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CHRISTIAN LIFE CALLS FOR THE PUTTING AWAY OF EVILS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE Jewish Christians addressed in this epistle are thought of as “born again” into the Christian faith and life. The key-note of the epistle is “hath begotten us again.” (1 Peter 1:3) and “being born again” (1 Peter 1:23). The idea that on professing faith in Christ a man enters on and begins a new life, as a spiritual babe, in a spiritual atmosphere, in which, and in receipt of spiritual nourishment, he is to grow up into the fulness of the spiritual man in Christ, is decidedly Pauline. But St. Peter makes a special application of it to the Jews who became Christians, and might plead that they were already born of God, and that Christianity involved no vital change in their standing and relations; it was really no more than an unfolding, or reformation, of the life unto God which they already had. Both St. Paul and St. Peter distinctly claim for the Christian profession that it is a new life, beginning with a new spiritual birth, in the power of the Holy Spirit. If this is fully apprehended, the substance of the epistle will be understood as a varied help toward the training and shaping and nourishing of the spiritual babe up through its stages of growth, and the ordering of the various relations into which the babe must come as it grows. But there is a Jewish blending of figures and ideas taken from the old dispensation which is sometimes a little difficult for us to follow, but which would be very suggestive to those familiar with Judaism, who were directly addressed in the epistle. This chapter has been described as an exhortation to realise the idea of the new Israel. “The apostle bids them put away all elements of disunion, and combine into a new Temple, founded on Jesus as the Christ, and into a new hierarchy and theocracy.” Personally each professor of faith in Christ had begun a new life. Unitedly those who professed faith in Christ constituted a newly founded race, a spiritual Israel, a kingdom of priests.
1 Peter 2:1. Wherefore.—Because the new life has begun for you. There is something befitting that new life. There are things associated with the old life which are manifestly unfitting, and must be put away. The things mentioned are precisely the besetting sins of the Jewish character. Laying aside.—The counsel implies recognition of their power to deal both with wrong feelings toward others and with wrong expressions of such feelings. Literally it is “having laid aside,” and it is implied that this is involved in the old life being ended, and the new life begun. This is what ouǧht to be. St. Peter urges them to make things be as they ought to be (compare St. Paul’s teaching concerning the lingering corruptions of the “old man,” as in Romans 7:0). Malice.—Generally wickedness, or disposition to injure others; perhaps resentment of supposed wrong, which was a characteristic evil of the Jewish mind. The relations of the Jewish Christians and Jews would provide easy occasion for such resentments. Guile.—The great weakness of Jewish character in every age. The Laban taint in the Abrahamic race. Hypocrisies.—Like, yet distinct from, “guile.” The idea here would be met by “insincerities,” over-anxiety to make a Christian appearance. The apostle would say “be genuine,” do not strain for effect. Let the new life grow naturally, and show itself and express itself how it will. We might put his counsel in this shape: “Beware of cant and sentimentality.” Envies.—These would spoil the fellowship of the Christians among themselves. Evil speakings.—With special reference to the characters of others. St. Peter would support the motto nil, nisi bonum. Augustine thus marks the significance of these terms: “Malice delights in another’s hurt; envy pines at another’s good; guile imparts duplicity to the heart; hypocrisy (flattery) imparts duplicity to the tongue; evil speakings wound the character of another.”
1 Peter 2:2. Newborn babes.—The Greek word ἀρτιγέννητα implies the earliest stage of infancy. It was usual for Rabbinical writers thus to designate proselytes. Compare the term “neophytes.” Sincere milk.—Simple, unadultered. De Wette, “The pure, rational milk.” In view of the additions which had been made to the genuine Word of God by the Rabbinical schools, and its over-laying by perplexing and mischievous commentaries, St. Peter properly calls upon those beginning the new life to take nothing but the Word God as provided, and to cultivate an appetite for it. R.V. gives “The spiritual milk which is without guile,” and it adds to the verse the words “unto salvation,” for which there is good authority. For St. Peter’s use of the word “salvation” see 1 Peter 1:5; 1 Peter 1:9-10.
1 Peter 2:3. Tasted.—Or had a beginning of experience of personal relations with the Lord Jesus. The words are taken from Psalms 34:8, LXX. version. Gracious.—More precisely “usable,” “serviceable.” The figure in the Greek word is the mellowness of old wine. The idea of the apostle is that if the Christians were like newborn babes the food they had tasted once they would want again.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 2:1-3
Christian Growth is in Christian Control.—In these verses the growth is seen in what it enables a man to throw off. When men became Christians out of Pagan or heathen associations, there would necessarily be a great deal of the old life and habit that must be thrown off—a great incrustation of old evils that must be resolutely dealt with. The apostle Paul recognises how much had been done in this way by his Gentile converts when he says (1 Corinthians 6:10-11), “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” But St. Peter wrote his epistle mainly, if not exclusively, for Jewish converts, not for Gentile Christians. The point is, however, equally applicable to them. For there were characteristic moral faults of Judaism, and especially of the later, formal, and corrupt Judaism, which were quite as antagonistic to the Christian spirit, and the Christian life, as any of the open vices of Paganism could be. “Hypocrisies and evil-speakings “were characteristic Jewish sins. And they must be thrown off if the Christian life is to find free expression; they would be surely thrown off with advancing Christian growth. The point has its continuous application in every age, and to-day. More or less defined, every Christian life is a new start and a change. There has always been much in the old life which is unsuitable in the new. A man carries habits, tendencies, cherished ideas, infirmities, into the profession of faith in Christ, which he must gradually throw off if he is to “walk worthy of his vocation”; and the throwing off is not best done as a series of efforts, it is the natural result of growth in the Divine life. Grow, and the more vigorous life of the soul will surely shake off the old evils and frailties. In relation to the evils of our habits, disposition, hereditary tendencies, etc.—
I. We can deal with the things that give them their opportunity and power.—In that sense we can “lay them aside,” “put them away.” A man may not have gained power over himself so as to allow himself to be placed in circumstances of temptation; but he may have gained such a power of control over his circumstances that he can alter conditions and relations which he knows are temptations to him. The familiar illustration is the man who has the craving for drink. He cannot directly master that craving, but he can watch everything, and carefully avoid everything that excites it. By so doing he can wear the craving out, and presently gain the full victory, and consciousness of full strength to resist. Shaping life so that there shall be no appeals to our natural frailties in it, is the duty which is seldom recognised. And yet, in that sense, the Christian’s life is in his own hands.
II. We can suitably nourish the spiritual growth.—“The sincere milk of the Word” is not the “milk for babes” of which the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews treats. St. Peter’s “sincere milk” is rational (intellectual), or more precisely spiritual milk; and he only calls it milk because his thoughts are occupied with the terms “begotten again,” “new-born babes.” He means this: Nourish yourselves into spiritual strength with just that spiritual food which is precisely adapted to your spiritual condition. It may be milk, if that is best for you; it may be strong meat, if that is best for you. The one important thing is that the Christian should grow; and the conditions of growth are very largely within his own control. He must meet his possibilities and responsibilities.
III. We shall want to nourish that spiritual growth if we rightly apprehend the responsibilities of the Christian life.—Growth is the one demand of all life—vegetable, animal, intellectual, moral, spiritual. Wherever there seems to be life, we ask what we feel to be the testing question, “Does it grow?” Every life has an aim—it is moving toward something. It will never reach it if it does not grow.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:2. Things to be Laid Aside.—The apostle mentions five, but he includes others of like nature, and he means they are to be laid aside once for all, never to be touched, thought after, or desired again. Having been laid aside, the temptation to them must be resisted, and not one of these noxious weeds must be permitted to show its head.
I. All malice—or all manner of malice. Malignity, or resentment of real or fancied injuries. You think that some one has done you a wrong, and you are angry with him; you owe him a grudge, you are determined to have your revenge. This is malice (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
II. All guile.—Guile is deceit, and (opposed to truth and openness of mind. A man who cherishes guile is never to be trusted, and he is so suspicious that he can seldom trust any one himself. A true Christian is sincere.
III. Hypocrisies.—These are allied to guile, and are indeed a species of it. Hypocrisy is acting a part as on a stage, where a person appears to be what he really is not. A. hypocrite is one who deceives, and intends to do so—does it knowingly.
IV. Envies.—Some men see others better off’, more respected, and in possession of greater honours than themselves, and they envy them, want to be like them, and are mortified if they cannot be.
V. All evil speakings or slanderings.—Envies lead to these, and these are the bane of all society. What heartburnings, and jealousies, and misunderstandings have arisen from the practice of evil-speaking! There are many ways of speaking evil of others. You may insinuate doubts as to their piety; you may ask questions about them which will lead others to ask questions still more significant. And it is an easy thing to blast the character of another, whilst it is a very difficult thing to repair the injury. These things the Christian is thought of as having already laid aside, and in all circles of true believers they are—and they should be—guarded against with the utmost care.—Thornley Smith.
1 Peter 2:3. Testing Conditions.—St. Paul commends the duty of self-examination and heart-searching in connection with the Holy Sacrament in 1 Corinthians 11:0. This verse of our text may suggest suitable preparatory self-examinations.
I. The beginnings of a religious life.—“Tasting that the Lord is gracious.” We are very anxious to gain assurance that our beginning has been right. Perhaps we make too much of the initial stages. The New Testament describes the beginnings of religious life under a variety of forms and figures. Sometimes it is the passing in at a gate, or it is the first breath of a new life; or it is the first cry of new-born babe; or the first prayer of a penitent soul; or the healing in response to a look; or the answer to a call; or the laying of a life foundation. Here it seems to be the infant’s first taste of food—the wakening, as it were, of a new sense, which discovers that “the Lord is gracious.” St. Peter’s words may be read in the light of his own experience. There is one incident of unsurpassed tenderness in St. Peter’s life. It is his interview with Christ after the resurrection, when, again and again, but using somewhat different terms, Christ asked the searching question, “Lovest thou Me?” That was the time, above all other times, in which St. Peter felt the graciousness of the Lord. That was not his conversion, but it was his first “soul-taste,” the scene that henceforth toned his life. By this expression St. Peter evidently means—
1. A personal realisation of the graciousness of the Lord. He had been brought up in a knowledge of God that must have included His goodness. But such things as we may learn about God may lie on the mind as mere knowledge. St. Peter says that it must get in to a man, and become the man’s own. The soul, with its sensitiveness and receptivities, must touch and taste. It is easy enough for us all to sing, “God is Love.” It is a solemn moment when the soul wakes up to say, with a passion of personal feeling, “Yes, God is love.” “He loved me, and gave Himself for me.”
2. A heart realisation of the graciousness of the Lord. Many a man’s mind has hold of it, but it is much more for the affections to be swayed and constrained by it, and for the graciousness to flow in on the soul like the tide of new life to one who has been sick.
3. And it is nothing less than the graciousness of God that is tested. That word “graciousness” must be meant to express more than goodness, more than kindness. God is good to all; kind to the unthankful and the unholy, but gracious to the penitent sinner. So “graciousness” is the sinner’s “taste” of the Lord. Now, cannot a man know for himself whether, made sensitive by sin-burden, he has “tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
II. The privileges that belong to such a beginning.—Not to any particular degree of Christian attainment, but to the very beginning. First privilege—a right to the name, and to the hope, of a Christian. Second, a right of admission to Christ’s Church, which is the communion of such. Third, a right to kneel at the altar of the Lord, to sit down at the table of the Lord, which is the feast together of those who, in love, respond to love.
God’s Graciousness.—This is the sweetness of the word, that it hath in it the Lord’s graciousness, and gives us the knowledge of His love. This they find in it, who have spiritual life and senses, and those senses exercised to discern good and evil, and this engages a Christian’s further desire of the Divine Word. They are fantastical, deluding tastes that draw men from the written Word, and make them expect other revelations. This graciousness is first conveyed to us by the Word; there first we taste it, and there still we are to seek for it; there the love of God in Christ streams forth in the several promises. The heart that cleaves to the Word of God, and delights in it, cannot but find in it, daily, new tastes of His goodness. Here it reads His love, and by that stirs up its own to Him, and so grows and loves every day more than the former, and thus is tending from tastes to fulness. It is but little we can receive here—some drops of joy, that enter into us; but there we shall enter into joy, as vessels put into a sea of happiness.—Leighton.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 2:4.—The figure is now changed, and the apostle deals with the Christian Church rather than the Christian individual. Two things were present to his mind—the material Jewish temple and the spiritual Jewish dispensation. He makes the one help to the understanding of the other. The Christian Church is like a new temple, built up from its very first foundation-stone. It is like a new dispensation, only instead of the new religious nation being represented by an order of priests, it is a kingdom of priests, represented only by one great High Priest. To whom coming.—In order to make a beginning in building the spiritual house. Living stone.—Not here natural rock, as distinguished from stone shaped by the mason; but spiritual foundation of a spiritual house. Chosen of God.—The rejection of Christ by the Jews is a historical fact: the acceptance of Christ by God is the spiritual fact implied in our Lord’s resurrection. Precious.—Or honourable. The assumed criminality of the crucifixion deceived neither God nor good men. No matter what Christ seemed to be, He was “holy, harmless, undefiled.”
