Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Offices of The Holy Trinity
1 Peter 1:1, 2. Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.
CONTEMPTIBLE as Christians often appear in the eyes of men, they are of high estimation in the sight of God. Many glorious descriptions are given of them in the inspired volume: but in no part of it have we more exalted views of them than in the words before us; where, at the same time that they are represented as treated by man with all manner of cruelties and indignities, they are spoken of as most dear to every person in the Godhead, having been elected by God the Father, redeemed by the Lord Jesus, and sanctified by the operations of the Holy Spirit. This is a great mystery,—the union of the Sacred Three in the redemption and salvation of fallen man. But the consideration of this mystery is of peculiar importance; not only as establishing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but as showing the connection of that doctrine with every part of our salvation; which originates with God the Father, is carried on by God the Son, and is perfected by God the Holy Spirit.
Let us, under a deep sense of our own ignorance, and with a humble dependence upon God for his guidance and direction, proceed to a calm, dispassionate, and candid consideration of this all-important subject.
I. The Father elects.
The doctrine of election is here, as in many other passages, plainly asserted.
Christians are "elect, according to the foreknowledge of God." By "the foreknowledge of God" I understand, God's infallible discernment of future things, how contingent soever they may appear to us. That he possesses this perfection is unquestionable: for if he did not, how could he ever have inspired his prophets to foretell such distant and improbable events? It is not possible to read the life of our Lord, and to compare the predictions concerning him with the events by which they were fulfilled, and not to say, "Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world." Indeed a man who denies this truth must "think God to be even such an one as himself," ignorant of the future, and made wiser by the occurrences of every succeeding day—a supposition from which the mind revolts with utter abhorrence.
Considering then the foreknowledge of God as comprising everything relating to the salvation of man, we are constrained to view all that relates to man's salvation as ordained of God. For though we may easily distinguish in idea between foreknowledge and fore-ordination, we cannot separate them in fact; since if God foreknow everything, he foreknows it, not as probable, but as certain; and therefore certain, because it has been fore-ordained by him "before the foundation of the world," and is "wrought by him in time according to the counsel of his own will."
Hence to God's electing love we refer all the grace and mercy that we have ever experienced; and thankfully acknowledge, that "by the grace of God we are what we are;" and that, if ever we be saved at all, it will be, "not according to our works, but according to his purpose and grace which were given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
The objections which are usually brought against this doctrine, by no means disprove its truth.
Many affirm, that, if the doctrine of election be true, that of reprobation, of absolute reprobation, must be true also. In answer to this, I would say, that we know nothing, either of the one or of the other, but from the revelation which God has given us; and that, if that revelation affirm the one and deny the other, we must receive that which it affirms, and reject that which it denies. That it does deny the doctrine of absolute reprobation, I think is clear as the light itself. If when Almighty God swears by his own life and immortal perfections, that "he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live;" and then founds on that oath this gracious invitation, "Turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" I am constrained to say, that the doctrine of absolute reprobation, that is, of God's forming any persons with an express determination to destroy them, irrespectively of any works of theirs, cannot be true. But must I therefore deny the doctrine of election, which the whole Scriptures uniformly assert, merely because I know not how to reconcile the two opinions? Surely not. My sentiments are formed on Scripture, and not on the fallible deductions of human reason: and if I cannot reconcile the two, it is no reason that God cannot. I cannot reconcile the existence of sin with the holiness of God: but do I therefore deny, or doubt, either the one or the other? Certainly not; so neither do I doubt God's exercise of sovereign grace towards his elect, because my weak and fallible reason would be ready to connect with it an arbitrary decree against the non-elect. Sure I am, that the Judge of all the earth will do right; and that, while all the saved will ascribe their salvation simply and solely to the grace of God, there will not be found one among those who perish, who will not confirm God's sentence of condemnation upon him, saying, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments."
Another objection against this doctrine is, That the elect will be saved, though they never should strive at all; and the non-elect will perish, however earnestly they may strive. But God has united the end with the means: and to attempt to separate them will be in vain. Who the elect are, we know not, until they themselves discover it by the effects produced upon them: nor will it ever be known who the non-elect are, until the day of judgment shall reveal it. But this we know,—and this we affirm for the comfort of all,—that "every one who asks, receives; and every one that seeks, finds; and that to every one that knocks, shall the gate of Heaven be opened." What can the most determined opposer of the doctrine of election say more than this, or wish for more than this?
Some will yet further urge, That, if this doctrine be true, men may be saved without any regard to holiness. This objection is of the same kind with the former: and that there is no just ground for it, our text itself sufficiently declares: for we are "elect unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ;"—elect, not to salvation only, but to obedience also—to the one as the means, and to the other as the end.
What is spoken respecting our being elect "to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," will lead me to show, that whom the Father has elected,
II. Christ redeems.
On the subject of obedience being an end to which we are elect, we shall speak under the next head: at present, we confine ourselves to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
That the elect are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ, is certain.
Moses, when he confirmed the covenant which the Israelites entered into with their God, sprinkled both the altar and the people with the blood of the sacrifices: and in like manner we, when we embrace the covenant of grace, are sprinkled with the blood of our Great Sacrifice, which purges us from the guilt of all our former sins, and sanctifies us as a holy people unto the Lord: "We come to the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than the blood of Abel."
And here it is particularly to be noticed, that it is not by the shedding of the Redeemer's blood that any are saved, but by the application of it to their souls. Millions "perish for whom Christ died," but no one ever perished, whose "heart had been sprinkled from an evil conscience," and "purged from dead works to serve the living God."
To this they are elected, as to the necessary means of their acceptance with God.
None, however elect by God the Father, could come to God, unless a sacrifice were provided for them. All are sinners: all need pardon for their multiplied iniquities: no man could make satisfaction for his own sins. One sacrifice was provided of God for the whole world, even the sacrifice of God's only-begotten Son. Through that, God determined from all eternity to accept them: and in due time he reveals it to them, as the way opened for their access to him. Thus they are brought to see Christ, as "the way, the truth, and the life," and thus they receive "redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of all their sins."
We must not however imagine that God elects any in a way inconsistent with his own honor. He does not by a mere absolute decree forgive them: he does not so overlook the honor of his own law, or disregard the demands of his own truth and justice. On the contrary, he provides for them a Savior, through whose atoning blood they may be forgiven, and in whose obedience they may find a justifying righteousness. If he elected them simply to salvation without any regard to an atonement, he would exercise one attribute at the expense of all the rest: but in electing them to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, he provides for the honor of his broken law, and maintains in united and harmonious exercise the glory of all his perfections: he provides, that "Mercy and truth should meet together, and righteousness and peace should kiss each other."
As Christ redeems whom the Father has elected, so those, whom Christ has redeemed,
III. The Spirit sanctifies.
It is in reality through the influence of the Holy Spirit that the souls of the elect are sprinkled with the blood of Christ: because it is He who reveals Christ unto them, and enables them to believe on him. But, besides this, "The Spirit sanctifies them to obedience."
To this are the elect chosen, as to the means whereby their ultimate salvation shall be attained.
It would be dishonorable to God if an unholy creature were admitted to a participation of his throne: nor, if we could suppose such a creature admitted into Heaven, could he be happy there; because he would want all the dispositions which were necessary to qualify him for the enjoyment of that holy place. On this account God has ordained to sanctify his elect in body, soul, and spirit, and to "transform them into his own image in righteousness and true holiness."
And this work he has committed to the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit originally breathed upon the face of the waters, and reduced the chaotic mass to order and beauty. So does he move upon the believer's soul. Whatever is corrupt, he mortifies; whatever is wanting, he supplies. Above all, he reveals the Savior to the soul, and thereby changes the soul progressively into the Savior's image. This is precisely what Paul also has spoken in his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians: "We are bound to give thanks to God for you all, brethren, beloved, because God has chosen you to salvation (there is the end) through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Here are the means to that end, even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atoning blood; and the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit upon the soul.
1. Of what infinite value are the souls of men!
Every one carries about him a treasure which God himself covets. The Father has given his only dear Son to redeem it: and Christ has shed his own blood to purchase it: and the Holy Spirit is ever striving with us, to make us surrender it up willingly to God—O that men would view their souls in this light, and bestow upon them the care which they so richly deserve!.
2. What encouragement has every man to seek after salvation!
The doctrines of election, of faith in Christ, and of the influences of the Holy Spirit, are supposed by many to create despondency. But, if duly considered, they afford the best possible antidote to despair. Suppose a person to be bowed down under a sense of his own guilt and weakness, is it no comfort to him to reflect, that the Father may elect whoever he will; that the blood of Christ is sufficient to cleanse from guilt even of the deepest dye; and that the Holy Spirit can renew and sanctify a soul, however inveterate its corruptions be? Let this then be the improvement made of these doctrines; and they will soon commend themselves by their cheering and transforming efficacy.
1 Peter 1:3–5. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
AMONG the many distinguishing characters of the true Christian, this is not the least remarkable, that he can rejoice in the midst of the heaviest tribulations. Others may be patient under them: but no man who is not born of God can attain this high state of feeling, to glory in them. The Christians to whom the Apostle wrote were in a state of very severe affliction, scattered over divers countries, where they had been driven by the violence of persecution. Yet, how did the Apostle address them? in terms of pity or condolence? No, but in terms of the sublimest congratulation. He thinks not of what man has done against them, but of what God has done for them; and bursts forth in this rapturous strain: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of his abundant mercy has begotten us again!" The recollection of the mercy given to them by regeneration swallowed up all thought of their trials, and superseded, for a time, all mention of their sufferings.
The terms in which regeneration is here spoken of will lead us to consider it in,
I. Its nature.
Regeneration is a spiritual and supernatural change of heart.
Many, when they hear this word, are ready to merge its import altogether in the rite of baptism. I deny not, but that the word "regeneration" is used in Scripture as synonymous with baptism; and it was properly so used; because in baptism there is a real change of state; and there was good reason to hope that, in the person submitting to that rite there was also a change of nature: nor can I doubt, but that, wherever baptism is duly received, there is a descent of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, to seal it with a blessing from on high. But the strongest advocates for baptismal regeneration will not deny, but that the spiritual gift is that in which we are chiefly interested; and that, without that, the outward act would be of little value. And God forbid that we should be disputing about a term, when our main concern should be about the blessing connected with it! All are agreed, that we must be baptized with the Holy Spirit: all are agreed, that we must be made "partakers of a new and a divine nature," and become "new creatures in Christ Jesus," in a word, all agree, that, in order to be children of God, we must be "begotten of God," and that being admitted, I am indifferent as to the name by which it shall be called: call it a new birth, a new creation, a renewal in the spirit of the mind, or a conversion of soul to God; only let an entire change of heart and life be included in it, and (though one word may more strictly and appositely express it than another) we are satisfied. Suffice it to say, that "a new heart must be given us, and a new spirit be put within us;" and that this change is essential to us, as children of God.
It is this that distinguishes the Lord's people from all the rest of the world.
The natural man possesses nothing but what he brought into the world with him. His faculties may be of the first order, so far as they relate to earthly things: yet is he as blind as others in relation to heavenly things. In order to comprehend these, he must have a spiritual discernment; which can only be given to him from above. This may be possessed by the poorest and most illiterate man, while it is withheld from the wise and prudent. In fact, God has so ordered it, that "what he has hid from the wise and prudent, should be revealed unto babes," and there are but "few of the wise and learned, in comparison," to whom this gift is imparted; for "God has chosen the weak and foolish, on purpose to confound the wise and mighty." Nor is this a mere conceit: it is proved by the life and conversation of all who are born of God. They show that they have a view of God and of eternity, which others do not possess: and, in consequence of this view, they manifest a heavenliness, both of heart and life, which others cannot attain. Being born of God, they live no longer to themselves, but unto Him who begat them, and to Him who redeemed them with his blood.
But in the passage before us we are more particularly led to notice regeneration in,
II. Its causes.
The great efficient cause of it is God.
Jehovah, in the Old Testament, is called "the God of Abraham," but to us he is revealed under the more endearing title of the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," and our God and Father in him. In this relation he is considered as "begetting us again;" and forming us, as it were, altogether anew. This he does by the operation of his word upon the hearts and consciences of men, and by the Almighty power of his Spirit working effectually in them. Hence we are said to be "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever." In like manner we are said to be "born of the Spirit." And this birth is not only distinguished from, but put in direct opposition to, the natural birth of man; for "to as many as receive Christ, to them gives he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Here, then, the efficient cause of our regeneration is distinctly marked: it is not effected by any power which is possessed by the man himself, or by others over him, or by any created being: it must be traced to God himself, to God only, to God entirely, to God exclusively.
The moving cause of it is his "mercy."
Man never merited it; never asked it; never of himself desired it. God, who sees us when dead in trespasses and sins, is moved only by his own "mercy" towards us, to impart unto us this transcendent gift. He saw us, like new-born infants, "lying in our blood; and bade us live." O! who can ever appreciate this blessing aright? Who can ever estimate the blessing of being "begotten of God," and "born of God?" To be begotten and born of an earthly monarch were nothing in comparison of it; nothing in respect of honor; nothing in respect of benefit. That we were created men, was grace; because we might have been of a lower order of beings, like beasts: but to be new-created, after that we were fallen, and by this new creation to be made sons of God, is not only "mercy," but such mercy as never was given to the angels that fell: no; it was reserved for us: and "abundant" mercy it was! The very angels in Heaven have not in this respect been so highly favored as we: for they can sing of grace only: whereas we, when we had abused and forfeited all the blessings of grace, had them all restored to us through the tender mercy of our God.
The instrumental or procuring cause of it was the Lord Jesus Christ.
In general, the blessings of salvation are traced to the death of Christ, as their procuring cause. And such, no doubt, it was: for by it we are reconciled to God, and obtain the remission of all our sins. But here the blessing of regeneration is traced to the resurrection of Christ; and with great propriety; because, if "he was delivered to death for our offences, he was raised again for our justification." To enter into this aright, we should place ourselves in the situation of the immediate followers of our Lord. What comfort should we have derived from the death of our Divine Master? We might be told, indeed, that he offered himself a sacrifice for our sins: but how should we know that sacrifice was accepted in our behalf? It was his resurrection alone that put that matter beyond a doubt: and therefore we find the Apostles everywhere insisting principally on this, as proving, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he was indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world. Moreover, it is as a risen Savior that "he lives to make intercession for us;" and is enabled to send the Holy Spirit down upon us, for the commencing and perfecting of a work of grace within us. Hence Paul, speaking of the death of Christ as prevailing for our salvation, yet lays the greater stress upon his resurrection: and hence also, in order to attain higher eminence in the divine life, he desired to "know Christ in the power of his resurrection." So that our regeneration may well be ascribed to the resurrection of Christ, not only on account of its proving his death to have been available for us, but as through it he is empowered to send down the Holy Spirit upon our souls.
We must, however, proceed yet further to trace this work in,
III. Its effects.
Of its sanctifying effects I have spoken under the first head. But we must on no account omit to notice those great benefits which it confers,
1. In entitling us to Heaven.
Repeatedly does Paul mark the indissoluble connection which God has established between our sonship and our inheritance: "If sons, then heirs, heirs of God through Christ, and heirs of God with Christ." Now, the inheritance to which God has begotten us is nothing less than all the glory of Heaven; an inheritance, "not corruptible," as earthly treasures, "which moth and rust will corrupt;" "not defiled," like the earthly Canaan, by wicked inhabitants, (for "into Heaven nothing enters that can defile;") "not fading," by use, or age, or enjoyment, like the pleasures of sense: no, it is an inheritance worthy of God to give to his beloved children, even that inheritance which Christ himself, as our Forerunner, our Head, and Representative, already occupies. "To a lively hope of this" are we begotten, while yet we are in this valley of tears; and to the full possession of it, as soon as we go hence.
2. In securing to us the possession of it.
In two ways is this inheritance secured to us: "it is reserved by God for us; and we are kept by God for it;" so that neither shall it be taken from us by any enemy; nor shall we be suffered to come short of it through our own weakness. This is what God promised, by his prophet of old: "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." O inestimable gift! This security is the crown of all. What would regeneration be without it? What would it be to be made sons of God, and heirs of Heaven, if we were left to ourselves, to engage in our own strength our great adversary? Truly there is not one of us, however elevated he may at this moment be, who would not, in a very short space of time, if left to himself, become a child of Satan, and an heir of Hell. But the power of God! what shall withstand that? or who shall fail, that has that exerted for him? All that is required of us is, to "have faith in God." If only our faith be as a grain of mustard-seed, there is nothing that we shall not be able to effect. But "Christ has prayed for us, that our faith may not fail; and therefore, though Satan desires to have us, that he may sift us as wheat," yet shall he not finally prevail against us; but "shall be bruised under our feet," even as he was under the feet of our triumphant Savior: for "because HE, our Almighty Savior, lives, we shall live also." Like persons in an impregnable fortress, we may defy all the powers of darkness, and smile at all the confederacies both of earth and Hell.
Observe then, beloved,
1. How happy are the saints, the sons of God.
If we consider only the "hope," "the lively hope," to which they are begotten, methinks they are by far the happiest of all mankind. But, if we take a view of the inheritance itself, the wonderful inheritance to which they are begotten—and, above all, the security which they possess for the ultimate enjoyment of it—what shall I say? Are they not happy? Or can they be placed in any circumstances whatever (sin only excepted) wherein they are not proper objects of envy to the whole creation? Be it granted, that they are as much oppressed as ever saints were, and as destitute of all earthly comfort; still will I congratulate them from my inmost soul, and bid them exclaim with joy and gratitude, "Blessed be God, who has begotten us again!."
2. How pitiable is the condition of the unregenerate.
You, alas! have no part or lot in the felicity of God's children. Never having been begotten of him, you have no relation to him, nor any title to his inheritance. Ah! think, then, whose children you are, and with whom you must take your everlasting portion! I tremble to announce such awful tidings. But I thank God that yet you may become new creatures: for, as all the saints once were what you now are, so may you become what they are. Yes, the word, which is God's great instrument, yet sounds in your ears: and it is as powerful as ever, to convert souls to him. Only receive it into your hearts by faith; and it shall "turn you," as it has unnumbered millions of your fellow-creatures, "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." Only believe in Christ, and you shall instantly become sons of God, and be enabled to look up to Heaven as your everlasting inheritance. My dear brethren, "make not light of" this great salvation. Do but think how "ready it is to be revealed," and how certainly it shall be attained by all who believe in Christ. May God now pour out his Holy Spirit upon you all, that not one of you may "receive this grace of God in vain!"
The End of Affliction
1 Peter 1:6, 7. Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
THE enlightening and converting of souls are the first objects of a minister's attention: nevertheless, the comforting of God's people is also an essential part of his duty. This was the special direction which God gave to the prophet of old: it is a conformity to the Divine Exemplar: it is the fruit of the comforts they themselves receive." Peter is a striking pattern of a sympathizing and affectionate pastor. He writes to the Christians who were scattered through divers countries; and begins with setting before them the richest topics of consolation. He shows them the blessed end for which their present troubles are suffered to come upon them.
I. The state and condition of God's people.
Believers have at all times within themselves a ground of joy: yet they are also frequently oppressed with deep and pungent sorrow. They experience a peculiar and united exercise of these opposite affections.
They "greatly rejoice" in the mercy which has been given unto them.
They have been begotten of God to a lively hope of a glorious inheritance: they see that inheritance reserved for them, and themselves kept for it. This cannot but be matter of exceeding joy to them at all times.
But they are at the same time encompassed with manifold temptations.
They are hated, reviled, and persecuted by the world: they are assailed with "the fiery darts of the devil," they are harassed with innumerable corruptions in their own hearts.
Through these temptations they are sometimes "in great heaviness."
Grace does not destroy, but only moderates our natural feelings. Christians therefore may be deeply oppressed with grief: not that God will suffer them to continue always in heaviness. Nevertheless he permits them to be in this state occasionally, and "for a season."
There is "a necessity" that they should undergo trials of this kind.
God could save them without leaving them to endure any trial; but he "perfected his own Son by sufferings," he has ordained that the members shall in this respect be conformed to their Head.
Their temptations, however afflictive at the time, are permitted for their good.
II. The end for which they are suffered to be in that state.
Temptations, of whatever kind they be, are justly called "trials of our faith."
No man can exercise the grace of patience, or of contentment, unless he be in a situation that may give rise to impatience or discontent: nor can faith be known to exist in the heart, unless there be some circumstances that give scope for the manifestation of it; but temptations, especially such as produce much grief, can be surmounted only by strong faith. Hence God himself speaks as though he discovered Abraham's grace by means of the difficulties into which he was brought.
In this view they are "much more precious than the trial of gold."
Gold, though it stand the trial of the fire, will perish at last; but faith, in its effects at least, will endure forever. The value and the brightness given to gold by the furnace are not so estimable, as the purity and brightness which our faith derives from affliction.
Their real worth will not be discerned until the day of judgment.
They will have a different aspect in "the day of Christ's appearing" from what they have now. The benefit resulting from them will be then fully discovered.
They will then "be found to the praise and honor of those who endured them."
Everything we have done or suffered for Christ will be brought to light: a reward proportioned to our faithfulness will then be given us. Great sufferings will issue in "an eternal weight of glory".
They will be declared also to the praise and honor of Christ himself.
Christ is "the author and finisher of our faith," he will have the glory of carrying his people through their trials. Thus they will issue in the good of the sufferers, and the glory of Christ.
This is the end for which God permits his people to endure them.
1. How little cause have any persons to question their interest in God's favor on account of their trials, or their grief under them!
Satan takes advantage of the afflictions of the saints to impress their minds with desponding thoughts: their natural turn of mind, too, sometimes favors such impressions. Even bodily disorder also may concur to deject their souls. But the being in heaviness through temptations is no just ground of doubting our acceptance with God. The persons of whom the Apostle speaks in the text, were most undoubtedly in a converted state. Let not any tempted soul then be desponding or dejected.
2. What abundant reason have we to be reconciled to afflictions!
Afflictions are trying to our frail nature, but they are beneficial to our souls. We shall before long see the necessity and benefit of each of our sorrows. The praise and honor in which they will issue will make amends for all. Let us then even now account them "precious," let us consider how light they are, when compared with the glory of Heaven: let us only be concerned to possess our souls in patience.
The Christian's Happiness
1 Peter 1:8, 9. Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
THE world often wonder that Christians do not conform to the vices of the age: and are yet more surprised, that any should be willing to suffer for the sake of their religion. But every Christian is actuated by a principle of love to Christ; which principle even gathers strength from the opposition it meets with. The Apostle is writing to those who were in heaviness through manifold temptations. He declares, however, that their trials were promoting their eternal good; and that they were supported under them by their attachment to their adorable Redeemer.
In his words we may see,
I. The state of true Christians.
Christians cannot be distinguished better by anything, than by their regard to their Divine Master:
1. They love Christ.
Once, like the ungodly around them, they were enemies to Christ and his cross: they "saw no beauty in him, for which he was to be desired." But now he is truly precious to their souls: and they claim him as their best friend and portion. This is the character of every true Christian—If any answer not to this character, they are, and must be, accursed.
2. They rejoice in Christ.
They have a good hope, if not a full assurance, of an interest in him. They have access to him in their secret duties. They receive strengthening and refreshing communications from him. They rejoice in him, as their faithful and almighty Friend. Their joy in him is "incapable of being fully declared." It is a "glorified" joy, such as the saints in Heaven possess. Every Christian indeed does not experience the same measure of joy; nor is any one at all times alike joyful: but no one is a Christian, who does not esteem the light of the Redeemer's countenance above every other good.
That their felicity may be more generally experienced, we proceed to state,
II. The means by which they attain it.
Many suppose, that if they could have a personal interview with Christ, such as Paul was favored with, they should love him, and rejoice in him. But a sight of him with the bodily eyes only never in any instance produced this effect. Many who even heard his discourses, and beheld his miracles, were among his bitterest enemies. The Christians to whom Peter wrote had never seen Christ. The Apostle twice mentions this circumstance, to show that their regard for him did not arise from any personal acquaintance with him. Faith is the only mean whereby we are brought to this love and joy: as it is said, "in whom believing, you rejoice." It is only by faith that we can behold the excellency of Christ—by faith only that we can apply his merits to ourselves—by faith only that we can receive his gracious communications. Repentance will lead to this state; and obedience spring from it: but it is faith only that will prevail to bring us into it.
To increase our ardor in pressing forward to this state, let us consider,
III. The blessedness of those who have attained it.
The salvation of the soul is the great "end of our faith." Present comforts are desirable; but eternal happiness is that which the Christian has principally in view. It is to this that he looks forward, under his first convictions. This is the end for which he cheerfully endures all his privations and conflicts. In every possible state he has an eye to this, as the consummation of all his hopes and desires. And this blessed object is already attained by all true Christians: they do not wait for it until they arrive in Heaven; their full reward indeed is reserved for another world. But believers have the foretastes of Heaven already communicated to them; yes, their love to Christ, and their joy in him, are an earnest, as well as pledge, of their eternal inheritance; they now, in a way of anticipation and actual enjoyment, "receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls."
1. What a rational character is the Christian!
He is thought an enthusiast, for loving and rejoicing in Christ; and they who have no such love or joy appropriate to themselves the name of rational Christians. Now we are willing to meet our adversaries on this ground, and to submit our sentiments to this test. If to admire supreme excellence, to love infinite amiableness, and to rejoice in unbounded goodness, be a rational employment; yes, if the glorified saints and angels be rational, then the Christian is a rational character; and the more so, in proportion as he loves and rejoices in Christ: and their adversaries are most irrational, in that they can love and rejoice in the things of time and sense, and yet feel no love to, nor any joy in, our adorable Lord and Savior. Let those who are now despised as enthusiasts, think who will be accounted rational in the day of judgment.
2. How clearly may we know, whether we be real Christians or not!
There are certainly different degrees of faith, love, and joy; but every true Christian experiences them in some measure. This is decided by an authority that cannot be doubted. Let us then examine what is the supreme object of our affections, and chief source of our joys—Nor let us ever conclude well of our state, unless we can adopt from our hearts the language of Paul; "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."
The Importance of The Prophecies
1 Peter 1:10–12. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the Gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.
THE same "salvation" that is made known to us, was revealed from the beginning. It was gradually unfolded to the world by many succeeding prophets. It is indeed exhibited as with meridian splendor in the New Testament. Yet by comparing the predictions of the prophets with the writings of the Apostles, we attain at once the fullest evidence of its divine original, and the deepest insight into its mysterious doctrines.
The truth of this observation will appear, while we consider,
I. The substance of the prophecies.
Though many things contained in them related only to the times wherein they were written, yet much of them undoubtedly relates to future and distant periods.
The grand scope of them in the general is "the grace that should come unto us."
The Gospel is called "grace," because it is the highest expression of God's kindness towards our guilty world. It declares the wonderful provision which he has made for our recovery, and calls us to receive his blessings as a free unmerited gift. It represents every part of our salvation as the effect of his grace, and requires us now, as well as hereafter, to give him all the glory of it.
More particularly Christ is the sum and substance of the prophecies.
God himself tells us that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," the prophets "testified plainly of the sufferings of Christ." So minutely did they describe the smallest and most improbable circumstances of his death, that their writings appear rather like a narration than a prophecy: nor did they speak less accurately respecting "his glory that should follow." Every step of his exaltation, from his resurrection to his future coming to judge the world, is distinctly marked; and the triumph of his Gospel over the benighted Gentiles is proclaimed with confidence and exultation.
As in this light they deserve the deepest attention, so do they also on account of,
II. The importance of them.
The words before us mark the importance of the prophecies in a variety of views:
1. They were dictated by "the Spirit of Christ."
The Holy Spirit was the agent whom Christ employed from the beginning: through him did Christ inspire the prophets, and enlighten the world. Thus were all the prophecies clearly of divine original; and can anything more strongly mark their value and importance?
2. The Prophets themselves "inquired and searched diligently" into their meaning.
The inspired men did not understand the precise import of their own prophecies. They only knew that they "ministered to the Church in distant ages;" but they studied the word, and sometimes with good effect, to gain an insight into the intentions and purposes of God. And if they judged their predictions so important while they were involved in obscurity, shall they be less valuable to us who have seen their accomplishment?
3. The Apostles, in declaring their accomplishment, received miraculous testimonies from the Holy Spirit.
They, "who first preached the Gospel, reported those things as done, which the prophets had beforehand testified" as to be done in due time; and their word was accompanied "with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven." Nor was this divine seal ever more immediately set to their ministrations than when they expressly referred to the prophecies as fulfilled in Jesus. Nothing surely could put a greater honor on the prophecies than this.
4. The very Angels "desire to look into them."
The angelic figures over the ark were formed looking down upon it. This intimated the interest they feel in the work of redemption. They are indeed made wiser by the revelation given to the Church. Though they dwell in the presence of God, they desire to know more of this mystery. Though they have no personal interest in it, they long to comprehend it. Can we then, whose interest in it is so great, have low thoughts of any part of those Scriptures which exhibit and illustrate it?
1. What a mercy is it to live under the full light of the Gospel!
Those things, which the patriarchs saw only in types and prophecies, we are privileged to enjoy in their substance and accomplishment. Well therefore does Christ say to us, "Blessed are your eyes, blessed are your ears;" but if our light be greater than theirs, our obligations to follow it are proportionably increased; and if we neglect to improve it, surely both prophets and angels will appear against us to condemn us.
2. In searching the Scriptures we should attend particularly to what is said of Christ.
Many read the Scriptures without ever discovering the fullness and excellency of Christ; but as "they testify of him," so we are most concerned in what relates to him. Let us then fix our eyes diligently on that ark of God; let us treasure up in our minds whatever is spoken of "his sufferings and glory;" and, "mixing faith with what we read," let us seek to be made wise unto salvation.
The Angels Interested About the Gospel
1 Peter 1:12. Which things the angels desire to look into.
THE Gospel comes recommended to us by a great variety of most important considerations. It occupied the mind of God from all eternity. From the beginning of the world it has been revealed with gradually increasing light and evidence. When the period arrived for its full promulgation, it was opened by the Lord of life himself, and was spread with incredible effect by a few poor fishermen, whom he chose and qualified to proclaim it. The Holy Spirit also bore testimony to it by miracles unnumbered, that were wrought expressly in confirmation of it. But there is one circumstance, which is rarely adverted to, which yet should exceedingly endear the Gospel to us; namely, that the holy angels are greatly interested in it, and that they are daily studying to comprehend it. This is affirmed by Peter in the words before us: for the elucidation of which we shall point out,
I. The subjects of their inquiry.
The two preceding verses inform us, that the "salvation" of man, and "the grace that is brought unto us" for the securing of that salvation, are objects of their continual regard. More particularly they inquire into these things,
1. As foretold by prophets.
Every minute circumstance relative to the Gospel has been foretold by one or other of the prophets; insomuch, that, if we understood perfectly every part of the prophetic writings, we might extract from them as complete an account of the person, work, and offices of Christ, and of the establishment of his kingdom upon earth, as from the New Testament itself. But the prophets did not know the full extent of their own prophecies. They knew that they spoke by a divine impulse; but the precise import of what they spoke, they knew not. As the wicked Caiaphas, intending to stimulate the Jewish council to put Jesus to death, delivered unwittingly a prophecy that Jesus should die for the whole world; so the pious prophets frequently delivered their sentiments in language, which was dictated by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of proclaiming mysteries which they themselves understood not. Hence they "inquired and searched diligently" into the meaning of their own prophecies. The angels, in like manner, are desirous of investigating these deep subjects. To intimate the concern which they take in these things, there was a very striking emblem of it in the Jewish temple. In the holy of holies was the ark: on that was placed the mercy-seat: and over that were two cherubim overshadowing it with their wings. The ark (in which the tables of the law were kept) was a type of Christ, in whose heart the law was; and by whom it was fulfilled for us; and through whose obedience to it God exercises mercy towards us. This exhibited the substance of the Gospel. Now the cherubim were formed somewhat in an inclined posture, looking down upon the ark: and this was ordered of God on purpose to denote the interest which angels take in this deep mystery, and the desire which they have to comprehend it: and it is to this very thing that Peter alludes in the words of our text.
2. As executed by Christ.
"The sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow," were fully declared before he became incarnate. The angels therefore were prepared for that stupendous series of events which in the fullness of time began to be accomplished: and, no doubt, they waited for them with devout and earnest expectation. Accordingly, the very instant that they saw him brought into the world, they carried the glad tidings to the shepherds, and informed them of the place of his nativity. From that moment, and especially in the most important scenes of his life, they watched him, not only as anxious spectators, but as agents employed by their Creator to minister to his necessities, or to attest his triumphs. After his temptations in the wilderness, and his conflicts in the garden, they gladly interposed their friendly offices to comfort and support him. Though we are not expressly told that they were present at his crucifixion, we can have no doubt but that they attended on him at that awful period with more than ordinary solicitude. Were they capable of sorrow, methinks, their eyes would on that occasion be as a fountain of tears; and they would beat their breasts with grief and anguish. But with what joy did they roll away the stone from his sepulcher, in order that his re-animated body might arise! How happy were they to satisfy the inquiring females respecting the truth of his resurrection, and the accomplishment of his own predictions! At his ascension, too, they comforted his astonished followers, by announcing to them his intended return in the clouds of Heaven at the last day. Shall we say that in these things they were mere servants and messengers, who felt no interest in the events themselves? We know the contrary: for at his birth a whole multitude of the heavenly hosts burst forth into that rapturous hymn, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men!"
3. As enjoyed by the Church.
It is not in a speculative view merely that they contemplate the great work of redemption: they consider it as "the grace that is brought unto us," and in that view their benevolent hearts are most deeply affected with it. Hence, as well as from a sense of duty to their God, arose that affectionate solicitude which they expressed on all the occasions above referred to. Wherever the glad tidings are carried, they hasten, to mark the effects produced by them: and if they behold a sinner impressed by them with humble penitence and contrition, not even the presence of their God, nor all the glory of Heaven, will keep them from rejoicing on his account. They acquire, as it were, new joy from every triumph that the Redeemer gains, and from every benefit that man receives. From the moment of a sinner's return to God, they watch over him with the tenderest care. They encamp around him, and minister unto him. Little do we think how much we are indebted to their friendly aid; from how many snares they deliver us; in how many conflicts they support us; and with what transport they bear our triumphant spirits into the world of bliss. As once they waited with impatience to see the prophecies accomplished, and the work of redemption executed in the person of Christ; so do they now wait with ardent desire to see the consummation of the Church's happiness, and the completion of the Redeemer's glory. And at that great and solemn day will whole myriads of them attend, to perform their last kind offices to God's elect; to assemble them in one collective body; and to unite with them in ascribing everlasting praises to God and to the Lamb. They cannot indeed say, "He has loved us and washed us;" but they will most heartily join in singing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."
Their solicitude about things that relate to us, however strange it may appear at first sight, will not be thought strange, if we consider,
II. The reasons of it.
If we were unable to assign any reasons for their conduct, we might be well assured that their actions were regulated by wisdom and prudence.
But it is not difficult to account for their anxiety respecting these things: they look into them, not to gratify a vain curiosity, but,
1. Because of the glory of God displayed in them.
The angels have been blessed with many bright discoveries of the Divine glory, both in the works of creation and of providence. But these have all been eclipsed by the brighter displays of it in the works of redemption. Everything in the universe bespeaks the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God: and the punishment inflicted on the fallen angels declares his justice and holiness. But the plan of salvation revealed in the Gospel is represented as being eminently, and beyond all comparison, "the wisdom of God, and the power of God." Terrible as the justice of God appears in the miseries of the damned, it appears incomparably more tremendous in the sufferings of the Son of God, which were inflicted on him for our sins, and which were indispensably necessary to satisfy its inexorable demands. But what shall we say of mercy? There was not a single trace of that to be found in the whole universe. The angels, after seeing the judgments executed on the apostate spirits, could have no idea that mercy could be exercised towards the guilty. But in the Gospel it shines forth as with meridian splendor; and all the other perfections of the Deity unite and harmonize with it. Can we wonder then, that when they have a prospect of beholding "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," they should look into that glass which reflects it? Can we wonder that they should examine with unwearied attention the prophecies that relate to Christ, the various incidents of his life and death, and the numberless benefits that he confers on all his followers? This alone wore ample reason for all the care and diligence they can possibly exert.
2. Because of the benefit accruing to themselves from the contemplation of them.
Wise as those bright intelligences are, we have no doubt but that they are made wiser by their progressive discoveries of the truth of God. The revealing of the Gospel unto man is one way which God has adopted for the further illumination of the heavenly hosts; he makes known his manifold wisdom to the Church, in order that by the Church it may be exhibited before the eyes of angels and archangels. We have no reason to think that they have any revelations made to them, except through the medium of the Church: and consequently, if they would grow in knowledge, they must search, as it were, the sacred oracles, and "draw their water out of our wells of salvation."
But by their contemplation of the Gospel they are made happier too, as well as wiser. For, in what does their happiness consist? Is it not derived principally from the knowledge of God, and their admiration of all his glorious perfections? But it has been before shown, that their views of the Divine glory are rendered incomparably more clear and full by the representations given of it in the Gospel: consequently, their admiration of God must continually increase; and their delight in him be proportionably enlarged.
1. How unfounded is men's contempt of the Gospel!
The Gospel ever has been despised by proud self-sufficient men, and ever will be, as long as such men continue upon earth. It will ever appear "foolishness to the natural man." It is still loaded with reproach, and stigmatized with opprobrious names; and he must be "a stranger indeed in our Jerusalem," who has not known and witnessed this humiliating fact. But what do these scoffers think of themselves? Are they wiser or better that the angels? Do they imagine the angels so weak as to admire and search into things which are unworthy the notice of a sensible man? Alas! these proud despisers of God and of good men evince to the world, that they themselves are the greatest objects of pity and compassion. We do not, however, say to them as Paul did to the obstinate and obdurate Jews, "Behold, you despisers, and wonder, and perish;" but rather, Behold, and wonder, and adore.
2. How criminal is their neglect of it!
Though the angels are in some measure interested in the Gospel, yet their concern with it is not to be compared with ours, They would have been happy, though no Savior had come into the world; but where should we have been? what would have become of us? Christ took not on him their nature: he shod not his blood for them; it was for us he become a man: for us he died upon the cross. What guilt then do we contract in slighting all his overtures of mercy! Surely the angels will rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us, if we are indifferent to the salvation he has so dearly purchased, and so freely offered.
3. How great a blessing is it to be well instructed in it!
We do not wish to depreciate human knowledge; but we do not hesitate to affirm, that all other knowledge, how deep, extensive, or valuable soever it may be, is no better than dung and dross in comparison of this. All other knowledge shall vanish away; but this shall endure forever. Angels would account all other things beneath their notice: but they never think they can pay too much attention to this. Know then, that if your eyes are opened to behold aright the groat mystery of redemption, you have the most valuable gift that God himself can bestow. You have that which will bring salvation to your soul. Yon, if yon have but moderately clear views of the Gospel, you are in that respect greater and more highly-favored than all the prophets; not excepting even John himself, who was more then a prophet, and had the distinguished honor of pointing out to men "the Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world." Whatever then God has bestowed upon yon, value this above all: whatever he has with-held from you, be satisfied with this. Whatever you do, or whatever you neglect, be sure to cultivate this. Resemble the angels in "looking into these things;" and you shall resemble them in holiness, and be with them in glory.
Directions How to Seek Heaven With Success
1 Peter 1:13. Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
THE truths of God deserve our attention on account of their own excellence; but they are principally to be valued for the effects they produce on our lives. The Apostles never rest satisfied with stating a mere system of doctrines, they invariably proceed to make a practical application of them to the soul. Peter had briefly opened the blessed state of true believers. He had represented them as begotten to a glorious inheritance, of which their joy in Christ was an earnest, and to which, through their present trials, they would be advanced. He then urged the near approach of that glory, as a reason for exerting themselves more diligently in their Christian calling—"Wherefore," etc.
The words of the text lead us to consider,
I. The great object of a Christian's pursuit.
There are in Scripture many beautiful descriptions of Heaven, but none more interesting than that contained in the words before us.
The day of judgment is here called "the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Jesus Christ was revealed in the first promise that was made to man. He was also exhibited in the sacrifices which Abel offered. In successive ages he was made known in clearer prophecies, and typified by various ordinances of the Jewish ritual. In process of time he was personally "manifested in human flesh," and showed himself to be the Son of God by most irrefragable proofs. In the preaching of his Gospel he was yet more fully revealed. The glory of God as shining in his face is most transcendently displayed; still however "we see him as yet only through a glass darkly." But in the last day he will appear in all his majesty and glory: he will "be revealed from Heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire." His enemies, no less than his friends, will then see him to be "King of kings, and Lord of lords."
In that day, "grace will be brought unto us."
Grace and glory are sometimes used as synonymous terms in Scripture; indeed, grace is glory begun, and glory is grace consummated. The spiritual blessings which God bestows, appear now to be the gifts of grace; but how much more shall we acknowledge the glories of Heaven to be so! How shall we marvel at the goodness of God in all his dealings towards us! How shall we adore his wisdom, even in the darkest of his dispensations. How shall we stand amazed that we were saved, while so many others were lost! Surely, "when the top-stone is brought forth, we shall cry, Grace, grace, unto it." All this felicity "shall be brought unto us" openly, and in rich abundance. Now, the grace imparted to us is small, though "sufficient for us;" and the consolations given unto us, are known only to ourselves. But in that day the kingdom will be given us in the presence of the whole universe; and our happiness shall be commensurate with our capacities and desires. What we partake of now, we obtain by diligent pursuit. What we receive then, shall be "brought unto us" freely by the hand of Jesus himself.
In the meantime it becomes us to seek it with all earnestness.
II. In what manner we ought to seek it.
The directions given by the Apostle are very suitable and instructive.
He recommends to us three things:
1. Activity of mind.
The Jews were accustomed to wear long garments; these they girded about their loins, when it was needful to use expedition. By this figure, familiar to them, the Apostle represents our duty. Our minds are dissipated by ten thousand vanities, and our affections, for the most part, flow loosely round us, but our thoughts and desires should be carefully gathered in. We should pray, like David, "Unite my heart to fear your name." Heaven is not to be sought with a divided heart. Earthly affections would impede our progress, as flowing garments in a race: the prophet compares them to an incumbrance of thick clay upon the feet. We should therefore "gird up the loins of our mind," and "give all diligence to make our calling and election sure."
2. Sobriety of manners.
Sobriety, in the scripture use of the term, means moderation. Excessive cares, and inordinate attachments, are very unfavorable to the soul: they so engross the mind with present things, as to draw it away from those which are eternal. We cannot therefore too carefully watch against these evils. We should endeavor to be "dying daily" to the world. We should be as one crucified to it; and it, as one crucified to us. This is the state and character of every true Christians; and we must attain it, if we would successfully pursue the one thing needful.
3. Steadfastness of faith.
Faith respects the certainty of the promises; and hope, the accomplishment. Now, our faith is apt to waver, and our hope, to languish. Temptations often allure us to forego our interest in heavenly things, and unbelief would often persuade us that we have no part or lot in them. But we must be careful never to be moved away from the hope of the Gospel. Hope is the very anchor of the soul, that must keep us steadfast in this tempestuous world. We must "therefore hold fast our confidence and the rejoicing of our hope firm to the end." The nearer we come to the prize, the more earnest should be our expectation of it. If our conflicts be many, we should, even against hope, believe in hope. The proper disposition of our souls is well described by the Apostles—; and it is to persons of this description only, that Christ's appearance will be a source of joy.
1. Those who are only nominal Christians.
Your loins indeed are girt, but it is for the pursuit of earthly objects. Instead of having your souls engrossed with heavenly things, you are perfectly indifferent towards them. As for your hopes they extend to nothing but what relates to this present life. Alas! what an awful contrast is there between you and the true Christian! What then, suppose you, shall he brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ? The Apostle, in a fore-cited passage, tells you, it will be "vengeance;" yes, and Jesus will bring it with his own hand. It is in vain to think that your portion will be the same with that of a diligent, self-denying Christian. But, blessed be God, grace is now brought to you by the Gospel; yes, all the glory of Heaven is now offered you by God himself. Only repent, and go unto God as reconciled in Christ Jesus, then shall you "pass from death to life," and from Hell to Heaven.
2. Those who are Christians indeed.
There are some, who "shine as lights in a dark world," some, who, while living on earth, "have their conversation in Heaven." Doubtless, you meet with many conflicts and troubles in your way. To you then in particular is the text addressed: for persons circumstanced like you these words were written. Survey that grace which is now speedily to be brought unto you. Take a view of all the glory and felicity of the heavenly world; compare with that your light and momentary afflictions: you will then soon form the same estimate as Paul before you did. Be not then diverted from the great object of your pursuit. Remember the solemn caution which God himself has given you—; and take for your encouragement that faithful promise.
Necessity of Holiness
1 Peter 1:15, 16. As he which has called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be holy; for I am holy.
IT is thought by many, that the Gospel is unfriendly to morality: and it must be confessed, that, when stated in all its freeness and in all its richness, it bears that aspect: for it proclaims a free and full salvation to men; and that solely by faith. It declares, that if men rely on their works, in any measure, for justification before God, or perform them in any respect with a view to obtain justification by them, they make void the cross of Christ, and cut themselves off from all hope of an interest in him. The Gospel authorizes us to say, that the most abandoned of mankind are as welcome to all its benefits as the most moral; and that "where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound." Now, these statements certainly do appear open to the objection that is brought against them: for, if past sins are no bar to our acceptance with God, and moral services cannot procure it, to what purpose is it to avoid sin, or to do good works? We may as well at once give loose to all our evil propensities, and "continue in sin, that grace may abound." Now, it is worthy of particular notice, that these were the very objections urged against Paul's statements: and he was constrained to answer them, not by weakening the force of his statements, but by obviating the objections themselves; and showing, that the Gospel, as preached by him, both made provision for holiness, and secured it against a possibility of failure. The truth is, that though the law, as a covenant, is superseded by the Gospel, which introduces a better covenant, it is in force as much as ever, as a rule of life; and that, while we are without the law, in relation to its ceremonial ordinances, we are "not without law to God, but under the law to Christ," in relation to its moral power and ascendency. Peter shows this with peculiar force: for, speaking to persons who were called to the knowledge of Christ and of salvation by him, he cites out of the Levitical law the command of God respecting holiness, and applies it to Christians as still existing in all its primitive force. Without any fear, therefore, of being legal, as it is called, or of clogging the Gospel with duties not pertaining to it, I proceed to set before you,
I. The injunction given us.
Repeatedly was this command given to the Jews of old. Let us consider,
1. Its import.
Holiness is a conformity to the mind and will of God. And to it are we called by the Gospel. "The grace which brings salvation to us, teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world." Negative holiness, if I may so express myself, is to be sought in the first instance. We are "no longer to fashion ourselves according to our former lusts in our ignorance;" but, advancing to the positive execution of our duty, we are to be "holy in all manner of conversation." In all our walk with God, we must be sincere and upright: there must be no allowed deceit in our hearts. And in our fellowship with men, every action, word, and thought, must be under the influence of love, and agreeable to its dictates. Neither times nor circumstances are so to operate as to produce in us any allowed deviation from God's perfect law. We are to be altogether "a holy people unto the Lord." It was for this end that the Lord Jesus Christ both lived and died, even "that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." And to this are we chosen by God himself: for though "we were chosen to salvation, it was to be through sanctification of the Spirit, as well as through the belief of the truth." To this effect Paul speaks: "God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we may be holy." And to the same effect Peter also says, in the commencement of this epistle; "We are elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience." The command then is clear, that we are to be holy both in heart and life.
2. The reason with which it is enforced.
As children of God, we ought to be "children of obedience." The very circumstance of our having been "called" by divine grace, lays this obligation upon us. But there is a remarkable force in the reason here assigned; "Be you holy; for I am holy." It seems to import these three things: "Be you holy; for without holiness you cannot belong to me, or enjoy me, or dwell with me in my kingdom." I could never acknowledge an unholy person as having an interest in my favor: it would be unworthy of me: it would be to make myself a patron and partaker of his sins. Nor could an unholy being gain access to me: his very dispositions would separate him from me; and prevent his having communion with me. Nor, though he were admitted into Heaven, could he be happy there. He would find no one there that resembled him, or that had a like taste with him, or that could join with him in any of his pursuits. He would be out of his element altogether: nor would one in Hell pant more for deliverance, to get rid of his pains, than he would for an escape from the company and occupations for which he felt no relish. Hence, when God says, "Be you holy; for I am holy," we must understand him, not as issuing a mere arbitrary command, but as declaring, that none but a holy being has any reason to expect, or any capacity to enjoy, his favor.
But we shall have a deeper insight into the injunction, if we consider,
II. The exhortation founded upon it.
"As he who has called you is holy, so be holy, in all manner of conversation." In these words the Apostle does not merely confirm the authority of the injunction itself, but points out the extent to which it is to be obeyed, and the object we must aim at in order to a full compliance with it.
We must take God himself for our pattern.
The natural perfections of the Deity are, and ever must be, peculiar to himself: but his moral perfections must be possessed by us, so far as we are capable of attaining them. His goodness, his patience, his mercy, his love, his truth, his faithfulness, are all to be imitated by us; so that "what God himself is in the world, that are we to be also." That we might be at no loss on this all-important subject, the Lord Jesus Christ has "set us an example, that we might follow his steps," and we are "to walk in all things as he walked," and to "purify ourselves even as he was pure." Of course, we cannot expect ever to attain his perfection: but that is no reason why we should not aim at it. There is no one point in which we should allow ourselves to fall short of it: we should strive to be holy in all things, even as God himself is holy; and "perfect, even as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
By this must we show that we are his people indeed.
It is to this that "God has called us." It is the very object which he had in view, in his whole work of grace upon our souls, even that we might be "created anew after his image, in righteousness and true holiness." And, if our hearts be upright before God, this is the thing which we shall pant after, no less than after Heaven itself. Sin will be our burden and aversion; and a conformity to God will be regarded as the first object of our desire. Yes, to be "like him" will be contemplated by us as the perfection of our happiness, in "seeing him as he is."
1. Those who are yet in nature's "ignorance."
To exhort you to holiness were a vain attempt. You have no eyes to discern, no heart to appreciate its excellence. You must have the eyes of your understanding enlightened by the Spirit of God, before you can form any just conception of the beauty of holiness: you must have your heart of stone removed, and a heart of flesh given you, before you can be capable of bearing on you any lineaments of the Divine image. Let your first concern, therefore, be to become regenerate: for most assuredly, except you be born again, you can never enter into, nor ever see, the kingdom of God. Remember, I say not this to those only who are openly and grossly wicked: I say it to the most moral among you: if you were as moral and amiable as Nicodemus himself, I would say to you, "You must be born again." "A new heart must be given you, and a new spirit must be put within you," before you can have the very first principles of holiness in your souls. I pray you, therefore, to seek this first of blessings at the hands of God; and not to rest, until, through the operation of his Spirit upon your souls, "old things are passed away, and all things are become new."
2. Those who have been "called" out of darkness into God's marvelous light.
You are longing for the very blessing of which we have spoken. But in many of you there yet remains a considerable degree of ignorance respecting the appointed method of obtaining it. You are looking too much to your own exertions, and too little to the Savior: and hence you make but little progress in the divine life. Hence, also, you obtain but little comfort in your own souls. You are ready to say, How can I be a child of God, when I bear so little of his image? and how can I venture to apply to myself his promises, while I am so unworthy of them. But these persons need to be informed, that they reverse God's method of making his people holy. They would become holy first, and then apply to themselves the promises of God: whereas they must first take to themselves the promises of God as sinners; and then, through their influence upon the soul, obtain a conformity to the Divine image. "God has given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by them we may be made partakers of the Divine nature." Hence the Apostle says, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Adopt this method, then: look to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and "lay hold on him as your sure hope and refuge." First receive him in all the freeness and all the fullness of his salvation; then shall you attain the holiness you desire; and be able to say with the Apostle, "We, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
The Necessity of Holy Fear
1 Peter 1:17. If you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.
CHRISTIANS possess many privileges by means of their relation to God; yet it is not their privileges, but their practical improvement of them, that will determine their state in the eternal world. They are called to be holy after the example of their God; and they must be conformed to his image, if they would be partakers of his glory. There will be no more partiality shown to them than to others in the day of judgment. God will determine the fate of all by their actions; and the condition for which they are meet, shall be the condition allotted them to all eternity. Peter, inculcating the need of holy fear, insists upon it particularly as conducing to fit us for that strict account to which we shall all be very shortly called. In discoursing on his words we shall show,
I. The impartiality of the future judgment.
The children of God maintain communion with God as their Father in Christ.
The Apostle speaks of Christians as "obedient children;" and as calling upon the Father for a supply of their daily wants. This is the privilege of all true Christians; "a spirit of adoption is given them, that they may cry, Abba, Father;" and, because they are children, they may expect to receive all the glory of Heaven as their inheritance.
Nevertheless they will experience no partiality in the day of judgment.
Among men it is but too common for parents to feel an undue bias in concerns relating to their children. But God has established one mode of procedure for all. His written law is the standard to which everything shall be referred. The principles from which our actions flowed, the manner in which they were performed, and the end for which they were done, will be minutely investigated, and a sentence passed upon us according to their real quality. There will be no difference in this respect between Jew or Gentile, rich or poor; nor will any regard be shown to men's professions: it will be to no purpose to plead, "that they had Abraham to their Father," or that they had "cast out devils in the name of Christ;" the one inquiry will be, Were you holy? and according as this appears, their state will be forever fixed.
Interested as we are in the event of that day, let us inquire into,
II. The influence which this consideration should have upon us.
God requires us to pass our short span of life in fear.
We are "sojourners in this world, as all our fathers were." It is but a short time that any of us have to live, and then we shall be removed to our long home. The present state is a state of probation, a moment allotted us to prepare for eternity. Under such circumstances we should be "working out our salvation with fear and trembling." Not that we should indulge a servile dread of God as a hard master, and a vindictive judge, but a holy reverential fear of offending him, and a tender concern to please him in all things. This is "the fear in which we should walk all the day long."
Nor can anything tend more to produce this fear in us than the consideration now before us.
Shall I be judged according to my works? Will every action, word, and thought, be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary? Will all my motives be inspected by Him, who "searches the heart, and weighs the spirits?" Surely I have need to fear, lest some hidden abomination lurk within me, and lest I should be "speaking peace to my soul when there is no peace." I need be studious to please him, whose favor or displeasure are of such importance to my soul. If I must stand or fall for eternity, it becomes me to redouble my care.
Now, methinks, you will say, 'Give me some special directions, that I may know how to carry into effect the Apostle's advice.' This I will endeavor to do in four particulars.
1. Be watchful against all occasions of sin.
Our Lord has taught us to "pray lest we enter into temptation;" for in temptation how rarely do we retain our integrity! Let not those pretend to fear God, who needlessly expose themselves to the assaults of Satan. If we would "keep our garments clean," we must be careful where, and with whom we walk. Does the command to "come out from the world" appear severe? it is not severe, but merciful, and necessary. If I bade you not go where the plague was raging, would you account that severe? May God enable all of you carefully to obey it, that you may escape infection, and live!
2. Reflect frequently on the strictness of that scrutiny which we must undergo.
When tempted to sin, let us not ask, What will the world say? but, How will this appear in God's eyes? How will this affect my eternal state? Apply this thought to your duties as well as to your temptations; How will this service appear when brought to the touchstone of God's law? If this be done, too many of us will have to rank their services among their greatest sins.
3. Apply continually to the blood of Christ for pardon.
However circumspect we be, our feet will contract some defilement in this polluted world; and "if Christ wash us not, we can have no part with him." Indeed our very tears need to be washed, and our repentances to be repented of: nor is there any fountain but that of the Redeemer's blood, that can ever cleanse us. There, however, "sins even of a crimson die may be made white as snow." Let there then be no hour wherein we do not bathe in that fountain, lest sin be found upon us in the day that we give up our account to God.
4. Be much in prayer for the direction and assistance of the Holy Spirit.
In vain will be all our fear and caution, if God do not both direct and uphold us: if he leave us for one moment, we fall; "without him we can do nothing." Let us then be often praying, "Hold you me up, and I shall be safe." Thus shall we escape the snares that are laid for our feet, and "be preserved blameless unto his heavenly kingdom."
Redemption from A Vain Conversation
1 Peter 1:18, 19. You know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
THE Christian's duty is by no means easy to be performed. It requires the exercise of much firmness and self-denial. The inspired writers, aware of this, enforce it by every consideration that can influence our minds. In the passage before us the Apostle is recommending a holy fear and jealousy lest we should be drawn back into the love of this present world. He first urges this duty from a regard to the impartial tribunal of God, and then from the very intent of Christ's death. This latter and most powerful argument calls for our attention at this time. To illustrate it we shall consider,
I. The extent of man's redemption.
The "conversation" of men in all ages and in all places has been the same.
Different customs indeed have obtained in different countries: but all have walked after the imagination of their own hearts: they have prohibited such things as they thought injurious to the welfare of society, but left themselves at liberty to consult their own inclinations in everything else. Their practices in time formed a kind of law. What was sanctioned by one generation was followed by another. And the "conversation received by tradition from their fathers" was that which was adopted by every succeeding age.
It is almost superfluous to observe that such conversation has been "vain."
Let any one ask himself what has his past conversation profited him? Has it given him any solid satisfaction? No; the remembrance of it cannot at all assuage the anguish of a mind bowed down with affliction, much less of a mind burdened with a sense of guilt. Has it brought honor to God, or any real benefit to mankind? It has been the means of almost shutting out the knowledge of God from the world; but has never honored him in any single instance: and as for mankind, if it have in any respect advanced their temporal interests, it has blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, and encouraged them to walk in the broad way that leads to destruction.
From this however the true Christian has been redeemed.
It is not only from Hell that the Christian is delivered, but from sin. He once indeed "walked according to the course of this world (which is the devil's course) fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind even as others," but now he has seen the vanity of such a life: he proposes to himself another pattern, even Jesus, "who has set us an example, that we should follow his steps," he is no longer "conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of his mind." By the cross of Christ the world is become loathsome to him, even as a crucified object: while he is in it indeed, he performs the duties of it in a conscientious manner: but he goes into it only, as a physician into an hospital, from a sense of duty, and for the good of others; and is glad enough to retire from it to a purer atmosphere.
He endeavors to keep before his eyes,
II. The price paid for him.
Slaves and captives are redeemed with silver and gold; but gold was of no value in the redemption of our souls.
The whole world was not a sufficient price for one soul: it could not atone for our sin or reconcile an offended God: nor could it at all avail to change our carnal dispositions. Gold and silver might rivet our chains, and fix us more strongly in a vain conversation; but it could never detach us from the love of present things.
That, which alone was of value sufficient, was, "the precious blood of Christ."
The lamb that was offered daily in sacrifice to God was to be spotless and without blemish. By its blood, atonement was made for the sins of the Jewish nation; and they were preserved a holy and peculiar people. This was a typical ordinance: it represented Christ, who in due time "offered himself without spot to God," and the benefits visibly, and in a figure, enjoyed by the Jewish nation, are invisibly, but really enjoyed by us. We have the substance of which they had the shadow. Well then might the Apostle call his blood "precious." There is no bondage from which it does not deliver us. Were we under the curse and condemnation of the law? The blood of Christ redeems us from the penalty of all our transgressions: it gives peace to the guilty, and liberty to the captive, soul: it frees, moreover, from all the snares and entanglements of this vain world. This is mentioned both in the text and in other places as a principal end of Christ's death. Precious indeed is it, when its influence is thus felt. To a true Christian the blood of Christ is not less precious as delivering him from sin, than it is as delivering him from Hell itself.
While we wonder that such a price was ever paid, let us inquire into,
III. The effect which the consideration of this price should have upon us.
The Apostle introduces the text as an argument for passing our time in fear.
A slavish fear is one of those things from which we are delivered by the blood of Christ. We sprinkle that blood on our door-posts, and have no dread of the destroying angel. But there is a holy jealousy, which it is our duty ever to maintain. We are only sojourners in this world, and are hastening to our Father's house. We are moreover in danger of being diverted from our path. We have a subtle adversary and a deceitful heart. Sin itself also is deceitful, and will beguile us, if we watch not against its wiles. We should therefore be on our guard, and pass the time of our sojourning here in fear.
And well may this effect be produced by such a wonderful consideration.
Were we laden with bags of gold, we should be cautious how we ventured ourselves among thieves and robbers. And shall we be careless when we carry about with us what is of more value than the whole world? Shall we trifle with that which nothing but the precious blood of God's own Son could redeem? Shall Satan as a roaring lion go about seeking to devour us, and we not stand on our guard against him? Shall we suffer him to "destroy that for which Christ died?" O let not that precious blood be so vile in our eyes. Let not our souls appear of so little value. Let us rather watch night and day. It is but a little time: soon we shall be at home; safe in the bosom of our Lord, safe beyond the reach of harm.
1. Let us inquire what we "know" concerning these things.
The Apostle takes for granted that all Christians "know" them. But do you know them? Do you know that a worldly conversation is a vain conversation? Do you know that no resolutions, no services, yes, nothing but the precious blood of Christ could ever redeem you from it? And do you know by daily experience the efficacy of his blood in that view? "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith," and whether you have that deadness to the world, which alone can warrant a favorable conclusion. If you be Christ's, "you are not of the world, even as he was not of the world," "you are dead to it," and "have your citizenship in Heaven."
2. Let us labor to experience them more and more.
There is something very fascinating in the temptations of the world. Its pleasures, riches, or honors are but too apt to draw us aside. But whenever you are tempted, say, Shall I return to that bondage from which I have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ? Shall I trample under foot the Son of God, and crucify him afresh? Shall I, as it were, see his dead corpse lying in my way, and go over that to the gratification of my base desires? Surely such reflections will not fail to animate your resolution, and to keep you at a distance from those scenes of vanity, where your steadfastness would be endangered. Let us live as citizens of a better country, and "no more fashion ourselves according to our former lusts in our ignorance." Let us drink of purer pleasures, even of "that river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God." Thus, experiencing the full benefits of redeeming love on earth, we shall before long sing its praises in Heaven for evermore.
The Fathers Part in the Work of Redemption
1 Peter 1:20, 21. Who truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.
THE salvation of man is with great propriety ascribed to Christ, because he laid down his own life a ransom for us. But we shall have very imperfect views of this mystery, if we do not trace it up to God the Father, and see him concurring with Christ in every part, and performing, as it were, an appropriate office in the economy of redemption. Indeed a distinct knowledge of the Father's work is highly conducive to our progress in the divine life. This being intimated in the text, we shall endeavor to show,
I. What part the Father bore in the work of redemption.
He ordained his Son to his mediatorial office from all eternity.
As the prophets frequently speak of the Messiah as sent and qualified for his office by the Father, so our Lord himself constantly acknowledged that he received his commission from him. Nor was he first appointed when he became incarnate: he was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world. The time of his incarnation, the manner of his death, together with every the minutest circumstance relating to him, were fixed in the Divine counsels. Hence he is called the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
In due season he manifested his Son to the world.
The Father prepared him a body in the Virgin's womb; and by a preternatural star conducted the Magi to him as soon as he was born. He afterwards bore testimony to him repeatedly by an audible voice from Heaven, and by causing the Holy Spirit to light visibly upon him with the hovering motion of a dove. In all the miracles which he wrought, the Father bore witness of him—even in the hour of his dissolution, when most of all his divine mission might seem doubtful, even then did the Father so testify of him, as to make the Centurion, who superintended the execution, exclaim, Truly this was the Son of God!
After suffering him to be put to death, he raised him up again from the dead.
Jesus was able to raise himself, and is often said to have risen by his own power. But we are expressly told here, and in many other places, that the Father also raised him. Indeed, as the Father, to whose justice he paid the debt, gave, as it were, the commission, by virtue of which he was imprisoned in the grave, it was necessary that he should also give him his discharge, when the demands of justice were fully satisfied. Accordingly, his restoration to life is spoken of as the strongest evidence of his Messiahship, and of his having finished that work which the Father had given him to do.
Lastly he exalted him to Heaven, and invested him with all the glory thereof.
Jesus, in his obedience, had looked to "the joy that was set before him;" and when that obedience was fulfilled, his Father gave him the promised reward. He placed that very person, who was crucified, at his own right hand. He seated him upon his own eternal throne, and committed the government of the universe into his hands. He has commanded all to honor him even as himself; and to all eternity shall that adorable Lamb of God be the medium of his people's happiness, as he has been the Author and Procurer of it.
That this is not a matter of mere speculation will appear, if we inquire,
II. What effect the consideration of it is intended to produce upon us?
The ultimate end, for which the Father has thus interposed on our behalf, is, to glorify himself in the salvation of man. But there are other and more immediate ends, which the knowledge of his interference is intended to accomplish:
1. It should confirm our faith.
We are called particularly to believe that Christ was the true Messiah; that he performed everything that was necessary for our salvation; and that the Father is willing to be reconciled to all who come to him by Jesus. Now it is not possible to entertain a doubt of any one of these points, if we duly consider what the Father has done for us. Would God have so frequently, and in such a wonderful manner, borne witness to Jesus if he had been an impostor?—Would he have liberated him from the prison of the grave, and have exalted him to glory, if the work assigned him had been left unfinished—Would he have sent him into the world to redeem us, and have so gloriously rewarded his services, if, after all, he were not willing to accept returning prodigals?—Can we suppose that God has done all these things only to mock, and to deceive us? Far be it from us to entertain the thought one moment. Let us rather conclude, that, as "it is impossible for God to lie," so it is most injurious to him to question one jot or tittle of the record which he has given us of his Son.
2. It should enliven our hope.
Many are the grounds upon which we are apt to indulge fear and despondency: but there is not one, which a due consideration of what God has done would not instantly remove. Do we suppose ourselves to have been overlooked by God? He gave his Son to be "a atoning sacrifice , not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world;" and has asserted with an oath, that he is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and live." Do we imagine ourselves to be too vile? "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that he sent his Son to save sinners, even the chief." Do we fear lest, notwithstanding we do believe, we should by some means or other be left to perish? Behold he has exalted his Son as our Head, our Representative, our Forerunner, in whom we are already accepted, and with whom we shall assuredly be glorified in due season: yes, "he has made his Son to be Head over all things to his Church," in order that HE may put all his enemies under his feet, and secure the purchase of his own blood. Let us then yield no more to gloomy apprehensions, but ask of God the gift of his blessed Spirit, through whose powerful influence we shall both abound and rejoice in hope.
In conclusion let me tell you.
1. Who they are that are especially interested in this great mystery.
It was manifested for "those who by Christ do believe in God," these are the persons interested in it, these universally, and these alone. Show me a poor self-condemning sinner, one who under a sense of his utter guilt and helplessness comes to God through Christ, renouncing all dependence on himself, and hoping for acceptance solely through the merits and mediation of the Lord Jesus, he is the person for whom God sent his only-begotten Son; he is the person for whose benefit God raised up and glorified his Son, and for whose complete salvation he has invested his Son with all power in Heaven and in earth. A man who feels not his own guilt and danger has no interest in all this; nor has the man who relies in any measure on his own righteousness or strength for his acceptance with God. It is the penitent believer, and he alone, that can derive any comfort from this stupendous mystery. Dear brethren, let this sink deep into your hearts; you must come to God through Christ, and "believe in God in and by Christ." I pray you, do not forget this: for, until you come to God in this way, you have no saving faith, no scriptural hope. But, if once you be brought to this state of affiance in the Lord Jesus, whatever you may have been, or whatever you may have done, in times past, God's promises are made to you, and shall be fulfilled in you; for "they are all yes and amen in Christ Jesus." "All things are yours, if you are Christ's; and, as Christ is God's," so shall you be to all eternity.
2. What more particularly this mystery speaks to them.
God's design in all was, "that your faith and hope might be in God." This then it says to you; Believe in God, and hope in God. Did God fail in anything which he had promised to his dear Son? Neither then will he fail you, if only you believe in him. Look at the Lord Jesus: see his discouragements: see him in the manger at Bethlehem: what can that infant ever do? see him in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, and in the grave: what can be hoped for from him? But behold him rising from the grave, ascending to Heaven, seated on his throne, and invested with all power in Heaven and in earth; and then you will see what God can and will do for you in your most desperate condition. The power exercised for Christ is the same that is engaged for you: yes, and the work wrought in and for Christ, is the very pattern and pledge of what shall be wrought for you. Do I speak too strongly here? Consult the Apostle Paul: it is the very thing which he himself speaks by inspiration of God: he declares, that "the exceeding greatness of God's power which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him up from the dead, and set him at his own right hand above all the principalities and powers of earth and Hell, is that which he will exercise towards every believing soul"—Look then to God and "believe in him," yes look at Christ Jesus, and "hope," that, for his sake, all that has been done in and for him, shall be done in and for you. Think of nothing less: expect nothing less: be satisfied with nothing less: and, if at any time a doubting thought arise, chide your drooping spirit, as David did, and say, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope you in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God."
Love to the Brethren
1 Peter 1:22. Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto sincere love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently.
AS our Christian profession lays us under peculiar obligations to holiness, so our Christian experience should influence us to exert ourselves as much as possible in the service of our God. The more we have attained, the more we should aspire after still higher attainments. To this effect is Peter's exhortation in the passage before us. In his words we may observe,
I. What he takes for granted respecting all true Christians.
The Apostle, writing to those who professed to be followers of Christ, gives them credit that they were his disciples indeed; and takes for granted,
1. That they had "obeyed the truth."
To "obey the truth" is, in scripture-language, the same as to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The substance of the divine record is, that in Christ Jesus there is life, and that we either have life or are destitute of it, according as we possess, or are destitute of, the knowledge of Christ. This is the true record of God, which we are enjoined to receive with all humility and thankfulness; and when we so embrace it as to found all our hopes of salvation entirely upon it, then we may properly be said to obey the truth. Now this every Christian does; he does not merely give his assent to any propositions about Christ, but he "flees to Christ for refuge," and relies upon him as his only Savior. And the Apostle takes for granted (with good reason too) that they to whom he was writing, had so received Christ: for, however they might have been baptized into the faith of Christ, they were no better than mere heathens, if they had not truly believed in him.
2. That in obeying the truth they had also "purified their souls."
We may cleanse the outward part of our conduct by various means. A regard to our reputation, a self-righteous desire of recommending ourselves to God, or a spirit of pride and self-delight, will be sufficient to rectify in a measure our external behavior; but it is the property of faith alone to purify the heart. And as nothing but faith will prevail for this end, so wherever faith is, it will infallibly produce this effect. The faith that has not this fruit is dead; and will no more avail for our salvation than the faith of devils. Well therefore does the Apostle take it for granted, that they, to whom he wrote, experienced this effect of their faith; seeing that it is the principal intent of the Gospel to ensure and produce it.
3. That they had so purified their souls as to have attained an sincere love of the brethren.
As faith purifies the heart, so in a more especial manner it "works by love." The love of the brethren never was nor ever can be, found in an unrenewed soul. There may be a semblance of it; there may be a partial attachment to our own sect and party, or a carnal attachment to a person who is spiritually-minded; but there never can be a love to spiritual persons simply on account of their relation to Christ, and their conformity to his image. But let the smallest portion of true grace be imparted to the soul, and instantly will this love spring up in the heart. Many things indeed may occur in the mind to restrain its exercise for a season, and to impede its growth; but it may be taken for granted that this principle both abides and operates in the heart of every true Christian; "he who loves him that begat, cannot but love those who are begotten of him."
4. That they had attained all this through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Faith itself cannot exist in the heart, until the Spirit of God has wrought it in us: he must overcome our reluctance, and make us willing to obey the truth. Neither can our hearts be purified but by the same almighty power. Faith indeed is the instrument whereby our sanctification is effected; but the Holy Spirit is the agent. Every progressive step of it must be wrought by him. Our love can now from no other source; whatever be the grace that is exercised by us, He must be acknowledged as the author of it; "it is the same Spirit that works all in all."
If what is here taken for granted be really found in us, nothing will be more acceptable than,
II. The exhortation grounded upon it.
"The end of the commandment," says the Apostle, "is charity;" and our profession as Christians supposes that it exists, and operates, in our hearts. But care must be taken that it be exercised,
1. With sincerity.
There is a politeness and civility which is only a counterfeit of Christian love: but it is not this which the text inculcates. We are indeed commanded in other parts of Scripture to "be courteous;" and it would be well if some professors of religion paid more attention to this command. But the love enjoined in the text, is an "sincere" love to all the saints, arising from a view of their relation to God, and to ourselves. It must be an abiding principle in our hearts, operating uniformly in the whole of our conduct towards them. It must lead us to exercise meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness, and to seek both their temporal and spiritual welfare, as occasion may serve. In short, our love must be without dissimulation; it must be not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
2. With purity.
Even where there is a portion of Christian love, there may be a considerable alloy mixed with it. We may be influenced too much by selfish considerations. We may be seeking our own interest or honor, while we imagine that we are giving a testimony of Christian love. Yes, our love which was pure at first, may easily degenerate into mere carnal affection. The greatest caution is necessary, especially among young persons, lest our hearts betray us into indiscretion of any kind, and Satan take advantage of us to lead us into sin.
3. With fervor.
An empty profession of benevolence to the poor will not be deemed equivalent to an actual relieving of their wants; nor will a cold expression of regard to the brethren fulfill the sacred duty of love to them. In the latter especially, it should know no bounds, but those which were affixed to the love of Christ. Did he love us to such a degree as to lay down his life for us? we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren. There is no service, however difficult or self-denying, which we should not render them for good. We should love one another, as the Greek word means, "intensely." To sum up all in one word, we should love one another, as Christ has loved us.
1. Inquire whether the things here taken for granted be found in us.
Have we indeed received the Holy Spirit? and through his almighty influence have we believed in Christ, and purified our souls, and got a principle of holy love implanted in us? And do these attainments become so many motives to diligence, and means of spiritual advancement! Let this be duly weighed, and it will serve to show us what we are. If we be in the faith, our self-examination will increase our comfort; and, if we be not in the faith, it may be the means of carrying conviction to the soul. Let us be assured that faith, love, and holiness universally characterize the Christian, and that our evidences of conversion will bear an exact proportion to our attainments in these things. Let therefore our exercise of these graces be so manifest and undeniable, that the Spirit's agency in us may be confessed by all.
2. Endeavor to fulfill the duties that are here imposed on us.
A sweeter command cannot possibly be given. To obey it is to enjoy a Heaven upon earth. Heaven is a region of ineffable, unceasing love; and the more we have of that divine principle the more happy shall we be. Let us then strive to mortify whatever may retard its growth in our souls. Let us beware lest through the abounding of iniquity it wax cold. And let us strive to exercise it with all that purity and fervor which become persons so highly privileged.
Growth in Grace Is to Be Desired
1 Peter 2:1–3. Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all deceit, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby; if so be have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
A STRANGE opinion has obtained among some, that there is no such thing as growth in grace. But the whole tenor of Scripture, from one end of it to the other, proclaims the contrary. We will go no further than to the passage before us, and to the context connected with it. In the beginning of his epistle, the Apostle had spoken of Christians as "begotten by God the Father to a lively hope." To stir them up to walk worthy of their high calling, he says to them, "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, as obedient children; not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in your ignorance; but, as he who has called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be holy, for I am holy." This injunction he enforces by a great variety of arguments. He urges, first, the consideration, that God the Father will judge them according to their works; then, that they have been redeemed by God the Son; and then, that they have been born of God the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of the preached word, which unalterably inculcates and requires holiness. From these premises he deduces the exhortation in our text: "Wherefore, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby; if so be have tasted, (or as it should rather be translated, since you have tasted,) that the Lord is gracious." Here the idea is kept up of their being children of God, though children but newly born; and they are urged to desire and feed upon that blessed provision which God has made for them in his word, and which alone can secure their growth in the divine life.
The words, thus viewed, will lead us to consider,
I. The character of God's children.
Many are the descriptions given of them in the Holy Scriptures; but there is not one in all the inspired volume more simple or more accurate than this: "They have tasted that the Lord is gracious." This, I say, is,
1. Their universal experience.
There is not a child of God in the universe to whom this character does not belong. The very instant that a child is born of God, this is his experience. Indeed it is of "new-born babes" that it is spoken. As to their knowledge of God, his nature, his perfections, his purposes, it may be extremely limited and imperfect. Even of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of "the exceeding riches of God's grace as displayed in him," they may know but little: but they have "tasted that the Lord is gracious," and they do assuredly know it by their own happy experience. If the person be young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, he has learned this, and knows it, and feels it in his inmost soul. He has heard of the Savior; he has sought for mercy through him; and he has received into his soul a sense of God's pardoning love and mercy in Christ Jesus: and in this he does rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. He may indeed have received but a taste: but a taste he has received: and it is "sweeter to him than thousands of gold and silver." The most uncivilized savage, when born of God, is in this respect on a footing with the most enlightened philosopher: he has believed in Christ; and he "makes Christ all his salvation, and all his desire."
2. Their exclusive distinction.
Simple as this is, there is not a creature upon the face of the whole earth of whom it can with truth be predicated, but of one who has been "begotten of God," and "born again of the Holy Spirit." Others may be very wise and learned, and may be able to descant with accuracy upon all the deep things of God. They may in words and in profession greatly magnify the grace of God: but they have never had a taste of it in their own souls. And the reason is plain: they have never felt their undone state by nature: they have never been sensible of the immense load of guilt which they have contracted by their own actual transgressions. Consequently, they have never trembled for fear of God's wrath, nor with strong crying and tears sought deliverance from it through the atoning blood of Jesus. Hence the grace of God has never been extended to them; and consequently they have never "tasted that the Lord is gracious." They, as I have before said, may descant learnedly upon the subject of divine grace; but their discussions proceed from the head only, and not from the heart. As a man who has never tasted honey, however conversant he may be with its qualities, has no just conception of its flavor, so none but he who has experienced the grace of God in his soul can know really what it is. He knows it, because he has tasted it: and others know it not, because they have not tasted it.
The Apostle addressing these declares to them,
II. Their duty.
He teaches them,
1. What they are to put away, as injurious to their welfare.
The unconverted man, though he may appear righteous before men, is in reality full of the most abominable evils. He may not indulge in any gross sins; but he is full of "malice" towards those who have injured him in any tender point; and would feel gratified, rather than pained, at any evil that should befall him. His whole converse with mankind, too, is for the most part little better than one continued system of "deceit and hypocrisy," which are the two chief constituents of what is called politeness. If a rival surpass him in anything on which his heart is set, and gain the honors which he panted for, he will soon find that the spirit which is in him lusts to "envy." Moreover, whether he be more or less guarded in his general conversation, he will find in himself a propensity to "evil speaking," as if he felt himself more elevated in proportion as others are depressed. Now these dispositions are more or less dominant in the natural man, as Paul has strongly and repeatedly declared—and, after a person is converted to the faith of Christ, he needs to watch and pray against them with all imaginable care: for as inveterate disorders in the constitution will impede the growth, and destroy the vigor, of the body, so will these hateful dispositions "war against," and, if not subdued and mortified, prevail to the destruction of, the soul. These things therefore must be "put away."
2. What they must seek after, as conducive to their growth.
As "the word is the incorruptible seed of which they are born," so is it the food, upon which, as "new-born babes," they must exist. In the inspired volume, they have truth without any mixture of error. The writings of men take partial views of things, and all more or less savor of human infirmity. Nor can the soul live upon them. If we have read a human composition two or three times, we are weary of it: but this is not the case with the word of God: that is ever new, and ever sweet to the taste of a regenerate soul. A little infant affects nothing so much as its mother's breast. From day to day it prefers that before everything else that can be offered to it: and it thrives with that, better than with any food that human ingenuity can devise. So in the "sincere" and unadulterated "milk of the word," there is something more sweet and nutritious, than in all other books in the universe. In the inspired volume, God is presented to the soul under such endearing characters; the Lord Jesus Christ is set forth in such glorious views; the precepts, the promises, the threatenings, the examples, are all so harmoniously blended; in short, truths of every kind are conveyed to the mind with such simple majesty and commanding force, that they insinuate themselves into the whole frame of the soul, and nourish it in a way that no human composition can. This therefore we should desire, in order to our spiritual growth. We should read it, meditate upon it, delight ourselves in it: we should embrace every truth contained in it; its precepts, in order to a more entire conformity to them; its promises, in order to the encouragement of our souls in aspiring after the highest degrees of holiness. In short, we should get it blended with the whole frame and constitution of our souls, so that, to all who behold us from day to day, our growth and profiting may appear: nor should we be satisfied with any attainment, until we have arrived at "the full measure of the stature of Christ."
Let me further improve this subject,
1. In a way of inquiry.
I am not now about to inquire, Whether you have mode a great proficiency in the divine life, but Whether you have ever begun to live, or whether you are yet "dead in trespasses and sins?" In all the book of God, there is not a more simple, or more decisive test, than in the words before us. The extent of your knowledge or attainments is at present out of the question. The only point I wish to ascertain is this; "Have you been born again?" If you have not made any progress in the divine life, are you "as new-born babes?" Have you been brought, as it were, into a new world? and are you living altogether in a new way? I do not ask whether, in "passing from death unto life," you have experienced any terrors of mind; or whether the change has been so sudden, that you can fix on the time when it commenced? but this I ask, Whether you have attained such views of Jesus Christ, that he is become truly "precious to your souls?" You cannot but know, that, however you may have been accustomed to call Christ your Savior, you have not really found any delight in him in past times. But if you have been "born again of the Spirit," a change has taken place in this particular, and you have been made to feel your obligations to him, and to claim him as "the Friend, and the Beloved of your soul." I entreat you to examine carefully into this matter; for, if this change have not taken place within you, you are yet in your sins. Oh, reflect on what our blessed Lord has so solemnly and so repeatedly affirmed; "Truly, truly, I say unto you, that except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." If you ask, What shall I do to attain this experience? I would say, Search out your sins, in order that you may know your need of Christ; and then go to him as the friend of sinners, who casts out none who come unto him. In a word, I would refer you to the words of our text, as contained in the 34th Psalm, from whence they are taken; "O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man that trusts in him."
2. In a way of affectionate exhortation.
You have reason, I will suppose, to believe that you have been born again; and that, though of no great stature in the divine life, you are new-born babes. If this be so, you have more reason to be thankful than if you were made possessors of the whole world: and I therefore call upon you to bless and magnify the Lord with your whole souls. But be not contented to continue in a state of infantile weakness, but seek to grow up into the stature of "young men, and fathers." Some imagine that, as children, they may stand excused for the smallness of their attainments; but this is a grievous error. See with what severity Paul reproved the Corinthian converts for their want of progress in the divine life. Their continuing babes in their attainments proved them to be yet carnal, instead of spiritual; and prevented his feeding them with stronger meat, that would have nourished and strengthened their souls. See also how he condemned the same in the Hebrew converts, who by their infantile weakness were incapacitated for the reception of those sublime truths, which he would gladly have imparted to them. Be afraid then of standing still in religion: for if you make not progress in it, you will speedily go backward; and if you decline from God's ways, O, how terrible will your state become! The Apostle tells us, that "if, after having tasted of the heavenly gift, and tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, you fall away, it is impossible for you ever to be renewed unto repentance, seeing that you will have crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Seek then to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; and, by a constant attention to the suggestions in my text, so increase with the increase of God, that you may grow up into Christ in all things as your living Head, and finally attain the full measure of the stature of Christ."
The Temple A Type
1 Peter 2:4, 5. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious, you also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
AS in the natural life, so in the spiritual, a state of maturity is attained by a slow and gradual progression; but every one should be aspiring after a further growth in grace, in order that he may reach the full measure of the stature of Christ. For this end the Apostle exhorts those who had tasted that the Lord is gracious, to covet the sincere milk of the word; and to come continually to Christ, in order to their more abundant edification in faith and love. His allusions to the material temple are worthy of our attentive consideration: he compares Christ to the foundation-stone, and believers to the other stones built upon it; thereby showing, that the temple had a typical reference to them,
I. In its foundation.
Christ is here represented as the foundation-stone on which all are built.
When personally considered, Christ is represented as the temple itself, in which dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead: but, as considered in relation to his people, he is the foundation-stone, that supports the whole edifice. The quality ascribed to this stone is indeed singular; but it is perfectly suited to him of whom it is spoken. Christ is called "a living" stone, not merely as being of distinguished excellence (as he is also the "living bread," and "living water") but as having life in himself, and being the author of life to all who depend upon him: a quickening energy proceeds from him, which pervades and animates every part of this spiritual fabric.
In this situation He is precious to all who know him.
He has indeed in all ages been "disallowed of men," who, blinded by Satan and their own lusts, neither "saw any beauty in him for which he was to be desired," "nor would come to him that they might have life." The very persons appointed to build the temple have been the first to reject him: they could not endure that so much honor should be put upon him; or that they should be constrained to acknowledge him as the one source of all their stability. But he was "chosen of God" from all eternity, as the only Being capable of supporting the weight of this vast edifice; and, so perfectly is he suited to his place, that "he is precious" to God, and precious to all who are built upon him. If all the angels in Heaven were ordered to fill his place but for a moment, the whole building would fall to ruins: but in him there is a suitableness and sufficiency, that at once delights the heart of Gode, and inspires his people with implicit confidence.
Nor is the foundation only of the temple typical; there is a typical reference also,
II. In its superstructure.
Believers are the stones of which the temple is composed.
Every man, in his natural state, is as the stones in a quarry, ignorant of the end to which he is destined, and incapable of doing anything towards the accomplishment of it. But the great Master-builder, by the instrumentality of those who labor under his direction, selects some from the rest, and fashions them for the places which he intends them to occupy in this spiritual building. But, as the temple of Solomon was built without the noise of an axe or hammer, or any other tool, so are these brought in a silent manner, and "fitly framed together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
By "coming to Christ" they are gradually built up upon him.
Believers, quickened by Christ, become "lively," or living "stones," like unto Christ himself: "they live by him," yes, he himself is their life. Notwithstanding therefore they have of themselves no power, through his quickening Spirit they become voluntary agents; and though it is true that they are "drawn to him by the Father," yet it is also true, that they "come to him," willingly and with strong desire. And this is the way in which "they are built up a spiritual house," by "coming to him" they are placed upon him; and by coming to him yet again and again, they derive "more abundant life" from him; they are more and more fitted for the place they occupy; they are more closely knit to all the other parts of this sacred building, and more firmly established on him as their one foundation. It is thus that the fabric itself is enlarged by the constant addition of fresh materials; and thus that "every part of the building grows unto a holy temple in the Lord."
A similar view must yet further be taken of the temple,
III. In its services.
The same persons, who before were represented as the stones of the building, are now, by an easy transition, spoken of as the priests officiating in it.
Believers are "a holy priesthood."
None could officiate in the material temple but those of the tribe of Levi: but, in the spiritual temple, all are priests, whether Jews or Gentiles, male or female: "The chosen generation are also a royal priesthood;" who are not only entitled, but bound, to transact their own business with God. This honor also they attain by "coming unto Christ," by him they are "made kings and priests unto God;" and "through him they have boldness to enter into the holiest," and to present themselves before the majesty of Heaven.
Nor shall the sacrifices which they offer be presented in vain.
They come not indeed with the blood of bulls and of goats; but they bring the infinitely more precious blood of Christ. On account of his atonement, their prayers and praises, their alms and oblations, yes, all their works of righteousness come up with a sweet savor before God, and their persons as well as services find a favorable acceptance in his sight. Nor though, through the infirmity of their flesh, their offerings be very imperfect, shall they therefore be despised: if only they be presented with an humble and willing mind, God, even under the law, and much more under the Gospel, has promised to accept them.
Let us learn from this subject,
1. Our duty.
Whatever be our attainments in the divine life, we have one daily and hourly employment, to be "coming to Christ," by these means we shall be advanced and established; but, if we neglect them, we shall fall and perish. Nor must the opinions of men be of any weight when opposed to this duty: whoever despise, we must "choose" him; whoever abhor, we must account him "precious," if the whole universe should combine against him, we must be firm in our adherence to him. Nor must we rest in cold uninfluential professions of regard. We must devote ourselves to him, while we build upon him; and present ourselves, and all that we possess, as living sacrifices unto our God and Father.
2. Our privilege.
Being brought near to God by the blood of Christ, it is our privilege to maintain fellowship with him as our reconciled God. We should banish all doubts about the acceptance of our feeble endeavors; and come, like the high-priest himself, even to his mercy-seat, there to make known our wants, and obtain the blessings we stand in need of. Methinks our state on earth should resemble, in a measure, the state of those in Heaven: we should possess the same humble confidence, the same holy joy: and our sacrifices, inflamed with heavenly fire, should ever be ascending from the altar of a grateful heart, that God may smell a sweet savor, and "rejoice over us to do us good."
Thrice happy they who so walk before him! Let it be the ambition of us all to do so: then shall we indeed be "temples of the Holy Spirit," we shall "draw near to God, and God will draw near to us;" we shall "dwell in God, and God will dwell in us;" and the communion, begun on earth, shall be carried on and perfected in glory.
The Security of Those Who Believe In Christ
1 Peter 2:6. It is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious: and he who believes on him shall not be confounded.
THE Scriptures universally speak the same language with respect to Christ: in every part he is represented as the only Savior, and the all-sufficient help of sinful man. In this respect the Old Testament prepares us for what is contained in the New, and the New reflects light upon the Old; and thus they mutually illustrate and confirm each other. This observation naturally arises from the frequent appeals made by the Apostles to the prophetic writings; and particularly from the manner in which Peter introduces the passage before us: he seems to intimate not only that the prophet had been inspired to declare the same truth, but that this prophecy had been given of God on purpose to prepare the way for the more direct injunctions of the Gospel. His words declare to us,
I. The excellency of Christ.
Christ is often spoken of as a foundation, because he supports the spiritual temple of God; but here he is represented as a corner-stone laid by the hands of God himself.
The excellency of the chief corner-stone, which lies also at the foundation, consists in this, that while it supports the building, it also connects the different parts of it together. Now Christ has united together, not only Jews and Gentiles, but men and angels, in one spiritual building: and while they all derive their strength from him, they all feel, through him, an union with each other. For this purpose "God laid" him in Zion from the beginning; he laid him, I say, in types and prophecies, and declarations, and promises; and he requires all both in Heaven and earth to honor him as the one source of their strength, and the one bond of their union.
In this view he is "elect and precious" in the eyes of God.
God has appointed him to execute this office from all eternity, and determined that there shall be "no other name whereby any shall be saved." And, as qualified for it, as discharging it in every respect, and as saving man in perfect consistency with the honor of the Divine perfections, God esteems him "precious;" He declares that "in this his beloved Son He is well-pleased;" and He acquiesces fully in the salvation of all who shall approve of this appointment.
Nor will he be less precious in our eyes, if we consider,
II. The security of those who "believe in him."
To believe in him, is, to feel an entire dependence on him ourselves, and to have such an union with him as produces a correspondent union with all the other parts of his spiritual temple. They who thus believe in him shall never be confounded,
Much there is in their experience, which might well confound them, and which nothing but their union with him could enable them to support. How should they endure a sense of guilt, or bear up against their indwelling corruptions? How should they sustain the fiery trial of persecution, or stand composed in the near prospects of death? These are things which disconcert and confound others; and drive them like a ship from its moorings. But they have "an anchor both sure and steadfast." They are not agitated, and driven to hasty conclusions, or ill-advised methods of deliverance. "Their heart stands firm, trusting in the Lord." "Being justified by faith, they have peace with God." The promise that "sin shall not have dominion over them," encourages their hope. Their present consolations, and future prospects of reward, soften all their trials, and enable them to "glory in tribulations." And, knowing in whom they have believed, the sting of death is taken away, and they are "delivered from their bondage to the fear of death."
Terrible indeed must be the apprehensions of an unbeliever, when first dismissed from the body and carried into the presence of a holy God; and at the day of judgment how will he stand appalled! But the believer will go as a child into the presence of his Father, with love, and joy, and confidence. He will not be confounded at the glory of the Divine Majesty, because he is washed in the Redeemer's blood, and clothed in his righteousness. Even Mary Magdalen, or the dying thief, know no terror in the presence of their God, because they are "complete in Christ," it is on this account that they shall have confidence before him at his coming, and great boldness in the day of judgment. Nor is this the privilege of a few only, who are strong in faith, but of "all that believe," whether their faith be strong or weak.
1. How great is the difference between believers and unbelievers!
The world perhaps may not in some instances discern much difference; but God, who sees the heart, gives this glorious promise to the one, while there is no such promise in all the sacred oracles to the other. Let us then believe on Christ; and make him "all our salvation and all our desire."
2. How unreasonable is the unbelief of sinful men!
God has laid his Son for a chief corner-stone in Zion, and declared him to be precious to himself in that view: why then should he not be "elect and precious" unto us also? Have we found a better foundation, or a surer bond of union? Or can we produce one instance wherein any person that believed in him was finally confounded? O let us consider what confusion will probably seize us here, and certainly hereafter, if we continue to reject him. And let us without delay "flee for refuge to the hope set before us."
Christ Precious to Believers
1 Peter 2:7. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious.
THERE is a great difference between the views of natural and spiritual men. This exists even with respect to things temporal; much more in those which are spiritual and eternal. It appears particularly with respect to Christ. Hence Peter represents him as disallowed of some, but chosen by others. This was designed of God, and agreeable to the prophecies; and it justifies the inference drawn from it in the text.
I. Confirm this saying of the Apostle, that Christ is precious to believers.
We might suppose that Christ would be precious to all men; but he is not so. Nevertheless he is so to all that truly believe.
The history of the Old Testament affords abundant proof of this.
Abraham rejoiced to see his day, though at a distance. Job delighted in the thoughts of death as introducing him to his presence. Moses esteemed reproach for his sake. David regarded nothing in earth or Heaven in comparison of him. Isaiah exulted in the prospect of his incarnation. All the prophets contemplated him as the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
The New Testament Scriptures confirm it.
The Virgin, while he was yet in her womb, sang his praises—The angels congratulated the shepherds on his incarnation. The just and devout Simeon after seeing him, could depart in peace—John Baptist, as the bridegroom's friend, rejoiced in his voice. How precious was he to that Mary who was a sinner—Paul counted all as dung for the knowledge of him, was willing to be bound, or to die for him, and knew no comfort like the expectation of being with him. The glorified saints and angels incessantly adore him.
The experience of living saints accords with that of those who have gone before. The world even wonders at them on account of their attachment to him.
II. Account for the fact, and show Why he is so precious to them.
They have reason enough for their attachment:
They love him for his own excellence.
He is infinitely above all created beauty or goodness. Shall they then regard these qualities in the creature, and not in him? Whoever views him by faith cannot but admire and adore him.
They love him for his suitableness to their necessities.
There is in Christ all which believers can want; nor can they find any other capable of supplying their need: hence they delight in him as their "all in all."
They love him for the benefits they receive from him.
They have received from him pardon, peace, strength, etc. Can they do otherwise than account him precious?
We may rather wonder why all do not feel the same attachment.
III. Show why this regard for him is found in them exclusively.
There certainly exists no reason on his part; he is good to all. But unbelievers cannot love him:
1. Because they have no views of his excellency.
The God of this world has blinded them that they cannot see him. How then should they esteem him, whose excellency they know not? They must of necessity be indifferent to him, as men are to things of little value.
2. Because they feel no need of him.
Christ is valuable only as a remedy; nor can any man desire him as a physician, a fountain, a refuge, unless he feel some disease, some thirst, some danger.
All, who have any spiritual discernment, feel a love to Christ: he is beloved of the Father, of angels, and of saints. None but devils and unbelievers despise him; and shall any, who do not account him precious, be objects of his regard? Surely his final decision will correspond with that declaration.—Let all then believe in him, that he may become precious to them; nor let any be dejected because they cannot delight in him as they wish. The more we love him, the more shall we lament the coldness of our love. In a little time all the powers of our souls shall act without control. Then shall we glory in him with unrestrained and unabated ardor.
The Different States of Believers and Unbelievers
1 Peter 2:7–10. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
THERE is a great and manifest difference put between men in respect to the advantages they enjoy, and the endowments they possess. Some are born to great possessions, while others from their birth experience nothing but poverty and want. Some are blessed with a strength of intellect, that qualifies them for the deepest researches; while others are so limited in their capacities, that they can scarcely comprehend the plainest and simplest things. A still greater difference obtains in respect to the opportunities which men have for spiritual instruction. As of old, the light of divine truth was confined to one single nation, so, at this present moment, there is but a small part of the world who hear anything of Christ, and a very small part indeed to whom the Gospel is preached in its purity. Such being unquestionably the dispensations of God's providence, we must not wonder if a similar exercise of sovereignty appear in the dispensations of his grace. To draw the precise limits, where human agency concurs with the operations of God's Spirit, or where it resists and frustrates them, is beyond our power; but of this we may be well assured,—that all evil is from man; all good from God. We shall have strong evidence of this in the passage before us; in which we see the difference that exists between different men,
I. In their regard for Christ.
Mankind may be divided into two classes; believers, and unbelievers.
Now of all the things which may serve to distinguish these, there is none more decisive than their different regard to Christ.
To the believer, Christ is "precious."
We need not enter into all the grounds of a believer's love to Christ: suffice it to say, that he feels himself indebted to Christ for all his hopes in this life, and for all his prospects in the next. He has washed in the fountain of the Redeemer's blood, and has been cleansed by it from all sin: he has lived by faith on the Son of God, and has received out of his fullness all needful supplies of grace and peace. Hence he looks upon Christ, not merely as a friend and benefactor, but as a Savior from death and Hell. He esteems him, not only as precious, but as preciousness itself. In comparison of him, all other things are considered as dung and dross.
To the unbeliever, Christ is "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence."
Unbelief and disobedience are so nearly allied, that they are, in the Greek language, expressed by the same word. Indeed unbelief is the highest act of disobedience; for "this is God's commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ."
To exercise faith on Christ is the duty of all. He is "the stone which is laid in Zion," and on which we are to build all our hopes. But "the builders themselves, the heads of the Jewish Church, rejected him," and notwithstanding "he is become the head of the corner," "the disobedient" still reject him. It was foretold that this would be the treatment shown him by the generality: and the event has fully justified the prediction. The grounds indeed on which men reject him, are altered; but their conduct towards him is the same as was observed in the days of old. The Jews were offended at his mean appearance, and his high pretensions; and particularly at his professing to supersede the Mosaic law: and, on these accounts, they crucified him as an impostor. We on the contrary, profess to honor him as the true Messiah; but are offended at the salvation which he has revealed: we think it too humiliating in its doctrines, and too strict in its precepts: we cannot endure to give him all the glory of our salvation: nor can we submit to walk in those paths of holiness and self-denial which he has trodden before us. On these accounts many reject his Gospel: they cry out against it, as discouraging the practice of good works, as opening the very flood-gates of iniquity, and (Strange as the contradiction is) making the way to Heaven so strait and difficult that no one can walk in it. Thus, instead of building on Christ as the foundation-stone, they make him only "a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence."
How far this is to be traced to any antecedent purposes of God, will appear more distinctly, while we mark the difference between them,
II. In their states before God.
In the words of the text there is a double antithesis, which is rather obscured by the present translation, but which should be noticed in order to a clear understanding of the passage.
"These (the unbelievers) stumble at the word, being disobedient."
In what manner they stumble at the word, has been already noticed. We must now endeavor to trace their stumbling to its proper causes.
It is certainly, in the first instance, owing to their own "disobedience." Men are filled with pride, and are unwilling to embrace any sentiment that tends to abase them. They are also full of worldly and carnal lusts, which they cannot endure to have mortified and subdued. In short, their prejudices and their passions are altogether adverse to the Gospel: sc that, when the word is preached to them, they instantly set themselves against it. In vain are proofs adduced; in vain are motives urged; in vain are all human efforts to conciliate their regard to Christ: the language of their hearts is, "I have loved strangers, and after them will I go." The contempt which the Pharisees poured on Christ, on account of his prohibiting the love of money, is traced by the Evangelists to this very source; "The Pharisees were covetous, and they derided him." And our Lord expressly recommends obedience as the best preparative for receiving the knowledge of his Gospel; "If any man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
But, according to the words of the text, it seems as if men's unbelief was to be traced ultimately to the decrees of God respecting them. We cannot however understand them as establishing so awful a doctrine: nay, we cannot think that the doctrine of absolute reprobation can ever be established, while those words remain in the Bible, "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner." Nevertheless we are not disposed to explain away the words of the text; for they certainly have a very awful and important meaning, to which it becomes us to attend. God has decreed, that they who will not receive the Gospel for the illumination of their minds, shall eventually be blinded by it; that they who are not softened by it, shall be hardened; that they to whom it is not "a savor of life unto life, shall find it a savor of death unto death." The Gospel is certainly so constituted, that it shall produce these effects. Christ is "set for the fall, as well as for the rising, of many in Israel." "He is for a sanctuary," to protect and save the humble; but he is also "for a stone of stumbling," yes, "for a gin and a snare, that many (even all that are proud, perverse, and obstinate) may stumble and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken."
"But you" (believers) are exalted to the highest privileges by the Gospel.
The various terms here used were originally intended to mark the privileges of the Jewish nation: but they are applicable to believers in a higher and more appropriate sense.
Believers are "a chosen generation," they have been "chosen of God from before the foundation of the world." Though the misery of unbelievers is owing, not to any absolute decrees of reprobation, but to their own pride and wickedness, we must not imagine that the happiness of believers is owing to their own inherent goodness: for they have no good qualities which they have not first received from Gods; and consequently their good qualities are the effect, not the cause, of God's kindness to them. Though therefore we cannot accede to the doctrine of reprobation, we have no doubt whatever on the subject of election; since both by Scripture and experience it is established on the firmest grounds.
Believers are also "a royal priesthood," they are now made both "kings and priests unto God." They are chosen of God to reign over their own lusts, and to have the nearest access to him in all holy duties. There is no difference now between Jew and Gentile, or between male and female: but all are permitted to approach unto the mercy-seat of their God, and to offer to him the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise.
Moreover, they are "a holy nation, and a peculiar people." All are united under the same King; all obey the same laws; all participate the same interests. They are all separated by God, and "set apart for himself," they are not of the world, though they are in it: they are mere "pilgrims and sojourners" here; and are traveling to "a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."
All these distinctions they enjoy; and they owe them all to the sovereign grace of God.
You need only to examine your regard for Christ, and you will soon find with which class you are to be numbered. You may easily discover whether Christ be supremely precious to your souls, or whether you are averse to the doctrines and precepts of his Gospel.
Think with yourselves, what guilt you contract, and to what danger you are exposed, while you remain insensible to all the love of Christ: your guilt is greater than that of the very persons who crucified him, because you sin against greater light, and contradict your most solemn professions. O provoke not God to give you over to judicial blindness; nor make God's richest mercy an occasion of your more aggravated condemnation!
You see in the latter part of the text how infinitely you are indebted to your God: once you were in darkness; now you are "brought into the marvelous light" of his Gospel: "once you were not the people of God; now you are: once you had not obtained mercy; now you have obtained mercy."
And for what end has God given to make this alteration in your state, and to distinguish you thus from millions, who are still left in the very condition in which you so lately were? Was it not "that you should show forth the praises, yes the virtues too, of Him that called you?" Entertain then a becoming sense of your obligations: and endeavor to "render unto the Lord according to the benefits" conferred upon you. Show forth his praises by frequent and devout acknowledgments; and show forth his virtues by following his steps and obeying his commandments.
Subjection to Civil Government
1 Peter 2:13–17. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well-doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
THE great duty of a Christian minister is, to exalt the Savior, and to call men to submit to his government. But we must not imagine that this is neglected, when our minds are led to the consideration of human governments, and the duties we owe to them: for there is a manifest connection between the two subjects; the latter being, in reality, a branch of the former. We cannot truly submit to Christ, unless we yield obedience to all his laws—to those which relate to our conduct in civil life, as well as those which are given to regulate the inmost workings of our souls towards God. And we should be essentially wanting in our duty as Christian pastors, if we did not take occasion, especially from the interesting events of this day, to open to you a subject of such great and universal importance. The words which I have read will lead me to show you,
I. Our duty in relation to civil government.
Civil government is an ordinance of God.
It is called, in my text, "an ordinance of man," and so it is, as far as relates to the particular form of government established in any particular kingdom. In some countries absolute monarchy is established: in our own, a limited monarchy. In some, there are republics; in others, the power is vested in an aristocracy. In fixing the precise mode in which the affairs of any nation shall be administered, the agency of man has been altogether employed: God having never interposed by an authoritative mandate from Heaven, except in the case of the Jewish people. The history of our own nation sufficiently informs us, that the changes which take place in human governments are the result of human deliberation, or of human force. Yet, in its original appointment, civil government proceeds from God himself. He has ordained, that man shall not be left in the state of the brute creation, every one independent of his fellow, and every one at liberty to follow the bent of his own inclinations, without any regard to the welfare of others: but that power shall be vested in some for the good of the community; and that every one shall be responsible to that power for his own conduct, as far as the welfare of the community is concerned. Paul expressly tells us, that "there is no power, but of God; and that the powers that be, are ordained of God."
To it we are to submit, "for the Lord's sake."
Power must, of course, be delegated to a great variety of persons, and in different degrees: and to it, in whoever it is vested, or in whatever degree, we are to yield that measure of submission which the laws require. We owe allegiance, primarily, "to the king, as supreme;" and, subordinately, to all other classes of magistrates or governors, who are appointed by him for the exercise of his authority in their respective jurisdictions. The obedience which we are to pay may be rendered more easy, or more difficult, by the personal character of him who exacts it: but it is due, not to the man, but to the office; and therefore it must be paid, even though the man who executes the office may be far from deserving the homage he requires. If only we recollect that Nero was the governor of the Roman empire at the time that the Apostle wrote his epistle to the Church at Rome; and that towards him, notwithstanding his great cruelty and his bitter persecution of all who bore the Christian name, the Apostle required all to show the utmost reverence and submission; we shall see that there is no room for any person to withhold allegiance from the reigning monarch on account of anything that there may be offensive in his personal character. The words of the Apostle are most decisive on this point: "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power, but of God: the powers that be, are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resists the power," even though it be exercised by a very Nero, "resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." Nor does this observation extend to the supreme governor alone; but to all, according to the measure of authority that is vested in them: and it is not only from fear of their displeasure that we are to render them this homage, but "for conscience sake," or, as my text expresses it, "for the Lord's sake."
How "the Lord" is interested in our performance of this duty, will appear, while we consider,
II. The grounds and reasons of it.
We are bound to yield submission to civil government because of,
1. Its being altogether of God's appointment.
The institution of government is from him, as has already been shown. Moreover, the power that is exercised by earthly governors is God's authority delegated to men, who are constituted his viceregents upon earth. It is not man therefore, but God, whom we are called to obey: it is God, I say, in the person of the civil magistrate. We are to "submit" ourselves to man; "for so is the will of God," and, in rendering to man the service that is due, we are to consider ourselves, not as the servants of men, but "as the servants of God."
What need we further than this, to evince the indispensable necessity of submitting to civil government, and of obeying implicitly the laws which are enacted by the constituted authorities of the realm? If we are to obey God in the duties of the first table, so are we in those of the second also: and if, "for the lord's sake," we are to submit our-selves to the religious ordinances of God, so are we, with equal readiness, for his sake, to submit ourselves to every civil ordinance of man.
2. Its conduciveness to the public welfare.
Though authority may not always be exerted for the best ends, it is committed to men solely with a view to the public good. It is ordained for the restraining and "punishing of evil-doers," and for the protection and "benefit of those who do well." I need not occupy your time with showing how great a mercy it is to under an equitable and active magistracy, who are engaged in enforcing the observance of the laws. Let us suppose only that the law were suspended through the land for the space of three days, and that every one were left to follow the bent of his own will without fear and without restraint: what misery, even during that short space of time, would pervade the whole kingdom! What scones of rapine, and violence, and lust, and cruelty, would pervade the whole country! Who would not be crying out for the restoration of legitimate authority, and bless God the very moment that he was permitted once more to experience the benefits of civil government? Who would not then feel happy in discharging his duty to that government, by a just payment of tribute and of custom, for the support of the legitimate authorities, and of the public weal? Then should we need no arguments to prove, that partial restraint is universal liberty; and that true freedom can be found only in such an exercise of our powers, as will consist with the freedom and happiness of all around us.
3. Its tendency to recommend religion.
God has special respect to this; as we should have also: "It is His will" that we should fulfill this duty, "that by well-doing we may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." The Jews were generally considered, and with great justice too, as averse to civil government, especially as maintained by heathens. They had received a civil code from God himself: and they could not endure that anything should be withdrawn from it, or added to it. They had also been under a Theocracy; even their kings being, as subordinate magistrates, appointed by him. They judged, therefore, that all other authority was an usurpation; and they were ready at all times, if possible, to throw off a foreign yoke. This being the known character of the Jews, (though it was in direct opposition to the command which God himself had given them, to "seek the peace of the cities to which they should be carried captive, and to pray for them,") it was supposed that the same character attached to them after they became Christians, and that, in fact, it was the habit of the whole Christian world. It was in vain that Christians denied this imputation: their enemies were ignorant, willfully ignorant, of their principles; and continued, in spite of all remonstrances, to load them with this reproach. 'Now,' says the Apostle, 'it is the will of God that you should cut off all occasion for this calumny; and though you cannot hope to convince "ignorant" people, who do not know, and "foolish" people, who will not learn, yet you may, "by well-doing, put them to silence;" and so "muzzle" their ignorance and folly, that they may not be able to open their mouths against you.'
This should be an object near to the heart of all the Lord's people; and they should labor to accomplish it, "for the Lord's sake."
After viewing your duty in this light, you will be prepared to consider,
III. The manner in which it should be performed.
It should be performed,
1. With integrity of mind, as unto the Lord.
Christians were "free," and had a right to assert their freedom. But, from what were they free? from obedience to civil magistrates? from those bonds which hold all society together? No, God forbid. They are, in these respects, under the same restraints as all other people under Heaven. But, as Christians, they were free from the yoke of bondage, to which they had been subject in their Jewish state; and the command of God to them was, "Stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made you free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." In like manner, those who had been converted from heathenism were freed from the various superstitions which, under their former state, they had been bound to observe: and though they should be under heathen governors, yet were they absolved from all allegiance to them in this respect, being now placed under the higher authority of God himself. Daniel, and the Hebrew Youths had done well in resisting the authority that would have kept them from honoring the true God, or have compelled them to transfer his honor to any created object. And the Apostles, when forbidden to preach in the name of Jesus, did well in answering, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you, more than unto God, judge you." The same liberty is transmitted to us also: and from whatever quarter a command may come, to omit what God enjoins, or to do what he forbids, our answer must be, "We ought to obey God rather than men." But we must be careful not to make this liberty of ours "a cloak for wickedness," and, under pretense of asserting our Christian liberty, to withhold from our civil governors that reverence which is their due. This is an observation of vast importance. There is in the human mind a restlessness and impatience of control: there is also a proneness to enlarge or contract the bounds of duty, and the consequent demands of conscience, according as interest or inclination may bias our minds. Who does not see this as exhibited in others? and who has not reason to suspect this, as harbored in himself? I am well aware that this is a delicate subject, and especially when promulgated among persons who live under a free constitution, and have been taught to venerate the very name of liberty with an almost idolatrous regard. But the caution is the more necessary, on that very account: for, in proportion as we are tenacious of liberty, we are in danger of transgressing the bounds which God has prescribed, and of deluding ourselves with an idea, that we are only exercising the rights of British subjects, when we are, in fact, indulging a restless and factious spirit; a spirit, which, if it were opposed to us, we ourselves should be the foremost to condemn: for there are no persons more ready to cry out against the exercise of liberty in others, than those who are most clamorous for the maintenance of it in themselves. Let the Apostle's caution, then, be well received, and duly attended to. We are all concerned to "know what spirit we are of," and to do that only which God himself will approve: and let me not be thought to be advocating the cause of a party, while I declare what is really and truly the mind of God. We are greatly exposed to self-deception in this matter. And we have seen it prevailing, to a very awful extent, in this kingdom, not only at the time of the French revolution, but at more recent periods. We have seen religious persons uniting with those who were openly regardless both of God and man, and with an unhallowed zeal countenancing the most lawless proceedings. Surely, if the true character of God's people be, that they are "the quiet in the land," these persons would do well to consider whether they are not carried by a party-spirit beyond what Christ or his Apostles ever practiced, or ever sanctioned, and whether they would not honor their profession more by attending to the caution given them in my text. And I the rather say this, because religion has of late been grievously scandalized by the departure of multitudes from Christian duty in this particular.
2. With an harmonious attention to all other duties.
In all Christian duties there is a perfect harmony: no one of them is in any degree opposed to any other. In the pursuits of earthly men, it is necessary to check one propensity, in order to indulge another. A man who is ambitious, and yet covetous, must sacrifice, in a measure, his love either of honor or of wealth; because the line he must pursue in the prosecution of the one, must impede him in the pursuit of the other. But the Christian, in the performance of his duties, finds no such counteracting influence: he may serve God in the utmost perfection, and yet not be defective in any duty which he owes to man. Let no duty then be neglected: but, as all are compatible with submission to civil government, so, if performed in their proper manner, they will all contribute to advance, rather than obstruct, the best possible execution of our social obligations.
"Honor all men." There is no man who does not claim at our hands a measure of respect. Those who excel in wisdom and goodness are doubtless entitled to a larger share. But even the most unworthy object is not to be despised; forasmuch as he was "made after the similitude of God," and has been redeemed by the blood of God's only dear Son, and may, for anything that we know, become a child of God, and an heir of his eternal glory.
Yet, doubtless, we must with a more especial affection "love the brotherhood." The saints, to whatever nation or sect they belong, ought to be dear to us: for with God there is no respect of persons: there is neither Jew, nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free; but all are regarded as one in Christ Jesus." They are all members of his mystical body, yes, "members one of another," and though we are to "do good unto all men," there is a special obligation upon us to do good unto "them that are of the household of faith." Towards the world we should feel a love of benevolence: but towards the saints, a love of delight. We are united to them in the closest bonds; and should "love them with a pure heart, fervently" and intensely.
We must "fear God" also. Our regards must not he confined to man: they must soar upwards to God; and be fixed on him supremely. We must love man; but not fear him: whereas God must be the object both of love and fear. Nothing under Heaven must induce us to displease him. All the creatures in the universe are to be withstood, if they enjoin what is contrary to his revealed will: for his commands are of paramount obligation; and life itself must be sacrificed rather than the least of them be violated by us. If, however, so painful a necessity arise as that of disobedience to an earthly governor, we must show clearly, in the whole of our conduct, that our opposition is the offspring, not of a contentious mind, but of a pious regard to superior authority.
Together with all this, we must "honor the king." Whatever is good in him, we must delight to applaud: and, if there be anything in him of human infirmity, we must readily cast a veil over it, and make due allowance for the temptations with which he is surrounded, and for the weaknesses of our common nature. Viewing him as God's representative, we must honor him in our hearts; and be ready to shield him against every adversary, and to concur with him in all his endeavors for the welfare of his people. If he appear disposed to exceed the powers which are assigned to him by law, we are not to indulge in strains of querulous invective: for even "against the devil himself would not Michael bring a railing accusation; but temperately said, The Lord rebuke you." And, if an archangel so restrained the emotions of his mind, much more should we, who are expressly enjoined "not to despise dominion, or to speak evil of dignities." Whatever methods of redress the constitution prescribes, we may certainly use: but we should use them, not in a spirit of clamourous opposition, but in the spirit of Him "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judges righteously."
In a word, we are to maintain an harmonious regard to all our duties; compromising none, forgetting none. We must be conscientiously intent on all; "rendering unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things which are God's."
I cannot close this subject better than by desiring you all devoutly to unite with me in the following prayer.
"Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and power infinite, have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of your chosen servant * * * * * our king and governor, that he, knowing whose minister he is, may above all things seek your honor and glory: and that we, and all his subjects, duly considering whose authority he has, may faithfully serve, honor, and obey him, in you, and for you, according to your blessed word and ordinance, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
How to Bear Injuries
1 Peter 2:19–23. This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when you be buffeted for your faults, you shall take it patiently? but if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously.
THE practical nature of the Gospel meets us through every part of the New Testament, from the beginning to the end. Our Lord's sermon on the mount was wholly of this character; as are also his addresses to the seven Churches of Asia, in the book of Revelations. Nor are the epistles, which were written by different Apostles, at all different in their scope and tendency: they do indeed insist more on doctrines: but yet the preceptive parts of them are singularly minute and full; and are distinctly addressed to persons in every situation and relation of life. The passage before us is a peculiar address to servants, to show them how they are to conduct themselves towards their masters, who shall be embittered against them for embracing the Gospel of Christ.
But the Apostle did not intend this instruction to be limited to servants; for, in the close of the chapter, he extends it to all, who "like sheep have gone astray, but are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls."
His words suggest,
I. A precept for our observance.
It is here taken for granted that persons in every age will be persecuted for righteousness' sake.
And the whole history of mankind fully justifies this assumption: for from the time of Abel to the present hour it has been verified. The lovers of darkness hate the light; and will endeavor, when it lies in their power, to extinguish it. The whole life of David tends to illustrate this: "They that render evil for good are my adversaries," says he; "because I follow the thing that good is." And what shall I say of him who was greater than David, even the Son of God himself? Surely his wisdom precluded a possibility of any fault being found with him; while his goodness suppressed, in every bosom, a disposition to find fault. But this was by no means the case: on the contrary, in proportion to his superiority above all the sons of men, was the inveteracy of the carnal mind against him. Can we, then, hope to escape their malignity? No; "The disciple cannot be above his Master, or the servant above his Lord: if they have hated him, they will hate us also," we, like him, must have our cross to beard: and "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
But, whatever be our trials, and however undeserved, we must "take them patiently."
"We are called to them" by God himself; who has wisely and graciously "appointed," that, by means of them, our graces should be both elicited and improved, and our fidelity to him be placed beyond a doubt. He has ordained too, that by means of these trials, glory shall accrue to him, and everlasting good to our own souls. They give to us an opportunity of showing how highly we regard his favor, when, for his sake, we are willing to endure all that men or devils can inflict upon us. They display, at the same time, the power of his grace, which can uphold us under such circumstances; and the excellency of his religion, which shines so bright in contrast with the spirit and conduct of our ungodly persecutors. They are the means, too, of augmenting our happiness in the eternal world; since there is not a sacrifice which we are called to make, or a suffering to endure, which shall not be richly recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
If it be said, that it is an intolerable hardship to suffer, when we have given no occasion whatever for man's displeasure; I answer, your innocence should operate rather to lighten, than to aggravate, your affliction; since it administers sweet consolation to your own soul, and serves as a testimony in your behalf before God. If your punishment were merited, you would have no ground for approbation, either before God, or in your own minds, for submitting patiently to if: but, if you suffer patiently for well-doing, you evince a truly gracious disposition, and render an acceptable service to your God.
This, then, we are to consider as a precept given to us, under whatever injuries we may be called to sustain: we must "possess our souls in patience;" and "let patience have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing."
To this precept the Apostle adds,
II. An example for our imitation.
Not one of all the children of men was ever so blameless as our Lord Jesus Christ.
"In him was no sin;" "nor was any deceit found in his mouth." He appealed even to his bitterest enemies; "which of you convinces me of sin?" With all the disposition to criminate him that the most inveterate malignity could cherish, his accusers were all put to shame, and his judge proclaimed his innocence.
Yet, never was man so evil-entreated as he.
Scarcely was he come into the world, before his life was sought; and for the sake of securing, at all events, his destruction, thousands of poor innocents were slain. During the four years of his ministry, there was nothing too malignant for his enemies to say concerning him: "He was a deceiver," He was "a devil, and was mad." The efforts made to take away his life were continual: and the more good works he did, the fiercer was men's rage against him: nor did his enemies rest, until they had attained their end, and nailed him to the accursed tree.
But how did he conduct himself under his trials?
Not so much as one hasty word escaped him; nor one angry feeling betrayed itself in him: "when he was reviled, he reviled not again: when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judges righteously." Truly "he was as a lamb led to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so opened he not his mouth."
In all this, he was an example to us: "He suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps." He submitted to all those indignities, on purpose that he might show us how to act under similar trials: and God permits us to be brought, in some small degree, into similar circumstances, on purpose that we may "be conformed to his image," and be "made perfect in the very same way" that he was, and enter into glory by the very same path. To this, then, must our minds be made up: we must be willing to endure sufferings for well-doing; to submit to them, however great they be, with unruffled patience; and to "commit ourselves to God in well-doing, as into the hands of a faithful Creator."
Let us learn then from hence,
1. How we are to regard the Lord Jesus Christ.
Many who profess to believe, and even to preach, the Gospel, confine their views of Christ almost exclusively to him as dying for our sins, or as reigning in glory to carry on and perfect his work in our behalf. This, doubtless, is a most important view of him: it is the very foundation of all our hopes. Yet is it by no means a complete view: and they who confine themselves to it are greatly deceived: and, whether willingly or not, they grievously dishonor him. He must be regarded as an example: nor is he less glorious in that view, than in any other. Nay, if we omit to regard him in that light, we suffer an irreparable loss.
Would we know what treatment we must expect, if we will faithfully serve our God? Look at him. Not all the wisdom of his lips, nor all the blamelessness of his deportment, nor all the wonders which he wrought, could avert from Him the hatred, the contempt, the cruelty, of an ungodly world. Who then are we, that we should hope to escape these things?
Would we know how to conduct ourselves under sufferings inflicted on us for righteousness' sake? Look at him. Behold his meekness, his patience, his long-suffering, and forbearance; yes, and hear him praying for his very murderers: and then say, whether this be not the spirit that becomes you.
Would we know the issue of such a life? Look at him; and see him seated at the right hand of God, and all his enemies become his footstool. Such shall be the end of all who tread in his steps: "having suffered with him, they shall surely reign with him."
Take him then, beloved, as your example; and be content to "suffer with him, that you may also be glorified together."
2. How we are to approve ourselves his faithful servants.
If we are to bear injuries from others, we must, beyond all doubt, be "good and gentle" ourselves; "showing all meekness to all men," and, however injured by others, we must endure unto the end. We must not draw back through fear of sufferings; or faint under them, when they are inflicted on us. If we enlist under the banners of an earthly prince, we expect to fight his battles: we do not, when we hear of an enemy, desert and hide ourselves. We do not, when we meet him in the field, lay down our arms. We rather gird ourselves to the fight, and say, 'Now is the time for me to display my zeal in the cause I have espoused, and my fidelity to him whom I have engaged to serve. Thus, then, must you do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. You must not be ashamed of wearing, if I may so speak, his uniform; and of showing, in the face of the whole universe, on whose side you are.
Yet, remember that it is with his armor only that you must go forth to the battle. You must "be armed with righteousness on the right hand and on the left." Your breast-plate, in particular, must be of that material: "your helmet must be the hope of salvation;" and your sword, "the sword of the Spirit, the word of God." It was "by death that the Lord Jesus Christ overcame death;" and it is "by patiently enduring, that you also must obtain the promise of an eternal inheritance." Keep, then, your eyes fixed on the "Captain of your salvation;" and, "being faithful unto death, you shall receive at his hands the crown of life."
The Vicarious Sacrifice of Christ
1 Peter 2:24. Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed.
AN attentive reader of the New Testament cannot but have observed, that there is one subject in particular to which the Apostles frequently recur, and on which they delight pre-eminently to dwell: and that is, the great work of redemption. Paul scarcely ever has occasion to mention the name of Christ, but he digresses from his main subject, to indulge the feelings of his heart in expatiating upon the glory and excellency of his Divine Master. It is the same with the Apostle Peter. He has been speaking to servants; and instructing them to bear with meekness and patience any injuries that may be inflicted on them for the Gospel's sake: and he has proposed to them the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose patience, under the most painful sufferings, was altogether unmoved and inexhaustible. But he could not be satisfied with the bare recital of the Savior's excellence. Having touched on the subject, he must enlarge upon it, and not leave it until he has more fully declared the greatness of our obligations to him. Yet was this digression not by any means irrelevant to his purpose. It had a manifest bearing upon his main subject; and was, in that view, capable of the richest improvement.
In opening to you his words, I will,
I. Consider the work of redemption, as here set forth.
And, that we may enter the more fully into it, let us distinctly show,
1. Who is the person here spoken of.
He was a man: for what he did, he did "in his own body." But was he a mere man? No, he was God as well as man, even "Emmanuel, God with us." He was "Jehovah's Fellow;" "the Mighty God;" "God over all, blessed for evermore." He it was, "who, being in the form of God, and thinking it not robbery to be equal with God, yet made him-self of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
2. What he did for us.
He, "his own self, bare our sins in his own body on the tree." What this imports, will be understood by referring to the rites by which it was shadowed forth. Under the law, sacrifices were offered. The victims were beasts: to them were transferred, by the imposition of hands, the sins of the offender: in the offender's stead they died; their flesh was consumed upon the altar: and, through the sacrifice thus offered, the sins of the offerer were forgiven.
But Jesus, who came down from Heaven to redeem us, had no other offering to make but his own body: on him, therefore, our sins were laid: and the cross was, as it were, the altar on which he was placed; and the fire of God's wrath, the flame with which he was consumed.
Stupendous mystery! But "it is a true saying, and worthy of all acceptance."
3. For what end he did it.
Doubtless he did it, in the first place, to effect our reconciliation with God; as Peter says, in the very next chapter, "He died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." But he had also a further end in view; namely, to destroy in us the power of sin; and to restore us to that life of righteousness which is indispensable to our happiness, either in this world, or in the world to come. In truth, if this were not effected, it would be to little purpose that an atonement had been made for sin: for as long as sin retained its dominion over us, we must of necessity have a very Hell within us: nor would Heaven itself be any source of blessedness to us, for want of a disposition suited to it, and a capacity to enjoy it.
4. What is already the issue of it to every believing soul.
"By his stripes" every believing soul "is healed." The whole elect world was virtually healed in him, as soon as ever his sacrifice was offered; even as a debtor is absolved, the very moment that his debt is discharged; or a captive is liberated, the very instant that the redemption price is paid for him. But really, and in fact, our souls are healed, the very instant we believe in Christ: "our sins are blotted out as a morning cloud," and are "put away from us as far as the east is from the west;" "nor shall they be remembered against us any more forever." A principle of grace, too, is infused into the soul, just as the cruse of salt was into the fountain by Elisha the prophet; and by it are its deadly qualities corrected; so that whatever proceeds from it in future is, comparatively at least, salubrious: the Holy Spirit in him is "a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life."
That we may not lose sight of the objects for which this mystery is here adduced, we shall,
II. Improve it in the precise view in which the Apostle intended it to be applied.
We must bear in mind, that he is speaking to servants, and exhorting them to take patiently whatever injuries they may be called to sustain for righteousness' sake. For their direction and encouragement, he proposes to them the example of our Lord Jesus Christ: and, not content with specifying his conduct under the most cruel injuries, he suggests the ulterior ends of his sufferings, and the benefits which we derive from them; intending thereby to fix our attention on that mysterious subject,
1. As a balm for all our wounds.
Be it so; we are suffering wrongfully, and because we endeavor to maintain a good conscience towards God. But what are our sufferings, when compared with those which our blessed Lord endured for us? Hear the revilings that were cast on him: "Say we not well, that you have a devil, and are mad?" Behold the sufferings inflicted on him! Go into the hall of Pilate; and there see the thorns driven into his temples, and his sacred body torn with scourges, "the ploughers ploughing on his back, and making long their furrows!" Behold his meekness and resignation; and will not you be ashamed to complain? Will you not rather take up your cross with cheerfulness; and "rejoice that you are counted worthy to partake of his sufferings, and be conformed to him?" If he submitted to "stripes, that you might be healed," will not you welcome them, if by any means "he may be glorified?" Surely, if you reflect aright on this subject, you will regard the sacrifice even of life itself as a small matter, or rather as a ground for self-congratulation, and for thankfulness to God, who has conferred upon you that high honor for Jesus' sake.
2. As an incentive to every duty.
What shall "constrain you," if this do not? or what other motive can you wish for, than that which this stupendous mystery affords? Will you hesitate to forego anything for Him who gave up all the glory of Heaven for you? or to endure anything for Him, who endured the penalties of God's broken law, and "became a curse for you?" Methinks, the more arduous the duty is, the more eager you will be to perform it; and the more self-denying your labors be, the more will you account yourselves honored in being called to sustain them. Nothing will be any obstacle to you, if only his will may be done by you, and his glory be advanced.
3. As a pattern of every grace.
In all that Jesus did, he intended "to set you an example, that you should follow his steps." Mark his steps, then, from the cradle to the grave. Mark him, especially under those peculiar circumstances referred to in my text. See how he held fast his integrity, amidst the fiercest opposition. Do you the same: nor let all that either men or devils can effect, ever divert you from "well-doing;" or cause you to violate, in the slightest degree, the dictates of your "conscience before God." Mark what returns he made to his persecutors: never, for a moment, did he render evil for evil; or cease to seek, to the uttermost, the welfare of his very murderers, praying to his "Father to forgive them." Let this be your invariable line of conduct also; "blessing them who curse you, and praying for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you.". There is no grace which you may not see exercised by him, during his last hours, in the highest possible perfection. Set him then before you, under all those circumstances; and endeavor to "walk in all things as he walked," so will you have an evidence that you are his, and that your hope in him is well founded; seeing that "you have the same mind that was in him," and "purify yourselves even as he was pure."
