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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Peter 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ 1-peter-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Peter 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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THE PRESENT POWER OF THE FUTURE SALVATION
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 1:1. Peter.—This may be called his official, his apostolic name, as distinguished from his personal name Simon, or Simeon. Christ gave it to mark His estimate of his character; it has come to indicate his office. Apostle.—That is, one directly called, commissioned, and sent, by Jesus Christ Himself. Compare the name “servant,” given to themselves by James and Jude, which suggests, and seems to imply, that they were not apostles in the first sense of the term. Jesus Christ.—As St. Peter writes mainly to Jews, this name is significant as assuming the recognised Messiahship of Jesus. He is Jesus the Messiah. Strangers.—ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις; chosen strangers, or elect sojourners of the Dispersion. Compare John 7:35, “the dispersion of the Greeks,” which must mean the “dispersed Jews who live among the Greeks.” Here “the dispersed of Pontus,” etc., means “the dispersed Jews who live in these countries.” Strangers is a confusing word; sojourners is better. Jerusalem is thought of as the Jews’ home; anywhere else he is a sojourner. The tone of the epistle is adapted to the Jew, and especially to the foreign-dwelling Jew. The countries mentioned are provinces of Asia Minor. The particular occasion of the letter is not indicated even by its contents.
1 Peter 1:2. Elect.—The usual idea of the Jews as a nation. But Peter intimates that the Christian Jews were elect in a new sense. “The word and the thought that the disciples of Christ are what they are by the election or choice of God characterises the whole teaching of the New Testament.” Foreknowledge.—Plumptre says that the word hovers between a mere “prevision of the future” and the higher sense in which “knowing” means “loving” and “approving,” as in 1 Corinthians 8:3; Galatians 4:9, and probably Romans 8:29; Romans 11:2. God the Father.—St. Peter’s clear conception of the Sonship of Christ gave him a clear and strong impression of the Fatherhood of God. Through sanctification of the Spirit.—Which practically carries out the electing purpose of God. “Separating,” rather than “making holy,” is the idea of sanctification here, after the familiar meaning of the term to Jews. Compare “consecration.” The election of God, as a Divine purpose, realised or manifested itself in their being separated from the world, and set apart as consecrated ones. Unto obedience.—The response of the consecrated one to the grace of his separation. To secure such obedience is the purpose of God’s election, and the work of the sanctifying Spirit. So the obedience of the Jewish nation was the proper response to the national election. Sprinkling of the blood.—Which bears direct relation to infirmities in the obedience of the sanctified ones, as is even more clearly expressed in 1 John 1:7. It should be noticed that this cleansing and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus is applied to those who are Christian, who are separated or sanctified. “The daily being sprinkled by Christ’s blood, and so cleansed from all sin” (Fausset). Grace … peace.—By peace is meant that inward composure of mind which attends upon the experience of electing grace. “Peace” is the old Hebrew salutation; the addition of “grace” makes it a Christian salutation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 1:1-2
The Called-out Ones.—The epistle to the Hebrews is evidently written for the Jewish Christians, but it had no direct address or dedication to them. The only epistle besides 1 Peter, addressed to the Jews of the Dispersion, is the epistle of James; and that epistle should be carefully compared with this, in order to discover what common conditions each writer dealt with, and what peculiar perils or weaknesses each noticed.
I. The Dispersion.—It is important to mark the distinction between St. James’ dedication and St. Peter’s. St. James addresses the “twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion,” apparently not wishing to press any distinction between Jews and Christian Jews. St. Peter, as is brought out clearly by the Revised Version, addressed only those who, of the Dispersion, had accepted the faith of Christ. “To the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion.” There is consequently a general tone on the counsels of St. James, and a precise and specific tone on the counsels of St. Peter. His interest in those to whom he wrote as, like himself, Jews, is evident in the illustrations and references of the epistle; but it is equally evident that St. Peter has in mind those who share with him in a distinctly Christian experience. The term that he uses, “sojourners,” suggests that he had not in mind those of the Dispersion who had settled down and made their homes in these lands, but rather those who were taking temporary shelter in these lands, because driven from their homes by persecution, or by some prevailing famine or distress. Sojourners of the Dispersion cannot be intended to suggest the Dispersion. As those in flight, and in fear, and in distressing circumstances, St. Peter’s assurances, and sympathy would be especially comforting to them. He thinks of them as elect ones, called out ones—as those who, in the persuasions of Divine grace, had been led to accept of Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour; to them had been given “like precious faith” with him.
II. The basis of their call.—“According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” St. Paul in a similar way says, “Whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate.” The thought is almost peculiarly a Jewish one. It was the genius of that nation to see God’s mind, God’s purpose, and God’s hand in everything. A Jew could not look upon anything without the feeling: God thought it, God meant it, God did it. They were jealous of admitting that anything could ever happen which was not first in the mind of God. And it was quite natural that the Jewish apostles should be jealous of every attempt to separate the new life in Christ from God. The Christian faith and life was no independent thing. Every one who exercised the faith, and received the life, was known of God beforehand, and within all agencies that won the man for Christ was the Divine call, based upon the Divine foreknowledge. “Them He also called.” Difficulty is often made by unnecessarily assuming that the Divine foreknowledge involves Divine interference. It is thought that because God foreknew, therefore man could not be left free to act upon motives and judgments. It is even assumed that, all being settled beforehand in the Divine councils, men could be no other than saved or unsaved, as God arranged for them. But knowledge of what will happen is quite distinct from interfering to make things happen. The Divine eye, searching the ages, may see every one that will accept the offer of salvation in Christ, and yet all the ordinary agencies for the teaching of the truth and the persuading of the will may go on unhindered. God’s foreknowledge is a sublime mystery of the Divine nature, which comes comfortingly to Jewish toned souls, but in no way affects man’s freedom to act on considerations submitted, or his responsibility for making wise and worthy decisions. Even in the small spheres of family life, parents often feel quite certain how their several children will act under the same circumstances; but that parental knowledge—though it guides parental doings—in no sense interferes with the free expression of themselves by the children.
III. The method of their call.—“The sanctification of the Spirit.” It is grammatically possible that the reference is not to the Holy Spirit, but to the man’s own spirit. And the idea of separation and consecration is that expressed by the one word “sanctification.” The call of God is an arousing of the man’s spiritual nature into activity. But God working in the spirit of man we recognise as the Holy Spirit. The first idea of sanctifying a man we express as spiritualising a man—wakening him to spiritual interests, to attention to spiritual claims and considerations, and to the making of spiritual decisions and resolves. St. Paul says, “Ye which are spiritual.” And God’s call is a “sanctifying,” because it awakens a man, and makes him spiritual. Illustration may be taken from the boy Samuel, who heard God’s call, and became spiritual from that hour. Or from Saul of Tarsus, who heard God’s call, and became spiritual from that hour. The proper act of the awakened spiritual life is consecration to God. To that God’s Spirit moves the spiritual man. That consecration is his sanctification.
IV. The purpose of their call.—“Unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” Compare St. Paul’s words, “To be conformed to the image of His Son.” Obedience is the epitome of right relations between God and His creatures, between the Father and His sons. But it is the spiritual obedience of spiritual men that is referred to; an obedience which is the expression of heart-devotion. By “sprinkling of the blood” may possibly be meant that sense of acceptance with God, that joy of fellowship with God, and that guarantee of maintained relations with God, which comes to us only through the sprinkled blood. The purpose God has in their call is to bring them into that holy life, to which He can respond by giving them fully His Divine favour and friendship. The greeting of this passage, “Grace to you and peace be multiplied!” becomes interesting as the sympathetic greeting of a specially called one, called to be “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 1:2. Election.—We may at once place aside, as having nothing to do with our subject, the question whether God’s knowledge of future events practically abolishes human freedom. We know absolutely nothing of the nature of God, excepting what He has revealed, and the question before us simply is, What did the writers of the New Testament mean? Who are the elect and chosen of whom they speak? Are they (whoever they are) arbitrarily chosen according to the determinate counsel of God? and if so, to what are they chosen? The apostles were Jews, and part of their mission was to explain why God should turn away from His elect people, and offer eternal life also to the Gentiles. St. Paul says, God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew, but as in the time of Elijah there was a faithful remnant, so those whose ears had been opened to hear the word of the gospel were the election of grace, as he calls it, and that they and the Gentiles who had been admitted to the privileges of hearing the word of the gospel through their fall, are now the elect people of God. In Romans 9:0, the apostle asserts the power of God to extend His chosen people, and reminds them that God had not acted in His choice of them as the elect people of God upon the principles of bare lineal descent, but that the revelation of His mercy and goodness has not been dependent upon any goodness of theirs, but on His sovereign will and pleasure. Not that God has no reasons, but that “He giveth not account” to His creature man “of any of His matters. God blesses some nations with peculiar blessings which He withholds from others. The Potter makes two vessels; one, the Jewish nation, God saw fit to devote to honour; the other, the Egyptian nation, He devotes to less honour, to make His power known. What were God’s favoured nation, the Jews, elected, chosen, predestinated to? Not, surely, final salvation, but to peculiar religious privileges—not to a blessing absolutely, but to a special privilege and advantage, and the offer and opportunity of obtaining temporal blessings, not extended to the other nations of the world, and of having committed to them the oracles of God. The Jews were not chosen for their obedience, for they were a peculiarly disobedient people, and their privileges were made to depend upon their obedience. They were left free to choose between blessing and cursing; a blessing if they attended to the voice of the Lord their God, and a curse if they refused to obey.—Robert Barclay.
Election as held by Jews.—The Old Testament containing not only the germs of the doctrine of election in the contraposition of Abraham and the world, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Judah and his brethren, but also the germs of the doctrine of decrees in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and others, not to speak of the book of Ruth, and the book of Job, those grand representative exemplifications of Divine fore-ordination, it was quite natural that the idea of Divine predestination should be found living and active among the Jews, though it was very differently developed in the different systems of Judaism. The Sadducees openly asserted that each man was the master of his own destiny; while the Pharisees, with their mechanical separation of the effects of Divine blessing from the effects of human righteousness, made human destiny depend partly on Divine ordination and partly on human actions. The Essenes, representing that form of Judaism which was most mixed up with paganism, considered destiny as an inevitable fate; the whole idea, however, being peculiarly mitigated by the religious quietism which characterised the sect. The fate of Islam is the absolute, arbitrary despotism of Allah; and when the Koran in one place teaches the inevitableness of destiny, and in another the possibility of warding off Divine punishment, it simply contradicts itself. The fatalism of Mohammed referred, probably, only to the infidels; and when to the faithful he preached absolute necessity, with respect to the hour of death, he had probably only a practical purpose in view—to make them good fighters for his religion.—Herzog’s “Encyclopædia.”
Divine Election not Absolute.—What does the word “elect” mean here? Does it refer to an absolute and unconditional election of these Christians to eternal life? Such is the interpretation put upon the word by the followers of Augustine, Calvin, and many other Church teachers; but here, at least, it is otherwise defined. It is an election “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ”; and indeed, throughout the New Testament its primary signification is God’s choice of nations, or of individual men, to the enjoyment of special privileges (better say duties, obligations, missions), with a view to their eternal salvation if those privileges are rightly used. It is an election according to the foreknowledge of God—that foreknowledge which sees the end from the beginning, which embraces all the events of time, which is acquainted with the actions, lives, and motives, of all men; and which therefore, can never be taken by surprise. But God’s foreknowledge is not fore-determination. It does not interfere with human free agency. It does not deal with men as with beings who have no moral responsibility. In what way the thought of man’s freedom to will was reconcileable with that of God’s electing purpose, the writers of the New Testament did not care to discuss. They felt, we may believe, instinctively, half unconsciously, that the problem was insoluble, and were content to accept the two beliefs, which cannot logically be reconciled. In the words “the foreknowledge of God the Father” we find, perhaps, the secret of their acceptance of this aspect of the Divine government. The choice and the knowledge were not those of an arbitrary sovereign will, capricious as are the sovereigns of earth, in its favours and antipathies, seeking only to manifest its power, but of a Father whose tender mercies were over all His works, and who sought to manifest His love to all His children. From that standpoint the “choice” of some to special blessings was compatible with perfect equity to all.—Dean Plumptre.
The Election of Christian Jews.—The term “elect” here marks off the Christian Jews from the rest of the Jewish settlers in those parts. God selected these particular Hebrews out of the whole number and made them Christians: but what He elected them to is abundantly shown in the next words.—A. J. Mason, M.A.
Sprinkling.—By this word he alludeth to the sacrifices of the law, which all pointed to the sacrifice of Christ; and to show that as it had been nothing that a sacrifice had been killed, unless the blood thereof had been sprinkled upon the people (for so was the manner), so it avails nothing that Christ died, unless His blood be sprinkled upon us by the hand of a true faith, applying Jesus Christ to our consciences. It is not Christ that saves, but Christ’s death apprehended by a true and lively faith; for a particular persuasion hereof are we to labour,—John Rogers, 1657.
Inauguration by Sprinkling.—Compare Hebrews 9:19; Hebrews 12:24. As the people themselves are “sprinkled,” and not their houses, the reference cannot be to the Paschal sprinkling (Exodus 12:22), but, as in Hebrews, to the scene under Mount Sinai, in Exodus 24:8, where, once for all, the old covenant was inaugurated by the sprinkling of the people. (A curious ceremony of sprinkling the people is observed in Madagascar.) It was to the same scene that our Lord referred when He said of the Eucharistic cup, “This is My blood of the new covenant.” Thus “elect unto the sprinkling of the blood,” seems to mean, “selected for admission into the new covenant, inaugurated by the sprinkling of Christ’s blood.” But whereas the old covenant was inaugurated by sprinkling the people collectively and once for all, the new is inaugurated by individual application. Doubtless the participation of the Holy Communion is the act of “sprinkling” here before St. Peter’s mind, it being the one act which betokens membership in the new covenant-people, the new Israel.—A. J. Mason, M.A.
Daily Sprinkling.—Not sprinkling in justification through the Atonement once for all, which is expressed in the previous clauses, but (as the order proves) the daily being sprinkled by Christ’s blood, and so cleansed from all sin, which is the privilege of one already justified, and walking in the light (1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9-10; compare Hebrews 12:24; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14).—Fausset.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 1:3. Blessed be.—A characteristic Jewish recognition of God’s mercy. Compare with 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3. Abundant.—πολὺ, much. Begotten us.—The choice of the nation is thought of as its first Divine birth; the call into gospel privileges is thought of as a new and second Divine birth (see John 3:5; Titus 3:5; James 1:18). Lively hope.—Living hope. “A life in which hope is the energising principle” (Alford). Macknight’s note is suggestive: “Believers of all nations are begotten to the hope of a new life after death, through the covenant of grace made with our first parents after the Fall. In the same hope they are begotten a second time, through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.” By the resurrection.—Here St. Peter speaks from his own personal experiences. The great revealing time, which brought to him the consciousness of a new life, was the resurrection of Jesus. Then he believed in Him with a belief that brought to him a new life. Archbishop Leighton makes the resurrection the efficient cause of our new birth.
1 Peter 1:4. To an inheritance.—Still the Jewish national figure is in the mind of St. Peter. That nation was begotten to the inheritance of Canaan; we are begotten to a spiritual inheritance, figured for us as a heavenly Canaan. Incorruptible, etc.—“Exuberant description of the excellencies of the new Canaan.” In heaven.—The heavenly spiritual spheres. Reserved until you were quickened with the new life that could appreciate it. Not future heaven, but present heavenliness.
1 Peter 1:5. Kept.—“Who, by virtue of God’s power, are under guard.” “As the inheritance hath been preserved, so are the heirs guarded; neither shall it fail them, nor they it” (Bengel). Through faith.—Not intellectual belief, but daily trust, which keeps us in spiritual union with God, and secures the Divine defence. Unto salvation.—Full salvation from all the frailties and consequent sorrows of this life; full development of the new life begun in us. Ready to be revealed.—A heaven actually prepared. A future that even now may be a spiritual presence. The idea of an inheritance gives the character to St. Peter’s figures. But heaven must be in man before he can be in heaven.
