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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Peter 1

 

 

Verse 1-2

Chapter 1

THE FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER

THE WORK OF THE TRINITY IN MAN’S ELECTION AND SALVATION

1 Peter 1:1-2

"WHEN thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren," [Luke 22:32] was the Lord’s injunction to St. Peter, of which this Epistle may be considered as a part fulfillment. So richly stored is it with counsel, warning, and consolation that Luther, the conflicts of whose life will bear some comparison with the trials of these Asian converts, calls it one of the most precious portions of the New Testament Scriptures. Its value is further enhanced because in so many places the Apostle reverts in thought or word to his own life-history, and draws his teaching from the rich stream of personal experience. Even the name which he sets at the head of the letter had its lesson in connection with Jesus. Most Jews took a second name for profaner use in their commerce with the heathen; but to Simon, the son of Jonas, Peter must have been a specially sacred name, must have served as a watchword both to himself and to all others who had learnt the story of its bestowal and the meaning which was bound up with it.

That a letter by St. Peter should be, as this is, of a very practical character is no more than we might expect from what we know of the Apostle from the Gospels. Prompt in word and action, ever the spokesman of the twelve, he seems made for a guide and leader of men. What perhaps we should not have expected is the very definite doctrinal language with which the Epistle opens. Nowhere in the writings either of St. Paul or St. John do we find more full or more instructive teaching concerning the Holy Trinity. And herein St. Peter has been guided to choose the only order which tends to edification. Sound lessons for Christian life must be grounded upon a right faith, and a brother can afford no strength to his brethren unless first of all he point them clearly to the source whence both his strength and theirs must come.

Of the previous intercourse between St. Peter and those to whom he writes we can only judge from the Epistle itself. The Apostle’s name disappears from New Testament history after the Council of Jerusalem, [Acts 15:1-41] but we feel sure his labors did not cease then; and though the first message of Christianity may have been brought to these Asiatic provinces by St. Paul, the allusions which St. Peter makes to the trials of the converts are such as seem impossible had he not himself labored among them. The frequent reminders, the special warnings, could come only from one who knew their circumstances very intimately. Allusions to the former lusts indulged in, in their days of ignorance, to the reproaches which they now have to suffer from their heathen neighbors, to their going astray like lost sheep, are a few of the unmistakable evidences of personal knowledge.

He writes to them as "sojourners of the dispersion." In the minds of the Jews this name would wake up sad memories of their past history. It told of that great break in the national unity which was made by the tarrying in Babylon of so many of the people at the time of the return, then of those painful periods in later days when their nation, as the vassal now of Persia, now of Greece, of Egypt, of Syria, and of Rome, was made the sport of the world-powers as they rose and fell, times in which Israel could see few tokens of the Divine favor, could hear no voice of the prophet to encourage or to guide. But now to those who had accepted the Gospel of Christ those dark years would be seen to have been in no wise barren of blessing and of profit. The scattered Jews had carried much of their faith abroad among the nations; schools of religious teaching had arisen; the chosen people in their dispersion had adopted the language best known among the other nations; and thus the outcome of those sorrowful times had been a preparation for the Gospel. Proselytes had been made in the countries of their exile, and a wider field opened for the Christian harvest. The dispersion of Israel had been made, as it were, a bridge over which the grace of God passed for publishing the glad tidings of the Gospel, and to gather Jew and Gentile alike into the fold of Christ.

But it would be a mistake to restrict the word "dispersion" here to the Jewish converts. The Apostle speaks more than once in his letter to those who had never been Jews, to men who [1 Peter 1:14] had been fashioned according to their former lusts in ignorance; who had in times [1 Peter 2:10] no share with God’s people; who [1 Peter 4:13] had wrought the will of the Gentiles, walking in lasciviousness, lusts, and abominable idolatries. To these too since their conversion the name "dispersion" might be fitly applied. They were but a few here and there among the multitudes of heathendom. And their acceptance of the faith of Jesus must have given to their lives a different aspect. It must often be so with the faithful. Their life is from the world apart. It must have been specially thus with these Christians in Asia. They could be verily only strangers and sojourners; their true home could never be made among their heathen surroundings. As the Jew in old days sighed for Jerusalem, so their hope was centered on a Jerusalem above.

Yet God had a mission for them in the world. This is a special portion of St. Peter’s message. As the scattered Jews of old had opened a door for the spreading of the Gospel, so the Christians of the dispersion were to be its witnesses. Their election had made them a peculiar people; but it was that they might show forth the praises of Him who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light, and that by their good works the heathen might be won to glorify God when in His own time He should visit them too with the day-star from on high.

But beside the words which speak of severance and pilgrimage, the Apostle uses one of a different character. With that large charity and hope which is stamped upon the whole of the New Testament, he calls these scattered Christian converts the elect of God. Just as St. Paul so often includes whole Churches, even though he find in them many things to blame and to reprove, under the title of "saints" or "called to be saints," so it is here. And the sense of their election is intended to be a mighty power. It is to bind them wherever they may be scattered into one communion in Christ Jesus. Through the world they are dispersed, but in Christ they constitute a great unity. And the sense of this is to lift their hearts above any sorrowing for their isolation in the world. For through Christ they have [1 Peter 1:4] an inheritance, a home, a claim of sonship; and their salvation is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Later generations have witnessed much unprofitable controversy round this word "election." Some men have seen nothing else in the Bible, while others have hardly acknowledged it to be there at all. Then some have labored to reconcile to their understandings the two truths of God’s sovereignty and the freedom of the human will, not content to believe that in God’s economy there may be things beyond their measure. St. Peter, like the other New Testament writers, enters on no such discussions. Whether amid the full assurance of newly quickened faith the first Christians found no room for intellectual difficulties, or whether the spirit within them led them to feel that such questions must ever be insoluble, we cannot know; but it is instructive to note that the Scripture does not raise them. They are the growth of later days, of times when Christianity was widespread, when men had lost the feeling that they were strangers and pilgrims of the dispersion, and were no longer prepared to welcome, with St. Peter and St. Paul, every Christian brother into the number of God’s chosen ones, counting them as those who had been called to be saints.

Of the election of believers the Apostle here speaks in its origin, its progress, and its consummation. He views it as a process which must extend through the whole life, and connects its various stages with the Three Persons of the Trinity. But, with the same practical instinct which has already been noticed, he enters on no statements about the nature of the Godhead in itself; he neither discusses what may be known of God, nor how the knowledge is to be obtained. He says no word to intimate that the mention of three Persons may be difficult to understand in co-relation to the unity of the Godhead. Such inquiries exercise the mind, but can hardly further, what was St. Peter’s special aim, the edification and comfort of the soul. That result comes from the inward experience of what each Person of the Godhead is to us, and on this the Apostle has a lesson. He makes plain for us the share which Father, Son, and Spirit bear in the work of human salvation. Christians, he teaches us, are elect, chosen to be saints, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; the election is maintained when their lives are constantly hallowed by the influence of the Holy Ghost; while in Christ they have not only an example of perfect obedience after which they must strive, but a Redeemer whose blood can cleanse them from all the sins from which the most earnest strivings will not set them free. Of these things the Christian soul can have experience. It is thus that the life of the elect believer begins, grows, and is perfected. It begins "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Here St. Peter may be his own interpreter. In his sermon on the day of Pentecost he employs the same word, "foreknowledge," and he is the only one who uses it in the New Testament. There [Acts 2:23] he says that Christ was delivered up to be crucified by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. And on the same subject in this very chapter [1 Peter 1:20] he speaks of Jesus as foreknown, as a Lamb without spot and blemish before the foundation of the world. In these passages we are carried back beyond the ages into the Divine council-chamber, and we find the whole course of human history naked and open before the eyes of the All-seeing. God knew even then what the history of the human race would be, saw that sin would find an entrance into the world, and that a sacrifice would be needed, if sinners were to be redeemed. Yet He called the world and its tenants into being, and provided the ransom in the person of His only Son. Why this was well-pleasing unto Him it is not ours to discuss; whether for the uplifting of humanity by providing an opportunity for moral obedience or for the greater manifestation of His infinite love. But whatever else is mysterious, one thing is plain: the counsel of the Holy One is seen to be a counsel of mercy and of love; and though its operation may not seldom be perplexing to our finite powers, the Apostle teaches us that this determination from all eternity was made with infinite tenderness. He tells us it was the ordinance of our Father. The beginning and the end thereof are hidden from us. We learn only a fragment of His dealings during the brief period of a human life. But men may rest content with the proof of their election in the sound of the Gospel message which they hear. They who are thus called may count themselves for chosen. This call is the Divine testimony that God is choosing them. Concerning His intention towards others who may seem to have passed away without hearing of His love, or who are living as though no loving message of glad tidings had ever been proclaimed, we must rest in ignorance, only assured that the Eternal God is as truly their Father as we know Him to be ours.

