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GOD’S DISPOSITION TOWARDS THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED
1 Peter 3:12. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
THERE is an error which obtains, to a considerable extent, amongst religious people, and which meets with too much encouragement also in the preaching of pious ministers; namely, an idea that to insist on moral duties is legal. Suppose a servant of Christ were to address his audience in the words of David; “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous; and his ears are open to their cry: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil [Note: Psalms 34:11-19.34.16.]:” I say, suppose a minister of the Gospel were to address his people thus, he would be thought by many to be bringing them back to the law, and to be instructing them in a way contrary to the whole tenour of the Gospel. But this is a great mistake. Legality consists in principle only, and not in practice. If we teach men to do good works in order to obtain justification by them, that is legality; and that subverts the Gospel: but if, whilst we make Christ the only foundation of a sinner’s hope, we inculcate moral duties, we do nothing more than what Christian fidelity requires, and nothing but what the Apostles themselves continually did. It is remarkable that St. Peter, addressing the whole Christian Church, cites the entire passage which I have read to you from the Psalms, and applies it precisely as David himself did [Note: ver. 10–12.]. In fact, we all need to be reminded, that “God will put a difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not;” and that, whilst “his eyes are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers, his face is, and ever will be, against them that do evil.”
In confirmation of this sentiment, I will shew,
God’s tender regard for “the righteous”—
Here we must first state who “the righteous” are—
[We are not to understand this as relating to persons who are perfectly righteous, since there is no such a character to be found on earth. “There is not one that liveth and sinneth not:” “in many things we all offend.” The term comprehends those who, in the prevailing habit of their lives, turn from iniquity to serve the living God. He, therefore, who has fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, and, through the operation of the Spirit of God, is endeavouring to fulfil the will of God, may justly consider himself as answering to this character, notwithstanding many infirmities yet cleave unto him — — —]
Over all such persons the eyes of the Lord are fixed—
[God “beholdeth all, as well the evil as the good.” But on the righteous his eyes are fixed, with peculiar complacency. He delights to look upon them: “His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth,” to shew himself strong in their behalf; to protect them from every evil — — — and to supply them with every needful good — — —]
His ears, too, are open to their prayers—
[We all know with what a different feeling a parent beholds the children of strangers and his own. If his own child be in a situation of danger, his eye is upon it, to interpose in the time of need; and, if he were to hear its cry, all the tenderest feelings of his soul would be called forth, and all the efforts which he could make would be exerted for its relief. The inarticulate cry of an infant does not fall unheeded on a mother’s ear. So God hears, not the prayer only, but the sighs and groans of his people; and will fulfil the unexpressed desires of their hearts — — — “Even before they cry, he will answer; and whilst they are yet speaking, he will hear.”]
Such, however, are not his feelings towards all: for, in perfect contrast with this, is,
His indignation against the wicked—
“Those that do evil” must also be here defined—
[We do not comprehend under this character those who have yet some remaining infirmities; for this were to confound, in one indiscriminate mass, the righteous and the wicked: it is the workers of iniquity who are here spoken of; even those who, in the general tenour of their lives, are acting contrary to God’s mind and will — — —]
Against these God sets his face—
[It is impossible but that he should view them with displeasure. He cannot forget what he has done for them, in sending his own Son to be the propitiation for their sins, and in striving with them by his Spirit to bring them to repentance: and when he sees how they requite these mercies, by holding fast their iniquities, by treading under foot his dear Son, and doing despite to his Spirit, he must of necessity be incensed against them. Accordingly, we are told that “he is angry with them every day [Note: Psalms 7:11.];” that “he sets his face upon them for evil, and not for good [Note: Amos 9:4.];” and that he determines to execute upon them his wrathful indignation [Note: Deuteronomy 32:40-5.32.42.]. They, perhaps, are full of confidence in their own minds, and are saying, “I shall have peace, though I go on adding sin to sin.” But this only ensures the evils which they will not deprecate: for God says, “The Lord will not spare that man; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against him; and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him; and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-5.29.20.].” Instead of hearing his prayers, God further says concerning him, “I will deal in fury with him: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: though he cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear him [Note: Ezekiel 8:18.].” Unhappy man! whoever thou art, that livest in wilful sin! this is thy lot; and this, if thou die in sin, will be thy portion to all eternity.]
