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THE CHRISTIAN SPIRIT IN SOCIAL RELATIONS
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
THE main contention of St. Peter is that the Christian life and obligations are not intended to be, and never should be, made a disturbing force in social and family relations. Our Lord warned His disciples that Christianity would become such a disturber, by reason of the opposition which it would excite; but the disturbing force must never be in the Christian. As much as “lieth in him” he must “follow peace with all men.” Relations to masters and rulers have already been dealt with: the apostle now applies the Christian principles to the more limited, but oftentimes more difficult, spheres and relations of the home.
1 Peter 3:1. In subjection.—The apostle is not dealing in a general way with the relations in which wives should stand to husbands. That must always depend on the sentiments and customs of particular ages and nations. St. Peter is giving precise advice to certain persons who were placed in difficult circumstances, and needed apostolic direction. The wives addressed had become Christians, but, in many cases, their husbands had not. The question naturally arose: Was becoming Christian to break, or to spoil, the marriage relation? And the apostle replies, Certainly not. Keep the old relations—of subjection or of equality, whichever they might be—only take care to put the new Christian tone upon them all, and get your power out of the better doing of all marital duties. The same advice is given to husbands. The subjection required is that which, in a natural way, belongs to woman’s dependent, receptive nature. It should never be thought of as a subjection of inferiority. Without the Word.—Direct efforts to teach and influence will often only irritate and provoke resistance. The silent persuasion of a dutiful and gracious behaviour is well-nigh irresistible. “The wife, without setting up for a preacher, ought, by the discreet charm of her piety, to be the great missionary of the faith” (M. Renan).
1 Peter 3:2. Behold.—Keep their eyes on. Chaste.—In general sense pure and beautiful, but with a hint of the fear husbands would then have concerning the attendance of wives at the private Christian meetings. About this scandals were very freely raised. Fear.—Of being misunderstood, or of giving the faintest cause for suspicion. Perhaps there is also a hint of woman’s weakness, trepidation from the apprehension of real or imaginary dangers.
1 Peter 3:3. Adorning.—Characteristic adorning, as a wife possessing the new spiritual life in Christ. The limitation of the advice to Christian women needs to be constantly kept before us, or the sharp points of the counsels will be missed. Outward adorning.—Care for merely personal appearance. Characteristic of the worldly mind is supreme interest in appearance. A proper concern about dress and manners is quite consistent with supreme concern for the inward things of character. The terms “plaiting,” “wearing,” “putting on,” suggest elaborate processes by which time is wasted.
1 Peter 3:4. Hidden man of the heart.—As if there were a spiritual counterpart of the body, and that really called for appropriate dress and decoration. The invisible person. The inner self, which is the true self. Compare St. Paul’s “inward man.” Not corruptible.—Contrast with material things, “which moth and rust doth corrupt.” Meek.—Not self-assertive. Quiet.—Self-controlled. That does not readily give way under provocation.
1 Peter 3:5. The holy women.—This appeal would be specially forcible to Jewesses, who regarded Scripture women as models of womanhood, and wifehood, and motherhood. Trusted.—Lit. “hoped”; with special reference to Sarah, who hoped and waited quietly for the fulfilment of the promise made to her.
1 Peter 3:6. Daughters.—Compare “children of Abraham,” as those who have Abraham’s faith. “Daughters of Sarah;” those who have Sarah’s spirit of submission and hope. Not afraid.—This clearly has reference to particular conditions of the time; probably to the slanders and persecutions to which the Christians were exposed. Special efforts would be made to frighten the wives into giving up their profession. “Menaces of evil may assail the Christian wife, but let her be calm and confident, and let her pursue the pathway of obedience to the will of God, and the holy courage of Sarah will sustain her amid whatever terrors may arise.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 3:1-6
The Message of Christianity to Wives.—To understand what Christianity has done for woman, and especially for woman in marriage relations, it would be necessary to present, with much and careful elaboration, the customs and sentiments, in apostolic times, of different classes of society, in the different nations to which Christianity found entrance. It must, however, suffice to present the distinction between the Eastern and the Western modes of treating woman. In the East woman is almost everywhere an inferior being, a slave and a drudge, kept shut up in private apartments, allowed no freedom, no society, no education. The only exception given in ancient history is that of the Egyptians, whose respect for woman, and recognition of some approach to wifely equality, help to explain the steadiness and the high tone of their civilisation. The Pagans—especially of the Western world—in a way honoured woman, and the Romans secured at once nobility and stability, by cultivating the family virtues. There was indeed a sad side to the Pagan interest in woman, and it has to be kept in view when the apostolic counsels are considered. St. Peter, however, has chiefly in his mind the Jewish Christians who were living among Pagan populations, and might be badly influenced by the tone of Society, and the family customs with which they were surrounded. That woman was honoured and trusted in the Mosaic system is evident from the references and teachings of the Old Testament; and if the relations of a Jew with his wife were such as they should be, Christianity needed to do no more, and it could do no more, than put a new tone upon those relations. Indeed, Christianity needs to be understood as the power that relieves everything good of the pressure of surrounding evil, and puts a new tone and a new force into everything that is right, and wise, and worthy, and beautiful. The point which appears to be before St. Peter’s mind at this time is this: Christianity, as an actual fact, has been found very seriously to disturb existing social relations. Rightly enough; necessarily enough; but still anxiously, and oftentimes as occasioning serious distress. It did actually disturb the marriage relations, more especially in those cases in which the wife became a Christian, and had to find fitting expression for the new Christian spirit in the old Pagan home. St. Peter presents some practical principles.
I. Christianity does not break up home relations.—It is a fixed apostolic principle that wherein a man is called, therein he is to abide with God; that is, whatever may be his class relation, and whatever his occupation or business (provided it is honest), when he is converted, he is to remain in it, and find expression for his new Christian life in connection with it. And this principle can be applied to wives. If they are called, being wives, they are to remain in that marital relation, whatever difficulties may gather round them, and find expression for the new Christian life in the associations of their home life. And it would not be difficult for them to do this, if they properly apprehended Christianity as a new life, sanctifying their daily life, and not a more creed to believe, or ritual to observe, or relation to sustain. The difficulty which was felt when Christianity entered the old Pagan homes is felt to-day when Christianity enters the Hindoo home, and becomes a converting and saving power to the women of the homes. For them to be baptized would be for them to be turned out of their homes, and exposed to a life of misery and even shame. For them to remain and force Christian practices upon their households would mean constant conflict and distress for everybody. And it is necessary to see clearly that Christianity never proposes the breaking up of home relations. It would be a new spirit in the heart of a wife, and do its gracious work through the moral influence of a sanctified life. Under no conceivable circumstances is any woman justified in breaking away from her home relations on the ground of her Christianity. Her new life must find its sphere in the old relations.
II. Christianity perfects the harmony of the home relations.—It does this in two ways.
1. It is the most efficient power to enable a wife to bear the disabilities and difficulties of her home life. It nourishes just those passive, gentle graces which enable her to bear, and suffer, and endure. And
2. It guides her in the moulding and training of the character of the inmates, so that efficiently, but very unconsciously, she gets them all into harmony. And in her harmonising work she has not only the power of her own cultured character and influence, she has also the Divine power, which she draws down for her help, by her soul-openness and dependence, and by her daily prayer. It must be added that her harmonising work, being moral, cannot be sudden, and is not likely to be apparent to any one. It is the ministry of a life, and it often takes a life.
III. Christianity triumphs over the difficulties that arise in the home relations.—We need not think of contentions. Where these are happily unknown, home life has its anxieties. The men are harassed and worried; the members are afflicted. Business cares, bodily diseases, frailties in children’s characters, failure in plans for the children’s well-being, all make varied difficulties. Sincere and earnest Christian feeling in the wife is the great secret of triumph in and over all such things. The ruffled find her at peace; the troubled are sure of her sympathy; the disappointed are cheered by her hopefulness. Her piety helps her to see a bright light in every cloud; her faith enables her to see God ever near, just behind the cloud.
IV. Christianity works in homes through its power in personal character.—“The hidden man of the heart:” “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit:” “so long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” It may be true that the supreme power of Christianity in everybody, male and female, is its power in character; but the public activities of men seem to overshadow this truth. We see it quite clearly in woman. Her mission for Christ in the world lies mainly in that influence she can win just by being beautiful in character, through the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 3:1. The Wife’s Sphere in the Home.—The philosophy of marriage, as our Lord unfolds it, is this: a man and a woman made one all around the circle of their being; married in heart and thought and life; joined in desires and purposes and aims; in affections and interests one. Here is the starting point for the interpretation of the wife’s sphere and duty in the model home. Matthew Henry’s exposition must be quoted once more: “In creating woman”—for she was a new and fresh creation, and the last thing God did create, and hence His masterpiece—“God did not take her out of the head of man to be over him, nor from his feet to be under him, but out of his side to be equal with him, from under his arm to be sheltered and protected by him, and from near his heart to walk in sympathy and helpfulness by his side.” God made for Adam but one Eve, not two, nor ten. Mormonism has no authority from God. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. The union made by ordinance of God cannot be broken by ordinance of man, save by the one exception which Jesus Christ instituted. Hence the part of the wife in the happy home is equal in position and influence to that of the husband, but not the same. Woman is not merely a copy of man—a faded, second impression from the same plate—but another creation, enlarging and enriching life. It brought new and higher elements into the circle of being, adding to life’s joys and possibilities, and making man himself more, through her. The husband and wife are the two halves of one whole, and the whole is designed by God to be greater and better than the sum of the parts. Let her, then, not assume headship, much less lordship, putting on airs as if the Millennium would come when she got her fancied rights. “The wife must see that she reverence her husband.” Neither let her be fretted and chafed by an overbearing man, making her feel that she is an inferior by some jumping-jack of a husband. The Scotch have a proverb, “You may ding the devil into a wife, but you can never ding him out.” The husband and wife are in a true sense one. Whatever is good for him is good for her. Whatever is due from him to her is also equally duo from her to him. They move together. He owes no duty to her that she does not owe to him a counterpart. It is an even thing. What the wife requires of her husband, that let her give to him. She is married “for better or for worse”; let her resolve that it shall be for better. Matches are not made in heaven, and will be for the worse if there be no watchful, patient care to work them out on earth for heaven. It is the duty of the wife to cultivate the practical home-making, God-given gift, keeping her house bright and genial. In a churchyard in England I found this eulogy on a wife’s tablet: “She always made home happy.” Blessed is the home that shelters mutual love: but the ideals must be reduced to reality. Work for the husband is better than worship of him, if the buttons are not sewed on. The word “wife” means a weaver, and “lady” a loaf-giver. She can be no idle dreamer. If, before marriage, the maiden weaves cobwebs of fancy, after marriage she must weave the solid “cloth of gold.” That is an ornament which adorns. She is never so amiable or beautiful as when useful. Spurgeon, a prime minister of England, says: “I have no faith in that woman who talks of grace and glory abroad and uses no soap and water at home.” The wife’s sphere has home for its centre, and its circumference cuts, in its curves, all that is true and beautiful and good. It is not money that makes a happy home. Rich as Vanderbilt, the wife must seek to be an intelligent mistress of the house, with a smile that brightens and a touch that beautifies. Rich or poor, she must know how to guide affairs, and strive for the tact and taste that makes homely duties handsome. “She layeth her hands to the spindle, she clotheth her husband in scarlet.” In the home she may say she rules in queenly fashion: “I am sovereign by the grace of God. My home to me a kingdom is, and to all that enter this realm I will hold out the golden sceptre of blessing.” Marriage, to a woman, is more than a king’s coronation. The wedding ring is as much a symbol of power and influence in the home as the monarch’s signet. “There is great force hidden in a sweet command.” No life can be tame or limited when high aims are followed. The strength of a wife to lift up others in trouble, and hold them to worthy aims, is very great. Let the wife accept that mission cheerfully, if it be assigned to her, and work under pressure and without recognition, long and painfully, if it is called for. The reward is sure. God sees and remembers all. He that seeth in secret shall reward her openly. The pleasant home-making talent of the wife will curb bad temper and evil propensity. Thus, to suppress a moment’s anger may save a week of sorrow. She will strive to preserve all amenities of dress and manner, keeping the home orderly and inviting. Carefulness and courtesy in the home are never lost. Roughness and indifference are never safe, and coarseness breeds contempt. The wise wife will continue to do those things which first won her husband’s love. Treat your husband’s return from business cares with a joyous and smiling welcome, and make the home bright and winsome while he stays. He will stay the longer and be back the sooner. If you pout out, “Oh, you have come at last, have you? You care nothing for me, that is plain! I have no charm, I see, for you any longer,” you are in danger of throwing away the key to his heart. Never do it. He can’t be harassed in business all day and harassed by his wife at night. He will want to go out “to see a man,” or to go to “the post office and just step into the club house.” Peevishness and fault-finding will never do. Study to be a real help-meet to your husband, and never a drag on him—to be one meet to help such a one as he is. Contact with a noble-minded woman is good for any man. There has been a good wife, as a rule, close beside every eminent man. Seldom will a man become any greater than his wife will let him. She must strive to fit herself for his growing fortunes and to rise with him, and be a true helper in all the spheres to which he is called. That is the wife’s sphere, and if she does not keep even with him she will pull him down. A wife that is her husband’s help-meet, growing as he grows, is his best fortune. “Whoso findeth such a wife findeth good. He will not say, ‘I fell in love’; he will say, ‘I rose.’ ” But he will be thoughtfully tender of such a wife, and very careful to put no hindrance in her way. He will lend her every aid in family cares, that they may ascend the hill together. He is the sturdy oak, and she the ivy entwining. He will throw out his strong, protecting arms that she may reach the topmost bough in grace and beauty. Pity for the ivy that will not climb! In order to do this, there must be a life-long assimilation. When husband and wife first come together, they are alike at only a few points, and know really little about each other. They must study each other, and see the faults and virtues of each other, mutually helping and strengthening each other. So will they conform to one another, and grow more and more together, avoiding stirring up the bad in each, and developing the good. We all have our faults. Expect faults, and be not surprised at finding them. It is a great thing to kindly help one to get rid of them and beyond them. Very likely here is where the young wife will have her first cry. She has been such a darling in the home, and such a pet in society; and so long has she had her own way that when her husband gets tired of her egotism and selfishness, and brings her up with a square turn to consider that there are two to be consulted in that firm instead of one, it will overwhelm her. Hasn’t her husband always said that they are one?—“Two hearts with but a single thought!” and has she not been given to think that she is the one! And now, she thinks, he is a monster, and that life is not worth the living. But she is good and true at heart, and will find her head soon, and be a wiser and better wife. She will be married to her husband, after that, at a higher point in her soul. In this way, by self-denial and forbearance, they will, step by step, become truly joined in the nobler ranges, and secure a happy marriage union.—C. L. Goodell, D.D.
