that Cross more than can be seen at first sight; may it grow upon our wonder and reverence until it fills our whole soul with its own glory. God be merciful unto us sinners: teach us that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin; show us the meaning of his love when he gave himself for us, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us under God. Enable us to enter into the meaning of the sweet and profound doctrine. Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Sacrifice of Christ
1Pe 2:21 , 1Pe 2:24
What do we know about the whole work of Christ, except what we are told in the Bible? Nothing. To the Scriptures therefore we must repair, if we wish to take a right view of all the work that is covered by the sacred name, "Christ." There must be no reference to our own thought, our own invention, our own surmising. The Christian religion is a book-religion. It is the Book that begins it, it is the Book that closes it. Outside the four corners of the Book the Christian thinker has no business. How often this is forgotten! It might be supposed from a good deal of controversy that every man is at liberty to form his own idea, and have his own gospel, his own private interpretation, and his own patent of theology. To the Book we must go. What does the Book say? is our question. We did not write the Book, we have to read it; we did not make it, we have to interpret it by the Spirit of God. There may be many different interpretations, there we may have great liberty; but the thing to be interpreted is one, and if so be it be sincerely, humbly, and reverently interpreted, then private judgment may claim its own dignity and its own responsibility. But private judgment is formed upon what is written in a book. Even the law may be variously interpreted. The highest authorities contradict one another; one judge plainly tells another that he misconstrues the statute, in effect, that he does not know what he is talking about: yet neither the one judge nor the other made the statute. So we have statutes to be interpreted, and we must interpret them reverently, and in consciousness and growing dependence upon spiritual enlightenment.
Who was most likely to know the whole purpose of Christ the people who lived with him in his daily confidence, or the people who live hundreds of years after he has left the world? Let us reason upon this matter soberly. Here were men who lived with Christ day by day, who heard all his loving talk, who listened to all his social prayers, who looked upon him in every varying mood and aspect of his life; and they have written their impressions and their inferences, and they say they wrote what they did write under the influence of the promised Spirit. Here are other men who lived hundreds of years after Christ in visible form had left the earth, and they are writing books about Christ which in some respects directly contravene the apostolic testimony. The question therefore is, which is the more likely to have known the real meaning and purpose of Christ the men who lived with him, or the men who came into the world centuries after him? Thus we are thrown back upon our first position, that we must go to the Book. We need not believe what the Book tells us, but we must take the responsibility of our disbelief. If the Book is wrong, there is nothing right; there is nothing to compete with it, there is no other direct personal testimony. It is this for the Christian, or it is nothing.
We are sometimes told that Christ himself never said anything about his being a sacrifice, a propitiation, a substitution. How do we know that? On what authority do we speak? If Christ never named the subject, how did the apostles come to invent it? They lived with him, they had immediate personal communication with him; even Paul by a miracle was brought into close personal relationship to the Saviour of the world. How did a man like Peter come to conceive the ideas which he represents in his first Epistle, if Christ had never once mentioned the subjects referred to? Did not Christ impose temporary silence upon his apostles in his lifetime? Did he not say, Tell no man this: say nothing further about the subject of our immediate conversation: a time will come when you may tell all; when the Son of man is risen from the dead, and the whole purpose of his ministry, so far as its time-revelation is concerned, is completed, then you will have to preach the gospel to every living creature? They are no sooner loosed from his side, and sent out as angels to the ends of the earth, than they begin to talk about the Cross the sacrifice, the efficacy of the precious blood, the mystery of Gethsemane, its agony, its bloody sweat. It would be curious indeed if Christ had never named these subjects, and yet the moment the disciples are left to themselves they begin to set forth these great doctrines of Christ, these ineffable revelations of love. The evidence would seem to point to the fact that, having lived with Christ, they heard a good deal which is not reported in the gospels. They did not tell all that was disclosed to them. We cannot tell what seal was put upon their confidence. Mysterious hints were given about suffering; about laying down the life and taking it again; about going away for a little while and returning: we cannot tell what seal was placed upon the hearts and lips of the listening disciples. But this we know, that a Spirit, called the Spirit of truth, was promised, whose express function it was to be to bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever Christ had said unto them: and the moment they are let go they preach doctrinally as well as historically. We cannot dismiss the evidence of such men lightly. It must be examined, it is a rarity in literature, it is a curiosity in theology, it is a new departure altogether. They seem to leave the mere life of Christ as a visible incarnation and priesthood to the revelation of its deeper and inmost meanings; they set before us an atonement, a propitiation, a sacrifice, a doing for us on the part of Christ what we never could have done for ourselves. Through "this gate we pass into the field of inquiry.