1 Peter 2:5. Lively.—Better, living, with the same idea as above. Men quickened with a spiritual life, therefore spiritual men; stones to match Christ, the living stone. (Perhaps the sentence should read, “Build yourselves up.”) Spiritual house.—The Christian Church, thought of as the spiritual reproduction of the Jewish Temple. Holy priesthood.—In old days the true spiritual temple was the nation of devout worshippers; it was represented by the tribe (twelfth part of itself), which was wholly devoted to the Temple ministry. The Christian Church is the new spiritual temple, every member being a priest, and all together offering up spiritual sacrifices. The blending of figures is sometimes puzzling; “the priests who sacrificed in the true temple were themselves the stones of which that temple was built.” R.V. has “a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” Spiritual sacrifices.—No longer material sacrifices, but the spiritual things—thankfulness, love, devotion, etc.—which they represented. By Jesus Christ.—Who offered the model spiritual sacrifice—who offered Himself.
1 Peter 2:6. In the Scripture.—Not precisely quoted from either Heb. or LXX. of Isaiah 28:16. The apostle evidently wrote from memory. In Sion.—The Temple was built on Moriah. Corner-stone.—With possible allusion to the corner of the Temple area that was built right up from the valley. But one of the stones in the foundations of ancient buildings was usually spoken of as the foundation-stone. Elect.—Better, “selected.” Precious.—Counted honourable. Confounded.—The idea given by the rendering in the LXX. Building on this foundation, we build securely; do not find our confidence misplaced.
1 Peter 2:7. Precious.—Still the same idea, “held in honour “or in confidence. Such is your esteem that you have no hesitation in building on this foundation. Disobedient.—Involving unbelief finding expression in active rebellion. Disallowed.—Left in the quarry as unsuitable and unworthy. Head of the corner.—Is put in the most honourable position.
1 Peter 2:8. Stone of stumbling, etc.—See Isaiah 8:14. “Their stumbling implies the judicial punishment of their rejection of Messiah. They hurt themselves in stumbling over the corner-stone.” Appointed.—The Jewish mind always regarded what did happen as what God had arranged should happen. No doubt the reference here is to the prophecies which had so plainly anticipated the rejection as well as the acceptance of Messiah. “Those who stumbled by disbelief were marked out by prophecy as men who would stumble.” But prophecy refers to a class, not to individuals.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 2:4-8
The Spiritual House.—The figures of this paragraph are precisely adapted to those who were familiar with the associations of Judaism, and more especially with the material tabernacle and the Temple, and the outward religious system associated with them. The material house of Judaism is contrasted with the spiritual house of Christianity. It is the contrast that is so fully elaborated in the epistle to the Hebrews. That was a material house, in which earthly men fulfilled prescribed temporal duties, and carried out a ritual and ceremonial system. This is a living, spiritual house, of living, spiritual men, who offer in it living, spiritual sacrifices. And yet St. Peter recognises that there was a spiritual within that old material. The spiritual had always been revealed to the spiritually-minded. The spiritual could now be more fully apprehended, and the old material building may now fade away, or be removed, as scaffolding is removed, when the Temple is complete. Or, using another figure, St. Peter says, the people of Israel were separated, consecrated people; the whole people were a “holy priesthood,” devoted to the service of God. This fact was represented, and so kept ever before their minds, by the separation of one tribe entirely to the priestly service. St. Peter sees that truth concerning Israel carried over into Christianity, and spiritually realised. The Church wants no delegation of any portion of itself for priesthood, because spiritually every member is a priest, and the entire Church makes up the “holy priesthood.” Fixing attention on the “Spiritual House,” notice three things:—
I. Its foundation.—It is a living man—that is, a spiritual man. “Unto whom coming, a living stone.” It is the spiritual, Divine man, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, even Christ Jesus.” The figure of the foundation stone is doubtless taken from that corner of the Temple-area which was built up from the valley with gigantic masonry. The figure of a foundation is somewhat difficult for us to apprehend, because our buildings do not in any sense rest upon a single stone. The right thought may come to us through the schools of philosophy, systems of theology, or other religions. We speak of Socrates as the founder or foundation of the Socratic School; of Calvin as the founder or foundation of the Calvinistic system of theology; of Mohammed as the founder or foundation of the Mohammedan religion. In each case we mean that on one man’s thoughts, doings, teachings, rests the house of thought or truth which has been reared. Christianity is the house of truth and life reared upon the thoughts, doings, teachings, sufferings, of the Lord Jesus; and it is a spiritual house, because the spiritual is the range of Christ. What He thought, did, felt, taught, were the spiritual things on which the spiritual house was reared.
II. The stones of the building.—Living men—that is, spiritual men. Living in the sense in which Christ is spoken of as living. Connect with the idea of being begotten again, born again, quickened with the new, the spiritual life. St. John is the apostle of this new life. He “conceives of religion as consisting in the immediate personal relation of the soul, to God or to Christ. It begins with an impartation from God. To be born of God means to receive from Him a communication of spiritual life, whereby the soul is more and more transformed into Christ-likeness.” The stones of the building must be of the same nature as the foundation. Of material stones build the old Temple, on a foundation of stone from the quarry. Of spiritual stones—men alive unto God—build the spiritual temple, on a foundation of the spiritual stone, the man alive unto God, the spiritual man Christ Jesus. But another idea is suggested by the term “lively” or “living.” A living thing is a moving, acting thing, and the stones of the spiritual house are living men in their activity. It is a difficult association for us, but Eastern minds delight in involved and mixed metaphors. It may at least suggest to us that we give ourselves to Christ as living ones, “living sacrifices”—those who serve.
III. The service within the building.—“To offer up spiritual sacrifices.” The building is a temple. And this is true whether we think of a single life or of the corporate Church. Within the temple of the individual life spiritual sacrifices have to be offered. Within the temple of the Church must be kept up the holy ministries. What the spiritual sacrifices are we may learn from the services of the older and material Temple. Find what was at the heart of the old ritual, and that, without the ritual, is the spiritual sacrifice of the new dispensation. Illustrate, from the inner significance of the primary form of sacrifice, the burnt-offering. That was the giving of a man’s whole self to God, represented by the giving of an entire animal. That giving of the whole self to God is the spiritual sacrifice which we can now offer as quickened, living men. And spiritual sacrifices include acts of praise, thanksgiving, trust; include everything that can fitly find expression for the new and spiritual life. That is the one and essential condition of acceptance. The new life must be in everything we say or do in the living temple. Formalities are of no value now, save as they are instinct with Divine life. One law applies to the whole service of the spiritual temple,—it must express the life of men who are “born of God.”
Note by Dean Plumptre on the words “through Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 2:5.—“In the addition of these words, we have at once the sanction for the Church’s use of that form of words in connection with all her acts of prayer and praise, and the implied truth that it is only through their communion with Christ as the great High Priest, and with His sacrifice, that His people are able to share His priesthood, and offer their own spiritual sacrifices.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:5. The Spiritual Temple.—This passage suggests that the Tabernacle and Temple were types and symbol of the true Church of God and even of the individual believer. Here the terms of communion with God are set forth in the altar of burnt offering, and the laver; one signifying expiation by blood, and the other the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Place, with its three articles of furniture, the golden candelabra, the table of shew-bread, and altar of incense, typifies the forms of communion, as Prof. Moore of Virginia beautifully phrases it. Here we are taught first the duty of a burning and shining testimony for God; secondly, of consecrated and constantly renewed offerings; thirdly, of unceasing prayer and heart-worship. The Holiest Place, with its cherubim, mercy seat, and shekinah, may represent heavenly and complete fellowship, in the immediate presence of the glory of God, where a redeemed and glorified humanity, reconciled to God and in perfect harmony with all created being, the Law of God perfectly enshrined in the heart, communes immediately and within the veil with Jehovah!—Anon.
The Worshippers and the Temple the Same.—It is obvious, then, how fit, how essential it was that there should be a temple of stone for the partial dispensation; the presence of God in Christ for the transition state, when it was yet partial, but preparing to be extended; and for this last dispensation, which was to embrace all the world, what temple would have been sufficient but a temple co-extensive and identical with the worshippers themselves? As in the true Atonement there was no victim worthy of the priest but He who combined both in His own person, so, in the true worship, there could have been no adequate temple, unless the worshippers and the temple had been the same.—Bishop Hinds.
The Christian Temple, or Spiritual House.—St. Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of the Christian Church under the symbol of a temple, but he uses the word—ναὸς—nowhere else, and St. Peter never uses it at all. There can be no doubt, however, that when he wrote these words the idea was in his mind, and that he thought of the Temple of Jerusalem, in contrast with which he calls believers a spiritual house—οἶκος—of which the Lord Jesus is the foundation, or the corner-stone.
I. The foundation of this Temple,—
1. It is Christ Himself. St. Peter was a stone laid upon the foundation-stone, as also were each of the apostles. They were the first layer of the Temple, next to the foundation; but the foundation itself is Christ and none other. He is called “the living stone”; He has life, and gives life, spiritual and eternal, to all who trust in Him. A stone is hard, cold, and rigid, but this Stone lives and imparts life to every other stone of which the Church is built.
2. Its excellence is set forth by a contrast—“rejected, indeed, of men, but chosen of God and honoured.” St. Peter had said, before the Sanhedrin, “This is the Stone set at nought by you builders” (Acts 4:11). Christ is still rejected of men. The sceptic rejects Him. The rationalist rejects Him. The worldling rejects Him. God honours Him. Believers count Him “precious,” “honourable.”
3. The results of its being laid. “Unto you, therefore, which believe in the honour of belonging to the Stone, and of being united to the building of which it is the foundation.” Such is the import of 1 Peter 2:7.
II. Look, at the superstructure.—“Ye also as living (ζῶντες) stones are built up a spiritual house.”
1. The materials are living stones. Such are Christian believers. Drawn out of nature’s quarry, they are cut and polished by the Spirit of the living God, and are then prepared for the place they are to occupy in the temple of the Lord of hosts. Of such materials must God’s house be built.
2. Composed of such materials, this temple is called a spiritual house. God has had three temples on earth—the temple of stone, the temple of Christ’s body, and the living temple of the Church. The first was destroyed and swept away; the second was removed, and is now in heaven, the third remains; and will continue to grow until the top-stone be brought forth with shoutings—“Grace unto it!” In the temple of stone the shekinah dwelt; in the temple of Christ’s body dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead; in the temple of the Church the Spirit dwells, filling all its courts with the light and glory of the Lord.
3. In this spiritual house there is a holy priesthood. Every living stone in this temple is also a consecrated priest, and has access by faith into the holiest of all by the blood of the everlasting covenant.
4. A temple implies sacrifices, and they are offered here. The sacrifices of God always were, and still are, spiritual sacrifices—the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart; the sacrifice of earnest prayer and faith; the sacrifice of a holy and devoted life.—Thornley Smith.