1 Peter 3:3-4.—The Higher Life for Woman.—There are two passages, and this is one of them, from which there has been derived by the Puritan and so-called Christian teachers the doctrine that it was wicked for women to wear jewellery and precious stones. They have not been so particular about plaiting the hair that, I know of, although that comes in under condemnation in the same way. Now, the whole point is lost where it is fixed on these things. The point is, that one should not expend the whole of life on making the outside beautiful, but that one should see to it that the inside is adorned also. You are not to cheat the soul of all its gems and virtues for the sake of making yourself attractive exteriorly by adornments of that kind. That is the point, but it has been commuted into a general declaration against ornaments of beauty—whether of the hair, or of the apparel, or of precious stones. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of the text than that. This, we are to bear in mind, is addressed in its original form to Oriental women. They were in the condition mainly that multitudes of men think they ought to be in now. They were stayers at home; they were managers of the household; they received no gifts of education whatever. It was not necessary that a woman should be expensively educated for the sake of making bread or mending stockings, and so they were but little better than slaves of the harem. Even in the very highest point of its splendour there was not in all Athens a single woman who was permitted to be educated, if she wished to have the reputation of virtue. Knowledge with women in Grecian days was a token of impudicity. If a woman meant to live as a courtesan, no pains were spared to educate her in taste, in knowledge, in philosophy, even in statesmanship. Here is the root of the explanation in regard to those dissuasions in the writings of the New Testament, that women should not speak in public. In the corrupt and degraded sentiment of those Oriental ages, for a woman to be able to speak in meeting and to rise to do it, would have fixed upon her the stigma of being common and corrupt. Therefore it was a wise decree of the apostle that, in such an age, and under such public ideas of what was feminine and pure, and what was unfeminine and impure, must be silent. They must conform in the churches to the public sentiment of their time, until Christianity should have changed the times, and rendered possible a larger liberty, felicitous and beneficial. Now, in such a case as that of women, whose desire to please and love of pleasure is strong—not perhaps stronger than in men, but under circumstances in which there were fewer ways of pleasing than men possess—what could they do but make their persons attractive? They were forbidden to make themselves beautiful within, and so they made themselves as beautiful as they could without, with braided hair, with all manner of pearls and precious stones, with all fancifulness and beauty of dress. But St. Peter and St. Paul alike said: “Do not spend yourself on external garnishing; look inward, and cultivate the inward life,” or, as St. Peter here calls it, “the hidden man of the soul.” In short, St. Peter and St. Paul were both in favour of higher education for women. They did not believe that the line of her life should not rise above the bread-trough, or the handling of the instruments by which she was to obtain victory in the industries of life. They believed that a woman should have a higher life, a higher inward development; and should not therefore turn to frivolous pleasures and external beauty.—H. Ward Beecher.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
1 Peter 3:1. A Wife’s Power to Win.—“As I was conversing,” says a writer in the New York Observer, “with a pious old man, I inquired what were the means of his conversion. For a moment he paused—I perceived I had touched a tender string. Tears gushed from his eyes, while, with deep emotion, he replied: ‘My wife was brought to God some years before myself. I persecuted and abused her because of her religion. She, however, returned nothing but kindness—constantly manifesting an anxiety to promote my comfort and happiness; and it was her amiable conduct when suffering ill-treatment from me that first sent the arrows of conviction to my soul.’ ”
1 Peter 3:3. Pride in Dress.—Goldsmith tells of a mandarin who took much pride in appearing with a number of jewels on every part of his robe. He was once accosted by a sly old fellow, who, following him through several streets, bowed often to the ground, and thanked him for his jewels. “What does the man mean? “cried the mandarin. “I never gave you any of my jewels.” “No,” replied the other; “but you have let me look at them, and that is all the use you can make of them yourself. So the only difference between us is, that you have the trouble of watching them; and that is an employment I don’t much desire.”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 3:7. Knowledge.—With thought and care; trying wisely to meet all circumstances, Giving honour.—In the spirit of Christian meekness and gentleness, which always puts others before self. Weaker vessel.—This is physically true, and it puts woman upon every good man’s consideration. Even the rights of the husband are qualified by Christian gentleness toward the frail and often suffering wife. Heirs together.—The new life and new hope putting a new tenderness into your marital relations. Not hindered.—Cut off, as they would be by one of them praying against the other.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 3:7
The Christian Husband.—The husband is the head of the wife, but not in such sense that she is to be under his feet, to be treated as his servant, or to be deemed his inferior. She is of his bone and of his flesh, and St. Paul therefore said, “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:19). And here St. Peter is equally express: “Likewise,” or in like manner, “ye husbands, dwelling with the feminine according to knowledge, as with the weaker vessel, giving honour to those who are also fellow-inheritors of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Such is the true rendering of the apostle’s words. What, then, is required of the husband?
I. Consideration.—He is to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, as with the weaker vessel. Both are vessels—clay in the hands of the Potter, Who has formed them for Himself, giving to each the frame best suited for the end He has in view (Jeremiah 18:6; Isaiah 29:16, etc.); but the wife is physically the weaker vessel, and the husband, knowing this, is to treat her in every respect with kind consideration. She is subject to many trials as a mother, to many cares as the mistress of the household, to many diseases peculiar to her sex. Shall all this be forgotten? And shall the often suffering and sorrowful wife have no sympathy, or very little, from him to whom she has a right to look up? God forbid. It is a mistake to suppose that by “the weaker vessel” here it is meant that the wife is always mentally the inferior of the husband. In many qualities of the mind she often far excels him, and there have been, and still are, women whose acquirements in all branches of science and art equalled those of the most eminent men. The society of many a wife is better, in an intellectual point of view, than her husband will meet with away from home; and as for spiritual conversation and Christian fellowship, hers is often not to be surpassed.
II. Honour.—Your wives, says the apostle, are fellow-heirs with you of the grace of life. It is here assumed that both are believers, and, if so, both are partakers of the gift of life flowing from the grace of God. Eternal life begins on earth and is consummated in heaven, so that two things are here implied: that the husband and the wife are one in Christ now, and that hereafter their union will continue in a brighter and a happier sphere. Shall they, then, be afraid to converse with one another on the things of God? Shall they have any secrets in reference either to their outer or their inner life? The union that subsists between them is so close and sacred that, as far as possible, their very thoughts should blend; and if any differences of opinion exist, either with regard to their family affairs or in respect to religious views, they should try to remove them as soon as possible, or should bear with one another in reference to them with all charity and love. Specially should they honour one another; and the husband who has a Christian wife should never for one moment fail to see in her one who, equally with himself, bears the signature and stamp of heaven.
III. The apostle adds a special reason for all this.—“That your prayers be not hindered.” He assumes that the husband and the wife do pray; that they pray not merely for one another, but with one another; not merely at the domestic altar, but together, when no one else is near. It is said of Philip Henry that he and his wife constantly prayed together morning and evening, and from his own experience of the benefit of the practice he recommended it to all his Christian friends. That your prayers be not hindered, love one another with a pure heart, fervently, with that love which is essential to the happiness of married life (from Thornley Smith). The three points in relation to the Christian husband which this passage suggests are:
1. His authority, implied in his superiority of physical strength, and in that rule, in the ordering of life-relations, which is implied in “dwelling with them according to knowledge.”
2. His considerateness. Putting her interest before his own. Giving her all honour.
3. His religious helpfulness. The activity and energy, which are manly characteristics, finding expression in the shaping of the religious customs of the home.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 3:7. Honour to the Weaker Vessel.—Read, “as with a weaker vessel, with what is female.” This explains the saying, “according to knowledge.” The thing which the husband is specially to understand, and take into account, is that he is dealing with a thing less strong than himself. The whole of chivalry is in these words, and St. Peter, next after Christ, may be considered the founder of it. Weakness itself, by being weakness, has a claim upon the strong man’s deference and self-submission. The weakness here ascribed to the female sex is primarily that of the body, though it may, perhaps, indicate frailty in other respects as well. If the word “vessel” is to be here a description of a “wife,” as some contend on 1 Thessalonians 4:4, in a sense in which it does not equally describe a husband, it is difficult to see with what the vessel is compared and pronounced weaker. “Dwell with the female as with a more delicate vessel or instrument”—than what? If we answer, “than yourselves,” it becomes clear that the husbands are, by implication, less delicate vessels. And this is the case. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 the word “vessel” (whether as receptacle or as instrument) is a description of the body, or rather of the self as manifested in the body. The word in itself may be used to describe anything made to be serviceable—machinery, tackle and gear, pots and pans, and, in fact, any kind of apparatus or implement; and here it might be very fairly rendered, “as with a weaker thing or object.” That which is translated “the wife” is really a neuter adjective, and it is a question whether we are to supply with it the noun “vessel”—“with the female as with a vessel which is weaker”—or whether it is to stand absolutely, “the female,” as we say “the good,” “the evil,” i.e. “that which is female.” The latter seems, on the whole, simpler and more forcible, as calling closer attention to the fact of weakness being inherent in the sex.—A. J. Mason, M.A.
The Husband’s Sphere in the Home.—The true home is the brightest spot since the Garden of Eden; but it does not make itself, or come by chance. In building a glad and happy household, each one has a part to perform, and God’s choicest blessing comes only when all the members stand in their place and do their duty. The happy home grows out of a union of hearts and hands toward one cherished end. One person alone may do much, but no one can do all that is required. The best is only when there is sympathetic and harmonious blending together, like the different parts of music. When either part fails, there is discord and loss. Complete concert of action between husband and wife is a necessity in any well-ordered home. Perfect confidence and affection must exist between them. To draw apart, tears. To make the home the happiest and most helpful place in the world, each must give the best to it. Not to society, not to business, not to outside intimates, but to the family circle, must the choicest gleanings be brought from all the fields of life, as the bee brings to his hive, and not elsewhere, honey from all the sweetest flowers. The husband has an important sphere. The more he gives to the home, the more it will give to him. The more he is to it, the more it will be to him and to the world. His dividend will be in proportion to his investment. Some complain that their home joys are meagre. Let them remember how mean and beggarly are their contributions. They cannot reap where they do not sow. If they will, they can make the home a source of perennial comfort to themselves, and the means of blessing to many. It should be a bright beacon in this world’s night. The word “husband” means a house-band; a band of strength around the home, upholding, protecting, and keeping it together. The home was the first institution God made. The germs of the State and the Church are in it. The husband, as the head of the home, stands at the beginning of all the worthiest elements of Society. In the household he plants the seeds of religion for the Church, and of authority for the State. The family is the spring-head of the nation, the source of its purest spiritual and civil life. It is plain what manner of man the husband ought to be. The husband in the model home must love his wife. St. Paul says, “Husbands love your wives, and be not bitter against them.” These are strong words—Bible words. The Bible is the marriage ring. Marriage begins in love. It must continue and end there. The husband must see that the early, tender affection never fails; that the gentle tone of life’s morning does not grow harsh. He must love the wife down through old age, and on through fading youthful beauty, to the sunset years, with a love that makes wrinkles beautiful, and infirmities seem precious. Tell her how much you love her still. Tell it more and more, as the years go on. Never allow the white roses of affection to fade on your lips, and your mouth to grow dumb. A cold silence is a mildew. Some wives would be surprised to hear expressions of endearment from their husbands now. All that ceased long, long ago. Let the husband show his love by his presence, not leaving her, and deserting the home the long evening through, when he can help it. Let the husband cherish his wife, and appreciate what she does, causing her to feel that he sees and esteems her service. Let little attentions never cease, nor delicate thoughtfulness for her welfare. Let the husband shelter his wife under his strong arm, and smooth her path. Let him protect her and stand by her in her cares and trials, and know that she will never look to him in vain. Let him provide for her reasonable wants, that she come not into embarrassment, and feel that he demeans her. Ill temper and hasty words on his part—these are not for the happy home. Some seem to be more considerate of their horse and dog than of their wives, but many a husband is a mule. The true husband will be mindful of his wife’s good, and not indifferent to her, for in his smile she lives, and in his frown is chill. A husband’s love is the sunshine of the wife. It brings out her beauty of soul, as a spring morning opens the flowers, and sustains her in her deeper needs. Selfishness and disregard to the interests and happiness of the wife, planting one’s own self in the centre, and absorbing every good thing in one’s own greed, the wife drudging and denying herself for her husband, as the slave for his lord—running to serve his every whim;—this is not found on heathen ground alone. There are home heathens. Genuine love casts out selfishness, and ennobles the heart. It makes it generous and self-denying for all others’ sakes. Husbands, love your wives. These are some of the benefits that flow out of domestic love, and in proportion as this love ceases these benefits fail. What if love has ceased already? Do these things and it will come back, as the seeds begin to open when the spring sun shines again. Let the husband honour his wife. Peter says, “Ye husbands, give honour unto the wife, as being joint heirs of the grace of life.” Honour her by caring for her needs. In the hard places of life, stand by her side, and give her true sympathy. When children are ill, and burdens press, let her feel that she has a stronghold in you, and give her your comfort. Because she is your wife, you owe her what, without you, she can never have. Bland and polite as treacle some are to guests and outsiders, while in their homes they are domineering and exacting, finding fault with the wife, and criticising her before the children, blaming her for the mishaps, with seldom a kind word. “Oh, it is only my wife!” This is the gilt edge of married life, in a guilty age. Do you say you have no time for all these trifles? In the perfect home there are no trifles. “It is trifles that make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.” Honour her by sharing your joys with her, as she shares all your cares, taking on herself in the family the heaviest part. Allow her to be with you when she can, to go with you when she may, and to enter into your life. Do not add to her crosses by leaving her to doubt you. Do not lay up food for sad reflection when death comes, and plant thorns in your pillow against that hour. The time to love, honour, and help her, is when these things are needed. When death has entered, and plucked the lilies from her cheek, it will be too late then to lighten her lot, or speak her praises. Honour her by taking her into counsel with you. She will be wise with a true woman’s wisdom. Insight and intuition are her gift, and she will give her husband her best thought, and be happy that it is sought. In all the affairs of life, a true woman’s judgment has its uses. Many a man has failed for want of it. The counsel at his elbow would have saved him had he sought it. Thus honouring her, she will be made strong. Then, if he takes her into counsel, and honours her in his successes, when failures and reverses come, and trouble and misfortune sweep over them, as they do sometimes over the best and most prosperous, she will, in turn, grandly stand by him and become his polar star, enduring every hardship for his sake with sweet and abiding cheerfulness and courage, never breathing a murmur of complaint. Be worthy of her, and you will find she will be worthy of you. Your lives will develop together. Let the husband be faithful and true to his wife. The evils that I have been speaking of are the little foxes that spoil the vines. But intemperance and infidelity are what Dr. Abbott calls the wolves that destroy the home. The Lord Bishop of Durham founded the White Cross League. It asserts that the time will come when fatherhood will take its place beside motherhood, its Divine counterpart, as equal sharers in the cares which have so ennobled women as to make some of them akin to angels. The pledge of this order declares: “I will maintain the law of purity as equally binding on men and women. I will endeavour to spread these principles among my companions, and try to help my younger brothers. I will use every means to fulfil the sacred command, ‘Keep thyself pure.’ ” If the wife be led into sin, she is denounced and cast off as a thing unclean, with little effort for her reform; yet through all the husband’s excesses and untruth to her, and drunkenness and dishonour, she clings to him, pleading and toiling to draw him back into the true path. How the husband owes it to such a being to keep his marriage vows in all fidelity and truth! I have spoken of the little foxes and the wolves of the home. The vampire of wedded life is where an alien comes in between husband and wife, under sanction and authority of the husband, and frets, almost to breaking, the marriage tie, and sucks out the pure joys of connubial life. Every husband should be a Christian in heart and life, and unite with the wife in faith and prayer and the service of God. He should join with her in the training of the children for usefulness here and for heaven hereafter. The husband should not let the wife pray alone. The whole household needs it. He should not allow her to go alone to church. He requires it as much as she. He should be with her at the communion table. Above all, he should not leave to her the Christian education of the children. Alone in this, the wife is a bird with one wing. It is a great wrong to the wife, to put all these trying and difficult duties on her, when God lays them equally on him. Some of the most important ones can only be done by him. Others require their united Christian effort, the closest conference of Christian hearts. A married couple can never be truly one, in the greatest and profoundest interests of life, until both are Christians. The most sacred and blessed side of the soul, that bordering on eternity, they cannot walk together in, until they together know the Lord. How many times does a mother’s heart ache for the aid a Christian father could give to her, when perplexed in the household, when things are at cross purposes, and the load seems heavier than she can bear! How barren, after all, is wedded joy, to live together on earth, and for earth only, without the bright hope of dwelling together in eternity, meeting there, never more to part! That home cannot be happiest which looks for no reunion in heaven. The happiest home is always the Christian home, where husband and wife are one at the family altar, as one in interests and affection.—C. L. Goodell, D.D.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 3:8. Of one mind.—One aim and purpose. This is possible when all seek the honour of Christ; impossible when each seeks his own honour. Love as brethren.—Or “loving the brethren.” Pitiful—Towards each other’s frailties. “Good-hearted,” “sweet-spirited.” Courteous.—Having a considerate tone on all your intercourse. Recognising the spiritual equality which underlies all distinctions of rich and poor, master and servant. The Christian gentleman is gentle with every one.
1 Peter 3:9. Should inherit.—“In order that ye might. “Because we are ourselves so blessed we may well become agents in imparting blessing.
1 Peter 3:11. Eschew.—Put away as offensive to him (see Psalms 34:12-16.). Ensue.—A word not now used in this form. We now use “pursue.”
1 Peter 3:13. Followers.—Imitators. Batter MSS. give “be zealous for.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 3:8-13
Christ-like-mindedness.—If such a term can be permitted, it may be regarded as the key-word of this paragraph. St. Peter would have those who live and worship together in the name of Christ, unanimous. The Greek word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, but the duty is often enjoined (Romans 12:16; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:2). It involves an agreement, not only in doctrine but also in practical aims. “Oneness of mind,” what is meant by it? How can we promote it?
1. By having compassion one of another, or sympathising in one another’s weal or woe, weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice.
2. By loving one another, as brethren in Christ, truly and fervently.
3. By being pitiful, literally of strong bowels, like our Father in heaven, whose bowels yearn with tenderness towards His children, erring and wayward though they are.
4. By being courteous, humble-minded towards every one, and kind in thought and deed. This courteousness implies a sweet and gentle disposition, which displays itself in genuine regard to all around us, deeming every man worthy of respect and honour, however humble his station in life” (T.S.). Where this lowliness of mind exists, there will be found unanimity ὁμόφρονες, sympathy συμπαθεῖς, love, erga sanctos, φιλάδελφοι, compassion, erga afflictos, εὔσπλαγχοι. The teaching of this paragraph may be presented in three closely related divisions.
I. Like-mindedness is a state of thought and feeling.—It must be a feature of the Christian life, or it never can find expression in the Christian conduct or in the Christian relations. The associations of the Christian are no mere arrangement of things upon intellectual decisions, or resolves of will. They are shaped and toned by what he is in spirit and character. So the culture of himself and the mastery of life are closely connected. Power in life follows power gained over self. The features of character which make this like-mindedness easy are sometimes merely parts of the natural disposition. Some people seem to be born amiable, and so are easy to live with. But perhaps for most people the conditions of like-mindedness are things to win. Not that they ever can be won by forcing the conduct into any particular moulds. They can only be won by tempering the heart and the thought and the feeling to a particular frame—the Christ-like frame. And that can only be done by the soul’s keeping in constant and sensitive relations with the living Christ Himself, and so changing into His image. They can be like-minded with their fellow-Christians who can say, “We have the mind of Christ.”
II. Like-mindedness works out into practical expression.—How it does in the Church relations, and the social relations, may be illustrated by its working in the family relations. Let husband and wife be of one mind, and all the things of everyday life in the home are smoothed, and shaped, and ordered; difficulties are mastered; differing tempers are harmonised; and each member is helped to forget his own things for the sake of the things of others. In the Church let there but be like-mindedness in the supreme desire for the glory of Christ, and the practical relations will surely be rightly toned, and the difficulties, that must arise in all frail human fellowships, will be easily over-mastered. The quotation in the paragraph illustrates how practical are the ways of the right-minded, Christ-minded man.
III. Like-mindedness, working out thus practically, gives a man the very best security in life.—For nobody wants to hurt the really good, kind man, who is always ready to serve others, and does it evidently in the inspiration of that highest of all persuasions, the constraining love of Christ. To injure such a good, kind, Christly man is to injure ourselves. To kill him is to deprive ourselves and others of his sweet ministry of blessing. Who would ever think of such a thing as injuring Elizabeth Fry or Florence Nightingale? “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). And the security is also guaranteed by Him whom the right-minded man serves. He is God’s servant, and God takes care of His servants.
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 3:8.—The True Gentleman.—“Be courteous.” It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain. He carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the mind of those with whom he is cast—all clashing of opinion or collision of feeling, all restraint or suspicion or gloom or resentment; his great concern being to make every one at ease and at home. He has his eyes on all his company; he is tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. He can recollect to whom he is speaking; he guards against unseasonable allusions, or topics which may irritate; he is seldom prominent in conversation, and never wearisome. He makes light of favours when he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort; he has no care for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets everything for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantages, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, “that we should ever conduct ourselves toward our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend.” He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults. He is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing and resigned on philosophic principles; he submits to pain because it is inevitable, to bereavement because it is irreparable, and to death because it is his destiny.—Cardinal Newman.
Courteousness.—This courteousness implies a sweet and gentle disposition, which displays itself, not in outward acts and formal manners, such as the fashionable world calls courteousness—the politeness and civility that courtiers practise—but in genuine regard to all around us, deeming every man worthy of respect and honour, however humble his station in life. The courteous man is affable, friendly minded, always trying to please others; and such a man will attract even those who are otherwise, as sweet music attracts the ear, or lovely flowers the eye. Courteousness is a magnet which draws all men to itself, and binds them together like a threefold cord. Some men possess it naturally, or by their training and education, whilst others are rough and uncouth in manner, and it is difficult for them to speak in gentle tones. But Christianity can polish the most unshapely diamond, and it almost invariably makes even the country peasant a true gentleman, however lowly his position, or however poor his garb.—Thornley Smith.
1 Peter 3:10-11. The Way to Secure Good Days. It is, on the whole, a healthy characteristic of our times, that men are asking what practical power Christianity can exert on human lives, and on Society. The religion of Jesus Christ is being judged by what it can do. But Holy Scripture throughout is mainly concerned with character and conduct. The examples of good men set before us in Scripture are not examples of men of excellent sentiments or opinions merely; they are examples of practically good men. The prophets are ever calling men back to God, and to practical goodness. Our Lord was the most practical of preachers, and even poured scorn on profession that had no fitting accompaniment in character and conduct. Apostles are never unmindful of the practical applications of the truths they proclaim. Religion that is unpractical has no sort of commendation in God’s Word. The spirit of the older age associated long and healthy life with moral goodness, and even regarded it as the Divine reward of such goodness. The apostles do not try to take the details of conduct into their control. They implant principles, and they present models and ideals, leaving these to exert their own influence. The text is a characteristic apostolic counsel, though the form of it is taken from one of the earlier psalms. It brings before us a reasonable desire, and reminds us how that desire may be attained.
I. A reasonable desire.—“He that will love life, and see good days.” The love of life and desire to prolonged are quite natural. Life is God’s best gift to us, and it ought to be counted as our chief treasure. The love of life is the basis of Society; the secret of man’s right relations with his brother. For his jealousy in guarding the treasure of his own life makes him careful to preserve the treasure of life for his brother. It may be thought that the supreme interest which the Christian has in the life to come ought to make him indifferent to the continuance of the life that is. But that notion belongs to extravagant sentiment, and has no countenance in Bible teachings. Every one of us ought to try to live here on earth, keeping up our loving service to our Divine Lord, just as long as ever we can. And the restfulness and peace which piety brings ought to be important aids towards the prolongation of life. But St. Peter uses another expression for the befitting Christian desire. A man should hope for good days; days filled up with goodness, in the sense of good doings, and consequent good enjoyings.
II. This reasonable desire attained.—The apostle lays down three conditions, and they are all thoroughly practical: all proved to be essential, as he declares them to be, by the experience of earnest men through all the ages.
1. He who would have good days will have to rule his speech. And his chief work will be restraining, holding back, keeping silence. Readiness to talk is the constant temptation. The most difficult of virtues, for most men, is “not answering again.” If we would see how this ruling of our speech stands related to “seeing good days,” let us think how many of the misunderstandings, and separations, and troubles, and wrongs of our lives have come out of hasty, unwise, unkind, impure speeches. Let us think how often we have spoiled the happiness of others, and broken up our own peace, by the utterance of foolish and unworthy words.
2. He who would have good days will have to order his conduct. That involves work of two kinds, each closely related to the other. As soon as we take our life into our hands, and resolve to got it into fair and good shape, we find there is much to get away, to cut off, to pluck out, to put from us. The attaining of good ever goes along with the clearing out of evil. And this makes the moral conflict of our lives. But the putting away of evil must be accompanied with strong feelings of repulsion towards it. The good man finds sin unpleasant in his mouth, and would fain be quit of it. He eschews evil. But our Lord taught that the house was in peril if the evil spirit were only driven out, and the house left “empty, swept, and garnished.” We must be doing good, seeking good, filling up our lives with good; filling them so full that evil cannot even squeeze in edgeways. Activity in goodness is our safeguard.
3. He who would have good days will have to tone his relationships. By peace we must understand peaceableness, the spirit of the peace-maker; gentle, considerate, charitable. The Christ-tone should be on all our intercourse, and on all our relations. And that Tightness, that gentleness, that graciousness, will mightily help to prolong our life, and bring round to us, over and over again, good days.
1 Peter 3:13. The Safety of the Good.—The Jews of the Dispersion found it very difficult to live Christian lives in the midst of heathen associations. Silvanus had come to St. Peter bringing tidings of exposure to a fiery trial of persecution. They were accused of being evil-doers, preaching revolutionary doctrines. The very name of, “Christian” exposed them to odium and outrage. St. Peter felt that he could not withhold his words of comfort and counsel from those who were thus suffering. After cheering them, by reminding them of their noble standing and high privilege in Christ Jesus, he tells them that their daily lives, in all their relationships, whether as slaves under masters or as citizens under rulers, should be such as to refute all slanders. “In all their sufferings they should follow in the footsteps of the patience and meekness of Christ,” their very submission and gentleness disarming all opposition. For all this there were the broad rules of holy living, such as Christ had taught; and those who lived according to these rules may surely trust in God’s protection. They know how to defend themselves, but their best defence will be the silent witness of their lives.
I. Who may be called a “follower of the good”? What St. Peter understood by “the good” is indicated in 1 Peter 3:10-11. The good is always close kin with the “kind.” It means the gracious and kindly deed, and the love of peace. The follower of the good is—
1. One who can discern the good. When a man is “born again,” regenerate in the power of the Holy Ghost, one of the best signs of the change, and one of the best expressions of the new life, is quick discernment of anything and everything that is good. It is as if the magnet were charged with the Divine loadstone of Him who is good, and consequently found out, and drew to itself, the iron of goodness everywhere. We must have lost our proper sensitiveness as Christians if we find ourselves uncertain whether things offered to our thought, or to our enjoyment, are good or evil. We should discern the good.
2. One who chooses the good. The will and the effect must follow on the sensibility and the discernment. The Latin motto is, “I approve the better course, but I follow the worse.” But that is the un-Christian example. If we know good, we must do the good we know. If we see the good, we must follow it wheresoever it may lead. The Divine regeneration strengthens the will for the choosing and steadily working out of the good.
3. One who recognises the activity of good. The righteous are those who have goodness enough in themselves to oppose evil, and try to make other people good, and so win God His triumph. Passive goodness is but a poor, frail, sickly thing, if indeed there is such a thing. You must be good, in order that you may do good. The term “followers” implies “zealous for.” Every Christly person should be a “zealot” for the good. Goodness a holy passion with him; he living to get it enthroned everywhere.
II. How may harm come to the followers of the good?—“Through much tribulation we must enter the kingdom.” St. Peter had chiefly in mind outward and temporal troubles, the spoiling of the Christian’s goods, the slander heaped on the Christian’s name, the peril of the Christian’s life. Men could harm the Christian’s body; they could hinder the Christian’s work; they could damage the Christian’s reputation. But all these are external to the man, they do not harm the man. Stone walls cannot imprison souls and keep them from their communion with God. Persecutions do not destroy faith. Martyrdom cannot touch the eternal life in Christ Jesus. Though we are not exposed to the perils of the early Christians, none of us fail to need St. Peter’s encouragement.
1. Some harm will come from the relics of personal frailty. There are bodily tendencies, inclinations, and passions, ever ready to do us harm.
2. The earnest Christian must take his share of the common evils that belong to human circumstances.
3. He must even take into account the harm that the foes of goodness may devise against him. These take varying shape for each age. Let men speak evil of us; let men set snares for our feet; let men persecute us according to the fashion of their times; it really does not much matter. Plato, being told that he had many enemies who spoke ill of him, replied, “It is no matter; I will live so that none shall believe them.” Goodness is an ever-triumphing power over all harm. Goodness can disarm persecutors. Goodness can shield from persecutors. Goodness outlasts the persecutors. Goodness can even get itself better through the persecutions.
The Safe Conduct.—Detail as to Christian conduct forms a feature in the epistles which renders them exceedingly valuable to the Church. They contain specific directions for particular circumstances, and encouragement for moments of trial. St. Peter, in this chapter, deals with the duties imposed by marriage, and also with those inspired by Christian fellowship. He instructs us as to our conduct before the world. Moral courage is an essential element in that conduct (1 Peter 3:14-15). The hallowed presence of God in thought strengthens the Christian in every good purpose. We are strong to resist temptation, to bear trial, and to confront our adversari’s, when God is enthroned in our affection.
I. To follow that which is good is to excite opposition.—“And who is he that will harm you?” Our persons, our characters, our families, and our worldly affairs, will be attacked. The lion is quiet enough in his den until he hears the footstep of the hunter. It is the tread of virtue in your life that rouses the anger of your enemy. Calmly reflect on the fact that what we must expect from a sinful world is opposition. If this fact is not borne in mind, especially by young Christians, a bitter disappointment will be experienced. The young heart, which has been born again, finds the world all changed. There is a frown where used to be a smile, a repulse where used to be a welcome, and a sharp cut where used to be a healing balm. That tender heart overlooks the fact that the change has taken place in itself, and not in the ungodly surroundings. If we change our front, how can we expect our old companions in sin to countenance us? Think of the accusations we bring against them. We tell them, by our conduct, that they are offenders against man and God, and that they deserve eternal wrath. Is it a wonder, therefore, that their anger should be kindled against us? When the commandment entered, sin revived, and St. Paul experienced a mortal struggle. We have felt the same. If the light of truth encountered such bitter opposition in our own heart, how much more so in the wide world? The Christian character is itself in active opposition to sin. There is a wide difference between the two opposites—the believer carries on a war with the enemy of the unbeliever for his own benefit, but the unbeliever wars against the friend of the believer to his intended hurt. We say intended hurt, because it is impossible to damage light. You may exclude it, but harm it you cannot. Truth, honesty, kindness, love, self-sacrifice, and the fear of God, no one can tarnish. Therefore, let not the good which is in us suffer on account of crooked following, but let our course be straight and thorough, that our very presence may excite the envy, malice, hatred, and destructiveness of the evil heart.
II. To follow that which is good is to cultivate the noblest virtues.—St Peter in the second epistle, says, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord, according as His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust” (1 Peter 1:2-4). “Partakers of the Divine nature,” is an expression akin to that used by the apostle St. John: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The “new creature in Christ Jesus,” of St. Paul, and “of His own will begat He us with the word of truth,” spoken by St. James, echo the Master’s teaching to Nicodemus concerning the new birth: “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” If such a tree be planted in the human heart, the result cannot otherwise be than the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” The tendrils of the Divine life in man stretch onward in the path of the goodness of God. The safety of the Christian character consists as much in the course it follows as in the overruling hand of God. That course is one of expansion of thought, communion with God, goodwill towards men, and a supreme effort to benefit all mankind by the dissemination of Divine truth. There is but one path to growth and strength before the new-born child. The germs of thought, of emotion, of moral obligation, and of life generally, will only thrive in the good soil adapted to their growth. Give the child wholesome food, fresh air, education, exercise, and exemplary society, and the attributes of manhood will develop and advance towards their final stages. The new man, created in Christ Jesus, in like manner, by following that which is good advances towards the enlargement of its capacities and the perfection of its being. The one path to eternal life yields the fruit of holiness, and imparts the strength necessary to pass over the ground. Therefore we advance in our faith from the bare fact that man cannot harm us, to the second great truth—viz., that the course of virtue affords nourishment for the spiritual man. By doing the right we gain strength, and become more valiant. Prayer to God, justice and mercy to man, and the general conformity to the will of the good God which the gospel prescribes, enlarge our capacity of resistance to evil. To follow that which is good is to “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”
III. To follow that which is good ensures the Divine approval.—“If God be for us, who can be against us?” The history of the Church shows that “The chariot of God’s providence runneth not on broken wheels,” as the immortal Rutherford used to say. “Every movement is sure, and every turn of the wheel of Providence secures the good of the Christian. If God smiles upon us, what matters it who may frown?”
“Do right. And thou hast nought to fear;
Right hath a power to make thee strong:
The night is dark, but light is near;
The grief is short, the joy is long.”
The power of right no one can describe. Government, the universe, yea, the throne of God, rests upon it. It has never yet suffered defeat. Sometimes its vindication has tarried long, but not for ever. Clouds cannot impede the course of the sun, although they may hide it from our view. So the chariot of justice cannot be delayed by wicked men. The power of goodness, we would almost say, is still greater. Every thought, word, and deed, which is prompted by eternal love, must travel on to its goal. There is a charm as well as power in doing good. You remember the line of Goldsmith—
“And learn the luxury of doing good.”
It must be done without pomp or desire of glory, as Pope puts it:—
“Do good by stealth, and blush to find it fame.”
Furthermore, there is a sense of safety in doing good. We are never stronger than when we are conscious of following God as dear children in the matter of walking in love. Fountain has given us two beautiful lines on this.—
“Happy were men if they but understood
There is no safety but in doing good.”
There is One who was called “Good Master.” He is the Fountain of Good, the Inspirer of Good, and the Giver of Good. He only can make us good. Unless we are made good we cannot seek it. The great secret of following in a good course is the good heart which the blessed Saviour gives. In the path of virtue, truth, and mercy, there is “a good hope through grace.” The greater brightness is at the farther end of the good way. Although there is a dark valley to cross, yet we shall fear no evil, for the Good Shepherd will be with us, to safely conduct us into His eternal fold.—Weekly Pulpit.
Be Zealous.—The better MSS. give the word (zelôtai) which is commonly rendered “zealous for,” as in Acts 21:20; Acts 22:3. As a word in frequent use among devout Jews (as, e.g., in the name of the apostle Simon Zelotes), it has a special force as addressed to the Church of the Circumcision. “Be zealous,” he seems to say to them, “not as Pharisees and scribes are zealous, as you yourselves were wont to be, for the Law as a moral and ceremonial code, but for that which is absolutely good.”—Dean Plumptre.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 3
1 Peter 3:8. Courtesy.—The Queen, accompanied by Lady Agnes Duff, was once visiting the fine falls of Corriemulzie. In crossing the high road, which runs between the cottage grounds and the site of the Falls, the party met a drove of cattle coming from the Castleton market. The drover, a fine-looking man from Atholl, addressing Lady Agnes, said, “Please, can you tell me if the Queen is forward to-night?” Her Majesty overheard the question, turned round, and bestowed on the stalwart Highlander a most gracious bow and smile. Sir George Grey then fell back, and told him that it was the Queen who thus bowed to him.
Civility.—When old Zachariah Fox, the great merchant of Liverpool, was asked by what means he had contrived to realise so large a fortune as he possessed, his reply was, “Friend, by one article alone, in which thou mayest deal too if thou pleasest—civility.”
Triumphing over Calumniators.—“If any one speaks ill of thee,” said Epictetus, “consider whether he has truth on his side; and if so, reform thyself, that his censures may not affect thee.” When Anaximander was told that the very boys laughed at his singing, “Ay,” said he, “then I must learn to sing better.” Plato, being told that he had many enemies who spoke ill of him, “It is no matter,” said he; “I will live so that none shall believe them.” Hearing at another time that an intimate friend of his had spoken detractingly of him, “I am sure he would not do it,” said he, “if he had not some reason for it.” This is the surest as well as the noblest way of drawing the sting out of a reproach, and the true method of preparing a man for that great and only relief against the pains of calumny—a good conscience.
Suffering with Christ,—
Wouldst thou inherit life with Christ on high?
Then count the cost, and know
That here on earth below
Thou needs must suffer with thy Lord, and die.
We reach that gain to which all else is loss But through the cross.
Oh I think what sorrows Christ Himself has known;
The scorn and anguish sore,
The bitter death He bore,
Ere He ascended to His heavenly throne;
And deemest thou thou canst with right complain,
Whate’er thy pain?
Not e’en the sharpest sorrows we can feel,
Nor keenest-pangs, we dare
With that great bliss compare,
When God His glory shall in us reveal;
That shall endure when our brief woes are o’er
For evermore! Simon Dach, 1640.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES
1 Peter 3:15. Lord God.—Probably better, “Lord Christ.” “To sanctify Christ or God was to count His name as holy above all other names, His fear as the only fear which men ought to cherish, and therefore as the safeguard against all undue fear of men.”
1 Peter 3:17. Suffer for well-doing.—Notice how prominent this idea is in the epistle. There must have been some precise circumstances to which the advice bore direct relation.
1 Peter 3:18-22. This passage is fully treated in the Homiletic Notes. Here only certain meanings of terms need be dealt with.
1 Peter 3:18. Read “Christ also suffered,” not “hath suffered.” For the unjust.—“OR behalf of,” not “in the place of.” Spirit.—Refers, not to the Holy Spirit, but to Christ’s own spirit. He became alive again in a spiritual sense.
1 Peter 3:19. For “by which” read “in which.” In His spiritual, as distinct from His fleshly life. Spirits in prison.—Now in prism, because they were disobedient to the message of the spiritual Christ delivered by Noah. It makes no point in St. Peter’s persuasion against failing from the Christian profession if we think of Christ going to preach in Hades. The disobedient antediluvians are a warning example, and the salvation of obedient Noah is an inspiring example.
1 Peter 3:21. Which also.—R.V., which water of the Flood, represented in baptism. Like figure.—“After a true likeness.” The apostolic use of Old Testament Scripture is very different to that of modern times.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Peter 3:14-22
Power Gained through Suffering for Well-doing.—In order to understand, and to feel the force of, the points made in St. Peter’s epistle, it must be kept in mind that he wrote to persons who were placed in circumstances of disability, and even exposed to suffering and persecution, on account of their faith in Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, and on account of the Christian lives they were living. The great purpose of the apostle is to afford them consolation, and to strengthen them to bear and persevere. The most difficult passage now before us is greatly relieved of its difficulty when we clearly see that its object is not, primarily, any doctrinal teaching, but comforting, assuring, moral strengthening; and that its characteristic is rather illustration and persuasion than any forth-setting of doctrinal truths. The distinction we fully recognise in our own pulpit-work. Sometimes we are teachers, but sometimes we are preachers, persuaders, comforters; we illustrate and impress known truths; we show the relation known truth bears to existing conditions of difficulty and trial. St. Peter here is reminding the disciples of what they knew, rather than unfolding anything new to them. In the paragraph we may find—
I. A possibility.—“But and if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake.” It is but as a possibility for all; it was a realised fact for some. But when men are brought into suffering, their first idea is that there must be some wrong of which it is the punishment. The friends of Job, in trying to convict him of sin, do but represent the commonplace first explanation of all suffering. What we have to admit is, that a man may suffer who is righteous, and may even have to suffer because of his righteousness. That, indeed, is the fact for all ages, but it is the fact which comes out most clearly in these Christian times, because it is the fact so sublimely exhibited in the representative man, Christ Jesus; who “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief.” This is surely a suggestive ground of consolation to the afflicted and persecuted. There is at least the possibility that they are suffering for righteousness’ sake, even as their Divine Lord had done. And Christian suffering is precisely that sort of suffering. Righteousness may be high principle, standard right, or the Christian profession.
II. Suffering for righteousness is to be accepted as for Christ.—“Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.” Not as Lord in any general or abstract way, but precisely as Lord of those who suffer for righteousness’ sake. He is their head, leader, representative; their living leader, whose actual present grace rests on all those who take the same suffering way, and bear their disabilities as loyalty and service to Him. Christ Himself suffered in the same way, “leaving you an example that ye should follow His steps.” And it should be a most comforting relief under persecution and distress, to feel that we are but “filling up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in our body,” or in our circumstances. The sting is gone when we know that we are suffering for Christ’s sake.
III. We must not let suffering silence our witness for Christ.—Precisely that would be the temptation of those early Judaic Christians. When they saw that their witness for Christ brought them misunderstanding and persecution, their first idea would be to save themselves from the trouble by ceasing to make the witness. They would think to keep disciples, but would judge it to be altogether wiser to become silent and secret disciples. This is a most subtle form of temptation, which assails God’s people in every age. The psalmist felt it, and resisted it, for he says, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation; lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, Thou knowest. I have not hid Thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation” (Psalms 16:9-10). And St. Paul is almost intense in his demand that confession of Christ shall always go with belief in Christ. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). The charm of St. Stephen’s example lies in his heroic persistence in rendering his witness for Christ, even in face of hatred and death. And St. Peter here urges these persecuted Christians not to let their troubles silence either the quiet witness of their lives, or the outspoken witness of their lips. Suffering, or not, let them be “ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear.”
IV. Power to witness, and to suffer, depends on keeping a good conscience.—What makes trouble unbearable is the fear that it is deserved. A man is always soul-master of all circumstances, even the most distressing, when he has no conscience of wrong. We see this in its perfection in Christ. He felt suffering acutely, but He bore it nobly, because none could convict Him of sin, nor could His own conscience. “Keep conscience as the noon-tide clear,” and you can go through a midnight darkness, and a world of woes unspeakable. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” St. Paul stands calmly before the raging Sanhedrin that longed for his blood because he could say, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day” (Acts 23:1). So St. Peter urges upon the persecuted disciples that they should have and keep “a good conscience, that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ.”
V. Christians should find the model of their sufferings in the sufferings of Christ.—“Because Christ also suffered for sins once.” Yes, “for sins,” but not His own. He suffered, “the righteous for the unrighteous” And His sufferings are a model of ours in two ways.
1. They came upon Him through the malice and wickedness (sins) of men; and
2. They came on Him through His under taking to deal with the sins of men, to deliver men from their penalties and dominion. Christians are in the world to do what Christ did, and they must fully expect to have to suffer in the doing, even as Christ did.
VI. Christians should find the suggestion of what their sufferings might enable them to do, in what Christ’s sufferings enabled Him to do.—St. Peter’s point here is this: Christ’s suffering in well-doing unto death, brought Him altogether unique spiritual power; and he suggests that just what the noble endurance of their troubles would bring those persecuted Christians was a unique spiritual power. To set forth this he uses an illustration, taken from a popular idea then prevailing in the Christian community, which was afterwards embodied in a strange and fantastic legend, known as the “Gospel of Nicodemus.” The 1 Peter 3:19-21 are properly an illustrative parenthesis, intended to illuminate the declaration that Christ, after His bodily suffering, was “quickened in the spirit “to become, what He has become ever since, an unique spiritual power; such a power as He could only become through the experience of suffering in well-doing; such a power as we only can gain through the same experience. The “baptism” of 1 Peter 3:21 is not the rite of baptism on confession of faith, but the baptism of suffering which the disciples were undergoing, and the reference is to the baptism of suffering which Noah underwent through all the long years of waiting, in which he was scorned and persecuted, but through which he was kept and saved. Noah kept a good conscience all through. His discipline was no “putting away of the filth of the flesh.” You, too, should keep a good conscience; then you would see that your sufferings, like Noah’s, and like your Lord’s, were no mere discipline, but were that sublimest of sublime things, vicarious ministry.
VII. Christians should find the suggestion of what their sufferings will result in in what Christ’s sufferings resulted in.—Taking out the parenthesis, the point St. Peter would impress comes fully into view. “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ; Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” When Christ’s bodily sufferings in well doing reached even to the extremity of death, they proved to be but the way in which spiritual power was quickened and developed, and to that spiritual power, free for the largest, noblest service, the highest, holiest trusts and authorities are now committed. “Suffer on, then,” St. Peter would say, “suffering in well-doing, well borne, can but have such results for us as we see in the case of our Divine and blessed Lord.”
SUGGESTIVE NOTES AND SERMON SKETCHES
1 Peter 3:15. A Reason for our Hope.—The word is literally an apology, but that word is now used in the sense of an excuse, so that the rendering of our version is correct—a reason; and that every one should be able to give for his hope, readily and whenever he is asked for it. Not that we are bound, as Christians, to answer any scoffer that may assail our faith; but if any one comes to us and asks us on what we are resting our hope, what ground we have for it, or how we can defend it, we should be prepared to give a reply; yet, as Luther says, “not with proud words or with violence, but with such fear and humility as if we stood before the judgment-seat of God.” But can an unlettered Christian be expected to do this, especially in such times as these, when the Christian faith is assailed at every point in the most subtle manner, and with the greatest skill? Yes; for though he may not be able to answer all the objections of the sceptic, yet, inasmuch as his hope is a matter of experience, he can easily give such reasons for it as a candid mind would accept. And how many, who have been perfectly ignorant of the learning of the schools, perfectly unacquainted with the arts of disputation, have been able, in a few words, to put to silence those who have called their hope in question! But only those can do this who have a good conscience—a conscience void of offence before God and before man. He who keeps a good conscience is in possession of a good hope, and can defend that hope with good reasons which the world around him will not be able to gainsay. Of our hope we need never be ashamed, for we have answers for it ready—not far to seek; and if those who question us about it are not satisfied with them, we can maintain it still, assured that it will not fail us when we are anticipating its fruition. But there are times when silence is our best answer, and when it will have greater weight than all the assertions we can make, and all the arguments we can use.—Thornley Smith.
The Reason of Hope.—There is here a play upon the words in the original Greek which we fail to see in our versions. In seems in English as if there were a contrast between the “giving the answer” and the “reason,” when, in fact, they are the same. We might read it: “Be ye ready always to give a justification to every one who would require you to justify the hope that is in you.” St. Peter, realising that the Christian religion is a hopeful religion, says to the strangers scattered abroad, to whom he writes, “You must have a reason for the hope that is in you. You must not be content to look only on the bright side of things and shut out the dark side, to hear only pæans of peace and not to notice the sounds of battle. You must have a reason for this hope in times of darkness and trial, as well as in seasons of sunshine and joy.” Let us try to answer this question: What are the Christian’s reasons for hope—hope for ourselves, for our families, and for our nation?
I. We believe in a God of hope.—We believe that God created the world, that He is a God of foresight and love, that He knew what He was about when He made life, and that He will bring out of our imperfect life here a nobler and a better one. We believe that when He sowed the seed He knew that there would not be a gathering in of tares, but that the wheat would overbalance the tares in the last great harvest. We believe He is a God of hope, and that He understands human nature better than we can. He saw the darkness, but yet He hopes; and so we can hope. Again, He has given a definiteness to the hope. We look at the savage in his degradation; he is not the true man; he is only the beginning of man. We look at Society and we say, This is not God’s ideal of man. We come to the New Testament and we see the life of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. He was the type of true manhood. In Him we see what God meant man to be. He represents what you and I are to be if we fulfil God’s plan. As we look at this pattern we hear the voice of God saying, You also are to be the sons of God. So we gather inspiration from the thought that this is what God intends man shall be. How shall man become this? I look at an acorn. It says to me, By-and bye I shall be a great tree; by-and-bye the birds will nest in my branches; by and-bye I shall be a shelter to those who dwell under my roof; by-and-bye I shall carry many over the great Atlantic. But, I say to the acorn, “Can you be all this?” “Yes, God and I!” So man will be like the great Pattern; for it is God and man. We see by faith, more and more, that God is doing this. We see Him moving and shaping man more and more in accordance with His purpose. If we could have seen the world in its first stage of creation, in its chaotic condition—“without form and void”—and if, then, any one could have said to us that this was to become a place where man should dwell in happiness and glory—that from all this should come order and beauty—we should have scoffed at the idea, unless we could have seen that God was there, that His Spirit was brooding over the water, and bringing out this great result. So we look on humanity, in its defects and imperfections, and we say: This is but the chaotic state; God is at work; He can change all to beauty. God is in human history and is bringing order out of chaos. But there are limitations of our hope. We must be willing to look at the dark side sometimes. Some hopes may be disappointed. Our desires may not be realised. We have hope for America; but Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, and other great civilisations, have perished. We are not sure what plan God is to work out in this our beloved nation. But whether the nation perishes or lives, we know that humanity will still move on. God’s purposes are sure. We know that we love purity and truth all the more because there are some in our own dear land who are working against them. We are not sure of religious organisations. We are not sure that Congregationalism was the apostolic church. Congregationalism is not the great thing, but humanity. All things that mould human life may change, but man lives on. The tools are nothing, but the building; and that which God is building is manhood. The battle of the Reformation has passed, but the conception of the Reformation—that God is mercy as well as justice—remains. To-day we are debating on probation and a future life, as if we knew all about them, when how little we know! Churches, creeds, nations, may disappear, but human character will grow and grow, because God is begetting man, and working out His ideal manhood. These things are but His instruments. The seed enters the ground, and out of it comes the tulip, the lily, because God is working in it. Because we believe that God is working within man we have a sure hope of the future; for God knows what He is doing. This, you say, is a large outlook, but how about myself? I don’t care so much about the race as my own individual life. There are no large things with God and no little things with God. It is not a strange declaration of Christ’s that the hairs of our heads are numbered, and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice. The little things are the determining things. It is the small rudder that guides the great ship. We believe in a God who not merely deals with nations or with masses, but One who looks on every cradle, on every soul. We have a true hope, that cheers our hearts and is with us in darkness as well as in light. We believe in One whoso mercy is “from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him.” In closing I want to turn to a second text: “Without hope in the world.” Atheism is hopeless. Can there be a nation without God? Do you write over that precept, “Put not your trust in princes,” put your trust in politicians? Without God there is no hope for a nation. There is no hope for a Church if there be not an open door to take in the love of God. What is your hope for your children? If there is no God to guide, you might as well attempt to lead them through the great wilderness of Sahara as to hope to guide them safely through this life, fraught with its many dangers. What is your hope for yourself? Do you carry God to your work, to your store, in society? Do you live with God? Our hope rests in God. We believe that there is One working in humanity who is shaping all according to His wise purpose. This is the reason of our hope.—Lyman Abbott, D.D.
Rationalism.—This term is usually employed to describe an attitude of the mind adverse to religion, and especially adverse to the belief in Christianity. But this is incorrect and unfair. Christianity claims to be a rational religion. It sprang from the most rational, perhaps one might say the only rational, religion of the old world, the religion that protested against polytheism, and idolatry, that taught men to believe in God, and not to worship the hosts of heaven, nor to deify the forces of nature, nor to bow down to images graven by art and man’s device. The Israelites, so far as they were faithful to their religion, were the rationalists of their time; and Christianity claims to be a rational religion. This claim is distinctly made for it by Peter in our text, and as distinctly by Paul, when he speaks of the Christian’s presenting himself to God a living sacrifice as a “reasonable service.” Taking the whole of Christ’s teaching as recorded in the gospels, we can truthfully say of it that, while it contains much that is above our comprehension, and much that we may think hard in the way of precept, still it is a teaching distinguished by its reasonableness. The Reformers were, to a remarkable extent, rationalists. They found Christianity so corrupted in doctrine, in morals, in ritual, as to have become almost an irrational religion. Against such corruptions they uttered their protest, and argued the whole case in a highly rational manner. They did much towards substituting a sober and reverential reason for blind submission to ecclesiastical authority. Looking at rationalism as the application of reason to the investigation of religion, what has it done?
1. It demanded, and secured, the right of all men to possess and read the Scriptures.
2. It has done much towards the destruction of belief in many degrading superstitions.
3. We owe to it the cessation of all persecution for religious opinions and practices.
4. The spirit of rationalism being largely of a practical and utilitarian character, it has done much toward bringing to the front the ethics of Christianity, to make less of religious dogma, and more of religious conduct. There have been times when conduct has counted for little, but orthodoxy in creed was everything. Rationalism has taught men to be less positive and dogmatic in regard to the unseen, the infinite, the unknowable, and has turned the current of religious thought and feeling and life more into the channel of moral and spiritual utility.
5. It has compelled Christians to consider and to set forth the reason or reasons they have for the hope that is in them. I am far from saying that rationalism has done no harm. It has affected very many minds with much painful, much agonising doubt; it has wrenched from many their Christian faith and hope. If rationalism has brought into prominence the practical, useful, beneficent characteristics of Christianity, it has, on the other hand, acting on less worthy minds, made men proud, and vain, and impious, and, in regard to all beneficent work, indifferent, scaptical, cold, and dead. It has in many instances enlightened the intellect, at the terrible cost of stunting the affections; it has given men broader views, but has in proportion narrowed their sympathies; it has fed their minds, but starved their hearts. Whatever be the successes of rationalism, it has its failures, and very grievous failures. It fails in unity. There are rationalists and rationalists. The name does not indicate just one clearly-defined class or sect. If there be anything in the argument against Christianity, on the ground of diversity of opinion held by its professors, the same objection may be urged against rationalism. It fails, too, in not furnishing clear and definite rules for the conduct of life. It is not provided with any high and powerful motive to influence men for good, to lead them to exercise self-denial, to cause them to devote themselves to the welfare of society or of any portion of it. It cannot deal with the sense and conviction of sin; and it fails us just where we most need help and guidance: it may accompany us to the end of our earthly journey, casting much light over our path, instructing us, interesting us, and proving of great advantage to us in many things of a secular character; but the end of the journey is reached, and rationalism can go with us no farther, and its light goes out. Mr. Lecky says of rationalism, “Utility is perhaps the highest motive to which reason can attain.” And he laments the discouragement given by rationalism to disinterestedness, to generosity, to self-sacrifice, to true moral heroism. These defects, which are inherent in its very nature, and cannot be made up for by any other perfections, however valuable, will probably in time form a check to rationalism, and cause it to be rejected, as so many other systems have been rejected. And rationalism, now in all the height of its greatness and its strength, may turn out to be only a passing wave of thought, over which the ark of God’s covenant of grace will float with safety, thus giving another witness to its unchangeable strength, to the wisdom of Him who guides it, and to the security of those who have fled to it for refuge.—H. Stowell Brown.
1 Peter 3:17-18. The Secret of True Greatness.—There is a marked difference between the standard by which we measure the men of our own day and the men of a past age. When we study a past epoch, we are neither blinded by our interests nor our prejudices, nor are we dazzled by merely outward shows. We now delight to honour only the men who have uttered great thoughts, wrought great deeds, lived great lives; and these are often men who made no great noise in their day. Two classes all men select for reverence, and rank among the great—at least, when their day is past.
1. Those who, possessed of large natural gifts, cultivated them wisely, and devoted them to the public good. In proportion as these men have suffered in and for their endeavours to enlighten or benefit the world, the world has taken them to its very heart, and they have assumed heroic proportions in the eyes of all subsequent generations.
2. Those who have been able to frame for themselves an heroic conception of duty, and to live by it. Any good historian, any competent judge, would affirm that the nation was to be accounted great which was capable of an heroic self-devotion, which had men and women who could dare and endure all things for a noble cause. And in this class, too, those whom the world honours most are still those who have endured most and most bravely, those who have suffered most for the sake of others, who have been animated by the most generous and disinterested spirit. That which touches and moves men, till they grow ashamed of their own useless and self-pleasing lives, is the courage that dares and endures, the love which conquers selfishness, and is ready to fling away life itself if only others can thus be served or saved. This is the true greatness, the true heroism. Why, then, when the man Christ Jesus does a deed of this very kind—the kind which all men admit to be most noble and heroic, a deed which differs from that of other men only in being incomparably more heroic, more noble, more unselfish—why does not the world admire Him, and take Him to its heart? He suffered for us; suffered an agony which we cannot so much as conceive—a passion of which the cross is a pathetic but utterly inadequate symbol—that He might bring us back to life and freedom, health and peace. Are we not, then, bound to love Him, and to devote our life to His service? The text contains and enforces the secret of true greatness when it bids us carry well-doing to the suffering point. Have we not here a most welcome side-light thrown on that great mystery, the function and purpose of evil? How should we suffer in and for well-doing if there were no evil in and around us? In the last resort, all our miseries, all our sufferings, spring from sin. The invincible ignorance, the obstinate prejudices, the persistent selfishness of our fellows, their enmity to the truth, which cuts their prejudices against the grain, and to the righteousness which rebukes their vices, or imposes a check on their passion—all these come of evil. It is from these that men suffer when bent on doing well; it is by these that they are hindered, thwarted, and at times driven back in apparent defeat. So that, after all, it would seem that to creatures such as we are, in such a world as this, what we call “evil” is necessary to our education and discipline in goodness, to our culture in impersonal and unselfish habits and aims; to the development, in fine, of the very elements and qualities in our nature, which are universally confessed to be the noblest and best. This line of thought yields a glimpse into the mystery of the Incarnation. Any man—any theist, at least—will acknowledge it to be of the first importance that we should come to know and love God. But we cannot find Him out to perfection, whether by the searching inquest of reason, or by the more vital and gracious intuitions of the heart. If we are to know Him as we need to know Him, He must reveal Himself to us. He must limit Himself. He must speak to us in our language, since we cannot understand His. But He must use our noblest language, that which most intimately appeals to our conscience and heart, that which can be apprehended by all the kindreds of this divided earth. Our noblest language, that which all can apprehend and admire, which touches and moves all races and all classes with a common emotion, to a common enthusiasm, is, as we have seen, the language of noble deeds, of a noble life—the language of that heroic greatness which is content to suffer for doing well, and able to draw from its sufferings new life and vigour for the spirit. This, then, is the language which God must deign to use, if He would in very deed reveal Himself to us. And this is the language in which the gospel of Christ is written. Christ suffered for us. God has spoken, He has shown Himself to us, if only we believe that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. This line of thought also supplies us with a noble incentive to a noble life. One kind of greatness is beyond our reach. No man can make himself a great statesman, a great poet, or even a great theologian. We must accept our natural capacities and gifts, whatever they may be. But the highest kind of greatness, that which most deeply moves the hearts of men, is open to us all. Well-doing is not a close profession; it is open to us, and to all men. When St. Peter sets before us the example of Christ, and stimulates us to a self-effacing devotion to duty and conviction by reminding us how He once suffered for our sins that He might bring us to God, then surely He supplies us with the keenest, the most pathetic and constraining of all motives, of all incentives, to a great and noble life. For we cannot be followers of Christ and not follow Him; nor can we follow Him save as we take the way of the cross.—S. Cox, D.D.
1 Peter 3:18. The Power of Suffering Innocence.—“Because Christ also suffered for our sins once.” This passage is found in the midst of very practical counsels. It is an instance of the characteristic New-Testament advice urged by the example of Christ, or by directly Christian motives. It should ever be borne in mind that the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ is an inspired morality; its key-note is “righteousness.”
I. The practical lesson which the apostle is here urging.—Compare 1 Peter 3:13-14, with 1 Peter 3:17. Describe the particular circumstances of difficulty and strain in which the early Church was placed, dwelling especially on the slandering and misrepresentation to which the Christians were subject, and even the actual persecution which they were called to endure. St. Peter says there is a kind of happiness they should have in being called to suffer innocently, for righteousness’ sake, even as their Divine Lord and Master had to suffer. That suffering innocence God makes to be the very highest moral force in His world of humanity. In every sphere of life the truth is true, that he who can suffer—undeservedly, and in the spirit of heavenly Divine charity—can save. Suffering for evil doing says nothing, and does nothing; it has to be borne, and there is nothing more to be said about it. Suffering for well-doing sublimely exhibits faith in God, self-restraint, power of character, and a measure of likeness to the Lord Jesus.
II. The example of Christ by which this lesson is urged.—
1. In Him was a fellowship with us in suffering. Both He and we share together the common sufferings which belong to humanity, and the special sufferings which come to men whenever they resist the tendencies of the world around them in the spirit of loyalty to God.
2. His suffering was throughout suffering innocence, the suffering that comes through persistent well-doing.
3. And His suffering was caused by the wrong, the sin of others. It might be the result of prejudice, or misunderstanding, or false notions of loyalty to God, but it was always, in some form, man’s waywardness, wilfulness, self-pleasing, that brought round bitterness, distress, and suffering, to Christ.
III. The influence that such suffering innocence has on human hearts.—It “brings men to God.” It may be difficult, with our spiritual apprehension of the Divine Fatherhood, for us to state clearly the way in which God needs to be reconciled to man. We cannot know our hearts without having the deepest conviction that we need reconciling to Him. Now, the spectacle of suffering innocence is the most moving thing on earth. And when that suffering innocence is seen to be directly related to our sin, and borne in the power of a self-sacrificing love to us, it makes us hate the sin, and feel drawn to the sufferer. And we may be sure that our suffering in righteousness will be a moral power on others, even as Christ’s was, and is, upon us.
The Man-side of the Redemption.—“That He might bring us to God.” It is generally recognised that there are two sides to the great redemptive work. But its relation to the government and righteousness of God must always be to us a mystery only partly comprehended. We can form doctrinal systems, based on what revelations of the being and nature of God we have been able to receive, but there is always this uncertainty: if we knew God more perfectly, we might have to modify our system. We are on clearer, safer ground when we try to understand how the redemption bears relation to us, removes the hindrances that keep us from God, bears a gracious influence on us, so as to fit us for coming to God, and actually brings us to Him, and keeps us in gracious relations with Him. St. Paul set forth the manward side of redemption in a very forcible way in his famous passage (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.”
Dean Plumptre’s Exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-20.—The train of thought which leads the apostle to refer to the “descent into hell,” is, at first sight, far from clear; but it is clearer by far on the assumption that this is what he has in view, than on the supposition that he is thinking of a work done by Christ as preaching in the days of Noah to the spirits that were afterwards in prison. The assignment of such a work to Him as the Christ is at all events entirely foreign to the cycle of apostolic thought and language. Let us examine the passage on the other assumption, and see how it bears the test. The analogy of 1 Corinthians 7:34, Colossians 2:5, as regards the use of the case of Romans 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:16, as regards the antithesis between the “flesh” and “spirit” of our Lord’s human nature, compels us to alter the rendering of the Authorised Version. The dative is not that of the instrument in either clause, but that of “the sphere to which a general predicate is to be limited.” To take it as having one force in the first clause, and a different one in the second, is to do violence to the natural structure of the sentence. The authority of all the great uncial MSS. and of all recent editions, is against the insertion of the article before “spirit” and without it, as the sentence stands, the reference of the second clause to the agency of the Holy Spirit cannot be supported. We have therefore to take the words as meaning that Christ was “put to death in the flesh, but quickened, endowed with a new power of life, in His spirit.” They connect themselves with the death-cry on the cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” That moment of outward death to the body was the entrance of the spirit into a higher life. That thought is what the apostle is anxious to impress on those who were exposed to persecution, suffering, death. Let men do their worst, if they “armed themselves with the mind of Christ,” death would be to them gain, not loss, would bring with it freedom from sin and an increase of spiritual energy. He goes on to speak of the nature of that new energy. “In” [not “by”] “which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The “flesh” was placed in the tomb, but He, in that other element of His nature, went where go the “spirits” of other men. Almost as if consciously guarding against the distortions of the plain meaning of the words which take their place among the monstrosities of exegesis, St. Peter repeats the word which he uses here [“having gone”] when he comes to speak, in 1 Peter 3:22, of Christ’s ascension [“having gone into heaven “]. In both cases there was, as measured by his thoughts, a local motion. As in Ephesians 4:9-10, the ascent involved a descent. And there he “preached.” That word had been familiar to the apostle’s ear during his Lord’s ministry on earth. It had become familiar to the Church through the oral or written narratives of the gospel history. Taken by itself it would suggest, naturally, not to say inevitably, a continuance of the work that had been done on earth, a “preaching” of like nature with that which had been heard in Galilee: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And to whom did He thus preach? The answer is, “To the spirits in prison,” to human spirits like His own, who were in that Hades which was for them a prison-house, in which they were in ward, awaiting a yet future judgment. So far his words were general. But he has in his mind one representative class of all those spirits of the dead to which his Lord’s teaching had once and again led his thoughts (Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26). Never in the history of the world, as told in the Hebrew records, had there been so vast and terrible a judgment, sweeping off so many myriads, following upon such slighted “long-suffering.” That, if any, was a crucial instance of the extent of the redeeming work of Christ. The whole history, as he goes on to show, was as a parable in its inner meaning. The Church of God was as the ark; the water of the Flood in which the world was, as it were, born again to a new stage in its life, answered to the baptism which saves men now. Then the disobedient died, and were swept away, but the suffering once for all of Christ for sin, the just for the unjust, availed in its retrospective action to bring to God some at least of those who had thus disobeyed. Much more would His resurrection and ascenssion, after that triumph over “authorities and powers,” avail to rave these who suffered as He suffered, and for whom baptism was not merely the “putting away the filth of the flesh, but the enquiry of a good conscience after God.” The connexion between the words “for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead” (1 Peter 4:6), and that “preaching to the spirits in prison” is very close. We have to follow the thoughts of the apostle, as, with that aspect of the descent into Hades present to his mind, he was led on to speak of Christ as of Him that “is ready to judge the quick and dead.” Not only to those of whom he had before spoken, the “disobedient” in the days of Noah, but to the “dead” generally, had the gospel, in some way or other, been preached. In what way he does not think it necessary to add. But to what end, with what intention, was that gospel so preached to them? He gives the answer in words which remind us of the antithesis between “flesh” and “spirit” in 1 Peter 3:18. As Christ was there said to have been “put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit,” so of those he says, that the gospel was preached to thorn “that they might be judged alter the manner of men, as men in the flesh, but live according to God, as He wills, in the spirit.” κατὰ θεόν, as in Romans 8:27; 2 Corinthians 7:9; Ephesians 4:24.
Quickened in the Spirit.—But in His spirit He was quickened, or brought again to life. His spirit never died; but, as to it, He was made alive again, that spirit re-entering the body on the morning of the third day, are it saw corruption, and thus giving it the victory over death and the grave. He has a body now, but it is a spiritual, and not a fleshly one; and that body has passed into a state of inconceivable glory, such as, in His Divine nature, He had with the Father before the world began (John 17:5).—Thornley Smith.
Sketch of the “Gospel of Nicodemus,” by Dean Plumptre.—The starting point of the narrative is that two sons of Simeon (the Simeon of Luke 2:0), Karinus, and Leucius, were among those who had risen from their graves at the time of the resurrection, and had appeared to many (Matthew 27:57). They tell the tale of what they had seen and heard in the world of the dead. They were with their fathers in the thick darkness, when suddenly there shone upon them a bright light as of the sun. Adam and the patriarchs and prophets exulted at its coming. Isaiah knew it to be the light that should shine upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death. Simeon saw that it was the light to lighten the Gentiles, over which he had rejoiced in his Nunc dimittis. The Baptist doing there also the work of the forerunner, came to prepare the way and announce the coming of the Son of God. Seth narrated how Michael the archangel had told him, as he prayed at the gates of Paradise, that one day, after five thousand five hundred years, the Son of God would come to lead his father Adam into Paradise, and to the tree of mercy. Meantime Hades (here personified as an actor in the drama) and Satan held counsel with each other, and were full of fear. He who had rescued so many of their victims upon earth, who had raised Lazarus from the grave, was now about to invade their kingdom, and to set free all who were shut up in prison, bound with the chain of their sins. And as they spoke there was a cry like as of thunder: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.” Hades sought in vain to close the gates, and to set fast the bars. David and Isaiah uttered aloud the prophecies in which they had foretold this victory. Death and Hades trembled, and owned themselves conquered. They saw that One had come to set free those who were fast bound with the evil of their nature, to shed light on those who were blinded with the thick darkness of their sins. Hades and Satan wearied themselves in vain murmurs and recriminations. Adam and his children were rescued from the power of Hades; Satan and his hosts were left to take their place. Then the Lord stretched forth His hand and said, “Come unto Me, all My saints who have My image and similitude.” Adam and the saints rose up from Hades with psalms of jubilant thanksgiving; prophets burst out into cries of joy. Michael the archangel led them all within the gates of Paradise. There they were met by Enoch and Elijah, who had not tasted death, and were kept there till they should return to earth before the coming of Antichrist. There, too, was the repentant robber, bearing on his shoulders the cross to which he owed his entrance within the gates. The cross on which the redemption of mankind had been achieved was left, according to another version of the legend, in Hades itself, as a perpetual witness of the victory thus gained, that the ministers of Death and Hades might not have power to retain any one whom the Lord had pardoned. All this, of course, is wildly fantastic; the play of an over-luxuriant imagination, seeking to penetrate into the things behind the veil. But a mythus of this kind pre-supposes the existence of the belief of which it is the development, and is, therefore, so far as its date can be ascertained, an evidence as to its antiquity.
1 Peter 3:18-22. Christ’s Sufferings Influencing the Unseen World.—Point: Better to suffer for well-doing, since Christ suffered thus. In 1 Peter 2:21 Christ’s example, of suffering is prominent. Here note the advantage which accrued from the suffering.
I. Christ’s sufferings.—
1. Suffered once.
2. Suffered for sin.
3. Suffered vicariously.
4. Put to death in the flesh, made alive in the spirit.
II. The effect of these sufferings on the unseen world.—Who are meant by the “spirits in prison”? Those who, before the Flood, resisted the grace of God in Noah’s time. The judgment came, and they were hurried into the unseen world, not hell; and their doom was not finally fixed. There must be millions more such. The hopeless condition of those who have rejected Christ we know, but there are millions who have never heard of Christ. Two suggestions:
1. Christ preached of old to them by His spirit in Noah.
2. Christ went to the abode of the dead, and preached to them in His disembodied spirit.—Thornley Smith.
Webster and Wilkinson’s Notes on 1 Peter 3:19.—This is given as the most careful setting of the explanation which finds reference to a preaching of Christ to the antediluvians through the agency of Noah. τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασι. Possibly, “to the spirits in safe keeping” (2 Peter 2:4; 2 Peter 2:9; Jude 1:6). ᾅδης, the invisible mansion of departed spirits, is where the righteous are preserved till the season shall arise for their advancement to future glory; in the other division, Tartarus, or Γεέννα, the souls of the wicked are reserved unto the judgment of the great day (Luke 16:23). The abode of the blessed is a place of custody, though not of penal confinement. “It is a place of seclusion from the external world, a place of unfinished happiness, consisting in rest, security, and hope, rather than enjoyment. It is a place which the souls of men never would have entered had not sin introduced death, from which there is no exit by any natural means for those who have once entered. The deliverance of the saints from it is to be effected by the Lord’s power” (Bishop Horsley). πορευθεὶς ἐκήρυξεν. When was this? and in what manner? Some think that the πνεῦμα of Christ between His death and resurrection went to the place where the antediluvian sinners were in confinement, and proclaimed that He had offered the sacrifice for their redemption. This announcement would give fresh animation of joy to those who through faith had embraced the Redeemer, and would set forth the justice of God in condemning those who neglected the way of escape. Others, again, consider that the proclamation refers to the offers of mercy made to them during their earthly existence, by the agency of Noah, the δικαιοσύνης κήρυξ (2 Peter 2:5). If we consider the purpose for which this fact is mentioned here, we shall see reason to adopt the latter view, and to conclude that those to whom Christ is said to have preached were the antediluvian sinners in the time of Noah. Clearly the object of the apostle is to show that Christ acted for the salvation of men, in the administration of the Spirit, in former and ancient times, even as He now does, since His passion and resurrection. A gospel of grace and righteousness, of faith and obedience, was preached to them as to us, by which the obedient lived as now, but under which the unbelieving and disobedient perished (1 Peter 4:6). There is a striking resemblance between this passage and Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:11, where the example of the ancient Israel is introduced for the same purpose as that of the antediluvians, lost and saved, is introduced here. The apostle represents Christ as having gone and proclaimed a gospel of grace and faith to the spirits now in prison when they were in their state of earthly existence. The expression πορευθεὶ σἐκήρ., as applied to Christ preaching by Noah, may be compared with Ephesians 2:17, ἐλθὼν εὐηγγελ. εἰρ. ὑμῖν, which applies to His preaching by the apostles. Christ preached in Noah’s preaching, and that preaching was without effect, except for the souls of Noah and his household.
Other Views.—Other interpretations of the passage divide into two classes:
(1) Those which accept the words as referring to a descent into Hades, and
(2) those which give them an entirely different interpretation. Under
(1) we have—(a) the view that the preaching was one of condemnation, anticipating the final judgment. (b) The view that Christ descended into Hades to deliver the souls of the righteous, (c) A modification of this view has found favour with some writers, such as Estius, Bellarmine, Luther, Bengel. They limit the application of St. Peter’s words to those who had lived at the time of the Deluge, and they make the preaching one of pardon and deliverance, but, under the influence of the dogma that “there is no repentance in the grave,” they assume that the message of the gospel came to those only who turned to God before they sank finally in the mighty waters. Under
(2) we find the denial that there is any reference at all to the descent into Hades. Christ went in spirit, not in flesh—i.e., before His incarnation—and preached to the spirits who are now in prison, because they rejected the warnings and teachings of Christ’s spirit through Noah.