Some persons do not take what is called the evangelical view of the work of Christ. I personally take that view and none other. No other view seems to me to include all the elements and particulars of the case. Other views are neat, measurable, occasionally pathetic, and frequently ethically beautiful; but they do not include the agony of the whole occasion and situation. They are theories which I may denominate aspect-theories, partial conceptions, southern or western views of a great cubic quantity. They do not take in the whole temple, its foundation and roof and lighting, and all its points whereby it claims the universe. No man must set up his judgment against the judgment of other men in any narrow and dogmatic way, but every man must allow his judgment to speak through his heart, and his heart to speak through his judgment; and whilst we allow the widest liberty to sincerity and earnestness we must claim to have that liberty on our own part; and, exercising that liberty, I venture to say that what is called the moral view of the atonement is no view at all to me. What view I may take as the years come and go, as experience enriches and learning extends, I cannot tell, but at this moment I feel that Christ on the Cross is doing something for me, the whole meaning of which I cannot tell, which I never could have done for myself, which no being in the universe but himself could do; and when the Apostle tells me that he is bearing my sins in his own body on the tree, I say, God be thanked for him! for such a priest this poor lost soul of mine needs: if that is what he is doing, worthy is the Lamb that was slain! There are those who tell me that the word "blood" and all words related to it partake more or less of the quality of coarseness or vulgarity. I say I do not come to the Cross as a respectable man: respectable men have no business at the Cross: I do not come to Calvary as a man who has any right to speak, but as a self-condemned criminal, asking if God will have any connection with me, with one so worthy of the hottest place in the hottest hell. Everything depends upon how you approach this subject; if you are coming to it as learned dons and certificated teachers and wise theologians, you may take one view: but I come to it on hands and knees, with blind eyes, with choking throat, with conscience all aflame; and all I can force out of this constricted throat is, God be merciful to me a sinner! When I am in that mood, and an Apostle tells me that Jesus Christ died for me, even in the sense of dying in my stead, I answer him with my love. If we were all more or less guilty only, and could discuss the coming of Christ and his mysterious action on critical grounds, there is no telling how high the controversy might rise; but we do not come into this field as controversialists, we come as men conscious of sin and conscious of self-helplessness.
There are some who say that Christ came to show the love of God. Why, what has God been doing from all time but showing his love? This is the very thing that God has been doing from Adam to Noah, to the prophets, from the beginning. That answer will not satisfy my heart in its moods of shame and self-accusing. The Old Testament is full of the love of God. The Psalmist says, speaking for every house in history, "His mercy endureth for ever." One sweet singer said, "The Lord is very pitiful and gracious, slow to anger, plenteous in mercy." The chief of singers said, "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." We did not want any new man or any visible angel to come and tell us that God loves us. His creation is love. The image we bear is the pledge of his tenderness. Say that some man came into the world, not to show the love of God, but to be the love of God, and you lift the argument immeasurably higher: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; I am the bread of life, I am the water of life; I am the door; I am the shepherd." There you introduce a new and most solemn music.
Some tell us that Christ came to set us an example, to show us how to conquer oneself, how utterly to empty oneself of oneself, to complete the miracle of self-surrender: as who should say, Men women, and children, behold me, the thing to be done is to conquer yourselves, and this is the way to do it. I cannot accept that view. It has its points of value and its aspects of beauty, but it does not include Gethsemane. Christ's life was no example in that sense. It had its imitable and exemplary side, but behind that side lay the metaphysics of infinity. An example, in the large sense of the term! why, it could not be that, for he was here but three years; that was not time for such an example as I want. Some of us have been here thirty, fifty, seventy years, and are we to be pointed to some young man who came and lived three years, and went away again almost as soon as he could, and to be told that is our example only? That does not cover the whole of the case. It was an example within its own lines, it was the holiest revelation of life that was ever made; we say concerning that fair One, There was no guile in his mouth, his heart was free from deceit, his lips were as a harp played upon by the fingers of God. The life of Christ is less an example than was the life of many a man in his own time. It was so simple a life; it was a life without a home, without a house, without domestic relations and responsibilities, without all the wear and tear continually exasperating our daily life. The lines upon which it was built were too narrow socially to be a mere example. If he was a man, it was not an example that covers all the possibilities of the case: if he was God, what he did torments my weakness, taunts and mocks my shrinking frailty. I am flesh, I am not to have myself exemplified by the infinite, eternal God.
There must therefore from my point of view be something more in it and behind it than mere revelation of God's love, than mere exemplariness of the way of living, than mere self-surrender and self-oblivion, than mere suicide of the individual will. All these are elements in the case, each of these has its own definite position and value, but all these put together leave out Gethsemane. There is blood that the spear cannot reach; that blood was shed in the Garden. The blood shed on the Cross was drawn out by cold iron, cold steel, but that other, redder, richer blood no murderer drew forth, "He sweat as it were great drops of blood." That is the blood I want, and I need it every drop. If I came booted and spurred and coated like a respectable king, I might ask for something else, but I came in lost, dead, and I see that in Gethsemane something was done on my account, and when an Apostle tells me that he shed his blood for me I can believe it in the fullest sense. I will not ask to have that blood translated into metaphors and symbols and emblems, I will not have a poet to turn that agony into blank verse; I will be told plainly that this blood was shed for me because I deserved death, and I will say when appealed to, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." I get something along that line of thought that I do not get along any other line, and that something is to me life.
