The Catholic Epistles.

There are just eight writers of the New Testament books. Four of these we find in the seven catholic epistles, although the writings of John, as we know, overflow these narrow bounds. The four writers, who stand for four divisions of the books themselves, have thus the numerical stamp of their own division, which is surely in character that which speaks distinctly of the way, of the walk upon earth; the seven epistles putting the stamp of perfection upon this, as we have had in the epistles of Paul the twice seven, the perfection of divine testimony. We have here plainly another line of things from that which we find in those that are just concluded. Paul carries us up to heaven. John, as often said, brings down heaven to earth; and that is not only true in the gospel which we have of his, in which we see the divine glory of the man Christ Jesus, but in the book of Revelation also, in which we find the Holy City coming down from God out of heaven, and the tabernacle of God with men, that He may dwell with them.

"Catholic," or "general," is, after all, a dubious term for these epistles, which merely refers to the evident fact that they are not written to any specific assembly, or even assemblies; yet Peter, as we know, is the apostle of the circumcision, and addresses these, that is, the remnant in Israel who have come into the faith of Jesus, while James' address is still more evidently to the twelve tribes which are scattered. abroad. One can hardly call such an epistle, in any strict sense, "catholic," On the other hand, there can be no doubt that they develop in various ways the practical character of the people of God on earth, which John traces, according to his manner, as the manifestation of that eternal life which is divine life, and which therefore manifests itself in likeness of the children of God to God their Father. John's epistles have thus a more internal character, while Peter and James speak more of the external path.

They stand evidently not in the order in which we have them. Peter, as the apostle of the circumcision, having naturally the first place, as he has in his subject, which is that of the government of the Father over those who are, in fact, a new people of God, and (in contrast with Israel's rejection of His word) an obedient people. When Israel journeyed through the wilderness, of all the holy things carried by the Levites, the ark went first; and no wonder, for it was the throne of God, where God dwelt between the cherubim, and to put it in that place was to proclaim the Master they served, and themselves before all things, if they acted in character with this place assigned it, an obedient people. This is just the theme, then, of both the epistles of Peter, while the second shows, nevertheless, after the manner so much of these second epistles, the departure from this in the profession at large. With Peter it is to "the obedience of Christ" that those whom he addresses are sanctified, while with this goes that "sprinkling of blood" which is to cleanse even that obedience itself from all the failure which, alas, so mingles with it. The government of which he speaks is a Father's government, and thus, necessarily, the throne is a throne of grace, while at the same time it cannot be forgotten that "without respect of persons" He "judgeth according to every man's work." This is insisted on throughout the epistles.

James gives us, as is well known, the justification of the believer, but in a way of his own, which has been often taken as if it were to modify, in some respects, the doctrine which Paul has already proclaimed. But justification with James is not the justification of the ungodly. It is the justification of the professed believer, which is to be, therefore, of necessity by those works which, if faith has not, it is "dead, being alone." There is no life, no reality, in it. Thus his justification is not before God, as Paul's is; and Paul seems to leave evident room, on the other hand, for that which James speaks of. "If Abraham," he says, "were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God." Thus, he does not deny that Abraham was justified by works, while he does absolutely deny that he was justified by works before God. When the professed believer is justified by his works, that is not at all needful for God, who knows absolutely the reality or the unreality. For man it is; and that is how James puts it: "A man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works," (that is clearly impossible,) "and I will show thee my faith by my works." Thus the fruits of faith which are here alone in question are by no means just morality. Abraham offers up his son. Rahab, as men would say, betrays her country; but both of these own a higher allegiance than that to men; and they are the witnesses thus, not of a moral character, — although it be the source of all morality, — but of faith. Thus, the character which the epistle has in this way is according to the second place, which in fact it should have — that of testimony. Abraham was justified by faith when, alone with God under the stars of heaven, he was pointed to those witnesses of God's promise to him: he simply believed, and "it was counted to him for righteousness;" but when James appeals to his justification by works, it was to what men saw when he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar. There it is that we "see how faith wrought with his works." The testing of this in some places may seem minute, and that is the perfection of it. If you put the poor man, he says, in a poor place in your synagogue, how can you claim that you have recognized the true glory of the Lord of glory, whom you would have put in the same place if you had judged Him in the same way? The question is one of faith, and where does faith see poverty or riches? Another characteristic of James connected with this, therefore, is "patience." That is the fruit of faith distinctly, or, perhaps we may say, hope, which yet is but faith looking forward. It is what the trial of faith works, and therefore blessed is he who endureth the trial. If only patience have "her perfect work," we are "perfect and entire, wanting in nothing." Then the Word also is what here, as elsewhere, governs the soul. That is the mirror in which we are to see ourselves. Thus, the general drift of James' epistle agrees thoroughly with its numerical place.

The epistles of John come in the third place, and are themselves three in number. Even in such matters, we must not despise the help that God would give us. John speaks, therefore, of manifestation, and, indeed, of the manifestation of that which is divine, as already said — of that divine life in the believer which produces in him the signs of his parentage. God is light and God is love; and thus the life in us displays its character as love and righteousness; and for this we are introduced, in the first place, into the sanctuary where God is revealed. He is not, we are told, merely Light; but He is in the light, the sanctuary is open, and we, as in the light, are thus revealed to ourselves; while the precious blood which is upon the mercy-seat puts away the sins which the light reveals. Thus, to be in the light is for John the definition of a Christian. The blood-cleansing does not extend beyond the limits of the light in which we are.

The second epistle connects the love and the light together, emphasizing the side of light, or truth; while the third epistle connects these also, but emphasizing the love. Love to the brethren is in John a very special manifestation of having "passed from death unto life."

Jude coming in the fourth place closes the series, sadly indeed, with the warning of the departure of the Church from holiness and subjection to the Lord, so that at His appearing the ungodly ones long prophesied of as subjects of His judgment will be found within the Church itself. Still, the Lord will preserve His own, and Jude insists in the meantime upon the testing of everything in view of general departure, with yet mercy to be shown to those of whom, after all, there is hope of recovery.

The First Epistle of Peter.

Scope and Divisions of the First Epistle of Peter.

The character of the first epistle has been already briefly shown. The second epistle is strictly supplementary to the first, so that we perhaps need not here consider the two together. The epistle is, as already said, addressed to Jewish believers, or sojourners of the dispersion — the remnant of Israel already scattered, as we know, through their disobedience to God, and who had never been recovered in reality from that disobedience, or from the dispersion in which it ended. They were in every land as it were as captives of Babylon; but these whom Peter addresses are still more in character as a dispersion. Christianity itself has separated Jew from Jew in a more marked and thorough way than any mere dispersion among the Gentiles could have effected it. We therefore see immediately in the epistles addressed to them the fact recognized that they are a new election, a new people of God, now sanctified by the Spirit to "obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," and with a new inheritance before them. Here, then, is an election which cannot fail. Those who are the people of God after this manner are "guarded by the power of God, through faith," unto the salvation for which, in its fulness, they are yet waiting. They are seen also as those who are under the Father's government, in which respect, as is clear, Israel had only the shadow, rather than the reality. They are distinctly now a New Testament company in the world, born anew by the word of the gospel proclaimed to them, and growing up unto salvation in the power of that same Word. They are inheritors of blessings which were in some sense proffered to Israel but rejected by them, and are thus "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." They have the full preciousness thus of being built upon that Stone which the builders had rejected, and which had been to Israel but a "stone of stumbling and a rock of offence;" but they were now "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for divine possession to set forth the virtues of Him who had called them out of darkness into His marvelous light." The apostle presses, then, what is to be the practical result of this, their glorifying God in the manifestation of this sanctification of theirs, and amid all the conditions which the world in its present state imposes upon them.

He then looks at the trial itself, the necessary trial resulting from the world being in opposition to God. They are to do well, suffer for it as the natural result, and take this patiently. The lesson of the flood, the end of that old world of long ago, shows what awaits the world which has taken its character from that old one; while for the Christian there is a salvation out of it, which baptism pictures, but which is in fact accomplished by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is gone into heaven, and has all things made subject to Him. The judgment itself, as being at hand, (nay, even beginning in the judgment of the house of God at the present time,) is finally insisted on.

The divisions, therefore, are these:
1. (1 Peter 1:1-21): Christians a new election, sustained by the power of God as sons for an eternal inheritance.
2. (1 Peter 1:22 — 2:10): The New Testament relationships, in place of the Old Testament ones forfeited and broken off.
3. (1 Peter 2:11 — 3:9): The glorifying of God in the manifestation of their character as a people sanctified to Him.
4. (1 Peter 3:10 — 4:6): The world-trial, and their trial in the world.
5. (1 Peter 4:7 — 5.): The judgment at hand, and the responsibilities connected with it.


Division 1. (1 Peter 1:1-21.)

Christians a new election, sustained by the power of God as sons, for an eternal inheritance.

That Peter had distinctly reserved to him the character of the apostle of the circumcision is evident by the epistle to the Galatians, although he shared this apostleship with others; but he was the one identified with this ministry and giving character to it, as we have already seen in the end of the Gospel of John. Peter is, in fact, thus prominent in the commencement of the Acts, although James comes into this place towards the latter part of it; being, no doubt, alone present in Jerusalem at the time of the history. Peter's connection here with Israel scattered and in foreign lands is evidenced by the way in which he addresses them. It is not needless, perhaps, to remind ourselves how ritualism, with its so-called "voice of the Church," has perverted the facts. According to it, Peter is the head of the Gentile Church instead of the Jewish; whose place, therefore, must be found somehow at Rome, rather than at Jerusalem. Characteristic enough it is, when we realize the departure from Paul that had already set in before his death, that the true apostle of the Gentiles is almost nowhere in this account. Certainly the truth he gives is almost entirely obscured by this system, even to justification by faith itself, while the thought of the Church as the body of Christ is obscured and degraded to the lowest conception possible. The Church outside of the New Testament is from the beginning Jewish, sacramental, hierarchical — a Church such as that which in Smyrna the Lord disclaims as not that of His true, called-out ones, but the promiscuous gathering together of a people who are in this character as the mere work of the adversary, Satan's synagogue. That which is said to be the oldest document that we have in this way, The teaching of the Twelve Apostles," is thoroughly of this character. It is striking in this connection that Peter, — to whom it seems we are to listen as the first infallible head of the Church, — is the very one whom God has chosen to announce two things which destroy the whole of ritualism down to its foundation: that is, in the first place, that new birth is (not by baptism, but) by the word of God, which in the gospel is preached unto us; and, in the second place, that all Christians are "a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Peter, as we see strikingly maintains his character as the apostle of the circumcision in this epistle of his; but this, of necessity, therefore, takes very much the character of contrast between the Old Testament people of God and the New. Paul is the one who decisively calls the true believers to take their place outside the camp with Christ, who is outside it; but Peter, no less, would remind them that they are, as already said, a new election, and begotten by the resurrection of Christ to the inheritance reserved in heaven for them, such as Israel knew nothing of. The prophets of the Old Testament he declares spoke better than they knew; but we have the joy of having the message, their message, fully told out to us, preached now "with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven."