Observe, from hence,
Of how little signification are the opinions of men—
[If thou art righteous, perhaps the world will condemn thee as an enthusiast: and if thou art countenancing them in their evil ways, they will perhaps applaud thee as rational and wise. But to what purpose do men condemn, if God approve; or approve, if God condemn? If God’s eye be upon us for good, we need not fear either men or devils: but if God set his face against us, though the whole universe were confederate to protect us, they could afford no help: “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”]
How desirable it is to obtain the approbation of our God—
[If there were no future world, the sense which the righteous have of God’s favour were an ample recompence for all their services. But we must take eternity into our account. We must follow the righteous and the wicked into the presence of their God: we must there see what his favour imports, and what his displeasure: we must there behold the objects of his complacency seated on thrones of glory, and the monuments of his indignation cast into the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. We must then contemplate their states as fixed to all eternity; so that, after millions of ages, the one will have no mitigation of his punishment, and the other no diminution of his bliss. Reflect on this, my brethren, and I shall not need to urge you to serve your God: your own feelings will urge you sufficiently: without any further loss of time, you will flee from the wrath to come, and, with all possible earnestness, lay hold on eternal life.]
THE PERSECUTED ENCOURAGED
1 Peter 3:13-60.3.15. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.
EVERY kind of argument is urged in the Holy Scriptures to animate and encourage the followers of Christ. Sometimes the present benefit, arising from piety, is proposed as an inducement to walk in the paths of holiness: “He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it [Note: ver. 10, 11.].” Sometimes a holy life and conversation is recommended, by a consideration of the regard which God himself will pay to it, and the approbation of it which he will be sure to express: “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” In my text, the approbation of men also is held forth, as in some respects a recompence to be hoped for: “For who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” But, aware that this argument would not always prove valid, the Apostle turns his address to a consolatory strain; and encourages the Lord’s people with the thought, that if they should not meet with approbation from men, they might yet assure themselves of abundant support and comfort from their God.
Now, in these words, I wish you to notice,
The point conceded—
Humanly speaking, it should seem impossible that any should “suffer for righteousness’ sake”—
[If we be “followers of that which is good,” and maintain a holy consistency in our conduct, we must, one would think, meet with universal approbation. For we give to no one any occasion for offence: and when we meet with unkindness from others, we render nothing but good in return for it. If perverse and prejudiced people will speak evil of us, “our good conversation will put them to silence” and “to shame [Note: 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 3:16.].” Hence wives are encouraged to hope, that if, unfortunately, they are connected with unbelieving husbands, they may “by their good conversation win” those who would not be won by any thing else [Note: ver. 1.]. At all events, after a season this may be expected, if not at first; since God has said, that “when a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him [Note: Proverbs 16:7.].” Hence the question in my text is reasonable, and, one would think, unanswerable.]
Experience, however, proves that sufferings for righteousness’ sake cannot altogether be avoided—
[This is conceded in my text; and in other parts of this epistle is plainly intimated: “This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God: for even hereunto were ye called [Note: 1 Peter 2:19-60.2.21.].” Now, here it is intimated, not that we may suffer though we do well, and maintain a good conscience toward God, but because we do so: our very piety may be the ground on which the sufferings are inflicted. This shews that there is more connexion between the different beatitudes in our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount than we should be ready to imagine. Our Lord, after saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, and they that mourn, and the meek, and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the merciful, and the pure, and the peace-makers,” adds, “Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake [Note: Matthew 5:3-40.5.11.].” But what connexion can there be between persecution and the characters before portrayed? Can they be persecuted? Are there any people in the world so blind, yea, so abandoned, as to “revile them, and persecute them, and say all manner of evil falsely against them,” and that too “for Christ’s sake,” and because of his image that is thus enstamped upon them? Yes; this piety is the very thing which will provoke the world’s enmity, and call it forth in every act of hostility that can be conceived. For thus has our Lord forewaned us: “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you [Note: John 15:18-43.15.19.].” David found it so in his day: “They that render evil for good are against me, because I follow the thing that good is [Note: Psalms 38:20.].” And we also shall find the same: for it is said, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].” Indeed, if our blessed Lord himself could not escape, notwithstanding the inconceivable wisdom of his discourses, and the immaculate purity of his whole conduct, how shall we, who are so frail and fallible, hope to pass without much inveterate opposition? “If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household [Note: Matthew 10:25.].” Hence we are told not to be surprised at persecution, when it comes: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you….. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as a busy-body in other men’s matters: yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf [Note: 1 Peter 4:12; 1 Peter 4:15-60.4.16.].”]
This point being conceded, let us proceed to consider,
The consolation administered—
Persecution for righteousness’ sake is by no means so great an evil as people are apt to imagine.
It is no proper ground for sorrow—
[Would any one wish for a testimony from God, that he is in the right way, and that God is well-pleased with him? Behold, that is the very satisfaction which such evil treatment is intended to convey: “They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you; delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons; being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake: and it shall turn to you for a testimony [Note: Luke 21:12-42.21.13.].” But it is, in fact, a participation of Christ’s sufferings, and a source of great glory to God. And is that a ground of sorrow? No; but rather of exalted joy; as the Apostle tells us: “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you. On their part, he is evil spoken of; but on your part, he is glorified [Note: 1 Peter 4:13-60.4.14.].” In truth, it is a signal honour conferred upon us: and, instead of repining at it, we ought to “rejoice that we are counted worthy” to sustain it [Note: Acts 5:41.]. But to speak of it thus, is, in reality, to come very far short of the statement which should be given: for, if the truth be spoken, it is a most invaluable gift: “Unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake [Note: Philippians 1:29.].” Yes, it is conferred as God’s choicest gift, in answer to the prayers of his only dear Son. In bestowing upon us pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, God gives to us: but when we are permitted to suffer for righteousness’ sake, we give to God: we give our reputation, our property, our body, our life, to be disposed of according to his will, and for the glory of his name. And surely this is an honour in which we ought to rejoice with most unfeigned and exalted joy [Note: Matthew 5:12.].]
It is no just occasion for fear—
[I will grant, that there is a confederacy of the whole world against us: (that is the case supposed by the prophet, whose words are cited in my text [Note: Isaiah 8:12-23.8.13.]:) What can they do? They cannot touch so much as a hair of our head, without the special permission of our God [Note: Matthew 10:29-40.10.30.]: nor can they do any one thing which shall not be overruled for our eternal good [Note: Romans 8:28.]. Hear the representation which holy David gives us of this matter: “The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him [Note: Psalms 37:12-19.37.13.].” And if the Lord “laugh,” shall we cry? God designs both to prepare us for glory, and to increase to us the measure of our happiness to all eternity: and for these ends he permits ungodly men to put us into a furnace, that lie may “purify us from our dross;” and he makes “our light and momentary affliction to work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.].” Now, who that knew the designs of Heaven in relation to us, would dread the process by which such ends were to be accomplished? God has said, that “the wrath of man shall praise him; and the remainder of it he will restrain.” As one, who, in a flood that threatens to destroy his mill, lets upon it so much water only as shall accomplish his own purposes, and turns off the remainder by another sluice; so will God effect his gracious purposes for his people’s good, by the very efforts which their enemies are making for their destruction. Knowing this, therefore, we should “not be afraid of their terror, nor be troubled” at any confederacies they may make against us.]
A due regard to God is an ample security to all his people—
[To “sanctify the Lord God in our hearts” is to conceive of him as an all-wise Governor, that orders every thing in heaven and earth; and as an all-sufficient Protector, who is “a wall of fire round about” his people, not only to protect them, but to devour their assailants [Note: Zechariah 2:5.]; and, lastly, as an all-gracious Rewarder, who, “if we suffer with him, will cause us also to reign with him, that we may be glorified together [Note: 2 Timothy 2:11-55.2.12.Romans 8:17; Romans 8:17.].” In this view of him, our duty is precisely what St. Peter tells us: “Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator [Note: 1 Peter 4:19.].” We have only to realize in our hearts the agency, the power, the love, the faithfulness, of the omnipresent God, and we shall be as composed in the conflict, and as confident of the victory, as if we were already in heaven. If God has said, “Fear not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness [Note: Isaiah 41:10.];” it is not merely our privilege, but our duty, to reply with David, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid [Note: Psalms 27:1.]?”]
Let us be thankful for the peace we enjoy—
[There have been seasons in the Church when persecution has raged with great fury, and almost driven Christianity from the face of the earth. That it is not so now, is not owing to men’s love of religion; but to the protection afforded by human laws, and to the prevalence of an idea, that toleration in religion is essential to civil liberty. It is however a great mercy to us to live in these days: and I call upon you to improve the opportunities afforded you. You can assemble together, none making you afraid: you can consecrate yourselves to the Lord, without any apprehension of being dragged for it to prison or to death. You must not however imagine, that “the offence of the cross has ceased,” or that you will not in your domestic and social circles have any thing to suffer. You may still have to make considerable sacrifices: your parents and governors may still act an unkind and oppressive part towards you; and your friends may treat you with such contempt as is not easy to be borne. But, if you are not “called to resist unto blood,” you have reason to be thankful: and, in this season of comparative peace, you must prepare to maintain, when called to it, a vigorous and active warfare. The roaring lion is as vigilant as ever to destroy; and you also must be vigilant, if you would defeat his efforts [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.].]