1 Peter 1:6. Greatly rejoice.—The prospect brings all the joy of a present possession. “Salvation is realised by faith as a thing so actually present as to cause exulting joy, in spite of existing afflictions.” The rejoicing is in “the whole complex sense of the preceding verses, concerning the hope of glory.” In heaviness.—Or “ye were grieved, burdened, distressed.” Temptations.—Troubles, persecutions, regarded as trials or testings of faith (see James 1:2).
1 Peter 1:7. Trial of your faith.—“Faith is not known to be what it is until it is tested by suffering.” More precious.—The faith is meant, not the trial of it. Illustration from the severe processes found necessary for the refining of gold. “More valuable than the trial of gold, which is perishable, and that is a fiery trial.” Appearing.—Better, “revelation.” The Early Church’s expectation of Christ’s coming is very difficult to understand, but it explains many apostolic expressions.
1 Peter 1:8. Not seen.—Some MSS. read, “Whom not knowing, ye love.” Love.—The word of calm and Divinely-given attachment, not the word of warm human friendship. Compare our Lord’s commendation of those “who have not seen, yet have believed.”
1 Peter 1:9. Receiving the end.—Getting now, up to measures of capacity, all the blessings of the salvation. “Their joy and peace in believing constituted a present salvation, the pledge and earnest of final and complete deliverance.”
1 Peter 1:10. Read “prophets” without the article. Plumptre thinks St. Peter is speaking mainly, though perhaps not exclusively, of the prophets of the Apostolic Church. It is, however, usual to see reference to the prophets of the Old Testament. “All the prophets looked forward with envy to the prize now in their hands.” Have enquired.—Calvin says: “When he states that the prophets inquired and examined, this refers not to their writings or teaching, but to the private longing with which each was fired.” (Compare, however, Acts 1:6-7.)
1 Peter 1:11. Spirit of Christ.—If this does not mean the “Messianic Spirit,” it would seem to support Plumptre’s limitation to New Testament prophets. Sufferings of Christ.—τὰ εἰς Χριστόν παθήματα: the sufferings for Christ, or “which pass on unto Christ.” “The sufferings spoken of are those which the disciples were enduring for Christ, and which he thinks of as shared by Him, flowing over to Him” (Plumptre).
1 Peter 1:12. Unto us.—The better MSS. give “unto you.” Now reported.—By the Christian teachers and preachers. Application is direct to the Christian Jews of Asia Minor, who were late in receiving the good tidings, but entered into the full heritage of all the good things. Angels.—Read without the article.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 1:3-12
Present and Future Salvation.—The similarity between the “blessings” of 1 Peter 1:3 and the “blessings” of 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3, attracts attention, and requires explanation. It is quite possible that the expression, “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” had become fixed in the Early Church as a formula familiarly used; and, if so, we can readily recognise its value as a succinct statement of the primary Christian truths. It affirms that the Christian God is the one and only God, the same God whose unity and spirituality were the sacred trust of the Jewish nation; that this God, having been manifested to men in a Son, and in Sonship, may now be apprehended as the Divine Father; and that what He is to us we may learn from what He is to Christ: that Jesus is the Saviour from sin which His name expresses; and that, as Christ, or Messiah, He is sent of God to do that saving work; that He who saves from sin gains the right to rule the saved ones as Lord; and that the relation in which they stand to Him is a distinctly personal one, so that they can call Him “our Lord.” It is the Christian truth epitomised in the Christian name for God. And it fittingly introduces the references to the salvation which the Father God works by the ministry of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I. The life which the Father quickens.—“Who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope.” “A life in which hope is the energising principle” (Alford). St. Peter is not here referring, generally, to the new birth, and the new life of the soul, but specifically to that new life which comes to men in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. St. Paul’s expression helps to explain St. Peter’s. He says, “If ye then be risen with Christ”; as if for the believer in Christ there was as truly a fresh life, as there was for Christ after His resurrection. St. Peter is writing to new-born souls, to those who have the life in Christ, and purposes to set before them their Christian privileges and responsibilities. The new life which the Father quickens is a double life; it is a present life of privilege, and it is the hope of a future life of blessedness. It is a living life, in the holy cheer of a living hope. It has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. It is the life of hope which the Father quickens, through the resurrection of Christ, that is St. Peter’s great point. That was the truth to cheer persecuted Christians who were driven from their homes, perhaps with the loss of all things. What had they for their comfort, save their Christian hope? If we would understand how this new life of hope comes to us through the resurrection of Jesus, we may consider St. Peter’s own experience. That resurrection made him a new man. If St. James was our Lord’s real brother, as is assumed, his belief in Jesus as the Messiah came as the persuasion of His resurrection, and St. James was “begotten again” through the resurrection. “Mystically speaking, the moment of our emergence into this new glow of expectation was that when the Messiah Jesus, who had been cut off, emerged from among the dead.” The believer is born again to this lively hope when the fact of the resurrection is acknowledged, and its significance realised.
II. The future for which the Father quickens.—“Unto an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven.” Children are begotten, not only to life, but to the father’s property, that is their inheritance; it is theirs in reversion. Those who had been called to suffer the loss of all things might well remember that it was but a present and temporary loss—a loss of their banking account, not of their title deeds—it in no way affected their inheritance. If a man’s future is well secured, he can with comparative ease bear present disaster. The future as an inheritance is suggestively presented to us as our Heavenly Father’s home and estate; but instead of indications of the wealth and extent of it, our minds are occupied with the differences between it and the inheritances of earth. It is unchangeable, holy, permanent. Earthly properties are ever changing their values; sometimes consist of things of a low and degrading character, and are always uncertain; riches have a way of spreading wings. The Pontine dispersion had lost their inheritance in Palestine, but they have in no sense lost their title to their Father’s heavenly inheritance.
III. The keeping until the future is ready.—“Who by the power of God are guarded through faith.” It were but to lift a part of the load to assure the persecuted believers that an inheritance for them was held in reserve. What would ensure their preservation through their present struggles; and what could be done for them in the long waiting-time? They were to think of themselves as now being kept, being guarded. That includes the supply of every present need, if only they can realise that it is their God and Father who is keeping His sons until the time of their entering on their inheritance. His keeping is fulness of blessing. But the keeping of God implies the watching and effort of the believer. The keeping is done through, or in connection with, the believer’s faith. He must keep up his faith if God is to keep him. The term that is used and translated in R.V., “guarding,” is a military term. As the heir of a royal house is never allowed to be without a watchful attendant, so for every “heir of salvation” there are God’s attendant ministering spirits. We are safe, we may be satisfied, till our day of possession comes round.
IV. The discipline of the keeping time.—“Though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold temptations;” trials. A most sympathetic and wise reference to the calamities and afflictions which these Christians had to endure. St. Peter would have them thought of as only the school-boy discipline of the heir to an estate, who must be duly prepared for his coming responsibilities and privileges. Moral character can only be moulded through a discipline of severe experiences; and when we have entered on our inheritance, our surprise will be that God has been enabled to accomplish in us such fitness for it through so few earthly trials. Observe the suggestive relation of the many and various trials and the “little while” for which we have to be disciplined by them. There is always this great consolation connected with our earthly trials: they never do stay long. There is no element of permanency in human troubles. They would not be disciplinary if there were. They cannot stay one moment after God’s purpose in them is fully wrought. And so we can always truthfully speak of “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” And there is always this consolation: God’s discipline now is the guarantee that He is preparing us for something by-and-bye.
V. The present possession of that future.—“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” “Faith is the substance”—the actual, present realisation—“of things hoped for.” It is in one sense true that the heir to an estate, while he is only the heir, has nothing; but it is also true that in the feeling that all is coming to him, he has a present possession of everything; and, moreover, he has the use, up to present needs, of all that belongs to the estate. So the believer has all the comfort of knowing heaven is coming, and for the supply of all his present needs he has the full use of all the heavenly things. The attention of these persecuted men is turned away from the loss of their worldly goods, to the untouched, ever abundant supplies of spiritual good, which really are some of their future inheritance come to them now. “Poor in this world, rich in faith, heirs of the kingdom.”
VI. The advantage which Christians have over Jews in this present spiritual possession.—The Jews’ advantages were all in the material, earthly sphere. A land of Canaan; a formal and ceremonial religion; an obedience of works. According to their ideas, a Messiah as an earthly conqueror and King. So outward was the entire Jewish range, that the more devout souls, the prophets, anxiously looked forward to the spiritual time, which the Christians had now entered upon (1 Peter 1:10-12). So far from Christian Jews wanting to go back to formal Judaism, the best Jews of the ages had always wanted to get on to Christianity; and even the angels were profoundly interested in this spiritual dispensation. There is nothing to envy in the past. It has had its day; it fitted to the needs of its day. But it only fitted to the average needs of men. In the old times the better, the more spiritual, men could not rest in it, could not be satisfied with it. Abraham “rejoiced to see Christ’s day.” And so did every man of faith, every man of spiritual insight and spiritual feeling, all down through the ages. If they anticipated the spiritual dispensation, how foolish those actually in the spiritual dispensation must be if they hankered after, and thought of returning upon, the old and formal and preparatory one.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 1:3. Hope as a Power in Moulding Character.—Three great graces—faith, hope, and love—are the abiding graces, vital in their influence on character, and central in their relations to Christianity; combining, they produce all the “fruits of the Spirit.” Faith, taking hold on the unseen, prevents us from giving too much heed to that which is visible; Hope, taking hold on the future, prevents us from giving undue attention to that which is temporal and present; Love, taking hold on the unselfish and the Divine, prevents us from being absorbed in carnal and idolatrous self-interest. In the original the emphasis grammatically falls on the word hope, for while the other words are participles, this is in the imperative. Literally translated, it would read thus: “Wherefore, girding up the loins of your mind, being sober, hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The text suggests the power of hope as an inspiration in character and conduct, and indicates the objects of Christian hope, and the time when those objects shall be most gloriously and fully revealed.
I. Look at the power of hope in human character.—What makes the difference between human beings and beasts? Very largely, the presence of hope as a factor in character. Hope is one of the foremost elements in human character; distinguishing man as man, giving him a higher rank than all the rest of the animal creation. And as it is a necessary factor in character, so it is in human progress. Any conditions in human society which tend to repress or suppress hope are abnormal and unnatural, and hostile to man’s well-being. We glory in our American civilisation because, more than in any other country on the face of the earth, men may here rise, give scope to hope, foster aspirations, and encourage all rational expectations. Hope presents a perpetual incentive to progress; not an ignis fatuus, a will-o’-the-wisp, beguiling us into marsh and mire, but impelling us continually onward to things higher and better. If we could reach our own ideal, further progress would be impossible. And hope helps us to bear trials. It surrounds us with a kind of “elastic medium,” so that when the terrible afflictions of this life beat against us, they rebound from us. There is a power in hope that prevents the severity of their blows from crushing us.
II. What are the objects set before the Christian hope?—“The grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Few of us ever think of this. When we speak of the grace that is revealed, we think of what is already manifested, of Golgotha with its cross, of Gethsemane with its agony, of the Garden with its rent tomb, of the ascending Christ and the descending Spirit. But in the third verse of this chapter the apostle says God “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter is speaking of something future, not grace already manifested, but an inheritance “reserved in heaven,” “ready to be revealed in the last time.” And so here, “The grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ’s incarnation was not a revelation. His Divinity was rather hidden within the veil of His humanity: only now and then the glory of that Divinity shone forth, and then His disciples saw that He was the Son of God, and realised for a moment the greatness and the grandeur of His personality. When Jesus was here He was in disguise. God was only feebly and faintly manifested in the flesh, which obscured the glory. But when Christ comes a second time, no longer to make a sin-offering, but to bring full salvation unto His people, then will be the revelation of Jesus Christ. He will come like the King in His glory, and with Him all the holy angels and saints; not to pursue a weary way from the manger to the cross, but as a King to reveal and unfold Himself; and that will be the revelation of Christ. All the grace that comes to you, from the hour of your regeneration to the hour of your complete sanctification, is nothing in comparison with the grace that is to be revealed to you by Christ in the day when you are presented, faultless, before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. When Christ shall come to receive His saints to Himself there will be a revelation of grace in comparison with which all the grace that you now have, or have previously known, will be but as a drop in comparison to the ocean.
III. The contrast between the objects of Christian hope and worldly hope.—What God promises stands firm—a verity, a reality; there is an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. You do not see that inheritance yet. You are like a minor who has not yet entered on his estate, but who receives the revenue of it as the payments of interest come in: and so we have a foretaste of our future inheritance; the Spirit of God gives us an earnest of our possession until the day of redemption. There is nothing illusive in the Divine promise. And consider, once more, the permanence and reliability of the Christian objects of desire and expectation. We come to a limit in this world. You may have all the treasure of the world, and yet when death comes, from your relaxing grasp all these things disappear. You may have been applauded and admired by the world, but the applause of men will fade and faint on your ear as you reach the gates of the tomb. The glory of your possessions and your achievements will all pale and grow dim when you face the last great destroyer. But, blessed be God, the point at which human hopes are utterly blasted is the point at which Christian expectations only arrive at their consummation.—A. T. Pierson, D.D.
The Resurrection the Chief Doctrine of Christian Faith.—If Christ had not risen from the dead there would be no Christianity; our faith would be in vain, and our hope void, the whole gospel a farce, and there would be no forgiveness of sin. The resurrection of Christ is the basis of all that we have and hope and love in Christ, but especially have we in it the surety of the hope of eternal life, because thereby all fear of death has been banished, and future blessedness and life have become a reality in Christ Jesus. He is our Head, and we through faith are members of His body. And since our Head has overcome sin and death and Satan, we partake of the triumph and the victory. For He has conquered our enemies for us and not for Himself. The victory is ours, as is also the triumph. When a ruler or a general conquers the enemies of a kingdom, he indeed triumphs, but the fruits and glories of the victory belong to the whole country and to all the citizens. Therefore all Christians triumph with Christ in His glorious resurrection.—Gossner’s Schatz-Kästlein.
The Resurrection Mystically Treated.—St. Peter is speaking, so far as himself is concerned, not mystically but literally, as his history before and after the resurrection shows. To him and to the other apostles the resurrection was a regeneration, and they became new beings. To subsequent Christians precisely the same effect takes place when (suddenly or gradually) the fact of the resurrection is acknowledged and its significance realised (Philippians 3:10). Yet we must not confine the meaning of the words to the effects of this conscious realisation. St. Peter is reviewing the transaction theologically—i.e., from God’s point of view, not phenomenally, from man’s. He speaks of the begetting, not of the being born—of the resurrection itself, not of the preaching of the resurrection. To God, with whom, according to St. Peter, time does not exist (2 Peter 3:8), there is no interval between His begetting of Christ again from the dead (Acts 13:33; Revelation 1:5) and His begetting of us again thereby. In the mystery of our union with the Incarnate Word, historical resurrection did, through baptism, in some ineffable manner, infuse into us the grace which makes new creatures of us. Archbishop Leighton well says, “Not only is it” [the resurrection] “the exemplar, but the efficient cause of our new birth.”—A. J. Mason, M.A.
I. In these words our attention is directed to Jesus Christ.—“Jesus Christ” is a name above all other names on earth. Many great names of heroes, military conquerors, philosophers, poets, scholars, artists, musical composers, scientific investigators, and discoverers, and great religious reformers, are dear to the heart of this country, and of the whole civilised world. But the name of Jesus is above all other names. Every Sabbath is the weekly memorial of His triumphant resurrection.
II. Jesus Christ is considered in His human nature.—“Seed of David.” See Matthew’s Genealogy. He was also Son of God. “Thou art My Son.” “In the beginning was the Word.” As God, He could make an atonement for human sins. Yet He was human; a real man, with all our liabilities and limitations, experiencing our infirmities, and having a fellow-feeling with us.
III. The emphasis given to our Lord’s resurrection.—“Remember.” The resurrection is more than a fact. Many facts are secret or private. But the resurrection of Jesus was a public, and thus a historical fact.
