A Fourfold Exhortation

"Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." 1 Peter 2.

It is well known that the First Epistle of Peter, from which the above is a quotation, deals more especially with that aspect of Christianity which has to do with this present world. It is true it looks on to the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the grace which will be brought to us then, but still the main subject is the Christian's pathway here, and in connection therewith the consequent suffering on the one hand, and God's overruling government on the other.

The apostle up to this point has been occupied chiefly with the subject of salvation in its present aspect, showing what a marvellous revelation had been given of God by the manifestation of Christ in these last times - whose precious blood had redeemed those he was addressing from their vain conversation received by tradition from their fathers. It was vain, because there had never been a full revelation of God. This had now been given in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. God had fully come out, and man had gone in. For Christ - as a lamb without blemish and without spot - had been raised from the dead and glorified, and believers in Him are consequently brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light. Two things are introductory to this, viz., new birth and redemption, the one the effect of the work of God, the other of the work of Christ.

All this however is to faith, for we are not yet in actual possession of the inheritance, and so the apostle describes those to whom he writes as "strangers and pilgrims." This shows that our portion is not in this world. A "stranger" is one who has not a home in the place where he finds himself; and a "pilgrim" is one who knows where his home is, and is going to it. Such is our position, as Christians, in this scene. We have no part in the governing or ordering of the vast system called the world; if we had, we should not be strangers. What, then, is our relation to things here, to the men of this world, and to God? The scripture already quoted answers the question. "Honour [margin "esteem"] all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." In these four brief but pregnant sentences, we have our whole duty defined.

First of all as to our relation to men generally. Though converted, we are left for a longer or shorter period in this world, very often amid the same surroundings as in our unconverted days. In any case, we are constantly rubbing shoulder to shoulder with men who have their portion in this life. How are we to behave to such? The Word of God gives us a general principle to guide our conduct. "Esteem all men," it says. Naturally we are prone to go to one of two extremes, just according to our bent. Either we sink too much to the level of other men, or we are apt to 'assume an air of superiority, and act the Pharisee. Scripture points out a middle course, which, if adopted, would prove both a safeguard to ourselves, and a help to those who are at present outside. All earnest Christians, who desire to follow the Lord fully, have doubtless felt a difficulty as to their precise attitude towards worldly friends and neighbours. It is easy enough to treat people with cold indifference, to avoid them, or pass them by with only the slightest recognition. In doing so we can never hope to win them for Christ, nor do we give them an opportunity of seeing what Christianity has done for us. On the other hand, it is equally easy to form worldly acquaintanceship and fall under its influence, rather than, as the children of God, shining as lights in the world. But if we seek to carry into practice the injunction to "esteem all," we shall neither be looking down upon people, nor yet defiling our garments, but we shall be letting our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Next we come to our own circle. "Love the brotherhood." How feebly we do it! At the best sometimes we make our own little circle, and are content. The words are not, however," Love a portion of the brotherhood," but "Love the brotherhood." If a person comes within the brotherhood, he should come within the circle of our love. Let us thank God there is a brotherhood to love. Sometimes it seems as though the word had dropped out of our vocabulary. We know what it is, it may be, to love those who are related to us according to the flesh, but do we think much and often about the "brotherhood?" Neither is it a clique, whose spiritual tastes or particular views of doctrine accord with our own. How apt we are to limit our love to these, and just tolerate the rest! In the abstract, certainly, the brotherhood must be taken to embrace all true believers, though in these days many, it is sad to say, may exhibit very few of the traits that belong to it.

A brotherhood marked by love! What an exhibition to the world of the power and influence of Christianity! Such it should be. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." If we have reached love, we have reached the life of God.

We are not told to love all men. Love is for the family. We are to esteem all. Those who are competent to judge say that the word in the original for "esteem" has the force of being more the act when the occasion arises, but the word for "love" implies the constant habit of mind. (See note N.T.)

May we then remember that we belong to a brotherhood, not one of man's formation, but of divine origin. "One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." God has seen fit to form His people into a brotherhood, not the "brotherhood of man" - sin has made that impossible - but one distinct and apart from the world and the flesh - brethren of Christ. We read in Acts that after Peter and John had been before the Sanhedrim, "being let go, they went to their own company." So we have our "own company." And the more we are strangers and pilgrims here, the more we shall be drawn to it.

Thirdly, we are exhorted to "fear God." This is a wholesome word, but one that is very little in use in these days. Further on in the same epistle the apostle explains the character of this fear. He says (chap. 3:15), "but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." This is a quotation from Isaiah 8:13, where we find these additional words, "and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread." The "fear of God," then, is not a craven fear, but rather the setting the Lord always before us, not doing or undertaking anything without reference to Him. Alas! how many things we do, and perhaps never consult Him at all. As long as it is not anything absolutely wrong, we seem to think we can do pretty much as we like. "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." Who from this time will begin to do it? It is not talking much about it, but "in your hearts." It is having the heart continually in the presence of God. This is the blessed life, that everything should be "begun, continued, and ended in Him." This was the life of the Lord Jesus: "I have set the Lord always before Me."

Very often it is the fear of man that is before us. The Lord Jesus said, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do, but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: fear Him which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him." And then He adds, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows": words which seem, at first sight, to have no connection with what has gone before. And yet the connection is very striking. God has power to kill and to cast into hell. In other words, He has complete mastery over all His creatures. And yet that same One is full of love. He is not a tyrant. Great as He is, He takes notice of the price five sparrows fetch. And He numbers the very hairs of our head. And so the Lord says first of all, "Fear God," and then He says, "Fear not." For if we fear Him, we have nothing else to fear; He will care for us. May we then take heed to this third exhortation to "fear God."

Lastly, we are reminded to "honour the king." Christians are not socialists, nor republicans, nor communists. They are not citizens of this world at all; but they are subjects. Christianity does not reduce everything to a dead level; it does not interfere with the existing state of things in the world, or attempt to abolish social distinctions or the relative positions of master and servant. It touches them all, doubtless, but it leaves their distinctive character just where it was. We are to "love the brotherhood," but we are also to "honour the king." We do well to remember these two things; and if the king happens to be a brother, not to forget that he is still the king, or if the master happens to be a brother, not to forget that he is still the master. This is one way in which we may fear God. For if we truly fear Him we shall also fear those He has set up, and do them reverence.

In calling attention to this fourfold exhortation we are again impressed with the wisdom and perfection of the Word of God, and how necessary it is for us to study it in every part. All of us are prone to give undue prominence to certain sections. We need it all, and shall be losers if any portion is overlooked. These are days when such things are little thought of as "Esteem all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king."

Like the fourfold exhortation we have been considering, truth is four-sided. May we seek to grasp it in every position, so that our view of truth may resemble the heavenly city: "The city lieth four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth … the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal." So we need the whole of inspiration; we need the Old Testament as well as the New; we need heavenly truth, and we need practical truth; we need that which appeals to heart and that which addresses the conscience; we need James as well as Paul, and Peter as well as John; we need the purpose of God, and we need the wilderness; and, lastly, we need to "esteem all men, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honour the king." R. E.