No believer in the deity of Christ, in which I believe with my whole soul, can believe in such theories, as I am at present advised. They will suit momentary moods, they will do under certain conditions of life, but they will not cover the whole tragedy of moral thought and moral necessity. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God" that is, we are told, a poor translation of the word; it should read, "who, being originally in the form of God," and "originally" means from the origin, from the beginning, for the uncalculated and incalculable past "who being originally in the form of God, thought it not a prize to be snatched at to maintain his equality with God." "Beautiful is that new translation of the word, "who, being originally of the substance and quality and of the very form divine, thought it not a prize to be snatched at, that he should exercise divine prerogatives, when he saw that man was lost; compared with the salvation of man, the exercise of God-rights was not a prize to be seized. So, divesting himself, taking off all these rights, he became a man." What to do? To show us an example, to lecture to us on self-sacrifice, and to prove to us the love of God, and to tell us that God had been loving us? We knew that, or we could not have sinned as much as we did. Tell me that he divested himself of his God-functions that he might become obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross say even "in our stead" hateful words and when I am in my deepest dejections, when I need Christ most, that is the only gospel that really finds me in the innermost recesses of my being, and fills up the whole want of my life. Other theories I can discuss in cold blood; I could discuss them as if I had found them in some pagan writer; they are beautiful theories, they are ethically charming: but I know myself better than these theories know me. The more life a man has the more he gets away from your little shallow-vessel theories, that can hold but one mouthful of water when his soul is aflame with thirst. When a man can shatter all the commandments at one stroke, when a man can be almost in hell and know it, it is no theory moral, abstract, metaphysical, beautiful that can touch him. Tell him then that Christ so loved him as to die for him, not in some metaphorical sense which only a poet can explain, but in the sense of really dying in his stead, and the man will seize that meaning: he may outlive it, and come to see its poetic aspects in the coming eternities, but in the first instance he needs that broad, rich, generous, visible, palpable gospel to save his soul.
When we speak of the simplicity of the gospel we must not forget its mystery. Simplicity is not shallowness. Behind everything Christ did lay the whole scope of eternity: when he uplifted a hand it was the hand that had shaped infinity. There is nothing superficial or lineal about the action of Christ. We measure lineally, Christ measures cubically. He takes the line in every direction. Hence sometimes his work appears to be small; the line superficial or lineal is much longer than the line cubical, but the line cubical is richer, it encloses more, it suggests more; it has in it an outline of the universe.
Without therefore coming into conflict with anybody personally, I am here simply to bear my own personal testimony, and to tell you that what is called the evangelical view of the atonement is the view that I accept, and I accept no other. I know it is unpopular, I know it has been ruled out of the leading magazines; I am well aware that it is now regarded as coarse; I am perfectly well instructed as to the modern view of the Book of Leviticus; I have read nearly everything I could lay my hands upon on the other side; I have been amazed at the beauty and poesy I have found in many an argument illustrative of what is termed the moral theory of the atonement. As to the sincerity, earnestness, and mental illumination and capacity of some of the writers, I have no doubt; I covet to be as great as they are: but when they have told me all that they have discovered about the atonement of Christ it does not touch my sin. It touches my fancy, it touches my taste, but it does not get at that black devastating devil that is gnawing my heart away. Of course there are those who could not bear the evangelical view, because they have never known anything about sin. They have always been just as they are; they have lived lives of monotony; they have risen in the morning, gone round the day's duty, never had an unkind thought about anybody, never wilfully broken one of the commandments; if they were told they were criminals or reprobates they would resent the terms or express amusement at the wild exaggeration. What can such people know about Christ's Gethsemane and Christ's Cross? Nothing. They are not in a fit state to hear the gospel; they do not feel their need of a gospel. Yet if they could see themselves aright they would know that their righteousness is unholiness, and their respectability is a delusion. Not until a Pharisee gets rid of his pharisaism can he begin to pray. He may give a catalogue of his virtues but he cannot cry to God for mercy.
Almighty God, we pray thee that thy grace may descend upon us, that we may be purified and ennobled, and according to the multitude of our fears multiply thy comforts to our soul; then shall we not be swallowed up of sorrow overmuch; we shall taste the bitterness, and know that the tasting is for our good; we shall be purified by chastisement; we shall say, It was good for me that I was afflicted; before I was afflicted I went astray; affliction like a veiled angel has brought me to the home sanctuary of God. Thou knowest what we need, what we can bear, how much prosperity we can carry, and yet not fail in worship, in love, or in obedience; thou knowest how bitter the cup must needs be for our purification and cleansing. We leave ourselves in thy hands, knowing that thou dost not destroy whom thou hast created; thou dost live for their nourishment and culture, their education and perfecting. The Lord reign over us, and keep us high or low; send us abroad or keep us in obscurity; where thou wilt and as long as thou wilt: thy will be done. We commend unto thee all who are in circumstances that need the prayers of the church: the poor, the sick, the wandering, the feeble, the homeless, wrecked lives, lost men, to whom there is no light, no Sabbath, no peace, no hope: Physician, Healer, Lover of the world, proving thy love by thy crucifixion, save the sons of men! Amen.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Peter 2". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29