IV. The entire Christian Church—east and west, north and south, is founded on the fact.—Every individual church, of every name and denomination, is founded on the fact. The church in Antioch, the apostolic churches in Europe, and all other churches, are built up on the same foundation. The observance of the Lord’s day bears testimony to the fact of His resurrection.
V. The disciples of our Lord proclaimed far and wide the fact of the Lord’s resurrection.—They had seen the Lord, and they went into details. They preached everywhere, Christ the Crucified, and Christ the Risen. For their testimony they braved opposition, odium, and obloquy. Jesus also foretold His resurrection. Consider three theories.
1. Some person or persons had taken His body and hidden it. They could have had no motive for such theft.
2. His enemies took it and hid it, It was in their interest, as His enemies, to produce His body after the third day.
3. The disciples themselves stole the body and hid it. How could they dare martyrdom for a fable?
VI. The Resurrection is a joyful fact.—“According to My gospel.” It was part of the “glad tidings of great joy” which it was His pride and delight to proclaim. The apostle appropriated it with rapture. “My” gospel. “Remember.” We are apt, in the daily jostle of daily business and engagements, to push aside and to forget this fact. Hence the importance of the anniversary of Easter Day, and of every successive Sabbath Day.—James Morison, D.D.
1 Peter 1:3-9. The Living Hope of the Christian.
I. What gives us this hope? (1 Peter 1:3).—It is God who docs this, according to His great mercy. Without this love of God there is fear of Him, and a lack of trust in Him on the part of man, and an endeavour to base and build upon other foundations. Yet all of these prove to be dead hopes, and end in self-deception, or even despair. The living God, through the resurrection of His Son, has given a firm foundation for a living hope; the resurrection being the sure evidence that Christ’s atonement for our sins has been accepted, and that in Him and Him alone we can hope.
II. Who can entertain this hope? (1 Peter 1:5).—It is those who are guarded through faith unto salvation. The only assurance and certainty in this living hope springs from the faith in God’s mercy, and Christ’s life and work. And reasons to believe we have now, as many as had the early Christians. To them, indeed, the Lord appeared visibly, even to Paul; but we have His sure Word and testimony, and the Holy Spirit working through that Word, convincing and convicting the heart.
III. What does this hope bring? (1 Peter 1:4).—It is an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled which this living hope guarantees. All this, however, is only possible under the presupposition that those who are to receive this realisation of their hopes are also alive, and have been raised from the tomb. Christ’s resurrection is thus to us also a sure sign that we too shall rise and live in and with Him eternally.—Wilhelm Bauer.
1 Peter 1:4-5. The Inheritance.—Most of the salutations in the epistles refer to the privileges of believers. We often dwell on the things which we do not possess, but in these introductions we are reminded of the things which we do possess. Our names are down in the old register—the election book. See 1 Peter 1:2. We trace back our lineage. Every step of the inquiry delights us, as we move from one number of the pedigree to another—martyr, apostle, prophet, priest, king, to the father of the faithful, yea, to Enoch, Enos, and Abel. But the last step is the grandest—to see our name in the old book of election by grace. The new birth,—see 1 Peter 1:3. We have a new heart of love and tenderness. We are bidden to look forward to the inheritance of the saints in light.
I. That by the promise of the gospel we are entitled to an inheritance.—Begotten again, we are children, and as such, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The words which the apostle uses in the text appear synonymous, and yet they are not. (See the original.)
1. Immortal in its nature.—“Incorruptible.” The final state of godliness will be of such a spiritual nature that corruption will be impossible. In other words, it will be a state without sin, and, consequently, without its destructive effects. Present experience has its moments of foretaste of that state. Let us examine this matter. Returning on Wednesday evening from Box Hill, the heavens were generally covered with clouds, but in the west the setting sun had riven the clouds, and there was a streak of beautiful blue sky. So is Christian experience—clouds generally, but here and there beautiful light. I will look towards the heaven of your soul. Before the cross and the end of the ninth hour, the light returned. So when conviction made way for conversion; on the mount of transfiguration, overshadowed by the cloud of glory. So communion with God. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” Look to 1 Peter 1:18-19; 1 Peter 1:23, of this chapter. The life of Jesus is immortal—invulnerable. Strike the light, but you cannot wound it: so is the truth. Touches of these speak of the state when all shall be undying—thought, praise, purity, joy, etc.—all undying.
2. Pure in its administration.—“Undefiled.” It will be a state the enjoyment of which will preclude the possibility of abuse. The most perfect and delicate flower is the most susceptible of being tarnished or destroyed; the touch of the finger will do this. So with the Christian virtues. When we would do good, evil is present. There are interruptions. Let us name one or two. Interruption to continuous religious thought. The astronomer making observations, and the cloud coming between. Some gloomy thought. There are also circumstances outside ourselves that do this. Like the withering blast of the east wind, our prospects are often blighted. But the state of heaven will be such that no clouds will darken the mind, and no trials will harass the heart. The touch will be pure—even if we touch the throne itself there will be no dark Mark 3:0. Perpetual in its beauty. “That fadeth not away.” The beauty that was, has faded; the beauty that is, is fading; and the beauty that is to come must fade here—Nature’s beauty, human beauty, and fortune itself. Moral beauty. The fair and promising young man has gone wrong. Look at yonder garden. Body like unto His glorious body. The soul without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. Virtue eternal as its Author.
4. Distant in its location.—“Reserved in heaven.” You must remove to a new scene, where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest. No battlefields there; no hospitals; no graveyards. No, not even a trace of sin. “Reserved.” Some lovely spot. “Behold, I go and prepare a place for you,”—crowns, thrones, etc.
II. That believers are now kept under guard and discipline in order to the future enjoyment of that blessed state.—
1. Faith is the medium of power.—The power of resistance, and the power of perseverance. To reign with Christ in life is full of inspiration. We lay hold of eternal life.
2. Salvation is the end of faith. What is the voice of faith but a cry for a better state? We cannot rest till we reach the goal. We press forward.
3. Time is the revealer of salvation. You will see. The ages have rolled on—wonderful things. Time’s last effort. Bring in the inheritance. What is our title?—Anon.
1 Peter 1:5. Kept by the Power of God.—Believers, as a class, are thus described: “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” The words bring before us the doctrine commonly known as that of “final perseverance,” as opposed to that of possible defection and perdition on the part of true believers and regenerated sinners. Look at the objections to this doctrine, as they seem to weigh upon the minds, not of speculative theologians, but of practical experimental Christians, whose belief is, in purpose and profession, founded on the word of God and the experience of His people. The objections are twofold:
(1) The doctrine is unscriptural;
(2) it is of evil tendency. These are virtually one; for the objection to the doctrine as unscriptural has no substantive existence or foundation apart from its imputed or alleged pernicious tendencies in practice. It must be admitted that in Scripture there is no categorical denial of this doctrine, or any statement absolutely inconsistent with it. If it is rejected it must be because it is believed to be pernicious. What, then, is the evil tendency imputed to this doctrine?
1. It is said to assume the final perseverance of the saints to be secured by a power inherent in themselves, or by something in the very nature of a saving change, precluding all defection as a sheer impossibility, entirely irrespective of the subject’s own religious state or dispositions, or of any influence exterior to him, over and above the impulse given at conversion, or the vis inertiœ of his new-born nature—a belief which may be justly charged with tending to indulge a proud reliance upon self, and an habitual security, alike dishonouring to God and dangerous to man.
2. The only proof which it requires of the saving clause, from which it draws its proud security and absolute immunity from danger, is the consciousness or memory of inward exercises, not susceptible of formal proof, and wholly independent of the actual condition of the subject at the time when he asserts his claim to this prerogative or privilege of absolute exemption from the risk or possibility of a fall from grace. The rejection of the doctrine is always based on the assumption of an inherent independent power of self-preservation, or the sufficiency of mere subjective states and exercises, to demonstrate the possession of that power. But no such assumptions are imputed in the word of God. As in our text, the preservation is explicitly described as the effect of a power exterior and superior to themselves, as effected by a sovereign, a Divine, an almighty agency. If all depend upon the action of Omnipotence (the power of God), where is the pernicious tendency? If we can no more, in and of ourselves, secure our own continuance in this state than we could create it, or create ourselves, or than we could create a World, “where is boasting then? It is excluded.” It may, however, be said that if we look upon the exercise of the power of God as absolutely and irrevocably pledged for our protection, the tendency of this belief to generate security and licence is as evident and strong as if the power were inherent in ourselves; nay, more so, since the power, instead of being finite, is now infinite; instead of being human, is Divine; instead of being ours is God’s, and yet completely under our control. This specious representation quietly assumes that we ascribe the perseverance of believers to an absolute, immediate act of power, without the use of means or the prescription of conditions. But this aspersion on the doctrine is wiped off by the simple but authoritative language of the text, which, so far from representing this conservative agency of God’s grace and omnipotence as acting independently of faith in the preserved and persevering subject, holds up faith itself as in a certain sense the means by which the perseverance is secured, by which the preservation is effected. Faith is not a thing to be assumed at pleasure, but to be established as conclusive evidence; not that of consciousness, or memory, or fancy, but of actual experience and practice. Where the fruits of faith are not, there is no evidence of faith. Where faith is not, there is no pledge of God’s omnipotence to save from falling. It is only those who have this faith and bear this fruit that have a right to claim a place among the happy souls who are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”—J. A. Alexander, D.D.
Kept unto Salvation.—Many of God’s people are at times full of fears concerning their personal interest in Christ. Perhaps it ought not to be so. We have to face the fact that it often is so. The work of sanctification is a quiet, gradual, unseen work, of which we cannot accurately trace all the stages. It may be likened to the currents that run below the surface of the ocean, and secretly bear the vessel on its way, or out of its way. Or it may be likened to the steady march of time, which changes all earthly things, wears away the framework of the Pyramids, and crumbles down the everlasting hills, though, watch as we may, we can hardly follow the process. In our times of fear, we more often doubt our right to the Divine promises than doubt the general fulfilment of the promises. At our darkest times we are assured that the promises are “yea and amen” for those, to whom they are given. Our difficulty is that they are not given to us. Sometimes these feelings follow on the encouragement of some loved sin. Keep that sin; call it by some milder name though you may, it will stand between you and God. Like the host of Israel that went forth against the city of Ai, you will return from your toil defeated and disgraced if some accursed thing be kept within your camp. Sometimes they follow on neglected means of grace. Only as the soul maintains a constant intercourse with God can it maintain a constant assurance of His love. Sometimes they follow on watching too minutely our own thoughts, and frames, and feelings. We may soon come to put our trust in those feelings, and then every change in our feeling will fling a shadow over us, and feeble feeling will fill us with despair. In our text may be found a threefold description of the true child of God, by the help of which we may scatter the doubts and fears that loom over us. He is one
(1) on whom the preserving power of God rests;
(2) one in whom the spirit of faith is working;
(3) one for whom salvation is prepared.
I. The child of God is one on whom the preserving power of God rests.—This is a description which links the believer with the king-psalmist of Israel, whose poetically recorded experiences we so greatly enjoy. Perhaps there was no thought brought so much peace to the psalmist as the thought that he was “kept by God.” To his thought, God was “a sun and a shield; the Lord would give grace and glory.” His prayer was, “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” God was to him “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land”: “the Keeper of Israel, who never slumbered nor slept.” He could say of God, “I flee unto Thee to hide me.” Christian experience ever deepens our conviction of our own weakness; our inability to protect and keep ourselves. We feel more and more every day that we need a guarding as well as a guiding hand. The promises Christ gave to His disciples show that this need was recognised. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” Those disciples are the sheep and lambs of Christ’s flock. They may be quite sure that the Shepherd is ever near to protect, defend, and keep. Our Lord, in His great intercessory prayer, said, “I kept them in Thy name, and none of them is lost.” Discipleship to Christ involves Divine keeping; and the Saviour prayed as though He were bound to give an account to God of each believer’s safety. We may realise this preserving power of God in several ways.
1. In the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. No doubt the operations of the Spirit are mysterious. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth.” But He does take up His abode in the believing soul. His presence pledges the fact of the change wrought in us. His operation is designed to preserve the soul from all evil, and to guide it into all truth. Source whence all Divine blessings for the soul flow, whence all the food of the spiritual life comes, whence all developments of the spiritual life receive their furtherance, that Spirit is no less the “Great Heart” guide, by whom the pilgrim is defended and preserved, the champion by whom his foes are defeated and his difficulties overcome. His presence is our seal unto the day of redemption; His work to keep the soul unto the full salvation that is prepared. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the fulfilment of all the promises of the Divine Presence. When Moses stood before the burning bush, and received the Divine command for the deliverance of Israel, he was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the charge, and received this comforting and strengthening assurance: “Certainly I will be with thee.” That promise was fulfilled in the presence with him of God’s Holy Spirit. When Jeremiah pleaded his incapacity for the prophetic office, so earnestly saying, “Ah, Lord God; behold, I cannot speak! for I am a child,” God’s promise came, comforting him: “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.” That also was fulfilled in the presence of God the Spirit. And how much to us all is that promise and assurance of our ascending Saviour, “Lo, I am with you all the days, even unto the end of the world.” However else we may think that promise to have been fulfilled, it was certainly fulfilled in the abiding presence with us of the Holy Spirit. We imagine a sort of threefold Divine presence that we enjoy. A presence of God the Father—a Divine eye watching our every step, searching our every thought and purpose; a presence of God the Son, the living Friend to whom our thoughts may be made known, whose companionship we may daily enjoy; and a presence of God the Spirit, working within us, checking, inspiring, guiding, keeping. But, if we think a little closely, shall we not find that these three are one? If we have the presence of the Spirit, have we not each person of the blessed Trinity—the loving Father, the only-begotten Son, and the all presiding Spirit. Surely the whole promise of a present God is fulfilled for you, if you know that the Spirit of God is with you. If you know His power in your heart, rejoice; it is the power of God, a power efficient to keep you unto the salvation ready to be revealed.
2. In the strength we derive from the exercise of prayer. The spirit of prayer is illustrated in the wrestling of Jacob with the angel at the Brook Jabbok. Intense earnestness is expressed in that determination, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” Prayer is a laying hold of the Divine arm, a reliance on the Divine strength. The very terms of Christian prayer indicate our sense of God’s interest in us, and concern for us. “Abba, Father,” gathers about us fatherly love, fatherly watchfulness, and fatherly preservations. Thankfulness in prayer is the recognition of the hand of goodness ever over us. And the substance of all prayer is, that in all the forms of our spiritual toil and struggle we may have the help of God; we may not be left to our own weakness; we may be upheld and kept. And so of all the answers we receive to our prayer. They may be summed up in one thing: the realisation of God’s presence with us, and power resting on us. The sense of Divine aid, Divine inspiration, Divine keeping, which we may bear about with us day by day, is the answer to our prayer.
3. In the actual experience of the believer. In their temple service the Jewish people might well sing, “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge,” because their entire history was lit up with continual signs of His presence and power. Delivered from the house of bondage with a high hand, the sea saw the majesty of their leader, and fled, leaving a highway for God’s people; waste deserts became lands of plenty, and foes failed when Israel’s God marched before them. Manifested in burning bush and fiery pillar, ruling as Theocratic King, raising up one and setting down another, delivering and redeeming again and again, no truth was brought home to the Jew like this one, “The Lord of hosts is with us.” And we are the Israel of God. The power of God is witnessed in all our past history. Looking at the way in which the Lord hath led us, we say, again and again, There God guided; there God preserved; there God conquered for us; there foes gathered thickly, but God put His hedge of mercy round us; there we made mistakes, and wandered into by-paths that might have led us to destruction, but God in mercy restored our wandering feet. Over all our past may well be written, “Kept by the power of God.” We have been like that servant of the prophet. We could see that the house was surrounded with foes, and there was no way of escape. We could not see what, nevertheless, we might have seen, that the mountains all round about were full of the chariots and horsemen of the Lord. Far “greater were those with us than all that could be against us.”