1 Peter 2:7. “The Preciousness.”—The alteration made in the R.V., which reads, “For you therefore which believe is the preciousness,” is less serious than at first sight it appears to be. It in no way changes the sentiment, it only alters the form in which it is expressed. It keeps in the line of the figure which the apostle is using—a characteristic figure for him who had himself been called a “stone”; the “rock-man,” on whose witness for Christ the Church was to be founded. St. Peter had spoken of coming to the Lord, the Lord Christ, as unto a “living stone,” that could be the foundation-stone on which to raise the temple of a holy life. He was not writing of the first coming of the soul to Christ, with the burden of sin—the coming for forgiveness and renewal—but of the coming of the believer when he proposes to make the endeavour to build a godly life. As Christ is the foundation of our hope, so He is the foundation of our life of character. Build a character upon nothing, and it sways with every wind, and is overthrown with the first storm. Build a character upon the self of resolve and human wisdom, and it is as the house upon the sand, which keeps fair enough under the summer rains, but is undermined and imperilled when the winter floods surge around it. Build a character upon the rock of Christ; let the foundation be His Divine claim and His model humanity, as held in the grasp of our faith; and then let life bring round what storms and floods of trial and temptation that it may, the house of character which we build may be weathered and worn, but it will not fall; it cannot be shaken. It is founded upon a rock: that rock is the “Rock of Ages.” That is the “living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious.” “It is contained in Scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame.” The Temple of Solomon is evidently present to the mind of the apostle, and suggests his figure. That Temple was built upon the living rock of Mount Moriah; but the summit of the mount was not sufficiently large or level to permit the full size and proper shape of the Temple court. On the one side the ground dipped suddenly, and to complete the form of the required area, a corner-piece had to be raised, in heavy masonry, right up from the valley to the Temple level. It was a stupendous work for the age in which it was accomplished. It came to absorb attention rather than the rock of the hill itself. It was the national pride. It seemed as if the Temple was really built on that corner; as if that were its real foundation-stone. Every believer has a temple to raise—the temple of a Christly character, the temple of a holy life. There is the natural rock of disposition and heredity on which every man builds his house of character; but the believer wants something more than this. He needs a completion of its incompleteness and insufficiency by the laying of a “chief corner-stone.” That alone can make the foundation area satisfactory: that alone can be trusted to bear the full weight of the building; and that alone can give noble character to the building. And that chief corner-stone of the temple of a godly life God has provided for every man. It is Jesus the Lord, elect, precious: “the tried stone, the precious corner-stone.” But St. Peter points out that, though the corner-stone foundation is actually provided, and available for all, it must be individually accepted and individually used. And so it becomes the test of every professor. Where there is no actual, practical faith, giving tone to the daily endeavour to live the godly life, that corner-stone is neglected; it may even be “a stone of stumbling and rock of offence.” But where there is practical, living faith, there the stone is valued, held honourable; the grace of its provision is recognised, its uses are understood, and the life of holiness is so raised upon it that every part of the life feels the strength and support of that foundation. It is the interest which the man of faith has in the chief corner-stone, on which he wants to build every part of his spiritual house, which St. Peter suggests to us in this passage. And it does not matter whether we keep to the figure of the stone—an impersonal thing—and say, “Unto you therefore which believe is the preciousness”; or, seeing who it is that is meant by the stone—the personal, living Lord Jesus, our Saviour and Sanctifier—say, “Unto you that believe, He is precious.” As we may, however, gain a little freshness in the form and setting of very familiar truth thereby, we will take advantage of the impersonal figure preserved for us by the R.V., and let our text mean—
I. By the believer the preciousness is discerned.—It will not be possible to deal wisely with this or the other points to be brought before us unless we first understand clearly who is meant by the “believer.” It cannot be too often asserted that the epistles are not written to unconverted persons as persuasions to a saving belief. However unworthy of the Christian name those addressed in the epistles may be, the assumption is that they do all bear the Christian name; they have all accepted Christ as their Saviour and Lord; they are all believers. The distinction is not sufficiently recognised between the act of faith and the life of faith. The act of faith is the beginning of a life of faith, and it has no effective value unless it is followed up by such a daily faith. The apostle expresses the belief in which we are just now interested when he says, “The life that I live in the flesh is a life of faith on the Son of God.” The act of faith ought to establish an attitude of faith, and that attitude should be a permanent attitude. It is by that daily and permanent attitude of our souls that the preciousness of Christ is discerned. To use the figure of the photographer, we may say that the act of faith renders the whole plate of the soul sensitive to particular things, sensitive to spiritual things; and they make their due impressions according as, day by day, their sensitiveness is maintained. There is a school of thought which exaggerates the importance of the act of faith. Salvation is regarded as the Divine response to that act; and a daily renewal of the act is required only as keeping up the daily right to the salvation. But our salvation is a much larger thing than the setting us in a new relation with God; it includes getting that relation rightly toned. And what we need to see so much more clearly, and to feel so much more adequately, is that our daily believing is a power of discernment, and a power of receptivity, and a secret of growth and sanctifying. Constantly, therefore, must believers be urged to believe. It may even be pressed upon us that the maintenance of the attitude of trust is the condition of all joy, and of all growth in the Divine life. It is not of chief importance to ask, “Have you believed unto the salvation of your soul?” It is most important, and it is most searching, to ask, Are you believing unto the sanctification of your whole life and relationships? To that life of faith the mystery of Christ is revealed: by that permanent daily mood of belief, of living trustfulness, the preciousness of Christ is discerned. In the Song of Solomon the lover is taunted with the words, “What is thy be loved more than another beloved?” He is all the more to her by what her love discerns in him; and Christ is all the more to us by what our faith—our trust, which is simply our faith with love in it—can discern in Him. Here is the figure of Christ presented in the gospels; here is the estimate of Christ formed by His apostles; here are the accumulated sentiments concerning Christ of saintly souls through all the ages. And yet, do most men, with all this help, discern the preciousness of Christ? They admire Him, it may be; they write about Him, it may be; they wrangle over Him, it may be; but they cannot discern His sweet secret. That comes only to the man of faith; that is the discovery of the trustful soul. It is “hid from the wise and prudent,” who think they know; it is “revealed unto babes,” who can only trust. Is it not a simple fact that these who are living lives of faith do see in Christ more, and more precious things, than any one else can see? It is no wonder at all that men should accuse us of extravagance when we speak of our Divine Lord. They cannot see in Him what we see, and they never will while they keep in their present conditions. To us He is “the chiefest among ten thousand,” the “altogether lovely.” The older prophet shows the difference that a true discernment can make in Messiah and in His mission. “We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions.” This daily faith is the quickening of new powers, and that will partly explain our keener and fuller discernment. There are spiritual powers. They lie dormant until faith quickens them. The man who believes in Jesus finds himself possessed of unexpected powers; and what is so remarkable about the new powers is that they are ever enabling him to discern more and more of the preciousness of Jesus. And the daily life of faith is ever training and culturing those new powers to a higher efficiency. Keep up the daily soul trust, and the spiritual eyes will be ever gaining quicker, keener vision; the spiritual ears will be ever gaining subtler sensitiveness to every sound of the Divine voice; and the spiritual hands will be ever gaining firmness to grasp the duties which are set before us by the Divine will. And what is it that the cultured powers will discern in Christ? What of His preciousness does stand out clear to those who live the life of faith? The answer can but be a series of hints. They see Jesus Himself, but Jesus in all His varying moods, graciously adapted to all their moods. Always in direct and helpful relations to them. Just the Jesus they need when the sunshine is all about them, and seems to have got into their souls. Just the Jesus they need when the clouds hang low over them, earth toil seems hard, and heaven “far to go.” Yes, that is the preciousness of Jesus which the man of faith discerns. His real and abiding presence, involving His relativity to all our changing need: Jesus, vestured as no worldly eye ever beheld Him, practically helpful in every endeavour of our godly life. There is a certain Eastern character in the figure of the text that makes it sound somewhat strange to us, but we can catch the idea it suggests. Let the stones, quick with a living faith, be put on the living stone, the corner foundation-stone, and there surely will be the thrill of life into life. The Living Stone will, as it were, bind and keep all the stones, and there will be the Life ever present in every stone, keeping in place all the spiritual house. Unto you that believe there is that preciousness of discernment. You can see how much He is to you who is your Living Stone, your sure foundation. But keep near to heart and thought, that the power of discernment must always depend on the believing, on the life of faith. Here, as in so many things, the law holds good, “According to your faith it shall be unto you.”
II. By the believer the preciousness is enjoyed.—We only derive pleasure from things that answer to us, things with which we have affinity. And so the things that give pleasure to men are manifold, and vary from the trifling to the sublime. A diamond is no more precious to a child than any prettily coloured stone, or shining bit of stone. Only when trained to appreciate it can the precious stone be enjoyed. As we are cultured, as mental faculties, and moral sentiments, and religious interests, are developed, directed, and enlarged, we find our pleasure in ever higher, and nobler, and purer things. The merely material ceases to satisfy us, the moral and the spiritual prove able to provide ever-increasing enjoyment. We begin with pleasure in things, we advance to pleasure in truth, and in character; we attain our apprehension of the very highest pleasure when we find our joy in God. Christ is no personal interest, no source of ever-satisfying pleasure, to the great mass of men. When they see Him there is “no beauty that they should desire Him.” Why is this? He is what He is, but what He is is nothing to them. It is that they do not believe; the soul’s power of trust has never been awakened; the great gratitude of the sinful soul to its all-sufficient Saviour has not awakened the eyes to discern the transcendent loveliness of that Saviour. Only those who are living the life of faith can ever enjoy His preciousness. Everything depends on the mood of the mind. And it is singular to notice how the joy of the soul in Christ goes up and down with the varying moods of its faith. Cannot we make this a test of our spiritual state?—“Unto you that believe He is precious.” Do not ask, Are you full of admirations of Christ? Can you recognise His Divine fitness as the Saviour of the world? Be more searching than that. Ask yourself, Am I personally enjoying Christ? Does He fully satisfy me? In the love of Him do I find my soul’s rest? Is the “dearest spot on earth to me” that where I meet with Him? When I think of the beautiful does He seem to me more beautiful still? When I yearn for happiness do I find myself running right in to the shadow of His all-comforting love? Is He, indeed and in truth, my joy and my crown? Can I walk earth’s highway with a song in my soul—His song, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”? And do I turn from all the glory and bliss of heavenly scenes to fix all eye and heart on Him that sitteth on the throne, the “Lamb as it had been slain?” Then surely by us the preciousness of Jesus is enjoyed; and it must be that, in some measure at least, we are living that life of faith. Is there any test of Christian standing better—more searching and more satisfying—than this? “What think ye of Christ?” Nay, rather, What is Christ to you? How do you feel towards Him? For “unto you that believe is the preciousness.” Our cherished sentiments concerning Christ keep pace with the daily faith that brings Him ever into the field of our soul-vision and our touch.
III. By the believer the preciousness is responded to.—It is not that he only sees it; it is not that he only enjoys it; it is that he meets it, he answers to it. It becomes the holiest of forces moving him, the sweetest of constraints upon him. It presses him to all loving obediences, to all loyal services, to the constant endeavour to attain the likeness of the beloved one, and to a life of virtues and sweet charities as the only life well-pleasing to Him. The Christian life has its sentiments, and nourishes them; but the sentiments are impulses and inspirations; they are active powers; they give tone to conduct; they help the holy living. Let faith glorify Christ, and keep Him ever near, the object of unceasing admirations, the source of undying satisfactions, and then the soul will surely have its perpetual prayer, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And the life will be one prolonged endeavour to do what the loved one would have done. We know in our every-day relations what a sweet and powerful constraint the enjoyment of our loved ones is. Who among us is not a better man or woman day by day because the preciousness of our loved ones is so fully discerned and enjoyed. Life for us is the sweet response we make to those whom we fully trust, whom we deeply love, whose fellowship we so much enjoy. And yet in the earthly spheres we are only learning Divine things. Away even from the earthly spheres and relations we soar into the regions of the spiritual. There, with the power of our faith—our trust, which is faith with love in it—we discern the preciousness of Jesus, our tried cornerstone, our sure foundation. There we feel the sweet fascination of Jesus, and enjoy the fellowship and all-embracing love, and find it heaven begun to sit at His dear feet. There we feel ourselves caught and held in His restraints, bound by love-cords to His service, and perfectly willing, gladly willing, to be just what He would have us be, go just where He would have us go, and do just what He would have us do.
1 Peter 2:7. Our Honour in Christ.—“Unto you therefore, the believers, belongs the honour.” So said in reference to His being called “a stone elect, honoured,” taken in conjunction with “shall not be ashamed.” Both the Hebrew and the Greek word rendered “precious” may, with equal propriety, be translated “honoured,” and this contrasts better with the “shame” just spoken of. Thus Dr. Lightfoot takes it. The argument is this: “God has selected Jesus for special honour, and has promised that all who trust in Him, instead of scorning Him like the Jewish rulers, shall have no cause to blush. Now, you do trust in Him, therefore to you belongs the promise, and the honour bestowed by God on Him reflects on you. You, like Him, are made parts of the Divine imperishable architecture.—Ellicott’s Commentary.
Christ a Precious Saviour.
I. To whom is He precious? To them that believe.
II. Why is He precious to believers?
1. Because recognised as the medium of all earthly blessings; and
2. As the source of all spiritual blessings.
III. When is He thus precious?
1. In certain frames of mind, as when the soul hungers after righteousness.
2. In certain duties, as in secret prayer, worship, etc.
3. In certain seasons, as times of danger, bereavement, sickness, trial.—J. M. Sherwood.
Christ All in All.—Christ is all in all to His people. He is all their strength, wisdom, and righteousness. They are but the clouds irradiated by the sun, and bathed in its brightness. He is the light which flames in their grey-mist and turns it to a glory. They are but the belt and cranks and wheels: He is the power. They are but the channel, muddy and dry; He is the flashing life which fills it and makes it a joy. They are the body, He is the soul, dwelling in every part to save it from corruption, and give movement and warmth.
“Thou art the organ, whose full breath is thunder;
I am the keys beneath Thy fingers pressed.”
—A. Maclaren, D.D.
The Christ of Experience.—This is one of the undertones of Scripture, heard in all the pauses of its history or its argument. It is a recognition of the practical religious value of the Christ, of what He is to those who have put Him to experimental tests. Such recognitions make the New Testament the religious book of men’s practical life. Peter was a man far less profound and intentional than John, more realistic, more under the power of externalism and of mere ethics. He moves upon a lower plane of spiritual conception and Christian life. And yet how the fervency of his heart of religious love breaks forth! Here he is, setting forth the great value of Christianity as a source of strength and comfort and hope in the trials of human life. A stricter rendering of the text would be, “Unto you who believe is the honour.” So far from making you ashamed, trust in Him will be your highest honour; for through your trust in Him you will attain to all that constitutes the salvation of a man, the noblest life here, and everlasting glory hereafter. What is the estimate of Christ which they form who have tried Him? who have submitted their minds to His ideas, their hearts to His claims, their lives to His control? “He is precious.” The fundamental idea is value. In the commercial sense of the term, a precious thing is a priceful thing, a thing which fetches a price. Three things constitute value:
3. Serviceableness. All the qualities that constitute preciousness are in Christ, in a degree of excellence that imagination cannot overcolour, that even love cannot exaggerate. In respect of serviceableness, of personal beneficial relations to men, as their Redeemer from sin, His preciousness transcends all our words or thoughts. This is the form of the apostle’s thought. He speaks of the experimental value of the Christ—His preciousness to those who have practically come to Him as the living foundation stone; through whose vitalising properties they have been quickened into living stones of the spiritual Christian temple.
1. We might apply a comparative test, and put the preciousness of Christ into comparison with all other possessions of our human life. Or we might subject Him to a comparison with other good men.
2. Our estimates are largely influenced by the judgments of others. Think, then, of the estimates put upon Christ’s character and work by other moral beings. It is significant of His excellence that He attracts the most readily, and attaches the most profoundly, the holiest and noblest natures? Christ is never rejected because His moral teaching is false, His moral character defective, His moral inspirations corrupting.
3. The conclusive appeal is, however, to the conscious experience of our own religious souls. In personal experience we find our chief grounds for a high estimate of Christ.
I. Christ is precious when we grope and stumble at the mystery of God.
II. Christ is precious when the sense of sin is quickened within us.—When we awaken to the grave culpability of its guilt, when we realise its essential antagonism to the Divine holiness.
III. Christ is precious in our struggle with practical evils.—As we fight with lusts, resist temptation, overcome worldliness, subdue selfishness, or mourn over failures and falls.
IV. Christ is precious to us in times of great sorrow.
V. Christ is precious in our own mortal conflict.—It is not a question of notions or beliefs about Christ, but of living experience of Him, practical appropriation of the grace that He brings, practical quickening by the life that He is.—H. Alton, D.D.
The Verse a Quotation.—The words of this passage are quoted directly from the LXX., and properly represent the Hebrew. Almost all the best modern critics consider the psalm from which this verse is cited to be a late psalm, written subsequent to the return from Babylon, in which case it is most probable that the composer was directly thinking of the prophecy of Isaiah above quoted. The Messianic interpretation of the psalm would be no novelty to the Hebrews who received this epistle (see Matthew 21:9), though probably they had not perceived it in its fulness.—A. J. M.
A Christian Test.—One of the testing passages, which help us to gain assurance of our Christian standing. Uncertainty about our personal religious condition may be neither right nor necessary, but it is felt by all Christians at times. Two other tests may be suggested.
1. Tenderness of conscience about sin.
2. Manifest difference in the things we now love and choose. In the text we have.—
I. A description of the Christian.—“You that believe.” That fits precisely into apostolic preaching. In Acts we find St. Peter calling upon men to believe in Christ as Messiah, proved to be by His resurrection. Belief is more than, other than, knowledge, and indicates the Spirit’s power. Christians are they who in the teaching of the Spirit have come to believe, with a soul-reliance on Christ.
II. A test of the Christian.—“He is precious.” The word is “honour,” “preciousness.”
1. Christ is honoured. Occupies the highest place of respect; the Divine place of worship. He who can speak lightly of Christ is no Christian.
2. Christ is valued. Precious, in the sense of costly. Involving a right estimate
(1) of Christ’s person;
(2) of Christ’s work.
3. Christ is loved. Those are precious to us whom we love. We love to think of His salvation, to realise His presence, and to do His will. In this way the testing of our spiritual condition is put in its most gentle, persuasive, and attractive forms.
1 Peter 2:8. Appointed unto Stumbling.—When St. Peter says that these unhappy Jews were appointed to stumble, he primarily means that the clear prophecies of the Old Testament which he has quoted marked them for such a destiny. It was no unforeseen, accidental consequence of the gospel. It had never been expected that all who heard the gospel would accept it. Those who stumbled by disbelief were marked out in prophecy as men who would stumble. Still, in fairness, we must not shirk the further question which undoubtedly comes in at this point. It cannot be denied, that, in a certain sense, it was God Himself who appointed them to stumble. There is no reference to condition after death. God does put men sometimes into positions, where, during this life, they almost inevitably reject the truth. These things remain unexplained, for the trial of faith.—Ellicotl’s Commentary.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 2:9. Chosen generation.—These terms describe the new spiritual Israel in terms taken from the old Israel. God chose the Abrahamic race; God called out a particular priesthood. The entire nation was holy, in the sense of separated unto God. The Jews were a peculiar, or purchased, people, in view of the redemption from Egypt, which was the beginning of their national life. So the new Israel was a race chosen in Christ, constituted as a kingdom of priests, separated from the world unto God, and specially related to God as the purchase of His own sacrifice. Out of darkness.—Not the darkness of heathenism, but of the formal Judaism of that day.
1 Peter 2:10. Not a people.—For this figure see Hosea 2:23. The Jews are still addressed, but from this point of view—while they had disbelieved and rejected God’s Son whom He had sent, they were not God’s people. All disbelief and disobedience put them out of covenant relations. When they believed and obeyed Christ they became God’s people again, and now in a new and higher sense.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 2:9-10
Christian Jews are the True Jews.—These verses may at first sight seem to describe the dignities and privileges of the Jews as the elect nation. But any such praise of the Jews would be quite out of harmony with the truth St. Peter is presenting. His whole argument is that we have something now far better than old Judaism; something so much better that, for the sake of it, we may cheerfully give up the old. St. Peter is writing to Christian Jews, whom he regards now as the true Israel; he would not suddenly turn aside to praise those who clung to the older system. The figures of speech are taken from the older associations, and, however difficult the work may be to us, we must fit them to the new spiritual nation made up of Christian Jews. St. Peter even suggests that, before accepting Christ as Messiah and Saviour, these Christian Jews were “not a people”; by accepting Him, and by virtue of the new life in Him, they had become the true, elect race. They “now are the people of God.” They “had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” “The glories that attach to the company of believers in Christ are brought before us in a mosaic of Old Testament phraseology.” For “chosen generation,” see Isaiah 43:20. For “royal priesthood,” Exodus 19:6, LXX. For “peculiar people,” compare Deuteronomy 7:6; Isaiah 43:21; Malachi 3:17. The words would be better rendered, “a people of purchase.” The “praises” of 1 Peter 2:9 would be better rendered, “excellences,” “attributes,” “distinguishing qualities.”
I. The Divine election is always to responsibility and service.—It is the Divine method, illustrated in every ration and in every department of life, to secure the advancement of moral beings by setting forth elect men. What we have in the Bible is simply the Divine election relative to the world’s religion. It is most helpful to the understanding of election, thus to recognise it as an ever-working Divine method. God always has had His elect nations; He has had, and has, His elect individuals in the spheres of government, science, art, poetry, literature, family life, priesthoods, ministries, etc. The election is always, and essentially, a special call to service, and it always involves the previous endowment of the man, by God, with the particular gifts which He will need for the service. The Jewish race had been called out by God for a particular service in relation to humanity, and for that service they were endowed with an extraordinary sense of God; that marks the Jewish off from every other human race. They were to keep, as living truths for humanity, the unity and spirituality of God, and they were to preserve the oracles which recorded the revelations of that one spiritual being. That was their service, and in rendering that service lay their responsibility. The Christian Jews are bidden to think of themselves as an elect race, called to this service for humanity, to show forth the excellences and the grace of God, as manifested in the person, and in the redemptive work, of His Son Jesus Christ. In Christ God had called them “out of darkness into marvellous light.” Their service was to show Him forth by life and by lip. It is the calling and election of every Christian now.
II. The Divine election always carries with it dignity and privilege.—The mistake is often made of putting the privilege of Divine election before the responsibility; and this tends, in frail men, to nourish a perilous self-satisfaction. Men come to think of themselves as the “favourites” of heaven, to the disadvantage of others. And on this idea of election privilege, sects are formed which isolate themselves from the whole community of Christians. It is dignity to be called to Divine service, but we had better think more about the service than the dignity. It is privilege to receive a sacred trust, but it is healthier for us to think about the trust than about the privilege. We may cheer our souls sometimes with the thought of our privilege, but we should inspire our souls always with the thought of our trust.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:9. A Chosen Generation.—The greatness of the Christian privilege is a chief reason for our failing worthily to realise it. And we do not feel the claims and responsibilities aright when we are not duly impressed by the privilege. In this text we have—
I. Christian privilege.—“A chosen generation.” There is reference to Abraham and Israel. Chosen in Divine sovereignty, and also in Divine love. This suggests duty as last clause of verse.
II. Christian dignity.—“Royal Priesthood.” Reference to Israel as a nation. Union of two highest dignities, King and Priest, in Melchizedek. Explain the kingly sphere. Wherever God reigns—self or world, there the renewed man reigns as God’s vicegerent. Explain the priestly sphere. The renewed man is to be his own offerer. What have we to offer? “Sacrifice of praise.” “Ourselves as living sacrifices.” This involves duty.
III. Christian quality.—“Holy nation.” Holiness is the profession of every Christian. Holiness is the expectation concerning every Christian. Holiness is first an internal quality, and then an external manifestation.
IV. Christian peculiarity.—“A peculiar people.” Not meaning an odd people, but a separated, an appropriated people. A people having a definite set of characteristics. Peculiar as a family of one type of countenance, and one disposition. Peculiar as having a special idea and aim in life. Here, also, duty comes in. The better we know the privileges which Divine grace has bestowed upon us, and does bestow, the better shall we feel the claims which Divine grace makes upon us, and the more disposed shall we be to respond to them.
Interest in Ancestry.—It is counted a matter of great moment unto noble families, if but for honour’s sake, to know their descent from houses more ancient and sovereign; that they have sprung from such and such marriages, and conjunctions of sovereign princes, although they be in alliance very far removed from them. So is this here to us; the saints are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,” as Peter speaks, the royalest family heaven or earth affords, and that in respect of the descent thereof.—Dr. T. Goodwin.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
1 Peter 2:10. Marvellous Light.—The phenomena of light and vision have for all minds surpassing interest, whether in regard to the beauty of light or its utility. The beauty is seen spread over a varied landscape, in the verdure of fields and forests, among the beds of the flower garden, in the plumage of birds, in the clouds around the rising and setting sun, in the circles of the rainbow. And the utility is such that, if a man had needed to supply his wants by groping in utter and unchangeable darkness, even if originally possessed of all knowledge now existing in the world, he would scarcely have secured his existence for one day. Eternal night would have been universal death Light, then, while the beauteous garb of nature, is also the absolutely necessary medium of communication between living creatures and the universe around them. The rising sun is what converts the wilderness of darkness which night covered, and which, to the mind of a child not yet aware of the regularity of nature’s changes, is so full of horror, into a visible and lovely paradise.—Rev. W. Arnot.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 2:11.—This verse begins some direct counsels concerning the ordering of Christian conduct and relations. As they have a somewhat severe tone, they are commenced with an affectionate form of address—“Dearly beloved.” Strangers and pilgrims.—Sojourners, suitable to those who belonged to the dispersion, but specially suggesting the unworldliness of the spiritual life, in Christ, which they had begun. Fleshly lusts.—Which lead to drunkenness, gluttony, and uncleanness. There was special need for the Hebrew Christians to be vigilant, on account of the calumnies which the heathen were beginning to circulate about the Christians. For the “works of the flesh” see Galatians 5:19-21. Soul.—The higher element in man’s nature. Here the new spiritual life of the soul is referred to. The antagonism between flesh and spirit is a familiar Pauline topic.
1 Peter 2:12. Conversation.—Behaviour in relationships with others. Honest.—Better, “seemly.” The word used is the ordinary Greek word for “beautiful,” and it distinctly means goodness that comes into sight. A daily walk that is attractive, winsome, to look at. Gentiles.—Everybody other than yourselves. Speak against you.—In different ways. Both the Gentiles and the bigoted Jews aspersed the character of the Christians. We cannot stop the slanderer, but we can jealously see to it that he shall have no ground for his slandering. We may be persecuted, as Christ was; we must try to be as free from blame as Christ was (see 1 Peter 2:20). Day of visitation.—Time of calamities which the early Christians regarded as the coming of Christ. “Not only the last great day, but on whatever occasion God brings matters to a crisis” (Canon Mason).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—1 Peter 2:11-12
The Persuasive Power of Moral Goodness.—St. Peter urges these Christian Jews to live out fully their Christian life, to “walk worthy of their vocation”—they would find that give them their best influence, their best power of ministry. Men must heed when they see “what almighty grace can do.” Living out fully the Christian life involves two distinct, but closely related, things.
I. Self-management.—“Abstain from fleshly lusts.” The Christian’s first and greatest difficulty is with himself. He has bodily passions which men around him are in no sense holding in control, and to which he has given power because once he did not hold them in control. When a man becomes a Christian he virtually pledges himself that henceforth he will “hold the vessel of his body in sanctification and honour.” But fulfilling that pledge he finds to be most serious and anxious work. Sins of the flesh, of sensual indulgence, are usually thought of as Pagan, Gentile sins, they are the sins of humanity. And no forms of sin so directly, or so ruinously, affect the spiritual life. They “war against the soul.” “The lusts are on active service, engaged in a definite campaign against the immortal part of the man.”
II. Ordered conduct and relations.—“Having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles.” The R.V. gives “seemly,” but the good old suggestive word “honest” might wisely have been retained. Honest includes simple, sincere, straightforward—even good-looking, commendable, persuasive. The honest man is a power wherever he goes. The type is found in Nathanael: “An Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” The ancient philosopher was told that a certain man was slandering him. “Never mind,” he replied; “I will live so that no one will believe him.” We have always at our command the all-conquering power that lies in an honest and good life. That always does, sooner or later, “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:12. Christians called Evil-doers.—St. Peter asserts distinctly that calumnies were really rife about some particulars of the Christian morality, at the time that this letter was written. It is a mark of a late date, for at first the Christians had not attracted sufficient notice, as a body, to be talked of, either in praise or blame. The heathen at first regarded them as merely a Jewish sect (Acts 18:15; Acts 25:18-20), and as such they received a contemptuous toleration. The first State recognition of Christianity as a separate religion, with a characteristic of its own, was the Persecution of Nero, A.D. 64. Now it so happens that we have almost contemporary heathen documents which bring out the force of this passage. Suetonius, in his life of Nero (chap xvi.), calls the Christians by the very name St. Peter uses: “the Christians, a kind of men of a new and malefic superstition.” Only about forty years later, we have Pliny’s famous letter to Trajan, written actually from the country in which St. Peter’s correspondents lived, and referring to some of the very persons (probably) who received the epistle, as having apostatised at the time of the persecution under Nero; in which letter Pliny asks whether it is the profession of being a Christian which is itself to be punished, or “the crimes which attach to that profession.” The Apologists of the second century are full of refutations of the lies current about the immorality of the Christian assemblies. The Christians were a secret society, and held their meetings before daylight; and the heathen, partly from natural suspicion, partly from consciousness of what passed in their own secret religious festivals, imagined all kinds of horrors in connection with the Christian mysteries. From what transpired about the Lord’s Supper, they believed that the Christians used to kill children, and drink their blood, and eat their flesh. Here, however, the context points to a different scandal. They are warned against the fleshly lusts, in order that the heathen may find that the Christians’ great glory lies in the very point wherein they are slandered. “Evil-doers,” therefore, must mean chiefly offences on that score. It is historically certain that such charges against Christian purity were common. Even as late as the persecution under Maximin II., in the year 312, it was reported that these meetings before light were a school of the vilest arts.—A. J. Mason, M.A.