1. Peter writes, as we have seen, to "the sojourners of the dispersion," the scattered remnant of Israel; the only true remnant now being those who have received their Messiah in the Person of Christ. God has in their case come in to substitute for the old promises, which they have lost in the national rejection of Him, new and higher ones. They are elect as Israel was elect, but now, "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," a foreknowledge which implies the certainty of the blessing for them. They are individually thus foreknown, and by One who has taken now distinctly the character of Father, of which His relationship to Israel, as nationally His first-born was but the mere shadow. After all, they had not, as we know, the Spirit Of adoption. Their relationship implied no security, no soul-salvation, nothing which went with them — except as to the responsibility of it — into that eternity into which they necessarily passed under that shadow of death, which was, in fact, the legal condemnation as well as the natural one — a sentence which, as we know, the law affirmed, but could not lift. But this present remnant were elect "through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience;" thus there was nothing simply conditional, but all had been secured to them by absolute grace. They were set apart to God, not by external privileges, marking them out from the nations round about, but by the Spirit of God, working in heart and life to form them after the pattern of One who was Himself the One absolutely obedient. They were sanctified unto the obedience of Jesus Christ.

It is important for us to realize that the obedience here was not, therefore, the obedience simply of a checked will, such a restraint as the law, for instance, might be — a limit not to be transgressed. It is an obedience which in Him gave the whole life its practical character: "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." That was the sole purpose of His being here at all. Within the bounds of law men might claim a certain liberty of their own. If they did not pass the limit, they were free within it; but here there was no limit; and more, there was no desire for anything which was not obedience itself. God's will is seen in it to be that which is the perfection of blessing. The path formed by it is a path, therefore, from which none that know it could desire to stray — a path formed by infinite love and wisdom, for us guarded also by almighty power. What ideal could one have of happiness beyond walking in such a way? The child's obedience as such is not legal. It is the obedience of love, while it is not the limited obedience of a servant merely, but an entire, whole-hearted surrender to what is indeed only the desire of a love that embraces all things in it. For us, of necessity, there has to go with this "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." There is, alas, still that which needs removal from before God, which only the blood of Christ could accomplish. Thus the two things go fittingly together in this place.* To these Peter addresses himself with the desire that grace and peace may be multiplied to them. The sense of what God has done for them lifts his heart up to the One who has done it, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," who has begotten them, "according to His great mercy," to "a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead." The death of Christ, of Israel's Messiah, a death at the hands of the people for whom He came, was their forfeiture of all blessing; it was the end of every claim that they had upon God. His resurrection was, therefore, a begetting again to "a living hope," a hope abiding in the living Person of Him who has arisen. Earth indeed was closed to them, but there stretched before them the glorious view of a better inheritance, "incorruptible" because "undefiled," and always abiding in the freshness which so soon passes from the enjoyment of anything here, — this inheritance preserved now in heaven for those themselves preserved, — "guarded by the power of God through faith" on to the complete deliverance awaiting them. Faith is here seen upon the Godward side of it, not merely upon the human. It is the means by which the power of God keeps them. Here, evidently, all is in designed contrast with Israel's portion as they had yet enjoyed it, and in its heavenly character in contrast with any blessing even conditionally promised them. From any point of view, it is rendered absolutely secure; while, on the other hand, the deliverance which was constantly looked for in Israel, the ready hand of God in delivering them from their earthly foes, and even from the many evils which sin has made common in the present life, is, as we may say, conspicuously absent from what the apostle speaks of. It is not, of course, that God's care over His own can possibly fail in time or in eternity, but that, nevertheless, there is ordained for us, as for Him who has gone before us, (perfect in the same path,) in the world, tribulation, with the joyful certainty, which brings peace to the soul, that He has overcome the world.

{*No doubt the "obedience" is linked with "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus." It is the obedience of Jesus, that which has Him for its object, — subjection to Him — which He also perfectly exemplified in His earthly life. The sprinkled blood is connected with it as showing the permanent cleansing attached to it — not a legal obedience — which is also a pledge of the daily cleansing, on the ground of that blood, by water by the Word. — S.R.}

2. He now goes on to speak of the contrast which must needs abide between the present time and the blessed end to which they are looking. The joy they have is not lessened, but in some sense heightened even, by the trial — this itself, while being only for a time, having its own necessity in the proving of their faith. This involves, indeed, the trial being felt as trial. Christians are not ordained to float over everything, as it were, without feeling it. It would have no meaning or purpose if this were so. The trial worketh, as the apostle has told us in Hebrews, "the peaceable fruits of righteousness to those who are exercised thereby." The exercise, therefore, is necessary; — it may be the being left for a while to wonder, therefore, what the trial means, — sometimes only to learn in it the patience which belongs to those who are under the Father's hand, and for whom every cup they drain is mixed by a Father's love. It is not discipline that the apostle speaks of here so much, but rather the opportunity that faith has to show itself, and to find recognition of God in the time when everything will be made manifest — a faith which is, as he observes here, "more precious than the gold that perisheth, even though it be proved by fire." The fire would not prove that the gold was not gold. It would only bring that out more certainly; and if it were not gold in the estimation of the Prover, there would be no good in the proving.* God proves, that He may draw from us that which He sees is there, and which He desires to be able to put to our account; and in the joy as well as in the trial faith has to be in constant activity, Christ as the object of the heart being One in whom faith alone finds deliverance from the power of things around; "whom," says the apostle, "having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." "Glorified," the last word is — already entering into that which is to come. The joy of eternity is the joy of the present, and we receive in due time the end of faith, the soul's deliverance from all that here assails and afflicts. If we always regarded trials as the apostle teaches us here to regard them, how different oftentimes would they seem to us! The enemy would use them to create distrust of the perfect wisdom or the perfect love which is employed about us, or to fix our minds even unhealthily, it may be, upon ourselves. For, as the apostle's thorn in the flesh reminds us, even that which is true discipline for us by the way is not necessarily the result of actual failure on our part, although it does show us needs we have, to which the discipline is meant to minister. But self-occupation is never God's design in it. If we have learnt how God has already proclaimed the hopelessness of the flesh, and given us deliverance from it, the end of self-judgment itself is only to turn us from ourselves, and to occupy us with this one unfailing Object of which the apostle has been speaking — with the brightness and not with the darkness — with the glory of God already revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ, the light shining more and more upon the road which leads to Himself.

{*"Gold that perisheth," as compared with the imperishable faith. Gold is the least perishable thing, in the world's valuation, just as it is the least corruptible; yet compared with spiritual things it is both perishable and corruptible.

"The fire shall try every man's work" (1 Cor. 3.) There it is at the end — the judgment-seat of Christ, where the fire of divine holiness and truth shall separate the precious from the vile. Here it is the trial by the way. What a comfort to think of the close connection between these two. Neither can harm us, but only bring out that which will be for eternal glory and honor. — S.R.}

3. We have now the difference between the past and the present time pointed out in another way. The prophets of Israel all prophesied of the blessing that was to come, while being themselves unable to realize more than dimly that of which they spoke, and even the time to which it pointed. They were attracted, sought diligently, and searched out what was in their own writings — so little was that which they wrote measured by their understanding of things; so entirely did the Spirit of Christ carry them beyond anything which might even be the occasion of their prophecies. The answer that they got to their searching was simply the assurance that they were speaking of things which belonged to others, and not to themselves. We can see in such an one as Daniel a plain example of this, where that which was communicated to him was "shut up and sealed till the time of the end." At the end it would speak, and not lie; and in the time to come he would stand in his lot and enter into the enjoyment of that which as yet he could not in the same sense enjoy, except as being consciously the instrument of the Spirit to give forth these things for others.* How different the condition now, when Christians in common enjoy the blessedness of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, and "the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" begin to unfold themselves even in the gospel sent abroad amongst men, with the virtue of these things in it! Even the very angels desire to look into these things, the words showing that even these blessed beings could not know, as the partakers of redemption know, the fulness of what is now the common portion of the saints. How wonderful, then, the blessing that is ours; how sorrowful to think that we should so often, in practice, find so little of all that is here implied! These angels, bending down to look into the things with which we have been brought into such intimate contact — how they reprove us for the slight hold that at the best they have of us!

{*This does not mean dispensational, or Church truth, but that the blessings foretold by the prophets were future, not present. Thus they saw them afar off and embraced them. It is ours to have more than this — the earnest of the Spirit making these things present realities. — S.R.}

4. The apostle insists now upon the effect that there is to be of all this upon the practical life. The loins of the mind are to be girt up by the truth, the common figure which speaks of the activity which is called for from us, the result of a mind set upon things unseen. The result is sobriety as to the present. The roseate color passes from the things around as a necessity of the glory revealed and enjoyed — the hope fixed upon the grace to be brought at the revelation of Christ, when all, indeed, will be manifest as grace and nothing else; when the full power of that shall be realized by us. As a consequence, for the present time we are to be as obedient children, a character which has been already enlarged upon for us — not conforming ourselves to the former lusts in the time of ignorance, when the heart, unsatisfied with God, went out after that which only begot further craving, but never satisfied. We have been called out of all that the light from heaven has revealed in its true character, to be holy, separate from evil, as God Himself is holy. We are to be in fellowship with Him; holy, therefore, in all our behavior, with nothing lax about us, nothing unsuited to the company into which we are brought.

5. There results, therefore, from the fact that we have a Father, that there must be with us the judgment of a Father, who, because He loves and has the deepest personal interest in His children, of necessity has before Him all that they are doing, all that they are occupied with. There is nothing but what is a matter of interest to Him, and as those who are His own they must reflect His character. This is what Jacob learned at Bethel — that if God in His grace has a dwelling-place with men, there must of necessity be the holiness which be comes His dwelling-place. He governs His house.* The government is in grace, as it must be to be that of a Father, and yet it is all the more even to be treated in the most serious manner. Those who would treat grace lightly cannot know it. We are to pass the time of our "sojourning here in fear," with the very consciousness of being redeemed, "not with corruptible things, silver or gold, but by the precious blood of Christ." Redemption is that which shows the value God has set upon us, and "the precious blood of Christ" as the price of redemption, how, indeed, has it shown this! But, then, it speaks of necessity also of a condition out of which we needed to be redeemed. We have been away from God; we need the bringing back, and to be with Him, therefore, as thus brought back. Here Peter glances at the vain traditions received by Israel from their fathers, and which, while they were the sign of being really away from God, only carried them still further and further away. What, indeed, could all the frivolous and minute ordinances of the Rabbins make known to them of the God who was thus identified with all these narrow restrictions, laying upon men a burden that not any of them could lift? How gloriously has He been revealed in Him through whom now we have learnt, indeed, a God in whom we may trust — One to whom the whole history of the world points, and all God's dealings in it, now manifest in resurrection from the dead and with a place given Him of God, a blessed place, which identifies God Himself with the salvation and blessing of His people, so that faith and hope might not rest short of Him! How well we remember the aim of Christ continually thus to glorify the Father, speaking words given to Him, doing things appointed for Him, One who could say of Himself: He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father," Himself the visible expression of God, the radiance of His glory. Tradition cannot live in the presence of One thus positively known and enjoyed as a living God for the soul.