II. One in whom the spirit of faith is working.—Faith is often dealt with as connected with our first approach to God; as the gate at the head of the way of life. But we need to see that this same “faith” is called for throughout the whole course of the Christian life. We live day by day, spiritually, only as we believe; our strength, our comfort, our success, are in direct proportions to our faith. The work being carried on in your hearts is a spiritual work; you cannot watch it with your bodily eyes. The Being working is a spiritual Being; you can never see Him by your side. His way of working is a spiritual way; you may not always discover it: only faith brings the comfort of the Divine strength and nearness. That is true for us which was but fabled of an ancient prince. He had lost his father, and when setting out to endeavour to gain tidings of him, one of the divinities came down, took the form of an aged counsellor, and accompanied him in all his journeyings. That is true for us, but we only feel it, only get the joy of it, only know the impulses of it, only walk strongly and safely, as faith realises the fact. There is a great difference between knowing things with the mind, and believing them with the heart. The doctrines, commands, and promises of God lie within this sacred book like dry bones in the valley. They are mere forms of truth; mere declarations of Divine wisdom; beautiful enough, but cold and dead. Faith comes, the faith which says, This is the Word of God, and the Word of God to me—and then the dry bones live; a creative breath seems to have passed over them all. Without faith the Word of God is as a harp fully strung, but silent. Even in its silence one feels there are within it the possibilities of beauteous song. But let faith come, and touch the chords; then music is drawn forth, which seems like earth-echoes of the angels’ songs above. Now it may be warlike tones, wild and clear, that nerve the Christian’s arm, and send him boldly forth to fight the good fight of faith; now gentle, soothing strains that calm the troubled breast, and whisper to the torn and tried, God’s eternal peace. Have faith in God. Lay hold thereby of the power of God. Let that be the spirit in you which grasps the Divine energy that would rest upon you. With the power on you, and the faith in you, you shall be kept unto the salvation prepared. Learn from that great chapter of Hebrews how faith can work in daily life. Faith marked the acceptable worship Abel offered. Faith gave the triumph in the hour of Enoch’s translation. Faith kept Noah when the judgments of God were in the earth. Faith guided Abraham in his journeyings. Faith saved Moses in the moments of danger. Faith discomfited the foes of God’s Israel. And what shall we more say? Time would fail to tell the triumphs of daily faith, the toil it helps us to perform; the sorrow it helps us to bear; the wisdom it helps us to gain; the evils it helps us to fight; the glory it helps us to win.
III. One for whom salvation is prepared.—Our salvation begins when we begin to live for God. Peter speaks of “receiving now the end of your faith, even the salvation of your soul.” But that salvation has another stage. It is really as yet undeveloped. “Now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be.” The salvation now is salvation in the world, that shall be salvation from the world. This is salvation going on amid dangers, temptations, and evils: that shall be salvation perfected in scenes of holy rest, and triumph, and peace. And that fuller salvation is ready, prepared, waiting to be revealed. This further salvation is God’s purpose in the work of His Son. However much the work of Christ accomplishes for us here on earth; however God’s grace beautifies character, conquers evil, gladdens the home, gilds life with brightness, and crowds it with blessing, we cannot limit the great salvation to that which is earthly and fleeting. The purpose of God in redemption is wide and broad and deep as the everlasting life, and long as the everlasting ages. It may find you a poor sinful soul, low down in degradation; it will cleanse all stains, heal all wounds, and bless you now; but it will not rest satisfied until you are placed as a polished jewel in the crown of the Redeeming King. This is the design of the preserving power that rests upon you. For what does He keep you I Why does an eye that never slumbers nor sleeps watch Israel? Why does the Almighty Friend ever abide with us? Why? It is this: that we are being “kept” to the salvation that is ready to be revealed. This is the end of our faith. Faith grasps much for this life; but it is like the foreign bird, brought from sunnier climes—it ever seems to be stretching its wings and striking the bars of its cage, as though it would be away to the home it loves. Faith, a heavenly thing, born of God, in sympathy with the high and heavenly, will press beyond the struggling and darkness of time, and strive to gain the light and peace of eternity. And all is to be revealed in the last time. We know when that is. When the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they be few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened; when the silver cord shall be loosed, and the golden bowl be broken; when the dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return unto God who gave it;—then shall the full salvation be revealed, and we shall enter the New Jerusalem, from whence they go out no more, and where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. Kept now for sanctifying, one day we shall be glorified.
1 Peter 1:6. Rejoicing and Heaviness.—This verse seems to gather up the thought of the first nine verses. The tone of this epistle reveals the sanctifying influence of a Christian experience upon St. Peter. What strikes attention is the recognition of the twofoldness of religious life. If it breathes the air of heaven, it treads the soil of earth. We are often surprised to find the life is a constant struggle, and the soul is calm with a Divine peace. St. Peter intimates that this is the very thing we should expect. The best men cannot always live in the sunshine of hope. A Christian life on earth can hardly fail to be a mingling of rejoicing and heaviness.
I. The spirit of the Christian should usually be a spirit of rejoicing.—
1. The rejoicing of love (1 Peter 1:8). Love to Christ. The love that comes with faith in the unseen. Accepted love is our deepest source of earthly joy. We feel a holy pride when we can say of the Lord Jesus, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend.”
2. The rejoicing of the promised future (1 Peter 1:4). But the future finds nothing for the soul apart from Christ. Heaven is everything if the “Lamb be the light thereof.”
II. The spirit of the Christian may be for a time a spirit of heaviness.—The rejoicing is “without limit.” The sadness is “for a season,” and “if needs be.” The heaviness comes from the trying, testing, of the very faith whence the rejoicing comes. The struggle of life may be expressed in this form: Under how thick darkness can you cling to Christ? Beaten how ever severely by foes, can you still keep hold on Christ, refusing to be beaten off! Whatever your earth-trials may be, remember they are but passing things. The soul’s restful joy in God should be deep, abiding, eternal.
Note by Archbishop Leighton.—“His scope is to stir up and strengthen spiritual joy in his afflicted brethren. In this thing ye rejoice, that ye are begotten again; that there is such an inheritance, and that you are made heirs of it; that it is kept for you, and you for it; that nothing can come betwixt you and it, and disappoint you of possessing and enjoying it. Though there be many deserts and mountains and seas in the way, yet you are ascertained that you shall come safely thither.”
The Christian State.—
1. The Christian state is properly one of deep and abiding joy. See this in St. Paul.
(1) Joy in the salvation wrought by God.
(2) Joy in the salvation resting on God. A deep-sea calm. An above-clouds calm.
2. Apparently, the Christian state is one of agitation, anxiety, and heaviness. Observe, however, the qualifications of this—“for a season,” “if needs be.” Still, even with these qualifications, the Christian state is often one of heaviness. How is this? The soul’s joy is the sign of a life of faith, and this must be tested, as in the case of Abraham, David, Peter. Can anything keep up the soul’s joy under the heaviness.
(1) Assurance that it is testing, not destruction, not punishment.
(2) Assurance that God is watching the process, regarding it as a precious work of refining.
(3) Seeing that the designed issue is a simpler hold of Christ; a clearer spiritual sight of Him. And so, through the experience, the joy really becomes “unspeakable and full of glory.” And so we receive now the end of our faith, the salvation of our souls (a) from fear, (b) from sin, (c) from corruption. And thus we are made ready for Christ’s appearing. We see what we ought to regard as our great Christian treasure—our souls’ joy in the great salvation. We are sure to have the joy if only we have, and can keep, holy admirations of Christ.
The Future in the Present.—St. Peter here states a fact of common human experience, which takes its highest form in the Christian spheres. The future we anticipate does exert a present influence on us. What is to be is everywhere helping men to bear what is. The “castles in the air” of the boy or girl at school help them over present tasks and discipline. The future of business success strengthens men to bear with and to overcome present perplexities and difficulties. The “good time coming,” the “golden age,” are not altogether things in the by-and-bye. They are actually with us now, in the cheer and strength they give.
1 Peter 1:8. Things Unseen.—It takes a very strenuous effort to bring the unseen Christ before the mind habitually, and so as to produce effects in the life. You have to shut out a great deal besides, in order to do that; as a man will shade his eyes with his hand in order to see some distant thing the more clearly. Keep out the cross lights, that you may look forward. You cannot see the stars when you are walking down a town street and the gas lamps are lit. All those violet depths, and calm abysses, and blazing worlds, are concealed from you by the glare at your side. So, if you want to see into the depths and the heights, to see the great white throne and the Christ on it, who helps you to fight, you have to go out unto Him beyond the camp, and leave all its dazzling lights behind you.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The Love of One Unseen.—In Peter we have not a highly intellectual, cultured man, so it was not given to him to set the first forms and shapes to the expression of Christian doctrine. For that work the Apostle Paul was specially called, endowed, and educated, and the fitness of the Divine choice of instruments has never been more fully demonstrated than in the selection of Paul for that particular work. Peter evidently had a larger heart than head; his great feature was impulsiveness: sometimes it led him astray into forwardness, presumption, and over-positiveness; but sometimes it enabled him to make noble testimonies, and even sometimes to force an entrance into mysteries whose doors refused to yield at the bidding of sanctified intellect. It may be said, in a comprehensive way, that we are indebted to Paul for Christian truths that may be thought out. Paul, in his most enthusiastic moments, is a man of mind and culture, and he abundantly proves that the intellectual man need not be a cold, hard, dry, or unloving man. Again and again we find his soul catching fire of the truth with which he deals, all aglow with the fervour and enthusiasm which the truth he studies enkindles; bursting out in intense utterances of adoration, as if the emotions of his heart must force the bonds of silence, and send forth at least a cry. Peter adds to the circle of Christian truth and doctrine almost wholly those forms which bring satisfaction to the heart, which are found out by the sensitiveness of Christian emotion; and so his words come to us like fresh revelations in particular moods of our feeling. In our times of meditation, of quickened emotion, of sacramental preparation, we shall find words of Peter frequently suggested, and largely helpful; by their aid our souls may often gain wing, and fly into the innermost recesses of communion with Christ, and with His truth. Peter’s words have often proved, through the Divine Spirit, live coals from off the altar, which have reillumined the smouldering love of our souls, and set the flame rising high again, and burning bright for consuming the dross of self and sin. Our text is one of his most characteristic and best-remembered words. I envy no man who is so unsusceptible to its tenderness, its thrill of emotion, and its hallowed suggestiveness, that he can coldly study it, take it to pieces, criticise it, and set out the precise meaning of its parts. I cannot. I shall not try to. I shall not satisfy anybody to-day who asks exactly what it means, what it teaches and what it involves. I have wanted it to be to me a live coal, setting fire to holy feelings of love and truth within me. And now I want it to be a live coal to you, kindling such fires of thankfulness, faith, and love in you, that we may have an unusual time of refreshing and hallowed joy in presence of the emblems of our suffering, dying Saviour to-day. I want to lead you along this line of thought, staying a little while at each point for the needful unfolding and illustration. Salvation comes by love to a Person; that love may be sight-quickened, that love may be faith-quickened; the love quickened by faith will be altogether nobler, mightier, more satisfying than the love quickened by sight.
I. Salvation comes by love to a Person.—I am always trying to make you see what a large, comprehensive thing our salvation is. With its varied forms of beginning, with its many-sided applications as it continues its working, and with its many endings of relation to soul-life, body-life, and social life, the salvation of a man may well be called “so great salvation.” Looking in some directions towards God and conditions of reconciliation and acceptance with Him; in others, towards ourselves and the effectual removal of the very love of sinning; and in yet others, towards our fellowmen, and perfecting the harmony of our intercourse with them;—verily a man’s salvation does grow to our thought as a very wide, rich, comprehensive thing. I cannot get all the fulness of the idea of a man’s salvation into the word conversion; that is but a point of it, a stage in it, a portion of it. Nor will it all go into the word sanctification; that, too, expresses a part only. The Bible words are regeneration and salvation—wide words, that arch over a man’s life, from the moment of spiritual awakening right through to the moment of “presenting faultless before the glory,” even as the arched dome of heaven spans our earth from utmost east to utmost west. Can we get any worthier impression of what God intends, and what he prophetically sees realised, when he begins to save a man? Surely He anticipates the poor half-burnt brand, not only plucked from the fire, but the fire-marks taken away; the brand quickened with new life, grafted into the true vine, filled in every duct and vessel with the rich vine sap, and bringing forth abundant fruit. The brand is not fully saved until the grape clusters hang thickly upon it. Surely when God touches the heart of the poor, weary, homeless, despised, and despairing prodigal with the thought of love and home, it is in the hope of finding him one day settled in the old son’s place, and filled with the old child-spirit of obedience and trust. The prodigal is not saved by being put back into the home, he is only saved when he gets again the spirit of the home. What does God see as the final issue when He begins to save a man? Surely a sight that must fill with rejoicing that heavenly Father’s heart. He sees one clothed in white robes, all stainless, which are the emblem of one at last made all pure and “glorious within.” He sees one crowned with a crown which is the seal of final victory in the life-battle with sin. He sees one tuning a right noble song from a heaven-harp; a song so sweet, so loud, it shall for ever tell what joys fill that soul with rapture which has reached the perfect righteousness and the full salvation. Let us but get this large idea of what it is for a man to be saved, and then we shall see the truth of the statement that salvation comes by love to a Person. No merely intellectual grasp of any truth, even the sublimest ever revealed to man, can work out this great and mighty change. The force that alters man for better or for worse is the force of His love. “Tell me,” it has been said, “the companions a man keeps, or the friends he has, and I will tell you what he is.” The great renewing, changing, saving power is our love to the Lord Jesus Christ, the infinitely excellent and loving One; or, as I like to think of it, it is our heart-grasp of Him; because all heart-grasps must be blended faith-holdings and love-holdings; and when faith and love hold together, love is sure to swallow up and absorb the faith: and when our love just opens our whole soul and life to Christ, and bids Him welcome to come right in, then all the saving power He has in His Divine right, and has won by His life, experience, and sacrifice, can be exerted in us; He can save us wholly; save us with His full salvation from the past, from our sins, from sinfulness, from death, from hell; save us by changing us into the likeness of His own obedience, trust, and love; and so prepare us to “shine for ever in the light of God,” the monuments of a great salvation. We may believe a thing, we cannot love a thing: we may like it, admire it, value it, cherish it. It is of necessity to love that its object must be able to respond, returning love for love. So you see I believe in the work of Christ; believe in the Atonement; and the Redemption; and the Sacrifice; and the Resurrection. But since my higher life, my full salvation, comes by that love, which is a swallowing-up of faith in something higher, I must get beyond things: I shall never be able to love the work, and the Atonement, and the Redemption,—they must pass into lights which shine down upon, and all around, the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Atoner, the Propitiator, Him who gave Himself for us—glorifying Him, making Him so beautiful that our heart is wholly won to Him, our love fully set upon Him, and body, soul, and spirit, are yielded in a sacrifice of affection unto Him. Sometimes you feel a little difference between the mode in which I present Divine truth to you, and the modes of your previous apprehension; and possibly you may sometimes think the difference far greater than it is. Really it lies in this: you think so much of the redemption; I try to lift up your eyes, and get them fixed on the Redeemer. You dwell on the work of salvation; I try to point out the person of the Saviour, and show you what glorious power to deliver He has gained through His work. You try to formulate a doctrine of the Atonement; I long to make you see the infinite fitness and fulness of the Divine Atoner and Reconciler. You say, “It is Christ that died.” I try to repeat after Paul, and say, Yes, that is true, but there is more. Oh! to see and feel that something more: “Yea, rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” It is impossible to do more than suggest to you how much the apostles made of the person of Christ, and how constant is their demand of loyal attachment to Him, trust and love to Him. A little roll of passages may suffice to set this upon your thoughts. Christ required personal relations to Himself. “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” “He that hath the Son hath life.” “I give unto them eternal life.” “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” “By faith that is in Me.” “Whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” “This do in remembrance of Me.” The apostles preach, saying: “Him hath God exalted, a Prince and a Saviour.” “God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Unto you that believe He is precious.” Paul shows us his loving relations to a personal living Saviour, when he says, “The life I live in the flesh is a life of faith on the Son of God”; and our text is in fullest accord with the whole New Testament when it says, “whom,” not “which”—“whom having not seen, we love; in whom though now we see Him not yet believing, we rejoice,” etc. And surely He is the true minister of the Word who, as an ambassador of the living Christ, beseeches men in Christ’s stead to be reconciled unto God.” This, then, is a most true and worthy way in which to think about Divine things. Our full salvation comes by love to a Person. In presence of these sacramental emblems, how true that must seem to every one of us! Just what we gather round them for is, that, seeing Christ afresh by their help, we may set our love afresh upon Him; and often we have found that nothing so mightily helps us in our godly living as these sacramental quickenings of our love to the personal and living Christ. We do not see Him in a vision of dazzling brightness, “clothed in white garments down to the foot.… His head and hairs white, like wool, as white as snow, His eyes like flames of fire, His feet like fine brass, burning to white heat in a furnace?” His voice does not come to us like “the sound of many waters”; but we still hear Him say the words which quicken adoring, thankful, trustful love: “Fear not; I am the first and the last, I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. Amen.” The old test of discipleship remains: “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” Well for us all, and for the progress of the work of redemption in us, if we can respond, “Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
II. That love maybe sight-quickened.—As was the love of the disciples for their Master. They were with Him in the privileges of closest intimacy; they received the impressions of confidence which ought to follow witnessing His mighty works; but far beyond that, the secrecies of communion, the knowledge of His private life of purity and charity, woke in their hearts an enthusiasm of affection which made them in due time heroes and martyrs. With what a tender, trustful affection John loved Christ; getting as close as he could to Him, and even, with almost a woman’s gentleness, venturing to lean on His bosom. With what a passionate and ardent affection Peter loved Him; a kind of love which might stumble, but was too wholly sincere and intense entirely to fail and fall. Would you see love that comes by sight, read the heart of Mary Magdalene, that woman who was “last at the cross and first at the grave,” and wept her sorrow because they had taken away the body which she had meant to embalm with sweetest spices by her own loving hands; or go into the Bethany home, and see Mary pass out, soon to return and blend precious ointment and thankful tears upon the Saviour’s feet; look at her:—
“Her eyes are homes of silent prayer,
Nor other thought her mind admits,
But, he was dead, and there he sits,
And He that brought him back is there.
“Then one deep love doth supersede
All other, when her ardent gaze
Roves from the living brother’s face,
And rests upon the Life indeed.”
All this was sight-quickened love; they saw and believed; and need I point out how this love was salvation to them, delivering them from sin, and self, and all ignoble ends, and lifting them up to all high and noble uses, and putting a glory on their lives? Too readily we cherish the thought of our dreadful loss, in that we have never seen Christ. Sometimes the heart goes out in a passionate longing: “Oh that I could but once see Him!” How would we journey if we might at last gaze upon Him in one of His attitudes of infinite tenderness, bending to look with such gentle acceptance on the poor sinner that rained her tears upon His feet, or holding a little babe in His arm, and touching the other little ones that clung about His robe, and saying, “Suffer the little ones to come unto Me.” Only to see a full-length picture of Him sets our heart beating with emotion; surely we could believe, we could love, if we might but see Him. So we repeat the mistake of doubting Thomas, who wanted to see the wound-marks in His hands and side. And to us, as well as to Him, comes the Saviour’s gentle reproof: “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed; blessed are they which have not seen, and yet have believed.”
III. That love may be faith-quickened.—As was the love of these stranger Jews, scattered abroad, to whom Peter wrote, and as is ours. They, nor we, have ever seen the Son of God; yet, “though now we see Him not, believing in Him, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Archbishop Leighton says: “The eye is the ordinary door by which love enters the soul, but this (saving love to the Lord Christ) enters by the faith-faculty, which is the soul’s eye.” For the things that are unseen and eternal stand related to the soul’s eye just as the things that are seen and temporal do to the bodily eye. And amongst the various definitions given of faith, I would single out this one as peculiarly full, and true, and suggestive: “Faith is that state of the soul in which the things of God become glorious certainties.” Must not all the faculties of our soul be vastly superior to the faculties of our bodies? In truth they are sublime powers, only feebly represented even by the wonderful senses of eye, and ear, and touch. It is a far, far grander thing that we can love, and believe, and adore, and obey, than that we can see, and hear, and feel. And all that sphere of unseen things with which faith and love and hope have to do is far more real than that outward world of sensible objects with which eye and touch can deal. Put together these two things: “The sun shines;” “God lives;” and surely that one which only the soul’s eye sees, which only faith can grasp, is the one which is most certainly true, really the most free from doubt to every one whose soul-eye is clear. Only try to think what a little piece of our life, after all, is concerned with “things seen and temporal,” and how broad, and wide, and high, and rich, is the world of the unseen with which we deal. The things of thought, emotion, and affection, are mostly unseen. The heroes, whose stories we cherish for continual inspiration, are all unseen. Our departed friends are now unseen; we have only the images of them which faith and love create. Beyond the blue sky we see the dome of God; within the movements of nature we trace the handiwork of God. Measure life by what our eye sees, our ear hears, and our hand can touch, and it is a poor, limited life indeed; so many miles through to the other side—so many leagues measured all round. Look at life with the soul’s eye, see it with the faith-faculty, and then our human life grows profound and awful; worlds are within worlds; worlds are beyond worlds; everything has eternal issues and relations. By the measurements of faith the world’s diameter is infinite, and its circumference is God. But the question which our text suggests, and which our Christian hearts want answered, is this: Can this faith-sight of Christ help me to love, to the love that saves? Well we know, for again and again we have felt how, looking into the face, and watching the life, of our brother or sister has touched our hearts and won out a love that longed to prove its deep, true power in sacrifices for them. Well we know how sight-quickened love has delivered us from evil, elevated us, made us nobler men and women. But can it be so with faith-sight? Yes, brethren, and more, much more. Try if your loves are all limited to those you see. Try whether it is so, that all the persons present to your heart are persons you can look upon and touch. Well the widow knows that her unseen husband is far closer and more real to her than any who sit beside her. The mother folds her heavenly child to her heart oftener than her living children to her bosom. And by faith we can see Christ; we can realise Him, and find kindlings of love rise towards Him, purer, stronger far than any that we might have felt, had we looked into His human face and touched His gracious hand. How true poetry is to the deepest feelings of our nature! Tennyson, mourning over his friend, lost to touch, tells us how near that friend ever was to thought, and heart, and faith:—
“Dear friend, far off, my lost desire,
So far, so near, in woe and weal;
O loved the most, when most I feel
There is a lower and a higher;
“Far off thou art, but ever nigh,
I have thee still and I rejoice.”
“Known and unknown; human, Divine;
Sweet human hand, and lips, and eye;
Dear heavenly friend that canst not die,
Mine, mine, for ever, ever mine.”
And hear how the poet-soul thinks of Him who found it “expedient that He should go away,” out of sight and touch, to become for human souls the ideal of all that is pure, and loving, and winsome, and beautiful:—
“Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen Thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace.
“Thou seemest human and Divine,
The highest, holiest manhood Thou.”
Better, far better for us, that Christ is now unseen. We are no longer limited to the impressions produced by His human figure, we can raise the noblest and most perfect ideal of Him; we can put about our thought of Christ everything that we find touches our heart most deeply, everything we count most loving and lovely. Even when we love through sight we do not love exactly what we see, but an ideal which our heart fashions; we love our beloved because we see them transformed with a beauty which our heart gathers round them; and upon the records left of the Son of God we all can build the figure of our own Christ, transcendently, infinitely pure and lovely, and our soul will be lifted up by the very nobility and glory of the unseen One whom we love. And this is our confidence and joy; our ideal shall never disappoint us. Let the faith-faculty do its utmost, and the love-faculty crown its creation to the utmost, it cannot reach the very glory of Jesus; it is never worthy of Him. He is better than mind can think. He is better than heart can conceive. Our Christ is unseen, and yet we set our love upon Him. Our Christ we shall not see to-day, and yet, believing in Him, we may be found rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls. How can this be? What is there in our soul-vision of Christ to kindle fresh love and awaken a joy that shall be ever growing toward the unspeakable? What? Oh, brethren, as you see Him there, about Him is the fashion of a “lamb as it had been slain.” Gazing on Him, our soul is flooded with memories of a wonderful, blessed past. We see the manger-place that tells how He thought not even equality with God a thing to be held with unrelaxing grasp, but emptied Himself and entered the world a helpless Babe. We see the daily scene of self-denial and grace—mighty deeds of kindness, and winsome words of love,—melting even hard hearts to His obedience. We see the scene shaded by the olives of Gethsemane. We see the scene illumined by the torches of a murderous band. We see the scenes that disgraced for ever the tribunals of earthly judgment. We see a Saviour coming forth, wearing a mock crown of thorns and a scornful old purple cloak, yet calm in the grace of His self-sacrifice. We see three crosses; our soul is entranced to watch the dying agonies and listen to the dying cries of One whose woe a darkening sky in mercy hid; and as we see our hearts remind us that all this was borne for us.
“For love of us He bled;
For love of us He died;
’Twas love that bowed His fainting head,
And pierced His sacred side.”
Is it any wonder that those memories should quicken within us a new and enthusiastic love? And when the memories of the past grow faint, we look again, and lo! how beautiful our Saviour is! In His face shines the glory of an infinite love, that has won its triumph out of sacrifice. Does heaven seem bright? It is the light of His beauty shining through it. Is heaven radiant with song? The one burden of those who sing is the infinite worth and grace of Him who “loved us and gave Himself for us.” And as, admiringly, with the eyes of our soul, we look upon Him; as we cherish loving memories, and listen to His words of tenderness and grace, still spoken to all loving hearts;—how can we keep our souls from rising in their responsive love, and saying, with new enthusiasm of affection, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Theo.”
Did St. Peter say, “Not having seen”? That is but partly true, poorly true. Our souls have seen the unseen Christ. The life is ever freshly manifested to the faith-quickened vision of human souls. We have seen. We have “beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”; and it may be that we shall have another soul-vision to-day, and our hearts may respond, as did Thomas, saying, “My Lord and My God.”
1 Peter 1:7. The Proper Reading of Human Afflictions.—They are the “trial of our faith.” Faith is here put for the Christian profession, which is based on faith in Jesus as Messiah and Saviour. And the trial of the faith is spoken of because those addressed were actually then suffering on account of their Christian profession. The writer of the epistle more fully describes the trial through which these Jewish Christians had passed (Hebrews 10:32-34). “After ye were enlightened, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly while ye were made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions, and partly while ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods.” The trial of faith is sometimes spoken of in a way that leaves a very unworthy impression of God upon the mind. It is assumed that He sends trial in an arbitrary way, upon His good pleasure, and as an exercise of what is called Divine Sovereignty. Scripture gives no warrant for our representing Divinely sent trials as other than “for our profit.” Man submits metals to severe testings, but only with one or both of two distinct objects in view. Either for the improving of the metal itself, or for the preparing of the metal unto some use and service. And human afflictions, as God-sent trials of faith, are never read aright, unless they are seen to have a distinct purpose in the improvement of the person subject to them, or in the fitting of him for some particular ministry. “He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.”
1 Peter 1:8. Loving Whom we have Not Seen.—That God should be invisible is a necessity of His perfection. Heaven is no more capable of containing God than the earth, although more of His glory is displayed there. And angels and sainted souls in heaven, in their highest raptures, in their clearest visions, “see no similitude.” But here is another kind of invisibility altogether. God having appeared and made Himself “manifest,” disappears again from mortal sight. Jesus Christ, in personal, visible form, has wholly left this world. All the myriads of living men who name His name have to speak of Him as “Him whom they have not seen.” This is apt to shape itself to our first thoughts as, in some sense, a loss. “The eye affects the heart,” and we think that if we saw Him with our eyes it would surely be a little easier to believe in Him, and our love would spring up at the sight. When we think more deeply, and bring into our view, as far as we can, all the elements of the case, we drop these earthly hankerings and vain regrets, and, coming upon the higher ground of our text, we say, “Whom having not seen, we love.” It is very desirable that we should live habitually on this higher ground, making as few backward, downward movements, to the lower ground, as may be. It is a fact that great multitudes saw Jesus Christ in the flesh, and did not believe. It is a fact that great multitudes who had thus seen Him in the flesh without believing, did believe immediately after He disappeared. It is a fact that those who had believed when He was here, believed still more when He went away. Their faith then became more intelligent and more heroic; it became another and a higher thing. It is a fact that many who had not seen Him, but, being His contemporaries, had often heard of Him, without believing by the hearing, no sooner heard that He had gone from the world than they believed at once. It is a fact that great numbers, in many cities and countries, hearing from the lips of preachers and evangelists the whole story of His coming to this world and going hence, believed. It is a fact that on the same testimony, and by force of the same evidence, men have believed ever since, all over the world, and are believing new. Take for guidance of thoughts three words out of the passage:—
I. Faith.—“Yet believing, were joice.” Faith is naturally the first thing, without which no other thing can be. If we do not believe in the existence of Christ in heaven, of course we shall not direct any affections to Him there. If we do believe, we have it as our life-work to nourish faith, to raise it to its higher degrees, keep to it in perpetual exercise. Faith is fundamental, but it is structural as well—it grows in and with the building. If his life is a growing one, as every life should be, his faith grows with and in his life, and his life by his faith. Nearly all believing may be said to be believing in Christ. This makes the object of faith so simple, and yet so manifold! It is Christ in heaven, but that one thing contains many. He is therewith as a sacrifice, to offer its perpetual virtue; as an advocate, to plead for those who are in trouble and danger; as a Ruler, to watch and guide all affairs; as a Friend, to do His friends all kindly service; as an Elder Brother, to prepare for the home-coming of the younger members of the Divine family, and to welcome them home when they come.
II. Love.—“Whom having not seen, ye love.” The love is really born with the faith, begins to act with it, grows by its means, and is not cooled or repressed by the invisibility of its object. Love is the tenderest and the most delicate, and yet it is the strongest and most overmastering, of all human emotions. To love Christ—there, in a moment, you have the sublime of this affection! But how does the great and glorious Christ feel to me? For love rises to meet love. The feet of love are fleetest when other feet are seen advancing. The arms of love, are outstretched to meet outstretched arms.
III. Joy.—One Christian feeling thus glides into another, becomes part of another. Faith begins to have a glow in it, and—lo! it is “Love.” “Love” begins to have a gladness and to wear a glory, and—lo! it is heavenly “Joy.” There is some joy in every Christian’s heart. Much will depend on temperament, much on habit, much on outward circumstances, as to the development and cultivation of this sacred principle. But in every case you have the element and actual beginning—the root, and fountain, and flowing spring, of a heavenly and eternal joy. Blessed necessity! that compels every soul in Christ to be happy in Him! A flame of renewal has passed through the inmost being, refreshing waters of grace have cleansed every corrupted faculty, and cooled every fevered thought. If he cannot break out into a loud song, he can chant some softer syllables of praise. It is even said to be the joy “unspeakable”; and it is “full of glory.”—A. Raleigh, D.D.
The Love of the Unseen.—Show how it is that we find it possible to love the unseen; and that it is possible for our love of the unseen to become a mightier moral power than our love of the seen. Our salvation comes by love (which necessarily includes faith), but in setting our love upon Christ we are under this apparent disability: we have not the important help of the sight-faculty. We are, however, under this real advantage, that we are set upon securing the help of the faith-faculty. That will do much more and better for us than the sight-faculty ever, under any circumstances, could. Observe that, in a proper sense, we cannot be said to love things. We love persons. But the interest we have in things may help us toward loving persons. Our Lord’s sacrifice, atonement, etc., are not objects of love, but helps toward our loving Christ. The faith-faculty is exercised about truth declared. It fashions from its own ideal of the person so revealed. And no worthy ideal of Christ, fashioned upon the basis of truth declared concerning Him, can ever disappoint. The sight-faculty does materially help us to love, but it keeps us under limitations, from which the faith-faculty wholly delivers. “Thomas, because thou hast seen Me thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.”
1 Peter 1:11-12. The Unselfish Ministry of the Prophets.—“Not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister the things.” And this they knew. This “was revealed to them.” This they accepted as, for them, the duty of the hour. But there could not be a much harder lot. They pictured a glorious time; they lived in their imaginations; but for them it was all a dream, an anticipation, a vision of the far-away, which they knew could never become reality for them. But they were willing to serve others. It must have been hard for them. It must have been a great strain on character and faith. They saw the sufferings of Christ, they saw the spiritual glory that followed them. They saw the spiritual kingdom of Christ possess the earth, and they knew they would never breathe the air of that kingdom, or be employed in its service. Yet those old prophets do but illustrate the universally working law of service for God. You cannot do it if you want anything for yourself.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
1 Peter 1:5. Kept by God.—The Rev. J. H. Brooks, D.D., says: “If your final salvation depends on your holding out or holding on, you will most certainly be lost. Two ministers were conducting a meeting together, and at its close one of them said, ‘I picked up a Dublin tract on a railroad train the other day, and with great interest and profit, although it teaches a doctrine I don’t believe.’ ‘What is the doctrine?’ asked his friend. ‘The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints,’ he answered. ‘Neither do I believe it,’ was the reply. ‘Is it possible?’ exclaimed the first. ‘I thought, you were decided in your belief of it.’ ‘No, I am not. I once believed it, but since I have come to know more about the saints, and especially about myself, I believe all of us would go to the devil if left to ourselves; but I believe very firmly in the perseverance of the Lord;’ and they shook hands to show their fellowship in this truth.”
1 Peter 1:6-7. The Purpose for which Trials are Sent.—When Joseph Alleine and seven other ministers, and forty private Christians, were committed to the prison of Ilchester about two hundred years ago, Alleine said much to cheer them. Among other sweet things, he said: “Shall I tell you a story I read? There was a certain king that had a pleasant grove, and that he might make it every way delightful to him, he caused some birds to be caught, and to be kept in cages till they had learned sundry sweet and artificial tunes. And when they were perfect in their lessons, he let them abroad out of their cages into the grove, that he might hear them singing those pleasant tunes, and teaching them to other birds of milder note. Brethren,” he added, “the Lord is that king, this grove is His Church, these birds are yourselves, this cage is the prison; and God hath sent you hither that you should learn the sweet and pleasant notes of His praise.”
1 Peter 1:7. Trial of Faith.—When a founder has cast his bell, he does not at once put it into the steeple, but tries it with the hammer, and beats it on every side, to see if there be a flaw. So when Christ converts a man, He does not at once convey him to heaven, but suffers him first to be beaten upon by many temptations, and then exalts him to his crown.
1 Peter 1:8. Loving the Unseen.—A mother in England taught her little child that his father was away in India. As soon as he could lisp his father’s name, his picture was shown him, and he was taught to say, “That’s my papa.” Though he had never seen his father to know him, yet through that mother’s faithful teaching he had learned to love him. One day, unexpectedly to all, the father returned from India, and as he entered the hall door, his little son was the first to greet him, exclaiming as he did so,” My dear papa, I am so glad to see you.” So the Bible pictures before us Christ, our Elder Brother, “whom, having not seen, we love,” and of whom we sing, “He’s my Saviour.” By-and-bye, when we behold Him face to face, we shall know Him and meet Him, not as a stranger, but as a friend.
Faith and Reason.—An old writer says Faith and Reason may be compared to two travellers. Faith is like a man in full health, who can walk his twenty or thirty miles at a time without suffering; Reason is like a little child, who can only with difficulty accomplish three or four miles. Well, says this old writer, on a given day Reason says to Faith, “O good Faith, let me walk with thee.” Faith replies, “O Reason, thou canst never walk with me.” Well, they set out together; when they come to a deep river, Reason says, “I can never ford this.” When they reach a lofty mountain, there is the same exclamation of despair; and in such cases Faith, in order not to leave Reason behind, is obliged to carry him on his back; and, adds the writer, “Oh, what a luggage is Reason to Faith!”
Faith as the Eye of the Soul.—Faith is a grace that has both its birth and life in light, and in that light it sees light. Faith is not only a hand, but an eye, to the soul, and hath its sights both in way of aspect and prospect, not only to look on things immediately before it, but to look on things far hence and to come; it can see things that are invisible. Some things are invisible in respect of their nature; so God is, and so spirits are. Some things are invisible in respect of their distance, they are not yet present with us, but are things to come; faith can see both these. It is true we have not the sight of sense, but we have a sight as noble, yea, and in some respects, more excellent than that of sense. The sight of faith is more full and certain than that of sense. We have, indeed, not a perfect sight, but we have such a sight which God hath vouchsafed to His poor ones in the world, that by the power of it they may be enabled to walk through all the conditions, how dark and sad soever.—Symonds (1651).
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 1:13. Be sober.—The word suggests a sobriety of the Nazarite type. To the end.—Margin, perfectly; hope with a hope that lacks nothing of completeness.
1 Peter 1:14. Obedient children.—Lit. “children of obedience.” Read “lusts which were formerly yours in the time of your ignorance”—before the first revelation of Christ was made to you. It is implied that the ignorance is the mother of the lusts. The words are quite as applicable to unregenerate Jews as to unregenerate Gentiles.
1 Peter 1:15. Conversation.—Behaviour, conduct; turning about in daily relationships; moving to and fro with others. Swift is the first writer who limits the word to talking. Read the first clause of the verse: “After the pattern of the Holy One who called you.”
1 Peter 1:16. Be ye holy.—Or future “Ye shall be holy,” but with the force of an imperative. For application to Jewish nation see Leviticus 11:44; Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:26.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 1:13-16
Self Discipline.—Christian privilege ought always to act upon us as an inspiration to duty. But the first sphere of the Christian’s duty is himself, his own character, habits, and relationships. It never can be too constantly or too persuasively presented, that a Christian’s power lies first in what he is. The service a renewed man can render, and is called to render, is the service of his own cultured self. “Among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life.” “Ye are the salt of the earth.” St. Peter has in mind, however, not only the duty of self-discipline, but the security that lies in it. The Christian who is diligently attentive to spiritual self-culture is guarded round, and protected safely from all the assaults of evil. Too much engaged, too interestedly occupied, to be overborne by any outward circumstances of persecution or trial. It may further be said that, in a well-ordered self-discipline the Christian finds so much personal pleasure that he is fully compensated for all losses of worldly pleasure which the self-culture may involve. Christian self-discipline is here seen to include:—
I. Bracing up.—“Girding up the loins of your mind.” To His disciples our Lord gave the same counsel. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35). The figure is a familiar one, but it is more forcible when associated with the long, flowing garments of the East. The loose dress had to be turned up and bound round the waist, when active exertion was required. Thus, Elijah is said to have girded up his loins when he ran before the chariot of Ahab from Carmel to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46), and the Lord required Job to “gird up his loins like a man,” to listen to His sublime response (Job 38:3). In modern times athletes brace up, or gird, the body before exertion. What is represented in the moral sphere we can well understand. There is a resolute dealing with ourselves in the face of difficulties—to use a familiar expression, a “pulling of ourselves together”—which enables us to present a strong front to the adversary, and to endure what may involve serious strain. Something of this severe self-dealing is indicated in the psalmist’s expression, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed.” “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.” Illustration may be taken from the soldiers in an enemy’s country, and on some dangerous expedition. Day and night they keep fully attired and armed, get what sleep they can beside their horses, ready at any moment to spring into the saddle—always braced up. The “loins of the mind” are the resolves and purposes. They keep the mind occupied, and brace it up for its duty. A striking instance of bracing up the loins of the mind, and standing four square to every temptation and every foe, may be found in Joshua, who was strong, and could say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
II. Self-restraint.—“Be sober.” Temperate in all things. Weakness attends upon excess in anything, partly because a rebound is sure to follow it, and all rebounds are perilous; partly because every excess tends to repeat itself, and the repetition involves entire loss of self-control. Moderation is essential to Christian virtue; and it has its application in the religious as well as the moral spheres. This, however, is seldom wisely insisted on, and many religious persons actually lose their power of self-restraint by excess in religious meetings, duties, and services. Self-restraint needs to be cultured in relation to everything. Physical health depends on our working up to, but never beyond, the limit of our powers, and so does moral health. But it is more practically helpful to show that each individual will find some particular sphere in which he is called to “be sober.” And the mastery of himself in that particular thing will be found a triumph which carries with it his easy restraining and ruling of all other things. It may be shown that we all need to win the power of self-restraint in relation to the “lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life.” And the evils into which the unrestrained man falls may be vigorously described, as a warning against neglecting self-culture.
III. Trust in provision and promise.—“Set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you.” It is possible to present the duty of self-restraint only on its sterner side, as the resolute mastery of tendencies that are evil. And doing this may give a severer view of the Christian life than is necessary. Self-culture is the nourishing of the good. There is the call to self-restraint that we may win good, as well as that we may control evil. St. Peter would have those he addressed master all depression, and fear, and indifference, and so set the Christian hope before them, that they should always be working towards its attainment. He really speaks of the grace that is “being brought” day by day, and not of some grace that is “to be brought” some one day. But it involves self-restraint for us to loosen the self-confidence so that we may wisely trust.
IV. Distinct aim at holiness.—“Be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living.” Our Lord set this aim before His disciples. “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Self-discipline needs a pattern, a standard. It cannot be intelligent; it will not be wisely directed; it cannot hope to reach an effective result;—unless a man sees what he is restraining, disciplining himself unto. He is working at himself, at his moral character and relations; but to what end, after what pattern? When he has done his self-culturing work, what does he expect to be? Holiness, as God’s holiness, is the distinctly Christian aim, and it is the aim of no other religion besides Christianity. Holiness is more than cleanness and fitness of relations. It is an inward state of mind and feeling which ensures that the relations must be pure and right. And it is purity with a bloom on it, that makes it attractive, and gives it a peculiar power of influence. But it is practical, not dreamy and sentimental; and therefore St. Peter says, “Be ye holy in all manner of conversation”; holy in all the turning about, all the associations, of life. That tone on all life would in the most marked way distinguish the Jewish Christians from the older Jews, and from all the heathen world around them.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 1:13. Girding the Loins of the Mind.—The figure is Oriental. The Orientals wore a loose and flowing robe, which, dangling about the feet, hindered swift, straight motion. When they would move quickly and with precision, they must needs gather the trailing garment into the girdle about the waist. You remember how the children of Israel were commanded to eat the passover. The passover was the door of their deliverance. The lamb, slain, and roasted whole, they were to eat. How? Standing, with travelling-staff in hand, with loins girded. A journey was before them, They were to go forth from Egypt. On that journey no trailing robes were to hold them back. A definite aim was theirs—to leave Egypt, and march toward freedom and nationality. They were to be harnessed toward that aim. Robes, trailing, flowing down and out, catching at stones, sweeping up sticks—robes to be trodden on, and so the cause of stumbling—might do for the smooth floors of Pharaoh’s palace, might do for the even paths about their villages; but they would not do for men on the march. With girded loins they were to go forth. So, before these Christians to whom Peter wrote, there was an aim. They were to be sober, to hope to the end, to be obedient children, to refuse to live after the fashion of their former heathen lusts; they were to be holy, since He who had called them was holy. A shining and gracious aim was theirs. And there was but one way for them to reach it; wherefore toward this aim gird up the loins of your minds, says the apostle. Thoughts, loose and wandering; thoughts heedlessly trailing over this thing and that; allowed imaginings of your former heathen lusts; the robes of your minds unbound, and let down to flow over whatever they may list;—such ungirded thoughts will be as hindering to you, O Christians, as would have been the loose robes of the Israelites on their desert march. Girded thoughts are what you need. All this is very close and practical. Here is a young man who has come to the consciousness of life’s meaning and solemnity. “Ah,” he says, “I must be sober; I must take for my life a strong and noble aim.” But how may the young man make real and actual such aim? Here our Scripture comes in. By girded thought, not by thoughts loose and wandering.
1. What ungirds thoughts?
(1) Pleasure as an end for life ungirds them. Duty is the sacrifice for the great altar of the life, and pleasure—recreation—is to come in only as it helps us lay that sacrifice more constantly and worthily upon that holy place.
(2) Aimless and frivolous reading ungirds thoughts.
(3) Bad associations, also, ungird thoughts.
(4) Neglected Bibles and neglected secret prayers ungird thoughts.
(5) Carelessness of attendance on religious services ungirds thoughts.
(6) Sunday secular newspapers ungird thoughts.
2. What girds thoughts?
(1) A high and determined purpose girds them.
(2) Quick decisions for the Right gird thoughts.
(3) Love for the true and good girds thoughts. The best and most helpful girdle for the thoughts is passionate devotion to the personal Christ.—Anon.
Spiritual Sobriety.—This injunction may refer inferentially to the practice of temperance as commonly understood; but its significance and scope are much deeper and wider than that. Writing of the surpassing excellence of that great salvation of which prophets had prophesied, into which angels desired to look, which had really been made known by the Spirit of God (1 Peter 1:12), Peter urges his readers to “gird up the loins of their mind”—i.e., to call forth all their spiritual resources, that they may understand and appreciate it; he then bidsthem “be sober”—i.e., exercise in this great matter a sound judgment, command themselves, not to be led to harmful extremes, or give way to illusions that would disappoint them, but maintain a manly, intelligent, healthful self-restraint. Doing this, they might “set their hope perfectly” [to the fullest possible limit] “on the grace that was being brought unto them at the revelation of Jesus Christ”—i.e., they might confidently expect the largest and richest blessings which the manifestation of the grace of Christ was fitted to bring with it. We may strive and we may look for the greatest good, the fullest prosperity, in connection with the gospel, but at the same time we must cherish and exercise spiritual sobriety.
I. In the acceptance of Christian doctrine.—
1. The Church at Thessalonica had a strong hold on the doctrine of the second coming of Christ. “The coming of the Lord draweth nigh” was its watchword, its prevailing thought. It had a right to anticipate the hour when there would be another manifestation of its Lord. But it fell into insobriety of thought and of conduct in this matter. Its members thought that, as Jesus Christ might appear among them at any hour, they need not concern themselves with the ordinary duties of life, with provision for its bodily necessities; and they began to be “disorderly.” They had to be rebuked by the apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:0), and summoned to be sober in doctrine and in deed.
2. The Church of Corinth had an unusual share of “gifts,” particularly of this “gift of tongues.” The members of that Church had a perfect right to make the most of its possession. But they were bound to hold their special powers in subordination to the great ends of glorifying Christ, and of edifying one another. This they did not do; they were not taking a sober view of the subject, and had to be corrected (1 Corinthians 14:0).
3. It is a distinct Christian doctrine that we must be “separate” from the world; that while in it we are not to be of it. But the hermits of the earlier time, and the monks and nuns and the ascetics of a later, and of the present, time, fell into sad insobriety when they sought to retire altogether from the engagements and relationships of human life. Painful facts have superabundantly proved that we cannot decline what our heavenly Father offers us without doing ourselves harm rather than good. On the other hand, proof abounds on every side that in accepting the joys and filling the spheres which open to us in the providence of God, we may “walk holily, righteously, and blamelessly,” and adorn the doctrine of our Saviour in all things. It is the sober view of separateness from the world which is the right, wise, Christian one.
4. That “we are justified by faith” is according to Scripture. By faith in Jesus Christ we have access to the grace of God; believing on Him we have eternal life. But when men say, as they have said, that when we have once believed, and been restored to the favour of God, we cannot forfeit His friendship by any folly, or even by any sin, they fall into the gravest spiritual insobriety; they push certain statements to an extreme, and they fall into dangerous, even destructive, error.
5. We are sanctified by the Spirit of God. When we have returned unto God and been received by Him, there remains much in us that has to be removed from us; there is much absent from us that has to be gained by us. We are not “complete in Him.” The process of spiritual completion is the work of the Divine Spirit. But when it is maintained, as it has been, that if we only give our hearts to Him, and invite His entrance, and make entire surrender of ourselves, we may be instantaneously lifted up to the full height of holiness, then the mistake is made of not “being sober” in thought and in belief. Christian maturity is a growth; it is the gradual upbuilding ourselves on our holy faith; it is the result of a strenuous struggle; it is the consummation of a wise and true Christian course; it is the blessed consequence of daily prayer, of the continual reception into our minds of the thoughts of God, of much fellowship with Jesus Christ, of the wise use of all forms of Christian privilege, of active work in the field of sacred usefulness, of the lighter and also the severer discipline of the Lord of our life, of the wise Father of our spirit. That is the “sober” view, strongly substantiated by Scripture, constantly confirmed by the experience of the good.
II. In the regulation of Christian life.
III. In the nourishment of Christian character.—There is a kind of spiritual sustenance which is pleasant “to the flesh,” but which is dangerous, if not delusive; it is that of perpetual religious excitement; the reading of those books, and the hearing of those sermons, which make an almost unbroken appeal to the imagination. This cannot be said to be taking milk (1 Corinthians 3:2), but drinking champagne. If we would build up a robust and fruitful Christian character we must eat the “strong meat” of Divine truth, which informs the mind, which enlarges the view, which braces the will, which sustains and strengthens the soul. There is much occasion here for attention to the apostolic admonition—be sober.—William Clarkson, B.A.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
1 Peter 1:16. An African Figure of Holiness.—Dr. Livingstone once asked a Bechuana what he understood by the word “holiness” (foitsepho). He answered, “When copious showers have descended during the night, and all the earth and leaves and cattle are washed clean, and the sun rising shows a drop of dew on every blade of grass, and the air breathes fresh—that is holiness.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 1:17. The Father.—Better, “a Father.” God apprehended as Father through our apprehension of the Sonship of Christ. Plumptre reminds us that “the sequel shows this attribute of Fatherhood is not thought of as excluding the idea of judgment, but gives assurance that the judgment will be one of perfect equity.” Sojourning.—(See 1 Peter 1:1). Fear.—Not dread, but seriousness and self-distrust. “This fear is not cowardice (nor superstition); it drowns all lower fears and begets true fortitude” (Leighton).
1 Peter 1:19. Precious blood.—Order of the Greek is, “with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot (even that) of Christ.”
1 Peter 1:20. Fore-ordained.—Lit. “foreknown,” which, however, implies “fore-ordination.” Last times.—“At the end of the times.”
1 Peter 1:21. Faith.—πίστις. Relates to things present which, though invisible, are realised by the eye of the mind. Hope.—ἔλπις. Relates to things in the distant future, which are objects of such loveliness that they fill the heart and engage the affections, as if they were near at hand (Webster and Wilkinson).
1 Peter 1:22. Good MSS. omit the word “pure.”
1 Peter 1:23. Born again.—Better, “having been begotten again.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 1:17-25
The Fear of Son-like Sons.—The key-note of this passage is the sentence, “pass the time of your sojourning in fear.” There is a godly fear, and there is a slavish fear; the right fear of the child, and the wrong fear of the slave, or of the child in whom all right feeling is crushed. Such proper filial fear—
I. Is based on right thoughts of God.—The point of 1 Peter 1:17 is brought out in the Revised Version. “And if ye call on Him as Father.” But that is precisely what our Lord taught His disciples to do. “When ye pray, say, Abba, Father.” A Christian is marked off from all the world by the thought he has of God, and the name in which he embodies his thought. He must, of course, seek to gain true and worthy thoughts of the Father, and they will always be such as the Lord Jesus Christ had, which led Him to address God as “Holy Father,” “Righteous Father.” It is thought that if men call God “Father,” they will think of him after the patterns of human fatherhood; but surely that is fully guarded against by associating the thought of God with the thought of fatherhood. What is added to our thought of God, by calling Him Father, is His personal interest in each one of us; His personal affection for each one; and His personal service to each one. There is no more reverent name than father, and no more reverent relation than father and son. The fear men have for a “thundering Jove,” or for an autocratic king, is ignoble when compared with that which they have for their fathers; and the fear of son-like sons of the Father-God is an altogether refined, gracious, inspiring, and ennobling feeling; it is the secret of the beautiful life.
II. Is based on right thoughts of redemption.—“Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, … but with precious blood.” The expression, “from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers,” makes precise application of the passage to the Jewish Christians, who had been brought over from formal Judaism into spiritual Christianity. The rest of the verses may be taken with a general application. They express the idea of redemption which will always nourish a true and worthy fear. Our redemption was a costly ransom: our liberty unto righteousness was obtained at a priceless price. In common life the cost of a thing puts a value on it, and we fear to lose it, or to damage it. And that is a right fear, the fear we should have for our spiritual life, because of the cost of its purchase. A cost only the more impressive that it is not weighted as silver and gold, but is spiritual value, life, even Divine life, figured for us as “precious blood.” “That blood, the life which it represented, poured out upon the cross, took its place among the things that were not corruptible.” The reference to the “lamb” is probably due to St. Peter’s thinking of John’s famous sentence, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Mason has a good note. “How Christ’s death freed them from their ‘vain conversation’ is not explained here; but we may give a twofold explanation. Historically, it did so, because, when they came to realise that their Messiah could only reach His glories through suffering, it gave them a new insight into the whole meaning of the system under which they had been brought up. It did also, however, doubtless, in a more mysterious way, such as we cannot imagine, procure in God’s sight their emancipation.” “The whiteness, the helplessness, the youth, the innocence, and the patience, of the lamb, make it a natural symbol of our Lord.”
III. Is based on right thoughts of present claims (1 Peter 1:22).—“Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart, fervently.” It is the constant teaching of the apostles that Christianity makes two claims on men; first, the claim to love God; then the claim to love one another. And just as heart-love to God will guarantee the right service of God, so heart-love for the brethren will ensure and preserve right relations with them, and the due fulfilment of all brotherly duties. St. John puts the connection between the love of God and the love of the brethren in a very strong and impressive sentence: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.”
The present claim, then, is to “love the brethren,” and the claim involves every service that love can render to them. But the question may properly be asked, Is it possible to make ourselves love? The answer is twofold.
1. We can create an ideal which is lovable, and which we cannot help loving; and we can see that ideal in our brethren, when they are not lovable in themselves. Our ideal is Christ. We cannot help loving Him wherever we find Him.
2. Though we cannot make ourselves love, we can put ourselves in such relations as will help to inspire love. We often find that knowing persons in the intimacy of life, in common work, or common sorrow, brings round to us a love for them which we should not otherwise have felt. And the apostles are so anxious about keeping up the fellowship, because that is the secret of keeping up the love.
IV. Is based on right thoughts of fleeting time.—And the particular thought is, that all that belongs to the material, sensuous, earthly life is touched with this weakness—it is uncertain, transitory. Time stamps everything as frail. All time-conditioned things are below man, when man is seen to be a spiritual being. The regenerate man, begotten again of the incorruptible seed, is not time-conditioned, and nothing that he does is time-conditioned. Spiritual life belongs to the sphere of things permanent and abiding. By cherishing such thoughts as these we may dignify that new life with which we are quickened, and make altogether more important its culture, and its expression, in holy life and service, than the attainment of any earthly good, since on such attainment must always rest the frailty that belongs to the seen, the temporal, the transitory. Only the man who keeps in right relations with the spiritual and permanent can ever hope to be, or to keep, in right relations with the temporal and transitory.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 1:21. Three Stages of Faith.—What is the point of this text? It sets forth who is the final object of faith. It is God. Herein the text may appear to differ from the usual run of texts in the gospels and epistles: e.g., “By faith which is in Me” (Christ). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Can we find out the harmony of these apparently differing statements? This must certainly be the first and most absolute of truths: man’s glory and blessedness come of trusting God. Illustrate from Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Davidic psalms, prophecies, etc. Such trust in God sets man right with God. Failing in such trust shows man to be wrong. Self-trust involves distrust of God. Still, it is the fact, that man has to be helped to trust by some agency—medium, mediator. Now, to St. Peter Christ seemed to be the highest, most efficient help to this faith in God. For the Jew, who has faith in God, Christ is the clearing, enlarging, and perfecting of faith. For the Gentile, Christ is the medium by which faith in God is reached. As Christianly-educated, we occupy in some degree the Jew-place. But, more truly, we follow on the line of the Gentile, and reach the full saving relation to God by three stages of faith.
I. First stage of faith.—Faith in Christ. See the prominent place of Christ in the New Testament; in preaching; in the early experience of Christians. And yet, when the gospels are carefully studied, we are impressed by the persistency with which Jesus always puts God the Father first. Observe how well fitted Christ was to win the trust of men. Notice His appeals
(1) to man’s understanding by His truth;
(2) to man’s reverence by His miracles;
(3) to man’s conscience by His appeals and by His life;
(4) to man’s affections by His Spirit;
(5) to man’s emotions by His cross. The whole man is swayed toward faith by the influence of Christ.
II. Second stage of faith.—God’s relation to Christ. There was more in Christ than even the apostles could at first see. The relation does not come out during our Lord’s life. Then God witnesses to Him. The relation comes to view in His resurrection, ascension, and glorification. Then He comes to be apprehended as God in Christ. Sometimes it is said that Christ raised Himself, usually it is said that God raised Him, from the dead. Resurrection, and Christ in heaven, bring God into prominence.
III. Third stage of faith.—In God. This is reached actually, as a result of Christian experience; but not always consciously. So, through Christ, the perfect restoration is effected, and man’s faith and hope are set on God. See in this faith in God
(1) our perfect communion with Old Testament saints,
(2) the true mediatorial work of Christ; He is bringing many sons unto the glory of this higher faith in God.
The Father’s Part in the Work of Redemption.
I. The part that the Father bore in the work of redemption.—
1. He ordained His Son to the mediatorial office.
2. He manifested Him to the world.
3. After suffering Him to be put to death, He raised Him up from the dead.
4. He exalted Him to heaven, and invested Him with all heaven’s glory.
II. The effect that the consideration of this is intended to produce upon us. It should—
(1) Confirm our faith;
(2) enliven our hope. Address
(1) those who are in unbelief;
(2) those who yield to doubts and fears.—C. Simeon, M.A.
The Agent and Cause of Faith.—The redeemed are also described here by their faith and hope, the cause of which is Jesus Christ. “You do by Him believe in God”—by Him as the author, encourager, support, and finisher, of your faith; your faith and hope may now be in God, as reconciled to you by Christ the Mediator. God in Christ is the ultimate object of a Christian’s faith, which is strongly supported by the resurrection of Christ, and the glory that did follow.—Matthew Henry.
The Final Object of Saving Faith.—Already we are getting our springtime remindings of resurrection. Nature has begun her teachings. At times we feel the pleasant sunshine and the warmth of the air. Already the drooping snowdrops, the pale primrose, and the brilliant yellow daffodil have begun to whisper to us that winter is gathering up her skirts, and preparing to hasten away. Nature keeps her own times, and even now the “time of the singing of birds is come,” and the “flowers appear on the earth.” At this time we naturally cherish resurrection thoughts, and dwell on His being raised from the dead who has “brought life and immortality to light by His gospel.” The resurrection, of which all else seems to be but the shadow, and the symbol, and the suggestion, is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. But that should never be regarded as standing alone; it includes and involves our resurrection in Him, first from sin, and then from the grave. “Because He lives, we shall live also.” Three visions rise before us. We see Christ rising from the grave, “leading captivity captive, and receiving gifts for men.” We see the human soul rising from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, in response to the awakening call of Him who “liveth for ever and ever.” And we see that day of days, for which all other days were made, when “all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth.” In the text the reference to the resurrection is necessary, but it is subordinate to the purpose of the apostle. It stands in relation to another point which is more directly occupying the writer’s attention. He is really meeting a question which was then anxiously asked; which has always been anxiously asked; and which is anxiously asked to-day. Who is the final object of our faith? The apostle at first surprises us—upsets our cherished ideas. He says, God is the final object of our faith. God who was in Christ. God as He who raised up Christ from the dead. “Who, by Him, do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, … that your faith and hope may be in God.” In this way of putting the truth, there is at least a seeming variation from many familiar passages in the Acts and in the Epistles. “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The eunuch said, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” The jailor at Philippi was required to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that he might be saved.” The apostle John declares, “He that hath the Son hath life.” It is perfectly certain that Peter could have had no intention of setting aside, or in any way dishonouring, Christ, when he put the truth in the particular way in which we find it presented in our text. How, then, can we set out the harmony of these two differing kinds of statement. Our faith is to be in Christ. And yet our faith is, through Christ, to be in God. This much is quite clear: the first, and the most absolutely universal of all truths is, that man’s blessedness comes, and can only come, out of trusting God. Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all lived before the Mosaic period, and they believed God, and it was counted to them for righteousness. The foundation law of Mosaism is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.” But love implies a foregoing faith, on which alone the love can rest. The psalms are full of expressions of trust, but they are all trustings in God. The prophets unite to bid us “Trust in the Lord for ever”; and they assure us that the “just by faith shall live.” But this is also evidently true; man has always needed to be helped to trust in God by some medium, or agency. Vision and promise helped Abraham to his trust. Moses was the medium or mediator who helped the people of Israel to their trust. That trust alone sets man the creature in right relations with God the Creator and Father. He requires it, and we ought to give it. This must be clearly seen to stand as the absolute first and universal truth: man’s salvation—man’s realisation of his fullest and best possibility—comes out of trusting God. To the mind of Peter, Jesus Christ seemed to be the highest, the most perfect, the most gracious help to saving faith in God. Jesus Christ was to him God’s own way of helping His people to the trust in Him which saves. Peter wrote his epistle for Gentile Christians, as distinguished from Jewish Christians. It was he who opened the door to the Gentiles in recognising the Christian faith and standing of Cornelius the centurion. His epistle is addressed to the “strangers scattered abroad,” and we may properly look for some precise adaptations of the Christian truths to their circumstances and points of view. For the Jew, who knows God, the one living God, the truth could be put in this form by the great, the Divine Teacher: “Ye believe in God; believe also in Me.” “This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God.” For the Gentile, who only comes upon the right knowledge of God through the revelation which centres in the “Man Christ Jesus,” the truth can best be put in this form by the disciples of the great Teacher: “Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead.” Gentiles must be set looking to Christ as the sole medium through which the right, the worthy knowledge of God can come. There is a sense in which, being Christianly educated, we occupy the place of the Jew. We come into personal relations with Christianity through a previous suitable apprehension of God; and yet we may more truly be said to follow along the line of the Gentile; for it is only through our Lord’s humanity that we can ever gain the right impression of His Divinity. It must be man first, then the God-man. The partaker of flesh and blood seen at last to be “God manifest in the flesh.” Personal religion of trustful love and devotion to Christ, leading us into saving and sanctifying relations with God—the One, the Triune God. More or less distinctly there can be traced three stages in the growth of Christian experience. There are three steps in Christian faith. By faith we come, in a regular advance, to apprehend three things.
2. God’s relation to Christ.
3. God. Christian experience arrives at its perfection when God is “all in all.” On the Mount of Transfiguration, when the cloud had passed, the disciples saw “Jesus only.” On the Mount of Beatification, when all the cloud shadows of earth shall have passed, the disciples of Jesus will see “God only.” “Then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.”
I. The first stage of faith is faith in Jesus Christ.—You cannot want me either to show, or to prove, or to vindicate the fact that the Lord Jesus has the most prominent place in the New Testament, in preaching, in teaching, in thinking, in writing, or in early religious experience. If there is anything self-evident, that is. Fully, heartily, rejoicingly acknowledging that fact, there is, nevertheless, something very remarkable that comes into view when we come to study it carefully. Christ always puts the Father before Himself. He never proposes to absorb the faith and love of His disciples. He receives them only that thus He might help the disciples into the love and trust of the Father. He says, “My Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works.” “My Father is greater than I.” “Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by Me.” “I do always the things that please Him.” At first Christ is presented to the seeking soul, and He fills all his vision. And we could dwell long and lovingly on the ways in which Jesus Christ is fitted for winning the love and trust of men. He appeals to man’s understanding by the truths which He reveals and teaches—momentous truths concerning God and man, and sin, and salvation, and righteousness, and the future. He appeals to the reverence of men by the miracles, which declare that in Him is the great power of God. He appeals to men’s consciences by presenting the standard of the perfect human life. He appeals to men’s affections by His Divine tenderness, and pitying gentleness, and love. He sways the deepest emotions of men by the persuasions of His cross. Jesus Christ, in His human manifestation, in His earthly life of sympathy and of suffering, has a strange power on us. He seems at first to fill the whole foreground, and sways our whole manhood toward faith. Peter speaks the truth for us when He speaks of Jesus Christ in this way. “Whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
II. The second stage of faith is faith in God’s relation to Christ.—Once setting our heart on Christ, our faith wants to know better Him on whom it rests. Evidently there are more and deeper things in Jesus Christ than the soul can see in its first apprehensions of Him; than even the apostles could find out while they were with their Master in the limited fellowship of the flesh. Many of their fuller and deeper apprehensions come out to view in their epistles, which are precisely this: soul-readings of the mystery of Christ, in the illumination of the Holy Ghost. Only to one point of this can our attention now be given. In Christian life there is a strong, masterful instinct, which makes us linger, with chief interest and concern, about the records of our Lord’s resurrection. It is not peculiar to us in these days. The evangelists did; the apostles did. Paul writes, “It is Christ that died, yea, rather, that is risen again.” “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” Now, what is it comes to view when we let the apostles guide us into the mysteries of the resurrection? This: God was in the closest relation to the Redeemer’s work. Sometimes it is indicated that Christ raised Himself, by His own inherent power; but usually it is intimated, as in our text, that God raised Him. The salvation was God’s, but it was wrought out by Christ, and in Him. The suggestions of resurrection and ascension are full of God, and they open to us the larger, richer meanings of familiar texts, such as these: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In the second stage faith embraces both God and Christ, as working together in the accomplishment of human salvation.
III. The third stage of faith is faith in God, which swallows up, absorbs, the faith in Jesus.—But this stage of faith is usually reached unconsciously. Many an advanced, experienced Christian stands high up on this level to-day, but does not know it, and would be half frightened if any one were to tell him that it was so with him. When I was a youth, and in the early periods of religious experience, I used to attend regularly the prayer-meetings, and found them specially helpful. I remember being struck with something which has given a key-note to the Christian thinking of my whole life. I observed that the young Christians prayed to Jesus, and the old Christians prayed to God. And I knew they both meant the same thing. In the young Christians’ prayers God was hardly mentioned. In the old Christians’ prayers Jesus was hardly mentioned. There is the sign of the growth of the Christian knowledge and experience. We begin, and we see Jesus, and God is in Jesus. We grow, and more and more we see God, until at last we see God only, and Jesus is in God. It remains still true that all the forms of thought are taken from Christ. The Christ-help to right thought, and view, and feeling, never passes away; but really the soul’s resting has come to be in God. And thus, in the most spiritual fashion, Christ’s work of restoration is fully accomplished for the individual. We apprehend God in Christ, we trust God, and so Christ is the means by which all Christ’s brothers are brought to His own son-like obedience to God, and trust in Him. Our faith and hope at last are fully set on God, and the law of life is fulfilled—God is become “all in all.” There are things suggested by this setting of truth, on which I invite you to dwell, meditatively, in the quiet hours of this day.
1. See the perfectness of our communion with all the Old Testament saints. A fellowship, not in the means by which they and we are helped to God, but a fellowship in the end. For, whether by angel-manifestation, symbolical ceremony, prophetic declaration, or the human life and teachings of the Son of God, we are all moving to one goal; for us all there is but one soul-rest—it is the rest that comes from the full trust, which carries our whole selves, and lays them on the everlasting arms of God. Enoch lay there. Abraham lay there. Moses lay there. Jesus Himself lay there. The whole round world is bound about with this golden chain of trust in God. One way or another, this way and every way, the souls of men are being caught, turned, helped to trust in God.
2. Dwell lovingly on the preciousness of that particular agency by which we have been thus caught, and drawn into our full trusting in God. I only heard Mr. Spurgeon preach a few times, but on one occasion he seemed to me to surpass himself, and thrilled us all with the holy passion of his utterance, childlike as the sermon was in its simplicity. He had taken as his text the words, “This is my beloved; this is my friend.” And the sermon was just a series of boastings and gloryings over Jesus, each section closing with the appeal, “ ‘This is my Beloved,’ will you make Him yours?” I should like to have my time open still, so that I might thus boast over Jesus my Saviour before you now. He is “worthy of more glory than Moses.” Poets did but sing out the deepest feeling of all loving souls, when they called Him—
“Thou highest, sweetest, fairest One
That eyes have seen, or angels known.”
3. But shall we be content to stay with the human manifestation of Christ, with His life and with His death? Or shall we be willing to let Him lead us on to the holier mysteries of His resurrection, and show us that, trusting Him, we are really trusting God, who “raised Him from the dead.” Are you willingly staying down on the low-levels of spiritual apprehension? or are you climbing the heights where the air is pure and clear, and the soul can see the eternal realities, and even the Christ-garment of God has fallen off Him, and the sky is pure blue from rim to rim—not one cloud sails across to throw a shadow, and you think, you feel, you know, that Christ has “delivered up the kingdom to the Father”? You see God only, and God is all in all. It is heaven all about you on those heights of spiritual experience. At last, helped by Christ—so sweetly helped by Christ—you have come to this, and this has gained the forever stamp—
“Your faith and hope are in God.”
1 Peter 1:22. Fervent Love of the Brethren.—Selfishness, or the exaggerated love of self, was the source and seal of the fall of man. Love of God in Christ, through the power of the Spirit; and love of mankind, but most of all, love of those with whom God’s children shall dwell through all eternity—this is peculiarly and pre-eminently the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Peter is admonishing the brethren to abide in Christian kindness and affection; and he bids them consider the very purpose that God has wrought.
I. The work accomplished.—“Seeing ye have purified your souls.” The grand point is having the heart good. The heart is impure. What vain thoughts, evil inclinations, presumptuous actions, vain fancies, are continually gushing forth, as from a deep stream! To be pure in heart is to be pure in life. Man is not a passive subject, but an active agent. There must be co-operation, on our part, with the influence of the mighty Spirit of God, otherwise there can be no purifying of the soul.
II. The instrument of its accomplishment.—“Ye obey the truth.” It is a law of almost universal obtaining that, as we can do nothing without God, so, generally He will do nothing without us. He acts on the heart in order to achieve what He would have done; and so, in all the business of life, we have certain means to employ; and if we neglect them, or try to substitute our own, we have our toil in vain. The Divinely constituted means to the purifying of men’s souls is the truth. When men are disposed to find fault with God’s Word, and to discover imperfections in it, His people should honour it, cling to it, maintain it, exalt it, cherish it. To be immortal, great, and good, let a man study God’s Word. The grand point is to look beyond the instrument to the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit.
III. One special result of this work.—“Unfeigned love of the brethren.” It is not merely love and charity to all men, but specially and specifically love of those united to us in a new birth, in new relationship to God, many members in one body. This yearning affection is one of the most blessed signs that a man has purified his soul, by obeying the truth.
IV. The beautiful exhortation.—“See that ye love one another with a pure heart, fervently.” Do not mistake the injunction. We must not confound the precious jewel with the metal in which the jewel is placed, “Fervently.” With a pure, unselfish love, with no sinister motive. “Without dissimulation.” There must be no appearance, no pretence, but the reality. “Fervent,” not cold. How fervent in heaven, where all tin and dross are purged away, the soul will be, swallowed up in the love of God!
1. If you desire to be holy and happy, set about it in the name of the Lord Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, and in obedience.—You may judge materially how far the work is progressing, if you feel a glowing love to the Father for Jesus’ sake, and desire as you have opportunity to do good unto all men.”
2. We must not attempt to do this in our own strength and resolution.—Philanthropy, intellectual culture, moral training, are beautiful, but there must be the power of the Spirit of God.
3. You must cultivate that spirit always and ever.—Canon Hugh Stowell, M.A.
1 Peter 1:24-25. The Transitory and the Permanent.—This passage is brought before our minds every early summer time, by the sight and smell of the fields. The “fashion of this world passeth away.” “The Word of the Lord endureth for ever.” Away from changing, passing, transitory earth we may look upward to God, saying, “He liveth; and blessed be my Rock.” St. Peter evidently had in mind the poetical passage in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. The figure of the grass is sufficiently impressive to us who see the swathes lying in the path of the mower; but it is more effective in the East, where the sudden blasts of scorching wind burn up the vegetation in an hour, and change freshness and flowers for barrenness and death. The Word of God endures for ever. It cannot be likened to anything on which rests the earthly stamp. It is not even like the giant trees, which grow on while the grass and the flowers of a hundred summers flourish and fade beneath them; for at last even the trees fail to respond to the wakening spring-breath, and the great trunks and branches crumble down to dust, and pass away. It is not even like the mighty hills, which, towering high above us, seem to have their foundations in the very centre of the earth. They also are weathering down, and shall one day change and pass. It is not even like the vast firmament, which keeps, through summer and through winter, its broad expanse of blue, though clouds all blackness, or clouds silver-tinged, sweep in ever-varying shapes across it; for at last “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise.” The Word of God is His revelation—His entire revelation. Not the Bible only, but every testimony that He is pleased to make to men of His will. Every utterance of God is permanent; it endures up to the very uttermost limit of necessity for it.
I. The transient character of all earthly things.—Everything has a body and a soul; a form that can be apprehended by our senses, that we may see and touch, and a mysterious and invisible substance, which is its real self, and of which the form is only the expression. George Macdonald’s saying may be applied to things as well as to persons. “We are accustomed to say that we are bodies, and have souls; whereas we should rather say, we are souls and have bodies.” Within everything there is a soul that abides—that is its real self—however its form may change. The grass of each springtime falls before the mower, but the spirit of the grass abides through all the generations. The million flowers of gay and pleasant summer-time fade and drop away, but the work of the flowers, in the toned and scented air, and in the pleasure they give, abides long after they have passed.
“The lily dies not, when both flower and leaf
Fade, and are strewed upon the chill, sad ground;
Gone down for shelter to its mother-earth,
’Twill rise, re-bloom, and shed its fragrance round.”
All nature seems to echo the message of the grass. The winter snow falls lightly, and lies in its white purity—mystic, wonderful—over all the land. But so soon it soils, and browns, and sinks, and passes all away! The spring flowers that come, responsive to the low sunshine and the gentle wind, are so fragile, they stay with us only such a little while, and then they pass away! The summer blossoms multiply, and stand thick over the ground, and they seem so strong in their rich, deep colours; yet they, too, wither and droop, and pass away. The autumn fruits cluster on the branches, and grow big in their ripening, but they, too, are plucked in due season, and pass away. The gay dress of varied leafage is soon stripped off by the wild winds and passes away. Down every channel of the hillside is borne the crumblings wasted from the “everlasting hills” that really are passing away. The hard trap rocks that hold in the wintry sea are yet worn down with its ceaseless chafing, and are passing away. And man!—does he differ from the things in the midst of which he is set? Nay, what a little thing is human life, even at the longest! We can scarcely reach to do anything great, or to get within sight of a life’s great purpose, before the call comes, bidding us away. It is not only true of us, it is true of our work. All the glory—all the goodliness—of man’s genius and enterprise and effort—it is all “as the flower of the field.” Man’s strength, and wisdom, and riches, and learning, and honour, and beauty, and science, and art—all are subject to change and decay. The moth and rust eat into them, and the thief steals them away. This is—
1. Impressively seen in the changes of our Church life. In a few years a congregation entirely passes away.
2. It is true of the very forms and modes in which one man strives to help and bless another. Some men’s ways of presenting God’s truth to us do help us more than the ways of others. But even our spiritual helpers do not stay with us long.
II. The permanent character of all Divine things.—Especially of all Divine revelations and declarations, for these are properly gathered into the term, the “Word of God.” Everything that speaks to our souls of God is a revelation to us. It may be a touch of nature. It may be only a pure white flower. It may be the pale gold and green of a late sunset. It may be the snowy crest of an Alpine mountain, lying still and pure against the summer’s deep blue sky. It may be the weird mist of the gloaming, creeping over the landscape. It may be the glimpse down some woodland vale of the “many twinkling sea.” It may be the solemn shadows of the secluded mountain tarn. It may be the great thunder-noise of God, echoing through the valleys. It may be the voice of some fellow man, translating into human words for us the great thoughts of God. Howsoever the Word of God may come into our souls, it is true for ever. All things that our souls hear, and feel, and know, are Divine, and permanent, and eternal things. When the very soul of nature speaks to our souls, its message is Divine and eternal. Have you forgotten when you first heard the voice of the flowers? They lived, and spoke to you of God. Have you forgotten the quiet lying on the country hill-side, when lost strength was slowly returning, and in the stillness, the very music of the earth seemed to be heard, creation hymning its chorus, “Praise God, praise God!” When God speaks to us by Divine providence, the message is permanent; our souls get it, and keep it for ever. The spiritual influences of our life-experiences are eternal. That revelation of redemption—if it is really made to our souls—is a permanent revelation. Everything that pleads in us for duty is eternal, because all such things bear on character, and character endures; its flower never withers nor falls; God puts upon it the immortal stamp, and crowns it with the eternal righteousness. Every voice that brings truth home to the soul is permanent. Every uplifting of the mystery of being that gives us a glimpse of reality, and a new hold on God, is permanent. All God’s comfortings abide with us. The troubles pass, but the “everlasting arms” stay underneath us. God’s comforts suit the moment, but they last for ever. And when God kindles hope, it is hope that cannot disappoint, that will never make ashamed. In the “Life of Dr. Horace Bushnell,” it is stated that the following words of his were found dimly pencilled on a stray sheet of paper. Referring to the time of his infancy, when he “came out in this rough battle with winds, winters, and wickedness,” he says, “My God, and my good mother, both heard the cry, and went to the task of strengthening me and comforting me together, and were able ere long to get a smile upon my face.… Long years ago she vanished; but God stays by me still, embraces me in my gray hairs as tenderly and carefully as she did in my infancy, and gives to me, as my joy, and the principal glory of my life, that He lets me know Him, and helps me with real confidence to call Him my Father.” It is true, but we need not trouble over it—“the fashion of this world passeth away.” It is true, and we will join in saying it with an exceeding great joy—“The Word of our God shall stand for ever.”
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 1
1 Peter 1:19. The Precious Blood.—One evening two soldiers were placed as sentries at the opposite ends of a sallyport or long passage, leading from the rock of Gibraltar to the Spanish territory. One of them, from the reading of the sacred Scriptures, was rejoicing in God his Saviour; while the other, from the same cause, was in a state of deep mental anxiety, being under strong convictions of sin, and earnestly seeking deliverance from the load of guilt that was pressing upon his conscience. On the evening alluded to, one of the officers, who had been out dining, was returning to the garrison at a late hour, and coming up to the sentry on the outside of the sallyport, and who was the soldier recently converted, he asked, as usual, for the watchword. The man, absorbed in meditation on the glorious things that had recently been unfolded to him, and filled with devout gratitude and love, on being roused from his midnight reverie, replied to the officer’s challenge with the words, “The precious blood of Christ.” He soon, however, recovered his self-possession, and gave the correct watch-word. But his comrade, who was anxiously seeking the Lord, and who was stationed as sentry at the other or inner end of the sallyport, a passage specially adapted for the conveyance of sound, heard the words, “the precious blood of Christ” mysteriously borne upon the breeze at the solemn hour of midnight. The words came home to his heart as a voice from heaven; the lord of guilt was removed, and the precious blood of Christ spoke peace to the soul of the sin-burdened soldier. He was afterwards, with others of his regiment, drafted for service in India, and proceeded to the island of Ceylon, where a long career of usefulness opened up before him, and where he became the honoured instrument, in the hands of the Lord, for the completion of a great and important work. Soon after arriving in Ceylon, his discharge was procured from his regiment, that he might fill the office of master of the principal school in Colombo, for which he was well qualified by a good education in early life. He soon acquired an intimate knowledge of the Cingalese language, and as a translation of the Bible into that tongue was lying in an unfinished state, owing to the death of the individual who commenced the work, he set himself to the task, and completed the Cingalese version of the Scriptures, which was afterwards printed by the British and Foreign Bible Society in four quarto volumes.