Charges against Christians.—The words indicate the growth of a widespread feeling of dislike, showing itself in calumny. The chief charge at this time was probably that of “turning the world upside down,” i.e. of revolutionary tendencies, and this view is confirmed by the stress laid on obedience to all constituted authority in the next verse. With this were probably connected, as the sequel shows, the accusations of introducing discord into families, setting slaves against their masters, wives against their husbands, etc. The more monstrous calumnies of worshipping an ass’s head, of Thyesteian banquets of human flesh, and orgies of foulest licence, were probably of later date.—Dean Plumptre.
1 Peter 2:11-12. Strangers and Pilgrims.—Archbishop Leighton paraphrases these verses thus: “If you were citizens of this world, then you might drive the same trade with the men of this world, and follow the same lusts; but seeing you are chosen and called out of this world, and invested into a new society, made free of another city, and are therefore here but travellers, passing through to your own country, it is very reasonable that there be this difference between you and the world, that while they live at home, your carriage be such as befits strangers, not glutting yourselves with their pleasures, nor surfeiting upon their delicious fruits, as some unwary travellers do abroad; but as wise strangers, living warily and soberly, and still minding most of all your journey homewards, suspecting dangers and snares in your way, and so walking with a holy fear, as the Hebrew word for a stranger imports.”
1 Peter 2:12. The Church in Relation to the World.—The relation in which Christians stand to those who are not Christians is of vital importance to understand and feel. The references to this are numerous and emphatic:—“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (Psalms 39:1). “Also I said, It is not good that ye do; ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God, because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?” (Nehemiah 5:9). “In all things show thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he who is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you” (Titus 2:7-8). These and like references inculcate the duty of conservating the Christian name and the glory of God. Such warnings would be in keeping with the Jewish faith, in which honour was fortified at any cost; but in the teachings of Jesus Christ the subject has received another and a better side—viz., that the exhibition of the Christian character should be perfect, with a view to exert on the unconverted the best possible influence. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” In addition to the duty to “give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully,” add the power which will convert reproach into praise, and make of the enemy a friend. Let this latter side of the matter have our present attention. That the Christian character should be perfect for the sake of its own beauty, is a truth worthy of prayerful solicitude at all times; but the Christian character is more than a garment to be observed—it is an influence to be imparted to others. That the name of Jesus, by which we are called, may not be dishonoured by the inconsistencies of our life, we need to lift the subject of holy living above the mere matter of duty, into that of service, wherein the glory of God will overcome the darkness of the human heart.
I. We begin with the fact that we are watched by those who are of opposite tendencies.—We are under daily examination. We are searched, not for the good we may have, but for the blemishes that may be found in us, because the “carnal mind is enmity against God.” There are those who take a greater delight to look at an eclipse of the sun for five minutes than to enjoy its light for a lifetime. But if there were no light in the sun there could not be an eclipse. So with men of worth, the contrast between the excellent and the not excellent fixes the eye of envy upon them; but where excellency is, it cannot be altogether ignored. In this fact we rejoice, but our rejoicing is the more when only virtue is found. Let those who search us to discover weakness find none. Let the reflection of our virtue reveal to them their own unworthiness.
II. Let us further consider the influence of the Christian character for the good of others.—“Glorify God,” etc. There is an error which must be removed from the minds of many to establish this remark in their minds. Too frequently it is supposed by some that because they cannot take a prominent part in gospel services, and thereby possibly become instrumental directly in the conversion of souls, their lives are comparatively unobserved and useless. Let us remove this notion. As there is not a single ray of light, or drop of water, or breath of air, which does not contribute to the vast system of light, of water, and of air, so there is not a single Christian example which does not minister in the circle of the Church, and lead to higher results. The old man, staff in hand, short step, all weathers, going by the squire’s house to chapel, made an impression at last, and the squire followed. He entered, and heard a sermon which touched him; the next Sunday he waited for the old man, but in vain. He went alone, and learnt from the preacher that the old man had gone home that morn. Men will feel the need of the change which they see in us. The sinner knows that there is something wrong within. He may not comprehend the mischief—he may not understand his sins; but he will perceive by the change in others that he also needs a change. Where there is sin there is sorrow and unrest. There is a perfect charm in the apostle’s description of the change—“the new man.” (Describe a man wasting by disease, who has been cured.) The new man breathes freely to heaven the aspirations of his soul. He walks uprightly, and runs in the way of God’s commandment. His arm is strong to do work. Another diseased man will see the change, and ‘in all need to Jesus go.’ As God has visited us to give us a new heart, so He will visit others, who have seen the change, to give them a new heart also. Conversions have been singularly blest in this respect,—“We will go with you, for we,” etc. Men will feel the need of the peace which we enjoy. You remember the invitation, “Come unto Me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Men will feel the need of the prospect which cheers us. We have a good hope through grace. I was asked, when nearing New York, if I expected any one to meet me at the landing place, and I said, “Yes.” But the friend who asked said sorrowfully, “No one will meet me!” “I will come again, and take you to Myself.” Seeing that such glorious issues depend on the consistency of our character that others may follow our example and be saved, we have the highest inducement to live a godly life in this present world. Let us take others with us home to glory: we may meet by the way the lame; let us help him on. See the world outside the Church! What misery and degradation! We will take the gospel to them: the Christ of the Bible shall be a living Christ before them in our lives. Holy living shall be a song that they must hear.
“O Friend O Brother! not in vain
Thy life so calm and true,
The silver dropping of the rain,
The fall of summer dew!”
And, lastly, The influence of the Christian life leads to the highest result.—It may be that to-day we think so much of self that we cannot rise to the highest point of our life. The highest degree of Christian excellence is the service and glory of God. To realise this we must look beyond ourselves, and beyond those to whom we may bring salvation, and beyond any benefits faith may confer on either of them or us, to GOD. He will manifest Himself in the day of visitation, when we shall see and feel that our life is intended to reach even to Himself. In the day of visitation all matters will be seen in their true light. The life of the Church will never be fully and rightly comprehended until that day, when God will explain it. Therefore, labour on, brethren, leaving the consequences to the light of that day, striving only to do good, and save immortal souls.—Weekly Pulpit.
1 Peter 2:11-17. Our Pilgrim Life; How to Pursue It.
I. The threefold exhortation—Abstain, suffer, submit (1 Peter 2:11-16).
1. Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. These include all inordinate sensual gratifications of our physical nature.
2. Suffer. Christians living as strangers among the Gentiles in apostolic times were spoken of as evil-doers. Their characters were maligned, their motives were impugned, their conduct misrepresented in all manner of ways. They must endure such treatment as their Saviour did, with all meekness, having their behaviour, conversation (ἀναστροφή) good and honest. The good, patient, charitable living of the early Christians told upon their enemies.
3. Submit. The Early Christians lived under heathen governments, which, in many respects, were despotic, cruel, and unjust. But human institutions are indirectly of Divine origin, and Christians should submit to all lawful authority. Christianity helps the repeal of unjust and iniquitous laws, but it requires submissive obedience to all that is lawful.
II. A summary of Christian duties.—
1. “Honour all men.” This duty has no limits. “All men, without exception, possess a certain value, first, as the creatures of God, and secondly, as redeemed by Christ.
2. “Love the brotherhood.” Such is the Christian Church—a brotherhood, a household of faith.
3. “Fear God.” This is the highest principle by which men can be actuated, in all the relationships of life. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and therefore the beginning of goodness, charity, love, and holiness.
4. “Honour the king” (see 1 Peter 2:13, and Proverbs 24:21). In virtue of his office, honour is due to him. Anarchy is a crime, loyalty is a virtue.—Thornley Smith.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 2:13. Submit yourselves.—This belongs to the care Christians should take not to be in any sense an occasion of offence in Society (Romans 13:1-7). Ordinance of man.—Every human institution. A spiritual life can find expression in every form of governmental and social life. For the lord’s sake.—Lest reproach should come on Him, through reproach coming on you. King.—Here an abstract word for the person in chief authority. Then an emperor.
1 Peter 2:14.—Even an imperfect government aims to secure the general good. It is noticed that neither St. Peter nor St. Paul lay down any exceptions to the rule of complete obedience; and yet proper exceptions there must be.
1 Peter 2:15. With well-doing.—Not with disputations, but with the irresistible persuasion of a holy life. Ignorance.—For the calumnies of Christians were spread by those who hated them without knowing anything correctly about them. The word implies a stolid and wilful ignorance.
1 Peter 2:16. As free.—In regard to the ordering of personal life relations. Bound to meet all public obligations; free to shape their own life and conduct. Worldly maxims, social customs, common habits and opinions, have no binding force on Christians. In all this sphere the Christian is a “law unto himself.” Cloke of maliciousness.—“If under the pretence that they were asserting their Christian freedom they were rude, overbearing, insolent, regardless of the conventional courtesies of life,” this made the liberty a cloke of baseness.
1 Peter 2:17. Honour.—By showing each one the respect that is due to him. Love.—With more than the love of complacency; with the love of family. Fear.—The feeling which recognises a supreme claim.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 2:13-17
Fitting the New Life into Old Relations.—When a man is born of God, and made conscious of a new life, with new interests, new motives, new desires, and new sympathies, he is often troubled by the difficulty of fitting his new self to the old associations. Those old associations he must keep. He cannot change his family circumstances, or his business, or his obligations, or his social conditions. He must find out how to fit his new life into them, so that it may ennoble them, and they may in no way hinder or injure it. The difficulty is seen very clearly in the case of Christians who had been heathen, and must still keep in heathen surroundings. Those heathen round them were keenly on the watch for grounds of accusation against them; quick to discern any inconsistencies. The Christians were bound to be careful not to give offence, and bring the Christian name into disrepute. In this paragraph one form of practical difficulty with which the Christians had to deal is indicated. Their new life could not fail to bring to them a sense of dignity; it might easily take a bad form, and become an assumption of superiority, which would spoil their every-day relations with men, and make them unwilling to submit to existing rule and authority. Their new life would give them a sense of freedom from all restraints, which might readily pass into resistance to, and rebellion against, the constituted authorities. Apostolic advice was specially needed under such circumstances, and St. Peter is fully in harmony with St. Paul in the advice that he gives. The particular case before St. Peter’s mind is that of Christian Jews driven from their own country and lifelong associations by persecution, and finding shelter for a time in foreign lands, where there were different systems of government, different customs, and people of different temperaments. There could not fail to be very much that grieved them, very much that tried them, and very much that provoked them. The serious question for them to answer was: How can the new life in Christ fit to these strange surroundings? How does it inspire us to think and to act? The kind of feeling which the presence of Christians in a community then excited is illustrated by the exclamation of the rabble that dragged Jason and certain of the brethren before the rulers of Thessalonica, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also” (Acts 17:6). There evidently was a widespread suspicion that, wherever they went, Christians became elements of disorder.
I. Christians should loyally accept the governmental system of the country in which they dwell.—It may be monarchical, republican, colonial, or otherwise. There are different systems of government, and there must always be differences of opinion as to which is absolutely the best, and which is relatively the best for a particular nation, at a particular time in its history. A Christian has a perfect right to his own opinion, and is free to find wise occasions on which to express it; but so far as his practical conduct and daily life are concerned, he should loyally accept existing conditions, and take care to be no disturber of the peace. A question of casuistry arises here. Is it ever lawful for a Christian to resist the law? Assuming Hampden to have been a spiritual Christian, was he justified in refusing to pay the “ship-money”? The answer may be that no rule is without exceptions; and that cases may occur in which principle is involved, and loyalty to the absolute right, which is loyalty to God, demands resistance, even at the cost of being misunderstood, and of suffering. Still, the general rule is that Christians should make peaceable citizens, and in so doing they help to secure that general protection from evil-doers, and security for honest trade, which are the primary duties of social government, whatever form it may take.
II. Christians always have a power at command for the silencing of those who slander them.—“The ignorance of foolish men” means baseless, senseless slanders. Men in positions of authority are always subject to the malign influence of the slanderer. Christians in a heathen city could not fail to attract attention by their very difference from others. Slanders start with next to nothing, and grow until shamefully wicked things can be said, all utterly baseless, but too easily believed, because men find such strange pleasure in hearing of the failure of the good. Very seldom, indeed, can a slander be followed through, fought, and conquered. But the Christian can always live it down. He can be calm, he can be silent, he can keep on his life of purity and charity, and that will tell in the long run. Slanders have no staying power; well-doing has. The good man, if he will be persistent, is sure of victory, for God is on the side of the good.
III. Christians are free to sustain all gracious relations.—An old divine, dealing with the saying that “a Christian is a man who may do what he likes,” replied, “That is quite true, only a Christian is a man with a new set of likes.” The Christian is free unto righteousness; free to do everything right, and kind, and worthy. But the Christian is not free to do wrong. He is under the strictest obligations not to do anything unworthy of the name he bears. What sort of things a Christian is free to do is indicated in 1 Peter 2:17.