To limited human knowledge the course of the world has ever been, must ever be, full of darkness and perplexities. Men gaze upon it as they do upon the wrong side of a piece of tapestry as it is woven. To such observers the pattern is always obscure, many a time quite unintelligible. For full knowledge we have to wait to the end. Then the web will be reversed. God’s designs and their working comprehended; we shall know even as we are known, and, with hearts and voices tuned to praise, shall cry, "He hath done all things well." Of such a revelation the poet (Shelley, Adonais, Stanza 3) sings, a revelation of the all-seeing, unchanging Jehovah and of the glorious enlightenment that shall be in His presence:-

"The one remains, the many change and pass;

Heaven’s light for ever shines, earth’s shadows fly:

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,

Stains the white radiance of eternity,

Until death tramples it to fragments."

In this wise would St. Peter have us think of the grace of election. It has its beginning from our Father; its fulfillment will also be with Him. The measure and the manner of its bestowal are according to His foreknowledge, according to the same foreknowledge which provided in Christ an atonement for sin, which appointed Him to die, and that not for some sinners only, but for the sins of the whole world.

But in the call according to God’s foreknowledge the believer is not perfected. He must live worthily of his calling. And as his election at the first is of God, so the power to hold it fast is a Divine gift. He who would rejoice over God’s election must feel and constantly foster within himself the "sanctification of the Spirit." To be made holy is his great need. This demands a life of progress, of renewal, a daily endeavor to restore the image which was lost at the Fall. "Be ye holy, for I am holy," is a fundamental precept of both Old and New Testaments; and it is a continual admonition, speaking unto Christians that they go forward. Under the Law the lesson was enforced by external symbols. Holy ground, holy days, holy offices, kept men alive to the need of preparation, of purification, before they could be fit to draw near unto God or for God to draw near unto them.

For thus there is opened a more excellent way: the inward, spiritual cleansing of the heart. Christ has gone away where He was before, and sends down to His servants the Holy Ghost, who bestows power that the election of the Father may be made sure. Hence we can understand those frequent exhortations in the epistles, "Walk in the Spirit"; "Live in the Spirit"; "Quench not the Spirit." The Christian life is a struggle. The flesh is ever striving for the mastery. This enemy the believer must do to death. And as aforetime, so now, sanctification begins with purification. Christ sanctifies His Church, those whom He has called to Him out of the world; and the manner is by cleansing them through the washing of water with the word. Here we gladly think of that sacrament which He ordained for admission into the Church as the beginning of his Divine operation, as the wonted entrance of the Holy Ghost for His work of purifying. But that work must be continued. He is called "holy" because He makes men holy by His abode with them. And Christ has described for us how this is brought to pass. "He shall take of Mine," says our Lord, "and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father hath are Mine". [John 16:14-15] Every good gift, which the Father who calls men hath, the Spirit is sent to impart. The words speak of the gradual manner of its bestowal; all things may be given, but they are given little by little, as men can or are fit to receive them. He shall take a portion of what is Mine, is the literal meaning of the Evangelist’s phrase. [John 16:15] The plural phrase, παντα οσα εχει ο πατηρ, marks the boundless supply, the singular, εκ του εμου ληψεται, the Spirit’s choice of such a portion there from as best suits the receiver’s needs and powers. In this wise men may become gradually conformed to the image of Christ, grow more and more like Him day by day. More and more will they drink in of the whole truth, and more and more will they be sanctified.

In this daily enlightenment must God’s faithful ones live, a life whose atmosphere is the hallowing influence of the Holy Ghost. But it is to be no mere life of receptivity, with no effort of their own. The Apostle makes this clear elsewhere, when he says, "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts" [1 Peter 3:15] -make them fit abodes for His Spirit to dwell in; lead your lives in holy conversation, that the house may be swept and garnished, and you be vessels sanctified and meet for the Master’s use.

Thus chosen by the Father and led onward by the Spirit, the Christian is brought ever nearer to the full purpose of his calling: "unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." The Christ-pattern which the Spirit sets before men is in no feature more striking than in its perfect obedience. The prophetic announcement of this submission sounds down to us from the Psalms: "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God"; and the incarnate Son declares of Himself, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent He, and to finish His work": and even in the hour of His supreme agony His word is still, "Father, not My will, but Thine, be done." Specially solemn, almost startling, is the language of the Apostle to the Hebrews when he says of Jesus that "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered," and that "it became the Father, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make Christ, the Captain of their salvation, perfect through suffering." With the Lord as an example, obedience is made the noblest, the New Testament form of sacrifice.

But when such obedience was connected with the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, the Jews among St. Peter’s converts must have been carried in thought to that scene described in Exodus 24:1-18. There, through Moses as a mediator, we read of God’s law being made known to Israel, and the people with one voice promised obedience: "All the words which the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." Then followed a sacrifice; and Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words"; and the Lord drew nigh unto His people, and the sight of the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai was like devouring fire in the eyes of the children of Israel.

For Christians there is a Mediator of a better covenant. We are not come unto the mount that burned with fire, but unto Mount Zion. [Hebrews 12:18-22] In that other sacrament of His own institution, our Lord makes us partakers of the benefits of His Passion. With His own blood He constantly maketh His people pure, fitting them to appear in the presence of the Father. There at length the purpose of their election shall be complete in fullness of joy in the sight of Him who chose them before the foundation of the world.

Thus does the Apostle set forth his practical, profitable lessons on the work of the Trinity in man’s election and salvation; and he concludes them with a benediction part of which is very frequent in the letters of St. Paul: "Grace to you and peace." The early preachers felt that these two blessings traveled hand in hand, and comprised everything which a believer could need: God’s favor and the happiness which is its fruit. Grace is the nurture of the Christian life; peace is its character. These strangers of the dispersion had been made partakers of the Divine grace. This very letter was one gift more, the consolation of which we can well conceive. But St. Peter models his benediction to be a fitting sequel to his previous teaching. "Grace," he says, "to you and peace be multiplied." The verb "be multiplied" is only used by him here and in the Second Epistle, and by St. Jude, whose letter has so much in common with St. Peter’s.

In this prayer the same thought is with him as when he spake of the stages of the Christian election. There must ever be growth as the Sign of life. Let them hold fast the grace already received, and more would be bestowed. Grace for grace is God’s rule of giving, new store for what has been rightly used. This one word of his prayer would say to them, Seek constantly greater sanctification, more holiness, from the Spirit; yield your will to God in imitation of Jesus, who sanctified Himself that His servants might be sanctified. Then, though you be strangers of the dispersion, though the world will have none of you, you shall be kept in perfect peace, and feel sure that you can trust His words who says to His warfaring servants, "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."


Verses 3-9

Chapter 2

THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE

1 Peter 1:3-9

"OUT of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," words true of all this letter, but of no part more true than of the thanksgiving with which it opens. The Apostle recalls those dark three days in which the life he bore was worse than death. His vaunted fidelity had been put to the proof, and had failed in the trial; his denial had barred the approach to the Master whom he had disowned. The crucifixion of Jesus had followed close upon His arrest, and Peter’s bitter tears of penitence could avail nothing. He to whom they might have appealed was lying in the grave. The Apostle’s repentant weeping saved him from a Judas-like despair, but dreary must have been the desolation of his soul until the Easter morning’s message told him that Jesus was alive again. We can understand the fervency of his thanksgiving: "Blessed be God, which hath begotten us again by the resurrection of Christ from the dead." No better image than the gift of a new life could he find to describe the restoration that came with the words of the angel from the empty tomb, "He is risen; go your way: tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee." The Lord forgave His sinning, sorrowing servant, and through this forgiveness he lived again, and bears printed forever on his heart the memory of that life-giving. The very form of his phrase in this verse is an echo from the resurrection morning. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Only in a few passages resembling this in St. Paul’s epistles is God called "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." But Peter is, mindful of the Lord’s own words to Mary, "Go unto My brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God"; [John 20:17] and now that he is made one of Christ’s heralds, the feeder of His sheep, he publishes the same message which was the source of his own highest joy, and which he would make a joy for them likewise. That God is called theirs, even as He is Christ’s, is an earnest that Jesus has made them His brethren indeed. To the doctrine of their election according to the foreknowledge of the Father he now adds the further grace which couples the Fatherhood of God with the brotherhood of Christ.

That these gifts are purely of God’s grace he also implies: "He begat us again." Just as in natural birth the child is utterly of the will of the parents, so is it in the spiritual new birth. "According to God’s great mercy" we are born again and made heirs of all the consequent blessings. This passage from death unto life is rich, in the first place, in immediate comfort. Witness the rejoicing amidst his grief which St. Peter experienced when he could cry to the Master, "Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee." But the new life looks forever onward. It will be unbroken through eternity. Here we may taste the joy of our calling, may learn something of the Father’s love, of the Savior’s grace, of the Spirit’s help; but our best expectations center ever in the future. The Apostle terms these expectations a lively, or rather a living, hope. The Christian’s hope is living because Christ is alive again from the dead. It springs with ever-renewed life from that rent tomb. The grave is no longer a terminus. Life and hope endure beyond it. And more than this, there is a fresh principle of vitality infused into the soul of the newborn child of God. The Spirit, the Life-giver, has made His abode there; and death is swallowed up of victory.

In continuing his description of the living hope of the believer, the Apostle keeps in mind his simile of Fatherhood and sonship, and gives to the hope the further title of an inheritance. As sons of Adam, men are heirs from their birth, but only to the sad consequences of the primal transgression. Slaves they are, and not free men, as that other law in their members gives them daily proof. But in the resurrection of Jesus the agonized cry of St. Paul, "Who shall deliver me?," [Romans 7:24] has found its answer. Christians are begotten again, not to defeat and despair, but to a hope which is eternal, to an inheritance which will endure beyond the grave. And as in their spiritual growth they are ever aspiring to an ideal above and beyond them, in respect to the saintly inheritance they have a like experience. They begin to grasp it now in part, and have even here a precious earnest of the larger blessedness; they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise and marked as the redeemed of God’s own possession. [Ephesians 1:13-14] But that which shall be is rich with an exceeding wealth of glory; Christ keeps the good wine of His grace to the last. How beggared earthly speech appears when we essay by it to picture the glory that shall be revealed for us! The inheritance of the Christian’s hope demands for its description those unspeakable words which St. Paul heard in paradise, but could not utter. The tongues of men are constrained to fall back upon negatives. What it will be we cannot express. We only know some evils from which it will be free. It shall be incorruptible, like the God and Father [Romans 1:23] who bestows it. Eternal, it shall contain within it no seed of decay, nothing which can cause it to perish. Neither shall it be subject to injury from without. It shall be undefiled, for we are to share it with our elder Brother, our High-priest, [Hebrews 7:26] who is now made higher than the heavens. Earthly possessions are often sullied, now by the way they are attained, now by the way they are used. Neither spot nor blemish shall tarnish the beauty of the heavenly inheritance. It shall never fade away. It is amaranthine, like the crown of glory [1 Peter 5:4] which the chief Shepherd shall bestow at His appearing; it is as the unwithering flowers of paradise.

Nor are these the only things which make the heavenly to differ from the earthly inheritance. In this life, ere a son can succeed to heirship, the parent through whom it is derived must have passed away; while the many heirs to an earthly estate diminish, as their number increases, the shares of all the rest. From such conditions the Christian’s future is free. His Father is the Eternal God, his inheritance the inexhaustible bounty of heaven. Each and all who share therein will find an increase of joy as the number grows of those who claim this eternal Fatherhood, and with it a place in the Father’s home.

St. Peter adds another feature which gives further assurance to the believer’s hope. The inheritance is reserved. Concerning it there can be no thought of dwindling or decay. It is where neither rust nor moth can corrupt, and where not even the arch-thief Satan himself can break through to steal. There needs no preservation of the incorruptible and undefiled, but it is especially kept for those for whom it is prepared. He who has gone before to make it ready said, "I go to prepare it for you." The Apostle has made choice of his preposition advisedly. He says, εις υμας-on your behalf; for your own possession. The inheritance is where Christ has gone before us, in heaven, of which we can best think, as Himself hath taught us, as the place "where He was before," [John 6:62] the Father’s house, in which are many mansions. There it is in store, till we are made ready for it.

For the present life is only a preparation-time. Ere we are ready to depart we must pass through a probation. God suffers His beloved ones to be chastened, but He sends with the trial the means of rescue. They are guarded. The word which St. Peter here uses is one applicable to a military guard, such as would be needed in the country of an enemy. God sees what we stand in need of. For we are still in the territory of the prince of this world. But mark the abundant protection: "by the power of God through faith." The Apostle’s language sets our guardianship forth under a double aspect. The Christian is in ( εν) the power of God. Here is the strength of our wardship. Under such care the believer is enabled to walk amid the trials of the world unscathed. Yet the Divine shield around him is not made effective unless he do his part also. Through faith the shelter becomes impregnable. The Christian goes forward with full assurance, his eyes fixed on the goal of duty which his Master has set before him, and, heedless of assailants, perseveres in the struggles which beset him. Then, even in the fiercest fires of trial, he beholds by his side the Son of God, and hears the voice, "It is I be not afraid."

Thus to the faithful warfarer the victory is sure. And to this certainty St. Peter points as he continues, and calls the heavenly inheritance a salvation. This will be the consummation. "Sursum corda" is the believer’s constant watchword. The completed bliss will not be attained here. But when the veil is lifted which separates this life from the next, it is ready to be manifested and to ravish the sight with its glory. The sense of this salvation ready to be revealed nerves the heart for every conflict. By faith weakness grows mighty. Thus comes to pass the paradox of the Christian life, which none but the faithful can comprehend: "When I am weak, then I am strong"; "I can do all things through Christ, that giveth me power."

Hence comes the wondrous spectacle, which St. Peter was contemplating, and which amazed the heathen world, exceeding joy in the midst of sufferings. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice," he says. Some have thought him to be referring to a mental realization of the last time, about which he has just spoken-a realization so vivid to the faith of these converts that they could exult in the prospect as though it had already arrived. And this exposition is countenanced in some degree by words which follow (1 Peter 1:9), where he describes them as now receiving the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.

But it seems less forced to consider the Apostle as speaking with some knowledge of the circumstances of these Asian Christians, a knowledge of the trials they had to undergo, and how hope was animating them to look onwards towards their inheritance, which was but a little while in reversion, towards the salvation which was so soon to be revealed. Full of this hope, he says, ye greatly rejoice, though ye have had many things to suffer. Then he proceeds to dwell on some of the grounds for their consolation. Their trials, they knew, were but for a little while, not a moment longer than the need should be. Their sorrow would have an end; their joy would last for evermore.

The form of St. Peter’s words, it is true, seems to imply that there must always be the need for our chastening. And what else can the children of Adam expect? But it is He, the Father in heaven, who fixes both the nature and the duration of His children’s discipline. Some men have felt within themselves the need of chastisement so keenly that they have devised systems for themselves whereby they should mortify the flesh, and prepare themselves for the last time. But of self-appointed chastenings the Apostle does not speak. Of such the converts to whom he writes had no need. They "had been put to grief in manifold temptations."

We can gather from the Epistle itself some notion of the troublous life these scattered Christians had amid the crowd of their heathen neighbors. They were regarded with contempt for refusing to mingle in the excesses which were so marked a feature of heathen life and heathen worship. They were railed upon as evil-doers. They suffered innocently, were constantly assailed with threatenings, and passed their time oft in such terror that St. Peter describes their life as a fiery trial.

Yet in the word ( ποικιλος) which he here employs to picture the varied character of their sufferings we seem to have another hint that these did not fall out without the permission and watchful control of God Himself. It is a word which, while it tells of a countless variety, tells at the same time of fitness and order therein. The trials are meted out fitly, as men need and can profit by them. The Master’s eye and hand are at work through them all; and the faithful God keeps always ready a way of deliverance. In this wise does St. Peter proclaim that the putting to grief may be made unto us a dispensation of mercy. Himself had been so put to grief by the thrice repeated question, "Lovest thou Me?". [John 21:17] But a way was opened thereby for repentance of his triple denial, and that he might thrice over be entrusted with the feeding of Christ’s flock. Such was the putting to grief of the Corinthian Church [2 Corinthians 7:9] by St. Paul’s first letter, for it wrought in them repentance, so that they sorrowed after a godly sort. And such sorrow can exist side by side with-yea, be the source of-exceeding joy. The Apostle of the Gentiles is a witness when he says that he and his fellow-laborers are "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." [2 Corinthians 6:10] The Christian does not allow troubles to overwhelm him. The very comparison which St. Peter here institutes, speaking though it does of a furnace of trial, bears within it somewhat of consolation. Gold that is proved by the fire loses all the dross which clung about it and was mingled with it before the refining. It comes forth in all its purity, all its worth; and so shall it be with the believer after his probation. The things of earth will lose their value in his eyes; they will fall away from him, neither will he load himself with the thick clay of the world’s honors or wealth. The ties of such things have been sundered by his trials, and his heart is free to rise above the anxieties of time. And better even than the most refined gold, which, be it never so excellent, will yet be worn away, the faith of the believer comes forth stronger for all trial, and he shall hear at the last the welcome of the Master, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," the joy which He bestows, the joy which He shares with those that follow Him.

This is the revelation of Jesus Christ of which St. Peter speaks. This is the praise which through His atonement His servants shall find, and shall become sharers of the glory and honor which the Father has bestowed upon Him. To Christ then turns every affection. "Whom not having seen ye love." This is the test since Christ’s ascension, and has the promise of special blessing. To His doubting Apostle Christ vouchsafed the evidence he desired, for our teaching as well as for his; but He added therewith, "Blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed." And their joy is such as no tongue can tell. Not for that are they silent in their rejoicing; their hearts overflow, and their voices go forth in constant songs of praise. But ever there remains with them the sense, "The half has not been told."

For faith anticipates the bliss which God hath prepared for them that love Him, and enters into the unseen. The Holy Spirit within the soul is ever making fuller revelation of the deep things of God. The believer’s knowledge is ever increasing; the eye-salve of faith clears his spiritual vision. The thanksgivings of yesterday are poor when considered in the illumination of today. His joy also is glorified. As his aspirations soar heavenward, the glory from on high comes forth, as it were, to meet him. By gazing in faith on the coming Lord, the Christian progresses, through the power of the Spirit, from glory to glory; and the ever-growing radiance is a part of that grace which no words can tell. But so true, so real, is the sense of Christ’s presence that the Apostle describes it as full fruition. Believers "receive even now the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls." So assured does He make them of all which they have hoped for that they behold already the termination of their journey, the close of all trial, and are filled with the bliss which shall be fully theirs when Christ shall come to call His approved servants to their inheritance of salvation.


Verses 10-12

Chapter 3

THE UNITY AND GLORIOUSNESS OF THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION

1 Peter 1:10-12

THE message of the Gospel unlocks the treasures of Old Testament revelation. Evangelists and Apostles are the exponents of the prophets. The continuity of Divine revelation has never been broken. The Spirit which spake through Joel of the Pentecostal outpouring had spoken to men in the earlier days, to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David, and was now shed forth upon the first preachers of the Gospel, and bestowed abundantly for the work of the newly founded Church of Christ. St. Peter, himself a chief recipient of the gift, here proclaims the oneness of the whole of revelation; and more than this, he bears witness to the oneness of the teaching of the whole body of Christian missionaries. St. Paul and his fellow-laborers had spread the glad tidings first of all among these Asian converts; but there is no thought in St. Peter’s mind of a different gospel from his own. Those who preached the Gospel to them in the first instance were, even as himself, working in and by the same Holy Spirit.

In the preceding verses of the chapter the thoughts of the Apostle have been dwelling on the future, on the time when the hope of the believer shall attain its fruition, and faith shall be lost in sight. He now turns his glance backward to notice how the promise of salvation has been the subject of revelation through all time. To those among the converts who had studied the Jewish Scriptures such a retrospect would be fruitful in instruction. They would comprehend with him how the truths which they now heard preached had been gradually shadowed forth in the Divine economy. That first proclamation of the seed of the woman to be born for the overthrow of the tempter, but who yet must Himself be a Sufferer in the conflict, was now become luminous, and in outline presented the whole scheme of redemption. The study of the development of that scheme would beget a full trust in their hearts for the future as they contemplated the stages of its foreshadowing in the past.

"Concerning which salvation," he says, "the prophets sought and searched diligently." The Divine revelation could only be made as men were able to bear it, and the sentences of old must needs be dark. At first God’s love was set forth by His covenants with the patriarchs. Then the wider scope of mercy was proclaimed in the promises given to Abraham and repeated to his posterity. In their seed, it was declared, not the chosen race alone, but all the nations of the earth, should be blessed. Here all through the history was ground enough for diligent searching among the faithful. How could these things be, Abraham solitary and aged, Isaac’s sons at feud with each other, Jacob and his posterity in captivity? Even at their best estate these seemed little fitted for the destiny which had been foretold to them. But throughout the Mosaic history some clung to their faith, and their great leader foresaw that the promise would be fulfilled in its time through One of whom he was but a feeble representative. But to so wide a vision only a few attained.

In the evil days which followed, the hope of the people must often have dwindled down; but yet at times, as to Gideon’s diminished army, it was made manifest that the Lord could do great things for His people: and the thought of the seed of the woman promised as a Deliverer lingered in many hearts, and enabled them to sing in thankfulness how the adversaries of the Lord should be broken in pieces, how out of heaven the Lord should thunder upon them, and prove Himself the Judge of all the ends of the earth, giving strength unto His king and exalting the horn of His anointed. In such wise the prophetic teaching, which had advanced from the blessing of an individual to the choice and exaltation of a chosen family, was expanded in the noblest spirits to the conception of a kingdom of God among all mankind, and assumed a more definite form when the promise was made to the Son of David that His throne should be established forever.

But how imperfectly God’s design was comprehended by the best among them we can see from the last words of David himself. [2 Samuel 23:1-7] In them we have an instance of the searching which must have occupied other hearts beside that of the king of Israel. The Spirit of the Lord had spoken by him, and a promise of future glory had been made, when all should be brightness, every cloud dispersed. But the vision tarried. The house of David was not so with God. Yet he still held firmly to the everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, a covenant of salvation, though as yet God made it not to grow. David may be numbered among those "who prophesied of the grace that should come" hereafter; and his words are shaped by a power above his own, to suggest the advent "of Him who was to be the dayspring from on high."

He and the other enlightened Israelites who have left us their thoughts and aspirations in the Psalter felt that the history of the chosen people was from first to last a grand parable, [Psalms 78:2] and that the present could always be learning from the leading and discipline of the past. The miracles and the chastisements which they recite were all tokens of the sure promise, tokens that the people were not forgotten, but constantly aided by instruction, warning, and reproof. So that another psalmist, though still searching for the fuller meaning of the parables and dark sayings through which he was conducted, could sing, "God shall redeem my soul from the hand of the grave, for He shall take me". [Psalms 49:15] There is a confidence in the words, a confidence enough to sustain amid many trials. To such a man the present was not all. There was a life to come where God should be and rule, and his heart had not seldom gone forth to the questioning at what time and in what form the promises should be fulfilled. Like Abraham, such men had seen the day of Christ in vision and rejoiced over it, and the "Spirit of Christ was within them" to sustain them. But the things which they had heard and known, and of which their fathers had told them, supplied cause for deep searchings as "to the time and the manner of time unto which the Spirit pointed." The strength of the Lord and His wondrous works were to be rehearsed to the coming generations, that among them the hope might live, by them the searching be continued. And as time went on the vision was widened, for in no small number of the Psalms we find the promised blessedness described as the portion not of Israel only, but through Israel grace was to be extended to the ends of the earth. "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands," is no solitary invocation.

And when we turn to those prophets whose writings we possess, we recognize that in them the Spirit of Christ was working and pointing forward to the coming redemption. But long before the days of Isaiah and Micah the Spirit of the Lord had come mightily upon His servants, and that picture of a glorious future which both those seers have given to us was not improbably the utterance of some earlier servant of the Lord: "It shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it". [Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1] Thus far had they attained, but the search was not ended. "The last days!" When these should come was known to God alone; and they spake only as they were moved by Him, standing on their towers of spiritual elevation, hearkening, what the Lord would say to them, and delivering His message with all the fullness they could command. But they were sure of the final bliss.

Of the same character are those words of Joel, which St. Peter quoted in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, "It shall come to pass afterward." [Acts 2:17-21] Beyond this was not yet revealed. But it was the voice of God which spake through the prophet: "In those days I will pour out My Spirit." And the Divine voice spake of visitations of another kind. It "testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them." We feel sure that here St. Peter had in mind Isaiah 53:1-12, which the New Testament has taught us to apply in its fullest sense to our blessed Lord. But the language of St. Peter in this clause deserves special notice. He does not use the ordinary words by which the personal sufferings of Christ would generally be expressed, but he says rather, "the sufferings which pertain unto Christ." And here we may well consider whether the variation of phrase be not designed. St. Paul uses the simple direct expression, [2 Corinthians 1:5] and so does St. Peter himself; [1 Peter 4:13] and in those passages the Apostles are speaking of the sufferings of Christ as shared by His people. It would almost seem as if St. Peter’s phrase in the verse before us were intended to convey this sense more fully. The sufferings pertain unto Christ, were specially borne by Him; but they fall also upon those who are, and have been, His people, both before and after the Incarnation.

Those prophecies of Isaiah which speak of the sufferings of the servant of the Lord had long been expounded as meant of the Jewish nation, and with such interpretation St. Peter was doubtless familiar. Hence may have come his altered phrase, capable of being interpreted, not only of Christ Himself, but of the sufferings of those who, like these Asiatic converts, were for the Lord’s sake exposed to manifold trials. This double application of the words, to Christ and to His servants also, explains, it may be, the unique use of the word "glories" in the clause which follows: the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them. For the glories may be taken to signify not only that honor and glory which the Father has given unto Christ, but also the glory in which they shall share who have taken up their cross to follow Him. Nowhere else in the New Testament does this plural word occur. To draw a sense like this from. it would minister no small comfort to the Christians in their trials; and just before St. Peter has described the joy which they should experience as "glorified," or "full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). In like manner St. Paul speaks [Romans 8:18] of the sufferings of this present time as not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us in the resurrection.

It would also serve as consolation to the sufferers, who were thus pointed on to the future for Christ’s best gifts, to know that a similar forward glance had been the lot of the prophets under the ancient dispensation. One here and there had felt, as Malachi, [Malachi 3:1] that the Lord whom they were seeking was soon to come; but we know of none before the aged Simeon to whom it had been made known that they should not die till they had seen the Lord’s Christ. To the former generations "it was revealed," says the Apostle, "that not unto themselves, but unto you, did they minister these things." They beheld them, and greeted them, but it was afar off. They spake often one to another of a bliss that was to come; yet though praying, longing, and hoping for it, they saw it only with the eye of faith. The psalmists supply many illustrations of this forward projection of the thoughts which dwelt on the Messianic hope. Thus in Psalms 22:30-31, while rejoicing over his own rescue from suffering, the speaker recognizes that this is but a foreshadowing of another suffering and another deliverance, even the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow. "It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come; they shall declare His righteousness to a people that shall be born, that He hath done it," and again in another place, "This shall be written for the generation to come, and a people which shall be created shall praise the Lord". [Psalms 102:18] And these anticipations are ever coupled with the thought of the wider extension of the kingdom, of God, with the time when "all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord," "when the nations shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth His glory."

But the things which prophets and psalmists ministered "have now been announced unto you through them that preached the Gospel unto you." You, St. Peter would say, are now not heirs expectant, but possessors of the blessings which former ages of believers foresaw and foretold, just as in his pentecostal address he testifies, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." And those who have preached these glad tidings unto you, he continues, have not done so without warrant. They are joined by an unbroken link to the prophets who went before them. In those the Spirit of Christ wrought at such times as He found fit instruments for raising a little the veil that lay over the purposes of God. The preachers of the Gospel have the same Spirit, and speak unto you "by the Holy Ghost sent forth from heaven." These (and of St. Peter is this specially true) had witnessed the sufferings of Christ, and been made partakers of the glories of the outpoured Spirit. The promise of the Father had been fulfilled to them, and they had received a mouth and wisdom which their adversaries were not able to resist. The risen Lord, the assurance of a life to come, the guidance by the Spirit into all truth-these were now realities for them, and were to be made real for the rest of the world by their testimony.

And that he may further magnify that salvation which he has been describing as published in part under the Law and now assured by the message of the Gospel, he adds, "which things angels desire to look into." Of the whole Divine plan for man’s redemption the angels could hardly be cognizant. Of God’s love for man they had been made conscious, had been employed as His agents in the exhibition of that love, both under the old and under the new covenant. Their ministry, we know, was exercised in the lives of Abraham and Lot; they watched over Jacob and over Elijah in their solitude and weariness. One of their host was sent to deliver Daniel and to instruct the prophet Zechariah. At a later day they, who stand above mankind in the order of creation, and are pure enough to behold the presence of the Most High, were made messengers to announce how the Son of God had deigned to assume, not their nature, but the nature of humanity, and would by His suffering lift up the race from its slavery to sin. They proclaimed the birth of the Baptist, and brought the message of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin. They heralded the birth of Christ to the shepherds of Bethlehem, and a multitude of their glorious company sang the song of glory to God in the highest. They tended the God-Man at His temptation, strengthened Him in His agony, were present at His sepulcher, and gave the news of the Resurrection to the early visitants. Nor were their services at an end with Christ’s ascension, though they were present on that occasion also.

To Cornelius and to Peter angels were made messengers, and our Lord has told us that their rejoicing is great over even one sinner that repenteth.

These immortal spirits whose home is before God’s throne, and whose great office is to sing His praise, yet find in those ministrations to mankind in which they have been employed matter for admiration, matter which kindles in them fervent desire. They long to comprehend in all its fullness that grace which they are conscious God is shedding forth upon mankind. They would scan all the workings of His love and His forbearance towards sinners. These things are to them a subject of admiration, even as was the empty tomb of Jesus to the disciples after the Resurrection; and from their high estate the angelic host would fain stoop down to gaze their fill upon what God’s goodness has wrought and is working out for mankind. They feel that this knowledge would add a new theme to the songs around the throne, would give them still greater cause to extol that grace which manifests its noblest features in showing mercy and pity. And if such be the aspiration of angels, sinless beings who feel not the need of rescue, shall the tongues of men be dumb, men who know, each from the experience of his own heart, how great is the evil of sin in which they are entangled, how hopeless without Christ’s death was their deliverance from its thraldom; who know how constant and how undeserved is the mercy of which they are partakers, how true to Himself God has been in their case? "I am Jehovah; I change not: therefore ye children of men are not destroyed."


Verses 13-21

Chapter 4

THE CHRISTIAN’S IDEAL, AND THE STEPS THEREUNTO

1 Peter 1:13-21

THE Apostle, who has set forth the character of the Christian’s election, who has given to the converts large assurance for the hope which he exhorts them to hold, who has proclaimed the exceeding glory of their inheritance in the future and how its nature had been foreshadowed in type and prophecy, now turns to those practical lessons which he would enforce from the doctrines of election and of future glory in heaven. Such glorious privileges cannot be looked forward to without awakening a sense of corresponding duties, and for these he would not have them unprepared. "Wherefore," he says, because you have the assurance of what the best men of old only dimly foresaw, "girding up the loins of your mind, be sober." The Apostle has in mind the words of his Master, "Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord". [Luke 12:35-36] The advent of the bridegroom may be sudden; those who would be of his train must be prepared for their summons. To be girt in body is a token of readiness for coming duty. And St. Peter’s figure would speak more forcibly to Eastern ears than it does to ours. Without such girding the Oriental is helpless for active work, the encumbrance of his flowing robes being fatal to exertion. The heart of the Christian must be untrammeled with the cares, the affections, the pleasures of the world. He must be free to run the race which lies before him, as was the well-girt prophet who ran before the royal chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.

And the Christian life is no light care, as St. Peter pictures it. First, he says, "Be sober." To train the mind to exercise self-restraint is no easy duty at any time, but specially in a season of religious excitement. We know how converts in the very earliest days of Christianity were carried into excesses both in action and in word; and in every age of quickened activity some have been found with whom freedom degenerated into license, and emotion took the place of true religious feeling. The Jewish converts in the provinces of Asia might be tempted to despise those who still clung to the ancient faith, while some of those who had been won from heathenism might by their conduct alienate rather than win their brethren in Christ. We gather what was the nature of the peril when we find the Apostle [1 Peter 4:7] urging this sobriety as a frame of mind to be cultivated even in their prayers, and St. Paul in his advice to Timothy combining the exhortation to sobriety with "suffer hardship; do the work of an evangelist." [2 Timothy 4:5] It is the frame of mind meet for the maintenance of sound doctrine, utterly opposed to those itching ears which are only satisfied with teaching according to their own lusts. Fitly therefore does our Apostle add to his first exhortation a second which will make the believers steadfast: "Set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you." In those early days this counsel was not always easy to follow. There were many enticements to wavering, many trials which made the firm hold on strong faith difficult to maintain. And with the "perfectly" must be combined that other sense of the word "to the end." The hope must be perfect in its nature, unshaken in its firmness, persuaded of the certainty of the future grace, and strengthened in that persuasion by the experience of the present working of the Spirit. But the language of the Apostle almost anticipates the future. He says not so much that the grace is "to be brought," but rather that it is even now "being brought" near and coming ever nearer; for the revelation of Jesus Christ is progressive. Though we learn something, it is only so much as teaches us that there is more still to learn of the boundless stores of grace. But as in a former verse he spake of believers as having already by faith their salvation in possession, even such is his language here. And mark his lesson on the free gift of God’s grace. It is not a blessing to which the believer can attain of his own power. He can hope for it; he can feel assured that God in His own time will bestow it. But whenever it comes, either as present grace to help in trial, or future grace which shall be revealed, it is given, brought, bestowed; and its full fruition will only be reached "at the revelation of Jesus Christ." But assuredly these words may be applied to this life as well as to the next. He who said, "The Holy Spirit shall take of Mine and declare it unto you," designs to be ever more and more revealed in the hearts of His followers. His grace is being brought to them day by day, and trains continually unto obedience those who have been sprinkled with His blood.

And this obedience is the next precept for which they are to be made ready by the girding up of the loins of their minds, "as children of obedience," the obedience not of slaves, but of sons. Children they are become by virtue of the new birth, and obedience it is which gives them a claim upon God’s Fatherhood. They must seek for the docility and trustfulness of the childlike character; they must accept a law other than their own wills, having taken upon them the yoke of Christ and aiming, in the light of His example, to become worthy of being reckoned among His true followers.

When they contemplate their own lives, they must feel that a mighty change is needed from what they were aforetime. St. Peter’s words mark the completeness of the needed change: "not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts." In time past they had sought no further for a guide and pattern than their own perverted desires; now they must school themselves to say, "Do with me as Thou wilt, for I am Thine." And He whose grace has begotten them again will help them to frame their lives by His rule, will have them learn of Him. But while the Apostle dwells on the difference which must come over the lives of these converts, mark the wondrous charity with which he alludes to their former life in error. "In the time of your ignorance," he says. Even here he follows the example of the Lord, who prayed in His agony, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Sin blinds the moral and the mental vision too, and men so blinded sink deeper and deeper into the slough, while he who has learnt Christ has gained another source of light. But, to raise the ignorant, they must be taught; and tenderness makes teaching most effective, and charity dictates the apostolic words. So St. Paul at Athens to those who worshipped an unknown God offered instruction to win them from their ignorance, and pointed them to a God whose offspring they were, and to whose likeness they might be conformed.

Just so does St. Peter: "Like as He who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living." This has been God’s call from the first day until now, but what a hopeless height is this for the sinner to aim after, holy as God is holy! Yet it is the standard which Christ sets before us in the Sermon on the Mount: "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." And why does He propose to us that which is impossible? Because with the command He is ready to supply the power. He knows our frailty; knows what is in man both of strength and weakness. At the same time He proclaims to us by this command what God intends to make of us. He will restore us again to His own likeness. That which was God’s at first shall be made God’s once more. The marred image, on which not even the superscription can be traced, shall again be revealed in full clearness, and the believer purged from all the defilements of sin by the grace and help of Him who says, "Be ye perfect," because He loves to make us so. "Because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy." This command comes down to us from the earliest days of the Law. But in those old times it could not be said, "in all manner of living." These words betoken the loftier standard of the New Testament. The patriarchs and prophets and the people among whom they lived were trained, and could only be trained, little by little. Even in the best among them we cannot hope for holiness in all manner of living. It was only by the types and figures of external purification that their thoughts were directed to the inner cleansing of the heart, and long generations passed before the lessons were learnt, The full sense of the Fatherhood of God was not attained under the Law, nor did men under it learn fully to live as children of obedience, children of a Father who loves and will succor every effort which they make to walk according to His law. The Incarnation has brought God nearer to man, and on this relationship of love the Apostle grounds his further exhortation:

"And if ye call on Him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to each man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear."

But the fear which St. Peter means is a fear which grows out of love, a fear to grieve One who is so abundant in mercy. Who can call on God as Father but the children of obedience? About the Father’s will and His power to make you holy there need be no fear. He has called men and bidden them strive after holiness. The way is steep, but they will not be unattended. What fear then of failing to attain the goal? For the Father will also be the Judge. And here is the ground for eternal hope and thankfulness, which the Apostle expresses in words akin to those which he used in the house of Cornelius: "Now I see that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him." Yes, this is the fear which God looks for, not a paralyzing dread which checks all effort and kills out all hope. Our Judge knows that our work will be full of faults, but fear of Him must nerve us to make the endeavor. It is not what men do, the feeble sum of their performance that He regards. The way, the spirit, the motive, from which it is wrought- these will be the ground of our Father’s judgment. Hence the Gospel is a message for all the world alike. The poor and lowly, to whom no great deeds are possible, may through it live a life of hope. It is not great gifts poured into the treasury from an abundant store that have value in His eyes, but the gifts which come with a heart’s sacrifice-these are precious indications, and receive the blessing, "They have done what they could." And God’s children are to look on their life as no more than a brief pilgrimage. It is a time of sojourning, in which the small occurrences are of little account. Earth is to the Christian, what Egypt wag of old to the Hebrews, no home, but a place of trial and oppression of the enemy. God will bring His children forth, even as He did of old. But the dread to be most entertained is lest the many attractions should, like the fleshpots of the history, win the affection of the pilgrims, and make them not unwilling to linger in the house of bondage and to think lightly of peril which surrounds them there. The great preservative from this danger is to revive constantly the thought of the great things which have been done for us. Be in fear of the world and its beguilements, says St. Peter, "knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers." The redemption price is paid, has been paid for all men. Shall any then be willing to tarry in their slavery? Ye were redeemed. The work is complete. "It is finished," was the last sigh of the dying Lord, who before had testified that His true disciples might be of good cheer, because He had overcome the world.

But in the hearts of men the world and its allurements die very hard. The men for whom St. Peter wrote would surely find this so. They had many of them lived long either under Judaism or in heathendom, and would be surrounded still by friends and kinsmen who clung to the ancient teaching and customs. Prejudices were sure to abound, and the ties of blood in such cases are very strong, as we know ourselves from mission experience in India. The Apostle speaks of their manner of life as handed down from their fathers. He may have had in his thought the corruption of the human race from the sin of our first parents. Generation after generation has been involved in the consequences of that primal transgression. But he probably thought rather of the converts from idolatry and the life which they had led in their days of ignorance. Of God’s covenant with the chosen people, though now it was abolished, St. Peter would hardly speak as a vain manner of life. But to the worship of the heathen the word might fitly be applied. Paul and Barnabas entreat the crowd at Lystra, who would have done sacrifice to them. as to their gods, to turn from these vanities to serve the living God; [Acts 14:15] and to the Ephesians St. Paul writes that they should no longer walk, as the other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind. [Ephesians 4:17] The parents of such men, having themselves no knowledge, could impart none to their children, could not lift them higher, could not make them purer; and yet the ties of natural affection would plead strongly for what had been held right by their fathers for generations.

But the price which has been paid for their ransom may convince them how precious they are in the eyes of a Father in heaven. They are redeemed "with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot," even the blood of Christ. For ages the offering of sacrifices had kept before the minds of Israel the need of a redemption, but they could do no more. The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer suffice only to the purifying of the flesh, and can never take away sin. But now the true fountain is opened, and St. Peter has learnt, and bears witness, what was the meaning of the words of Jesus, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me". [John 13:8] The door of mercy is opened, that by the knowledge of such wondrous love the hearts of men may be opened also.

And this counsel of God has been from all eternity. Christ "was foreknown before the foundation of the world" as the Lamb to be offered for human redemption. The world and its history form but a tiny fragment of God’s mighty works, and yet for mankind a plan so overflowing with love was included in the vision of Jehovah before man or his home had existence except in the Divine mind. Now by the Incarnation the secret counsel is brought to light, and the foretokenings of type and prophecy receive their interpretation. "He was manifested at the end of the times for your sake." He was made flesh, and tabernacled among men; He showed by the signs which He wrought that He was the Savior drawing near to them that they might draw near unto Him. His lifting up on the cross spake of the true healing of the souls of all who would look unto Him. And when death had done its work upon the human body, He was manifested more thoroughly as the beloved Son of God by His resurrection from the grave. The first Christians felt that God’s work was now complete, salvation secured. It is not unnatural therefore that they should expect the drama of the world’s history soon to be closed. For the Master had not seldom spoken of the coming of a speedy judgment. Hence the age in which they lived seemed to merit the name of "the end of the times." We now can see that the judgment of which Christ spake was wrought in great part by the overthrow of Jerusalem, though His words are still prospective, and will not find their entire fulfillment till the close of human history; and the whole Christian era may be intended and included in "the end of the times." This was the goal towards which God’s counsel had been moving since the world was made. No new revelation is to be looked for, and we who live in the light of Christ’s religion are those upon whom the ends of the world are come. In this sense the words may be applied in every age and to every generation of Christians. To them, as to St. Peter’s converts, the preacher may testify, "For your sakes" all this was planned and wrought, and may offer the ransom of the Savior to His people, assured that in this speck of time Christ is being manifested for their sake also. For "they through Him are believers in God," as the Lord Himself hath testified. "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me"; "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." The words are as true today as when Christ was upon earth. Since the Fall the glory and majesty of Jehovah have been unapproachable. Sin rendered man both unfit and unable to have the pure communion of the days of innocence. It was the vision of Jesus by faith which brought Abraham near to God and filled him with joy. And so with all the saints and prophets of the first covenant. They beheld Him, but it was afar off. They greeted the maturing promises, but only as strangers and pilgrims upon earth. To the Asian converts and to us also the testimony of St. Peter and his fellows is from those who beheld the glory of God as it was manifested in Christ, who saw Him when raised from the dead, and watched His ascent into the glory of heaven. And by such witness faith in what God has wrought is confirmed. We are sure that He raised Christ from the dead; we are sure that He has received Him into glory: and thus through all generations the faith and hope of Christians are sustained and rest unshaken upon God.


Verses 22-25

Chapter 5

CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD: ITS CHARACTER AND DUTIES

1 Peter 1:22-25; 1 Peter 2:1-3

THAT holy lives have been lived in solitude none would venture to dispute, and that devout Christians have found strength for themselves and given examples to the world by withdrawal from the society of their fellows is attested more than once in the history of Christendom. But with lives of such isolation and seclusion the New Testament exhibits little sympathy. To whatever preparation the Christian is exhorted, it is never with a view to himself. Though not of the world, he is to be in the world, that men may profit by his example. The prayer of the Lord for His disciples ere he left them was, not that they might be taken out of the world, but protected from its evils.

Christ’s intention was to found a Church, a communion, a brotherhood, and all His language looks that way: "One is your Master, and all ye are brethren"; "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven." And of like character is the teaching of the Epistles: "Be kindly affectioned in love of the brethren"; [Romans 12:10] "Let brotherly love continue". [Hebrews 13:1] We are in no way surprised therefore when St. Peter turns from his exhortations to personal sobriety, obedience, and holiness, and addresses the converts on the application of these virtues, that through them they may bind in closer bonds the brotherhood of Christ: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently." Obedience is the sole evidence by which the believer can show that God’s call has wrought in him effectually. His election is of the Father’s foreknowledge, his sanctification is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is the sprinkling of the blood of Christ which makes him fit for entry into the house of the Father. In the Christian, so called and so aided, there must be a surrender of himself to the guidance of that spirit which deigns to guide him. The law in his members must be mortified, and another and purer law accepted as the rule of his life. This law St. Peter calls "the truth because it has been made manifest in its perfection in the life of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Of this example St. Paul testifies as the truth which is in Jesus." He therefore who would cherish the Christian hope will purify himself even as Christ is pure. The way and means unto such purification is obedience.

This first and most needful step the Apostle believes, from his knowledge of their lives, that these Asian converts have taken in earnest, and thus have attained to a love of their brethren which differs utterly from the love which the world exhibits, which is true, sincere, unfeigned. But the believer’s life is a life of constant progress. Daily advance is the evidence of vitality. All the language which Scripture applies to it proclaims this to be its character. It is called a walk, a race, a pilgrimage, a warfare. The Christian all his life through will find himself so far from what Christ intends to make him that he must ever be pressing forward. Hence, though they have attained to a stage of purification, have put off in some degree the old man, the Apostle’s exhortation is "Press forward"; "Love one another from the heart fervently." The English word describes a warmth and earnestness of love which is deep-seated and true, but the original expresses more than this, more of the sustained effort to which St. Peter is urging them. It points to incessant striving, to a constancy like that of the prayers of the Church for the Apostle himself when he was in prison, a prayer made unto God without ceasing. So steadfast must be the Christian love; and such love the purified, undistracted heart alone can manifest, a heart which has been released from the entanglements of earthly ambitions and strivings, whose affections are fully set on the things above.

Such souls must be filled with the Spirit; a steadfastness like this comes only of the new birth. And of this the converts are reminded in the words which follow: "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God." It is true they are but at the outset of their Christian course: but if any man be in Christ, he is made a new creature. And in this connection the word of God might be taken in a twofold sense. First, the Word who was made flesh, in whom was light; and the light was the life of men. Through His resurrection God has begotten men again to a life which shall know no corruption. But the figure which the Apostle presently employs of the withering grass and the falling flower carries our mind rather to Christ’s explanation of His own parable. The seed is the word of God, which liveth and abideth. And throughout the New Testament the life-possessing and life-giving power of the Gospel is made everywhere conspicuous. When it was first proclaimed, we read again and again, "The word of God grew mightily and prevailed"; [Acts 12:24] and the figurative language used to describe its character shows how potent is its might. It is the sword of the Spirit; [Ephesians 6:16] "It is quick and powerful". [Hebrews 4:12] By it Christ foiled the tempter. It makes those strong in whom it abides. [1 John 2:14] It is free, and not bound. [2 Timothy 2:9] St. Paul calls it "the power of God unto salvation," [Romans 1:16] "the word of truth, the gospel of salvation" [Ephesians 1:13] and says, "It comes, not in word only, but in power". [1 Thessalonians 1:5] This is the incorruptible seed of which St Peter speaks. And his words force on our thoughts that for such a seed a fitting ground must be prepared, if the new life of which it is the source is to bear its due fruit. This preparation it is which the Apostle is anxious to enforce, the purifying and cleansing of the seed-plot of men’s hearts. They must not be hardened so as to forbid it access, and leave it for every chance enemy to trample on or carry away; they must not be choked with alien thoughts and purposes: the cares of life, the pleasures of the world. Such things perish in the using, and can have no affinity with the living and abiding word of God, which, even as He, is eternal and unchanging.

And herewith is bound up a very solemn thought. The word may be neglected, may be choked, in individual hearts; but still it liveth and abideth, and will appear to testify against the scorners: "He that rejecteth Me and receiveth not My words hath one that judgeth Him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of Myself". [John 12:48] But for those who accept the message of the word and live thereby St. Peter’s language is full of comfort, especially to those who are in like affliction with these Asian Christians. For them the acceptance of the faith of Jesus must have meant the rending asunder of earthly ties; the natural brotherhood would be theirs no longer. But they are enrolled in a new family-a family which cannot perish, whose seed is incorruptible, whose kinship shall stretch forward and be ever enlarging through all time and into eternity. For they, like the word by which they are begotten again, will live and abide for evermore.

And confirming this lesson by the prophecy of Isaiah, [Isaiah 40:6-8] the Apostle thus links together the ancient Scriptures and the New Testament. But in so doing he shows by his language how he regards the latter as more excellent and a mighty advance upon the former. The margin of the Revised Version helpfully indicates the difference of the words. In Isaiah the teaching is styled a saying. It was the word whereby God, through some intermediary, made known his will to the children of men. But under the Gospel the word is that living, spiritual power which is used as synonymous with the Lord Himself. The word of good tidings has now been spoken unto men by a Son, the very image of the Divine substance, the effulgence of God’s glory, and now possesses a might quick even to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. This is verily the living word of God. [Hebrews 4:12]

And we of today can see what ground there was for the Apostle’s faith and for his teaching, how true the prophetic word has been found in the events of history. "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: but the, word of the Lord abideth forever." When we cast our thoughts back to the time when St. Peter wrote, we see the converts who had accepted the word of God a mere handful of people amid the throngs of heathendom, the religion which they professed the scorn of all about them, to the Jews a stumbling-block, to the Greeks foolishness, and its preachers in the main a few poor, untrained, un-influential men, of no rank or conspicuous ability. On the other hand, worshipping crowds proclaimed the greatness of Diana of the Ephesians, and the power of the Roman Empire was at its height, or seemed so, with the whole of the civilized world owning its sway. And now that world’s wonder, the temple at Ephesus, is a pile of ruins, and over the Roman power such changes have passed that it has utterly faded out of existence; but the doctrines of the Galilean, who claimed to be the Incarnate Word of God, are daily extending their influence, proving their vitality to be Divine.

But though in his language he has seemed to mark the superiority of the Gospel message, the Apostle is deeply conscious that the office of the preacher has much, nay, its chief character, in common with that of the prophet. Hence he proceeds to call the Gospel message, now that it is left to the lips of Evangelists and Apostles to proclaim, a saying like that of Isaiah. In this way he links the New Testament to the Old, the prophet to the preacher. Both spake the same word of God; both were moved by the same spirit; both proclaimed the same deliverance, the one looking onward in hope to the coming Redeemer, the other proclaiming that the redemption had been accomplished. "This is the telling" (the saying) "of good tidings which was preached unto you." Here Peter seems to allude to a preaching earlier than his own, and to none can we attribute the evangelization of these parts of Asia with more probability than to St. Paul and his missionary colleagues. But there was no note of disagreement between these early ambassadors of Christ. They could all say of their work, "Whether it were I or they, so we preached, and so ye believed." Having spoken of the seed, the Apostle now turns to the seed plot which needs its special preparation. It must be cleared and broken up, or the seed, though scattered, will have small chance of roothold.

But here St. Peter recurs to his former metaphor. He has spoken [1 Peter 1:13] of the Christian’s equipment, how with girded loins he should prepare himself for the coming struggle. He now speaks of what he must lay aside. He has been purified, or made to long after purification, through his obedience to the truth, so that he can with earnest desire seek to make known his love to the brethren; and the word of God is powerful to overcome such dispositions as are destructive of brotherly love. Hence it is to no hopeless, unaided conflict that the Apostle urges his converts when he writes of their "putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings." It is a formidable list of evils, but St. Peter’s words treat them as forming no part of the true man. These are overgrowths, which can be stripped away, though the operation will many a time be painful enough; they have enveloped and enclosed the sinner, and cling close about him, but the sanctification of the Spirit can help him to be unclothed of them all. They are the forces which make for discord. The word of good tidings began with "peace on earth, good will towards men." Hence those who hearken to the message must put away everything contrary thereto. First in the Apostle’s enumeration stands a general term, wickedness, those which follow it being various forms of its development. We learn how utterly alien this wickedness is to the spirit of Christ when we notice the employment of the word to describe the sin of Simon: "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right before God". [Acts 8:22] Such a man had no comprehension of the source of the Apostolic powers; the sacred things of God were unknown to one who could treat such gifts as merchandise. And it is full of interest in the present connection to observe that what our English Version there renders "matter" is really, as the margin (R.V.) shows, "word." It was the word of God which was mighty in the first preachers, which was growing and prevailing as they testified unto Christ, and in this "word" a heart like Simon’s could have no share. He was no fit member of the fellowship of Christ. Guile was the sin of Jacob, a sin which brake the bond of brotherhood between him and Esau, and wrought so much misery in the whole of Jacob’s family history. Guile was not found in Nathanael. The searching eye of Jesus saw that the sin of the "supplanter" was not in him. Hence he is pointed out as an example of the true Israel, that which the race of Jacob was intended to become.

That hypocrisy is a foe to brotherhood our Lord makes evident as he reproaches the Pharisees for this sin. "I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, nor even as this publican," are words which could never rise to the lips of him whose heart was purified by the Spirit of God; and envy brings hatred in its train. It was by envy that Saul was incited to seek the death of David; it was from envy that Joseph’s brethren sold him into Egypt; through envy a greater than Joseph was sold to be crucified, [Matthew 27:18] and this sin led to war in heaven itself.

From evil-speaking these Asian converts themselves had to suffer, and would know by experience its mischievous effects. They were spoken against as evil-doers, as the Apostle notes twice over. [1 Peter 2:12] This evil adds cowardice to its other baneful qualities, for it takes advantage of the absence of him against whom it is directed, and is that vice which in 2 Corinthians 12:20 is described as backbiting, a rendering which the Revised Version leaves undisturbed, while those who indulge in it are called backbiters. [Romans 1:30] St. James has much to say in its dispraise: "Speak not one against another, brethren. He that speaketh against a brother or judgeth his brother speaketh against the law, and judgeth the law." [James 4:11] Such a one is intruding into the prerogative of God Himself, and passing sentence where he can have no sure knowledge of the acts which he judges. "Evil-speaking," says one of the Apostolic Fathers, "is a restless demon, never at peace. So speak no evil of any, nor take pleasure in listening thereto." By good works St. Peter instructs his converts to live down such cowardly slanders, that those who revile their good manner of life in Christ may be put to shame thereby. Purity will overcome iniquity, innocence gain the day against deceit.

But the transformation to which the Apostle exhorts them must be verily to become a new creation, and so he goes on to speak of their condition as one akin to that of newborn babes. These, by natural instincts, turn away from all that will hurt them, and seek only what can nourish and support. To such right inclinations, to such simplicity of desire, must the Christian be brought. He has been born again of the word of God. From this he is to seek his constant nurture, as instinctively as the babe turns to its mother’s breast. This is able to save the soul, [James 1:21] but it cannot be received unless the vices which war against it be put away, and a spirit of meekness take their place. They seek other and less pure food for their support.

Christians are to long for the spiritual milk which is without guile. This food for babes in Christ is the word, which is taken by the Spirit and offered a nurture for the soul. But there must be a longing for, a readiness to accept, what is offered. For the spiritual appeals to the reason of man, and though offered, is not forced on him. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. And the purification, the clearing off and putting away corrupt dispositions, about which the Apostle speaks so earnestly, applies an eye-salve to the inward vision which helps us to see things in their true light, and so to long for what is really profitable food without guile, which does not disappoint the hope of those that seek it. "That ye may grow thereby unto salvation." It is called the word of salvation. "To you," says St. Paul to the men of Antioch, [Acts 13:26] is the word of this salvation sent forth; and through it is proclaimed the remission of sins. The healthy condition of the life of the soul is evidenced by these two signs: longing for proper food and growth by partaking thereof. For there is no standing still in spiritual life, any more than in the natural life.

Where there is no growth, decay has already set in; if there be no waxing of the powers, they have already begun to wane. To the natural human growth there must needs come this waning; the body will decay: but the spiritual increase can continue, must continue, until the stature of the fullness of Christ be attained, till we come to be made like unto Him when we see Him as He is. Watch, then, strive and pray for growth, "if ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." The true food once found and appreciated, the joy of this support will be such that no other will ever be desired. Hence St. Peter adopts, or rather adapts, the words of the Psalmist [Psalms 34:9] who tells of the blessedness of trusting in the Lord. The angels of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him and setteth them free. This is the initial stage: the deliverance from the power of evil. Then come the desire and longing for the true strength. "O taste and see that the Lord is gracious; blessed is the man that findeth refuge in Him." The joy of such a refuge can come even to those who are suffering after the fashion of the Asian converts. But the Psalmist’s words are full of teaching. God’s training is empirical. Spiritual experience comes before spiritual knowledge. Well does St. Bernard say of this lesson, though his words pass the power of translation, "Unless you have tasted you will not see. The food is the hidden manna; it is the new name which no one knows but he who receives it. It is not external training, but the unction of the Spirit, which teaches; it is not knowledge (scientia) which grasps the truth, but the conscience (conscientia) which attests it."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Peter 1:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-peter-1.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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