{*It may be useful to point out the various judgments which God has or will exercise. First, the judgment of Christ upon the cross, in place of His people. Thus the believer shall never come into judgment (John 5:24). Second, and opposite to this, we have the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). This is the final doom of the lost. No saved ones shall stand before that throne. Third, the earth judgment of the living nations (Matt. 25:31-46). This is prior to the Millennium, as the Great White Throne is after that reign of blessing and glory. While final in its nature, it is connected with the government of Christ in His earthly kingdom. Fourth, the judgment-seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) where the works of the believer are tested and appraised. (See also 1 Cor. 3:11-15). Lastly we have the Father's judgment of His children in this present life. Thus for the believer judgment for salvation is past forever; for the rewards it is still future; while during his whole present life he is under the Father's judgment. — S.R.}

Division 2. (1 Peter 1:22–2:10.)

New Testament relationships, in place of the Old Testament ones forfeited and broken off.

We are still led on by the apostle to contemplate these New Testament relationships which are ours in still fuller contrast with those Old Testament ones now broken off. Between the new covenant and the old, all, as we know, is contrast; and the apostle now goes on to dwell upon that rejection of Christ as the Living Stone, the Foundation of all that abiding nearness to men which a house amongst men implies — a rejection which necessarily set aside the Jewish builders as entirely incompetent. But Israel had failed long before this, and even from the beginning, as their priesthood in one family only constantly bore witness. Instead of being nationally brought near to God, as He would have it and as His very speech with them at mount Sinai bore witness, they had chosen a place of distance from Him, and had to be left, as a consequence, in that place which they had chosen. God has now come in to fulfil all these things in a better and more perfect way.

1. The apostle first of all speaks here of the company into which faith introduces the soul. The only purification of it is "by obedience to the truth," a truth which disperses the shadows and sets aside all the perversions of the adversary and deceiver. Thus they had come into connection with those who had been begotten by the same truth, "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible," by the living and abiding word of God. Here, indeed, was a brotherhood which had never had in Israel — could not as yet have — its proper recognition. The children of God were by the legal system scattered abroad." Even in Israel they were so; while, of course, outside of Israel there were still souls that sought God according to the light they had. Israel could not gather these. It was itself but a mixture of the true and the false, and thus it could not gather to itself the true out of the false. There was no power as yet for any proper discrimination. This is the misery of all mixtures, and which the confusion which obtains in Christendom at the present time should make us, indeed, realize. How blessed a company of those drawn together by ardent desire for the same things, by the enjoyment of the same blessings, by their allegiance to the same revelation, to God perfectly revealed as He is now revealed, so as to attract and fill the heart with Himself! Here love can indeed flow out. There is nothing to check it. There is no matter, so far as this character is retained, for selfish strife with one another. The objects enjoyed are the possession of all alike, and the enjoyment of them by one only enhances, and cannot hinder, the joy of others. Here, then, was indeed an essential difference between the company of Christians and the nation of Israel. We have gone back indeed, in various degrees, to that old company, as if, after all, we had tasted the new wine but to say, the old is better." We have even taken, in measure at least, the Israelitish community (with, more or less, its ordinances as well) as that which God has designed for His people all the way through. We have introduced a fancied regeneration by baptism to manufacture fictitious children of God, who have none of the reality; and then we have invoked the judgment of charity not to distinguish between the manufactured Christians and the true ones! The effect has necessarily followed; and "because iniquity abounds" in consequence "the love of many," even among the true children of God, has "grown cold." There is a lack of communion amongst the people of God; for communion with the world is absolutely incompatible with this. The true birth, — as Peter shows us here, — the true entrance into the family, is by the reception of the living and abiding word of God,* "the word which by the gospel is proclaimed." There can be no possibility, one would say, of confounding this with any result whatever of an ordinance. Here alone is the secret of that which, as eternal life, abides. Those who receive it belong no more, in this way, to that flesh which "is as grass, and all the glory of it but as the flower of grass." That which is merely natural withers and its flower falls, "but the word of the Lord abideth forever." Thank God for Peter's testimony! Let those who profess so much obedience to Peter listen to it! They will find here not only an authoritative Word, but that which finds, most of all, its authority in the sweetness of the truth which is proclaimed. Born again by the gospel good-news, what gladness and happiness does this infer for the life into which we enter!*

{*Let it be noted what light this verse throws upon the subject of new birth — it is "by the word of God." That it is a sovereign act of God, by His Spirit, none can question. But this verse forbids us from separating, as has sometimes been done, new birth from faith in the gospel. It has been taught that new birth precedes faith; here we are told that the word of God is the instrument in new birth. "Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God," "the word which by the gospel is preached." Thus while we can distinguish between faith and new birth, we cannot separate them. John 3:3; John 3:16, must ever go together. There is no such anomaly possible as a man born again, but who has not yet believed the gospel. — S.R.

{*It is interesting to note the three "incorruptible" things we have in this first chapter — an incorruptible inheritance (ver. 4), an incorruptible redemption (vers. 18, 19), and an incorruptible word by which we are born (ver. 23). Thus we have a nature which is taintless, fitted for the enjoyment of a taintless inheritance and on the basis of a redemption which never can lose its value. How the stamp of eternal perfection is upon all, and what a fitting companion to these is that "incorruptible" ornament of a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). — S.R.}

2. The apostle goes on, therefore, to insist upon this word of God, to which we owe everything, as still being the essential need for us, that we may "grow up by it," as the expression is here, "unto salvation." It is a strange expression apparently, as we first think of it — a growth unto salvation; but the salvation here is, of course, that final salvation of which he has already spoken, as what is ready to be revealed in its fulness in the last time. There is a salvation which the gospel brings, and with which we begin; but salvation is needed also all along the road; and as long as we are in the body, by that very fact, we need salvation still. "We look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, who shall change our body of humiliation into the likeness of His own glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue even all things to Himself." But still, a growth unto salvation deserves serious consideration. Growth is that which is proper to life. The accretion of matter in a stone, for instance, is not "growth." Salvation, in the thought which we are getting of it here, is, in fact, more and more known as we grow in the apprehension of the things which are revealed to us, and which separate us more and more, therefore, from everything that is inconsistent with them. Thus, at the outset we are called to lay aside "all malice and all guile, and hypocrisies and envies and all evil-speakings" — things which cannot possibly consist with the enjoyment and pursuit of the truth; and we are always to be, as to the word of God, like babes just born, who crave, as the one thing necessary to them, the milk which God has provided for them. Here we must remember that we are not in the line of that which Paul says to the Corinthians, where he reproaches them as being such that have need of milk only, in opposition to solid food. The Corinthians were babes indeed, but they were babes when they ought to have been far beyond this. They were babes because growth was stunted with them through their carnality. A true babe is not "carnal," and can never be; but here we are to be only in one character like babes, and, indeed, babes "new-born." Even the Corinthians were not babes "new-born." That was the evil of it, that they were babes that were not new-born; but we are to be always, "as new-born babes," just in the simplicity of our craving for that which as milk God has provided for us in His own precious Word, to sustain a growth which is continual in one who is the possessor of eternal life. While we are here, if Christians and in a right condition, we are continually growing. We have to grow up, all of us, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Which of us has attained it? In this sense we are, after all, all of us but as babes "new-born;" and in this character God has provided for us, in His word, that which has all the elements proper for nourishment in it, as milk has. The Word, the whole of it, the deepest things in it, is thus pure milk, and only milk. There is nothing to be rejected; there is only that which enters into the constitution of the Christian — as we may say, becomes really part of himself. How beautiful in that way this figure of milk, and how earnest the craving which is here implied, and which we are exhorted to, for that which can thus minister to all the necessities of our nature! Let us desire it earnestly, says the apostle, if we have tasted that the Lord is good. Have we tasted this? If so, can we make light of the precious Word, which is indeed the provision which God has made, in His goodness, for our souls?*

{*We are to "lay aside," — as in Heb. 12, where it is the weights which would hinder progress, — what is contrary to the new nature we have received, and what unfits for the enjoyment of the mutual family relationships. Malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and evil-speaking all have reference to our attitude toward others and are the opposite of that "fervent love" already enjoined. It will be noted that they refer largely to the state of heart, rather than grosser forms of immorality. Alas, they are not upon the list of the world's forbidden things and are all too easily indulged in by the Lord's people, without their losing caste in society. Note also that "evil-speaking" is not necessarily wicked speech in the way of falsehood or profanity. It is really "speaking against," and refers to occupation with another's ways in a spirit that does not desire his help. This is most important for our conscience. — S.R.}

3. We come now to that rejection of the Living Stone on the part of Israel, which disqualified them as the builders of God's spiritual house. It was about those who were prominently builders that the Lord spoke at the time of His last proffer of Himself to them as Israel's King, as well as of their foreseen rejection of it. In a matter of such fundamental importance it was necessary that God should have provided for His people the assurance of what was coming with regard to those to whom they looked as their spiritual guides. "The house of God" was that which distinguished Israel from all the nations of the earth. It was that dwelling-place of God with man which, although as yet only in type, declared the desire of His heart to be with man abidingly. Thus it was the place of that glory which, though already unseen by man, yet Ezekiel saw, as having lingered with them in love as long as possible, until finally forced out by their abominations. Yet their house, as we know, was not, after the manner in which the apostle speaks here, a "spiritual house." It was "a house made with hands," which could not, therefore, set forth God's design in the full way in which He desired. Forsaken of God, it became, like a vacant tomb, the witness only of the life which had departed. Yet God could not give up His thought. Thus, He who came seeking God's treasure upon earth always proclaimed that house (though in the idea of it, not the then reality) His Father's house; and it was there that He presented Himself when He came as King to His own, and His own refused Him. It was then entirely their own house (Matt. 23:38) which He had to leave desolate. But God had not given up His thought; and, driven back in His love, He only, according to His constant manner, declared that love, and the purpose of it, in a fuller way than ever. Thus the Lord could say to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up; but He spake of the temple of His body." In Him was indeed the perfect Witness of what was in the divine heart, and that for man; and in Him God really possessed a dwelling-place among men that could not be set aside. He was indeed rejected, and as such went back to the Father; nevertheless, the divine thought was not thus frustrated, but as the fruit of His own work the Spirit of God came down upon earth to build a habitation for God which should never cease to be this. The house was now "a spiritual house." The Lord had spoken of it to Peter when He said that upon that Rock which Peter had confessed, He would build His assembly; but as yet the thought of a habitation of God could not come fully out. Peter now explains the Lord's word to him, as we see here, in the clearest way. He sets aside all possibility of men saying, with any real semblance of truth, that Peter was himself the foundation of what the Lord spoke. It is Christ, he says, who is the Living Stone, the Foundation upon whom alone the living stones (of whom was Peter himself, according to the meaning of his name) are built up. The living stones here are the assurance of the Lord's promise that the gates of Hades should not prevail against that which He would build. They live in a power of life which cannot be touched of death; and of Himself also was this true, who, if He went down into death, was only to lay there the foundation of all blessing, and to reveal in Himself that which abolished death and brought "life and incorruption to light through the gospel." Thus, the whole building stands upon this Foundation, which is that from the beginning, "chosen of God" as "precious," and now in the present time revealing, as the apostle says directly, its preciousness. The house is "a spiritual house," the fulfilment of the promise by the prophet: "I will dwell in them and walk in them:" the Spirit of God filling and energizing that in which He dwells, so that it is not a mere shrine of the Spirit, but itself a spiritual reality; and this connects, according to the thought which we have already traced in Hebrews (Heb. 3), of a "spiritual house," with a "holy priesthood." Here we have the activity of those brought near to God in this way. They are revealed as those who, while God manifests Himself in them, have themselves, as one may say, their faces Godward and in their hearts the Spirit of relationship — a holy priesthood, capable, therefore, of this, with spiritual sacrifices now replacing the sacrifices of old, acceptable to God by Him who has made, once for all, that which was the true sacrifice in atonement for sin. Thus, the altar stands only inside the house now, the antitype of that golden altar which was in Israel's sanctuary. The brazen altar has had its fulfilment, and has thus disappeared, while the power of that acceptable sacrifice, which abides ever in its value before God, is that by which all spiritual offerings alone become acceptable. The incense upon the unbloody altar is the witness of One come up out of death, who is before God for us, in whom we stand, and in whom all acceptance is. Here, says the apostle, is the fundamental fulfilment of that scripture, "Behold, I lay in Sion a corner Stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be ashamed." But to the prophet was not revealed as yet the wondrous preciousness which belongs in its full value now to those who believe; and here is one of those things in which the prophets of old predicted, as Peter has just said to us, things that went beyond their own intelligence, and which they realized to have respect, in their full meaning, to others than themselves. Alas, to Israel, that Stone which the builders rejected, while it has become, indeed, "the Head of the corner," yet is but "a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offence to those who stumble at the Word, being disobedient." This, too, had been appointed, for it followed of necessity from the very blessedness of that which was in it — grace revealed to a carnal people who had built themselves up in pride of heart against it. It was the necessary result, they being what they were, that they stumbled at the Word through the spirit of disobedience which was in their heart, and there was no help indeed if the very wonder of God's grace was that which made them stumble.*

{*There is no thought in this of the unscriptural doctrine of reprobation, man's addition to God's precious truth of His election of His people. The ungodly are not appointed to be ungodly, but being ungodly God appointed that this should be fully manifest in their rejection of Christ. Thus Pharaoh (Rom. 9) was "raised up," put upon the throne with opportunities for rejection of God's message, and of showing the wickedness and enmity that was always in his heart — S.R.}

The apostle returns from this to contemplate with satisfaction how God nevertheless has carried out His thoughts in a more wonderful way. They were themselves now the partakers of those blessings which God had proffered to Israel of old, but which had so manifestly been without avail for them. "Ye shall be to Me," He had said, "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation." It was necessary for them to be the latter in order to be the former. It was only in the white robe which typified the purity required by God that even the typical high priest could draw near to Him; but it was not therefore the nation that drew near. The nation and the priesthood became emphatically distinguished from one another, while the priest himself could no more really draw nigh. There was but the witness of that which was in God's thoughts, along with the witness that as yet it was not a practical reality. Now God has accomplished this. Christians have become this holy nation, — not one of the nations of the earth, — and a royal priesthood, more even than was offered to Israel — a people who are not only priests but kings, a people thus for God's possession, such as He can openly manifest as His and claim by the Spirit indwelling them, a people able to set forth the virtues of Him who has called them out of darkness into His own marvelous light — no earthly one, but the light of His own Presence revealed to those brought nigh. Here are those to whom the words of the prophet could be applied, a people "who once were not a people, but are now the people of God; who once had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." This does not, of course, set aside the application of such a promise to Israel themselves in days to come; but God has left in it a largeness which gives room for us also, who were indeed in God's thoughts before ever the earth was, and in whom God has, more than Israel themselves can ever manifest it, shown the unchanging character of His purpose.

Division 3. (1 Peter 2:11 – 3:9.)

The glorifying of God in the manifestation of the character of a people sanctified to Him.

We come now to the practical exhortations which naturally result from these, the witness that indeed this people, chosen of God, are chosen through sanctification of the Spirit to obedience. It is that which makes this third division take the place of what one would naturally think to be a fourth, but it is characteristic of the way in which Peter is speaking. As a people sanctified unto obedience, they are revealed in the obedience itself.

1. The apostle begins here by addressing himself to those who, he reminds them, are strangers and sojourners in another way now than as scattered from the land of Israel. They belong to heaven, and are therefore strangers and sojourners upon earth; strangers, in the first place, as those who have believed in a crucified Lord; to whom, therefore, the world is crucified by His cross. They are separate in spirit from those who have seen the Father in the Son of God, and have seen Him but to hate Him — strangers in heart, therefore. It is a joy for them to know that they are but sojourners in a world which has this character; and yet, alas, they find in themselves a link with that world from which they have turned. There is that in themselves which is against themselves, according to the character which they have embraced in heart and desire. Peter does not speak of the flesh itself as Paul does, but he realizes lusts which are fleshly — which can be, alas, so easily awakened even in the children of God when their eyes are turned, though but for a moment, from that glory of God to which they really belong, and which robs all other things of glory. These fleshly lusts, therefore, war against the soul. He does not bid us, let us remember, war against them, however. We may have, as we have seen abundantly elsewhere, to fight perforce such a battle when we have allowed ourselves to be entangled by things around, the eye affecting the heart; but that which he exhorts us to is to "abstain," to "hold off," from things like these, as those who have their portion elsewhere, a portion which they have only to enter into by the power of the Spirit of God to find it, in all its power, to satisfy the soul, and thus to deliver from all lusts that can arise.* Thus will those who are strangers and sojourners have witness from such as are outside of their own blessed hopes. Such may, indeed, falsely accuse them as evil-doers for the faith they have, and yet learn in the good works which faith produces, to glorify God in the day of their own visitation — in the time when sorrow and desolation come in upon their earthly hopes and enjoyments, and leave them just such wrecks as God's grace, nevertheless, delights to take up, the beggar from the dunghill to set him upon a throne of princes. Here is the mercy of God hidden in His very judgments themselves, which would thus turn men, as it were perforce, to Him who alone can help them, and conquer them by His goodness for Himself.

{*The Old Testament type illustrates this (Ex. 17). The flesh in the children of Israel leads them to murmur and complain because of the trials of their pilgrim way. Then came Amalek (fleshly lusts) and fought against them. We read too (Deut. 25:17-18) that it was against the feeble laggards in the rear that Amalek fought. It is when we lose the vigor of our pilgrim character and begin to lag and falter that we are assailed by fleshly lust. Those who, like Paul, press on after what is before, have little trouble with the flesh, though they will have conflicts with Satan. Abraham in pilgrim isolation from Sodom has no conflict on his own account with the kings who have captured the laggard Lot, but he can and does go into a conflict with the enemy to rescue his kinsman. But the nature of the conflict is changed. It is one thing to fight fleshly lusts in ourselves, and quite another thing to deliver our brethren. The great remedy for such encounters as that of Ex. 17 is to maintain our character as "strangers and pilgrims." — S.R.}

Christians are therefore to submit themselves to every institution of man for the Lord's sake. Peter points out, as Paul does, that the powers that be, whatever the character of those who may be holders of the power, are yet sent "for the punishment of evil-doers and the praise of those who do well." The mercy of being delivered in this way from the anarchy which would otherwise rule is a thing undoubted. Thus, it was the will of God that they should be subject in well doing, thus putting to silence the ignorance of foolish men; free indeed, not fettered by any constraint of this kind, while they recognized God's rule in all, most free when they were most fully the bondmen of God. Thus, also, they were to "honor all men," men as men, men in the character which God has given them as His creatures, men as the representatives of God. on earth, however far they might in fact have departed from this. How important to realize this honor to be given to manhood, even in the most utterly reprobate, this respect to be shown to that which they themselves do not respect; and how helpful as a spirit of recovery, such as God would use us for, thus to own something in all to which we may appeal, and by which we may, through God's grace working in it, raise them above themselves! If they have fallen, in fact, to beasts, they yet are not beasts; and the very penalty which they bring upon themselves is itself a witness of the higher destiny for which God meant them, and of that in themselves against which they are thus sinning. It is striking that in the midst of such thoughts (and with what relief of heart it comes!) the apostle reminds us here that there is now in God's goodness a brotherhood among men, originally fallen from God as these, yet now where the affections may go freely forth, and where manhood rises up to that which was God's original thought for it! Yet here also, as we know, we may, and do, find contradictory things which make an exhortation to "love the brotherhood" not without meaning. We are not just to love our own particular friends among these, or those bound to us by any narrower ties, or even those who approve themselves by their ways, however much we are called to give these special recognition; yet we are to "love the brotherhood," the children of God as such. If we love Him that begat, we shall love also those that are begotten of Him." But this is, as it were, a parenthesis in what is said here. The apostle returns to it to join together the fear of God and the honor due to the king. These two come, in fact, together. It is the fear of God which is shown in honoring those who are put in office by Him: "For the powers that be are ordained of God."*

{*It may not be amiss to suggest how unfitting, in the light of this scripture, is all that spirit of criticism and disrespect of the rulers, which is so common today. To speak evil of dignities is now, as ever, disobedience to God, and shows the lack of His fear in the heart. — S.R.}

2. He now turns to those to whom the form which subjection takes, even to the will of God, has special trial in it. The more, even, the Christian was in character as that, the more would he need to be reminded to be subject to such masters as only the sin and evil in the world could have given; yet "with all fear," as we know by what has just been said — the fear of God, who is, after all, still suffering these things, and working out His own purposes through them all. Thus here, again, it was not a question of the character of the master; they were to be subject, "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward," to reap a harvest of recompense by and by, when those who for conscience toward God, enduring grief, suffering wrongfully, shall find how acceptable it has been with Him. To be buffeted for one's faults and take it patiently, there could be little glorying in; but to do well and suffer, this is the practical Christian character in a world like this, which, the more adverse the circumstances, only finds the more the means of manifestation and development. Here they could find the highest Example: "That ye should follow His steps." With Him there was nothing for which on His own account He could suffer. Yet how absolute was His subjection to this will of God: reviled, He reviled not; suffering, He threatened not, leaving it all to Him who is the righteous Judge of all, and Himself bearing the penalty of our sins upon the tree, that we should not bear them, that His death might be, by the power of it in our hearts also, our own death to sins, and the energy of a life now lived to righteousness. Let us notice that we have not here the doctrine of the apostle Paul that we are "dead to sin" by the cross. Here it is "to sins," the practical renunciation of our own wills and ways. It is not relief for the conscience that he is thinking of, as Paul in Romans, but of that which appeals to the heart. How is it possible to go on in the sins which the Lord bore upon the tree? Always in Scripture it is "upon the tree," this sin-bearing on His part, not in the blessed life in which He lived in the open favor of God, but at that exceptional time, contrasted in character, when He of whom He had testified, "Thou hearest Me always," was one of whom He had to say for the moment, "Thou hearest not." It is strange indeed that there should be need even to emphasize the contrast that there is between these two conditions, and that the true character of the cross should thus be hidden from any of those who owe their all to it. By these stripes we were healed. He does not now say "saved," for he is in another line of thought, as is evident. The healing connects itself with the return on the part of sheep, once going astray, to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. There may be here, and seems surely to be, a reference to the condition of those whom he is specially addressing, Israelites, and as such belonging normally to the flock of God, yet rebellious and having wandered from Himself; now, won by His grace, returned to Him who has manifested Himself as the true Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep, as such is now their Leader and Guide, the Ruler of their souls.

3. The apostle turns now to consider the sanctification of marriage. It is plain that sanctification is his theme throughout; that is to say, the being set apart to God, which is what he dwells upon here as that which was to characterize the wives, even as to their dress. Their adorning was not to be for the eyes of men, not even for those of their husbands in the first place; where the braiding of hair or wearing of gold or putting on of apparel might all be in place according to the character of those to whom they were united;* but it is to God that they are set apart, therefore in that which is really in itself hidden from man, the hidden man of the heart, but which was to be manifest in "a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price." This indeed it is that is to act upon their partners in life, where these might be themselves unsubject to the Word — might even refuse to listen to it; so that without the Word the behavior of their wives must speak to them. Here, surely, the husbands are in view for spiritual benefit in beholding the effect of the Word upon those so near to them — a behaviour in the fear of God, not, as he cautions afterwards, in any terror of another kind; while, nevertheless, they were to be subject to their husbands in this way as Sarah obeyed Abraham; whose children** they would be in doing well. We can see how thoroughly sanctification is the key-note here. As to the husbands, he has but a word for them — that they, for their part, dwell with their wives according to the knowledge of the relationship, as God had instituted it, giving honor to the woman on the very account of her being the weaker naturally.*** This is indeed what God has ordained as one of those countless ways by which He would make our dependence upon one another the means of drawing out the love to minister to the need, and thus giving blessing on both sides. But there was a higher relationship which they were not to forget: they were also joint-heirs of the grace of life, with a common dependence upon Another, which prayer expresses; and their prayers must not be hindered.

{*While this does not emphasize the manner of dress of the Christian woman but rather draws attention to their true adornment, it does show how inconsistent with their calling is that worldly conformity in dress and adornment which is the common snare of women in the world. The dress of the Christian woman, as all else, should speak of nothing inconsistent with her heavenly and separate character. The very fact that we are not under law should constrain us to more simple obedience. On the other hand, shabbiness or carelessness in dress will never commend the truth. — S.R.

**Daughters of Sarah — children of Abraham. The one by a spirit of subjection, the other by faith in God. May the saints be marked by the dignity of both relationships. — S.R.

***"The weaker vessel" does not surely mean "the lower vessel" to be treated with kindly contempt, for the text teaches just the opposite. Nor is it the weaker morally, but the more fragile, with less strength and therefore requiring care, love, and protection. It suggests the dependent position of the woman, which when forgotten leads her and the man astray, as in the case of Eve. — S.R.}

4. We have now a closing word of a very general character. All were to be of one mind. This will, of course, for Christians, mean everything, for they can only be truly of one mind as that mind is the mind of Christ. If it be not that, they will be in conflict with themselves as well as with one another. They were to be sympathetic, feeling the joys and sorrows and prompt to meet the needs of others; full of brotherly love, tender-hearted, humble-minded, or there could be no spirit of service; and in the consciousness of that blessing which they had been called to inherit they would render no evil recompense for evil which, after all, whatever the intention, could not be really done them, God working it all for good. In all this we are reminded how we are called to live in the fulness of the portion which God has given us, and that this is really competence for all things.

Division 4. (1 Peter 3:10 — 4:6.)

The world-trial, and the trial in the world.

We come now to relationship to the scene around, a world which is against God, therefore against us, and which is going on to judgment at His hands. God reigns of necessity, for no opposition can displace Him; and the righteous, as those in harmony with the government of God, have the happiness of this. Yet, spite of all, the Lord's words remain: "In the world ye shall have tribulation." That is fully realized here: the very character which is acceptable to God, and bringing blessing from His hand, nevertheless being that which may, and naturally will, bring in the trial. Faith is continually needed for the realization that, after all, God reigns, and that nothing escapes from His control. The very need of patience, as another apostle has told us, is that which works in us a spirit of quiet subjection to Another's will, and which leads into the experience of how good is that will. And thus, instead of despair in looking around upon a scene of conflict and evil, it works in us hope.

1. We have here, first, the fact that under such a government as that of God righteousness must of necessity be a requisite for blessing. If we love life and would see good days, then we must refrain the tongue from evil, and the lips, that they speak no guile; we must turn from evil, and do good; seeking peace with all, as followers of the Prince of Peace; for "the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears open continually to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." We are never, therefore, to pursue a policy of adaptation to our surroundings. We are never forced to yield because of the dominance of evil. "Who shall harm you," he asks, "if ye have become zealous of that which is good?" But at once this seems to be contrary to the fact, not, of course, of God governing, but of the world being what it is. The world may indeed accept much of what is good because of the consequences of it. Men would sooner be served by those who would conscientiously serve them than by such as would serve themselves at their expense;* but then, on the other hand, if they are going to be consistently righteous all the way through, when this righteousness may cause the interests of an employer, for instance, to suffer, this, it is plain, will not be so acceptable; and thus, we must be prepared, after all, to suffer for righteousness' sake. The apostle looks this full in the face. He asks, as it were: is this, then, in reality an exception to the rule that none shall harm those earnestly seeking good? He answers, no, it is no exception. It is in reality only blessing. "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye." There may be, of course, the sacrifice of that which, after all, is not our portion, but only, in that way, an increase, in fact, of that which is our portion. Thus there is no loss, there is gain. We lose the temporal to gain the eternal; with the continual ministry of God also to us, and His care over us all the way through, so that we need not fear the fear of other men, nor be troubled about results as they are. We have only in our hearts to sanctify the Lord whom we serve — to take care that His name and His service are not dishonored in us; and thus we shall be sustained by that strong hand which already rules upon the Father's throne: for God has "translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." Here we have a hope which brightens everything, a hope that can give account of itself, a hope that we can cheerfully give account of to others, and yet in the spirit of meekness and fear as always; of course, a fear not of men, but of God; walking under the control of this, having a good conscience. The very thing for which they revile us as evil-doers shall testify in their own consciences in spite of all, and put to silence the revilers.

{*Thus it is said of our Lord that He "increased … in favor with God and man," and of the early Christians that they were "praising God and having favor with all the people." So in the Old Testament, we are told if a man's ways please the Lord He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. The preferment of Joseph and Daniel shows how acceptable the people of God are to the extent that they do not run counter to the will of man; and the persecution of both indicates the inevitable suffering for righteousness' sake. One day, even on earth, it will be true without qualification that righteousness only brings a reward. — S.R.

2. This, then, is the world through which we pass It is the world of the Cross; and by this we are crucified to it, and it to us. We must make up our minds, then, to suffer whatever God may please to permit, only to take care that it is suffering for well-doing, and not for evil-doing. The suffering for evil, as far as we are concerned, has been taken for us by Another, as the apostle reminds us. He has suffered for sins, the load which we laid upon Him, and from which we must now ourselves walk free. For us, as God would have it, there is to be no suffering for sins any more; which yet, in the government of God upon earth, may be, and will be, if we are not walking according to God; but what shame and dishonor to Him who has delivered us, and given us another character, as those washed in His blood and renewed by His Spirit!

There follows here a passage which has been the subject of much controversy, and which we must therefore consider the more carefully. It has been thought by many (and perhaps this is increasingly the view taken in the present day) that it speaks of a salvation-work going on among the dead as well as among the living, which Christ began Himself by preaching in Hades to the spirits there. Nor need it be denied that there are expressions which, at least at first sight, seem to favor this. We are assured, nevertheless, that it is only a doctrine caught at which prevents any one from seeing what it so plainly says; and as this is now, to a large mass of Christians, the removal of a difficulty instead of the creation of one, we can well understand the keenness with which such a meaning is contended for. "Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in Spirit," — in His human spirit, as they infer, — in this spirit (disembodied) He went and preached to spirits in prison, disembodied also. These, too, we are to notice, are a special class, suggesting and meeting a great difficulty. In the judgment of the flood in Noah's days, the whole population of the earth, except eight persons, were at once swept away in what might seem to be hopeless condemnation. How good, it is urged, to have a ray of light thrown upon this by such a text as the present: these hapless ones given to us as an express example of God's care for those dying without salvation, and yet, it might be, susceptible of it! May we not accept this as being help provided for us by God Himself with regard to that which must be felt by every one as a mystery of His ways? What is to become of the masses who have never heard the gospel? Are they to be all looked upon as involved in a common ruin, even although Christ died for sinners, and there is in His death the amplest provision made for all the world?

We must treat, therefore, this question seriously, as it deserves; but it is plain that there is danger of seizing upon a false hope just in proportion to its very attractiveness. Moreover, a hope of this kind may be practically more hurtful than the gloomiest view of that which (unless the text before us shall speak plainly about it) has certainly been left in obscurity. In a world like this, where, confessedly, men are not ready to accept that which God has at such a cost provided for them, and which is in itself so infinite a blessing, it may be dangerous enough to give men a hope — if it be not well justified — of an "accepted time" which is not the present time, and in which too, one would say, those to whom the gospel would then be preached would have much more favorable circumstances for hearing it, a much more decisive call for its acceptance, than anything which could be given here. In this case, one must say that "the day of salvation," for the mass, is really not the present time at all, as Scripture declares it to be, but the time when, life here ended, all the seductions of the world and sense ended forever, the blessing would have nothing to counterbalance it in the thoughts of those already shut up, as here expressed, "in prison," looking for final judgment only. It will be said, of course, that it is only of those who have not had the gospel preached to them in this life that hope is given; but what, in fact, are we to understand by this? Where are we to draw the line between those who have really heard and those that have not heard the gospel? How many, even in the present day, have but distortions of the gospel preached to them instead of the reality? How many are hindered by the circumstances in which they are from any serious consideration of the gospel when it is preached? How many ears are practically stopped by that of which the apostle could speak as "the ignorance of unbelief"? If all are to be put in any wise upon an equal footing in this respect, who is there that at the present time could be considered as just upon an equal footing with those to whom the gospel, as it is claimed, will come with all the brightness of a light from heaven, cast, as it were, into the very darkness of the antechamber of hell? How simple for souls to say, We, at least, have never been given such a chance as this, and to encourage themselves with an expectation of more favorable circumstances, in which they, too, may be led to receive a gospel which will then have no drawback or abatement of it whatever.

Thus, surely, we are bound by our very love to souls to examine seriously what such a text as this may afford us in the way of hope such as is claimed for it. We are not, indeed, on that account to refuse it if it be of God; but we are surely to beware of the natural readiness to accept that which gives the cheeriest view of life that can be, and brings its cheer even from the dark prison of the dead itself. Let us look, then, at what we have here, word for word, as the pen of inspiration puts it before us.

"Christ," it is said, "once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in flesh, but quickened by (or in) Spirit." There is no preposition in either case, but we have to supply it. It is urged, and it would seem rightly, that the dative case here, in which we find both "flesh" and "Spirit," has, in fact, the force of an adverb: so that we might put it — however bad the English — as "flesh-wise" and "Spirit-wise." Christ was put to death flesh-wise; that is, as regards the flesh. Death, in fact, could only affect that; it had no further power over Him, who, when He died, died with the blessed assurance for us, "It is finished," as He committed His spirit to the Father.

There is no difficulty so far; but, "quickened Spirit-wise:" what shall we say of that? In the first place, what does "quickened" mean in itself? It should be plain that it is in sharpest contrast with being put to death, and that it means, in opposition to it, "being brought to life." It cannot have the force of "preserved alive," as some would make it: the word is never used in such a sense. But then it is the One who was put to death who was made alive, and, one would say, could only be "made alive" in regard to that as to which death had come in. Thus, if He was put to death in flesh, He must be quickened as regards that which suffered death. If it were in His flesh He was put to death, His flesh must be quickened. In that case there can be no question that it is resurrection that is spoken of here. It is not in this case the intermediate state state, but the resurrection.

But how are we to understand, then, "Spirit-wise"? Is it His own personal spirit that is implied? or is it, on the other hand, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit? It is plain that the Spirit of God is put commonly in contrast, with the flesh, and it should be plain that the Spirit here is not Christ's human spirit which could not be in accordance with Scripture, spoken of as quickening the body. It is not by the human spirit that the body is raised. By some, the Spirit is interpreted as meaning here His deity, in contrast with His humanity; but there is no instance in Scripture, that one can find, of Christ's deity being called His spirit. The Spirit of Christ, as we have it in the second epistle, as found in the prophets, is the Holy Spirit, not the divine Person of Christ. It is the same, of course, in the eighth of Romans, where the apostle declares that "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." We have, also, in the first chapter of Romans, what might seem to be a similar antithesis, where it is said that the Son of God is come of David's seed "according to flesh," but "marked out the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead." "According to flesh" and "according to Spirit" are here in clear contrast, and the Spirit is, without controversy, the Spirit of God, and not the deity of Christ. Here, too, the expression is used in connection with resurrection, although it is true that the resurrection of the dead does not speak simply of His own resurrection, but would include, according to the plain force of the words, the resurrection, for instance, of Lazarus, which certainly marked Him out as "Son of God in power," and was declared by Himself to do so. This does not exclude His own resurrection, however; which, in fact, was that which most fully marked Him out in this way, as is plain. We have, therefore, on the whole, in this passage in Romans, that which may throw light upon what is before us here in Peter. The One who has come as David's Seed according to flesh is clearly spoken of in such terms as Israel's Messiah, and in connection therefore with Jewish promises. The apostle, speaking for us as Christians, says in this way, in the fifth chapter of the second of Corinthians, that "if we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no more." Christ in resurrection begins for us, as is plain, that new creation to which we in Him belong; and thus we can see here, where the apostle is writing to the Jewish saints of the dispersion, that Christ was put to death in the flesh, the end of Jewish hopes naturally for those who had thus rejected their Messiah. These are, as the apostle has said in the opening of his epistle, only "begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead." The words, therefore, would have a special force here if "quickened Spirit-wise" speaks, in fact, of resurrection. In this way, "Spirit-wise" would be equivalent to "quickened by the Spirit." "In Spirit" would have no force at all; nor, as to the Lord's human spirit, could "quickened" in the sense of "made alive" apply at all.

So far, then, we have nothing that would naturally lead us to think here of the Lord as in the intermediate state in Hades. Had this stood alone, it seems most certain that no one would have dreamt of applying the words to this; but we have now what is evidently a supplementary statement: "In which, also, He went and preached to the spirits in prison." That "also" shows plainly the supplementary, or parenthetical, character of the statement; and if it be not the Lord's human spirit which is spoken of in what immediately precedes, then, of necessity, it is not His human spirit here. Thus we have no option, as it would seem, but to refer it to the Spirit of God. The statement then will be that "by the Spirit He went and preached to the spirits in prison," and this is not in any wise in direct connection with His quickening by the Spirit. It by no means necessarily follows this: it may equally precede it.

But "He went and preached to the spirits in prison." This is dwelt upon to show that it was an actual journey, as it were, made by the spirit, the human spirit of Christ. We have already seen that it cannot be this human spirit, unless His human spirit could have died. There could be no quickening apart from this; but it is well known that we have a similar phraseology in the second chapter of Ephesians, where the apostle speaks of Christ having slain the enmity by His cross, and then coming and preaching the glad tidings to those afar off and to those nigh, that is, to Gentiles and Jews alike. Here there can be really no question of a journey of the man Christ Jesus, and it is surely by the Spirit that this preaching took place: the apostles and other ministers of the gospel being the instrument of it, as Mark represents them going forth and preaching everywhere, "the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." The coming and preaching in this case speaks evidently of the heart in the message. The Spirit comes, and in Him Christ comes. The Spirit comes as the direct fruit of His work, and to make it good in the souls of men. Thus the divine heart is emphasized by the expression "He came and preached." In that sense He is never absent now, but His words are fulfilled: Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age;" but we do not apprehend any personal human presence in this. The same urgency may surely, therefore, be intended here when we find that "He went and preached to the spirits in prison."

But does it not say, at least, that it was to those already spirits, (that is, having passed out of the body,) that He preached; and to these as in prison also, awaiting judgment? Thus, are we not brought back to the necessity of this being a work of the Lord, whether personally or by the Spirit, among those in the separate state? Here we must notice that it is a distinct class of these, at any rate, that is brought before us. It is simply the class of those who beforetime "were disobedient, when the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was preparing." This is, we are told, but a special example of those to whom He preached, noteworthy in illustrating the difficulty of conceiving the wholesale condemnation of the world at that time, whatever may have been the state of individual souls. But let us note carefully that there is, in fact, nothing but a more or less conjectural help as to the difficulty. It is well known that some who take all this as applying to the Lord's preaching in Hades in the separate state, nevertheless deny any evangelism in it, or any evangelic result therefore. Plainly, nothing is stated with regard to this in the passage. We may import it into it, but that is all that we can do; and there seems at the first glance even an opposition to this in the fact of there being dwelt upon that longsuffering of God which waited in the days of Noah. We have in Genesis, as we know, the specific statement that it was for 120 years. All that time the ark was preparing before eyes that must have looked on with wonder certainly, whatever might have been the incredulity of the spectators. Such a thing would necessarily make a noise, and Noah, in the life he lived amongst men, as the history has shown it to us, was one whose conduct in this respect was likely to make it still more a wonder. It is curiously said that we have no hint of any actual preaching upon Noah's part.* What hint have we, on the other hand, of any evangelization, or its happy effects, among the spirits in prison? Noah most certainly preached in the very preparation of the ark itself, the most effectual witness of his faith in the judgment coming; and the explanation of this, of what he was looking for, could not possibly be hidden. Here, the dwelling upon the longsuffering of God while that open testimony lasted — 120 years — is certainly not favorable to the thought of a preaching to these selfsame persons as spirits afterwards, when all that time the longsuffering had proved vain. Moreover, as has often been noticed, it is striking that it is exactly as to this generation of men that God's own words are on record: "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh." Thus Scripture seems to bear witness of its prophetic character in the anticipation of questions that might arise with regard to this judgment of a whole generation. Moreover, while the general result is stated to have been in their case only disobedience and ensuing judgment, nevertheless this in no wise necessitates the thought of there having been no escape from eternal judgment in souls brought to repentance even when the flood had already begun. We are certainly not obliged to add to the difficulties here by making the judgment itself as harsh as possible, when the Spirit of God emphasizes in this very case God's longsuffering. To suppose that, after all, that Spirit that would not always strive with men was to strive effectually after the judgment itself had shut them up in prison, is surely contrary to the whole character of what is here. "The spirits in prison" were there as having been disobedient when the longsuffering of God waited upon them in the days of Noah. That is undeniably the case. They were "spirits in prison" as the fruit of that disobedience. Does it follow that the preaching was to them when in this condition? or does the apostle speak of a class, now spirits in prison," who were disobedient to the preaching of the Spirit in the days of flesh? It is most certain, at least, that they were that; and the vivid way in which the apostle speaks here is suited to emphasize the effects of that preaching, they having been disobedient.

{*Besides, we are told in 2 Peter 2:5, that Noah was "a preacher of righteousness." Moreover, there is no record of Enoch's preaching in the Old Testament, but which is given in the epistle of Jude. — S.R.}

Thus, unless there is a clear reference to the Lord as in the disembodied condition, we have really no ground for thinking of this as any preaching of the gospel at all; but we have already seen that the preceding words do not, and can not, refer to the disembodied state, except upon the principle that we can make "quickening" to be either "preserving alive," or believe that the human spirit of Christ had need to be quickened after death. We can understand, therefore, why this going and preaching is given us as a supplementary statement to what went before. This former preaching was by the Spirit of Christ, thus by Christ Himself; the Spirit of Christ being, as we have seen, that which the apostle elsewhere speaks of as having been in the Old Testament prophets. It is thus the style of the epistle. But all this clearly adds emphasis to the fact that, after all, only "few, that is, eight souls were saved through water:" the very judgment upon the world becoming in this way the means of salvation from it to those who escaped. They were saved through water, the water itself bearing up the ark so that it should escape the judgment; and the apostle immediately goes on to apply this when he says: "Which figure (or like figure) doth also now save you."

It is plain that, in some way or other, baptism is given us as a like figure to the flood. The word used for "figure" is "antitype," which has caused many to think of baptism being the antitype of that of which the apostle has spoken; but there is here put upon the word a meaning which, according to Scripture, it does not have. We have the same word in the epistle to the Hebrews, (and there alone in the New Testament,) where the apostle speaks of the things in the earthly tabernacle being the "figures of the true" (Heb. 9:24). Antitypes in the common sense they certainly could not be: it would be the most perfect inversion of the truth conceivable; and it would be equally contrary to the language of Scripture to speak of baptism as an antitype at all. One can understand, of course, the force of it for those who believe in ritualistic views of sacraments; but we need not enter into this here. The word is clearly, as in Hebrews, "figure," or, more fully and literally, "answering figure," which the common version gives as "like figure." The simple force seems to be a figure answering to the facts, and thus we can understand how the apostle should say that baptism (as such a figure) "saves." It is an expression of that which, as a corresponding reality in the soul, does save. We have seen the doctrine of this already in the sixth of Romans, It is noticeable that as the apostle was one of that primal company of Christians who, notably, never were baptized with Christian baptism at all, — so far as any record shows (and thus would be in a sad condition if baptism were ordained for that which ritualism assigns to it,) he says: "doth now save you." He cannot say "us" in this way. He is careful also to add, parenthetically, that baptism is not (what could be the only effect of the water) "the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the request as before God of a good conscience." Notice that he has no idea of any effect of water but that of "putting away of the filth of the flesh." He has no mystic conception of water, by any possible consecration of it, affecting the soul. Meaning it has, of course, and an important place when this meaning is realized. This, also, has been obscured by the mistranslation of what follows as "the answer of a good conscience before God." It is quite plain, according to what we have seen in Romans, that the "answer" of a good conscience it cannot possibly signify. People are baptized "to Christ." Baptism is a gospel type, and men come to it, therefore, as confessed sinners, to meet Christ in the value of His work for them. Thus "the request of a good conscience" can be clearly understood. The conscience is made good as the result of this work of Christ, and it is this that is ideally sought in baptism. It is found, in fact, not by the baptism itself, which is only burial, the sentence of death upon the sinner carried out, thoroughly, (although in the faith that Christ has died for sinners,) but thus that good conscience itself is obtained by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the witness of the acceptance of His work, a glorious and perfect one of Him "who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being subjected unto Him."

Yet the One thus accepted of God is still the rejected of man, and thus we can see how forceful is the statement of the apostle with regard to that old world swept away by the flood, and the connection of that baptism by which we enter openly into the place of Christian disciples with the judgment of man which received in that flood a statement so terribly emphatic. If question arises in the hearts of those still going through a world which rejects even the precious gospel of grace now, how forcible is the admonition of that previous rejection of God's longsuffering witness 120 years before the judgment came! The force of this is entirely done away by the thought of any preaching after death to spirits in prison. The whole is here in perfect consistency with itself when we take it as a warning corresponding to that which the Lord has given of the times that would precede His coming in judgment, as days which would be like those of Noah. That coming was, as we know, continually before the eyes of Christians at this time; they had not learned, as so many have since, to put it off into a far-off distance; and thus the apostle's words would have here the fullest possible significance.

3. But the apostle has more to say to us with regard to these matters, when he exhorts Christians that, as Christ has suffered for us in the flesh, we should arm ourselves with the same mind; "for he that hath suffered in the flesh," he adds, "hath ceased from sin." Christ suffered the contradiction of sinners against Himself. He "suffered" only, did not, and could not, yield to it. He suffered to death itself, by death passing out of the whole scene in which this contradiction was realized. The conflict for Him was over. He had ceased from it. For us, also, that death of Christ apprehended by faith is the ceasing from sin, although, necessarily, in a different way from what it was with Him.* We have not passed out of the scene — we live in it; and yet our life is, in the true sense of this, outside it. We belong to another scene altogether, and our "life is hid with Christ in God." Thus the acceptance of the work of Christ marks an entire change in our own condition. We can live no more in the flesh to fulfil the lusts of men, but for the will of God, although this may entail for us such suffering in the flesh as Christ had, the contradiction of sinners remaining and working in all that is around us. For us, the time past is abundantly sufficient — now that through grace we have waked up to righteousness — to have wrought the will of the nations, of men who now turn round in wonder upon those who have left their ranks, who can no more run in the evil ways which are the mere overflowing of a heart away from God. For this, therefore, men will speak evil of those who have done so, in order that they might live to God a life according to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

{*To yield to sin, to go along with the world, is not to suffer. It is the resistance to this pressure that entails the suffering, and that insures the freedom, practically, from the sin. This is most important, in a day of laxity and worldly conformity like the present. — S.R.}

And here follows a passage which has been similarly taken to that which we have just been looking at, and in a similar interest. Here, moreover, we find, as some understand it, a gospel preached to the dead as dead; "For to this end was the gospel preached also to the dead, that they might be judged as regards men after the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit." Here is a gospel preached which has effect (or is expected to have), and we must carefully consider the effect in order to the apprehension of the whole passage.

We have just been shown, in fact, the effect of the death of Christ for those who in faith realize it. It is the ceasing from sin, the ceasing from the will of the Gentiles; for which the Gentiles judge those who do so. This is the very effect of the gospel which we have here. The effect is a life "according to God in the Spirit." That is simple. But it should be as simple that this of necessity goes with a judgment by men after the flesh, a fleshly judgment passed upon those who have now learned to live a spiritual life.

That is all simple, and there should be no difficulty with regard to it. The difficulty is only here, that this gospel is said to have been "preached also to the dead." The only question can be: Is it to the dead, then, as dead, that it was preached? or simply in life to those who have passed away, and are now among the dead? Here, the effect spoken of should be in itself decisive. Suppose a preaching to the dead as dead, it is difficult to understand how men after the flesh should judge their turning to God in this condition. Is it their fellow-prisoners in the pit who do so? It is plainly that of which the apostle has been speaking, while a life "according to God in the Spirit" naturally speaks of a life lived here, not of a simple change in men who have, as to present things, ceased to live. The apostle has, in fact, already been speaking of a judgment to come, both for the living and the dead. The judgment upon the living is at the coming of the Lord, for which all Christians are taught to wait as that which is near at hand. From this judgment of the living, Christians have escaped. They wait for Jesus Christ as their Saviour, One who has delivered them already from the wrath to come. But the dead? Here the same principle obtains. To these also the gospel has been preached, not as dead but as living — but with this effect, that they are delivered from the judgment of the dead, as those who might live on to the coming of the Lord are delivered from the judgment of the living. Thus, all is really clear and consistent with the whole context. The apostle is speaking in it, as is plain, only of Christians, or at least of those to whom the gospel has been preached; and the effects which he deduces from it are perfectly inconsistent with the thought of any evangelizing of the dead as dead. The whole purport of what is here is but an expansion of what he says at the beginning, that as Christ path suffered for us in the flesh, we are to arm ourselves with the same mind. We are to make Christ's suffering our ceasing from sin, so as no longer to live as men around are, in the lusts of the flesh, but to God, a life which His coming judgment will show to have had the most decisive significance.*

{*Another explanation — though not so simple, nor in accord with the language — makes the judgment to be that of God, and suggests the alternative, "either judged as men, or live unto God." But this seems to do violence to the plain language, and to ignore the context as well. — S.R.}

Division 5. (1 Peter 4:7 – 5:14.)

Responsibilities and judgment at the house of God already, with the judgment for the ungodly at hand.

Throughout, we have seen that the apostle is really showing us the government of God — for the Christian, the Father's government; but even in this government of the Father, He has respect to the world as that, the need of which He cannot forget. Thus, His people must honor Him in it, or He must honor Himself at their expense. This government of God, then, more or less, appears all the way through. We are now distinctly reminded of it in that which is pressed here, "the end of all things is at hand." The end of all things is, in fact, in judgment, although necessarily, in order to bring in the blessing that is beyond. That judgment is looked at, for the believer, in fact as begun already. Judgment is already beginning at the house of God, and this is shown in the fiery trial through which the saints are passing, in which they are at the same time partakers of Christ's sufferings. We have seen already, in the Hebrews, that this does not at all hinder such suffering having a character of discipline at the same time for those who pass through it. Judgment is begun, then, at the house of God; but if it be often in this case a fiery trial, the seriousness of which they are made to realize, what will it be when it is no more the righteous that are in question, but the ungodly and the sinner? "If the righteous be with difficulty saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" We are necessarily reminded of responsibilities in connection with this, and the reward is also set before us. All this is stamped with the character of the whole book.

1. "The end of all things,'' says the apostle, "is at hand." We are to live in the constant thought of that. It is easy indeed to take the long time since such words were written to make an argument for at least less vivid expectation of the end announced. But that is not the way in which the Spirit of God would teach us to use it. It would make us rather say, "The night is far spent," and therefore we may surely realize the day to be at hand. We know of no long interval before us. To interpose one involves the thought of the wicked servant, "My Lord delayeth His coming." The brightness of our lives consists in bringing the eternal things, to which the coming of the Lord introduces us, into the present. Thus to have it ever before us in the most vivid way can be no loss, but gain. There still remains for us scripture such as this. If the apostle could say in his day, "The end of all things is at hand," with how much conviction may we say it at the present time? The result is, as he puts it here, that we are to be sober, not allowing ourselves to take a roseate view of that which is manifestly going on to judgment; and with this we need watchfulness to prayer. How little, indeed, have we learned the value of that of which Scripture makes so much! — "praying always," "watching unto prayer." When we consider that God has opened to us in this way a wondrous store of blessing, which He only seeks on our part the longing desire to possess ourselves of in order to make it practically ours, what value must there not be to us in prayer! And it is as we are enriched in such a way that we find ability for that outflow out of an abundance which the apostle, as we shall see, insists upon here. Love is but that which necessitates the outflow, and he urges that above all things we should be fervent in love among ourselves. "Love covereth a multitude of sins." We are apt to be driven in upon ourselves by the disappointment we may meet in the conduct of others; but love is the spirit that overcomes in this way, and we must not let it suffer defeat. The very nearness in which we are brought to one another, and the dearness of the relationship which we have to one another, will make us feel, and should also make us feel, the more the failure in any way to act according to this relationship.* That is a necessity of the case, while at the same time it should awaken in us the consciousness of our own shortcomings, which will not allow the building up of pride by the failure of others as to which we mourn. Love covereth sins: it does not needlessly expose them, does not talk about them without some plain demand for it; does not dwell upon them, but upon the things that are good, in which, as the heart abides, the life is cheered and brightened, and we get courage for the way. Then, love is bountiful: does not merely give, but delights in giving. Thus he presses the using hospitality one to another without murmuring** at the demands which it may make upon us; and finally, the apostle bids us, as to whatever gift we have received, — where everything that we have as Christians is in fact a gift, — that we realize the responsibility necessarily connected with this, and that we minister it as those who are but stewards of the manifold grace of God." It is divine fulness in which we are filled up; and what capacity for ministry, as well as what responsibility, is involved in this! If any speak, he is thus to speak "as oracles of God" — a remarkable expression! It is not "according to the oracles of God," still less, "according to the Scriptures," as most probably we are disposed to take it; but it is as uttering from God that which is in His mind — a thing for which the presence of the Spirit in us is manifestly the most perfect qualification. If we were only subject to the Spirit and yielded up to Him, how thoroughly should we be able to communicate to one another that which was in fact God's wisdom for us all — not merely scriptural, but the living ministry of the Spirit for the need, whatever it might be! Then if any one minister, he is to do it as of the ability which God supplieth; he is not left to any competency of his own. He is to learn to use the abundance which God has for him as the Lord taught His disciples when, in view of the need of the multitude around, which they were plainly unable to supply, He says: "They need not depart; give ye them to eat." How surely would this be so with us if the faith which works by love were more the full reality that it ought to be! And here the apostle is not speaking simply of teaching or evangelizing, which would be covered by what he has said just before, but of any kind of ministry, in which, if we have faith to reckon upon the bounty of God, such faith can never in fact be disappointed. We cannot imitate, of course, a faith like this; and we must be truly with God in order that we may be able rightly to exercise it. We are not possessed of stores which we are to lavish just according to our own thought of what may be good. Here, as in all things else, we need divine guidance, and true faith will be found only for that which is according to the mind of God; yet how much this opens to us which we all have to confess we know so little of in practice! The end before us, as the apostle puts it here, is that which will keep us right and give us wisdom in the stewardship of such abundance, "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is glory and power unto the ages of ages." Surely to realize how God is bent upon glorifying His Son is the way to realize the competence which is of Him for acting to His glory. Here, then, is responsibility indeed, of how wide a range!

{*May there not also be the thought that the service of love will watch with jealous eye the beginning of evil in a brother, and by washing his feet prevent the full development of evil which would require the publicity of putting away? Love cannot hide sin that ought to be manifest, but it can prevent the need of such manifestation by faithfulness in private dealing with the evil before it assumes the character of positive wickedness. What a blessed contrast is this to that of the busy-body who feeds upon evil and gloats over the fall of another. — S.R.

**It is to be feared that the showing of hospitality is often accompanied by murmuring which the unerring foresight of the Spirit of God here warns against. God loveth a cheerful giver, but how often is the hospitality marred by the grudging spirit in which it is given. How much deception too — so that it has become a byword in the world. — S.R.

2. The apostle turns now to exhort them concerning that which would make them realize indeed the end to be near; for the last days, according to Scripture, are not days of ease and comfort for the people of God; they are not days of the prevalence of good, but of evil; and in all this is involved, however different may be the expression of it, how much trial for those who at all costs would walk with God! Christians were not to think it strange, then, concerning the trial through which they would pass, though it might be a fiery trial to be felt, and which could only fulfil its purpose, in fact, by being felt. A trial is meant to try, and this is what the apostle presses upon those to whom here he writes. They must not think it a strange thing — a thing foreign to what might seem to suit the followers of the Lord of glory. How easy it is, in fact, with Christ upon the throne, to think that therefore Christians must find a good place in the world instead of tribulation, although the Lord has in the plainest way admonished us that it will be otherwise! We are not to be taken out of the path in which He walked, and therefore not out of the circumstances which made the path what it was. All this would only make the coming glory more expected, more rejoiced in, and, when it would actually come, a cause even of larger joy. All recompense would be found in it, while it is true that for the present time also to be reproached for the name of Christ involves itself a necessary blessedness. "The Spirit of glory and of God" rests upon those who suffer thus. It could not be otherwise. Christ could not fail His own who are earnest in the desire not to fail Him. Suffering of another sort would, of course, be inconsistent with the suffering for Christ. To suffer as a murderer or a thief, or an evildoer of any kind, or even as concerning themselves with things which were not theirs — such things would be incongruous for the Christian; but the suffering coming on him on that very account, because he is a Christian, can be no cause for shame. It is given him, on the contrary, to glorify God. So will He be most manifestly glorified. Think of Stephen's face, and how it manifests this; and we are not to take these things as if they were wholly exceptional, but pictures with deep and blessed meaning for ourselves.

But again the apostle returns to that character of the suffering of which he has already spoken. "The time," he says, "is come for judgment to begin at the house of God." There where God dwells, there must assuredly be the maintenance of that which pleases Him; and, as we have often seen, the Father's judgment is not necessarily a chastening for positive evil that has come, but will include all that is necessary to prevent its coming out. God knows us better than we know ourselves; and how much even may come out of us little worthy of Him, and yet of the character of which we are unconscious! It is thus we need so much to pray that He may search us and try us, and see whether there be any wicked way in us: any way, as the word means, of pain or grief to Him. His judgment is grounded necessarily upon this deeper knowledge, and as a Father's judgment it is for our fullest blessing. Still, it is serious; as the apostle says, we are not, on the one hand, to faint under the discipline of the Lord, nor, on the other hand, are we to make light of it. It is the witness of a holiness which must be specially maintained as to those who are brought near to Him — a holiness which, the nearer we are brought to God, the more we shall justify Him in. In the sanctuary only can we understand it; and there we shall find, as the Psalmist did, the secret of this apparently strange thing — that whereas those away from Him may be left alone to prosper and increase in riches, those who are His may have to be "plagued all the day long and chastened every morning." But how solemn is the admonition, therefore, of such ways of God with His own! If judgment begin after this manner, "first at us," says the apostle, "what shall be the end of those who obey not the gospel of God?" Judgment will pass from us. What will it be for those upon whom it must abide? "If the righteous be with difficulty saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" It is not "scarcely saved." The thought is in some sense the very opposite of this. God has to take abundant pains with them, in order that He may carry them through in a manner according to His mind; and it is because the salvation is effectual and ample that the difficulty of it is seen. When we think of what we are, and of what God is, and that God and we are called to walk together, how should we realize what is indeed the tender love of God, which works with us thus to wean us from the things around, — from all that would awaken in the heart murmuring and unrest, — in order that we may be occupied with that which is our own, with the abundance with which He has provided us, and which He is always waiting to minister to us! "Wherefore," says the apostle, "let them who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing to a faithful Creator." God is pursuing in all this the very purpose which He had with man at the beginning, for which He made him — to have communion with Himself. This might be able, indeed, to be little developed at the beginning. It is now brought out in fullest reality.

3. The apostle turns now, in view of the people of God in weakness and suffering in a world like this, to exhort in an especial way those who had the special responsibility, involved in growth of wisdom and experience, to use these for the blessing of all. "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder." It seems plain that he is not thinking here of any office of eldership. We can hardly think of the apostle himself as assuming the position of one of the elders of a congregation in the sense in which we find them ordained in the separate assemblies. He is rather thinking of his years, of the long experience which they had furnished to him, of the wisdom acquired by the experience, and of those who had in their own measure a similar responsibility of such experience so acquired. This, even with the officially appointed elders, really was what would qualify a man for such an office; and it was a right thing, as Paul has told us, to desire such a place practically. It was desiring a good work. All elders in mere age would not be elders of this sort, and yet a certain age would naturally be needful as a qualification; but apart from any formal office, love would make one realize the responsibility of having that which could minister to the need of others in this way, as in every other way. The apostle was in an eminent way also "a witness of the sufferings of Christ," as he would be "a partaker of the glory" which is to be revealed. This, it is plain, does not exclude others from a proportionate share in either. Such, then, as those of whom he speaks were to tend the flock of God, exercising oversight not of necessity, but willingly, and not as lording it over possessions of their own. The flock is God's flock. There is no idea in Scripture of any flock belonging to an under-shepherd. This is what is guarded against here. They were not to take the place of lords, but of ministers under Him who, after all, was Himself so thoroughly a Minister, the Chief Shepherd, who, when He is manifested, would bestow upon those who cared for His own an unfading "crown of glory." Here, plainly, is such oversight, as may be at any time exercised, no matter what may be the ruin of the days upon which we are fallen. Peter, it is evident also, is thinking of the Lord's own charge to him. How could he forget those last, tender admonitions which were at the same time the revelation of a privilege which was his, and which, through grace, remained in spite of all his failure? It is striking that here what is spoken of is not a "crown of righteousness" simply, but a "crown of glory." Righteousness shall have its own reward, but the outflow of heart towards His people, a spirit of self-sacrifice for the blessing of those so dear to Him, must receive "a crown of glory" at His hands.

The next words show that it is, after all, not an official eldership that the apostle is thinking of here, for he now turns to the younger in contrast to these, and bids them be subject unto the elder; that is, they are of course to consider their years, and what it has furnished to them, and above all the ministry to which they see them devoted. Such love carries with it true wisdom, and he who is fully devoted to the need of the saints cannot really fail to find for himself in this way the blessing of it; but all the saints are to be subject one to another. They are to gird themselves with humility in this way, humility being that which will keep everything rightly adjusted, as the girdle the robe, and which would thus enable for such activity as all are called to; for humility is a grand help against discouragement by the difficulties of the way, and necessarily against all that would search out any remnant of pride in us. "God resisteth the proud," adds the apostle, "but giveth grace unto the humble." They were therefore to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God that He might exalt them in due time. Against the might of His hand, who can exalt himself? But He Himself is waiting and desiring to be able to exalt those who will not suffer from it; and upon such an One we may cast all our care, for He careth for us.

4. There are yet some further words with regard to the trial in which they found themselves. There was an active enemy walking about as a roaring lion, with the open mouth of persecution, as we see by the connection here, seeking to daunt the suffering soul, and thus to cast down from the steadfastness of a faith which must needs persevere through the sufferings; sufferings that are accomplished in all the Lord's people who are in the world. They had only to wait for God to fulfil all His own meaning in this trial — a God of grace who has destined His people for His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, and who may be safely trusted for all the way that leads there. With Him the suffering had its ends, while of necessity it was merely temporary.* The effect would be, not what the enemy sought, but the perfecting, stablishing, strengthening, grounding of the soul. If they might seem to sink, they would soon touch the bottom, and find how firmly the Rock was underneath them. A real suffering for Christ could not fail to have this as its answer. The trial tries not the sufferer alone, but Him who has assured us that He will be "a very present help in trouble," and that all things, moreover, shall "work together for good to them that love God." The trial itself, therefore, must work this. We must not look at things as against us, lest we put into them a sting which God would not have there. "To Him," adds the apostle, belong the glory and the might, "unto the ages of ages."

{*While temporary, these sufferings will continue during this present life — a light and momentary affliction as compared with the eternal weight of glory. This is seen both from the grammar, the participial clause agreeing with "you," and from the context, as surely the prayer for their strengthening etc. would not be after they had suffered, but during it as well. — S.R.}

With a few words now the epistle ends. The apostle seems to have used for writing it the hand of another, as Paul had done; for it seems hard to think that he is speaking of another epistle than the one before us. The hand employed seems also to be that of a co-laborer with Paul, and one who, as belonging originally to Jerusalem, would naturally be well known to Peter also. This is Sylvanus, or Silas. He speaks of him as one whom he accounts a faithful brother, and yet, in the way in which he states this, as if they had not been long, or for long, together. His aim is to bear witness to them of the true grace of God in which they stood, and alone could stand.*

{*As at the close of Hebrews we see that Paul was in Italy, doubtless at Rome, when the epistle was written; so here we see Peter was at Babylon when this epistle was written. There is not the slightest hint that he ever was at Rome before this, and from the late date of this epistle it is most unlikely that he was ever there afterwards. Thus the fabric of his being the first bishop of Rome falls to the ground. Recognizing this, the supporters of that theory claim that the Babylon here is the mystic city, as in Rev. 17, and therefore really Rome. But this never would have been thought of but for the theory. Peter is not writing symbolically. Doubtless the elect (sister) is either his wife, or some prominent lady as in 2 John 1, or else it agrees with "brotherhood," understood, a feminine word, — S.R.}