1. Treat every man respectfully and considerately, as he would wish them to treat him. To a Christian man, every man, no matter how poor or ignorant he may be, is to be honoured for the image of God in him.
2. Keep up all that is becoming to the family relation within the Church of God.
3. Let the cherished, reverent sense of God put serious and careful tone on all the conduct and association of life.
4. Set good example of good manners in the social and national life. Good manners recognise what is due to persons placed in positions of trust and responsibility.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:16. Our Freedom in Christ.—There is not another word in human language with power to thrill human hearts like this word “liberty.” The victim of revolution exclaimed, “Oh, liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!” And we may say, “Oh, liberty! what deeds of philanthrophy and heroism have been wrought under thy inspiration!” There must be some sentiment, common to humanity, to which this word makes its appeal. It must be this: throughout humanity there is an inward consciousness of bondage under sin. Every offer of outward liberty—liberty of circumstance—is caught up by men, in the hope, more or less distinctly cherished, that its final issue will be liberty of soul. The religion of the Lord Jesus Christ has its chief end “to set at liberty them that are bruised.” It proclaims “liberty to the captives.”
I. Freedom in Christ is freedom of the soul.—Men want
(1) freedom of circumstances;
(2) freedom of thought; or
(3) freedom to do wrong—the wrong that they wish to do. But freedom in Christ is no freedom such as these. It is the freedom of the soul. The sinner is the real slave. The drunkard, the worldling, the sensual, the passionate, the dishonest, the selfish, the proud, the unforgiving, the uncharitable, the unbelieving, are slaves. Christ comes, past all the fetters of human circumstance, right into the soul of man. He comes to strike off rings and chains from the wrists and anklets of the soul. This is the priceless boon. The only freedom worth having is liberty to do always the things that please God. And in that sense God has made us free in Christ Jesus. We are free to grow up into the likeness of God’s dear Son; our souls are free in righteousness. The Son has made us free, and we are free indeed.
II. Freedom in Christ is freedom by the truth.—Falsehood binds to a practical life of sin. The root of all evil is a lie. Truth works out into goodness and righteousness; untruth always works out into unrighteousness and misery. Nothing can stand but the truth. Nobody can endure who is not true. Every opinion has some practical issue; it works toward something. If it be false and unworthy, it will surely tie the soul down to a life of indulgence and wrong-doing. If it be true and noble, it as surely leaves the soul free to fulfil, in the earthly spheres, the righteousness for which it was made. The truth ever makes free. Every lesser phase of truth, whether it be political, or social, or scientific, or moral, is a liberation of men. But it is that truth brought to light by Christ, taught by Him, and embodied in His life, which is the great liberator. It frees hand, and conscience, and heart, to know that God is the heavenly Father, and the Saviour of men by sacrifice. It frees us for seeking after righteousness to apprehend the truth, that this world is not the real world, and that a time is coming when the whole humanity shall be glorified.
III. Freedom in Christ is freedom in the Spirit.—“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty. That Holy Spirit works within us, in the secrets of our spiritual natures. He moulds, and restrains, and impels, and purifies, and quickens our inclination, and passion, and affection, and imagination, and intellect, and habit, plucking all the self-bondages, all the society bondages, all the sin-bondages, away. He who is quite perfectly in the sway of God the Holy Ghost—if there be such an one among us—is free from all the enticements and allurements of evil—free to follow God fully. Distinguish between liberty and independence; between freedom and licence: and then we may readily recognise those reasonable abridgments and restraints under which Christian freedom is set. The Christian man will not only find necessary limitations of his freedom, he will also voluntarily abridge his liberty, and put himself under restraints. Cultured and sensitive conscience, in respect of right and wrong, is sure to set limitations. But Christian interest in others, positions of influence on others, and, above all, the sacrificings of Christian love and charity, lead us constantly to refuse to do what, in a strict sense, we have full liberty to do. We must take heed “lest our liberty become a stumbling-block to them that are weak.”
Liberty.—A brief sketch of history suffices for indicating the power which the cry for “liberty” has universally exerted. The hope of liberty called out of Egypt a tribe of slaves, and in seeking freedom they became one of the foremost nations of the earth. Liberty rallied the down-trodden sons of Israel round the banners of a delivering Barak, or Gideon, or Jephthah. Liberty fired the nation with a magnificent heroism, and led to the casting off of a foreign yoke, in the days of Judas Maccabeus. The freedom of the holy sepulchre from the hands of the infidel flung the noblest of Europe’s sons, in splendid and enthusiastic self-sacrifice, on the shores of Asia, in the time of the Crusades. Freedom from a hated tyrant’s power made a handful of Swiss mountaineers mightier than an empire of soldiers, in the legendary days of William Tell. Freedom to worship God sent the Pilgrim Fathers over the then almost trackless Atlantic, seeking new lands and homes. “Liberty, equality, fraternity”—grand words—have served for a sign that should arouse nations into hideous passions of revolution. Freedom for a million English slaves woke the response of the noblest English hearts in our fathers’ time. And still, if men would move the hearts of their fellows, they raise some cry of civil or religious liberty. False or true, worthy or unworthy, a host will surely follow him who offers a boon that is esteemed so priceless.
1 Peter 2:17. Honour.—To “honour,” as the word signifies, is to estimate the value of anything, and to proportion our regards to the ascertained value. Apply this rule to man. Estimate his value by his Creator’s love, and by his Redeemer’s sufferings; by his own capacity of religion, of morals, of intellectual advancements, of pleasure, of pain, by his relation to a life and to a death to come; and you will then feel that to honour a man is to respect him under these views and relations; to be anxious for his welfare; to contemplate him, not only with benevolence, but even with awe and fear, lest a prize so glorious should be lost, lest a being so capable should be wretched for ever.—Richard Watson.
1 Peter 2:1. Honour all Men.—The royal law of Christ rests not on the crumbling basis of varying ordinances, nor on the tottering foundation of disputable traditions, but on the foundation of broad, eternal truths, on the foundation of Christ Himself. For we cannot understand either why or how we should honour all men unless we know what this meaneth: “The Word became flesh.”
I. “Honour all men.”—There is a strange universality about the precept. All but the brutish understand the duty of giving honour where honour is due; all but the vile honour those whose lives are beautiful with the beauty of holiness, and noble with the nobleness of God. But are we to honour the mean, the base, the despicable, the depraved? Yes, we honour the majesty of their nature even in its fall. We honour the man in the men. As Michael Angelo sees in the rough block of marble the winged angel, struggling to be free; as Flaxman walking in the slums, sees the beauties and possibilities of the “human face divine” even under the dirt and squalor of the gutter-child;—even so with pity and reverence the true Christian sees, even in the lowest, the marred work of Him who breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life.
II. As life goes on, it is more and more our temptation to honour no man.—All our faith in human nature sometimes seems to be shaken to its foundations. Nor can we be surprised, our human nature being what it is, if even good and great men have succumbed at times to the fatal temptation of despairing of humanity. “Most men are bad;” there is the summary of the Greek philosopher, who deliberately left it as the maxim of his wisdom.
III. Though there is so much weight of authority and evidence to support this despairing view, it would be fatal to us; fatal to the hope by which we are saved, and which is as a vernal breeze amid poisonous fogs; fatal to the glad enthusiasm which leaps up like a fountain amid the briny waves and corrupted currents of the world. In spite of all the facts and evidence, we would say, with a living writer: “I trust in the nobleness of human nature, in the majesty of its faculties, in the fulness of its mercy, in the joy of its love.” Has it never struck you how marvellous is the fact that words so noble, so far-reaching as these—“Honour all men”—should be uttered by a poor Jew, a Galilean fisherman? Had this rule been followed, what a different world we should have seen in the past! Every great crime of governments and of nations has been a crime against the inherent rights of the human race—slavery, despotism, priestcraft, etc. “Honour all men”—their inherent dignity, the infinite possibilities of their nature, their freedom of conscience, the awful price of their redemption, their immediate accountability to God. While this honour leads us to deep reverence for all human goodness, let it inspire us also with such hope and compassion as shall feel none to be too low, too fallen, for our pity or our help. Let us see humanity in Christ, and it will be indeed transfigured with heavenly lustre.—Archdeacon Farrar.
The Sum of Our Duty.—These words have very briefly, and yet not obscured by briefness, but withal very plainly, the sum of our duty towards God and men; to men, both in general—honour all men; and in special relations, in their Christian or religious relations—love the brotherhood; and in a chief civil relation—honour the king. And our whole duty to God, comprised under the name of His fear, is set in the middle betwixt these, as the common spring of all duty to men, and of all due observance of it, and the sovereign rule by which it is to be regulated.—Leighton.
The Image of God in Man.—The fact that there are in every man traces of the image of God, after which he has been created, and infinitely undeveloped capacities which might issue in the restoration of that image to its original brightness, was in itself a reason for treating all, even the vilest and most degraded, with some measure of respect.—Dean Plumptre.
Honour Due to All Men.—Among the inestimable blessings of Christianity, not the least is the new sentiment with which it teaches man to look upon his fellow-beings—the new relation which it establishes between man and man. There is nothing of which men know so little as themselves. They understand incomparably more of the surrounding creation of matter, or of its laws, than of that spiritual principle to which matter was made to be the minister, and without which the outward universe would be worthless. Men have as yet no just respect for themselves, and of consequence no just respect for others. Nothing can make man a true lover of man but the discovery of something interesting and great in human nature. We must see and feel that a human being is something important, and of immeasurable importance. To show the grounds on which the obligation to honour all men rests, I might take a minute survey of that human nature which is common to all, and set forth its claims to reverence. But there is one principle of the soul which makes all men essentially equal, which places all on a level as to means of happiness. It is the sense of duty, the power of discerning and doing right, the moral and religious principle, the inward monitor which speaks in the name of God. This is the great gift of God. We can conceive no greater. It is this moral power which makes all essentially equal, which annihilates all the distinctions of this world. The idea of Right is the primary and the highest revelation of God to the human mind, and all outward revelations are founded on, and addressed to it. We little understand the solemnity of the moral principle in every human mind. We think not how awful are its functions. We forget that it is the germ of immortality. There is a foundation in the human soul for the honour enjoined in the text towards all men. By Christianity this duty is enforced by new and more solemn considerations. This whole religion is a testimony to the worth of man in the sight of God, to the importance of human nature, to the infinite purposes for which we were framed. True, Christianity speaks of man as a sinner—it deals with human sin; but it does not speak of this as indissolubly bound up with the soul, as entering into the essence of human nature, but as a temporary stain, which it calls on us to wash away. It gives none of those dark views of our race which would make us shrink from it as from a nest of venomous reptiles. The very strength of his temptations is one of the indications of his greatness. The sentiment of honour or respect for human beings is essential to the Christian character. A more faithful culture of it would do much to carry forward the Church and the world. I attach to this sentiment such importance that I measure by its progress the progress of Society. The various forms in which this principle is to be exercised or manifested, may be enlarged on. Honour man from the beginning to the end of his earthly course. Honour the child: on this principle all good education rests. Honour the poor; this sentiment of respect is essential to improving the connexion between the more and less prosperous conditions of Society. Perhaps none of us have yet heard or can comprehend the tone of voice in which a man, thoroughly impressed with this sentiment, would speak to a fellow-creature. It is a language hardly known on earth. The great revelation which man now needs is a revelation of man to himself. The faith which is most wanted is a faith in what we and our fellow-beings may become; a faith in the Divine germ or principle in every soul. Happy are they who have begun to penetrate that mystery of our spiritual nature, and in whom it has awakened feelings of awe towards themselves, and of deep interest and honour towards their fellow-creatures.—W. E. Channing, D.D.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
1 Peter 2:14. Living Stones.—Figuratively, like plants, connected with and nourished by their roots. Stones still in the quarry are said to be living. The epithet means the firmness of that thing signified by the name of a stone, for nothing is firmer than stones growing in a quarry, as cleaving fast to a rock by the root.—Burder.
Seeming Life of Radiant Stones.—Of course a living stone means a human being. The figure takes its origin from the seeming life of radiant stones, whose gleams and flashes have the seeming, at times, of will and life. A man is said in the Bible to be more precious than the gold of Ophir; and of a woman it is said, “Her price is far above rubies.” These were common comparisons. There is something in the glow of precious stones that peculiarly fits them to serve for such spiritual figures. There is about them a subtle light—a brilliancy—that burns without fire; that consumes nothing, and requires no supply; that for ever shines without oil; that is ever-living, unwasting, unchanged by any of the natural elements. A diamond that glows in the sunlight flashes yet more beautifully in the night. No mould can get root upon it; no rust can tarnish it; no decay can waste it. The jewels that were buried two thousand years ago, if now dug up from royal and priestly tombs, would come forth as fair and fresh as they were when the proud wearer first carried them in his diadem—fit emblems by which to represent spiritual qualities, and the beauty and imperishableness of Christian virtue. And a company of holy men, resting upon the Lord Jesus Christ, may well be compared to a palace built upon broad foundations, and sparkling to the very summit with living stones which throw back to the sun a differing flash through every hour of his rise or fall through the long day.—H. W. Beecher.
Stones Left Unused.—Travellers sometimes find in lonely quarries, long abandoned, or once worked by a vanished race, great blocks, squared and dressed, that seem to have been meant for palace or shrine. But there they lie, neglected and forgotten, and the building for which they were hewn has been reared without them. Beware, lest God’s grand temple should be built without you, and you be left to desolation and decay.—A. Maclaren, D.D.
1 Peter 2:13-17. Political Morality.—The teaching of the New Testament, as exhibited in this passage, imparts a new vitality to political economy. It forms a marvellous contrast to the ordinary teaching of Judaism—that civil obedience was not due to heathen governors except on compulsion. The Christian’s devotion to Jesus Christ is to be enthusiastic. All ordinary duties are His, and this consideration is to breathe a new spirit into the discharge of them. It makes the Christian, as circumstances require it, either the faithful public servant or the hero. It may be objected that the state is put forward rather in a negative than in a positive aspect. I ask, How, under existing circumstances, could it possibly have been otherwise? It was at this period so corrupt that to have taught a devotion to it would have been inconsistent with pure public morality. One cannot conceive of a holy man being fired with an ardent patriotism for such a condition of political society as that involved in the Roman empire during the first century of our era. Enthusiastic loyalty to the Roman emperors of that period was impossible. If, on the other hand, the writers of the New Testament had given a formal precept to Christians, enforcing on them the duty of becoming political reformers, this would have at once aroused the mighty power of the empire to crush the Christian Church. As there was nothing in the existing state of society to kindle a spark of enthusiasm in the discharge of duty, the New Testament asks the Christian to discharge his duties to the Lord Christ.—Row.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 2:18. Servants.—Slaves. Many of the early Christians came from the ranks of slaves, or freedmen. And their freedom in Christ made their bondage to an earthly master specially irksome. Perhaps “the οἰκέται here addressed are domestic servants, who were more exposed to the bad temper of their masters than the servants in the field.” Froward.—Crooked. One who is unreasonably exacting, capricious, and cross-grained.
1 Peter 2:19. Conscience toward God.—Better, “consciousness of God.” This essentially belongs to the new life. Conscious of God’s presence as seeing, judging, helping, His servants. Wrongfully.—Without having given just occasion.
1 Peter 2:20. Buffeted.—Cuffed with the hand, or smitten with the stick, as servants then were. Acceptable.—Same word as “thankworthy,” in 1 Peter 2:19.
1 Peter 2:21. Were ye called.—Or, “this is involved in your call.” Example.—Of patience in bearing suffering, with the inward assurance of innocence. The Greek word suggests a drawing which the student is to copy.
1 Peter 2:24. Bare our sins.—See Isaiah 53:12. Our sins, not His own. The Hebrew word may mean either to carry, or to lift or raise. It is not clear which precise meaning St. Peter intends. On the tree.—Cross. R.V. “upon the tree”; marg. “up to the tree.” Stripes.—Prophetic reference, Isaiah 53:0; historic reference, our Lord’s scourging by command of Pilate.
1 Peter 2:25. Shepherd and bishop.—Episcopos, guardian, protector. See Ezekiel 34:11-12. Alford thinks that the apostle transfers the well-known name of the elders of the Churches, ἐπίσκοποι, to the great Head of the Church, of whom they were all the servants and representatives.
NOTE ON 1 Peter 2:19.—Dr. R. W. Dale translates thus: “For this is acceptable, if through consciousness of God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully.” He holds that the Greek word which Peter used has sometimes the meaning “consciousness” and sometimes that of “conscience.” In this passage the former meaning is much more appropriate, and Dr. Dale uses it very effectively to prove that the knowledge or consciousness that Christians have of God becomes an effective force in the moral life. Such a knowledge is open to every Christian, for Peter here writes to slaves when he says, “This is acceptable if, through consciousness of God, a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully.”
MAIN HOMILETIGS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 2:18-25
The Example of Suffering.—However general may be made the applications of this paragraph, it is well-to observe that its counsels, and arguments, and persuasions, are directly addressed to “slaves,” and that, in their form, they are precisely adapted to such persons. The “servants” of the New Testament are not persons who offered free service upon fixed wage terms, but individuals whose personal liberty was lost, who were the property of some other man, and whose powers of body and mind—whose lives, indeed—were absolutely at their masters’ command. We need not associate African, West Indian, or American slave-horrors with the ancient slave-system, though it is true that Roman and other Pagan slaves often had the bitterest of bitter lots in other ways. The term that is here translated “servants” points to “domestic slaves”—those sustaining household relations, and occupied in household duties; and we have to think of the kinds of suffering which they would have to endure, more especially when they had become converts to the faith of Christ, as so many of this class had in those early days. We know enough of the difficulties which our servants have to endure now, when they are amongst ungodly and scornful fellow-servants, and in pleasure-loving, self-indulging families, to be able to imagine what burdens, and what trials, a Christian slave in an ancient Pagan family might have to bear. It was most fitting that the apostle should directly address these kindly, reassuring, and inspiring messages to them. A large proportion of the early Christian converts are known to have belonged to this class. It has been noticed that nearly all the names given in Romans 16:0, and many of those of other members of the Church, are found in the Columbaria, or Catacombs of Rome, as belonging to slaves or freedom. Conscious of a new and higher life, and of thoughts and hopes altogether transcending their human lot, these slaves could not fail to fret under their humiliating conditions; and they might easily fail to meet their daily responsibilities, and unduly repine under disabilities which now seemed to be overwhelming. Indeed, the question often came up before the regenerate slave, “Ought I to remain in this degrading servitude I Ought I not, at any cost, to strike for personal liberty?” If such an one took his question to the apostles, we know that they would have bidden him keep his place, and serve Christ, by fitting nobly into his position, and living before his fellow-servants and the family in the most attractive Christian spirit. “Let every man wherein he is called, therein abide with God” is the apostolic principle applied to the slaves of that day. But St. Peter seems to know enough of the actual lot of these slaves to take them as types of the kind of suffering which Christians were then called to endure. He is not, it should be carefully noticed, dealing here with the sufferings which come from the accidents, disasters, or calamities of life, nor with those which belong to the inroads of disease, or to bodily infirmities, or to the action of heredity. He has in mind the sufferings which come out of our various relations with others, and especially the sufferings which attend on our endeavour to live out our Christian principles in those relations. The force of the Christly example, which he presents, is only seen when its sphere is thus circumscribed. It is quite true that our Lord is, in a general and comprehensive sense, our example; but here St. Peter does but present Him as an example of suffering, and of precisely such suffering as these slaves were called to endure. If these remarks seem, at first, to unduly limit the applications of this familiar passage, it will be found, on further examination, that it opens up detailed applications, within the limitations, which give fresh point to the apostolic advice. For it will be found to-day that most of our serious sufferings come in connection with our human relationships. Precisely what these Christian slaves felt was the bitterness of being punished when they were innocent. And this they often were, in the anger, or the tyranny, or the malice, of their masters. They also felt the difficulty of keeping patient under peculiar aggravations, and the apparent uselessness of their most heroic efforts to serve well; for they constantly failed to alter the conditions under which they so grievously suffered. This is St. Peter’s message to them: “For hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow His steps.” Jeremy Taylor has a suggestive illustration of the help we may find by following the example of our Lord’s sufferings. “St. Wenceslaus, the Bohemian king, one winter night, going to his devotions in a remote church, barefooted, in the snow and sharpness of unequal and pointed ice, his servant, Redevivus, who waited upon his Master’s piety and endeavoured to imitate his affections, began to faint through the violence of the snow and cold, till the king commanded him to follow him, and set his feet in the same footsteps which his feet should mark for him. The servant did so, and either fancied a cure or found one, for he followed his prince, helped forward with shame and zeal to his imitation, and by the forming footsteps in the snow. In the same manner does the blessed Jesus; for, since our way is troublesome, obscure, full of objection and danger, apt to be mistaken, and to affright our industry, He commands us to mark His footsteps, to tread where His feet have stood, and not only invites us forward by the argument of His example, but He hath trodden down much of the difficulty, and made the way easier and fit for our feet.”
I. The Christly example of suffering is the example of suffering innocence.—“Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” This is precisely adapted to St. Peter’s declaration to the slaves: “For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endure griefs, suffering wrongfully.” St. Peter is not intending to make any general declaration here concerning the sinlessness of Jesus. He has no doctrine about it. He says, “Take any case of our Lord’s suffering; take the supreme case of His suffering the death of shame;—you will always find this to be true: He never suffered for a fault; His suffering could never be thought of as punishment for wrong-doing.” See what sympathy with Jesus the poor slaves would feel, when it was thus brought right home to them that their Divine Lord also “suffered wrongfully”—suffered in innocence. Even we may find how wonderfully near that brings the Lord Jesus to us. For the thing that sometimes almost overwhelmingly oppresses us is the thought of how much we had, and have, to bear in life, which has no relation whatever to our own wrong-doing, or even to our mistakes or negligences, and over which we have had, and can have, no sort of control. Our Lord felt the same oppressive burden. “He did no sin, … yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him: He hath put Him to grief.” There is our example of suffering innocence. It may not have been straightforwardly presented to us, that suffering which is the proper recognition of wrong-doing and sin is not Christian suffering. It is the proper lot of moral beings—there is nothing distinctively Christian about it; and Christ offers us no example of bearing the punishment of sin in that sense. There is much good advice to be given to those who suffer for their wrong-doing. But Christ’s example cannot be offered to them for their inspiration, since it does not in any way concern them. Keeping loyalty and obedience; walking in righteousness; preserving the “vessel of your body in sanctification and honour”; meeting nobly all your earthly obligations, nevertheless, is the fact for you that life brings round to you sufferings and distresses? White-souled with Christ are you, and is it nevertheless the fact that, along with Christ, you are misunderstood, maligned, illtreated, persecuted, turned out, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”? Then the inspiring, comforting example of Christ is precisely for you.
II. The Christly example of suffering is the example of suffering patience.—“Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He suffered, threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” It will at once be seen how precisely this example fits into the persuasion and argument which St. Peter addresses to the slaves. “For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” And concerning precisely this you have the helpful example of Christ. We are led in thought to the Palace of the High Priest; to the Prætorium; to Herod’s Judgment Hall; to thorn-crowned Calvary. There is scorn, accusation, smiting, mockery, howling, scourging, taunt, and cruelty; and all this strain made it a poor, exhausted victim that at last they hung mid earth and heaven, as if He were unfit for either. And no resistance was offered by Him, no reproach was made—“a silent Man amid His foes.” “Taken as a lamb to the slaughter, and like a sheep dumb before the shearers.” And there was the sublimest triumph—moral triumph—earth has ever witnessed. There is, for slaves, or for us, the entrancing example of suffering patience. It is Christian suffering when we suffer in innocency. It is yet more truly Christian suffering when, so suffering, we suffer silently, with the heroism of a patient endurance. Buffeted for nothing, as Christ was; taking it patiently, as Christ did;—this is acceptable with God. But could any’ example be presented to us that could be so searching and so humbling as this is? It reveals our supreme life-failures. Just what “we seem never able to do is to suffer innocently, and at the same time to suffer patiently. Oh how ready we are to proclaim our wrongs! Oh the bitter things we say of those who do us wrong! Oh the frettings and the chafings under the wrongs which seem to us so wholly undeserved! See once again how He stands, calm and silent, dressed in the mock royal robes. See how restrainedly He bears the cruel scourge. See how He submits when the nails are driven through the living flesh. He, with His holy example, shames us into the dust. We can scarcely dare to look upon His holy example and by it appraise our conduct “When He suffered He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him who judgeth righteously.” Christly suffering is suffering patiently. And that is something for us yet to win.
III. The Christly example of suffering is the example of suffering love.—This indeed explains how the patient bearing became possible. Christ was sustained by a cherished purpose—a purpose of love. He could so calmly endure, He could be so restrainedly patient, because His sufferings were vicarious. “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” He so endured in the inspiration of this most loving purpose, “that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness.” All was borne so well in the persuasion of service to others. We have reached at once the point of the example, and the power of the example. That suffering was borne, not for sin; not as accident, or necessity; but in the purpose of redeeming love—love to us. “For love of us He bled, for love of us He died.’ Christly suffering, suffering after the pattern and example of Christ, is vicarious suffering; suffering, not because we ought; not because we must; but suffering endured because we want to serve—and he alone can serve and save his brother who can suffer for him. Let the slave suffer for the Master’s sake. Let us see that if we follow the example of Christ, we present an example to others for Christ; and our suffering may be our bearing of sins, that those whom we love may die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. We shall never suffer well, never suffer after the Christly example, until we rise into a vicariousness of suffering like our Lord’s. When we take up somebody’s burden on our own hearts we can go on to our cross as calmly, as sweetly, as patiently, as Jesus went on to His. Look once again at what alone is Christian suffering—suffering after the example of Christ’s sufferings. You have much to suffer as a consequence and penalty of your sin. Christ never bore any such suffering, for He “did no sin.” You have much suffering to bear from circumstances altogether beyond your control—hereditary disabilities, natural calamities, social distresses, insidious diseases; and in all that natural sphere of suffering your Lord shared with you. But only because He shared with you in being a man. There is nothing specifically Christian in the suffering which belongs to the common human lot. But you have sufferings which come to you for somebody’s sake; which belong to your effort to serve others; which follow upon your whole-hearted purpose to serve Christ, in His purpose to save men. You suffer as mothers suffer for their children’s sake. You suffer as deliverers suffer who rescue the imperilled from flood and fire. You suffer by bearing somebody else’s woes upon your own mind and heart and life. You suffer in absolute loyalty of witness to Him who is for you the king of righteousness. You suffer as the martyr suffers rather than bring dishonour upon the “Name that is above every name.” Then you know what Christian suffering is. You know—and you may recall to mind what you know—that the Christly suffering is suffering innocence, and suffering patience, and suffering love. It is bearing somebody’s sin, or somebody’s woe, or somebody’s recovery, or somebody’s well-being, in your own body, on some tree of agony or shame. It is this: you suffer, because you want somebody to “die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 2:19. Suffering.—St. Peter is writing here to one particular class of Christians—to household slaves. “Slaves,” he begins, “be subject to your masters.” As St. Peter thinks over his Jewish flock of converts, he remembers that multitudes of them are Christian slaves in Pagan households. He teaches that suffering is thankworthy, a gift from God, and acceptable in turn to Him, if it be accompanied by two conditions.
1. It must be understood.
2. The suffering must be for conscience toward God.—This is it which makes pair at once bearable and bracing, when the conscience of the sufferer can ask the perfect Moral Being to take note of it. Mere suffering, which a man dares not offer to God, though borne patiently through “pluck,” as we term it, has no spiritual value. “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” This is the consecration prayer uttered on the cross, uttered, if in other language, wherever men suffer for conscience toward God; and by it suffering is changed into moral victory. There are two questions raised by our text.
I. Why did not the apostles denounce slavery as an intolerable wrong?—By advising slaves to honour and obey their owners, they seem to sanction it indirectly. Nothing can well be more antipathetic than the spirit of the gospel and the spirit of slavery. The gospel proclaims the unity of the human race, and the equality of all its members before God. But the business of the apostles lay rather with the other world than with this—with this just so far as it bore upon the other. And the exact question for them to consider was whether slavery ruined the prospects of the human soul.
II. Does not the advice of me apostle to submit quietly to wrong destroy manliness and force of character if acted on?—Moral strength, when at its best, is generally passive and unobtrusive. No moral strength ever approached that which was displayed on Calvary, when all that was before Him was present from the first to the mind of the Divine Victim, “who when He was reviled, reviled not again.”
III. This truth, announced by St. Peter, is always applicable in every age and country.—Among ourselves there are many who endure grief for conscience toward God. It is no monopoly of any one class. Every rank in society has its petty tyrants. Law can do but little for these sufferers, but religion can do much, by pointing to the Crucified.—Canon Liddon.
1 Peter 2:21. The Imitableness of Christ’s Character.—Christ came to give us a religion. By a wise and beautiful ordination of Providence, he was sent to show forth His religion in Himself. Christianity is not a mere code of laws, nor an abstract system such as theologians frame. It is a living, embodied religion. It comes to us in a human form; it offers itself to our eyes as well as ears; it breathes, it moves in our sight. It is more than precept; it is example and action. The importance of example, who does not understand? And it is impossible to place ourselves under any influence so quickening as the example of Jesus. This introduces us to the highest order of virtues. This is fitted to awaken the whole mind. Nothing has equal power to neutralise the coarse, selfish, and sensual influences amidst which we are plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal to us the perfection on which our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten. It is possible, however, so to present the greatness of Jesus as to place Him beyond the reach of our sympathy and imitation. This needs to be carefully dealt with.
1. Real greatness of character, greatness of the highest order, far from being repulsive and discouraging, is singularly accessible and imitable. Greatness of character is a communicable attribute; I should say, singularly communicable. It has nothing exclusive in its nature. I know not in history an individual so easily comprehended as Jesus Christ, for nothing is so intelligible as sincere, disinterested love. I know not any being who is so fitted to take hold on all orders of minds; and accordingly He drew after Him the unenlightened, the publican, and the sinner. It is a sad mistake, then, that Jesus Christ should be presented as too great to allow us to think of intimacy with Him, or to think of making Him our standard.
2. Though so far above us, as at once man, and other than man, Christ is still one of us, and is only an illustration of the capacities which we all possess. All minds are of one family. When we speak of higher orders of beings, of angels and archangels, we are apt to conceive of distinct kinds and races of beings, separated from us and from each other by impassable barriers. But it is not so. There is no such partition in the spiritual world as you see in the material. All minds are essentially of one origin, one nature, kindled from one Divine flame, and all are tending to one centre, one happiness. This truth mingles, unperceived, with all our worship of God, which uniformly takes for granted that He is a mind having thought, affection, and volition, like ourselves. It is also demonstrable from the consideration that Truth, the object and nutriment of mind, is one and immutable, so that the whole family of intelligent beings must have the same views, the same motives, and the same general ends. All souls are one in nature, approach one another, and have grounds and bonds of communion with one another. I am not only one of the human race; I am one of the great intellectual family of God. There is no spirit so exalted, with which I have not common thoughts and feelings. No greatness of a being separates me from him, or makes him unapproachable by me. Christ never holds Himself up as an inimitable and unapproachable being, but directly the reverse.
3. There is one attribute of mind that should particularly animate us to propose to ourselves a sublime standard, as sublime as Jesus Christ. It is the principle of growth in human nature. We were made to grow. Our faculties are germs, and given for expansion, to which nothing authorises us to set bounds. The soul bears the impress of illimitableness, in the thirst, the unquenchable thirst, which it brings with it into being, for a power, knowledge, happiness, which it never gains, and which always carry it forward into futurity. When I consider this principle or capacity of the human soul, I cannot restrain the hope which it awakens. I no longer see aught to prevent our becoming whatever was good and great in Jesus on earth.—W. E. Channing, D.D.
Of Patience.—In these words two things appear especially observable: a deity implied (the duty of patience), and a reason expressed, which enforceth the practice of that duty the example of Christ). We shall, using no more preface or circumstance, first briefly, in way of explication and direction, touch the duty itself, then more largely describe and urge the example. The word patience hath, in common usage, a double meaning, taken from the respect it hath unto two sorts of objects, somewhat different. As it respecteth provocations to anger and revenge by injuries or discourtesies, it signifieth a disposition of mind to bear them with charitable meekness; as it relateth to adversities and crosses disposed to us by providence, it importeth a pious undergoing and sustaining them. That both these kinds of patience may here be understood, we may, consulting and considering the context, easily discern: that which immediately precedeth “If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable to God” relateth to good endurance of adversity; that which presently followeth “who when He was reviled, reviled not again, when He suffered He threatened not” referreth to meek comporting with provocations: the text therefore, as it looketh backward, doth recommend the patience of adversities; as forward, the patience of contumelies. But seeing both these objects are reducible to one more general, comprising both—that is, things seeming evil to us, or offensive to our sense—we may so explicate the the duty of patience as to include them both. Patience, then, is that virtue which qualifieth us to bear all conditions and all events, by God’s disposal incident to us, with such apprehensions and persuasions of mind, such dispositions and affections of heart, such external deportments and practices of life, as God requireth and good reason directeth. Its nature will, I conceive, be understood best by considering the chief acts which it produceth, and wherein especially the practice thereof consisteth.
1. A thorough persuasion that nothing befals us by fate, or chance, or the mere agency of inferior causes; but that all proceeds from the dispensation, or with the allowance, of God: quotations on this point from holy writ.
2. A firm belief that all occurrences, however adverse and cross to our desires, are consistent with the justice, wisdom, and goodness of God; so that we cannot reasonably complain of them.
3. A full satisfaction of mind, that all, even the most bitter and sad accidents, do by God’s purpose tend and conduce to our good, according to those sacred aphorisms, “Happy is the man whom God correcteth,” etc.
4. An entire submission and resignation of our wills to the will of God, with a suppression of all rebellious sentiments against his providence.
5. Bearing adversities calmly, cheerfully, and courageously, so as not to be discomposed with anger or grief, not to be dejected or disheartened; but to resemble in our disposition of mind the primitive saints, who were as grieved, but always rejoicing, etc.
6. A hopeful confidence in God for the removal or alleviation of our afflictions, and for His gracious aid to support them well, agreeably to Scripture rules and precepts.
7. A willingness to continue, during God’s pleasure, in our afflicted state, without weariness or irksome longings for alteration, according to the wise man’s advice: My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, etc.
8. A lowly frame of mind, sensible of our unworthiness and manifold defects; deeply affected with reverence towards the awful majesty of God,” etc.
9. Restraining our tongues from all discontented complaints and murmurings, all profane and harsh expressions, importing displeasure or dissatisfaction in God’s dealings with us, or desperation and distrust in Him.
10. Blessing and praising God (that is, declaring our hearty satisfaction in God’s proceedings with us, acknowledging His wisdom, justice, and goodness therein, expressing a grateful sense thereof, as wholesome and beneficial to us), in conformity to Job, who, on the loss of all his comforts, did thus vent his mind: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
11. Particularly in regard to those, who, by injurious and offensive usage, do provoke us, patience importeth—
(1) That we be not hastily, over-easily, not immoderately, not pertinaciously incensed with anger toward them, according to those Divine precepts and aphorisms: “Be slow to wrath.” “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” “Give place to wrath” (that is, remove it). “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” “Cease from anger, let go displeasure, fret not thyself in anywise to do evil.”
(2) That we do not in our hearts harbour any ill will, or ill wishes, or ill designs toward them, but that we truly desire their good, and purpose to further it, as we shall have ability and occasion, according to that law (even charged on the Jews), “Thou shalt not bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” and according to that noble command of our Saviour, “Love your enemies; pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”
(3) That in effect we do not execute any revenge, or for requital do any mischief to them, either in word or deed; but for their reproaches exchange blessings (or good words and wishes), for their outrages repay benefits and good turns, according to those evangelical rules: “Do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you.” “Bless them that persecute you; bless and curse not.” “See that none render evil for evil.” “Be pitiful, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing.” “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.” “Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.” “Say thou not, I will recompense evil, but wait on the Lord, and He shall save thee.” In fine, patience doth include and produce a general meekness and kindness of affection, together with an enlarged sweetness and pleasantness in conversation and carriage toward all men; implying that how hard soever our case, how sorry or sad our condition is, we are not therefore angry with the world, because we do not thrive or flourish in it; that we are not dissatisfied or disgusted with the prosperous estate of other men; that we are not become sullen and froward toward any man, because his fortune excelleth ours, but that rather we do “rejoice with them that rejoice”; we do find complacence and delight in their good success; we borrow satisfaction and pleasure from their enjoyments.—Dr. Isaac Barrow.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 2
1 Peter 2:15. Silencing the Foolish.—To a young infidel who was scoffing at Christianity because of the misconduct of its professors, the late Dr. Mason once said, “Did you ever know an uproar to be made because an infidel went astray from the paths of morality?” The infidel admitted that he had not. “Then do you not see,” said Dr. Mason, “that by expecting professors of Christianity to be holy you admit it to be a holy religion, and thus pay it the highest compliment in your power?” The infidel, of course, had no reply to make.
1 Peter 2:17. “Honour all Men. Love the Brotherhood.”—When we speak of the larger class, “Honour all men,” it is as if we should say “all waters,” comprehending those that are in the sea, in the earth, and in the air; the salt and the fresh, the pure and the impure; absolutely and universally, all waters. When we speak of the smaller class, “Love the brotherhood,” it is as if we should say “all the clouds.” These are waters, too; these waters were once lying in the sea, and lashing themselves into fury there, or seething, putrifying under the sun in hollows of the earth’s surface; but they have been sublimed thence, they are now in their resurrection state, and all their impurity has been left behind. They are waters still, as completely and perfectly as any that have been left below. But these waters float in the upper air, far above the defilements of the earth and the tumults of the sea. Although they remain essentially of the same nature with that which stagnates cm the earth, or rages in the ocean, they are sustained aloft by the soft, strong grasp of a secret, universal law. No hand is seen to hold them, yet they are held on high. As the clouds which soar in the sky to the universal mass of waters, so are the brotherhood of God’s regenerated children to the whole family of man. Of mankind these brothers are in origin and nature, but they have been drawn out and from the rest by an unseen, omnipotent law. Their nature is the same, and yet it is a new nature. They are men of flesh and blood, but they have been eleyated in stature and purified in character. They are nearer God in place, and liker God in character. They are washed, and justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. Besides the command, “Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate,” which they have heard and obeyed, the promise has been fulfilled in them, “Ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”—Rev. William Arnot.
1 Peter 2:21. In the Footsteps of Christ.—Many seem to think that to go to Jerusalem and tread literally upon the ground He trod is following the footsteps of Christ; as if one, when showed a tree bearing delicious and wholesome and nourishing fruit, should neglect the fruit and try to feed on the leaves or bark: or as if, when he had received a package of most valuable goods, he should lay them by and make no use of them, but wear with much pride the canvas wrapper in which they were packed up.—Archbishop Whately.
Footsteps as a Copy.—He left His footsteps as a copy, so the word in the original imports, to be followed by us. Every step of His is a letter of this copy, and particularly in this point of suffering He wrote us a pure and perfect copy of obedience, in clear and great letters, in His own blood. His whole life is our rule; not, indeed, His miraculous works—His footsteps walking on the sea, and such like—they are net for our following; but His obedience, holiness, meekness, and humility are our copy, which we should continually study.—Leighton,
Looking unto Jesus.—The soldier whose officer says not “Go on,” but “Come on,” has tenfold the spirit for entering the battle. The mowers who mow in line have much more heart during the burden and heat of the day when their scythes sweep through the grass, keeping time to the stroke of a fellow-workman in front. Even walking along the roads ourselves, we know that we can walk better and continue longer if we be following some one that is a little way ahead. We have One always to look to, and we can most go out of ourselves when we look at Him.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Peter 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29