1 Peter 3:18-22.—An Exegetical Study—In seeking to ascertain the meaning of an obscure passage in any writing, close attention must be given to three things:
1. The exact language of the passage.
2. The manifest teachings of plain portions of the same writing; and
3. The line of thought, if any such be discoverable, in the preceding and succeeding contexts. In the present paper it is proposed, by means of the strict application of these rules, to seek the meaning of this much-discussed passage in the first epistle of St. Peter. There is a distinct line of thought running through both the preceding and succeeding contexts. It can be easily traced up to the passage before us, and, passing over the passage, it can be easily picked up again at its close. This being the case, the natural inference is that that line of thought somehow or other runs through the passage itself, and that a true interpretation of the passage will reveal it. St. Peter has been urging the Christians of the Dispersion to lead holy and beneficent lives. He presents various motives to induce them to live such lives.
1. By so doing they will place themselves under the protection and gracious providence of Almighty God. “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,” etc. (1 Peter 3:12).
2. If they live such lives, few will molest them. “And who is he,” etc. (1 Peter 3:13).
3. Should they even suffer for such a life, they will be happy. “But and if,” etc. (1 Peter 3:14). The mention of this possibility leads to a brief digression. Resuming his argument, he maintains that suffering for righteousness ought to bring happiness, because it brings success. “For it is better,” etc. All recognise the fact that it is well to suffer for evil-doing; but it is even better, if wills the will of God (mark the condition), to suffer for well-doing. This position he justifies by the experience of Christ. “For Christ also hath once suffered,” etc. (1 Peter 3:18). Then follows a statement respecting the sufferings of Christ. It is a very suggestive statement, and contains an admirable summary of Christian soteriology. It presents in the briefest form the great features of Christ’s redemptive sufferings. They were penal, “for sins”; vicarious, “for the unjust”; propitiatory, “to bring us to God.” But the richness and suggestiveness of the passage in the domain of soteriology should not be permitted to prevent a clear recognition of its place in the apostle’s argument. It is not the uniqueness of the sufferings of Christ which the apostle has now specially in mind, but the fact that they were sufferings for well-doing, and as such were wondrously beneficent. We must keep this fact clearly and constantly in mind, if we would follow the apostle in his argument. It is true that actually, as viewed in the light of the accomplishment of God’s purpose of redemption, Christ suffered for sins. It is true also that ostensibly, in the light of the judicial sentence under which the extreme measure of these sufferings was inflicted, He suffered for sins; but it is yet true that it was only vicariously that He so suffered. He was personally innocent of all the crimes laid to His charge. His whole life was holy, and His whole work gracious in its purposes and beneficent in its results. And yet He suffered—suffered to the death; but with what result? In its rendering of the apostle’s statement in this regard the Authorised Version is very seriously defective. It translates, “Being put to death in the flesh but quickened by the Spirit.” It spells “spirit” with a capital S, and so indicates that the thought is, that He was put to death in the flesh, but was made alive again by the Holy Ghost. Thus translated, the passage asserts the facts of Christ’s death and revivification, and reveals the agent by whom this latter was effected; but this introduces an idea entirely foreign to the apostle’s thought, and states a fact which is wholly irrelevant to his argument. Literally the expression is: “Being put to death in flesh, ἐν σαρκί, but quickened in spirit, ἐν πνεύματι. The contrast is between Christ’s physical nature, on the one hand, and His spiritual nature, on the other. His physical life was terminated, but His spiritual life was intensified. And now this assertion is to be substantiated. Then follows the passage which is to be considered in this study. This being the case, it is manifest that whatever may be its specific meaning, the purpose of the passage is to justify the apostle’s assertion that the physical death of Christ has resulted in the spiritual quickening of Christ. It is manifest that the only way in which it can be shown that the sufferings of Christ intensified the spiritual life of Christ is by comparison of the vigour of that life prior to His sufferings with its virility subsequently. If such comparison reveals increased vigour subsequently to His sufferings, there comes then the further question, Is this increased vigour the result and reward of these sufferings? By the terms of argument just this is the task which Peter sets himself to accomplish in the passage before us. The passage, literally rendered, reads as follows; “Being put to death, indeed, in flesh, but quickened in spirit; in which, going He preached also to the spirits in prison, disobedient sometime when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing, in which few—that is, eight—souls were saved through water; which, in a like figure, now saveth us also, even baptism—not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the stipulation toward God of a good conscience; through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject unto Him. Evidently two things, at least, are here asserted:
1. That the unembodied spirit of Christ preached.
2. That those to whom He preached were antediluvian sinners. This much is plain; but when was this preaching done? An increasingly popular answer to this question is substantially this: it was done in the interval between the crucifixion of Christ and His resurrection. A cursory reading of the passage seems to justify this answer, but close attention to his language reveals the fact that the apostle does not specifically. designate the time. All he says is that Christ, in His unembodied spirit, preached to the antediluvians, and that His going to them preceded His preaching to them; but he says nothing directly about the time of His going. It is to be noted, however, that these spirits were disobedient in the days of Noah. He does not say that those to whom Christ, in His unembodied spirit preached, were the spirits of men who were disobedient in the days of Noah. They were spirits who in the days of Noah were disobedient. This would seem to indicate that the preaching was in the days of Noah, and that the disobedience consisted in rejecting it. He further describes those to whom Christ’s spirit preached as being spirits in prison. The word is of frequent occurrence in the New Testament, and in thirty-six instances out of forty-seven denotes a place of primitive safe-keeping. Only here, however, and in Revelation 20:7—where it is applied to Satan—is it used in connection with spiritual beings. The thought seems to be that when the bodies of the antediluvians perished in the Flood, their spirits were put in safe-keeping—“prison”—till the judgment. And now the question is, was this their condition when Christ’s spirit preached to them? The current answer to the question is an affirmative one. Is that answer the true one? In attempting to determine the point, let us remember the third principle of interpretation with which we started. In accordance with it, the right answer must unfold the apostle’s argument and manifest conclusiveness. The point the apostle is seeking to establish is that the sufferings of Christ’s flesh intensified the power of His spirit. It can only be established by comparison. If this preaching by Christ’s spirit to the spirits in prison was to the disembodied spirits of those who perished in the Flood, it must have been preceded by a preaching to these spirits in their embodied condition in the days of Noah. That there was such preaching may be accepted as a historic fact. In Genesis 6:3 we are told that God said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man.” This implies that God’s spirit had been striving with man and striving ineffectually. This being the historic fact, it is certainly legitimate to claim that this striving included the preaching of Christ’s spirit to the spirits of the antediluvians. This answer, then, meets the first requirement of the apostle’s argument. It supplies a first preaching by Christ’s spirit to the antediluvians, with which a subsequent preaching can be contrasted. Was there a subsequent preaching? If so, when did it occur, and what were its results? The current interpretation answers the first of these questions also affirmatively, and holds that this second preaching was that described in our passage, and that it occurred in the interval between Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection. Does this meet the requirements of the apostle’s argument? It must be remembered that he is seeking to prove that the sufferings of Christ quickened the spirit of Christ. If so, the second preaching must be more effective than the first. In the first instance the mass of the antediluvians were disobedient to the gracious message addressed to them. What evidence does our passage furnish that the preaching to these disembodied and imprisoned spirits by Christ’s disembodied spirit was more effectual? It is not necessary to resort to a critical examination of the passage to secure an answer, for the reason that the advocates of this view themselves frankly admit that it furnishes none. “What was the intent of that preaching, and what its effect, is not here revealed; the fact merely is stated.” (Alford, Greek Testament, in loco.) So also Archdeacon Farrar: “Of the effect of the preaching nothing is said.” (“Early Christianity,” p. 93). This interpretation, then, fails to make clear and conclusive the argument of the apostle, and hence, for that reason alone, if there were no other, is to be rejected. But besides this, the interpretation is liable to another objection. It presents a doctrine not elsewhere found in the writings of St. Peter. More than this. It teaches a doctrine which seems to be excluded by other plain teachings of the apostle. In his second epistle the apostle refers again to the destruction of the antediluvian world. He does so in connection with two other signal illustrations of the power and justice of God. One of these is the punishment of the fallen angels, and the other the destruction of the cities of the plain. In two of these three cases there was signal illustration of God’s grace, as well as of His justice; and hence to both features of His providence attention is called in the general conclusion drawn from a consideration of the whole series of providences. That conclusion is thus expressed: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Peter 2:9). The Revision renders better: “And to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment.” The words “under punishment” are the translation of the present passive participle of the verb “to punish.” It means literally “being punished.” The thought seems to be that as God’s punishment overtook these objects of His wrath, His power grasped them and holds and will hold them in unchanged condition till the Day of Judgment. This is evidently the idea in the expression “in prison.” The spirits of these antediluvian sinners remain fixed in the condition in which they were when God’s justice overtook them and destroyed their bodies. They are in prison—that is, in the custody, primitive safe-keeping of Divine justice. And there they are to remain until the Day of Judgment. This being the case, there is no room in the theology of St. Peter for a gracious visit to the spirits of the antediluvians on the part of Christ, and an offer to them of salvation An interpretation, then, which thus explains this passage is to be rejected for the two reasons:
1. That it fails to meet the requirements of the apostle’s argument, and
2. That it is at variance with his theology. An interpretation of the passage, meeting all the requirements of the case, is obtainable through identification of this preaching to the spirits with the historical striving of God’s spirit with the antediluvian contemporaries of Noah. And such identification is justifiable.
1. It is a historic fact that God’s spirit strove with the antediluvians St. Peter here affirms that Christ, in His unembodied spirit preached to their spirits. It is not necessary to suppose that this striving consisted solely of this reaching. It is enough to believe that it included it, and that in his assertion about Christ’s preaching St. Peter had reference to it.
2. God’s striving with the antediluvians was ineffectual. So, on this assumption, was the preaching of Christ’s spirit to their spirits. It is upon this that St. Peter dwells. They were disobedient. In consequence of disobedience they are in prison. The mass of the antediluvians perished. Only eight entered the ark graciously provided for them, and so were saved.
3. The historic reason for the failure of this striving was the fact that God’s spirit was unembodied, while the antediluvians were embodied spirits. “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh” (Genesis 6:3). Pure spirit cannot successfully strive with incarnated spirit; and hence God will not always attempt it. Man has body as well as spirit, and is to be reached through the senses as well as the perceptions; hence a being must be incarnate in order to successfully influence him. It is worthy of notice that even Satan, the great tempter of mankind, succeeded in seducing our first parents and alienating them from God, only by assuming a physical form, and so enforcing his suggestions to the mind of Eve by appeals to her senses. Now all this is in closest keeping with the apostle’s line of thought. He is endeavouring to justify his assertion that Christ’s endurance of the extremest degree of physical suffering has resulted in His spiritual quickening. And his proof is furnished by contrast between the power of the pre-incarnate and the post-incarnate, risen, glorified Christ.
4. The historic failure indicates the line of present and current success. “The like figure whereunto,” etc. (1 Peter 3:21). Lit. “Which you also the antitype now saves—baptism.” In other words, St. Peter affirms that salvation to day through baptism is analogous to—literally, antitypical of—salvation by water through the ark in the days of Noah. It is not likely that St. Peter meant to say that the waters of the Flood were a type of that of baptism in the modern technical sense of the term. In fact, the current theological signification of the term does not seem to be its scriptural one. The word is used but twice in the New Testament—in Hebrews 9:24 and here. In the passage in Hebrews its meaning is clear. The tabernacle to be constructed by Moses was to be a copy—antitype is the word in the original—of that shown him in the mount. So here; the plan of salvation to-day is modelled after that of the days of Noah. This being the case, there is opportunity to contrast the effectiveness of the two plans, and this opportunity St. Peter embraces. But how does he do it in such way as to prove that the sufferings of Christ quickened the spirit of Christ? He does so
(1) By declaring that the water of baptism is more graciously effective than the waters of the Flood. The latter saved eight souls; the former is saving you. St. Peter is not exactly mathematical. The number saved in the Flood is historic. He gives that. The number being saved now is known only to God; but no matter. It includes those Christians of the Dispersion. That was enough for them. They were at least greatly more numerous than those in the ark; and yet, however numerous they were, they were being saved by baptismal water. Left unqualified, this declaration of the apostle would inevitably be used to prove the extremest doctrine of baptismal grace; hence he explains that he has reference to real and not to ritual baptism, to the formal and sacramental response of the loyal soul to God, and not the external application of water to the body.
(2) By declaring that the efficacy of baptismal water is owing to the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:21). But resurrection implies death. The sufferings of Christ, then, as leading to the resurrection of Christ, have wondrously increased the gracious power of Christ. Nor is this all. Not only have the sufferings of Christ wondrously increased the efficacy of His present as compared with His former method of salvation—baptism now saving multitudes while the ark saved but eight; they have also secured for Him wondrously increased facilities for the accomplishment of His purposes of grace. As the risen, triumphant Redeemer, He has gone into heaven, and is now on the right hand of God, and has control of the entire host of heaven, “angels and authorities and powers being subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:22). It thus becomes evident that the passage under consideration does present proof of the apostle’s assertion that suffering for good, when God’s will wills it, is promotion of good. That proof is furnished by the contrasted results of two methods of salvation. Our race has twice been exposed to destruction. Once it was exposed to temporal destruction by a flood. Now it is exposed to eternal ruin by the punishment of sin. In both instances God has sought to avert the peril, and save the race. In the case of the antediluvians He wrought simply as spirit. The effort failed. Now God works upon a different plan. Christ has become incarnate. Having become incarnate, He has suffered and died and risen again. The result is a wondrous increase of His saving power. Of this fact those to whom the apostle wrote were themselves grateful witnesses. In the light, then, of their own experience of the gracious power of their risen Saviour, the apostle urges those to whom he wrote to arm themselves with the same mind, and seek, through similar patience under sufferings, a like increase of gracious power. “Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered … arm yourselves,” etc. (1 Peter 4:1). Thus interpreted, the passage becomes the logical as well as the textual nexus connecting 1 Peter 3:7 with 1 Peter 4:1. Not only so, but as thus interpreted its teaching is in harmony with the analogy of faith, and present no strange or doubtful doctrine for Christian acceptance.—D. F. Bonner, D.D.
1 Peter 3:19-20. The Disobedient Spirits.—We can quite understand that there would be much speculation in the Early Church concerning the place and occupation of the spirit of Christ, between the death and the resurrection; and such speculations must fit into the strange and confused notions of the day concerning Hades, the abode of disembodied spirits. It needs to so seen clearly that direct teaching concerning the spirit of man when it is liberated from the body is no part of Divine revelation. The fact of continuity, immortality, is asserted, but there revelation stops. Much is suggested by figures and parables, but even those who had died, and whose human lives were restored for awhile, brought no news whatever of the after life. St. John recognises the blank when he says, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” Absolutely nothing whatever is known concerning the time between Christ’s death and resurrection. According to the thought of His day—not according to the Bible, which is silent on the matter—there was a general place of confinement for all disembodied spirits, and speculation divided this general region into two parts; the one, called Paradise, receiving the good, and the other, Gehenna, receiving the bad, and involving them in some kind of torture. The speculations of the Early Church imagined Christ as passing at death into this general region of Hades, and then went on to represent Him as preaching to both those on the Paradise side and those on the Gehenna side; but it should be fully recognised that all this was speculation of men, and not revelation from God. Strangely enough, the floating speculations gained one precise form, and Christ was represented as having preached to the antediluvian sinners; but what He preached, and with what result He preached, the speculators did not declare. These floating speculations were familiar to the early disciples, and were embodied, later on, in the apocryphal work known as the “Gospel of Nicodemus.” Now, St. Peter and St. Jude seem to have been very greatly influenced by the speculative and imaginary ideas of their age, and they did not hesitate to use them for strictly illustrative purposes in their writings; and St. Peter has in mind the common idea of his time when he thus refers to Christ’s preaching to the “spirits in prison.” If we take the passage as illustrative, its difficulties are lightened. If we take it as authoritative teaching, its difficulties are overwhelming. There is no other reference in all God’s Word to “spirits in prison.” And there is no conceivable reason why, if Christ preached to old-world sinners, He should limit Himself to those who lived before, and died in, the Flood. There is simply a passing allusion to the unauthorised talk of the day, in order to introduce the case of Noah as an illustration of the safety and the power that can be gained by persistent suffering for righteousness’ sake. Because we, too, persist in speculating con corning the place and condition of disembodied spirits, we so readily grasp at every passing allusion in the New Testament, from which inferences—and they are usually vague, ill-grounded, and worthless—can be drawn. We are strangely unwilling to recognise, what is certainly the fact, that the world to come, the world of spirits, is no subject of Divine revelation; and that concerning the spiritual Being, Christ, we only know, and can only know, what He is in relation to that work of redemption which He has undertaken for the individual and for the world. The “Larger Hope,” the doctrine of “Purgatory,” etc., are simply speculations, with more or less ground in inferences from casual expressions of God’s Word. What St. Peter teaches is that Jesus was put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit through the resurrection; and in His spiritual life now, angels and authorities and powers—the symbols of all moral and spiritual forces—are made subject to Him, so that He can use them all for carrying through His work in the redemption and sanctification of humanity.
1 Peter 3:20. The Disobedient Spirits in Prison.—The “spirits in prison” cannot well mean anything but disembodied souls, under a greater or less degree of condemnation, waiting for their final sentence, and undergoing meanwhile a punishment retributive or corrective. Had the apostle stopped there we might have thought of the preaching of which he speaks as having been addressed to all who were in such a prison. The prison itself may be thought of as a part of Hades contrasted with the Paradise of God, which was opened, as in Luke 23:43; Revelation 2:7, to the penitent and the faithful. The words that follow, however, appear to limit the range of the preaching within comparatively narrow boundaries. The “spirits” of whom St. Peter speaks were those who had “once been disobedient”; the once being further defined as the time when” the longsuffering of God was waiting in the days of Noah.” We naturally ask, as we read the words
(1) why the preaching was confined to these; or
(2) if the preaching itself was not so confined, why was this the only aspect of it on which the apostle thought fit to dwell? The answer to the first question cannot be given with any confidence. It is behind the veil which we cannot lift. All that we can say is, that the fact thus revealed gives us at least some ground for seeing in it a part of God’s dealings with the human face, and that it is not unreasonable to infer an analogous treatment of those who were in an analogous condition. The answer to the second question is, perhaps, to be found in the prominence given to the history of Noah in our Lord’s eschatological teaching, as in Matthew 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27, and in the manifest impression which that history had made on St. Peter’s mind, as seen in his reference to it both here and in 2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 3:6. It is a conjecture, but not, I think, an improbable or irreverent one, that the disciple’s mind may have been turned by our Lord’s words to anxious inquiries as to the destiny of those who had been planting and building, buying and selling, “when the Flood came and took them all away,” and that what he now states had been the answer to these inquiries. What was the result of the preaching we are not here told, the apostle’s thoughts travelling on rapidly to the symbolic or typical aspect presented by the record of the Flood; but 1 Peter 4:6 shows that his mind still dwelt upon it, and that he takes it up again, as a dropped thread, in the argument of the epistles. It will be noted, whatever view we may take of the interpretation of the passage as a whole, that it is the disobedience, and not any after repentance at the moment of death, of those who lived in the days of Noah, that is here dwelt on. Such is, it is believed, the natural and true interpretation of St. Peter’s words. It finds a confirmation in the teachings of some of the earliest fathers of the Church—in Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, and Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria. Even Augustine, at one time, held that the effect of Christ’s descent into Hades had been to set free some who were condemned to the torments of hell, and Jerome adopted it without any hesitation. Its acceptance at an early date is attested by the apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus, nearly the whole of which is given to a narrative of the triumph of Christ over Hades and Death, who are personified as the potentates of darkness. It tells how He delivered Adam from the penalty of his sin, and brought the patriarchs from a lower to a higher blessedness, and emptied the prison-house, and set the captives free, and erected the cross in the midst of Hades, that there also it might preach salvation. Legendary and fantastic as the details may be, they testify to the prevalence of a widespread tradition, and that tradition is more naturally referred to the teaching of St. Peter in this passage, as the germ out of which it was developed, than to any other source. As a matter of history, the article, “He descended into hell,” i.e. into Hades, first appeared in the Apostles’ Creed at a time when the tradition was almost universally accepted, and when the words of the Creed could not fail to be associated in men’s minds with the hope which it embodied.—Dean Plumptre.
1 Peter 3:21. Noah’s Baptism of Suffering.—It appears to be at once assumed that “baptism” here can only refer to the initial rite of the Christian profession. But there are two things which need to be taken into careful consideration.
1. St. Peter is not in any way dealing with the beginnings of Christian profession, but with the persecutions and troubles which are found always to attend the persistent effort to live the Christian life. In no natural way could any reference to the rite of baptism be suggested to his mind.
2. The term “baptism” is not used only of the initiatory rite; it is employed as a figure for providential dispensations of a disciplinary character, under which men are brought. In Hebrews 6:2 the word is used in the plural, as if it was fully recognised that there were different sorts of baptisms. And St. Peter could not fail to have in cherished memory the figurative words of his Divine Master: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Christ had a disciplinary experience of suffering in well-doing to pass through. And on another occasion St. Peter’s Lord had said, “Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” evidently, in this figurative way, referring to the experience of suffering that was before Him. In this sense Noah experienced a baptism of suffering in well-doing. Those years of working at the ark, and waiting for the judgment of God, were years of strain and suffering, a time of hard experience, when he was scorned and persecuted by godless neighbours. But he found what Christ found, and what Christ’s people always have found, that if they persistently suffer in well-doing they gain the highest power for service, moral and spiritual power; and they are in the special keeping and care of God, and are even permitted to save others. Noah’s suffering in well-doing enabled him to preach to the antediluvians—it was preaching to them; it secured his personal safety when the judgment fell, and it brought him the right of saving seven persons beside himself. “Baptism doth now save you.” Not the rite of baptism—that does not save anybody: and there would be no point in that applied to Christian disciples who were called to suffer for righteousness’ sake. It was their baptism of providential discipline that St. Peter had in mind; and what he would impress on them is, that they must not think of it as merely corrective of evil; it was not designed merely to secure “the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” It was sent to give them that kind of spiritual power for witness and service which can only come when a man can suffer, keeping a good conscience. And that is the kind of suffering which brought Christ His unique spiritual power. Job is the Old Testament illustration of suffering that was not sent for the “putting away of the sins of the flesh,” but for that kind of spiritual testing of integrity—of a good conscience—which made Job a witness to the ages of the fact, that disinterested love to God is possible, and such confidence in the Divine wisdom as enables a man to trust God, though He slays. It is not possible without undue strain to connect the “interrogation of a good conscience toward God” with the resurrection of Christ, so as to think of it as “through the resurrection”; but if we understand the parenthesis to close with the words “conscience toward God,” then “through the resurrection “connects with” quickened in the Spirit” of 1 Peter 3:18, and the two points of St. Peter’s persuasion come fully into view. Christ having suffered in well-doing, even unto extremity, even unto death—physical death—has gained a free, large, spiritual power, and the trust of supreme spiritual authority. And St. Peter would urge on these persecuted disciples that they may well endure their baptism of suffering for righteousness’ sake, in the confidence that it would be over-ruled for sublime issues, and they would be absolutely safe under every form of stress and strain. The apostolic use of Old-Testament illustrations, and the peculiar typical manner in which Old-Testament incidents and characters were treated, is very familiar to the Bible student. It is a manner which the Western mind finds exceedingly difficult to understand or appreciate.
Baptism.—We enter upon this question—whether we have a right to claim to be sons of God or not? And if so, on what grounds? In virtue of a ceremony, or of a certain set of feelings? Or in virtue of an eternal Fact—the fact of God’s Paternity.
I. The apparent denial of original sin in asserting the paternity of God. The text declares that baptism saves us. But it declares that this can only be said figuratively: “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.” Original sin is an awful fact. It is not the guilt of an ancestor imputed to an innocent descendant, but it is the tendencies of that ancestor living in his offspring, and incurring guilt. Original sin can be forgiven only so far as original sin is removed. He who would deny original sin must contradict all experience in the transmission of qualities. It is plain that the first man must have exerted on his race an influence quite peculiar; that his acts must have biassed their acts. And this bias or tendency is what we call original sin. Now, original sin is just the denial of God’s paternity, refusing to live as His children, and saying we are not His children. From this state Christ redeemed. He revealed God as the Father, and as the Spirit who is in man, “lighting every man,” moving in man his infinite desires and infinite affections. This was the Revelation. The reception of that revelation is Regeneration. There are two ways in which that revelation may be accepted.
1. By a public recognition called baptism.
2. By faith. “We are saved by faith”; “baptism saves us.”
II. But if baptism is only the public recognition and symbol of a fact, is not baptism degraded and made superfluous?
1. Baptism is given as a something to rest upon; nay, as a something without which redemption would soon become unreal; which converts a doctrine into a reality, which realises visibly what is invisible. For our nature is such that immaterial truths are unreal to us until they are embodied in material form. God’s character—way, God Himself—to us would be nothing if it were not for the creation, which is the great symbol and sacrament of His presence. So baptism is a fact for man to rest upon, a doctrine realised to flesh and blood.
2. Baptism is the token of a church, of an universal church, not the symbol of a sect.
3. Baptism is an authoritative symbol, but not an arbitrary symbol. The authoritativeness is the all in all which converts baptism from a mere ceremony into a sacrament. It is no conventional arrangement; it is valid as a legal, eternal truth, a condensed, embodied fact. Is this making baptism nothing? I should rather say baptism is everything. Take your stand upon the broad, sublime basis of God’s Paternity. God created the world—God redeemed the world. Baptism proclaims separately, personally, by name to you—God created you, God redeemed you. Baptism is your warrant—you are His child. And now, because you are His child, live as a child of God; be redeemed from the life of evil which is false to your nature into the life of light and goodness, which is the truth of your being.—F. W. Robertson.
1 Peter 3:22. Christ’s Spiritual Rights and Spiritual Powers.—“Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” It is now fully recognised by all thoughtful and intelligent persons that there is a growth and development in the teachings of our Lord’s brief ministerial life. That He grew in wisdom during the thirty years of His private life at Nazareth is expressly declared. That He grew in wisdom and apprehension of truth, and spiritual insight and teaching skill, during the three years of practice and experience in active ministry is plain to all who, without prejudice, compare His earlier and later teachings. It is but the affirmation of His true humanity to declare that He grew in the apprehension of His own mystery, and the meaning of His own mission. But however difficult it may be to receive this fact, or even to state it with due precision, limitations, and qualifications, we are on perfectly safe grounds when we say that the apostles grew in the spiritual apprehension of the person of their Lord, the incidents of His career, and the doctrinal mysteries that centred in His person and work. It was long before they really understood their Lord Himself. They accepted Him as the national Messiah. By-and-bye they saw in Him the Son of God, and Saviour from sin. At first they were simply overwhelmed by their Lord’s death, which seemed an unendurable disgrace, and an irreparable loss. By-and-bye they saw in it the necessary self-sacrifice of Him who would deliver humanity from sin. At first they could make little or nothing of their Lord’s resurrection. It was even more a mystery than a joy. He was with them again, but He was not with them as He had been. And it was a long time before they could fully realise that His presence with them in His spiritual, resurrection, heavenly life was better, every way better, to them than His presence within bodily limitations. Each of the apostles gained some special and characteristic thought of the present mission of the Risen and Living One. It is to one of the thoughts of St. Peter that attention is now directed. It represents what he most deeply felt after he had thought for long years about it. That resurrection brought to Christ the kind of trust—spiritual trust; the kind of power—spiritual power, which God always has given, and always does give, to those who suffer in the flesh for righteousness’ sake. And it is a kind of power and trust which can. be given on no other conditions, can be attained in no other way. The apostle Paul gives us the same apprehension of the Resurrection in a different form of words. “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death; yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted Him, and gave Him the name which is above every name.” And if we put St. Peter’s words together without confusing them with his parenthesis, what he says is this: “Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit through His resurrection. Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.” This is fully intelligible, and this is entirely in harmony with the teaching of the other apostles. In His resurrection life Jesus has gained spiritual power and spiritual authority, and these He is using now in the completing of His great redemptive work for humanity. Christ has no longer a sphere of redemptive ministry in bodily relations. Christ has now a sphere of redemptive ministry in spiritual relations. For the fulfilment of that spiritual ministry He is entrusted with spiritual rights, and endowed with spiritual powers. On these points we may suggestively and profitably dwell. Christ has no longer a sphere of redemptive ministry in bodily relations. Once He had! He came into human spheres that He might deal illustratively with the human physical woes that are attendant upon and illustrative of sin. He could say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” He could send this message back to the anxiously inquiring Baptist: “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” But all that illustrative redemptive work in bodily sufferings and disabilities was ended. That was finished. That was never to be resumed. Jesus never opened a blind eye, or cleansed a leper, or cast out a devil, during His resurrection life. He was “put to death in the flesh.” We see clearly that His cross ended His human life; we need to see as clearly that the cross ended His illustrative redemptive ministry in physical scenes and relations. We shall not properly apprehend what He does if we fail to apprehend what He once did, but now and for ever has ceased to do. The illustrative redemption is done; the redemption which was illustrated is now being wrought by Him who is quickened in the spirit through His resurrection.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter