Section 4 of 5 (chapters 20-24 — Part 2a) of:
Chapter 20 — Our Heavenly Calling.
1 Peter 1.
The great truth brought out in Peter's 1st Epistle, is the government of God in relation to His own people — the righteous; while that same government, in view of the wicked, is the burden of his 2nd Epistle.
That which is especially noticeable, however, in this chapter is the way the grace of God works now towards us, to sustain us in our pathway down here, in temptation and in trial of various kinds, and to give us needed encouragement. 1 Peter 1 gives us specially the trials of the Christian, and how he is sustained in them, while 1 Peter 2 brings out the privileges of the Christian.
You will notice who they are, to whom Peter is writing. "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1 Peter 1:1). They were believing Jews, who had been scattered abroad, through the persecution that arose after the death of Stephen. Peter takes up here, the charge committed to him by the Lord at his public restoration, in John 21, "Feed my sheep." I say his public restoration, for there had been a private meeting between the Lord and Peter before this, as we have seen in Luke 24:34, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." At that private meeting between the Lord and Peter, when no one else was near, no doubt everything as to his fall, and what led to it, had come out, though the details of what passed between them then we know not, but at the public restoration the Lord put into Peter's hands that which He loves best, thus showing the confidence of His heart. How could I most prove my confidence in a friend if I were going away? Surely it would not be by going to that one, and telling him I had confidence in him, but — by committing to his charge the person, or the thing I loved most.
This then was the way grace restored the one who had so terribly broken down and failed. Three times Peter had denied that he knew his Master: three charges that Master gives him, concerning those He loves best. Peter had denied his Lord when he trusted himself — for self-confidence is at the root of all our failures — now it is beautiful to see how the Lord trusts him. Over what took place when they met alone, the Lord has drawn a veil, but before all his brethren the Lord, as it were, gives him back his place, when he puts into his hands His sheep, and His lambs, to shepherd, and to feed them.
When Peter writes, everything Jewish was under sentence of judgment, and he unfolds to those who had been linked up with the Judaism, the heavenly calling of the believer, in place of the national earthly calling which had been set aside. The heavenly calling is a more general thing than the Church. Abraham, for instance, though not in the Church, was a partaker of the heavenly calling; "for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
It is good to see how the Spirit of God, by the pen of the apostle of the circumcision, writes to call the hearts of these scattered ones to heaven. He begins by assuring them they are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:2). He opens with beautiful testimony as to the place in which the grace of God had set them; and in this verse we have the blessed Trinity brought in. There are very few verses in Scripture in which we have the Trinity. In this second verse we have the election of the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit, and the blood of the Son. If I think of the Father, He chooses me. Election is an individual thing before the foundation of the world. You never find the Church called "elect" in Scripture.
"But," you may say, "it is not so called in the 13th verse of the 5th chapter of this very epistle?" Not at all — the word church is put in there, it simply is "She at Babylon," possibly a sister there, or the brotherhood. The Church is not in view till Christ is dead and risen (except as "the mystery which hath been hid in God from the beginning of the world"), whereas the election of the individual is before the foundation of the world.
Let no one be troubled by this matter of election. It is a family secret. I would not preach election to the world. Election goes before all. I come to the door of a certain place, where peace and plenty reign, and joy and happiness fill the hearts of all the dwellers therein. On the door I find written, "Whosoever will may enter in." That is the Gospel: I enter, and on the other side of the door I find written, "Whosoever gets in here will never get out!" That is my security, the fruit of election. There is nothing to trouble a soul in election, but contrariwise, much to comfort. God has chosen you, if a believer in Christ, before the foundation of the world. The things which are in heaven God is going to keep for you, and He is going to keep you for them.
This 2nd verse is in direct contrast with Judaism, for Father is the peculiar name of Christianity. El Shaddai had been the name by which God revealed himself to Abraham, and Abraham's perfection was to walk before the "Almighty God" as a pilgrim, in dependence on Him (Gen. 17:1). Jehovah was the name by which He was known to His people Israel, and their perfection was obedience to His commandments (Deut. 18:13); but Father is the name by which He has revealed Himself to us, and our perfection is to be like our Father, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).
It is a wonderful thing for my soul to get the sense of God being my Father; and to know that, through the work of the Son of God, I am put into His relationship, as Man, with the Father. Jesus, when risen said "I ascend unto my Father and your Father." Is this the way, beloved friend, in which you know God as your Father?
We have here first, the election of God the Father, and then the sanctification of the Spirit. Many would have supposed that the blood of Jesus would be brought in before the sanctification of the Spirit, but that is not God's way, and why? Because it is a most beautiful thing to know, that in your conversion, you were under the direct action of the Spirit of God. Remember the action of the Spirit of God on a man, and the indwelling of the Spirit of God in the believer, are two very different things. The Father chooses according to His own blessed foreknowledge. In eternity the Father set His eye on you. In time the Spirit of God began to work in you; and what is the first thing He did? He set you apart for God. Here is a striking contrast to Judaism. What separated Israel to God? External ordinances! How are you separated? By the real deep work of the Spirit of God in your soul, and "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."
Would you like that sentence reversed? You will generally find that the soul passes this way, before the sense of forgiveness through the blood becomes known. Take Saul of Tarsus, the pattern conversion in Scripture. When he called Jesus "Lord," the Spirit of God was working in him. Then he said, "What wilt thou have me to do?" There comes in obedience: he knew not the washing of the blood yet, but the will of the heart was broken. He was bent now on doing the will of God, but was in deep misery for three days. Then Ananias comes to him and says, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord," then he got the knowledge of forgiveness. This is the way God usually works; the soul, under the gracious action of the Spirit of God, desires to obey the Word of the Lord, and then comes the knowledge of remission of sins by faith in His blood.
1 Peter 1:3 and 4 present "a living hope," and an unfading "inheritance." Every Jewish hope was centred in the Messiah, but He had died, and therefore the hopes of the Jew were gone. Here all is a contrast to Judaism, "A living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." The inheritance God brought His people into, in olden days, they corrupted; their own sins defiled it; and it faded away before their eyes, when taken captive out of it. Oh, beloved, is it not sweet, in a world where everything fades away, and is corrupted and defiled, to know that you are called to a scene which is incorruptible, which nothing can defile, and which lasts eternally? Further, the inheritance is kept for you, and you are kept for the inheritance. The way the soul is kept is "by the power of God through faith." We are kept morally through the energy of faith, the work of God's Spirit, which He sustains by His own power and grace.
(1 Peter 1:5,) "Kept by the power of God." In Peter's Epistles you scarcely find a verse that has not a tacit, and at the same time touching allusion to his own pathway. He had not been kept, because of his own self-confidence; but God will keep you, he says, by His power through faith. I believe when he wrote that, his heart was turning back to the moment when the Lord told him, that He had prayed for him, that his faith might not fail — to the moment when, in self-confidence, he had thought that he could keep himself. Nor is it only that we are kept for a time, but "unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time." Peter has always got his eye on the glory beyond, and salvation is, with him (save in verse 9), always the deliverance of the saint out of this scene entirely, spirit, soul, and body, to be with Christ in glory: and this salvation, he says, is "ready to be revealed."
(1 Peter 1:6,) "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (trials)." Peter, so to speak, says: — If you are thinking of the scene where Christ is, and where you will be with Him, if your hearts are dwelling on the thought of that inheritance which He is keeping for you, and of the home which you will share with Him, where all is unfading brightness, you will be rejoicing. What can you do else but rejoice with such a prospect? Then he drops down to earth again in this 6th verse, and says, You may be "put to grief" by various trials. But the "heaviness" here is not what we often speak of as heaviness — viz., a soul being dull, and heavy because out of communion with the Lord. Here it is the soul being under pressure, the Lord seeing the needs be, for the cc manifold trials."
"If need be." The Lord knows what He is about. We do not like the yoke; not one of us does. Scripture says, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." Why? Because then he gets patient as he gets older.
The Lord makes no mistakes. Whatever comes to us, then, let our hearts just revert to the Father, with this thought, "There is a needs be." Moreover, these trials are not always chastisement, they are His training of His children. There is such a thing as education, not instruction merely. He wants to draw out, to develop, to make manifest that which is the result of His own grace working in our souls, that which is the fruit of the Spirit, "love, joy, peace, long-suffering," etc., and He takes His own way to produce these lovely fruits.
Look at 2 Cor. 9:10 and 11. There is a wonderful difference between the 10th and 11th verses. In the 10th we have Paul's desire coming out, that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in his body; in the 11th we have God saying, as it were, "Well, Paul, I shall put you into circumstances where you will get your desire, where you cannot live anything else but the life of Jesus."
You and I may often not see the "needs be" for this or that trial, but what does our Father say? There is a needs be: and as it is only for "a season," and is not to last for ever, this sustains the heart.
It is a great thing for our souls always to seek to find the bright side of every trial, and to have beaming, radiant faces all the while we are in deep trouble! Look at Paul and Silas at Philippi. What could be more dismal? Thrust into the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks, what do we find them doing? "They prayed and sang praises unto God." They were exercising their holy, and their royal priesthoods, in that prison. When they sang praises they were holy priests; when they said to the terrified jailer, "'Do thyself no harm, for we are all here," they were royal priests. It is a charming picture! They are as full of joy as they can be, and they get that jailer converted! That was the wonderful result of their bleeding wounded backs; that hitherto godless, and apparently unreachable soul was saved! Tribulation will come in various ways, but we must make up our minds to it while here, "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience experience; and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:3-5).
But the pathway of trial has a very bright end. "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7). Faith's sphere is on earth, and God tries it. He never gives faith that He does not prove it; and this brings forth the fruit that will appear by-and-bye, when everything is made manifest, at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
I believe the trying "by fire," spoken of in this verse, is a beautiful allusion to the three Hebrew servants who were tried by fire, whom, as you remember, Nebuchadnezzar cast into the furnace (Dan. 3:12-30). What was the effect of the fire in their case? It only burnt off their bonds, and set them free. The Lord lets us get into the fire oftentimes, and the effect of it is to burn off the cords that bind us, — in our case often self-imposed cords — and we come out free. But what have we had in the fire? A sense of the presence and company of the Lord, such as we never had before. So with the Hebrew servants, One walked with them in the furnace, and the form of that One was "like unto the Son of God."
"Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8). There cannot be a saint of God, who does not love the Lord. You do not love Him as you would like to do, nor as He deserves to be loved. Quite true; nor do I; but when God writes to His people, He says, I know you love My Son. To me there is a lovely connection between this verse, "Whom having not seen ye love," and the fourth verse of Revelation 22, "They shall see his face." There is nothing which so touches my heart, and softens my spirit as this, I shall see His face. Oh beloved, do you not long to see His face, to gaze on Jesus, your Lord, to be in His own very presence, to see Him with these very eyes, and to be in the intimate enjoyment of His love for evermore? What will it be to see His face? That face once was "marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men," for He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and it was for our sakes that His face was marred! What will it be to gaze on that face? No tongue can tell the deep and boundless joy of that moment.
"Believing ye rejoice," says Peter. Your trials and troubles will all turn to praise and honour, he says, at the Lord's appearing, and meantime faith must be in exercise, and you rejoice with joy unspeakable. I should like this to be more true of us, beloved. I do not think that there is among the dear children of God this daily rejoicing and exulting, of which this scripture speaks. It is in a Person they are to joy and exult, not in what He has done for them — that comes next.
"Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:9). Believing in Him, what have you received? Not salvation in the full sense of Peter's epistle, but the salvation of the soul. In the 5th verse you are kept "through faith unto salvation," a thing you have not yet, but will get through faith. In the 9th verse, salvation is the salvation of our souls, which we have now. You have not seen the Lord yet, but the moment you rest on Him by faith, you get your soul saved.
Three things come out in the following three verses (9-11): the testimony of the prophets; the preaching of the Holy Ghost; and the coming of the Lord — His appearing in glory.
When the prophets had written their prophecies, they sat down and studied them, for though it was the tale of the sufferings of Christ, and of the glories that should follow, which God revealed to them, it was not for themselves, but for us Christians, that they wrote.
"Which things the angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12). Though we are often so negligent about the study of Scripture, and, alas! there is but little desire in our hearts to penetrate into its hidden depths of meaning, the angels desire to look into them. Angels never knew God, or saw God, till they saw the babe Jesus in Bethlehem; for there was no revelation of God till then. Angels beheld God for the first time when they saw that wonderful Babe. At His birth there was a movement of the heavenly host. A multitude comes with the angel that announces His birth, and they sing praises to God. All heaven is occupied with what is taking place on earth, for the Son of God is in this world of ours. Angels minister to Him when "he was an hungered" in the wilderness after dismissing Satan; and in the garden, in His agony, angels come and minister to Him, and strengthen Him. Angels have a wonderful interest in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus; all "which things the angels desire to look into," and yet He did not come for angels. They sang at His birth, but we do not hear of them singing at His resurrection. Why? Then they seem to say, Here we stand aside and leave the note of praise for those whom it most nearly concerns. They leave it for you and me. We are the ones for whom He died. Angels say, We love to trace His pathway in this world; love to look into His tomb; but we have no fitting note to suit His resurrection, for He did not die for us, He died for sinners.
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind" (1 Peter 1:13). This is a figure that would be well known in the East. There they wore the flowing robe, and it would need to be girded up for a man at work to make any great progress. The loins are the secret of strength. There must be the steady application of your soul constantly to these things, Peter says; and Paul says, "Set your mind on things above, where Christ sitteth" (Col. 3:12): not only your affections. People often say they must have something for their minds. Paul says, I will give you something for your minds, but it will be in heaven.
"Hope to the end," etc. You have in this chapter faith in the Lord, love towards Him, and then this hope. You will find in New Testament Scripture faith, hope, and love written of as going together ten times. You have faith in a Person, you love a Person, and you hope for a Person. All is bound up in a Person — "the Person of Christ."
"For the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." What grace is this? The grace of being taken straight into His presence, to be with the Lord, and like Him, for ever. Jude says, "Looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life," and what mercy could be greater than for the Lord just to come, and lift us up out of this scene of sorrow, and trial, and distress, and weeping and death, and place us in His own bright presence for ever and ever? What Jude calls mercy, Peter calls grace, and what could be greater grace?
Then, having taken us on to the end, Peter brings us back again, and says this is how you are to walk meanwhile, "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:14-16). Not doing what you like, but what your Father tells you; and He looks for practical holiness from you.
"And if ye call on the Father, who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17). This is not the judgment-seat of Christ, but the Father keeping His eye on each child every day, watching what we do: and as we sow, so we reap. The obedient child says: I should like that there might be nothing in my path, day by day, that my Father would not be pleased to see. He is looking on, is coming in, too, in restraining grace, and in chastening likewise, oftentimes. This is how the Father judgeth, and that judgment is good and wholesome for our souls.
It is a great mistake to suppose, because the testimony of God in the present day, in the light of Christianity, is different from a former day under Judaism, that therefore the principles of the moral government of God have in anywise changed.
The moral government of God over His people is exactly the same today as in bye-gone days, and neither you nor I can traverse the word, or ways of God, without suffering for it, though we are under grace, any more than those who were distinctly under law. Hence the exhortation here to "Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear," which Peter adds. This is not at all the fear that genders bondage; not fear as to redemption, or acceptance or relationship, because the next thing we read is, "Forasmuch as ye know," etc. Why, then, am I to fear? Because I know certain things. The knowledge of redemption, and the enjoyment of the blessed place God's grace gives me in Christianity, are to make my pathway characterised by fear, and there would be far less sorrow, far less dealing of the Lord, in our day, if we had more of this fear. The moment we cease to have this fear is the moment we fall; so long as we fear we are preserved, and kept; the hour we cease to fear, is the time we fall.
This verse speaks of the daily government of God over His children; not the judgment of the great white throne, nor the judgment-seat of Christ for the saints, but the fact that the Father has His eye on me today, and He will deal with me today or tomorrow according to what His eye has seen. "The Father judgeth according to every man's work," hence I am to fear, lest in any way I miss His mind, err from His path, or grieve His Spirit. It is filial fear of offending a loving, but ever-watchful Father.
"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, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
Two things come out very clearly in this part of our chapter, viz., redemption by blood, and renewal — being born again by the Word of God. You have been redeemed, Peter says, by this precious blood, how then can you go on in the ways of the old man?
If you have been touched by this wondrous love of God, and have been redeemed completely from under the bondage of Satan, what kind of conversation will yours be now? It was "vain conversation" before, but now you are redeemed, not merely purchased, it is to be "good conversation."
Redemption and purchase are two very different things. Redemption is the slave being set free from his condition as a slave, and being brought into liberty. Mere purchase leaves him a slave still, though the master be different. Every unconverted soul belongs to the Lord. Peter speaks of "the Lord that bought them" in his second epistle. He bought "the field," — that is, the world, and every inhabitant of it belongs to Him; and deny Him though men may, and do now, the day is fast approaching when they will have to own Him Lord.
But, if a believer, you are redeemed, and are set free to serve Him with purpose of heart. There is not an element of bondage left now for the children of God. He has brought them into a place of perfect liberty: not liberty for the flesh, but for the enjoyment of that into which His grace has brought them.
The apostle, you must remember, is speaking to those who had Jewish thoughts and minds, which makes his language the more forcible. In referring to the blood of the lamb, what would that say to an Israelite? It would speak to him of that night in Egypt when the blood of the slain lamb, sprinkled on the door-posts, kept God out, when He passed by in judgment. It would speak to him, too, of how that blood maintained their place before God in the wilderness. When the Spirit of God said through Balaam, "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel," was there none? Yes, plenty, but He saw none. Is there not iniquity and perverseness too in us? Yes, but God sees none. He sees that blood which has brought us into His own presence, in peace, and in blessing. You never can get beyond it, even in glory. There the theme of everlasting praise is "the Lamb slain."
Note, it is "the precious blood of Christ." Scripture does not often use adjectives, specially so when speaking of the Lord Himself, but here the Spirit of God does use an adjective, "the precious blood." That is God's estimate of it — "precious." It avails to cleanse from every sin, and its efficacy is still fresh before God.
These words, "the precious blood of Christ," fell with sweetness on believers' ears eighteen hundred years ago, when Peter first penned the words; they fall with equal sweetness on believers' ears today, because it is this precious blood that gives us a place before God. You may fail, and I may fail, but that precious blood of Christ can never fail.
"Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (ver. 20). The introduction of the Lamb of God was no afterthought with God, He was pre-ordained before the foundation of the world. Why before the foundation of the world? Because the blessing of the heavenly saints — the Church — was thought of before the foundation of the world.
If you get an earthly people spoken of, "from the foundation of the world" is the word used; but if it be the present moment of the richest display of the grace of God, and the Church comes in, you get" before" the foundation of the world. (Compare Eph. 1:4; Titus 1:2; and 1 Peter 1:20, with Matt 25:34; Rev. 13:8, and Rev. 17:8.)
The moment the world came in, God said, I am going to have a people in the world (the Jews), but the Church does not belong to the world at all; the Church is a heavenly thing, was thought of in eternity, and belongs to eternity.
(1 Peter 1:21,) "Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God." It is not by creation man knows God. Man seeks to know God by creation, but he does not thus know Him; nor does he find Him out by His providential dealings up to Moses' time, nor by His revelations from Sinai, for man could not come near Him: if but a beast touched the mountain, it was to be stoned, or thrust through with a dart. God dwelt in thick darkness, which no one could approach unto. It is neither by creation, nor by providence, nor by law, that man knows God, but by the One who came down, and walked this earth as a man, and revealed the heart of God towards man, and then who died for man, and who has gone up again to the glory above — the Lamb of God.
Do you believe in God? I ask you. Are you thoroughly at home with God? Are you happy with God? "Christ once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." It is of the deepest importance to the soul to get hold of this, that the man Christ Jesus was the expression of the heart of God.
Perhaps in your mind you have a little different thought of God, from that which the name, and life of Jesus present to you.
Tell me, is Jesus, the Man of sorrows who once walked this earth as a blessed compassionate Man, is that One your thought of God? Any thought of God that is not the perfect counterpart of what Jesus was, is an idol; hence, says John, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." So Peter says, you have every reason for the fullest hope, and no reason for distrust of God, but, on the contrary, ground for the most perfect confidence in Him. There should be no diffidence about the future, but the most blessed assurance that He who has raised up from the dead the Lord Jesus, will raise you up also in like manner. Nothing but the knowledge of God, in the face of Jesus, could give the soul this blessed peace and hope, a hope that maketh not ashamed. The Lord give us to know Him better, and delight in Him more as we travel on from day to day.
(1 Peter 1:22,) "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." Your soul has been practically purified from its old thoughts and wishes, and now what comes out instead? "Unfeigned love of the brethren." You had been wandering through the world restless and unhappy, perhaps, and the grace of God came and worked in your heart, and you woke up to find yourself among your brethren. Now, he says, "See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." It is very easy to love lovable people, nothing is easier, but that is not "love out of a pure heart." Love out of a pure heart is a love that loves, not because the object is deserving, but when it is the reverse; it is like the love of God, who loved us when there was nothing about us to love.
In Romans 5 the apostle says, "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die." A righteous man is a hard kind of man, who pays every one, and expects every one to pay him, but does not win much love, and scarcely for such a one will one die. "Yet, peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." For a Howard, or a Peabody, or a philanthropist whose life was spent in benefiting others, for such, the apostle says, "peradventure some would even dare to die." He is not sure about it.
But when we were destitute of righteousness, and stripped of goodness, that was the very moment when God loved us. That was "love out of a pure heart," and that is the kind of love the Lord would stir us up to.
It is a very poor thing when people complain of want of love. I believe when we get to this state that we fail to find people loving us, we may lay it down as an axiom that we are not loving them.
You may say, "It is impossible to love some people." Peter says otherwise. You ought to love them, he says, because they are redeemed, and you have the capacity to love them because you are renewed. They are redeemed by the blood of Christ; there is your motive for loving them, and you are born again by the word of God; there is your capacity. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).
(1 Peter 1:24, 25,) "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof fadeth away: but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." This quotation from Isaiah 40 is very remarkable. Do you think you have a better nature than your neighbour, or your neighbour than you? God says all flesh is grass, and He says this when comforting His people. It is not the way you and I would comfort each other, to tell each other that we are utterly worthless. That is the way, however, that God takes to comfort a repentant people. It is an immense comfort to discover that God knows I am worthless, and that He expects no good out of me.
Nature is like grass, God says, but His Word is abiding and enduring for ever, and God has put in your soul a principle of blessing that is immutable, and unchanging and eternal, for it is from Himself, and like Himself. I have told you what you are, Peter says; now I will tell you what God is. You are grass, whereas God is everlasting, and His Word endures for ever, and He has put His Word in your heart, and now you have a nature like Himself.
How easy, if I only get this new life fed and nourished, for the child to be like the Father. There is no effort in love, it is like water finding its own level and if we are in the enjoyment of the love of God, feeling its blessedness to us, it will come out from us to others. When we were utterly worthless there was something put into us by the love of God, His Word living and abiding, that enables the child to be like the Father, and to love out of a pure heart as He loves. You are redeemed and you are renewed, and in the energy of the new life, you desire to follow in the wake of your Father's action. To please Him is to act like Him, you love the Father and you love the children.
Then having got this new life, Peter informs us that there are things to be laid aside which used to mark the old life. "Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2:1-3). Guile is not liking to be read through: having something sinister behind. How beautiful is the Lord's word about Nathanael, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" (John 1:47). Without guile is to be transparent. Was the Lord ever double? He was as transparent as the light, for He was "the light."
"Hypocrisies" too are to be laid aside, i.e., seeming to be what one is not, and hiding what one is — "and envies and all evil speakings." Scripture turns us inside out, and shows us what is in our hearts. There is no other book that reveals God, and no other book that so reveals man. If we were but subject to what we have enjoined on us in this second chapter, there would not spring up those weeds in the garden of the Lord, which alas! so often damage and disfigure it. It is very easy to pick a flaw in other people. Nothing is easier. It needs no microscope to see the defects in others, but is that the way to help them? If we began by correcting our own, it would be far better.
"As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby up to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). These last three words should be inserted here; the Holy Ghost indited them, but they have slipped out of our English version of the Bible.
In the first chapter you were born by the Word, here you get the food of the new life. The Word gave you life, the Word sustains and nourishes that life all along the way. You will never be a grown-up person till you reach the Lord in glory, all along the way you are to be in this character of a new-born babe. In proportion as we are feeding upon, and delighting in, the Word of the Lord, so our souls grow, and so are the things that are reprehended kept out. The Lord give us to love His Word, and delight in it more and more, and to walk more in simple obedience to it, till we see His face by-and-bye.
We are too apt to take what others think about the Word — that is, to take it adulterated. If we are going to be happy, we must get the Word for ourselves. If we give it up, we shall certainly lose everything else. If the sap of a tree is gone, so is the health and fruit bearing. The Word of God is everything to the soul. Do we, then, buy up the opportunities that are given us for the study of the Word? We may not all be able to give hours to it at one time, but do we use up our minutes? Is it our daily guide-book in the path of life?
Neither you nor I were ever caught by Satan and tripped up, we never made a mistake in our history, that it was not the direct result of neglect of some part of the Word of God.
The Lord answered and defeated Satan in the wilderness as the result of having lived by the Word of God, not because He Himself was God; and when we have been beaten by Satan, it was because we had not the Word of the Lord to go by. I believe there is in the Word, divine guidance for your soul and mine, for every step of our history from first to last. There are principles to be found in it that would guide us at all times, if we were only subject to it.
I would press upon you, my reader, more careful and prayerful, and constant study of the Word of the Lord, so as to get to know His mind. Comparatively speaking, the Bible is a small book: how is it that we know so little about it? I believe because there is a profundity in it, to begin with, that no other book has, and it must be read in dependence on God in order to be understood; but then too Satan does his very best to prevent our storing it up in our hearts, because he knows its value.
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them," the Lord says, "he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him," i.e., I will pay him a visit, but "If any man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him" (John 14:21-23). In proportion. as our souls heed the written Word, we shall find the Spirit of God giving us the enjoyment of Him who is the Living Word.
I do not wonder Peter commends them so earnestly to the Word of the Lord, even as he so often and so touchingly alludes to his own denial of Him. Had he remembered the word of the Lord to him, he would never have denied Him in Pilate's hall.
CHAPTER 21 — OUR HOLY AND ROYAL PRIESTHOOD.
HAVING shown us in the first chapter that the Christian is redeemed, renewed, and empowered by the Holy Ghost to walk in newness of life, Peter now passes on to unfold our new relationships, and shows that Christians are not only builded together as a spiritual house, but are a holy and a royal priesthood, — holy, looking God-ward; royal, looking manward, and that this all flows from coming to Christ.
(1 Peter 2:4, 5,) "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Peter is very fond of this word living. You will remember his confession of Jesus in Matthew 16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." You have come to a living stone, he says here; and this is God's estimate of Him, "Chosen of God, and precious."
It is "to Whom coming," i.e., you are brought to have to do with a Person. Do you know what this is? Have you had to do in the history of your soul with the Son of God as a living Person? If you have, what is the result? "Ye also as living stones are built up."
What is a Christian? You say a "living stone." — And what is a stone? A stone is a bit of a rock. See what security it gives! Where first do we get the illustration? In Peter's own case. Peter is brought to Jesus, and what does Jesus say? "Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation a stone" (John 1:42).
This act of the Lord's is most significant. He takes the place of being Simon's Lord, and his possessor. Changing the name always indicated that the person whose name was changed, became the possession, or vassal, of the one who changed his name. How does this change of name take place? The Lord speaks to Peter. How do we become living stones? Because we have heard the voice of the Son of God. "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25).
A Christian is a living stone, having come to Christ. What a sense of security it gives the soul! You have had to do with the Living One! He is a living stone, and you are a living stone; you have rock-life, the same as His. Can you ever be separated from Him? Never! His life is now yours, and "your life is hid with Christ in God."
The spiritual house, of which Peter here speaks, is the nearest approach to Paul's doctrine of the "body." What Paul calls the "body," Peter calls the "house," but that is not at all what Paul means by the house; he is talking of a great mass of profession, when using that expression. If you want to see the spiritual house in perfection, you must look at Revelation 21. How beautifully the stones shine there! They are exactly the same stones as are being built up here, but by the time we get there we have been on the great Lapidary's wheel to the uttermost; and every bit of dirt, and every ugly excrescence has been taken off, and the wheel has rendered the stone translucent. But the stones that shine so brightly there, ought to shine for Christ here! What a beautiful thing it would be if the world could read Christ in you and me here! By-and-bye the nations will walk in the light of that city; they will see Christ coming out then in glory, and they ought to see His grace and love now reflected in our life and ways day by day.
But believers, besides being God's spiritual house, are "an holy priesthood." The idea that man has of a priest is one who comes between the soul and God, and does the business of the soul with God. That was all true in Old Testament times, but who are the priests now? Every saved soul is a priest. "Am I then exercising my priesthood?" is a question of profound importance for each believer to ask himself. We are not all ministers, for God has not given us all power to minister the Word of the Lord, but we are all priests.
Ministry is the exercise of a spiritual gift, and the divinely appointed means of conveying truth from God to the souls of men; therefore every person ought to have the deepest possible sense in his soul, if he rise to minister, "I have something from God for the people before me." But while public ministry is limited according to gift, priesthood belongs to the youngest, the feeblest, the weakest believer, and it belongs to women as well as to men.
Worship is the result of the exercise of the holy priesthood; ministry is the exercise of the gift the Lord has given to His servants. Worship is from the soul to God. Ministry is from God to the soul. The holy priests are to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Hebrews 13:15, says, "By him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name." There should be continually rising from the hearts of the saints, blessing, and praise, and worship.
The Lord has put us together first of all, to praise, and thank, and bless God. We must have God first: His due must be rendered to Him. We must not even put preaching the Gospel first. This is where Christendom has gone wrong. It has put the world first, and made the salvation of souls the first object. Now this is not what God looks for to be our first object. It is all right, in its place, and we cannot be too earnest in our endeavour to get souls saved, but God's claims on us, as His saints, and His holy priests, we must first respond to. Then go out after souls with all the energy possible.
What is God's great work now, from the day of Pentecost onward? What has He been seeking? The Father seeks worshippers, and because the Father seeks worshippers, the Son says, I must go and seek sinners, and when I have found them, turn them into worshippers. When once we are worshippers, and holy priests, it is easy to fulfil our functions as royal priests. Are you a royal priest? Looking to God we are holy priests, and passing through the world we are to be royal priests. And what does royalty give? It gives the sense of dignity. And what more dignified than to be God's ambassadors in a world that opposes His grace!
How wonderful it is to read, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9). I feel we are very apt to lose the sense of our individual responsibility as royal priests. It is our privilege and solemn responsibility to "show forth the virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light." But first we must exercise our holy priesthood. If we are built up a spiritual house, and given the privilege of being holy priests, are we exercising this privilege? Are our souls answering to the mind of God? The thing is very simple. Peter says these spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God. It is that which the Lord looks for, delights in, and wants. It is what His blessed Son came into the world for.
What a picture the priesthood in the Old Testament gives us of our position now. What does God put into our hands now? It is Christ! He puts Christ into our hands to offer up. He does not look for us to be occupied with ourselves, either with our own position, or our own blessing, but to be occupied with all that Christ is, as the One that God finds precious, and whom our hearts find precious too.
"Unto you, therefore, which believe he is precious," i.e., what God sees precious, you see precious. Faith sees exactly what God sees.
It would be an immense help if, in our meetings for worship, this thought filled us, that we are there as priests to offer to God what He delights in, and that is Christ. I press this thought, that our condition individually largely affects God's assemblies. Supposing that a large proportion of the holy priests are flat and listless, and with little enjoyment of Christ, you must have the whole assembly affected by that. Oh! if our souls were bright with a deep sense of the love and favour of God, what meetings for worship ours would be! It would be all Christ, and Christ alone. The Lord lead us into the enjoyment of what it is to be holy priests, as those whose hearts are satisfied with Christ, and thus bring Him to God continually, Whom we find precious, and Whom God finds precious!
But if we are holy priests, we are also to be royal priests. What is the royal priesthood? Clearly of the same nature as the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ. The Lord is now exercising His priesthood after the Aaronic type. He is thinking of His poor weak people down here. The exercise of His priesthood is Aaronic, its order that of Melchizedek. Now He is meeting weakness and infirmities; when He comes out as the Melchizedek Priest by-and-bye, it will not be meeting-weakness; all is pure blessing consequent on victory. But now, before Christ exhibits the Melchizedek priesthood, He says to His people, You must exhibit it. He is going to be a blessing to everybody by-and-bye, and He says, That is what you may be now, in every possible way in which Christian love and grace can carry you out in devotedness to meet every need, whether of body or soul. You may only be able to carry a piece of bread to a hungry person, or to visit a sick one, or to comfort a mourning heart, or to speak a word to a troubled conscience; but all flows from the fact of your being a royal priest, and in the proper exercise of your priesthood.
We have seen in Hebrews 13:15, our holy priesthood — offering the sacrifice of praise to God continually, and in verse 16 our royal priesthood comes out. "But to do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." The sacrifice of praise is the first thing, and the sacrifice of active benevolence is the next, i.e., reproducing the character of God. The world is to look at you and me, and to see in us the character of the One whom it cannot see — who is now hidden — by the coming out in us of what He is, in all our words and ways. Christ says, as it were, I depute you to exercise the Melchizedek priesthood, before the day when I come out to exercise it Myself.
What is the Melchizedek priesthood? A priesthood of unmixed blessing. What is a Christian? A person who is blessed, and who becomes a blesser. If you, my reader, are a Christian, what are you left in this world for? Christ has left you in this world to be a person whose heart is always to go out to God in praise and thankfulness, in the midst of a thankless world, and to go out to men in acts of benevolence and unselfishness, in the midst of a selfish world. To God thankfulness and praise; to men benevolence and unselfishness, that is to be our life. The Lord grant that His grace may so work in our hearts as to produce these spiritual fruits.
(1 Peter 2:7 and 8), "Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." This gives us Israel's path, as a nation. Why do they stumble at the Word? Because they will not obey God. "Whereunto also they were appointed." Appointed to what? Appointed as a nation to have this stone put before them. God gave them the most wonderful privilege possible, to have Christ put before them, and they stumbled over Him. Because He came in lowly grace the nation stumbled over Him.
"But ye are a chosen generation," etc. Peter is addressing himself there particularly to the believing remnant of Israel, the Jewish believers, whom God had turned to Himself. The nation stumbled over Christ, he says, but you poor feeble believers in Him have all the blessings that God had promised the nation.
As a nation, God had said of them in Exodus 19 that if they were obedient they should be a peculiar treasure to Him, a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. They were disobedient, and lost all, and now Peter says, you, a feeble remnant, have got this blessing, in spite of the disobedience of the nation, through the grace of God, and the obedience of Christ.
"Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God, which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2:10). This is a word from Hosea 2. Because of their wickedness and sin, God had said that Israel should not get mercy, and were not His people (Hosea 1:6). The nation has lost the blessing through their disobedience. In the 2nd chapter, the Lord promises to give it back. In spite of their sin, and disobedience, and unfaithfulness, and My judgment too, I will bring them into blessing by-and-bye, God says, and in the very spot where they were judged, there they will be blessed (Hosea 2:23). Judgment has gone by, and mercy rejoices against judgment, for even disobedience cannot frustrate the purposes of God in grace.
God will fulfil His promises to Israel, and bless them through His own grace, and they will go to the valley of Achor (Joshua 7:26; Hosea 2:15), the place where the first judgment came on Israel in the land, for profaning themselves with the forbidden thing, and there where they had been judged, they will get the blessing through mercy. But now, Peter says, you, the believing remnant, get this position before the time comes when God will restore the nation.
Having pointed out the peculiar place of blessing which the believers among the Jews occupied, the apostle begins his exhortations. It is very noticeable in every part of the Word of God, that exhortations are always based upon the unfolding of the doctrine of the soul's relationship with God most distinctly and clearly, and this chapter is no exception to the general rule.
You will see at a glance how simply and naturally the exhortations come in here. Peter has been calling these people to heaven. He has been unfolding the heavenly calling, in the first chapter; has shown them that they are chosen by the Father, separated by the work of the Spirit, and sheltered by the blood of the Son of God; that an inheritance in heaven is kept for them, and they are kept for it; that in the meantime they go through trouble down here, but rejoice in Him, whom having not seen they love. Then he has shown them, that they are children of the Father, but redeemed by the blood of the Son, and renewed by the Spirit, and the Word of God.
In the second chapter he has been setting forth their new position, as being a spiritual house in which God dwells, and moreover that they are both holy and royal priests — holy priests in offering up spiritual sacrifices to God, and royal priests in showing forth the "virtues of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light:" then that they are His people, and have obtained mercy, and mercy is a very sweet thing. Mercy we need all through our walk on earth.
This, then, is the place in which the believer stands; this is Peter's view of Christianity, that the believer is left down here to yield to God what He ought to get from man, and to show to man what God is, in the grace and love of His heart towards man. After this are we not prepared for any exhortation?
(1 Peter 2:11,) "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." He addresses the Christian as a stranger and a pilgrim. Why are you a stranger? Because you are away from home. Why are you a pilgrim? Because you are journeying to a spot which you want to reach. You are a stranger because your hopes, your joys, and the One you love best are all in heaven, and that is what makes heaven the home of your heart.
Born from heaven, you belong to heaven. Your Father is in heaven, your Saviour is in heaven, your springs of supply are in heaven; your hopes, your joys, are all in heaven; in short, you are like an exotic plant down here, a stranger to this clime. You are a pilgrim, too, and a pilgrim never thinks his pilgrimage over till he reaches the spot towards which his course is bent.
"Abstain from fleshly lusts," says the apostle. Peter is talking of the inner life of the soul, of those thousand and one little things that come in to spoil communion with God, and to hinder growth, and the knowledge of Christ.
You know what is a snare to you, what will trip you up, and, he says, you must be prepared to deny yourselves the things that are a hindrance, or, in other words, "which war against the soul." You must use, in fact, the knife of circumcision. After Israel crossed the Jordan, to take possession of the promised land, there had to be sharp knives used before they could use sharp swords: and why? Because the sharp knives were for themselves, and they must be right themselves, before they can war against the enemy. If you are going to have outward power, you must have inward purity. If you are going to have happiness, you must have holiness. Happiness always walks a little behind holiness, and the man that is not holy cannot be happy. By holiness I mean practical judging of oneself and one's ways; practically setting oneself to work to keep the flesh in the place of death, where God has put it by the cross of Christ. There must be holiness within, or there will be no happiness without. He that would be happy must be holy.
(1 Peter 2:12-15,) "Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Now the apostle turns outside. If you have your heart practically purified by the Lord, you will find yourself all right outside. But mark, you must make up your mind at once for the opposing Gentiles to speak against you. Who are the Gentiles? Unbelievers. If you are going to follow the Lord closely, you will find that, not only unbelievers, but sometimes even worldly Christians will have a good deal to say against you. What will be the result? They will have, by-and-bye, to confess before God that your works were worthy of the Lord; and though they spoke evil of you, they knew that God was working in you, and by you.
It is a great thing for a young Christian to stand boldly for the Lord. What must you expect? That your old worldly friends will have a great deal to say about you, and it will all be evil, of course. We must expect it, and if we are expecting it, we are not surprised when it comes.
"Having your conversation honest;" that is, our walk so up to the mark that no one can put a finger on anything and say, That is not right, or, That is not fair, or, The other thing is not lovely. There ought not to be even a suspicion of evil, much less a proof.
The 11th verse is the subjugating of the inward life, the 12th verse is the right ordering of the outward life, and in verse 13, we are told to submit to the powers that be for the Lord's sake. If the governing powers of the land were to institute an impost ever so unrighteous, the Christian's duty is to submit. Could there have been a more wicked king than Nero? Yet in Nero's time, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians to be subject to the higher powers, because they are ordained of God.
The Lord Jesus Himself came into the world to have no rights, to be scorned and buffeted, and finally to be turned out of the world which His own hands had made, and a Christian is to follow Christ, and to have no rights either. Whatever the thing is, unless it infringe on the revealed will of God, you are to submit for the Lord's sake; that is, you are to act as royal priests, showing forth the virtues that are in Him. If Christians are moved to strife, or are siding with the world, there is no testimony as to patience, and forbearance, and the like.
(1 Peter 2:16,) "As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God." Here the Christian gets the place of being thoroughly free, not belonging to the world, but belonging to heaven, and not using his liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servant of God, seeking only to be a servant. Now a servant's business is simply to follow the will of his master, and God's will is that I should submit. If I take things into my own hands, the Lord says, as it were, "You have taken up the cudgels, and I leave you to fight it out," and the consequence is, when this is the case, we are always beaten.
(1 Peter 2:17,) "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." Now Peter begins to take up the relationships of life. I am to give honour to whom honour is due. Be it a title or whatever it is, I am to give it. It is often a little pride in the heart that does not like to yield this honour — but, believe me, there is nothing more contrary to God, nothing more deadening, nothing more thoroughly of the devil than radicalism, or what is called "levelling," and the end of the whole thing is Antichrist, upsetting all authority and power, only that it may shift hands.
Among Christians there is but one standing-place before God; all are saints, and are one in Christ Jesus. God raised up His Son Jesus Christ, and with Him He has put in His own presence every believer. What wonderful exaltation! In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither bond nor free. This is the doctrine of Christ — the doctrine of the Church. How then ought I to act? Like Christ! I ought to speak like Christ, to act like Him. But then there is "the doctrine of God," and what is that? If I am a servant I am to act as one; if I do not so act, I put everything out of its due order.
The doctrine of Christ is that there is not a shade of difference between saint and saint, but the doctrine of God is, that God says there are those to whom I am to give honour, and I am not walking with God if I am not ready to do this, not grudgingly, but with all heartiness. There is something very beautiful in these four things going together in the 17th verse. Peter talks of the world, of the brotherhood, of God, and of the king.
It is vain for us to say we are fearing God if we are not giving to all men that which God would have us give. There is no real fear of God unless I am seeking to maintain, in His presence, every relationship in which I am placed down here, exactly as He would have me maintain it, according to His own mind and heart.
(1 Peter 2:18,) "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." Peter is speaking here not to slaves, but to domestic servants, and what is the word? "Be subject with all fear." They maybe very hard masters, be very ill-tempered persons, that is not to excuse the Christian servant from subjection. Let us acknowledge our weakness, but never seek to extenuate it; let us acknowledge our feebleness, but never let us justify it!
What is the fear spoken of here? Fear lest, in my position as a servant. I should misrepresent God; that is the fear. My master or mistress might be unconverted, and I have to represent God to them.
(1 Peter 2:19-22,) "For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." If you do right, and get hard words for it, and take it patiently, you put God in debt, as it were. He says, "Thank" to you. How beautiful! If you do good, suffer for it, take it patiently, and get no thanks from your master, never mind, you are going to get a surprise by-and-bye; there is a "Thank" to come from God to you, for this beautiful exhibition of patience under most trying circumstances. The motive for you to act like this is most blessed; it is because Christ did the same when He suffered for us.
Peter speaks of suffering for conscience' sake, for righteousness' sake, for Christ's sake, and for evil doing. I may possibly suffer for my own sin, but I ought never to, and why? Because Christ has suffered for sins. I may suffer for conscience' sake, because there may come a question of doing something which a master orders, but which is contrary to God, and then of course Gad must be obeyed rather than man. Obedience to God is the first thing — the great ruling principle of the Christian's life. If in obeying a master I must disobey God, I am shut up to what Peter says in Acts 4, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." It never can be right to disobey God, in order to obey man, and the saint is never supposed to do such a thing.
In such a case I may suffer for conscience' sake, but the soul gets the recompense made to it of the Lord's favour and blessing, and of His enjoyed presence, as its blessed reward. Peter gives Christ as a beautiful example of this, "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).
Christ put His case wholly into God's hands, and you must do the same, Peter says. Christ said, I take everything entirely from God's hands, and accept it as coming from Him; and when we do the same, the sting of the trial is gone, and it is only fraught with blessing for the soul.
This allusion to the Lord's perfect pathway leads the apostle here to allude most touchingly to the reality and depth of Christ's sufferings, "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls" (1 Peter 2:24, 25). Your sins, my sins, led Him to the tree, and now we are dead to sins, but alive to God.
Jesus always did right; we went wrong, went astray, but we are brought back to have to do with this blessed One, who is the Overseer, the One that takes care of the soul, the Shepherd who goes after the sheep.
The Lord give us to delight our hearts more and more in Him, to follow Him, to learn of Him, to have His Word more as the daily joy of our souls, and to bring forth fruit in our lives.
CHAPTER 22 — OUR PATHWAY OF SUFFERING.
1 Peter 3.
ONE cannot help being struck in reading the Epistles of Peter with this thought, that he is always contemplating difficulties in the road of the saint, and suggesting how to get along, so as to glorify God in the very midst of them.
This remark applies very specially to this chapter. He begins with the wives, and supposes that many may have unconverted husbands. Subjection was that which the Lord had laid on the wife; but this thought might arise in her heart, Am I to obey a husband who is unconverted? Never mind, the Lord says, you be in subjection. Then the difficulty might come, What if he asked me to do anything that would lead to the dishonour of God? The answer is simple. It never can be the path of a Christian to dishonour Christ.
(1 Peter 3:1, 2,) "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear." There might come in even the very point that the wife sees, the privilege of the Table of the Lord, and the husband forbids her going. What is she to do? I believe her path is clear; it is not a command of the Lord, but a privilege, and therefore if the husband forbids, it is the duty of the wife to be subject, till God clear the way, which, in His own time, He may do. The principle is subjection, and that God owns, and we can never traverse the Word of the Lord without distinct retributive judgment following, sooner or later, from the Lord. How much better is it quietly to wait on the Lord for Him to remove the difficulty, than for her to take the bit in her teeth and say, "It is a privilege, and I mean to have it at all costs."
What is the thought the Lord holds out to the wife? That the husband may be won by her life, her "chaste conversation coupled with fear." It is a wonderful thing to get a soul converted to God by a life. I can conceive no testimony higher to any saint, than that the quiet walk of subjection to God has been the means of showing Christ to a soul. Many a careless husband has, thank God, been converted through the silent godly testimony of a woman, who always did the right thing, because always thinking of pleasing God. The fear is the danger of overstepping one word of the Lord's — the fear of misrepresenting Him.
(1 Peter 3:3, 4,) "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." There is a beautiful allusion to the fashions, because there is nothing so changeable as fashion, but, the apostle says, you are to have an ornament that is ever the same. Oh to be the possessor of that, which in the sight of God is of great price, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit! It is not shown in what the world around notices, it can only be seen and understood by those who are thrown in contact with the wearer.
It is a beautiful thing to be able even to dress to please the Lord, because the body belongs to Him. Spirit, soul, and body are all His, and we are always to be living to God, having the eye on God, walking before Him.
(1 Peter 3:7,) "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered." The wife was to give to the husband subjection, and the husband was to give to the wife honour, he was to be the one who should cherish and care for her as the one given him of God. "That your prayers be not hindered." There must be some special reason for the apostle speaking of this, Take care, he says, that you so dwell, that your prayers be not hindered. You are heirs together of the grace of life, i.e., you possess the life that springs from Christ, and you are heirs together of the grace that flows from Christ, now be watchful lest anything come in to hinder your prayers.
Depend upon it the secret of power does not depend on the public prayer meeting, but on cultivating the spirit of prayer, and this applies when we are but one or two together. It is a beautiful broad principle in Scripture, and nothing so tends to real fellowship as bowing the knee together.
(1 Peter 3:8,) "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous." We have a lovely word here, because the tendency is for different minds to come in and have different interests. Do not have it so, the apostle says; have sympathy one with the other, be pitiful, be not courteous merely, but humble-minded.
(1 Peter 3:9,) "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing, not rendering evil for evil." Evil will rise, he says, you are going through an evil world, and what is the blessed privilege of the child of God in a place where he receives evil every day? To pay it back with good. What a wonderful privilege for a saint of God! He is called to inherit a blessing himself, and to be a blesser of others.
(1 Peter 3:10, 11, 12,) "For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it: for the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." Now we come to a quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures, Psalm 34. It is very instructive to see how in this epistle the apostle lays his hand, by the Spirit of God, on the three great sections of Scripture, and uses them for our edification. In the first chapter he quotes from the law, in the second from the prophets, and now in the third from the Psalms. They are all beautifully brought to bear upon us, for what Peter is about, in his epistle, is presenting the moral government of God over His people in this world.
(1 Peter 3:10,) It would be a wonderful thing for us to know a little more of this restraining power. You will not find a happy bright Christian who allows himself in the unrestrained use of his tongue. He will not be bright, he will not be happy, and he does not see good days; on the contrary, he sees miserable days, unhappy, dull days, because he has done the thing the Lord told him not to, and he suffers for it.
(1 Peter 3:11,) You are to seek peace, and pursue it; it is the thing the heart is to be really set on in going through this world, and if any would incite you to cause trouble, you simply say, "No, I will seek peace."
(1 Peter 3:12,) Do I shrink from the eyes of the Lord being upon me? Certainly not, if my heart is right with Him. No! Let Him see everything, for the enjoyed presence of God is what preserves a good conscience, not only with Him, but before the enemy.
"The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers." Sweet word! Peter feels the necessity of prayer and dependence, and if your walk be right, he says, the Lord is attentive to your prayers. "But," you say, "He does not answer." Well, perhaps He may be having a controversy with you," for the face of the Lord is against them that do evil," and that is as true of a child of God as of an unconverted person. If the soul is doing right, what is the result? You have the eyes of the Lord upon you, and the ears of the Lord open to you, i.e., you have the presence" of the Lord as the result of a walk that is suited to God. Then you are not a bit afraid of Satan's power, or of Satan's wiles. The only way in which we can get along is by enjoying God.
(Verses 13, 14,) "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled." Evil is all about, he says, and you must expect to meet with difficulty and trial; but going through this scene, if you walk before the Lord, who will harm you? People do not harm those that do good, but those who do evil; people are pretty sure to escape who do good.
"But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye." Do what is thoroughly right, and you may suffer for it in this world, but it is a happy thing for us if we do thus suffer in this Christ-like way. Peter endeavours to assure our souls, very much as Paul comforted the Thessalonians when they were undergoing trouble. "Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts." (It is not "the Lord God.") He says, You sanctify in your hearts the One whom God has exalted as Messiah, and set, at His own right hand.
(1 Peter 3:15,) "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." You are always to be able to give a reason for the joyful expectation that you have. Hope is never uncertainty in Scripture, but the joyful expectation of a certainty. It is a very good thing to be pulled up now and then to give a reason for the joyful expectation that we have. We ought to be able to give a very distinct reason, but our answer is to be given in "meekness and fear," i.e., in a manner that shuts out all levity or lightness, a manner that conveys to the soul that asks the question, this: "It is the most wonderful favour of God to give such a hope to a sinner like me, but I have got it through His grace, and you may get it likewise."
(1 Peter 3:16,) "Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." If I have not a good conscience I am utterly powerless. If I have a bad conscience I cannot meet Satan, and I cannot meet man: but I can go and meet God, confessing my sin, because I shall meet His mercy, and His grace will give me the sense of cleansing and pardon, and when I have again got a purged conscience I can meet both Satan and man.
Paul says, "Herein do I exercise myself to have always a conscience void of offence." If I exercise myself, I keep a good conscience; if I have an exercised conscience, I have a bad conscience. Conscience and communion never work together. If I am in communion with God, what am I doing? I am occupied with God. If I have an exercised conscience, I am occupied with myself, or with what I have done that is wrong.
The shield of faith is confidence in God, the breastplate of righteousness is the practical thing, assurance that I have not done a thing that God would not have me do, or that man could take hold of.
(1 Peter 3:17,) "For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evildoing." I grant you it may seem a hard thing to carry out this verse but it is what Christ did. He did well, and suffered for it, and took it patiently. Why ought the Christian never to suffer as an evildoer? Because Christ once suffered for sin — let that be enough. The apostle says, If you suffer for righteousness' sake, be happy in it; if for Christ's sake, glory in it; but for doing evil let not a Christian suffer, because Christ has once suffered for those very sins: a most touching reason.
(1 Peter 3:18,) "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." That is His wondrous suffering for sins on the cross, and then the glorious effect of that is that I am brought to God, not brought to heaven or brought to glory, but brought to God in Christ, in His own blessed person. "Being put to death in the flesh," that is dying as a man, "but quickened by the Spirit," and then he adds, "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison."
(1 Peter 3:19-22,) "Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us, (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels, and authorities, and powers, being made subject unto him." That which led to the apostle's giving this unfolding was, that these Jewish believers were a little company who were frequently taunted because of their faith in a Christ who did not exist on the earth. They were twitted and taunted with the fact of their Christ not being present. Yes, says the apostle, and I can tell you something else, the Spirit of Christ went and preached in Noah's days, and He was not present then, and there were but a few, even eight, saved then. The little flock with Noah was all right and the mass of the world was all wrong; judgment overtook the mass of the people in that day, and as it did then, so will judgment overtake the mass of the Jewish nation in this day.
Many a Christian believes that the Lord, between the crucifixion and resurrection, went down to hell, and, during the time that His Spirit was absent from the body, preached in hell to the spirits who had been disobedient in Noah's time. But it is very peculiar that Christ should preach only to the disobedient of Noah's day, and leave all the rest. He would not have been so particular as to His audience, I trow, had he gone there, but I do not believe he did. He says elsewhere, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades" (Ps. 16:10). That His soul went into hades is certain from this scripture, but we must bear in mind that "hades" is a condition, not a place. There is a hades of the blessed dead, as well as a hades of the wicked dead. Into the hades of the blessed Jesus undoubtedly passed, for He said to the dying thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise," and eventually, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:43-46). We may. safely conclude that the hades He went to was not the "prison" in which the spirits of the godless of Noah's day are chained.
The Spirit of Christ in Noah really preached to the people in Noah's day. How the Spirit of Christ? We have seen in the first chapter of this epistle that very expression (1 Peter 1:10, 11). The Spirit of Christ in the prophets could write Scripture, and then search Scripture. So the Spirit of Christ in Noah could proclaim the Gospel to the antediluvians, while they were men on the earth. In Genesis 6 God says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." This is the very word. The Spirit of the Lord strove with them for a hundred and twenty years. The Spirit of Christ in Noah proclaimed the Gospel all that time. It was the preaching of righteousness and coming judgment. The spirits of these men are in prison now, because they were disobedient to the word preached to them then.
I believe the apostle introduced the passage for two reasons. This little company of Jewish believers was looked down upon by the rest of the nation, because they were so few in number, and because Christ was not corporeally among them, and He would comfort them as to both points, for only a few, eight persons, were in the right, and saved in Noah's time, and the Spirit of Christ preached then, though He Himself was not present.
Then he makes an allusion to our present condition as believers, the consequence and result of the Lord being raised from the dead.
Water, which was the very thing that was the death of the world, saved Noah. "The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us." Not baptism but that of which baptism is the figure.
It is not the answer of a good conscience here, but the request of a good conscience, because the moment a soul is quickened it wants to know how it can stand before God in righteousness. Well, Peter says, this is how you get it. It is not the purgation of any evil by ourselves, but Christ died and put our sins away. In baptism death is accepted. Like Noah, the believer is on the other side of death and judgment.
I look up, Peter says, and see Christ raised from the dead, and gone into heaven, angels being made subject to Him. There was a beautiful touch for the believing Jew. I have a good conscience, and a seated Christ in glory, and I am on the other side of death and judgment, seated in Christ at God's right hand. This is the blessed portion of the Christian in this world.
CHAPTER 23 — OUR STEWARDSHIP.
1 Peter 4.
THE 1st verse of the 4th chapter of Peter is undoubtedly connected with the 18th verse of the previous chapter, which latter gives a most beautiful motive why a Christian never should suffer for sins, as we have seen. In between, the apostle has given a parenthesis, brought in for the comfort of these Hebrew believers, who were taunted with the thought that because they were a little company therefore they were not right.
(1 Peter 4:1-3,) "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries." As man, Christ actually died on the cross in this world. It is not exactly the same truth as Paul gives — Paul gives us the doctrine; Peter gives us the practical side of it. He is showing us all through his epistle how a Christian must expect to suffer. If you do what Jesus did, you must suffer. He did the will of God perfectly, and the result was He suffered in the flesh. Satan came to Him in the wilderness and offered Him everything, if He would bow down to him; and again in the garden of Gethsemane the enemy sought to turn Him aside; but there was nothing in Christ to answer to his temptations., and therefore He suffered being tempted, but would rather die than not do the will of God. He did the will of God, and it brought Him into death. Now, says Peter, you must arm yourselves with the same mind.
The expression "flesh" is not used as meaning the principle of evil, as Paul uses it. Paul means by the term that standing in which I am found as a child of Adam, — the principle of evil which man has in him as a child of Adam fallen, having a corrupt nature, away from God. Peter means by "flesh," our life here in the body. Christ as a man suffered here, and if doing the will of God produces suffering, we too are privileged to get into glory by the pathway of suffering.
1 Peter 4:1. First, he takes up what is within. You have a nature that likes its own way; but if you do God's will it is always at the expense of your own — at the expense of suffering here.
1 Peter 4:2 and 3. That is the contrast between the lusts of men and the will of God. If I give way to the lusts of men, I do not suffer — not in the sense in which Christ suffered, doing God's will. How Christ might have saved Himself had He pleased Himself!
To do the will of God brought the blessed Lord into the deepest suffering, brought Him into death, and the apostle says we must arm ourselves with the same mind, be prepared to suffer, and to die too.
Then if you arm yourself with the same mind, you do the will of God, and do not sin. God has left us here for a little while, and what for? To do the will of God. Supposing you suffer by the will of God, go to God about it. It is often His will that we should suffer. The person who does not suffer, in some way or other, we may confidently say, is not walking closely after Christ. If you are in a pathway without suffering, you may safely conclude you are not in God's pathway.
(1 Peter 4:4, 5,) "Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead." Here he is giving them comfort. The Gentiles say you are strange; never mind, the apostle says; supposing you did go with them, they would think it inconsistent of you, and now that you do not, they think it strange. But, says Peter, we are walking not to please them, but to please the Lord, and we have to remember this, that God is ready to judge the living and the dead, and they will have to give an account to Him. The judgment of the living was evidently that with which a Jew was familiar. The apostle is bringing out here that God is going to judge both the living and the dead — the living, according to Matthew 25, at the commencement of the kingdom, and the dead, as the final act of the kingdom, at the end of the millennium — at the great white throne.
There are three things that Peter uses the word "ready" in connection with. In the first chapter he tells us that God is "ready" to take us out of the world; in the fourth chapter he tells us that He is "ready" to judge the world: and between these two moments, the Christian is always to be "ready" to give an answer to any one who asks him the reason of the hope that is in him.
(1 Peter 4:6,) "For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." This verse may have an allusion to the end of the 3rd chapter, to those who lived in Noah's day; but I do not think we can limit it to these, but rather that it takes in all who had died before the time of the coming of the Messiah, to whom promises had been made. God holds us responsible, not only for what we have received, but for what we have heard, that is, for our privileges. The testimony God has given, whether in that day or in this, is that men should live in view of God, by the Spirit. They will be taken up and dealt with on the ground of the privileges they have had. If they turn their back on the testimony of the Lord, that testimony turns for a witness against them, and by it they will be judged.
(1 Peter 4:7,) "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." We must not forget that the apostle was writing to a little Jewish company, and no doubt had before his mind that the moment drew near when the Lord's word would be fulfilled, that everything should be upset, and not one stone remain upon another of the temple. But the verse goes further than that. Peter feels that a saint should be one who is always taking, as it were, his last step — feeling, I am on the threshold of all that God is going to bring me into, the world is just going to be judged, and therefore there should be temperateness, and watchfulness, and prayer. And if this were true in Peter's day, how much more true is it in ours! because one cannot but see that the elements which conduce to the bringing in of the Antichrist are powerfully at work now. There never was a time when even Christians were in such danger of letting go the foundations of their faith, thus paving the way for Christendom believing a lie, for man was not born to be an infidel. The devil is seeking to clear out the truths of Christianity, in order to get the house clean swept and garnished, ready for the entrance of the seven devils, by-and-bye. (See Matt. 12:43-45; 2 Thess. 2:8-12.)
Men do not go on long believing in nothing, and if they turn away from the truth, the reaction will come in a little while; but what will that reaction be? Not the reception of the truth of Christ, but the reception of the lie of Antichrist.
(1 Peter 4:8,) "And, above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." The apostle now turns to what is very helpful for us who are within. Towards those who are outside, there is to be sobriety and watchfulness, coupled with prayer to God; but now among ourselves, what is there to be? Fervent charity. Why? Because that is the thing that God delights in — "Love covereth all sins" (Prov. 10:12). This is the reason why he presses that this fervent charity should work in them, because it not merely keeps people going on well with God, but happily with each other.
There are no people who have such opportunities of irritating each other, as those who are seeking to walk in faith and in the truth, outside human systems. They are flung much together, all the old barriers broken down, and they are simply brought together on the ground of the Church of God. Unless grace thoroughly works, there is no place where people can so pain and wound each other, and therefore Peter says we need this fervent charity, not only for going on together, and for the restraint of what is not lovely, but also for the activity of divine love in the saint of God, and finding the very opportunity for its activity in the naughtiness of some one else!
The worse a thing is in another the more lovely an opportunity it gives you for covering it up. "Love covers a multitude of sins." Not one or two, but a multitude — a thousand little things that the devil would like to tell in every quarter, in order to upset the saints, and thus introduce a dead fly into the ointment, and produce a stinking savour. What is the cure? says Peter. Oh, this divine love; you cover it up. Peter says, God has His eye on you, and if you are keeping up another's fault, you are keeping it up for God to see, and He cannot like that.
But supposing you cover with a mantle of love my naughtiness, what does God see? The reproduction in you of the same love and grace there was in Christ. Peter says, I expect you to get on smoothly with the saints, no matter what other people are doing.
(1 Peter 4:9,) "Use hospitality one to another without grudging." This is perfectly beautiful, though some people would grumble at you for doing it; not so, says Peter. I find in Romans 12: "Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality." First, look out that nobody is in want: and, secondly, you are to keep an open house free. You are, nay more, enjoined so to do. This is a beautiful divine balance.
God very often not only thus brings His people together, but by these means binds them together. Use your house to get your brethren together, and get to know them, and they you, and that not because you must — not grudgingly, but in love.
(1 Peter 4:10,) "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." When the apostle talks of a gift, it is not only a man being able to preach or teach. He says, "As every man hath received the gift." Then you see that you have a gift, and you are responsible to use it, and the sphere in which you are to use this gift is the Church first of all. Whatever you have it is not yours; you are only a steward. It all belongs to Christ — and you must be a good steward, because you will have to give an account of your stewardship by-and-bye.
(1 Peter 4:11,) "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." If you speak, that is a gift for edification. If you minister — that is, carrying perhaps a little basin of soup to some sick saint, or a few shillings to one who is in need of them — according to the measure of your ability, do it. It is a question of using the temporal things of this life for the glory of God.
How beautiful it makes the acts of everyday life! God is as well pleased with the right use of everyday things, the goods of this life, as with the exercise of spiritual gifts, either preaching, for the conversion of the world, or ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ.
I deny that either you, I, or any man have a right of ministry. No! We have no liberty to speak in the assembly, unless we speak "as oracles of God"; and that is not liberty merely, but bounden responsibility. If you possess a gift you are bound to use it. Not that a man who has a gift need always be using it; he has always plenty to learn, and can hold his peace, if he be wise, on many an occasion, and profit by listening to his brethren.
If I rise to speak in God's assembly, I must speak not only according to the oracles of God as revealed in Scripture, but as being the direct mouthpiece of God to His saints at that very moment, giving forth to them exactly what God would have them hear at that moment.
We have in the 11th verse, God communicating something to those who speak, which they are bound to give forth — something of His mind, just as in the 10th verse, you are to do it simply, if you have anything to give away, and all is to be done for God's glory.
(1 Peter 4:12-14,) "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified." Now, you notice, Peter turns acorn to speak to the saints of their circumstances of the trials of the pathway. The apostle brings in now for the first time the thought of being with the Lord in glory, as the answer to suffering for Christ here. This is the highest kind of suffering that a Christian can go through. The suffering of the 13th verse is different from the suffering of the 14th verse. In the 13th verse we are partakers of Christ's sufferings; in the 14th verse we suffer for Christ.
All are partakers of Christ's sufferings — that is, of those sufferings which He passed through down here, excepting His suffering in the way of atonement. The suffering of the 13th verse every Christian has part in, but every Christian has not part in the suffering of the 14th verse. The 13th verse is suffering with Christ; the 14th verse is suffering for Christ. I ask you, have you never, in going through this scene of death and misery, heaved a groan because of it all? That is suffering with Christ, in sympathy with what He felt. That groan is the groan which the Spirit of God produces in the saint, and is in character like the groan of Christ at the grave of Lazarus. Christ suffered going through this scene as a perfect man, seeing the misery and sorrow that sin had introduced, and how God was dishonoured. We suffer in our measure in seeing the same things, and that is suffering with Him.
But we do not all suffer for Christ. If we go on in the ways of this world, and seek to save ourselves, no doubt it can be done; but then there is the missing of all that Peter speaks of here. If we do as Moses would not do, we may escape suffering. You may be called everything that is bad, because of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, Peter says, happy are ye; instead of being downcast about it, take it as a privilege that you may be reproached for His blessed name. Oh, for a little more of the spirit of the apostles in the 5th of Acts: "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
(1 Peter 4:15,) "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other men's matters." As soon as I touch the things that do not belong to me, I am sure to suffer. Do not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian; but be ashamed to suffer as a busybody; and if you suffer as a Christian do not forget this, that in all God is letting you pass through there is a blessed purpose.
(1 Peter 4:17,) "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?" It is a great thing to remember the government of God, and that it begins with us, and that He has His own blessed purpose to work out in our souls, and if He lets suffering and trial come in, though we do not like it, yet He sees the need. But if judgment begin with us, what will the end of the Gospel rejecter be? This is a serious question for all such. Their end is death, judgment, and the lake of fire. What an awful end! It surely ought to cause every unsaved reader to pause, repent, and turn to God. Let me implore my unblessed reader to come to Jesus at once. He will save you on the spot. Only trust Him — His blood cleanses from all sin.
(1 Peter 4:18,) "And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Why saved with difficulty? Because the devil is against you, and the world is against you, and the devil sets pitfalls and snares for your feet, but God uses these very temptations and trials to bring you nearer to Himself. It is part of His plan in leading you to glory, to give you these sufferings and trials by the way, which He sees are needed. There is no difficulty with God, the difficulties are all on our side, and only faith can surmount them, sustained by God.
(1 Peter 4:19,) "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." You did your own will in days gone by, and it worked death: you are suffering now according to the will of God. You have to do now, Peter says, what Jesus did — commit yourself to God. He casts you on Him who has almighty power, but who is your Father likewise.
The Lord keep us seeking to so do His will always, that it may turn to praise, and honour, and glory by Christ Jesus.
CHAPTER 24 — EXHORTATIONS.
1 Peter 5
THE apostle returns in this chapter to exhortation. In the close of the fourth he had been unfolding certain truths with regard to the government of God, because it was His house (10, 17, 18). Now in chap. 5, he has exhortations both for the elders and for the younger ones. Elder carries its own meaning with it. He is not speaking to official persons, but to those of riper years. This is quite in keeping with the Acts of the Apostles, where we read of elders. With the Jews elder was a characteristic term meaning a man of years. Peter says he is an elder, in the sense I have spoken of it, but no one would think of speaking of Peter as an elder in the way Christendom speaks of it. Paul's elder was not one who necessarily possessed much gift. His was a local charge. He was an elder in the place where he was fixed, and nowhere else.
We read (1 Tim. 5:17) of teaching elders and ruling elders. Who were these elders? They were those who had this official position in some particular locality, by the special appointment of the apostles, or some one delegated by the apostles. There are two simple reasons why you cannot have this official position in this day. First, you have not the competent ordaining power, unless you can bring evidence that you are an apostle or an apostolic delegate, and that is impossible. A man who says he is an apostle does not speak the truth, and the apostolic successors were "grievous wolves" who did not spare the flock. Secondly, you have not the Church all together in one locality, over whom to appoint elders.
Supposing you had the power, where would you begin to appoint elders? The first thing you would have to do would be to shake Christendom to its centre, and bring all the Church of God together, and have the Church manifestly one. Where would Paul, if he were here today, begin to appoint elders? He could not begin anywhere, because we have not the Church of God all one.
But you get the men who do the work of elders very blessedly, and say nothing about it. They serve Christ and will get their reward by-and-bye. Anything else is only hollow assumption. You have not now either the Church over which your elders could be appointed, or the competent ordaining power.
The Lord saw the disorder that was coming into His house, and so He forbore in His wisdom to perpetuate a system that would only keep people apart. The actual effect would be that. Ah! what wisdom, is His! He saw what would happen, and therefore let the official function die with the apostles, and now we are cast upon God, and the word of His grace, to go on simply with the Lord.
(1 Peter 5:1,) "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed." Peter takes the two ends of Christ's history, — I have seen His sufferings, and I am going to see His glory, and in between these two he finds the saints in this world, and exhorts the elders to care for them.
(1 Peter 5:2,) "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." How beautiful! "The flock of God which is among you." Shepherd them he says. I have no doubt he alludes to the confiding word from the Lord in his own history, "Feed my sheep: Shepherd my sheep" (John 21) When the Lord had brought him to this, that it was only He Himself, who in His omniscience searched his heart, that could know that he had any love for Him at all, that was the moment when He put into his care His sheep and His lambs.
"Taking the oversight," the apostle continues, "not by constraint, but willingly." I believe the Spirit of God foresaw that in Christendom today, the so-called care of the sheep of Christ would become a bread trade, or a profession! Here I get the Holy Ghost striking a death-blow at the whole thing. It is perfectly true that the labourer is worthy of his hire. I find the apostle Paul lays down the principle most distinctly that those who labour should be cared for, but in the very next verse he says, "But I have used none of these things, neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me" (1 Cor. 9:15). The divine principle for a servant is that of walking in faith, trusting the Lord. He cares for His servants, and meets all their needs.
"Not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind," is a spontaneous blessed desire of serving Christ, and caring for His people: and what is more blessed than to be permitted in any measure to care for Christ's people?
(1 Peter 5:3,) "Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." Our translators have spoiled the verse by putting in "God's." It is your if there be any word at all, "lord's over possessions" literally. The' Spirit of God foresaw the condition of Christendom in this day, when the ministry of the Word of God has become a trade, and the Church of God is broken up into so many men's flocks. As a consequence, the deepest jealousy arises when the sheep find their right place in God's flock, for some one has lost some of his sheep. Scripture says, "Not as lording it over your possessions." Shepherding the sheep is more than feeding, it is going after the sheep when they have got away under the hedge, when perhaps they are torn with the brambles, comforting them, helping to care for as well as to feed, to nurse, and to tend them in every way.
Every gift needed by the Church of God on earth He has given, but the pride and self-will of man has come in to hinder the full use of this grace of God.
What a wonderful difference it makes if you look at the saints as being God's own flock. Suppose they are cold, you try to warm them. Suppose they do not love you much. Well, you love them the more abundantly. Do your work quietly; be an example to the flock by the way; lead them; be a guide to them; and wait for the appearing of the chief Shepherd, and then you will receive an amaranthine crown that cannot fade. Here you may be despised and thought little of; never mind, go on, and wait till the chief Shepherd comes for your reward.
In John 10 the Lord is called the good Shepherd in death, when He loved us and gave Himself for us. In Hebrews 13 He is the great Shepherd in resurrection. His resurrection demonstrates His almighty power, "None can pluck them out of his hand." But besides this He has many under-shepherds, hence Peter speaks of Him here as "the chief Shepherd." He loves His flock, and though He has gone out of the scene, He is the chief Shepherd still, and He puts into the hearts of some to care for His flock, and He says He will not forget their service, and that by-and-bye for them there will be a crown of glory that fadeth not away. I do not believe that all get this crown. There is a crown of righteousness for all those who love His appearing. I believe that includes every soul born of God, for it is impossible to be born of God, and not love Christ's appearing. Of course you would like to see the Lord; every soul born of God loves the thought of seeing the blessed Lord. So I believe every child of God will get the crown of 2 Timothy 4.
In James we hear of a crown of life. You will get that crown too, thank God, because you could not be born of God without loving Him. For loving His appearing you get a crown of righteousness, for loving Himself, and tasting something of trial, you get a crown of life.
The Lord says to Smyrna, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). You are tried for My name's sake, He says, perhaps are going into death for Me, and I have been through death for you. You are standing on one side of the river, and I on the other, and you have to come through the waters to get to Me, but the moment your head comes above the waters on this side, I will put a crown of life on it.
Perhaps it may not be unto death that your trial goes. But this crown of glory is for those who care for what He cares for, and who seek to show their love for Him by looking after His sheep.
(1 Peter 5:5,) "Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder: yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." Unless I am clothed with humility I shall not be subject." The meek will he guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way." The humble one is always cared for by God. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart," are the Lord's own words. Humility is a blessed thing, and what a little thing would puff us up. I get Paul saying that the flesh is so utterly corrupt that it would boast because it had been in glory. Because he, Paul, had been in heaven, the Lord had to give him a thorn in the flesh in order to keep him from being puffed up. And we often may be puffed up, just because of His mercy to us, because He has brought us into this place of light and liberty. The only security of the saint is to walk lowlily, to walk humbly.
The Lord will blight, and wither, and scatter all that plumes itself on having got truth, and light, and a right position. It is one thing to have gained that position, and another thing to maintain it; for the power of the enemy is all the more brought to bear on those who have taken this position, in order that they may the more flagrantly dishonour the Name that is put upon them. "God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace unto the humble." What a solemn thing for the saint of God to get into a position in which God has actually to resist him! What a dreadful thing to have the Lord set against us because of pride allowed in the heart! God resists a proud person: but where is there room for pride in us who are the vilest of the vile?
"Only by pride cometh contention," says the proverb. There never was a bit of trouble between saints, but pride was at the bottom of it! You stand up for your rights, and the Lord will put you down. You may get what you want, but the Lord will have His hand against you. A Christian should be like a piece of india-rubber, always giving way, never resisting, except it be the devil. (See verse 9.)
(1 Peter 5:6,) "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." What a much more blessed thing to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, and for Him to exalt us, than to exalt ourselves, and for Him to have to put us down! "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased." That is the first man. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." That is the second Man. The first man sought to make himself God, and fell into companionship with Satan; the second Man, who was God, made Himself nothing, and God has exalted Him to the very highest glory.
There are two ways in which God humbles us. By the discovery of what is in our hearts, and by the discovery of what is in His heart — and nothing so humbles us as to discover what is in His heart — but humble myself as I may, I do not believe I ever get down to my true level — to the place in which God sees me. It should be a continual process. There is a difference between being humble, and being humbled. I am humble when I am in God's presence, occupied with what He is. I am humbled when I am compelled to look at myself, for self is always a sad sight.
(1 Peter 5:7,) "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." Oh, what a comfort for the heart, what a rest for the soul in all the ups and downs and vicissitudes of this life, to know He careth for you! Then why should you trouble? Is it worth while for two to be caring for the same thing? If you are caring you take it out of His hands: if He is caring you can afford to be without care, to roll yourself into your Father's arms, and to rest there without fear or care. When you learn the perfectness of His care for you, then you are left free to care for His things and His interests, because He is taking care of yours.
(1 Peter 5:8, 9,) "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." But because He is caring for you, you are not therefore to be unwatchful. No, no, remember that your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour. Here it is as a roaring lion Satan comes, hence these Hebrew believers were going through persecution. In the 2nd Epistle he comes as a snake in the grass, introducing moral corruption.
"Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." Every one thinks there never was a lot like his, — such a troubled pathway. Peter says, Nothing of the kind, every one else has the same; you are not the only person who is suffering. But he commends us to the God of all grace. What can keep us going? Grace — only grace. We need grace all along the way.
(1 Peter 5:10, 11,) "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." He has called you to glory, and by Christ Jesus, and now after that ye have suffered a little while, He will make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. It should be "a little while" here, not merely a while. A while might seem of some duration, — he shortens it. You have need of patience "a little while," says Paul (Heb. 10:37); you must suffer "a little while," says Peter.
"Stablish, strengthen, settle." Oh, what a place has the saint got, in the call of God, and not only in the call of God, but in that invigorating power which He makes His people to know all along the way! Himself who has called you shall make you perfect. What have we not in God? Have we not everything which encourages our hearts, strengthens them, comforts them, sustains them? God's purpose, God's call, God's sustaining grace all along the way, bring us at last into His glory.
(1 Peter 5:12,) "By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand." How beautifully Peter speaks of grace in this epistle, ending in this chapter with God giving grace to the humble because He is the God of all grace, and, he says, "I testify and exhort this is the true grace of God wherein you stand." The Lord give us to understand more of His grace, as we study His own Word, and to delight more in Him!
(1 Peter 5:13,) "She at Babylon elected together with you, saluteth you, and Marcus my son." To whom does the apostle refer? The universal opinion for eighteen centuries was that the apostle here meant the congregation of the elect at Babylon. A few moderns have started the thought that it was his wife he thus designated. "The co-elect (one) in Babylon," others think was some local lady of position. But these are mere conjectures. Marcus also is undetermined. Was he an actual son of Peter's, or his son in a spiritual sense, being the well-known Mark, the Evangelist? My own thought — not as if teaching it — is that, "the co-elect in Babylon" means the brotherhood or company of the elect saints there; and that Marcus was not Peter's actual son — save in the faith.
(1 Peter 5:14,) "Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen." The expression of affection Peter wished them to show to each other was the kiss of love. For them he wished "peace." What a blessed desire!
As you review this epistle what beauty is in it. We have the call to heaven in the first chapter; our holy and our royal priesthood in the second, with the duties that flow from the position — the walk of subjection and suffering in the third chapter; the Spirit of God and of glory resting on you in the fourth; and now in the fifth God feeding, sustaining, strengthening you, and never leaving you till He has placed you in glory with His Son.