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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Peter 4

 

 

Verses 1-6

Chapter 12

THE LESSONS OF SUFFERING

1 Peter 4:1-6

IT is always hard to swim against the stream; and if the effort be a moral one, the difficulty is not lessened. These early Christians were finding it so. For them there must have existed hardships of which today we can have no experience, and form but an imperfect estimate. If they lived among a Jewish population, these were sure to be offended at the new faith. And when we remember the zeal for persecution of a Saul of Tarsus, we can see that in many cases the better the Jew the more would he feel himself bound, if possible, to exterminate the new doctrines. Among the heathen the lot of the Christians was often worse. Did the people listen a while to the teaching of the missionaries, yet so unstable were they that, as at Lystra, today might see them stoning those whom yesterday they were venerating as gods; and they could easily, by reason of their greater numbers, bring the magistrates to inflict penalties even where the multitude refrained from mob violence. The cry, "These men exceedingly trouble our city," or "These who turn the world upside down are come among us," was sure to find a ready audience; while the uproar and violence which raged in a city like Ephesus, when Paul and his companions preached there, show how many temporal interests could be banded together against the Christian cause. On individual believers, not of the number of the preachers, the more violent attacks might not fall; but to suffer in the flesh was the lot of most of them in St. Peter’s day. Hence the strong figure he employs to describe the preparation they will need: "Arm ye yourselves" - make you ready, for you are going forth to battle. St. Paul also, writing to Rome and Corinth, uses the same figure: "Let us put on the armor of light," "the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left."

"Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind." Though some strokes of the foe will fall on the flesh, the conflict is really a spiritual one. The suffering in the body is to be sustained and surmounted by an inward power; the armor of light and of righteousness is the equipment of the soul, which panoply the Apostle here calls the mind of Christ. Now what is the mind of Christ which can avail His struggling servants? The word implies intention, purpose, resolution, that on which the heart is set. Now the intention of Christ’s life was to oppose and overcome all that was evil, and to consecrate Himself to all good for the love of His people. This latter He tells us in His parting prayer for His disciples: "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth," [John 17:19] while every action of His life proclaims His determined enmity against sin. This brought Him obloquy while He lived in the world, and in the end a shameful death; but these things did not abate His hatred of sin, nor lessen His love for sinners. For still into the city where He reigns there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth, [Revelation 21:27] though to the faithful penitent "the Spirit and the bride say, Come, and he that is athirst, let him come; he that will, let him take the water of life freely". [Revelation 22:17]

Christ bare willingly all that was laid upon Him that He might bring men unto God. This is the spirit, this the purpose, the intent, with which His followers are to be actuated: to have the same strenuous abhorrence of sin, the same devotion in themselves to goodness, which shall make them inflexible, however fiercely they may be assailed. Let them only make the resolve, and power shall be bestowed to strengthen them. He who says, "Arm yourselves," supplies the weapons when His servants need them. Jesus Himself found them ready when the tempter came, and drew them in all their keenness and strength from the Divine armory. Satan comes to others as he came to Christ, and will make them flinch and waver, if he can. At times he offers attractive baits; at times he brings fear to his aid. But, in whatever shape he comes or sends his agents, let them but cling to the mind of Christ, and they shall, like Him, say triumphantly, "Get thee behind me, Satan."

"For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." God intends it to be so, and the earnest Christian strives with all his might that it may be so. To help men God sends them sufferings, and intends them to have a moral effect on the life. They are not penal; they are the discipline of perfect love desiring that men should be held back from straying. Men cannot always see the purposes of God at first, and are prone to bewail their lot. But here and there a saint of old has left his testimony. One of the later psalmists had discovered the blessedness of God-sent trials: "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I observe Thy word"; and, in thankful acknowledgment of the love which sent the blows, he adds, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes". [Psalms 119:67; Psalms 119:71] Hezekiah had learnt the lesson, though it brought him close to the gates of the grave; but he testifies, "Behold, it was for my peace that I had great bitterness. Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back." [Isaiah 38:17] God had blotted out the evil record that he who had suffered in the flesh might cease from sin. It is good for us thus to recognize that God’s dispensations are for our correction and teaching, and that without them we should have been verily desolate, left to choose our own way, which would surely have been evil; and though we cannot cease from sin while we are in the flesh, God’s mercy places the ideal state before us-"He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin"- that we may be strengthened, nevermore to submit ourselves to the yoke of wickedness. How shall he that is dead to sin live any longer therein? Live therein he cannot. Of that old man within him he will have no resurrection, for though the motions, the promptings to evil, are there, the love of evil is slain by the greater love of Christ.

"That ye no longer should live the rest of your time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God." Christians must live out their lives till God calls them, and for the rest of their time in the flesh they will be among their wonted surroundings. Just as Christian slaves must abide with their masters, and Christian wives continue with their husbands, so each several believer must do his duty where God has placed him. But because he is a believer it will be done in a different spirit. He is daily cutting himself away from what the world counts for life; he has begun to live in the Spirit, and the natural man is weakened day by day; he knows that what is born of the flesh is flesh, and bears the taint of sin: so he refuses to follow where it would lead him. Men often plead for evil habits that they are natural, forgetting that "natural" thus used means human, corrupt nature. The birth of the Spirit transforms this nature, and the renewed man goes about his worldly life with a new motive, new purposes. He must follow his lawful calling like other folks, but the sense of his pilgrimage makes him to differ; he is longing to depart, and holds himself in constant readiness. Worldly men live as though they were rooted here and would never be moved. "Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names". [Psalms 49:11] To the servant of Christ life wears another aspect. He is content to live on, for God so wills it, and has work for him to do. To continue in the flesh may be, as it was to St. Paul, the fruit of his labor. And he welcomes this owning of his work, and will spend his powers in like service. Yet, with the Apostle, he has ever "the desire to depart and be with Christ, for it is very far better". [Philippians 1:23] And as he strives to fulfill God’s intent by crucifying the old man and ceasing from sin, the Christian rejoices in a growing sense of freedom. To follow the lusts of men was to serve many and hard taskmasters. Riches, fame, luxury, sensual indulgences, riotous living, are all keen to win new slaves, and paint their lures in the most attractive colors; and one appetite will make itself the ally of another, lust hard by greed, so that the chains of him who takes service with them are riveted many times over, and difficult, often impossible, to be cast off. But the will of God is one: "One is your Master"; "Love the Lord your God with all your heart"; "And all ye are brethren"; "Love your neighbor as yourself." Then shall you enter into life. And the life of this promise is not that fragment of time, which remains to men in the flesh, but that unending afterlife where the natural body shall be exchanged for a spiritual body, and death be swallowed up in victory.

"For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles." The Apostle here seems to be addressing the Jews who, living among the Gentiles, had, like their forefathers in Canaan, learned their works. The nation was not so prone to fall away into heathendom after the Captivity; yet some of them in the dispersion, like Samson when he went down unto the Philistines, may have been captured and blinded and made to serve. The proximity of evil is infectious. To the Gentile converts St. Peter speaks elsewhere as having been slaves to their lusts in ignorance. [1 Peter 1:14] But whether Jew or Gentile, when they had once tasted the joy of this purer service, this law of obedience which made them truly free, they would be strengthened to suffer in the flesh rather than fall back upon their former life. The time would seem enough, far more than enough, to have been thus defiled. All was God’s; all that remained must be given to Him with strenuous devotion.

St. Peter seems to place in contrast, as he describes the two ways of life, two words, one by which he denotes the service of God, by the other devotion to the world and its attractions. The former ( θελημα) implies a pleasure and joy; it is the will of God that which He delights in, and which He makes to be a joy to those who serve Him. The other ( βουλημα) has a sense of longing, unsatisfied want, a state which craves for something which it cannot attain. St. Paul describes it as "led away by divers lusts, ever learning" (but in an evil school), "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, corrupted in mind, reprobate". [2 Timothy 3:7] Such is the desire of the Gentiles. The Apostle describes it in his next words: "To have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries." How gross heathendom can be our missionaries from time to time reveal to us. All the corruptions, which they describe, were reigning in full power round about these converts. When men change the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of corruptible man or even worse, and worship and serve the creature, their own animal passions, rather than the Creator, there is no depth of degradation to which they may not sink. St. Paul has painted for us some dark pictures of what such lives could be. [Romans 1:24-32;, Colossians 3:5-8] But though Christianity in our own land has forced sin to veil some of its fouler aspects, vice has not changed its nature. The same passions rule in the hearts of those who live to the lusts of men, and not to the will of God. The flesh warreth against the Spirit, even if the Spirit be not utterly quenched, and brings men into its slavery. For the sake of Christ, then, and for love of the brethren, the faithful have need still to be proclaiming, "Let the time past suffice," and by their actions to testify that they are willing to suffer in the flesh, if so be they may thereby be sustained in the battle against sin and may strengthen their brethren to walk in a new way.

"Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you." The godless love to be a large company, that they may keep one another in heart. Hence they who have been of them, and would fain withdraw, have no easy task; and to win new comrades sinners are ever most solicitous. Their invitations at first will take a friendly tone. Solomon understood them well, and described them in warning to his son: "Come with us," they say: "let us lay wait for blood; let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them up alive as Sheol, and whole as those that go down into the pit. We shall find all precious substance; we shall fill our houses with spoil. Thou shalt cast thy lot among us; we will all have one purse". [Proverbs 1:11-14] This is one fashion of their excess of riot, but there are many more. The Apostle’s words picture their life as an overflow, a deluge. And the figure is not strange in Holy Writ. "The floods of ungodly men made me afraid," says the Psalmist; [Psalms 18:14] and St. Jude, writing about the same time as St. Peter and of the same evil days, calls such sinners "wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shames". [Jude 1:13] "Shames," he says, because the floods of excess pour on in overwhelming abundance, and those who escape from them do so only with much suffering in the flesh, sent of God, to set them free from sin.

And if there be no hope of winning recruits or alluring back those who have escaped, the godless follow another course. They hate, and persecute, and malign. Ever since the days of Cain this has been the policy of the wicked, though not all push it so far as did the first murderer. [1 John 3:12] For the life of the righteous is a constant reproach to them. They have made their own choice, but it yields them no comfort; and if one means of making others as wretched as themselves fails, they take another. They point the finger of hatred and scorn at the faithful. To the Greeks Christ’s faith was foolishness. The Athenians, full of this world’s wisdom, asked about Paul, "What will this babbler say?" and mocked as they heard of the resurrection of the dead. With them and such as they this life is all. But the Christian has his consolation: he has committed his cause to another Judge, before whom they also who speak evil of him must appear.

"Who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead." The Christian looks on to the coming judgment. He can therefore disregard the censures of men. Neither the penalties nor the revilings of the world trouble him. They are a part of the judgment in the present life; by them God is chastening him, preparing him by the suffering in the flesh to be more ready for the coming of the Lord. In that day it will be seen how the servant has been made like unto his Master, how he has welcomed the purging which Christ gives to His servants that they may bring forth more fruit. He believes, yea knows, that in the Judge who has been teaching and judging him here day by day he will find a Mediator and a Savior. With the unbeliever all is otherwise. He has refused correction, has chosen his own path, and drawn away his neck from the yoke of Christ; his judgment is all yet to come. The Judge is ready, but He is full of mercy. St. Peter’s phrase implies this. It tells of readiness, but also of holding back, of a desire to spare. He is on His throne, the record is prepared, but yet He waits; He is Himself the long-suffering Vinedresser who pleads, "Let it alone this year also."

Such has been the mercy of God even from the days of Eden. In the first temptation Eve adds one sin upon another. First she listens to the insidious questioning which proclaims the speaker a foe to God: then without remonstrance she hears God’s truth declared a lie; hearkens to an aspersion of the Divine goodness; then yields to the tempter, sins, and leads her husband into sin. Not till then does God’s judgment fall, which might have fallen at the first offence; and when it is pronounced, it is full of pity, and gives more space for repentance. So, though the Judge be ready, His mercy waits. For He will judge the dead as well as the living: and while men live His compassion goes forth in its fullness to the ignorant and them that are out of the way. "For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." "Unto this end" what does it signify? What but that God has ever been true to the name under which He first revealed Himself: "The Lord God, merciful and gracious"; [Exodus 34:6] that He has been preaching the Gospel to stoners by His dispensations from the first day until now? Thus was the Gospel preached unto Abraham [Galatians 3:8] when he was called from the home of his fathers, and pointed forward through a life of trial to a world-wide blessing. Heeding the lesson, he was gladdened by the knowledge of the day of Christ. In like manner and unto this end was the Gospel sent to God’s people in the wilderness, [Hebrews 4:2] even as unto us; but the word of hearing did not profit them. With many of them God was not well pleased. Yet He showed them in signs His Gospel sacraments. They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, did all eat the same spiritual meat, and all drank the same spiritual drink, [1 Corinthians 10:2-4] for Christ was with them, as their Rock of refreshing, all their journey through the desert, preaching the Gospel by visitations now of mercy, now of affliction. Unto this end He brought them many a time under the yoke of their enemies; unto this end He sent them into captivity. Thus were they being judged, as men count judgments, if haply they might listen in this life to the gospel of trial and pain, and so live at last, as God counts life, in the spirit, when the final judgment-day is over. They are dead, but to every generation of them was the Gospel preached, that God might gather Him a great multitude to stand on His right hand in the day of account.

Some have applied the Words of this verse to the sinners of the days of Noah, connecting them closely with 1 Peter 3:19; and truly, though they be but one example out of a world of mercies, they are very notable. They were doomed; they were dead while they lived: "Everything that is in the earth shall die". [Genesis 6:17] Yet to them the preacher was sent, and unto this end: that though they were to be drowned in the Deluge, and so in men’s sight be judged, their souls might be saved, as God would have them saved, in the great day of the Lord. But every visitation is a gospel, a gospel unto this end: that through judgment here a people may be made ready in God’s sight to be called unto His rest.

Few passages have more powerful lessons than this for every age. The world is full of suffering in the flesh. Who has not known it in many kinds? But it is in consequence, to those who will hear, very full of Gospel sermons. They cry aloud, Sin no more; the time past may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles. Suffering does not mean that God is not full of love; rather it is a token that, in His great love, He is training us, opening our eyes to our wrong-doings that we may cast them off, and giving us a true standard to judge between the desire of the Gentiles and the will of God. And though men may look on us as sore afflicted, our Father, when the rest of our time in the flesh shall be ended, will give us the true life with Him in the spirit.


Verses 7-11

Chapter 13

CHRISTIAN SERVICE FOR GOD’S GLORY

1 Peter 4:7-11

"BUT the end of all things is at hand." Well-nigh two thousand years have passed away since the Apostle wrote these words. What are we to think of the teaching they convey? For it is not St. Peter’s teaching only. Those who labored with him were all of the same mind; all gave the same note of warning to their converts. St. Paul exhorts the Philippians, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand"; [Philippians 4:5] and in the first letter to the Corinthians the last words before his benediction are to the same purport: "Maranatha"; [1 Corinthians 16:22] that is, The Lord cometh. St. James preaches, "Stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh". [James 5:8] To the Hebrews the Apostle writes, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry". [Hebrews 10:37] While St. John, who lived longer than any of the rest, conveys the warning even in more solemn tones: "Little children, it is the last hour". [1 John 2:18] Are we to look on these admonitions as so many mistaken utterances? Are we to think that the disciples had misunderstood the Lord’s teaching, or would they say the same words if they were with us today?

We may allow that those who had been present at the Ascension, and had heard the words of the angels declaring that "this same Jesus should so come as they had seen Him go into heaven," [Acts 1:11] might expect His return to judge the world to be not far distant. But, in whatever they say in reference thereto, their main concern is that men should be ready. "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh," is the ground-text of all their exhortations. Now had arrived the fullness of the time [Galatians 4:4] in which God had sent forth His Son, born of a woman; and if we take the verb of St. Peter’s sentence ( ηγγικε, "has come near"), we feel that he viewed the new era on which the world had entered in this light. And so did the other Apostles. One says, "Now once in the end of the ages hath Christ been manifested"; [Hebrews 9:26] another teaches that things of old "were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come". [1 Corinthians 10:11] God has spoken aforetime "in many portions and in many ways, but in the end of these days He hath spoken in His Son". [Hebrews 1:2] All things are now summed up in Christ; He is the end of all things. Prophecy, type, sacrifice, all have passed away. There will come no new revelation; no word more will be added to the Divine book. Its lessons will find in each generation new illustrations, new applications, but will admit no change of form or substance. The Christian dispensation, be it long or short, is the last time; it will close with the Second Advent. And continual preparedness is to be the Christian’s attitude. And this is the purport of St. Peter’s next exhortations, which are as forceful today as they were eighteen hundred years ago.

"Be ye therefore of sound mind." Exactly the counsel which should follow the previous lesson. It was misinterpreted at first, as it has been since. We know how unwisely the Thessalonians behaved when they had been told by St. Paul, "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night". [1 Thessalonians 5:2] The Apostle learnt that they were sorely disturbed, and wrote them a second letter, from which we can gather how far they had wandered from soundness of mind. At first the Apostle speaks gently: "Be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present". [2 Thessalonians 2:2] But soon he shows us how the excitement had operated. Some among them had begun to walk disorderly, apparently thinking that they might live upon the community, working not at all, but being busybodies. These made, no doubt, the approach of the day of the Lord their pretext. St. Paul bids such men in quietness to work and eat their own bread. To be found at their duty was the best way of preparing for the end.

How soundness of mind may serve the Church of Christ is seen in the settlement of that murmuring which arose [Acts 6:1] as soon as the Christian disciples began to be multiplied in Jerusalem. It was the Grecian Jews who complained that their widows were neglected. The Apostles wisely withdrew from the distribution about which the complaint was made, and more wisely still gave the oversight into the hands of Greeks (as the forms of all their names bear witness) who would be fully trusted by the murmurers. "And the word of God increased." The pages of Church history supply examples in abundance of the need in religious matters for this soundness of mind. We need not go back to very ancient times. What sore evils led to and arose out of the peasant war in Germany in the days of the Reformation, followed by those excesses, which disgraced the name of Christianity in Munster and other parts of Westphalia! And in our own land, both at that time and subsequently, the unwise enthusiasm of those who acted as though whatever had been must be wrong hindered sorely the temperate efforts of the more conservative and sober minds; while undue prominence given to single doctrines of the Gospel has many times warped men’s minds; and does so still, making the cause of Christ to be hardly spoken of. A sense of proportion is a gift which the Church may fitly pray for in her members, and that, while they seek to foster the sevenfold graces of the Holy Spirit, they may ever keep in mind the mercy of Him who bestows only a portion on each of us as we can receive it, and makes no man the steward of them all.

"And be sober unto prayer." The Apostle selects one example wherein the sound mind ought to be sought after, and he has chosen it so as to be of general application. The wisdom to which he is exhorting is needed for all men, both those who teach and those who hear, those who serve tables and those who are served thereby. Many members of the Christian body, however, will not be concerned with such special duties. But all will pray, and so to prayer he applies his precept. "Be sober."

A sound mind will preserve us from extravagance in our approach unto God. For even here extravagance may intrude. The Corinthian Church had gone very far wrong in this respect. Overelated, losing soundness of mind, through the bestowal of certain gifts, they had introduced such irregularities into their religious meetings that St. Paul speaks of occasions when they might have been regarded as madmen. [1 Corinthians 14:23] These were public prayers. St. James applies the same standard to private prayers: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss". [James 4:3] There is no true prayer in your petitions. You have selected in your own hearts what you would fain have and do, and you come before God with these as your supplications. There is no thought in them of yielding to God’s will, but only the sense that if your petitions were granted you would reap a present satisfaction. Ye ask amiss. Many a heart can testify to the proneness to err thus by want of sobriety.

"Above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves." Soundness of mind and sobriety should dominate every part of the believer’s life; but there are other virtues of preeminent excellence, unto which, though they be far above him, he is encouraged to aspire. Of these St, Peter, like 1 Corinthians 13:13, places love at the summit, above all things. The word he uses signifies that perfect love which is the attribute of God Himself. To frail humanity it must ever be an ideal. But the Apostle in his second epistle [2 Peter 1:7] has given a progressive list of graces to be sought after in a holy life, a series of mountain summits each above the other, and each made visible through the one below it. Here, too, love comes as the climax; and the Revised Version marks it as far above mere human affection: "In your love of the brethren supply also love." Here is no anticlimax, if we once appreciate the grandeur of the concluding term.

In the present verse, however, the Apostle exhorts that this Divine quality is to be exercised by the converts among themselves, and exercised with much earnestness and diligence. It is to be the grace, which pervades all their lives, and extends itself to every condition thereof. But we understand why St. Peter has used this word for love as soon as we come to the clause, which follows: "For love covereth a multitude of sins." To cover sin is godlike. It has been often asked, Whose sins are covered by this love, those of him who loves, or of him who is loved? The question can have but one answer. There is nothing in the New Testament to warrant such a doctrine as that love towards one’s fellow-men will hide, atone for, or cancel any man’s sins. When our Lord says of the woman who was a sinner, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much," [Luke 7:47] it is not love to the brethren of which He is speaking, but love to God, which she had manifested by her actions toward Himself; and when He presently adds, "Thy faith hath saved thee," He tells us the secret of her availing love. But when men are animated by that love toward their neighbors which shows likest God’s, they are tender to their offences they look to the future more than to the past, hoping all things, believing all things; they have tasted God’s mercy in the pardon of their own sins, and labor to do thus unto others, to cast their sins out of sight, to put them, as God does when He forgives, behind their back, as though in being forgiven they were also forgotten. The phrase is quoted by St. Peter from Proverbs 10:12, where Solomon says, "Love covereth all sins," and our Lord’s words to St. Peter himself [Matthew 18:22] about forgiving until seventy times seven times practically set no limit to the extension of pardon to the repentant. Thus taught, the Apostle uses the noble word αγαπη of human tenderness to offenders, because he would urge men to a boundless, all-embracing, godlike pity for sinners.

"Using hospitality one to another without murmuring." We need only reflect on the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles to realize how large a part hospitality must have played in the early Church as soon as the preachers extended their labors beyond Jerusalem. The house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was entertained many days; [Acts 9:43] the friends who at Antioch received Paul and Barnabas and kept them for a whole year; [Acts 9:26] the petition of Lydia, "Come into my house, and abide there"; [Acts 16:15] and Jason’s reception of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica, [Acts 17:7] are but illustrations of what must have been the general custom. Nor would such welcome be needed for the Apostles alone. The Churches must have been very familiar with cases of brethren driven from their own country by persecution, or severed from their own kinsfolk by the adoption of the new faith. To such the kind offices of the Christian congregations must have been constantly extended, so that hospitality was consecrated into a blessed and righteous duty. To be "given to hospitality" [Romans 12:13] is reckoned among the marks whereby it shall be known that believers, being many, are one body in Christ; and from the salutations in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we can frame a picture of the large work of lodging and caring for strangers as it entered into the duties of a Christian life. The brethren at Rome are exhorted to receive and help Phoebe, the bringer of the Epistle, because she had been a succourer of many, and of Paul himself. Of Priscilla and Aquila, who are next named, we know that they were friends and fellow-workers with St. Paul in Corinth, and that in Ephesus they showed their Christian love toward the stranger Apollos; and not only so, but they provided a place where the brethren might assemble for their worship. Later on are mentioned Mary, who bestowed much labor on the brethren; Urbanus, a helper in Christ, and the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus, whole families made friends through the extension of hospitality. Of the mother of Rufus St. Paul speaks tenderly as his own mother also. The coupling together of Philologus and Julia suggests that they were husband and wife and had opened their doors to the brethren, and the notice of Nereus and his sister points to similar good offices. And from whatever place the Epistle was sent to Rome, there Tertius, St. Paul’s amanuensis, was under the hospitable roof of Gaius, whom he speaks of as the host of the whole Church. Doubtless at times the burden might fall heavily on some of the poorer brethren. Hence the need for the Apostle’s addition "without murmuring." The word is the same which is used [Acts 6:1] of the complaints of the Grecians. And in this matter, as in all, a sound mind would be called for, that loads might be placed by the Churches only on such as were able to bear them.

The intimate fellowship that would grow out of such exercise of kind offices must have been a power to encourage greatly the laborers for Christ. As they dwelt together, hours not given to public ministrations would be spent in private converse, and would knit the members together, and forward the common work. As St. Paul writes to Philemon, who appears to have been eminent in good offices, the hearts of the saints were refreshed by this godly intercourse. In friendly communion the love of all would wax warmer, zeal become more earnest, the weak would be strengthened, and the strong grow stronger.

"According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." The close connection between "gifts" and "grace" is better marked in the Greek than it can be in the English. The χαρισματα are bestowed upon us by the χαρις of God. But every word in the sentence is full of force. Each hath received a gift. None can plead his lack of faculty; none can claim exemption from the duty of ministering; none is so poor but he has something that he can lay out for the brethren. All have time; all have kind words: the least can give, what is the best of gifts, a good example. But what we have is not our own; it is received: and humility would teach us to believe that God has bestowed on us the powers which we are best fitted, by place and opportunities, to use in His service. None can say of any gift, "It is all my own; I may do with it as I please." God has set the world about us full of His exchangers. The poor, the feeble, the doubting, the fearful-these are God’s bankers, with whom we may put out our gifts to usury. And Himself is the security for all that we deposit thus: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." Hence we live under the responsibility of stewardship. And every man’s gift is given to profit withal. {προς τορον, 1 Corinthians 12:7} The Greek implies that it must be shared with others. Nor can any of us make it a profit to himself till he have found the way to make it profitable to his brethren.

That he may give more precision to his counsel, the Apostle proceeds to speak of gifts under two heads into which they are naturally divided. First come those which St. Paul [Romans 12:6-8] ranges under the head of prophecy, embracing therein teaching and exhortation likewise: "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were "oracles of God." The first Christian preachers must have gained their knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus by listening to the narratives of the Twelve, and must have gone forth to give their teaching orally. The training of those who were appointed to minister in the various places whither the apostolic missions penetrated must have been of the same kind. In those first years there was work to be done which would seem more important than the writing of a Gospel history. When such preachers published to the congregations what they had learnt of the Master’s lessons, their sermons would be orally given, and though conveying the same instruction, would be liable to constant modifications of words. It was from such oral teaching that the variations found in the Gospel narratives probably had their origin. The preachers gave the spirit, and as nearly as possible the text, of what they had been taught. Perhaps by memoranda or otherwise, they would refresh their knowledge of the apostolic words, so as to adhere as much as might be to what they had first received. The word logia-oracles-which the Apostle here employs, seems intended to remind such preachers and teachers that they now, as the Jews of old, had received "living oracles," [Acts 7:38] words by which spiritual life was conveyed, to deliver to the Church. Those of them who were Jews would call to mind how God’s prophets had constantly prefaced their message with "Thus saith the Lord" or concluded it with the Divine accrediting, "I am the Lord"; and that the Christian prophet must bear in mind that he is only an ambassador, and must abide by his commission, if he would speak with authority, that as a steward he must ever think of the account to be some day given of "the oracles of God" [Romans 3:2] with which he was entrusted, and must "handle aright the word of truth". [2 Timothy 2:15] For all such is St. Peter’s admonition, "If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God."

And next he turns to those gifts which are to be exercised in deeds, and not in words: "If any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth." Under "ministry" St. Paul classes [Romans 12:7-8] giving, ruling, showing mercy. These are duties which secure the temporal condition of the Church and her members. The New Testament story suggests many offices which could be discharged by those who had not devoted themselves in a special manner to the ministry of the word. How much service would be called for by those collections for the saints which St. Paul urges so frequently upon the Churches! How many houses would find employment in such labors as were exhibited in the home of Dorcas! How many a traveler, bent on his secular work, would carry apostolic messages or letters to the flocks of the dispersion! To these may be added those offices of mercy which St. James describes as θρησκεια, outward acts of religion, to visit the widows and fatherless in their affliction. The strength which God supplieth embraces every faculty or possession, be it wealth, administrative skill, or special knowledge. The physician and the craftsman alike may spend their powers for Christ. All may be consecrated, ministered, as supplied of God. And it is a gain to the Church when, following the apostolic pattern, these duties of external religion are severed from the prophecy, the spiritual work of the teacher.

"That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen." This is to be the thought which animates all who minister: that each man’s service may be so rendered to his brethren that it will work for the glory of God. And Christ has led the way. He testifies in His final prayer, "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do." [John 17:4] Of our work we can use no such words. We are but unprofitable servants. In many things we offend all. But all may labor in the Christlike spirit; and thus through Him through service rendered in His name and for His sake, will God be glorified. The thought of Jesus humbling Himself, taking the form of a servant, testifying of Himself, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many," can give a dignity to lowliest labor, and at the same time can impart consolation to the true laborers, for whom this mighty ransom hag been paid, their inheritance won, their salvation achieved; while the Conqueror of sin and death, their Redeemer, has taken His seat at God’s right hand, where worshipping spirits ever praise Him, saying, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory, and the honor, and the power". [Revelation 4:11]


Verses 12-14

Chapter 14

THE BELIEVER’S DOUBLE JOY

1 Peter 4:12-14

AFTER the benediction in 1 Peter 4:11, we might have supposed that the exhortations of the Apostle were ended. But he now proceeds to make general application of the lessons which above [1 Peter 2:18-19] he had confined to a particular class: the Christians who were in slavery. And the times appear to have called for consolation. The Churches were in great tribulation. St. Peter speaks here, more than in any other passage of the Epistle, as if persecution were afflicting the whole Christian body: "Beloved"-the word embraces them all-"think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you…as though a strange thing happened unto you." His strong word implies extreme suffering. St. John uses it [Revelation 18:9; Revelation 18:18] of the burning up of the mystical Babylon, and it is found nowhere else in the New Testament. A trial meriting this description was harassing the Asian Christians; but spite of the intensity of suffering, which may be inferred from his language, he bids the converts not to wonder at it or deem it other than their proper lot: "Think it not strange."

He does not enter upon reasons for his admonition, or he might have selected a goodly list of Old Testament saints who for their faith were called to suffer. For the Jewish brethren, Joseph and David, Elijah and Micaiah, David and his companions in exile, Job and Nehemiah, would have been forcible examples of suffering for righteousness. The Apostle, however, selects only the loftiest instance. Christ, the Master whom they were pledged to serve, had suffered, and had said, besides, that all who would follow Him must take up the cross. Need they wonder, then, if in their case they found the Lord’s teaching coming true?

But, in describing the purpose of their trials, the Apostle introduces some words which place their affliction in a distinct light: "Which cometh upon you to prove you"-literally, for your proving ( τρος πειρασμον υμιν). And the word is that which is constantly used of "temptation," whether sent of God or coming in some other way. When viewed as a process of proving, the believers would be able to find some contentment under their persecutions. God was putting them to the test. He would know if they are in earnest in His service, and so they are cast into the furnace, God’s wanted discipline. The prophet Zechariah tells both of the process, and the God-intended result: "I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God." [Zechariah 13:9] And the Psalmist bears like testimony: "The Lord trieth the righteous," [Psalms 11:5] and says that for those who are found faithful the end is blessedness: "We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place". [Psalms 66:12] Such thoughts would yield comfort to those for whom St. Peter immediately wrote. They were suffering for Christ’s sake; their faith in Him was being tested. But the Apostle’s words are left for the edification of all generations of believers. Throughout all time and everywhere there has been abundance of grief and pain. How may sufferers today participate in the apostolic consolation? How may they learn to think it not strange that they are afflicted?

The Apostle’s words supply the answer to such questions. And they are no light or infrequent questionings both for ourselves and others. Men are prone to lament over temporal losses or bodily sufferings, their own or others’, in tones which convey the idea that such trials will in the end be compensated and made efficacious for the future blessing of the sufferer. The New Testament has no such doctrine. "The trial which cometh upon you to prove you," is St. Peter’s expression. There is much suffering in the world which is in no sense a participation of the sufferings of Christ, in no sense a God-sent trial for proving the faith of the sufferer.

Here, if honestly questioned, the individual conscience will give the true answer; and if that inward witness condemn the life for no excesses, of which suffering is the appointed fruit, if the bodily pains be not the outcome of a life lived to the flesh, nor the sorrow and poverty the result of follies and extravagance aforetime, then, with the anguish and distress which God hath sent (for we may then count them as of His sending), the Spirit will have bestowed light that we may discern their purpose, light which will show us God’s hand weaning us from the world and making us ready for going home, or, it may be, giving to others through us His teaching in message and example. Then the enlightened and pacified soul will be able to rejoice amid pain, conscious of purification; and will out of the midst of sorrow see God’s designs justified. Satan will look on such times as his opportunity, and suggest to the Christian that he is unduly afflicted and forgotten of God; but the joy, which comes from being able to look trouble in the face, as sent by a Father, drives away despondency and puts the enemy to rout. He is triumphant who can rest on a faithful God, with an assurance that with the temptation He will also make the way of escape, that he may be able to endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13]

But dare we then pray, as Christ has taught us, "Lead us not into temptation"? Yes, if we ponder rightly on the purport of our petition. Christ does not bid us pray to God not to try us; He Himself made no such prayer for His disciples; He was Himself submitted to such trial: "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief". [Isaiah 53:10] Nay, one Evangelist [Mark 1:12] tells us how He was not led, but driven forth, of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Yet He taught the prayer to His disciples, and He did so because He knew both what was in man, and what was in the world. In the latter since sin entered, the tempter has found manifold enticements to lead men astray. All that belongs to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, riches, influence, beauty, popularity, prosperity of every kind, may be used as tests of faith, may be made to glorify God; but they can also be perverted in the using. And there dwell within man strong desires, which he is prompted to gratify at times, without heeding whether their gratification be right or wrong; and when desire and opportunity meet, there is peril to the tempted.

"How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done!"

And when desire has once gained the mastery, the next yielding is sooner made; the forbidden path becomes the constant walk; the moral principle-the godlike in the conscience-is neglected; men grow weaker, are led away of their own lusts and enticed.

On the other hand, if the unlawful desire be resisted from the first, each succeeding conflict will offer less hardship, each new victory be more easily gained, and the virtuous act will become a holy habit; the man will walk with God. For this end God uses the evil, of which Satan is the father, to be a discipline, and turns the snares of the enemy into a means of strength for those whom he would captivate. Knowing all this, Christ has left us His prayer. In it He would teach us to ask that God should protect us in such wise that the desire to sin which dwells within us may not be roused to activity by opportunities of indulgence, or that, if we are thrown where such opportunities exist, the desire may be killed in our hearts. Thus our peril will be lessened, and we shall be helped to walk in the right way, through His grace. Our strong passions will grow weaker, and our weak virtues stronger, day by day.

And such a petition should check all overweening confidence in our own power to withstand temptation, all over readiness to put ourselves in the way of danger that we may show our strength, and that we can stand though others may fall. The sin and folly of such presumption would be constantly present to St. Peter’s mind. He could not forget how his own faith failed when he would make a show of it by walking to meet Jesus over the Sea of Galilee. Still less could he forget that utterance of self-confidence, which thought scorn of trials to come, "Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee." It needed but the timid suggestion of a servant maid to call forth that manifestation of feebleness for which only tears of deepest penitence could atone, and which remained the darkest memory in the Apostle’s life. He above all men knew to the full the need we have to pray, "Lead us not into temptation."

And in respect of courting trial, even when the suffering to be encountered would be allowed by all men to be suffering for righteousness’ sake, the New Testament gives us many lessons that we should not offer ourselves to unnecessary danger. Our Lord Himself, [John 8:59] when the Jews took up stones to cast at Him, hid Himself and conveyed Himself out of harm’s way. At another time we are told, "He would not walk in Judea because the Jews sought to kill Him". [John 7:1] St. Paul, too, [2 Corinthians 11:33] to avoid uncalled-for suffering, was let down by the wall of Damascus, and afterwards made use of the dissensions of the Pharisees and Sadducees [Acts 23:6] to divert the storm which their combined animosity would have raised against him. In this spirit St. Peter gives his counsel. "Make sure," he would say, "that the trials you bear are sent to prove you. Let constant self-questioning testify that they are proving you; then wonder not that they are sent, but rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of the sufferings of Christ." He who thus learns the blessing of trial thanks the Lord for his troublous days. He has a double joy, rejoicing in this life, sorrowful yet always rejoicing; and is assured that at the revelation of Christ’s glory his joy shall be still more abundant.

"If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye." It was a joy to the Apostles [Acts 5:41] at the beginning of their ministry that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Their offence is described as speaking in the name of Jesus, and filling Jerusalem with their teaching. The feeling of their persecutors was so strong that they were minded to slay them, but upon wiser counsel they only beat them and let them go. St. Paul s commission to Damascus [Acts 9:14] was to bind all that called upon the name of Christ, and his work after his conversion was to be "to bear Christ’s name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." What such preaching would be, we gather from St. Peter’s words. [Acts 2:22] They taught men that Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God by powers, and wonders, and signs, had been crucified and slain by the Jews, but that God had raised Him from the dead; that He was now exalted by the right hand of God and was ordained of God Acts 10:42 to be the Judge of quick and dead; that to Him all the prophets bare witness that through His name every one that believeth on Him should receive remission of sins. St. Paul and the rest preached the same doctrine. All that had happened in Christ’s life was "according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3-4] of the Old Testament; Christ and Him crucified, [1 Corinthians 2:2] Jesus and the resurrection, [Acts 17:18] are the topics constant in his letters and on his lips. And for their doctrine and their faith preachers and hearers suffered persecution and reproach.

In our land suffering such as theirs is no more laid upon us, but for all that the reproach of Christ has not ceased. Our days are specially marked by a desire for demonstration on every subject, and it comes to pass thereby that those who are willing in spiritual things to walk by faith rank in the estimation of many as the less enlightened portion of the world, and are ‘pictured as such in much of our modern literature. All that tells of miracle in the life of Jesus is by many cast altogether aside, as alien to the reign of law under which the world exists; and the Gospel narratives of the virgin-birth, the wonderful works, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are treated as the invention of the fervid imaginations of the first followers of Jesus; while to cling to them as verities, and to their importance and significance in the work of the world’s salvation, stamps men as laggards in the march of modern speculation. To accept the New Testament story as the fulfillment of predictions in the Old is reckoned by many for ungrounded superstition; and among the unbelieving there are keen eyes still which gladly mark the slips and stumblings of professing Christians, and throw the obloquy of individuals broadcast upon the whole body.

To hold fast faith at such a time, to accept the Gospels as true and their teaching as the words of eternal life, to see in Christ the Redeemer appointed from eternity by the foreknowledge of God, and to believe that in Him His people find-remission of sins, to see and acknowledge above the reign of law the power of the almighty Lawgiver-these things are still beset with trials for those who will live in earnest according to such faith; and if we receive less of the blessing which St. Peter here speaks of as accompanying the reproach of Christ, may we not fear that we exhibit less of the zeal and fervor of the Christians to whom he wrote?

"Because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you." In the former clause the Apostle, speaking of the joy of believers, exhorted the converts to a present rejoicing, even in the midst of sufferings, because these were borne for Christ’s sake, that so, when He shall appear in whose name they have suffered, their rejoicing may be still more abundant. In like manner he seems here to regard their blessedness in a double aspect. The Spirit of glory rests upon them. A power is imparted to them whereby they accept their pains gladly, and therein glorify God, and the same Spirit fills them with a sense of future glory. Like Stephen before his persecutors, they become filled with the Holy Ghost, their spirits are lifted heavenwards, and even now they behold the glory of God, and Jesus sitting on the right hand of God. Thus suffering is robbed of its sting, and Christ’s reproach becomes a present blessing.

St. Paul combines the same thoughts in his appeal to the Roman Christians. "Let us rejoice," he urges, "in the hope of the glory of God". [Romans 5:2] This is the glory to be revealed in the presence of Jesus Christ, that eternal weight of glory which affliction worketh for us more and more exceedingly. But he continues, "Let us rejoice also in our tribulations," knowing that by them we may glorify God in our bodies, and that they are the pledge of glory to come. "For tribulation worketh patience, and patience probation, and probation hope, and hope putteth not to shame"- it will not be disappointed; fruition will surely come-"because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost which was given unto us." This is the Spirit of God of which St. Peter here speaks. It rests like the cloud of glory above the cherubim, and bestows all spiritual power and blessing; it rests on the suffering believer, and gives him rest.

The Authorized Version has here retained a clause which appears to have been at first but an explanatory note, written in the margin of some copy, and then to have been incorporated with the text: "On their part He is evil-spoken of, but on your part He is glorified." We cannot regret the preservation of such a note. It dates back to very early times. The student who made it could write in the language of the New Testament and in its spirit also. It gives us the sense which was then felt to have most prominence and to be the most important. The way of Christ was evil spoken of, and it could be no strange thing in those days for His followers to be put to fiery trial. Yet the writer feels that the blessedness of the believer is most secured who, regardless of blasphemers around him, strives with all his powers that in his body, whether by life or by death, Christ shall be magnified.


Verses 15-19

Chapter 15

THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE JUDGMENT HERE

1 Peter 4:15-19

THE Apostle now goes one step farther in his exhortations. The brethren are suffering for Christ’s cause, and may draw comfort from Christ’s example, and be encouraged to patience under their persecutions. But these very sufferings, he would have them see, are God’s judgment on His servants in this world, that they may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which they are called to suffer. They must be watchful not to deserve punishment for offences that bring disgrace on themselves and on the cause of Christ.

"For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters." He appears to divide these offences into two classes, made distinct by the recurrence of ως "as." The first three concern crimes of which the laws of any land would naturally take cognizance. "Evil-doer" was the word employed by the Jews when they brought our Lord to Pilate: "If he were not an evil-doer, we should not have delivered him up unto thee". [John 18:30] The last-named offense, meddling in other men’s matters, would bring upon the Christians social odium and render them generally unpopular; and it was precisely the kind of conduct likely to prevail in such a time. We have already found the Apostle exhorting Christian subjects not to think lightly of the duty of obedience to heathen rulers, and the like counsel was given to Christian slaves with heathen masters and to Christian wives with heathen husbands. Such persons would often be tempted to step beyond their province with advice, and perhaps remonstrance, and to display a sense of superiority in so doing which would be galling to those who were of another mind. St. Peter’s word to describe this fault is his own, but the idea that such fault needed checking is not wanting in the teaching of St. Paul, and may be taken as evidence that such an interfering spirit prevailed. He speaks of those "who work not at all, but are busybodies," [2 Thessalonians 3:11] and to Timothy of those who are "tattlers and busybodies". [1 Timothy 5:13]

St. Peter has ranged these offences in a descending order, placing the least culpable last; and their compass embraces all that rightly might come under the ban of the law or incur the just odium of society. To suffer for such things would disgrace the Christian name; but: there is no shame in suffering as a Christian, but rather a reason for giving glory to God. That the name was bestowed as a reproach seems probable from Acts 11:26, and still more from the mocking tone in which it is used by Agrippa; [Acts 26:28] and in the earliest apologists we find this confirmed. "The accusation against us," says Justin Martyr, "is that we are Christians"; and in another place, "We ask that the actions of all those who are accused before you should be examined, so that he who is convicted may be punished as a malefactor, but not as a Christian."

"But if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name." That is, let him be thankful and show his thankfulness that he has been called to bear the name of Christ and to suffer for it. The Authorized Version, adopting a different reading, has "on this behalf." But the sense is nothing different. He is to rejoice that this lot has befallen him, for it is of God’s great mercy that we are purified here by trial; he who has not been tried has not entered on the way of salvation. "Let me fall into the hand of the Lord," was the petition of David; and they are more blessed who feel that hand in their correction than those who are cut away from it. It is a terrible lot to think of, if we be abandoned by Him to worldly prosperity. St. Paul congratulates the Philippians "because to them it had been granted, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer on His behalf"; [Philippians 1:29] and to another Church [Ephesians 3:13] he declares that his own tribulations, endured for their sakes, ought to be to them a glory, because they made known how precious those believers were in the sight of their heavenly Father for whose sake He allowed another to be afflicted that they might be drawn more effectually unto Him. And if this be so, how much cause have they to bless and glorify God who marc be permitted to think that He is using their afflictions for a like purpose.

"For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God." The time is come. Why does the Apostle speak thus? Because the final era of Divine revelation has begun. God has spoken unto men by His Son, and He by His incarnation and death has brought life and immortality to light. The new and living way is opened. We live in the fullness of time, when the faithful, having the testimony of those who companied with Christ, can love Him, though they see Him not, can rejoice in Him, and can receive, with full assurance, the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls. Such souls have their judgment here. With them God’s judgment is neither postponed, nor is it penal. It is disciplinary and corrective both for themselves and others. They are the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth, and can be set forth as the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Of such judgment and its purpose St. Paul also speaks to the Corinthians: "When we" (the servants of Christ) "are judged" (by suffering in this life), "we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world". [1 Corinthians 11:32] All chastening while it lasts is grievous, yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby. And by such Chastisement God prepares Him witnesses to the truth and preciousness of Christianity; and so long as this time, which is now come, shall continue, so long will God try, and make judgment of, His servants in every generation.

In St. Peter’s words we have an echo of prophecy. When the hand of the Lord carried Ezekiel in vision back from Babylon to Jerusalem, he heard the voice of God commanding the destroyers, "Begin at My sanctuary," [Ezekiel 9:6] Yet in that evil age some were found who had been sighing and crying for all the abominations that were done in the midst of the city These holy ones, living in a naughty world, were God’s witnesses, feeling His judgments, but receiving His mark on their foreheads, that they should not be destroyed with the sinners. Years passed away, and at length the Lord of the Temple has Himself come. He began His judgment at the house of God, casting out all that defiled it. But it then had become a mere "house of merchandise"; nay, at a later day He named it "a den of thieves." At last He left it forever. Then it ceased to be God’s house, and though it was spared some forty years, its fate was fixed when He went forth from it [Matthew 24:2] and said that not one stone of it should be left upon another. Henceforth He will have other temples in the hearts of those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. These are now the house of God. With them He exercises judgment constantly for their instruction and amendment. But it shall turn unto them for a testimony in the end. Not a hair of their head shall perish; in their patience they shall win their souls.

"And if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?" The Apostle joins himself with those of the house of God who will feel the pressure of temporal judgment. He is not forgetful of the Lord’s saying, "Simon, behold Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat, but I made supplication for thee that thy faith fail not." [Luke 22:31] He knows that he will be tried, but the end to him and all the faithful is that they may be brought into the Father’s home. To those who obey not the Gospel the doom pronounced against the Temple answers the Apostle’s question. They have had their days of probation, and are like to Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s lamentation, "If thou hadst known in this day the things which belong unto peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes". [Luke 19:42] They cannot be said to disobey a law of which they have not heard; the glad tidings have been preached unto them, but have found no welcome. As of the doomed city, so of them, it may be said, "Ye would not." After their hardness and their impenitent heart, they have treasured up for themselves wrath in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

"And if the righteous scarcely is saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?" The righteous is he who follows after righteousness, but who feels that, in the midst of his efforts of faith, he needs to cry, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." It is of God’s mercy that He accepts the aim and purpose of our lives, and counts not by their results. All men are beset with temptation; in many things we all offend. Works of righteousness bear the taints they come many a time from wrong motives. The best of us need both the Father’s chastisement, and, like Peter, the Savior’s prayers and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This is what the Apostle means by "scarcely saved." By Divine help Christ’s servants are brought nearer and nearer to the ideal, "Be ye holy." But though they live not in sin, sin lives in them; and the warfare with evil is not ended till the burden of the flesh is laid aside. And as there are degrees in the progress of the righteous up the hill of faith, so are there in the falling away of the wicked; and St. Peter in his language appears to have had this in mind, for of the ungodly and sinner he uses a verb in the singular ( φανειται). Where shall he appear? The man begins as the ungodly, a negative character: he thinks not of God; has no reverence for His law; puts Him away from all his thoughts. But in this state he will not long remain. There is no standing still in things spiritual. He who does not advance goes backward, and the ungodly soon becomes the willful sinner. So sure is this development that the Apostle combines the two aspects of the wicked man’s life, and asks not, Where shall they, but Where shall he, appear?

For the judgment which for the righteous begins at God’s house, and is wrought out in the trials of this life, awaits the disobedient when life is ended. The Apostle leaves this solemn question unanswered; but at that day there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, only a fearful expectation of judgment. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God then. Hence the greater blessedness of those who are taken into God’s hand of judgment now. And thus the Apostle comforts the sufferers.

"Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well doing unto a faithful Creator." Again St. Peter goes back in thought to the words of Christ, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit"; [Luke 23:46] and on these he builds his final exhortation, which contains within it consolation in abundance. The test of the faithful is his perfect trust. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," [Job 13:15] was the confession which marked Job as more righteous than his advisers. The Revised Version has varied the rendering of the final words in that passage in such wise as to explain how the trust is to be exhibited: "I will wait for Him"-wait, sure that the event will be for my comfort and His glory. This is the spirit which waxes strong in trial. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," [Isaiah 40:31] says the prophet. "None that wait on the Lord shall be ashamed," is an oft-repeated testimony of the psalmists; [Psalms 25:3,, Psalms 37:34,, Psalms 69:6] and one whose name is a synonym for suffering tells us, "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him". [Lamentations 3:25] To such trust St. Peter here exhorts, bidding specially them that suffer to rest on the Lord. Though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality, for the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, a trust which they repose in Him while they live here, a treasure guarded by Him in the world to come. St. Paul knows of the efficacy of this perfect trust, for he writes to Timothy, "We labor and strive," counting bodily suffering as nothing, "because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe". [1 Timothy 4:10]

The Apostle links a holy life most closely with this trust in God. In well-doing commit your souls unto Him. No otherwise can His guardianship and aid be hoped for. But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and with Him to know is to watch over and help. Nor should men sorrow when they suffer according to God’s will. Rather it is cause for gladness. For conscience must tell them that they need to be purged from much earthly dross which clings about them. So the fire of trial may be counted among blessings.

And with two words of exceeding comfort St. Peter strengthens the believers in their trust. God is faithful; His compassions fail not: they are new every morning. In moments of despair the sorrowing Christian may feel tempted to cry out, with the Psalmist, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?," [Psalms 77:9] but as he looks back on the path where God has led him he is convinced of the unwisdom of his questioning, and cries out, "This is my infirmity; I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High."

And this faithful God is our Creator. In the council of the Godhead it was said in the beginning, "Let us make man in our image." And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, which made of him a living soul. From God’s hand he came forth very good, but sin entered, and the Divine image has been blurred and defaced. Yet in mercy the same heavenly conclave planned the scheme for man’s restoration to his first estate. The love which spake to Zion of old speaks through Christ to all mankind. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yea, she may forget; yet will I not forget thee." [Isaiah 49:15] In the fullness of time God has sent His Son to take hold upon the sons of men, to wear their likeness, to live on earth and die for the souls which He has made. Trust, says the Apostle, in this almighty, unchanging love; trust God, your Father, your Creator. He will succor you against all assaults of evil; He will comfort and support you when it is His desire to prove you; He will crown you, with your Lord, when trials are no more.

 


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

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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