Let us, when persecution shall arise, act worthy of our high and holy calling—
[The command of our blessed Lord is, that we should be ready to lay down our lives for his sake. And he has plainly told us, that “he who will save his life, shall lose it; and he only who will lose his life for his sake, shall save it unto life eternal [Note: Luke 17:33.].” On no other terms can we be acknowledged as his disciples. Nor should we wish for any other terms than these. We should be ready to “rejoice in tribulation [Note: Romans 5:3.];” and to “glory in the cross [Note: Galatians 6:14.]” for our Lord’s sake: yea, we should even “take pleasure in infirmities and distresses for his sake,” in order that he may be glorified in us, and that “his strength may be perfected in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.].” To all of you then I say, Prepare to approve yourselves “good soldiers of Jesus Christ.” Whoever you are, you are to “fight the good fight of faith [Note: 1 Timothy 6:12.],” and to stem the torrent against all the enemies of your salvation: and to you God says, as he did to the Prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads; as an adamant, harder than flint, have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house [Note: Ezekiel 3:8-26.3.9.].” “Be faithful unto death, and then will God give unto you the crown of life [Note: Revelation 2:10.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN READY TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT OF HIS HOPE
1 Peter 3:15. Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
THE Christian’s life must of necessity appear strange to those who know not the principles by which he is actuated. They see a friend or relative pause amidst the crowd of his associates, and retrace, in opposition to them, all the steps he has trodden throughout his whole life. Perhaps he was highly respected; and he now subjects himself to ridicule and contempt, from those who once held him in estimation. Perhaps he had fair prospects of advancement in the world, which now, by what are called his fanatical and over-righteous proceedings, he abandons. He once seemed happy in the enjoyment of all that the world could give him; and now he is turning his back upon it all, and following after phantoms of his own imagination. What can all this mean? Whence does it proceed? Is it the effect of a disturbed imagination? Is it from a desire after notoriety and distinction? or is it the fruit of deliberate hypocrisy? What has he seen, what has he found, that can account for such a change in his conduct?
Such questions will arise in the minds of many. Many indeed will not trouble themselves with making such inquiries. A shorter method with them is to revile and persecute, if by any means they may deter this supposed enthusiast from persisting in his folly: but others, who are more candid, will be glad of information, in order that they may be able to form some judgment about the proceedings which appear at first sight so unaccountable.
Now with respect to the former of these, the open persecutors, the Christian has nothing to do, but to commit his cause to God, and to go forward in humble dependence upon him: but with respect to the latter, he should gladly rise to the occasion, and “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear.”
You will perceive that the principle by which the Christian is carried forward, is hope—“a hope that is within him.” What the Christian’s hope is, will form the first point for our inquiry. His duty in relation to it shall then, in the next place, be set before you.
What is the hope by which the Christian is carried forward?
Whatever may be thought of it,
It is a glorious hope—
[It has respect to all that the soul of man can need, and to all that God himself can bestow. Contemplate man as a sinner, redeemed from sin and death through the blood of God’s only dear Son, who at the same time has purchased for him all the glory and felicity of heaven: hope fixes upon all these things as promised to the penitent and believing soul. Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and a constant communication of grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a rightful inheritance;—all is apprehended by the believing Christian as his true and proper portion: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. How wonderful! how surpassing all conception! Yet “to a lively hope of all these things is every child of God begotten [Note: 1 Peter 1:3.].”]
It is a well-founded hope—
[It may well be asked, What warrant has the Christian to indulge such a hope as this? Is it a mere conceit of his own, an expectation unauthorized and presumptuous? No: it is a hope founded upon the promise and oath of the immutable Jehovah. God has revealed a way of salvation, through the blood and righteousness of his only-begotten Son; and has promised to accept to mercy all who shall come to him in the name of Christ. To all such, without exception, he has engaged to give all the blessings both of grace and glory. And in resting on his engagements, the believer cannot be deceived: for “God cannot lie,”—“cannot deny himself.”
The Christian has a further ground of hope, in his own actual experience of these things: for in coming to God through Christ, he has found peace to his soul: he has received grace, whereby he is enabled to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: and “through the hope that is in him he does actually purify himself, even as Christ is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].”
Here then he stands as upon a rock, that defies the assaults whether of men or devils.]
It is a hope that raises him up above all the things of time and sense—
[In the prospect of all the blessings that are promised to him, how empty and insignificant do all earthly things appear! They are regarded by him as the dust upon the balance, yea, as lighter than vanity itself. However important the concerns of this world may seem, they are but for a moment: whereas the objects of the Christian’s hope are everlasting. Nor are the sufferings of this present world, how formidable soever in themselves, regarded by him as worthy of any consideration, in comparison of the glory which he sees revealed before his eyes, and which he expects shortly to inherit [Note: Romans 8:18.]. Here is the great secret of all his movements. Even in this life a man will endure much labour and self-denial, in order to obtain some great advantage: what then will not a man both do and suffer, who has all the glory of heaven in view, and an assured prospect of attaining it, if only he “hold on his way,” and “be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel?”]
Such being the Christian’s hope, let us inquire,
What is his duty in relation to it?
The principle which operates so forcibly on the Christian’s mind cannot be fully appreciated by one who is a stranger to it in his own soul: yet may it, by a judicious statement, be brought so far within the view of an unenlightened mind, as to carry conviction with it to the heart and conscience: and every one who professes it should be ready to afford to an inquirer all possible satisfaction respecting it: he should “be ready to give to every one a reason of the hope that is in him:”
With frankness and fidelity—
[It is here supposed that an inquiry is made respecting it: for otherwise it is by no means expedient that a Christian be bringing forward his own personal experience, and making that the subject of conversation. To do this is hateful. St. Paul, when forced by the accusations of his enemies to vindicate himself, and to declare the experience of his soul, again and again, with indignation, as it were, against himself, says, “I speak as a fool.” And, where it is done without necessity, it is as strong a proof of a vain and weak mind as can well be conceived. But where a man asks us a reason of the hope that is in us, we should readily and cheerfully give him an answer. We should not be ashamed of our principles. We should never doubt whether they will bear us out, provided they be perspicuously and justly stated. We should candidly state, That we are sinners, deserving of God’s wrath and indignation: that God has sent his only-begotten Son to die for us: that through his precious blood we hope and believe that we have obtained the forgiveness of all our sins. We should then state our conviction, that sinners redeemed with so inestimable a price are bound to consecrate themselves to him, and, above all things, to seek the glory of his great name. We should further avow our full persuasion, that in the day of judgment we shall all be dealt with according to our works; that those who have suffered any thing to stand in competition with their duty to Christ, will assuredly be cast out as wicked and unprofitable servants; but that they who have loved, and served, and honoured him with their whole hearts, shall be applauded by him as good and faithful servants, and enter for ever into the joy of their Lord. We may then appeal to the most prejudiced mind, and ask, Whether, with such views and principles, it be not our bounden duty to act as we do?
This kind of statement should be made “readily,” to all without exception who desire to hear it, and are ready to attend to it. Whether they be more or less candid in their inquiries, we should account it a valuable opportunity to set before them the leading truths of Christianity; and we should avail ourselves of it, with a view at least to silence their objections, and, if it may please God, to convert and save their souls.]
With meekness and fear—
[There is, not unfrequently, found amongst the professors of religion a very unhallowed boldness and forwardness in declaring their sentiments. This is extremely indecorous, and odious in the eyes both of God and man. Though, as far as respects the truth itself, we should have no hesitation in declaring it, yet we should be much on our guard against any thing harsh or acrimonious in our manner of declaring it. Suavity and kindness become us on all occasions, and especially when speaking on the things of God. We must speak the truth indeed, whether it be palatable or not: but we must “speak the truth in love,” and “instruct in meekness them that oppose themselves, if God peradventure may give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth that so they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been taken captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25-55.2.26.].” A Christian on such occasions must bear in mind how much the honour of God is involved in his conduct; and how much, humanly speaking, the salvation of others may depend on him. By an indiscreet mode of vindicating the truth, he may shut the ears, and harden the hearts of many; and so embitter their minds, as to make them determined haters and despisers of vital godliness: but by a meek, modest, affectionate, and prudent statement, he may remove their prejudices, and lead them to a candid examination of their own state before God. Hence then he should speak “with fear,” even as the Apostle Paul himself did at Corinth, where, as he himself tells us, “he was among them in weakness and fear and much trembling [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:3.].” By thus combining meekness with fidelity, and fear with zeal, he may hope that he shall be the means of silencing opposers, and of winning many who would never have attended to the written or preached word [Note: 1 Peter 3:1-60.3.2.].]
I would yet further enforce the exhortation in our text, with such advice as naturally arises out of it—
Let it be the daily labour of your lives to be such as our text requires:
Be intelligent Christians—
[You ought to be able to “give to every inquirer a reason of the hope that is in you.” It is a disgrace to a Christian not to possess such a measure of divine knowledge, as shall qualify him for this. It is not necessary that every Christian should be a disputant, and be able to enter into theological controversies: but every man should be able to answer this question, “Why are you a Christian?” Alas! the generality of Christians, so called, can assign no better reason for being Christians, than a Turk can for being a Mahometan. But to all such I must say, You have yet to learn what a scriptural hope is; and have only “the hope of an hypocrite, which will be swept away like a spider’s web.” I beseech you all then to study the Scriptures with all diligence; and to pray unto God, that you may by them be made wise unto everlasting salvation.]
Be steadfast Christians—
[You must expect that your faith and patience will be tried: but you must not give way to fear, or be diverted from your duty by any consideration whatever. There should be in you such a hope, as, like an anchor of the soul, shall keep you steadfast amidst all the storms and tempests with which you may be assailed [Note: Hebrews 6:19.]. By means of this divine principle you should be realizing all the glories of the eternal world; in the view of which, all earthly glories will sink into insignificance, and all earthly trials appear “light and momentary [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-47.4.18.].” Survey then the inheritance to which you are begotten: take Pisgah views of the promised land: and then you shall be enabled to say respecting every thing that may occur, “None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may but finish my course with joy.”]
Be humble Christians—
[Humility is the root and summit of Christian perfection. If men see you offended and irritated by the unkind usage which you experience, they will say, “Wherein are their principles superior to ours; or their conduct better than ours? They pretend to possess a hope that lifts up their souls in an extraordinary degree: but wherein does it shew itself? and what do they more than others? It is no uncommon thing for persons professing godliness to feel towards their revilers and persecutors the very same contempt and hatred which their persecutors manifest towards them. But this is a proof, that, whatever they may profess of love to Christ, they have never attained “the mind that was in Christ.” If you would be Christians indeed, you must resemble Him “who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and was dumb before his persecutors, even as a sheep before its shearers is dumb,” and who in the very agonies of crucifixion prayed for his murderers. So must you: you must “shew all meekness towards all men,” and be more fearful of dishonouring God, or of casting a stumbling-block before your enemies, by any thing hasty or ill-advised, than of suffering all that the most bitter persecutors can inflict upon you. Thus “letting patience have its perfect work, you will be perfect and entire, wanting nothing [Note: James 1:4.].”]
THE NATURE AND ENDS OF CHRIST’S DEATH
1 Peter 3:18. Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.
“SUFFERINGS, of whatever kind, are not in themselves joyous, but grievous:” nevertheless they may on some occasions become a source of joy and triumph. If, for instance, they be inflicted for righteousness’ sake, and we have the testimony of our conscience that we suffer for well-doing, we may then unfeignedly rejoice in them, as on other accounts, so especially because they render us conformable to our Lord and Saviour. This thought was suggested by St. Peter as a rich source of consolation to the persecuted Christians of his day: nor can we have any stronger incentive to patience and diligence in every part of our duty, than the consideration of what Christ has done and suffered for our sake.
The words before us lead us to contemplate,
The nature of Christ’s sufferings—
We speak not of their quality, as corporeal, or spiritual, but of their nature as described in the text. They were,
[Some affirm that the sufferings of Christ were only to confirm his doctrine, and to set us an example: but these ends might have been equally answered by the sufferings of his Apostles [Note: If there was nothing penal in our Lord’s sufferings, his example was not near so bright as that of many of his disciples; since he neither met his sufferings with so much fortitude, nor endured them with such triumphant exultation, as many of his followers have since done. But if they were the penalty due to sin, his apparent inferiority is fully accounted for.]. But they were the punishment of sin: and the wrath of God due to sin, was the bitterest ingredient in them. We had merited the curse and condemnation of the law: and he, to deliver us from it, “became a curse for us [Note: Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:13.].” “He suffered for sins;” and though his punishment was not precisely the same either in quality or duration, as ours would have been, yet was it equivalent to our demerit, and satisfactory to the justice of an offended God.]
[It was not for any sin of his own that Jesus was cut off [Note: Daniel 9:26.]: he was “a Lamb without spot or blemish [Note: 1 Peter 1:19.],” as even his enemies, after the strictest scrutiny, were forced to confess [Note: John 18:38; John 19:6.]. He died, “the just for, and in the room of, the unjust [Note: Ὑπὲρ, this imports substitution. See Romans 5:7. in the Greek.]:” the iniquities of all the human race were laid upon him [Note: Isaiah 53:6.]: he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement he endured was to effect our peace [Note: Isaiah 53:4.]. He, who was innocent, became a sin-offering for us, that we, who are guilty, might be made righteous in him [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:21.].]
[The death of Christ, like all the sacrifices under the Jewish law, was an atonement for sin. It is continually compared with the Jewish sacrifices in this view [Note: Heb. passim.]. We say not, that the Father hated us, and needed to have his wrath appeased by the interposition of his Son (for the very gift of Christ was the fruit of the Father’s love [Note: John 3:16.]); but we say, in concurrence with all the inspired writers, that when it was necessary for the honour of the Divine government that sin should be punished, either in the offender himself or in his surety, Christ became our surety, and by his own death made a true and proper atonement for our sins, and thus effected our reconciliation with God [Note: Eph 5:2 and 1 John 2:2.]. On any other supposition than this, the whole Mosaic ritual was absurd, and the writings of the New Testament are altogether calculated to deceive us.]
From considering the nature of our Lord’s sufferings, let us proceed to notice,
The end of them—
His one great design was to bring us to God:
To a state of acceptance with him—
[We were “enemies to God in our minds by wicked works;” nor could we by any means reconcile ourselves to God: we could not by obedience; because the law required perfect obedience: which, having once transgressed the law, we could never afterwards pay: nor could we by suffering, because the penalty denounced against sin was eternal, and consequently, if once endured by us, could never be remitted. But, when it was impossible for us to restore ourselves to God’s favour, we were reconciled to him by Christ’s obedience unto death [Note: Colossians 1:21-51.1.22.Romans 5:10; Romans 5:10.]; and to effect this reconciliation was the very end for which he laid down his life [Note: Ephesians 2:16.].]
To the enjoyment of his presence in this world—
[The holy of holies was inaccessible to all except the high-priest; nor could even he enter into it except on the great day of annual expiation [Note: Hebrews 9:7-58.9.8.]. But at the very instant of our Lord’s death, while the Jews were worshipping in the temple, the vail was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the most holy place was opened to the view of all [Note: Matthew 27:50-40.27.51.]. This was intended to declare, that from henceforth all might have the freest and most intimate access to God [Note: Ephesians 2:13; Ephesians 2:18.]. All are now made priests unto God [Note: Revelation 1:6.]; and, in this new and living way, may come to his mercy-seat to behold his glory, and to enjoy his love [Note: Hebrews 10:19-58.10.22; Hebrews 12:18-58.12.24.].]
To the possession of his glory in the world to come—
[It was not only to save us from condemnation, but to exalt us to everlasting happiness, that Jesus died. The salvation which he procured for us, is a “salvation with eternal glory [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10.].” The robes in which the celestial spirits are arrayed, were washed in his blood [Note: Revelation 7:14.]; and all the ransomed hosts unite in ascribing to him the felicity they enjoy [Note: Revelation 5:9-66.5.10; Revelation 5:12.]. Nothing short of this could answer the purposes of his love [Note: John 17:24.]; and the accomplishment of this was the ultimate end of all he suffered [Note: Hebrews 2:9-58.2.10.].]
Before we conclude this subject, let us contemplate—
How great is the love of Christ to our fallen race [Note: Who would do any thing like this for a fellow-creature? Romans 5:7-45.5.8. Neither Moses, Exodus 32:32; nor St. Paul, Romans 9:3. thought of any thing like this. See the Discourse on Romans 9:1-45.9.5.]!
How cheerfully should we endure sufferings for his sake [Note: Compare ver. 14. with the text, and Heb 13:12-13 and Acts 5:41.]!
How inexcusable will they be who continue still at a distance from their God [Note: John 15:22. ΰfortiori, and Hebrews 2:3.]!
NOAH’S ARK A TYPE OF CHRIST
1 Peter 3:21. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us.
GOD has marked the necessity of holiness no Jess by the dispensations of his providence than by the declarations of his grace. His destroying of the whole world for their iniquity, evinced as strongly as any thing could, that sin should never go unpunished, and that the righteous only should be saved. In this view St. Peter introduces the mention of that well-attested fact, and declares, that the salvation experienced by Noah in the ark, was typical of that which we experience by Christ, and into which we are brought by our baptism. The text is by no means free from difficulties: to render it as intelligible as we can, we shall consider,
The typical salvation here referred to—
God had determined to overwhelm the world with a deluge—
[Though there had been so few generations upon earth, that Noah’s own father (Lamech) had been contemporary with Adam for sixty years, and lived till within five years of the flood, so that Noah, and the people of that generation, had, for no less than six hundred years together, received instruction only at second hand from Adam himself, yet had “all flesh corrupted their way,” insomuch that “God repented that he had made man,” and resolved to destroy him from off the face of the earth.]
But for the preservation of the righteous he instructed Noah to make an ark—
[This vessel was not constructed according to man’s device, but by the special direction of God himself. To the eyes of man it doubtless seemed an absurd attempt: but “the foolishness of God is wiser than man;” and the event justified the hopes and expectations of Noah.]
In the mean time he called the people to repentance by the ministry of Noah—
[God exercised forbearance towards them one hundred and twenty years. But they “received his grace in vain.” And the means used for their salvation only ripened them for destruction.]
When the appointed time was come, he ordered Noah and his family to go into the ark—
[The symptoms of the flood did not yet appear; but these favourites of heaven were to condemn the world, not in word only, but in deed. By manifesting their faith, their fear, and their obedience, they were practically to condemn the world’s unbelief, security, and disobedience [Note: Hebrews 11:7.]. And, upon their entrance into the ark, “God shut them in” with his own hand, that the door might be secure against the violence of the wind and waves.]
Then the waters, that destroyed all the world besides, bore up them in perfect safety—
[Every other refuge now proved vain. The unbelievers found to their cost the truth of God’s threatenings. Their numbers did not screen them from his judgments. Nor was the fewness of the elect any bar to their acceptance and salvation. They rose, while others sank in the mighty waters. Nor, if any cleaved to the ark, did that avail them. The very builders of the ark perished. They, and they only, who were in the ark, were made the monuments of saving mercy.]
This history being altogether typical, we shall consider,
The correspondent salvation which we enjoy—
Baptism is spoken of in the text as the antitype [Note: Λ̓ντίτυπον.], of which Noah’s flood was the type. But we apprehend the Apostle’s meaning to be, that Noah’s salvation in the ark was typical of our salvation under the Christian dispensation [Note: The relative ᾧ cannot agree with κιβωτοῦ, which is feminine, but must agree with ὑδατος, or rather perhaps with the whole sentence; this last construction renders the sense of the passage incomparably more clear; on which account it is here preferred.]. This subject will be best understood, not by drawing the parallel between the flood and baptism, or between the ark and Christ, but by exhibiting the fact of our salvation as corresponding with that of Noah.
God has determined to punish the world with an everlasting destruction—
[His word bears frequent and most undeniable testimony to this solemn truth [Note: Mat 24:37-39. 2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 2:9. Psalms 11:6; Psalms 9:17.] — — —]
But he has prepared a Saviour for those who repent and turn unto him—
[Human sagacity never could have devised a way of saving sinners consistently with the honour of God’s perfections. But God has sent and qualified his only-begotten Son, that, through him, all who believe might be justified from all things. And though salvation through the death of Christ be “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness,” yet to them that are called to partake of it, it has invariably proved the power of God and the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-46.1.24.].]
Ever since the method of salvation has been announced to the world, God has been inviting sinners to embrace it—
[The first plank of this ark was laid, if we may so speak, when God promised to Adam a “Seed, who should bruise the serpent’s head.” From that day, it has been erecting visibly in the world, in order that, while men were warned of their danger, they might see their remedy: and now, for nearly six thousand years, has God exercised forbearance towards an impenitent and unbelieving world.]
By “baptism” we embark, as it were, on board this divinely-constructed vessel—
[When we are baptized into the faith of Christ, we profess our persuasion that “there is salvation in no other,” and our desire “to be found in him,” not having our own righteousness, but that which is of God by faith in him [Note: Acts 4:12.Philippians 3:9; Philippians 3:9.]. Thus we come to be in him, as a branch in the vine, as a man-slayer in a city of refuge, as Noah in the ark. Not that this benefit is annexed to the mere outward form of baptism, but to that baptism which is accompanied with “the answer of a good conscience towards God [Note: See the words following the text.].”]
Being then in Christ, we are saved “by his resurrection [Note: ver. 21.]”—
[It should seem, that Noah’s enclosure in the ark for so long a period was a kind of sepulture; and his elevation on the waters, till he afterwards came forth from the ark, was a kind of resurrection, when he took possession of a new world. Thus, according to St. Paul, “we are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life: for if we have been planted in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection [Note: Romans 6:4-45.6.5.].” This appears to be intended by St. Peter in the text, and to be, on the whole, the most natural, as well as most beautiful, construction of it: as Noah entered into the ark, and was saved by its elevation above the water-floods, so we, by baptism, enter into Christ, and are, by his resurrection, saved from sin and Satan, death and hell; yea, like Noah too, we are brought safely to the possession of a new and heavenly world [Note: If the opposition between διεσώθησανδὲ ὕδατος and σωζει δὶ ἀναστάσεως be marked, the sense of this difficult passage will be more apparent.].]
How deeply should we reverence the ordinances of God!
[What is said of baptism is true, in a measure, of every other ordinance: yet how shamefully is both that, and every other ordinance, profaned amongst us! Let us remember, that all the institutions of God are intended to help forward our salvation: but, if trifled with, they will fearfully aggravate our condemnation.]
How careful should we be to obtain “the answer of a good conscience!”
[In the Apostles’ days, as well as in ours, they, who applied for baptism, were interrogated with respect to their faith and practice; nor could the mere ablution of the body profit them, if they had not a correspondent purity of soul. Thus it is with us: we shall in vain receive the rite of baptism, or partake of the Lord’s supper, if we cannot declare, as in the presence of God, that it is our desire and endeavour to be holy as God is holy. Let us then not lay an undue stress upon outward observances of any kind; but rather seek a conformity to the Divine image; for it will surely be found true at the last, that “the pure in heart shall see God,” but that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Peter 3". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany