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Bible Commentaries
1 Peter 4

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NTBurkitt's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

These words may be considered, 1. As an inference drawn from what the apostle had asserted in the foregoing chapter, namely, That Christ Jesus suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust; 1 Peter 3:18.

Now, says the apostle, forasmuch as Christ has thus suffered for us, first as our surety and representative, in a way of satisfaction;

secondly, as our pattern and example, in order to our imitation: let us arm ourselves with the same mind and resolution, to be conformed to him in his death, dying to sin as he died for sin: for he that hath crucified the flesh, and mortified his corrupt nature, in imitation of Christ's suffering in our flesh and nature, that man hath ceased from sin, that is, from living unto sin, or serving sin any longer, but spends the remainder of his life wholly according to God's will, not according to his own or other's lustful desires and inclinations.

2. These words may be considered as an argument to excite Christians to eschew evil and do good, which he had pressed upon them in the former chapter, from the example of Christ.

And the force of the argument lies thus: "All Christians should be armed with the same mind and resolution against sin, and for holiness, that Christ was. But Christ having suffered in the flesh for sin, and ceased from sin, lived in the Spirit unto God: therefore all Christians should wholly endeavour all they can to cease from sin, and live no more to the lusts of men, but to the will of God."

Verse 3

Observe here, 1. That this epistle was written and directed, not only to the Jewish natives, but to the Gentile proselytes and converts; this is evident from the apostle's putting them in mind that there was a time, namely, before their conversion, when they wrought the will of the Gentiles.

Observe, 2. The black and dismal sins which the Gentiles were guilty of, and wallowed in, before their conversion to Christianity, namely, all manner of sensuality, uncleanness, excess in drinking, reveling, banquetings and idolatries, joined with the rest of their abominations. Lord, how endearing our obligations, who were sinners of the Gentiles, for calling us out of this darkness (worse than Egyptian) into marvelous light by the gospel.

Observe, 3. The argument used to excite them to quit and abandon the fore-mentioned sins now in their converted state, which they had before indulged themselves in the practice of, in their heathen state: the time past may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles; as if he had said, "Surely you have had enough, enough of sin, and too much, in your unregenerate state; your lusts have taken up too much of your lives, and had too much of your love."

Learn hence, That the true penitent, and sincere convert, is one that has had enough of sin, yea, more than than enough: one moment's service of sin is more service than we owe it: we can never serve Christ too long, and our lust too short a time.

Learn, 2. That this consideration, how long some of us served sin before conversion, should be a forcible argument to excite and quicken us unto greater measures and degrees of holiness in our regenerate and converted state.

Observe, 4. What usage such Christians must expect from the men of the world, who must come out from among them, and refuse to run any longer into the same excess of riot with them.

1. They think it strange; they admire and wonder at them, as we do at strangers that come out of another country.

And, 2. They speak evil of them, because they will not be as bad and as mad as themselves. They think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you.

Learn hence, 1. That wicked men are excessively riotous, or that there is an excess of riot and sin, which wicked men upon all occasions run into.

Learn, 2. That such men wonder and think it very strange, that good men are not as excessively riotous as themselves.

3. That because they will not so run, therefore they speak evil of them.

Observe, lastly, The impartiality and severity of that account which the wicked men of the world must render to God, the universal Judge, for all their hard speeches which they have uttered against the righteous: Who shall give an account to him that is really to judge the quick and the dead.

Note here, 1. There must and shall be a day of account: there must be one, because there never yet was one; there shall be one, because God has made man an accountable creature: he can give, and therefore he shall give, an account of his actions; for he has a principle of reason to know what he does, and a liberty of choice to govern himself, and a rule to direct him what to choose, and what to refuse; and consequently the actions, proceeding from him, just and shall be accounted for by him.

Note, 2. That this account must be given to Christ, the supreme and universal Judge both of quick and dead; partly, as a fitting reward for his great humiliation and sufferings; and, partly, that the world may see what a great and excellent Person he was, who came to visit them in great humility; and partly, to give advantage to the future judgment, in that God has appointed a man for our judge, who is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, one that is sensible of the follies, temptations, and infirmities, of mankind, and pities them, and will make favourable allowances for them; nay, one that is God as well as man, from whom we may expect all the goodness of a God, and all the tender compassion of a man, in their utmost perfection; so that no man need fear such a judge, who has not out-sinned the mercies of a God, and the tender compassions of a man: for if either God or man help us, we are safe in that day, when we shall give an account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.

