"Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ . . ." 1 Peter 1:18 to 2:1-3.
There are two facts put side by side at the close of this first chapter; one spoken of as most frail and fleeting, the other as living and enduring for ever. The former refers to man; the latter to the word of God. As to man, the same testimony is borne by a prophet in olden time, though there specially referring to the nation of Israel, as by an apostle long after. The twice recorded declaration is, that "all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away." The grass groweth up in the morning and flourisheth; in the evening it is cut down and withereth. The flower attracts the eye, and no sooner charms with interest than it fades away for ever. Such is man — all men, without exception; for "all flesh is as grass." Man is not only sinful, unclean, and corrupt, but weak, and without continuance; for he passeth away. Rich or poor, high or low, in this there is no difference; he is fragile, and soon decays; and also all he glories in, whether riches, wisdom, or strength, has no continuance; for he no sooner becomes an object of admiration than he passes away. Many will readily admit that they are sinners, who will try to hide from their view both their natural frailty and utter weakness as to the things of God. Still it is blessed to remember that it was for weak and frail ones that Jesus died; for it is written, that "when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." (Rom. 5:6.)
But while man so fades, and his glory so rapidly passes away, is it not most blessed to know that God has given us something which endures? It is His own word, "which liveth and abideth for ever." This gives a solid resting-place for our souls, while conscious of being surrounded with quicksands, and an interminable morass of human opinionism and religiousness. This word we have, blessed be God; and when the created heavens and earth shall have passed away, this word will shine as brightly as ever in all its imperishable clearness and worth. When the saved are in the uninterrupted enjoyment of eternal bliss, and the wicked shut up in everlasting punishment, the word of the Lord will remain the same. The same incorruptible word of truth that will for ever remind the saints in glory of the grace that brought them there, will also strike deepest terror and remorse in the consciences of the lost, making them feel that they are reaping the deserved fruits of sin and rebellion against God.
It is well, then, to remember that God has spoken, and that we have His word, God's own revelation of His own mind and will, written down for our meditation; for He knows our infirmities and need. It is this word which gives certainty to faith, and assures our hearts of realities. Luke, the beloved physician, informed Theophilus that he wrote the gospel that he might know the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed. The certainty of the word of God is the ground of all stability of soul; for, as Jesus said, "The Scripture cannot be broken;" and again, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." The Holy Ghost, too, is given to teach us this word, to "guide us into all truth, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." But more about the value and blessedness of the word of the Lord by and by.
There are three points of instruction brought before us in the Scripture we have just read, to which I desire to call attention, and they are of the utmost importance. They are Redemption, the New-birth, and Growth. The two first are fundamental truths, and bring out the two things absolutely necessary in order to be happy in God's presence; for without redemption it is impossible to be brought to God; and without the new-birth it would be impossible to know God, or to enjoy His presence. It is blessed therefore to find them thus put together.
1. REDEMPTION. The apostle reminds the believers whom he addressed (naturally Jews), that they had not been redeemed from their traditional religion with "silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." The silver and gold here no doubt refer to the atonement-money of half-shekel, paid in Israel for every one that was numbered among them from twenty years old and upward. (See Ex. 30:12, etc.) With this ordinance they had been as Jews familiar, and no doubt it stands before us as a remarkable type of the redemption-work of Jesus, inasmuch as this atonement-money was used to make the silver sockets on which all the tabernacle rested, and for hooks on which the curtains were hung. And surely all our hopes are built, and all our confidence hangs, on this only foundation which has been laid for us in the death and blood-shedding of the Son of God. They were here, then, reminded of the cost and reality of their redemption.
The person of the Lord in His infinite perfectness is also presented to us, by the statement that He was without blemish and spot." The Jews had to make diligent search for their sacrifices, to find animals which were without a blemish or a spot. Many creatures might be looked over before a spotless one could be found; but such only might be used in the service of the sanctuary; for such only could typify the Holy One of God, who was holy, harmless, and undefiled. Jesus was God's lamb, the only one that ever walked through this world that could be a sacrifice for sin; for all else had sinned, but He knew no sin. Once and again a voice from heaven bore witness to this by saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Even the devils styled Him "the Holy One of God." Wicked Pilate declared again and again before all the people that he found "no fault in Him;" and the self-convicted traitor said he had "betrayed innocent blood." The mighty angel Gabriel bore witness to the spotlessness of His person, as born into the world, when he said to Mary, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God." The thief upon the cross, when expiring by His side, exclaimed, "This man has done nothing amiss." Thus all intelligences in heaven and in earth — angels, men, devils, saints, sinners, Jews, Gentiles — have borne witness to the fact that He was "without spot or blemish;" while, above all, as we have noticed, the Father's delight was to speak from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." This was God's Lamb, holy in nature, harmless, blameless, without rebuke, able therefore to bear the sins of many, and to be a Substitute for those who were dead in trespasses and in sins. It was He who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, who suffered for sins the Just for the unjust to bring us to God. This was God's Lamb, and He finished the work the Father gave Him to do, satisfying every claim of divine justice and righteousness for sin, vindicating all God's ways, and establishing all God's purposes for His honour and glory. This was "the Lamb who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory."
How then can I be certain that Jesus died for me? Not by what I feel; for our feelings change oftener than the wind. One hour we feel very happy, and, another very unhappy. Sometimes our feelings are just as we wish, another time most distressing. My feelings therefore cannot possibly give me certainty as to salvation. Nor can my works assure me of my security; for we never do enough to please ourselves, much less to come up to God's standard. Neither does the quality of anything we do satisfy us, to give us comfort as to evidences of Christianity, as people call it; for our best doings are often connected with mixed motives, and humble us deeply before God. Nor can what I am make certain to my conscience that Jesus died for me; for our state is never up to our standing, our joy always short of what it should be, and our felt weakness and failure every now and then prostrates us in the dust. How then can I be certain that Jesus died for me? We are told here — He was given "for you, who by Him do believe in God." This is simple and conclusive. How do I believe in God? Is it from what I see in creation? Most certainly I do, and see His handy work in all. But He has manifested Himself since creation, since man fell, since he dishonoured God both without law and under law, in the gift of His only begotten Son for our salvation. This is how I know God now. And such as by Him do believe in God that Jesus was the sent One, the Saviour, who gave Himself for our sins, shed His blood to cleanse us, whom God raised from the dead, it is by Him they believe in God. It is by Him too that we draw near to God. For those surely who thus know God's love to us in Jesus and His death, and know that He has raised Him from the dead and given Him glory, must come to God by Him; they must praise through Him; they must anticipate glory, the glory of God, on account of Him. Hence such are at peace with God, at home in God's presence, at rest before God; for through Jesus, the sent One and His work, their faith and hope are in God. Can anything, I ask, then be more certain than that Jesus died for me, if I have really thus so believed as to know God, and draw nigh to Him in this only way? Surely such can say, "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us; we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son; we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."
Can you, dear friends, thus assert with heartfelt confidence that Jesus died for you? Is your confidence based, not on what you are, what you feel, or what you have done, but on the accomplished redemption of God's Son? for nothing else could satisfy Him, either as to you or your sins; and, blessed be His name, God's having raised Him from the dead establishes the fact without doubt, that about the sins and persons of all believers He has fully satisfied God; for He glorified Him on the earth, and finished the work He gave Him to do. By Christ all that believe are justified from all things, and it is God who justifies. How blessed then it is to have our eternal security thus based upon the everlasting efficacy of the work of the Lamb of God, the imperishable stability of the word of God, and the unchanging love and faithfulness of the living and true God, who raised up Jesus from the dead!
"Oh gift of love unspeakable!
Oh gift of mercy, all divine!
We once were slaves of death and hell,
But in Christ's image we shall shine;
For every gift a song we raise,
But this demands eternal praise."
2. THE NEW BIRTH. Those who are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ are also born again, and thus have a life and nature suited to enter into and enjoy the things of God. This new nature is strengthened by the Spirit given to indwell us. But while every believer is born again, born from above, born of God, it was on receiving Christ as His Saviour. "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12, 13.) Again, in the third chapter of John's gospel, where our Lord most emphatically asserts the absolute necessity of Nicodemus being born again, He presents the Son of man lifted up as the alone source of this new life, eternal life, and that too to "whosoever believeth in Him." Here also we are told that it is the Spirit's work, and by the Word — born of water (the Word) and of the Spirit — but that in the way of faith, having the Son of God, who was crucified, as the object of faith. And so in Peter, the Word is the seed, the Spirit the power, and Christ the One by whom we have believed God. Obeying the truth is believing God's word, the word of the gospel; and therefore, as we have seen, coming unto God by Him. All such are therefore cleansed from sin, born of God, redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. The activity of the new nature manifests itself in love to the brethren. We read: "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren. . . . Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." (vv. 22, 23.) The word of God, which testifies of Christ, received into the heart by the Spirit, in the obedience of faith, making Christ, who was crucified, risen, and glorified, the object of faith, the soul becomes partaker of a new life or nature, and is "born again."
Now observe here that to be born again is not, as people call it, "a change of heart," or an alteration of a bad nature into a better one; but a new birth, a new creation; made partaker of a new life, a new nature. A believer therefore is a compound of two natures. Hence our Lord said, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." And in various parts of the apostles' writings, these two natures in the believer are recognized. In Galatians we have, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things which ye would;" or, as it is more correctly rendered, "And these things are opposed one to the other, that ye should not do these things which ye desire." The believer is never told to crucify the old man; for God has already crucified it with Christ; but he is told, on account of that, to "reckon himself to have died indeed unto sin, and alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ;" to "put off the old man, and put on the new," etc. And while he is not told to mortify the flesh, because God has already judged it in the cross of His Son, yet he is told to mortify, or put to death, through the Spirit, the actings of the flesh, the deeds of the body, and our members which are upon the earth, uncleanness, lust, etc.; that is, while recognizing the evil nature still in us, we are to put it off, and to deny its actings by the Spirit's power which dwells in us.
It is impossible for a believer to know himself aright, or to account for what he must know passes within him, unless he is conscious of having these two natures; one of which cannot sin, because it is born of God; while the other can only sin, if allowed to break out, because it is contrary to God. Hence a soul taught of God is admonished to "sin not." He is also made to know that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing. The believer cannot truthfully say, "In me dwells no good;" for he has a new nature divinely created, and the Holy Ghost also dwells in him; but he can say that "in me, that is, in my flesh, no good is."
Until a believer understands by the teaching of Scripture that he has two principles working in him, antagonistically opposed to each other, he is always more or less doomed to self-occupation, and this only increased by conscientiousness; for, instead of reckoning himself to have been crucified with Christ, and to have thus died unto sin, he reckons himself as living in the world, and still living in a sinful nature, and tries to excuse his evil, or cover it up, or he is at one moment self-gratified, and at another despondent; but all this is reckoning self to be living, and not reckoning self to have died, not consciously alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ. This always gives victory; for such are occupied with Christ in the glory as their life and sufficiency, drawing all from Him, having all their resources in Him, and not in self — in fact, self dead and buried; and now, being the other side of death in a risen and ascended Saviour, they live a life of faith upon the Son of God, who loved them and gave Himself for them. As we have observed, the Holy Ghost strengthens the new nature, and the apostle prays that the saints may be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, etc. And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, meekness, temperance, faith, etc.; but the works of the flesh are black and loathsome indeed. Hence we are admonished to walk in the Spirit, that we may not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. Thus we see how fully Scripture recognizes these two natures.
And is it really certain, then, that I was born of God on believing? Most unquestionably; for it is written, "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." (1 John 5:1.) The word of the truth of the gospel concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, brought to me by the Holy Ghost, led me to look to Jesus the object of faith as my Saviour, and thereby to receive life. The effect of being born again is that I love. I love Him who first loved me, and I love the brethren; "for he that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him." How blessedly simple and true this is! and what assurance it gives me that I am in Christ and Christ in me! "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name."
3. GROWTH. The third link in this precious chain of divine truth is growth. For Scripture speaks of the inner man being strengthened, of our growing up into Christ, sanctified, or practically separated unto God by the truth, growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Thus the soul makes progress. But two things here are taught us as being necessary in order to grow. One is, that the activities of evil, which we all have in the old man, the flesh, must be unsparingly denied. To walk and act carnally is to produce the opposite to growth; hence in this same chapter we are exhorted to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." And what Christian is there that has not found this out by bitter experience? Who of God's children does not know that when he has given way to the desires of the flesh and of the mind, that it has chilled his fervour, damped his energies, and checked his comfort? But, you may say, Is it possible that I, who am born of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and indwelt by the Holy Ghost, that I can be the subject of such foul activities as here recorded? Indeed, dear fellow-Christian, it is so. What! Can malice, guile, hypocrisies, envies, and evil-speakings be perpetrated by a child of God? Yes; and it is children of God, those who are born of God, that he addresses, and insists on their laying aside all these fleshly activities, all malice, all guile, all evil-speaking." Those who see that God has judged both the nature and the fruits of the old man on the cross, and given them a new life, a new nature in Christ risen and ascended, will understand this, and find power from it. But if our souls would make progress in divine things, there must be this absolute, unsparing setting aside of all these fleshly buddings. Yes, "all;" for they are like worthless weeds, which grow up and check the growth of what is really good.
With all this being laid aside, the new life, like a newborn babe, wants nourishment and strength, and for this nothing less than the pure, unadulterated milk of the word will suffice. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God shall man live." It is then by receiving with meekness the engrafted word that we grow. And as a new-born babe often turns to its source of nutriment, and takes in little by little as it can digest it, so we are exhorted, "as new-born babes, to earnestly desire the pure milk of the word, that we may grow thereby." In this way the mind of God, the love of God, the wisdom of God, and the ways of God, are made known to us more and more. And when the Scriptures which testify of Christ are neglected, how can there be spiritual growth? Does it not plainly show us why some Christians make so little advance in divine things? and why they have so little joy and gladness in the Lord?
We must not forget that though born of God, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. But we need the power of the Holy Ghost to instruct us in the true knowledge of God's mind, to guide us into all truth; and, blessed be God, this is one of His gracious offices. What another ground for praise and thanksgiving is this!
May we then, Christian brethren, always remember that the true secret of growth is laying aside what is evil in God's sight, and constantly and eagerly drinking in what His own grace has so richly given us in His own word of eternal truth. Without these exercises of soul, how is it possible that we, though redeemed and born of God, can be healthy or happy?