Verse 6

By the dead here, some understand the Gentile world, dead in trespasses and sins, to whom the gospel was preached when they were thus spiritually dead and buried in sensuality, that they might judge and condemn, oppose and strive against, mortify and subdue, those sensual desires and carnal appetites which they indulge, whilst they lived as natural men, without the knowledge of God's will, and the assistance of his grace and Spirit: others do understand the words of such as are naturally dead, that the gospel was preached to them who were long since dead, even our forefathers, that lived and died before Christ's coming, and that they had the gospel preached to them, while they were alive, that so they might mortify all their sinful lusts and corrupt affections, and live new lives, according to the direction and command of God in his holy word.

Learn hence, That the condition of men now living, and of those that lived heretofore in all ages, is one and the same, having the same gospel for substance preached to them, and accordingly the same duties of mortification and holiness required of them.

Verse 7

These words are brought by our apostle as a fresh argument to persuade the Christian Jews to the practice of sincere holiness: the end of all things, that is, of the Jewish state and polity, their city, their temple, and worship, is at hand, the fatal destruction of Jerusalem is now very near, therefore be ye sober and temperate in all things; watch, that the day of visitation overtake you not unawares, and pray for the averting of God's wrath, and that ye be not overwhelmed in it.

Learn hence, That sobriety, watchfulness, and prayer, are very requisite and needful qualifications to prepare and fit persons for every coming and appearance of Christ to judgment; be it his particular coming to some, or his universal coming to all, at the end of the world.

Verse 8

The next grace and virtue exhorted to, is that of charity, or mutual love amongst themselves: and observe with what special care and particular regard it is recommended to us, above all things; and note also the intense degree of it, it must not barely, be charity, but fervent charity; Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.

Learn, That Christians ought to take care, above all things, that their love to one another be sincere and fervent.

But how may it be known to be such?

Ans. If it be active and operative; if we love not in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth; if it be not weakened by time; if it be not hindered by remoteness of place; if it be a sympathizing and compassionate love, a forbearing and forgiving love; then have we fervent charity among ourselves.

Observe next, The argument or reason to enforce the duty; for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. This may be understood two ways:

1. With respect to ourselves: charity, or true love to our brother, will cause us not strictly to take notice of, but silently to overlook and pass by, the faults and failings of others towards and against ourselves.

2. It will cover the sins of others from the eye of the world, and keep us from blazing abroad the infirmities of others, to their prejudice and disgrace: it is both unwarrantable and unsafe to cover the sins of others, either by flattery or falsehood; but to cover a sin by charity, to conceal it from public notice, is a great piece of Christian duty, unless when the concealing of it will do apparent mischief: love looks upon great wrongs as small, and small wrongs as none at all. He must have no friends that will have a friend with no fault, Hatred stirreth up strife, but love covereth all sins. Proverbs 10:12

Verse 9

As a principal act and eminent exercise of charity, the apostle advises to use hospitality to their poor brethern, without grudging or murmuring at the charge: hospitality is a necessary, a commendable, and a commanded, duty; St. Paul requires, that we be given to hospitality. Romans 12:13

Observe farther, the apostle doth not barely say, use hospitality, but use it one to another: it is a mutual duty; whence it appears, that though hospitality towards the poor be a commanded duty, yet hospitality among the rich is no sin, but a duty likewise, to give reciprocal entertainments; for though our Saviour says, Luke 14:12. When thou makest a dinner, or a supper, call not thy friends and rich neighbours; the prohibition is not absolute, he doth not forbid the inviting of the rich, but chargeth us not to forget the poor: we may treat both, if we have enough for both; but if not, what we have to spare must be for them that have nothing, not for them that have enough already, for we must prefer works of pious charity before acts of civil courtesy: Use hospitality one to another without grudging.

Verse 10

His next exhortation is, That they endeavour rightly to employ, and wisely to improve, their spiritual gifts, (as well as their temporal, mentioned in the foregoing verse,) which they had received for the good and benefit of others in their respective places in the church, looking upon themselves not as proprietors, but as stewards, of the various gifts bestowed upon them by the free favour of God, and which they must give an impartial account.

Learn hence, 1. That several men have their several gifts, as it pleaseth the gift-giving Spirit to give unto them: As every man has received the gift.

Learn, 2. That gifts are given for the benefit of others, we are to minister one to another, that is, to improve our gifts to the mutual edification of each other.

Learn, 3. That such as look upon themselves as stewards of the manifold gifts of God, will wisely improve them for his glory, and the good of others, the great ends for which he has conferred them.

Verse 11

If any man speak, that is, 1. As a public minister or teacher, let him speak as he is instructed from the oracles of God.

Or, 2. If he speaks as a private Christian, let his discourses be grave and serious, for mutual edification, especially when he speaks of divine things: speech is a noble and advantageous benefit to man, by which he excels the whole creation; our tongue is our glory, the instrument of our Creator's praise; and there is no subject so sublime and honourable for the tongue of man to be employed about, as the word and oracles of God; but then we must never mention them but with reverence.

Woe be to those men that bring forth scripture in their discourse, as the Philistines brought forth Samson, only to make them sport, rendering it the theme of their giddy mirth and profane drollery; but these men ere long will find Almighty God in earnest, though they be in jest; such men forget this injunction of the apostle's, If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.

--If any man minister,-- To supply the necessities of others, either as a deacon, whose office it then was to take care of the poor, or as a private Christian, by charitable contribution, let him perform that duty readily and cheerfully, according to the ability God hath given him.

Where observe, That he that with his wealth ministereth to the necessities of others, if he doth it not according to the ability which God has given him, his charity is not acceptable in God's account; not acceptable to God, because not proportionable to what he has received from God: the reason of this injunction is added in the next words, That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ;-- in whose strength these gifts are rightly employed, and by whose merits and intercession our intention to glorify God by them is accepted. To whom, that is, to which Jesus, as to God blessed for evermore, be all honour and dominion everlastingly ascribed. Amen.

Verse 12

Observe here, 1. The metaphor which the apostle uses to set forth the Christian's afflictions and persecutions by; he calls them fiery trials: burnings, because very painful and afflictive, very grievous and burdensome to sense, and also because men are tried by them as metals are by fire.

Observe, 2. The warning given by the apostle to all Christians, not to think it strange concerning these fiery trials; that is, not to look upon them as unusual things, but to expect them, and prepare for them; for unexpected trials fall upon the soul in their full weight, and suddenly overthrow it: what we fear, for that we prepare; but when trials come, and we never looked and prepared for them, they strike us to the heart, because not armed to receive the blow.

Observe, 3. The gracious end that God has in the afflictions and persecutions which fall upon his people: they are to try them, not to consume them; to try their graces, and destroy their corruptions, to give them opportunity to make proof of the truth of their faith, sincerity, and constancy.

Observe, 4. The high honour which God puts upon his suffering saints and servants: they are said to be partakers of Christ's sufferings, because they suffer for him, and he suffers with them, and in them, and also because he suffered the same things before them, and much worse things for them.

Observe lastly, The duty which God expects and requires from them who suffer these fiery persecutions for the sake of his Son; and that is, to rejoice and be exceeding glad.

From the whole learn, 1. That no afflictions of persecutions should seem new or strange things to sincere Christians.

2. That the end and use of all afflictions, is the trial and improvement of the Christian's graces.

3. That believers in suffering afflictions and persecutions, are partakers of Christ's sufferings; he suffers in them, and they are made comformable to him by them.

4. That it is the will of God, that such as suffer for him should not only be meek and patient, but be joyous and cheerful.

5. That at the great day when Christ's glory shall be revealed, then especially will the suffering saints rejoice and be glad with exceeding joy, when they shall see their dear Redeemer coming in the clouds, with an human body, shining brighter than ten thousand suns; a body which still retains the marks of his sufferings, and the tokens of his love.

O joyful day of Christ's appearing, when this royal bridegroom shall take his suffering spouse the church by the hand, and present her to his Father, own his in the presence of men and angels, bestow a kingdom upon them, that they may be with him where he is, eternally to behold his glory, to feed upon an happiness as large as their capacities, and as lasting as their beings; such honour have all his suffering saints, and therefore ought greatly to rejoice, inasmuch as they are made partakers of Christ's sufferings: that when his glory shall be revealed, they may be glad also with exceeding joy.

Verse 14

Another argument is here offered by our apostle for glorifying in sufferings and reproached for Christ, taken from the happiness of those that are so reproached, If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.

Note here, That the reproaches which the saints suffer for the sake of Christ, are reckoned persecutions, and yet at the same time are esteemed a part, as well as a prognostic, of their happiness: Happy are ye, if ye be approached for the name of Christ.

Observe, 2. The reason assigned why Christians, under reproach for the sake of Christ, are to be esteemed thus happy, namely, because the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon them; that is, the glorious Spirit of God, which is both the mean and evidence of your happiness who is glorious in himself, and also a glory to you, upon whom he rests, and in whom he dwells.

Two things are implied by the Spirit resting upon a reproached Christian: 1. Complacency, that he is well pleased where he is; men do not rest where they do not like. 2. Permanency, He abides where he rests, and dwells there with delight.

Some take the expression to be an allusion to Noah's dove, that hovered about, but could not rest till returned to the ark. Thus the Spirit of God, called here the Spirit of glory, from its effects and fruits, namely, from its cheering, sealing, and reviving influences, which make Christians glory in tribulations; this Spirit flies from place to place, and from person to person, hither and thither, but rests upon and takes up his residence and abode with such Christians as suffer for the name of Christ: If ye be reproached, &c. happy are ye, for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: it follows,-- On their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified; that is, by their reproaches cast upon you, they blaspheme the Holy Spirit, as the word signifies; but he is eminently glorified by your patience and constancy of mind under all your pressures; which shows the power of the Spirit resting upon you, and mightily working in you.

Learn hence, That in those reproaches which good men suffer for the sake of Christ, the Spirit of God in a special manner is blasphemed on the one side, and glorified on the other.

O sinner! know, that all the reproaches thou castest upon religion and religious persons, as such, reach the Holy Spirit that rests upon them, and resides in them as his temples: but, O Christian, remember thou, that, by thy patience and constancy under sufferings, thou glorifiest the Holy Spirit eminently, abundantly showing that by his help afflictions are not only tolerable but joyous.

Verse 15

Observe here, 1. What it is that the apostle calls upon them to avoid and shun; it is sin, not suffering: evil doing in general, murder and theft in particular, sins that were then very much practised among the Jews: Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer; by suffering as evil-doers we lose the comfort and reward of all our sufferings.

Observe, 2. What sufferings he bids them not be ashamed of, but glory in, namely, when they suffer as Christians, and purely as such.

Quest. But what is it to suffer as a Christian?

Ans. 1. When we suffer for a good cause. 2. From a Christian principle. 3. In a Christian manner, with meekness, patience, and self- denial.

Quest. 2. What is it to glorify God on behalf of our sufferings?

Ans. Afflictions and sufferings, considered barely in themselves, are far from being glorious; but consider them in their cause, as sufferings for righteousness' sake, and so they are glorious; and God honours us greatly, when he calls us forth to suffer, and furnishes us with courage and resolution for sufferings, and it is our duty to give glory to him who enables us thus to do: If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in this behalf.

Verse 17

Observe here, 1. The apostle does not say, if judgment begin at the temple of idols, but, if it begin at the house of God: God will not spare his house, nor his own household: he will not spare his children or servants when they sin; he is no cockering father, to indulge his children to their ruin.

Nay, observe, 2. Judgment first begins at the house of God, God will not bear so long with his own people sinning as with strangers; they shall be corrected sooner and sorer than others; the Lord will first punish them who have been forgetful of him, and trifled with him, who have been formal in their profession, and vain in their conversation.

Observe, 3. That when we see with sorrow God contending with his own people for their sins, we may with astonishment expect what will be the end of them that obey not the gospel; when God brings such troubles upon his own house, what troubles may they expect from God, who are but a den of thieves, and a cage of unclean birds? O what appearance shall they have of God! and how shall they appear before God!

Observe then, What little cause wicked men have to rejoice at the church's sufferings, when it presages a far more heavy judgment coming upon themselves: for if judgment begin at the house of God, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel?

Verse 18

As if he had said, " When the day of visitation comes, which is verily at hand, and God shall begin to punish the Jews, his own people, called his house in the foregoing verse; if then the righteous among them escape the common calamity with great difficulty, and are scarcely preserved, how shall the ungodly and sinners think to escape unpunished in the day of Jerusalem's calamity, that day of vengeance, when Christ shall come to plead with them? If then the rightious be scarcely saved, that is, with great difficulty preserved from that desolating calamity, that fiery trial spoken of, 1 Peter 4:12, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? And how shall they hope to escape in safety from that dreadful judgment now ready to come on the Jewish nation?"

There have been those that have made use of this text to show the difficulty of eternal salvation; and that the best and holiest of saints, even those that are most eminent in grace, are very difficultly saved; which, though a truth in itself, yet is scarcely deducible from this text, which certainly speaks of temporal preservation.

Verse 19

Observe here, 1. A cautionary direction given, that in all our sufferings we take care that we suffer according to the will of God: that is, for what is according to God's will, either to be believed or practised by us, for asserting and maintaining the purity of the Christian doctrine and worship; and when our patience under such sufferings is as extensive and intensive as God requires, when our patience is as large and as lasting as our troubles, then may we be said to suffer according to the will of God.

Observe, 2. The special privilege allowed to such sufferers as suffer according to the will of God: they may commit the keeping of their souls to God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Learn hence, 1. That when men suffer really and truly for well-doing, they may with confidence and great assurance commit their lives, and all that is dear unto them, to the special care of the divine providence; either God will keep us from, or support us under, trials, when we thus commit ourselves to him.

Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Peter 4". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wbc/1-peter-4.html. 1700-1703.
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