The Nature of True Conversion Stated
1 Peter 2:25. You were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
NOTHING so reconciles the Christian to sufferings, or so quickens him to exertions, as a recollection of the mercies he has experienced at the Lord's hands. The Apostle is speaking here to servants, who were likely to meet with cruel and oppressive usage from their masters on account of their holy profession. To encourage them to a meek submission to their trials, he reminds them of the example which the Lord Jesus Christ had set them, when, for the redemption of their souls, he had endured all the agonies of crucifixion; and of the exceedingly rich mercy which they had experienced, in having been brought to the knowledge of Christ, and to the enjoyment of his salvation. "They were healed," they were healed "through the stripes inflicted on their Divine Master;" who was now "the Shepherd and Overseer," as he had been the Redeemer and Savior, of their souls. Enjoying then such benefits through the superabounding grace of Christ, they ought willingly and cheerfully to endure for him whatever, in his providence, he might permit to be inflicted on them.
This appears to be the scope of the passage before us: in discoursing upon which, I shall have occasion to consider,
I. Our state by nature.
All of us in our unconverted state have been "as sheep going astray." The Prophet Isaiah, whose words the Apostle cites, declares this to have been the condition of all without exception: "All we like sheep have gone astray." In respect of folly, we have resembled the silly sheep; which wanders it knows not where, and exposes itself to dangers, from which, by continuing in the fold, it might have been exempt. In respect of criminality, our conduct justly subjects us to blame, from which the senseless animal is free: for our departure from God has been,
1. Willful, without any just occasion.
The mind of every unregenerate man is alienated from God: he hates his law: he is averse to his yoke: "he says to God, Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of your ways." All indeed do not choose the same path; but, as the prophet says, they "go every one to his own way," one in a way of open profaneness; another in a way of self-righteous formality: but in this all are agreed, that they listen not to the voice of the good Shepherd, nor walk in the footsteps of his flock.
And now, I would ask, What reason have they for this? "Has God been a wilderness to them? a land of darkness? Wherefore have they said, We are lords: we will come no more unto you?" The true reason of our departure from him has been, that we have "not liked to retain him in our knowledge," on the contrary, the notices which we have had of his power and grace "we have imprisoned in unrighteousness," and actually "knowing that they who did such things were worthy of death, we have both done them, and had pleasure in those who did them," choosing them as our friends and daily companions.
2. Habitual, without one serious effort to return to him.
The sheep in its wandering state betrays to all its disquietude; and if it knew which way to go, it would gladly return to the fold that it has left. But the unconverted man goes farther and farther from his God, without so much as a desire to return: or if a desire occasionally arise in his mind, it is so weak and so transient, as to produce no permanent effect. If a sense of guilt and danger obtrude itself upon him, he strives to silence the conviction, and to divert the thought from his mind. If urged to return to the fold of Christ, he replies, "No: I have loved strangers: and after them will I go." This is their way, from the first moment that they begin to actg: and in this they persist, until the good Shepherd, of his own grace and mercy, searches them out, and brings them back to his fold.
Then takes place the change which is described in my text, and which leads me to set before you,
II. Our state by grace.
"We return to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls," we return to the Lord Jesus Christ,
1. As our Owner.
By grace we are taught, what in an unconverted state we little consider, that the Lord Jesus Christ is "that good Shepherd who has laid down his life for his sheep." This thought, coming with power to the soul, has a constraining influence: it fills us with wonder and admiration at the love of Christ; and at the same time with grief, on account of our having forsaken such a Shepherd. Now we are perfectly amazed at our own ingratitude: and no terms are sufficiently strong whereby to express our self-loathing and self-abhorrence. Aware now that "we have been bought with a price," even with the precious blood of the Lord Jesus, we are convinced that "we are not our own," but his; and consequently, that we are bound to "glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his." Under this conviction we return to him, and give ourselves up to him as "his purchased possession."
2. As our Provider.
When once Divine grace has begun to operate effectually on our hearts, we see how we have been all our days feeding on the husks of swine, while we deserted the pastures in which it was our privilege to feed. But no longer can we be satisfied with such things—Now we affect that better food, which the Lord Jesus Christ has provided for us; and desire to be led into those "pastures, where he makes his flock to lie down at noon." Now we begin to understand what is meant by "eating the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood;" and we find "his flesh to be meat indeed, and his blood to be drink indeed;" and the promises, which we once despised, are "sweeter to us than honey or the honey-comb."
3. As our Protector.
Now we tremble at the thought of the dangers to which we have been exposed: nor can we rest without imploring the protection of our good Shepherd, to deliver us from that roaring lion that seeks to devour us. No longer can we venture ourselves at a distance from him: we feel that we are unable in ourselves to cope with the feeblest enemy: and we "cast all our care on Him who cares for us."
4. As our Governor.
To hear the voice of our good Shepherd is now our delight. Wherever he calls, we follow. If we are erring in anything, a word from him reclaims us. Wherever he calls, we go: whatever he forbids, we shun: whatever he commands, we do. The temptations which once allured us, have now in a great measure lost their power—the terrors that alarmed us, their influence. What will you have me to do? is now our one inquiry: and, having ascertained that, we are satisfied; nor can all the powers of earth and Hell divert us from our purpose to obey his will.
Such is the change which takes place in conversion. We say not that it is perfected in the first moment; nor that it is ever so perfect, but that it admits of increase. In respect of parts, a babe is perfect as a man; though every part admits of growth. So it is in the new man. All these things are found in him, though imperfect as to their degree. Contemplate then this change,
1. For the satisfying of your own minds.
We cannot conceive of any figure better calculated to illustrate the conversion of a soul, than this. The state of a wandering sheep is known to all: the poor rustic that attends the sheep has as perfect an idea of its wants and dangers, as the most enlightened philosopher can have; and can apprehend as well the comparative felicity of those who are within the fold, watched over, and provided for, by a tender and faithful shepherd. Nor is there any difficulty in transferring these ideas to the state of a soul before, and after, its conversion. Consider then whether you are conscious of having experienced such a change? I will admit indeed that there are some who are sanctified, as it were, from the womb, and whose transition from a natural to a spiritual state is not so distinctly marked. But these are very few: and in them the image of a sheep obedient to its shepherd's voice, is as just, as in any other person whatever. The great mass of mankind have been far off from God; and they, when converted, are brought near unto him, as their owner, their provider, their protector, their governor, under all which characters they look unto him, and devote themselves to him, and expect everything from him. I pray you, brethren, see whether it be thus with you: for, if you are Christians indeed, "you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
2. For the inflaming of your gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you have been brought home to the fold of Christ, need I ask, whence this change arose? You will know full well that it did not originate with you, nor was carried into effect by any power of your own. The silly sheep would as soon return by its own wisdom to the fold it has deserted, as you would accomplish such a change in yourselves. It was the Lord Jesus Christ who sought you out, and apprehended you, and brought you home on his shoulders rejoicing: and if he had not effected it all for you and in you, you would have been roving from him to your latest hour, and would have perished in your sins. Be thankful to him then: adore him for the grace that has so distinguished you. And, while you give him glory for having so made you to differ from others and from your former selves, let his mercy constrain you to surrender up yourselves to him wholly, and without reserve.
3. To excite your compassion towards a perishing world.
Were you to see a straying sheep beset with dogs who were tearing it to pieces, who among you would not compassionate its wretched condition? Yet is this but a very faint image of the world around you; and not of the heathen world only, but of Christians also. We see not indeed the fate prepared for them: we see not how they are already, as it were, in the jaws of the roaring lion, whose prey they will be to all eternity. But this is not the less true, because we do not see it. It is their real state; and soon shall we see it with our bodily eyes. Our blessed Lord, "when he saw the multitudes around him," (of persons nominally the Lord's people,) "he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd." Do you then consider the deplorable condition of all around you, and use all possible means to bring them to the fold of Christ—And know for your comfort, that "he who shall convert a sinner from the error of his way, will save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins."
God's Disposition Towards the Righteous and Wicked
1 Peter 3:12. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
THERE is an error which obtains, to a considerable extent, among religious people, and which meets with too much encouragement also in the preaching of pious ministers; namely, an idea that to insist on moral duties is legal. Suppose a servant of Christ were to address his audience in the words of David; "Come, you children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is he who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous; and his ears are open to their cry: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil," I say, suppose a minister of the Gospel were to address his people thus, he would be thought by many to be bringing them back to the law, and to be instructing them in a way contrary to the whole tenor of the Gospel. But this is a great mistake. Legality consists in principle only, and not in practice. If we teach men to do good works in order to obtain justification by them, that is legality; and that subverts the Gospel: but if, while we make Christ the only foundation of a sinner's hope, we inculcate moral duties, we do nothing more than what Christian fidelity requires, and nothing but what the Apostles themselves continually did. It is remarkable that Peter, addressing the whole Christian Church, cites the entire passage which I have read to you from the Psalms, and applies it precisely as David himself did. In fact, we all need to be reminded, that "God will put a difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not;" and that, while "his eyes are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers, his face is, and ever will be, against them that do evil."
In confirmation of this sentiment, I will show,
I. God's tender regard for "the righteous."
Here we must first state who "the righteous" are.
We are not to understand this as relating to persons who are perfectly righteous, since there is no such a character to be found on earth. "There is not one that lives and sins not," "in many things we all offend." The term comprehends those who, in the prevailing habit of their lives, turn from iniquity to serve the living God. He, therefore, who has fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge, and, through the operation of the Spirit of God, is endeavoring to fulfill the will of God, may justly consider himself as answering to this character, notwithstanding many infirmities yet cleave unto him.
Over all such persons the eyes of the Lord are fixed.
God "beholds all, as well the evil as the good." But on the righteous his eyes are fixed, with peculiar delight. He delights to look upon them: "His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth," to show himself strong in their behalf; to protect them from every evil—and to supply them with every needful good.
His ears, too, are open to their prayers.
We all know with what a different feeling a parent beholds the children of strangers and his own. If his own child be in a situation of danger, his eye is upon it, to interpose in the time of need; and, if he were to hear its cry, all the tenderest feelings of his soul would be called forth, and all the efforts which he could make would be exerted for its relief. The inarticulate cry of an infant does not fall unheeded on a mother's ear. So God hears, not the prayer only, but the sighs and groans of his people; and will fulfill the unexpressed desires of their hearts—"Even before they cry, he will answer; and while they are yet speaking, he will hear."
Such, however, are not his feelings towards all: for, in perfect contrast with this, is,
II. His indignation against the wicked.
"Those that do evil" must also be here defined.
We do not comprehend under this character those who have yet some remaining infirmities; for this were to confound, in one indiscriminate mass, the righteous and the wicked: it is the workers of iniquity who are here spoken of; even those who, in the general tenor of their lives, are acting contrary to God's mind and will.
Against these God sets his face.
It is impossible but that he should view them with displeasure. He cannot forget what he has done for them, in sending his own Son to be the atoning sacrifice for their sins, and in striving with them by his Spirit to bring them to repentance: and when he sees how they requite these mercies, by holding fast their iniquities, by treading under foot his dear Son, and doing despite to his Spirit, he must of necessity be incensed against them. Accordingly, we are told that "he is angry with them every day;" that "he sets his face upon them for evil, and not for good;" and that he determines to execute upon them his wrathful indignation. They, perhaps, are full of confidence in their own minds, and are saying, "I shall have peace, though I go on adding sin to sin." But this only ensures the evils which they will not deprecate: for God says, "The Lord will not spare that man; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against him; and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him; and the Lord shall blot out his name from under Heaven." Instead of hearing his prayers, God further says concerning him, "I will deal in fury with him: my eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: though he cry in my ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear him." Unhappy man! whoever you are, that live in willful sin! this is your lot; and this, if you die in sin, will be your portion to all eternity.
Observe, from hence,
1. Of how little signification are the opinions of men.
If you are righteous, perhaps the world will condemn you as an enthusiast: and if you are countenancing them in their evil ways, they will perhaps applaud you as rational and wise. But to what purpose do men condemn, if God approve; or approve, if God condemn? If God's eye be upon us for good, we need not fear either men or devils: but if God set his face against us, though the whole universe were confederate to protect us, they could afford no help: "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
2. How desirable it is to obtain the approbation of our God.
If there were no future world, the sense which the righteous have of God's favor were an ample recompense for all their services. But we must take eternity into our account. We must follow the righteous and the wicked into the presence of their God: we must there see what his favor imports, and what his displeasure: we must there behold the objects of his delight seated on thrones of glory, and the monuments of his indignation cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. We must then contemplate their states as fixed to all eternity; so that, after millions of ages, the one will have no mitigation of his punishment, and the other no diminution of his bliss. Reflect on this, my brethren, and I shall not need to urge you to serve your God: your own feelings will urge you sufficiently: without any further loss of time, you will flee from the wrath to come, and, with all possible earnestness, lay hold on eternal life.
The Persecuted Encouraged
1 Peter 3:13–15. And who is he who will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good? But and if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.
EVERY kind of argument is urged in the Holy Scriptures to animate and encourage the followers of Christ. Sometimes the present benefit, arising from piety, is proposed as an inducement to walk in the paths of holiness: "He who will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no deceit: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it." Sometimes a holy life and conversation is recommended, by a consideration of the regard which God himself will pay to it, and the approbation of it which he will be sure to express: "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil." In my text, the approbation of men also is held forth, as in some respects a recompense to be hoped for: "For who is he who will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?" But, aware that this argument would not always prove valid, the Apostle turns his address to a consolatory strain; and encourages the Lord's people with the thought, that if they should not meet with approbation from men, they might yet assure themselves of abundant support and comfort from their God.
Now, in these words, I wish you to notice,
I. The point conceded.
Humanly speaking, it should seem impossible that any should "suffer for righteousness' sake."
If we be "followers of that which is good," and maintain a holy consistency in our conduct, we must, one would think, meet with universal approbation. For we give to no one any occasion for offence: and when we meet with unkindness from others, we render nothing but good in return for it. If perverse and prejudiced people will speak evil of us, "our good conversation will put them to silence" and "to shame." Hence wives are encouraged to hope, that if, unfortunately, they are connected with unbelieving husbands, they may "by their good conversation win" those who would not be won by anything else. At all events, after a season this may be expected, if not at first; since God has said, that "when a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." Hence the question in my text is reasonable, and, one would think, unanswerable.
Experience, however, proves that sufferings for righteousness' sake cannot altogether be avoided.
This is conceded in my text; and in other parts of this epistle is plainly intimated: "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when you be buffeted for your faults, you shall take it patiently? But if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God: for even hereunto were you called." Now, here it is intimated, not that we may suffer though we do well, and maintain a good conscience toward God, but because we do so: our very piety may be the ground on which the sufferings are inflicted. This shows that there is more connection between the different beatitudes in our Lord's Sermon on the Mount than we should be ready to imagine. Our Lord, after saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, and they that mourn, and the meek, and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the merciful, and the pure, and the peace-makers," adds, "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake." But what connection can there be between persecution and the characters before portrayed? Can they be persecuted? Are there any people in the world so blind, yes, so abandoned, as to "revile them, and persecute them, and say all manner of evil falsely against them," and that too "for Christ's sake," and because of his image that is thus enstamped upon them? Yes; this piety is the very thing which will provoke the world's enmity, and call it forth in every act of hostility that can be conceived. For thus has our Lord forewarned us: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." David found it so in his day: "They that render evil for good are against me, because I follow the thing that good ish." And we also shall find the same: for it is said, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Indeed, if our blessed Lord himself could not escape, notwithstanding the inconceivable wisdom of his discourses, and the immaculate purity of his whole conduct, how shall we, who are so frail and fallible, hope to pass without much inveterate opposition? "If they called the master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household." Hence we are told not to be surprised at persecution, when it comes: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.… But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as a busy-body in other men's matters: yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."
This point being conceded, let us proceed to consider,
II. The consolation administered.
Persecution for righteousness' sake is by no means so great an evil as people are apt to imagine.
1. It is no proper ground for sorrow.
Would any one wish for a testimony from God, that he is in the right way, and that God is well-pleased with him? Behold, that is the very satisfaction which such evil treatment is intended to convey: "They shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you; delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons; being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake: and it shall turn to you for a testimony." But it is, in fact, a participation of Christ's sufferings, and a source of great glory to God. And is that a ground of sorrow? No; but rather of exalted joy; as the Apostle tells us: "Rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy. If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part, he is evil spoken of; but on your part, he is glorified." In truth, it is a signal honor conferred upon us: and, instead of repining at it, we ought to "rejoice that we are counted worthy" to sustain it. But to speak of it thus, is, in reality, to come very far short of the statement which should be given: for, if the truth be spoken, it is a most invaluable gift: "Unto you it is given, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake." Yes, it is conferred as God's choicest gift, in answer to the prayers of his only dear Son. In bestowing upon us pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, God gives to us: but when we are permitted to suffer for righteousness' sake, we give to God: we give our reputation, our property, our body, our life, to be disposed of according to his will, and for the glory of his name. And surely this is an honor in which we ought to rejoice with most sincere and exalted joy.
2. It is no just occasion for fear.
I will grant, that there is a confederacy of the whole world against us: (that is the case supposed by the prophet, whose words are cited in my text:) What can they do? They cannot touch so much as a hair of our head, without the special permission of our Gods: nor can they do any one thing which shall not be overruled for our eternal good. Hear the representation which holy David gives us of this matter: "The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes upon him with his teeth. The Lord shall laugh at him." And if the Lord "laugh," shall we cry? God designs both to prepare us for glory, and to increase to us the measure of our happiness to all eternity: and for these ends he permits ungodly men to put us into a furnace, that lie may "purify us from our dross;" and he makes "our light and momentary affliction to work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Now, who that knew the designs of Heaven in relation to us, would dread the process by which such ends were to be accomplished? God has said, that "the wrath of man shall praise him; and the remainder of it he will restrain." As one, who, in a flood that threatens to destroy his mill, lets upon it so much water only as shall accomplish his own purposes, and turns off the remainder by another sluice; so will God effect his gracious purposes for his people's good, by the very efforts which their enemies are making for their destruction. Knowing this, therefore, we should "not be afraid of their terror, nor be troubled" at any confederacies they may make against us.
3. A due regard to God is an ample security to all his people.
To "sanctify the Lord God in our hearts" is to conceive of him as an all-wise Governor, that orders everything in Heaven and earth; and as an all-sufficient Protector, who is "a wall of fire round about" his people, not only to protect them, but to devour their assailants; and, lastly, as an all-gracious Rewarder, who, "if we suffer with him, will cause us also to reign with him, that we may be glorified together." In this view of him, our duty is precisely what Peter tells us: "Let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator." We have only to realize in our hearts the agency, the power, the love, the faithfulness, of the omnipresent God, and we shall be as composed in the conflict, and as confident of the victory, as if we were already in Heaven. If God has said, "Fear not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness;" it is not merely our privilege, but our duty, to reply with David, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?"
1. Let us be thankful for the peace we enjoy.
There have been seasons in the Church when persecution has raged with great fury, and almost driven Christianity from the face of the earth. That it is not so now, is not owing to men's love of religion; but to the protection afforded by human laws, and to the prevalence of an idea, that toleration in religion is essential to civil liberty. It is however a great mercy to us to live in these days: and I call upon you to improve the opportunities afforded you. You can assemble together, none making you afraid: you can consecrate yourselves to the Lord, without any apprehension of being dragged for it to prison or to death. You must not however imagine, that "the offence of the cross has ceased," or that you will not in your domestic and social circles have anything to suffer. You may still have to make considerable sacrifices: your parents and governors may still act an unkind and oppressive part towards you; and your friends may treat you with such contempt as is not easy to be borne. But, if you are not "called to resist unto blood," you have reason to be thankful: and, in this season of comparative peace, you must prepare to maintain, when called to it, a vigorous and active warfare. The roaring lion is as vigilant as ever to destroy; and you also must be vigilant, if you would defeat his efforts.
2. Let us, when persecution shall arise, act worthy of our high and holy calling.
The command of our blessed Lord is, that we should be ready to lay down our lives for his sake. And he has plainly told us, that "he who will save his life, shall lose it; and he only who will lose his life for his sake, shall save it unto life eternal." On no other terms can we be acknowledged as his disciples. Nor should we wish for any other terms than these. We should be ready to "rejoice in tribulation;" and to "glory in the cross" for our Lord's sake: yes, we should even "take pleasure in infirmities and distresses for his sake," in order that he may be glorified in us, and that "his strength may be perfected in our weakness." To all of you then I say, Prepare to approve yourselves "good soldiers of Jesus Christ." Whoever you are, you are to "fight the good fight of faith," and to stem the torrent against all the enemies of your salvation: and to you God says, as he did to the Prophet Ezekiel, "Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads; as an adamant, harder than flint, have I made your forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house." "Be faithful unto death, and then will God give unto you the crown of life."
The Christian Ready to Give An Account Of His Hope
1 Peter 3:15. Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
THE Christian's life must of necessity appear strange to those who know not the principles by which he is actuated. They see a friend or relative pause amidst the crowd of his associates, and retrace, in opposition to them, all the steps he has trodden throughout his whole life. Perhaps he was highly respected; and he now subjects himself to ridicule and contempt, from those who once held him in estimation. Perhaps he had fair prospects of advancement in the world, which now, by what are called his fanatical and over-righteous proceedings, he abandons. He once seemed happy in the enjoyment of all that the world could give him; and now he is turning his back upon it all, and following after phantoms of his own imagination. What can all this mean? Whence does it proceed? Is it the effect of a disturbed imagination? Is it from a desire after notoriety and distinction? or is it the fruit of deliberate hypocrisy? What has he seen, what has he found, that can account for such a change in his conduct?
Such questions will arise in the minds of many. Many indeed will not trouble themselves with making such inquiries. A shorter method with them is to revile and persecute, if by any means they may deter this supposed enthusiast from persisting in his folly: but others, who are more candid, will be glad of information, in order that they may be able to form some judgment about the proceedings which appear at first sight so unaccountable.
Now with respect to the former of these, the open persecutors, the Christian has nothing to do, but to commit his cause to God, and to go forward in humble dependence upon him: but with respect to the latter, he should gladly rise to the occasion, and "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks him a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear."
You will perceive that the principle by which the Christian is carried forward, is hope—"a hope that is within him." What the Christian's hope is, will form the first point for our inquiry. His duty in relation to it shall then, in the next place, be set before you.
I. What is the hope by which the Christian is carried forward?
Whatever may be thought of it,
It is a glorious hope.
It has respect to all that the soul of man can need, and to all that God himself can bestow. Contemplate man as a sinner, redeemed from sin and death through the blood of God's only dear Son, who at the same time has purchased for him all the glory and felicity of Heaven: hope fixes upon all these things as promised to the penitent and believing soul. Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and a constant communication of grace and peace out of his fullness; the preserving and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and Hell; and an everlasting possession of Heaven as a rightful inheritance—all is apprehended by the believing Christian as his true and proper portion: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. How wonderful! how surpassing all conception! Yet "to a lively hope of all these things is every child of God begotten."
It is a well-founded hope.
It may well be asked, What warrant has the Christian to indulge such a hope as this? Is it a mere conceit of his own, an expectation unauthorized and presumptuous? No, it is a hope founded upon the promise and oath of the immutable Jehovah. God has revealed a way of salvation, through the blood and righteousness of his only-begotten Son; and has promised to accept to mercy all who shall come to him in the name of Christ. To all such, without exception, he has engaged to give all the blessings both of grace and glory. And in resting on his engagements, the believer cannot be deceived: for "God cannot lie,"—"cannot deny himself."
The Christian has a further ground of hope, in his own actual experience of these things: for in coming to God through Christ, he has found peace to his soul: he has received grace, whereby he is enabled to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: and "through the hope that is in him he does actually purify himself, even as Christ is pure."
Here then he stands as upon a rock, that defies the assaults whether of men or devils.
It is a hope that raises him up above all the things of time and sense.
In the prospect of all the blessings that are promised to him, how empty and insignificant do all earthly things appear! They are regarded by him as the dust upon the balance, yes, as lighter than vanity itself. However important the concerns of this world may seem, they are but for a moment: whereas the objects of the Christian's hope are everlasting. Nor are the sufferings of this present world, how formidable soever in themselves, regarded by him as worthy of any consideration, in comparison of the glory which he sees revealed before his eyes, and which he expects shortly to inherit. Here is the great secret of all his movements. Even in this life a man will endure much labor and self-denial, in order to obtain some great advantage: what then will not a man both do and suffer, who has all the glory of Heaven in view, and an assured prospect of attaining it, if only he "hold on his way," and "be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel?"
Such being the Christian's hope, let us inquire,
II. What is his duty in relation to it?
The principle which operates so forcibly on the Christian's mind cannot be fully appreciated by one who is a stranger to it in his own soul: yet may it, by a judicious statement, be brought so far within the view of an unenlightened mind, as to carry conviction with it to the heart and conscience: and every one who professes it should be ready to afford to an inquirer all possible satisfaction respecting it: he should "be ready to give to every one a reason of the hope that is in him,"
1. With frankness and fidelity.
It is here supposed that an inquiry is made respecting it: for otherwise it is by no means expedient that a Christian be bringing forward his own personal experience, and making that the subject of conversation. To do this is hateful. Paul, when forced by the accusations of his enemies to vindicate himself, and to declare the experience of his soul, again and again, with indignation, as it were, against himself, says, "I speak as a fool." And, where it is done without necessity, it is as strong a proof of a vain and weak mind as can well be conceived. But where a man asks us a reason of the hope that is in us, we should readily and cheerfully give him an answer. We should not be ashamed of our principles. We should never doubt whether they will bear us out, provided they be perspicuously and justly stated. We should candidly state, That we are sinners, deserving of God's wrath and indignation: that God has sent his only-begotten Son to die for us: that through his precious blood we hope and believe that we have obtained the forgiveness of all our sins. We should then state our conviction, that sinners redeemed with so inestimable a price are bound to consecrate themselves to him, and, above all things, to seek the glory of his great name. We should further avow our full persuasion, that in the day of judgment we shall all be dealt with according to our works; that those who have suffered anything to stand in competition with their duty to Christ, will assuredly be cast out as wicked and unprofitable servants; but that they who have loved, and served, and honored him with their whole hearts, shall be applauded by him as good and faithful servants, and enter forever into the joy of their Lord. We may then appeal to the most prejudiced mind, and ask, Whether, with such views and principles, it be not our bounden duty to act as we do?
This kind of statement should be made "readily," to all without exception who desire to hear it, and are ready to attend to it. Whether they be more or less candid in their inquiries, we should account it a valuable opportunity to set before them the leading truths of Christianity; and we should avail ourselves of it, with a view at least to silence their objections, and, if it may please God, to convert and save their souls.
2. With meekness and fear.
There is, not unfrequently, found among the professors of religion a very unhallowed boldness and forwardness in declaring their sentiments. This is extremely indecorous, and odious in the eyes both of God and man. Though, as far as respects the truth itself, we should have no hesitation in declaring it, yet we should be much on our guard against anything harsh or acrimonious in our manner of declaring it. Suavity and kindness become us on all occasions, and especially when speaking on the things of God. We must speak the truth indeed, whether it be palatable or not: but we must "speak the truth in love," and "instruct in meekness them that oppose themselves, if God perhaps may give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth that so they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been taken captive at his will." A Christian on such occasions must bear in mind how much the honor of God is involved in his conduct; and how much, humanly speaking, the salvation of others may depend on him. By an indiscreet mode of vindicating the truth, he may shut the ears, and harden the hearts of many; and so embitter their minds, as to make them determined haters and despisers of vital godliness: but by a meek, modest, affectionate, and prudent statement, he may remove their prejudices, and lead them to a candid examination of their own state before God. Hence then he should speak "with fear," even as the Apostle Paul himself did at Corinth, where, as he himself tells us, "he was among them in weakness and fear and much trembling." By thus combining meekness with fidelity, and fear with zeal, he may hope that he shall be the means of silencing opposers, and of winning many who would never have attended to the written or preached word.
I would yet further enforce the exhortation in our text, with such advice as naturally arises out of it.
Let it be the daily labor of your lives to be such as our text requires:
1. Be intelligent Christians.
You ought to be able to "give to every inquirer a reason of the hope that is in you." It is a disgrace to a Christian not to possess such a measure of divine knowledge, as shall qualify him for this. It is not necessary that every Christian should be a disputant, and be able to enter into theological controversies: but every man should be able to answer this question, "Why are you a Christian?" Alas! the generality of Christians, so called, can assign no better reason for being Christians, than a Turk can for being a Mohammedan. But to all such I must say, You have yet to learn what a scriptural hope is; and have only "the hope of an hypocrite, which will be swept away like a spider's web." I beseech you all then to study the Scriptures with all diligence; and to pray unto God, that you may by them be made wise unto everlasting salvation.
2. Be steadfast Christians.
You must expect that your faith and patience will be tried: but you must not give way to fear, or be diverted from your duty by any consideration whatever. There should be in you such a hope, as, like an anchor of the soul, shall keep you steadfast amidst all the storms and tempests with which you may be assailed. By means of this divine principle you should be realizing all the glories of the eternal world; in the view of which, all earthly glories will sink into insignificance, and all earthly trials appear "light and momentary." Survey then the inheritance to which you are begotten: take Pisgah views of the promised land: and then you shall be enabled to say respecting everything that may occur, "None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may but finish my course with joy."
3. Be humble Christians.
Humility is the root and summit of Christian perfection. If men see you offended and irritated by the unkind usage which you experience, they will say, "Wherein are their principles superior to ours; or their conduct better than ours? They pretend to possess a hope that lifts up their souls in an extraordinary degree: but wherein does it show itself? and what do they more than others? It is no uncommon thing for persons professing godliness to feel towards their revilers and persecutors the very same contempt and hatred which their persecutors manifest towards them. But this is a proof, that, whatever they may profess of love to Christ, they have never attained "the mind that was in Christ." If you would be Christians indeed, you must resemble Him "who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and was dumb before his persecutors, even as a sheep before its shearers is dumb," and who in the very agonies of crucifixion prayed for his murderers. So must you: you must "show all meekness towards all men," and be more fearful of dishonoring God, or of casting a stumbling-block before your enemies, by anything hasty or ill-advised, than of suffering all that the most bitter persecutors can inflict upon you. Thus "letting patience have its perfect work, you will be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
The Nature and Ends Of Christ's Death
1 Peter 3:18. Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.
"SUFFERINGS, of whatever kind, are not in themselves joyous, but grievous," nevertheless they may on some occasions become a source of joy and triumph. If, for instance, they be inflicted for righteousness' sake, and we have the testimony of our conscience that we suffer for well-doing, we may then sincerely rejoice in them, as on other accounts, so especially because they render us conformable to our Lord and Savior. This thought was suggested by Peter as a rich source of consolation to the persecuted Christians of his day: nor can we have any stronger incentive to patience and diligence in every part of our duty, than the consideration of what Christ has done and suffered for our sake.
The words before us lead us to contemplate,
I. The nature of Christ's sufferings.
We speak not of their quality, as corporeal, or spiritual, but of their nature as described in the text. They were,
Some affirm that the sufferings of Christ were only to confirm his doctrine, and to set us an example: but these ends might have been equally answered by the sufferings of his Apostles. But they were the punishment of sin: and the wrath of God due to sin, was the bitterest ingredient in them. We had merited the curse and condemnation of the law: and he, to deliver us from it, "became a curse for us." "He suffered for sins;" and though his punishment was not precisely the same either in quality or duration, as ours would have been, yet was it equivalent to our demerit, and satisfactory to the justice of an offended God.
It was not for any sin of his own that Jesus was cut off: he was "a Lamb without spot or blemish," as even his enemies, after the strictest scrutiny, were forced to confess. He died, "the just for, and in the room of, the unjust," the iniquities of all the human race were laid upon him: he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement he endured was to effect our peace. He, who was innocent, became a sin-offering for us, that we, who are guilty, might be made righteous in him.
The death of Christ, like all the sacrifices under the Jewish law, was an atonement for sin. It is continually compared with the Jewish sacrifices in this view. We say not, that the Father hated us, and needed to have his wrath appeased by the interposition of his Son (for the very gift of Christ was the fruit of the Father's love); but we say, in concurrence with all the inspired writers, that when it was necessary for the honor of the Divine government that sin should be punished, either in the offender himself or in his surety, Christ became our surety, and by his own death made a true and proper atonement for our sins, and thus effected our reconciliation with God. On any other supposition than this, the whole Mosaic ritual was absurd, and the writings of the New Testament are altogether calculated to deceive us.
From considering the nature of our Lord's sufferings, let us proceed to notice,
II. The end of them.
His one great design was to bring us to God:
1. To a state of acceptance with him.
We were "enemies to God in our minds by wicked works;" nor could we by any means reconcile ourselves to God: we could not by obedience; because the law required perfect obedience: which, having once transgressed the law, we could never afterwards pay: nor could we by suffering, because the penalty denounced against sin was eternal, and consequently, if once endured by us, could never be remitted. But, when it was impossible for us to restore ourselves to God's favor, we were reconciled to him by Christ's obedience unto death; and to effect this reconciliation was the very end for which he laid down his life.
2. To the enjoyment of his presence in this world.
The holy of holies was inaccessible to all except the high-priest; nor could even he enter into it except on the great day of annual expiation. But at the very instant of our Lord's death, while the Jews were worshiping in the temple, the veil was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the most holy place was opened to the view of all. This was intended to declare, that from henceforth all might have the freest and most intimate access to God. All are now made priests unto Gods; and, in this new and living way, may come to his mercy-seat to behold his glory, and to enjoy his love.
3. To the possession of his glory in the world to come.
It was not only to save us from condemnation, but to exalt us to everlasting happiness, that Jesus died. The salvation which he procured for us, is a "salvation with eternal glory." The robes in which the celestial spirits are arrayed, were washed in his blood; and all the ransomed hosts unite in ascribing to him the felicity they enjoy. Nothing short of this could answer the purposes of his love; and the accomplishment of this was the ultimate end of all he suffered.
Before we conclude this subject, let us contemplate.
1. How great is the love of Christ to our fallen race!
2. How cheerfully should we endure sufferings for his sake!
3. How inexcusable will they be who continue still at a distance from their God!
Noah's Ark A Type of Christ
1 Peter 3:21. The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us.
GOD has marked the necessity of holiness no less by the dispensations of his providence than by the declarations of his grace. His destroying of the whole world for their iniquity, evinced as strongly as anything could, that sin should never go unpunished, and that the righteous only should be saved. In this view Peter introduces the mention of that well-attested fact, and declares, that the salvation experienced by Noah in the ark, was typical of that which we experience by Christ, and into which we are brought by our baptism. The text is by no means free from difficulties: to render it as intelligible as we can, we shall consider,
I. The typical salvation here referred to.
God had determined to overwhelm the world with a deluge.
Though there had been so few generations upon earth, that Noah's own father (Lamech) had been contemporary with Adam for sixty years, and lived until within five years of the flood, so that Noah, and the people of that generation, had, for no less than six hundred years together, received instruction only at second hand from Adam himself, yet had "all flesh corrupted their way," insomuch that "God repented that he had made man," and resolved to destroy him from off the face of the earth.
But for the preservation of the righteous he instructed Noah to make an ark.
This vessel was not constructed according to man's device, but by the special direction of God himself. To the eyes of man it doubtless seemed an absurd attempt: but "the foolishness of God is wiser than man;" and the event justified the hopes and expectations of Noah.
In the mean time he called the people to repentance by the ministry of Noah.
God exercised forbearance towards them one hundred and twenty years. But they "received his grace in vain." And the means used for their salvation only ripened them for destruction.
When the appointed time was come, he ordered Noah and his family to go into the ark.
The symptoms of the flood did not yet appear; but these favorites of Heaven were to condemn the world, not in word only, but in deed. By manifesting their faith, their fear, and their obedience, they were practically to condemn the world's unbelief, security, and disobedience. And, upon their entrance into the ark, "God shut them in" with his own hand, that the door might be secure against the violence of the wind and waves.
Then the waters, that destroyed all the world besides, bore up them in perfect safety.
Every other refuge now proved vain. The unbelievers found to their cost the truth of God's threatenings. Their numbers did not screen them from his judgments. Nor was the fewness of the elect any bar to their acceptance and salvation. They rose, while others sank in the mighty waters. Nor, if any cleaved to the ark, did that avail them. The very builders of the ark perished. They, and they only, who were in the ark, were made the monuments of saving mercy.
This history being altogether typical, we shall consider,
II. The correspondent salvation which we enjoy.
Baptism is spoken of in the text as the antitype, of which Noah's flood was the type. But we apprehend the Apostle's meaning to be, that Noah's salvation in the ark was typical of our salvation under the Christian dispensation. This subject will be best understood, not by drawing the parallel between the flood and baptism, or between the ark and Christ, but by exhibiting the fact of our salvation as corresponding with that of Noah.
God has determined to punish the world with an everlasting destruction.
His word bears frequent and most undeniable testimony to this solemn truth.
But he has prepared a Savior for those who repent and turn unto him.
Human sagacity never could have devised a way of saving sinners consistently with the honor of God's perfections. But God has sent and qualified his only-begotten Son, that, through him, all who believe might be justified from all things. And though salvation through the death of Christ be "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," yet to them that are called to partake of it, it has invariably proved the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Ever since the method of salvation has been announced to the world, God has been inviting sinners to embrace it.
The first plank of this ark was laid, if we may so speak, when God promised to Adam a "Seed, who should bruise the serpent's head." From that day, it has been erecting visibly in the world, in order that, while men were warned of their danger, they might see their remedy: and now, for nearly six thousand years, has God exercised forbearance towards an impenitent and unbelieving world.
By "baptism" we embark, as it were, on board this divinely-constructed vessel.
When we are baptized into the faith of Christ, we profess our persuasion that "there is salvation in no other," and our desire "to be found in him," not having our own righteousness, but that which is of God by faith in him. Thus we come to be in him, as a branch in the vine, as a man-slayer in a city of refuge, as Noah in the ark. Not that this benefit is annexed to the mere outward form of baptism, but to that baptism which is accompanied with "the answer of a good conscience towards God."
Being then in Christ, we are saved "by his resurrection."
It should seem, that Noah's enclosure in the ark for so long a period was a kind of sepulture; and his elevation on the waters, until he afterwards came forth from the ark, was a kind of resurrection, when he took possession of a new world. Thus, according to Paul, "we are buried with Christ by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life: for if we have been planted in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." This appears to be intended by Peter in the text, and to be, on the whole, the most natural, as well as most beautiful, construction of it: as Noah entered into the ark, and was saved by its elevation above the water-floods, so we, by baptism, enter into Christ, and are, by his resurrection, saved from sin and Satan, death and Hell; yes, like Noah too, we are brought safely to the possession of a new and heavenly world.
1. How deeply should we reverence the ordinances of God!
What is said of baptism is true, in a measure, of every other ordinance: yet how shamefully is both that, and every other ordinance, profaned among us! Let us remember, that all the institutions of God are intended to help forward our salvation: but, if trifled with, they will fearfully aggravate our condemnation.
2. How careful should we be to obtain "the answer of a good conscience!"
In the Apostles' days, as well as in ours, they, who applied for baptism, were interrogated with respect to their faith and practice; nor could the mere ablution of the body profit them, if they had not a correspondent purity of soul. Thus it is with us: we shall in vain receive the rite of baptism, or partake of the Lord's supper, if we cannot declare, as in the presence of God, that it is our desire and endeavor to be holy as God is holy. Let us then not lay an undue stress upon outward observances of any kind; but rather seek a conformity to the Divine image; for it will surely be found true at the last, that "the pure in heart shall see God," but that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
A Worldly Life to Be Relinquished
1 Peter 4:3. The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles.
THE end of all God's dispensations towards his people is to promote their advancement in righteousness and true holiness. The Lord Jesus Christ himself "was made perfect through sufferings;" and the afflictions which his people suffer, from whatever quarter they arise, are intended "for their profit, to make them partakers of God's holiness." The Lord's people are "ordained to suffer," in conformity to their Divine Master: and their great concern should be, not so much to get rid of their trials, as to make a due improvement of them, by "ceasing from sin," and living more entirely to God, and for God. To this purpose the Apostle speaks in the verses before my text; and then adds, that the time past might well suffice to have lived after the manner of the Gentile world, whose ways it became them henceforth determinately to renounce,
From the words before us I shall take occasion to show,
I. In what respects we also have wrought the will of the Gentiles.
The unconverted man, whether Jew or Gentile, is cast into the same mold, and, in the main, walks in the same paths. The nominal Christian also has the same views, the same desires, the same pursuits. In some external matters he may differ from the heathen: but in the most essential parts of his conduct he accords with them. He resembles them,
1. In an utter disregard of God.
The heathen, of course, cannot regard God, because they know him not, nor are at all acquainted with his will. The nominal Christian has in some little degree the knowledge of his will; but he regards it no more than if he were utterly unacquainted with it. "He professes to know God; but in works he denies him."
On this subject let me appeal to yourselves. It is, I confess, a heavy charge, to say that you have hitherto "lived like heathens." But I would put it to your own consciences, and ask, What regard have you shown for God's authority? and, What desire have you manifested to obtain his favor? You have had in your very hands the means of knowing his will: you profess to believe that the Scriptures have been given you by him, on purpose to instruct you in the knowledge of him. Have you been thankful for this revelation of his will? Have you studied it with care, for the express purpose of learning how you might please and serve him acceptably? Have you turned away from everything which his word forbids? Have you followed after everything which his word enjoins? Have you embraced the whole of it as an infallible record, believing all that it reveals, and expecting with hope and fear the accomplishment of all his promises and all his threats? Have you, in short, "trembled at his word," as it became you to do? I must further ask, Have you humbled yourselves before him for all your past transgressions? Have you fled for refuge to the hope set before you? Have you washed your souls daily in the blood of the Lamb, even in that fountain which was opened for sin and for impurity? Have you cried mightily to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit to sanctify you, and to transform you into the Divine image? Have you surrendered up your souls to God as living sacrifices, and accounted an entire dedication of yourselves to him your reasonable service? If you have not done this, wherein have you differed from the heathen; except indeed, that you have sinned against greater light and knowledge than they, and therefore involved yourselves in deeper guilt and heavier condemnation?
2. In a determined prosecution of your own will.
The character given of the Gentiles is, that "they lived to the lusts of men, and not to the will of God." And what have you done? By what standard have you regulated your conduct? and whose will have you consulted? A decent heathen regulates himself according to the standard which the society in which he lives has established. Whatever they approve, he follows: and whatever would degrade him in their estimation, he avoids. And has it not been thus with you also? In whatever line of life you move, have you not conformed to the habits of your associates, accounting everything innocent which they deemed innocent; and satisfied with yourselves, if you only satisfied them? Among the particular habits of the Gentiles, the Apostle enumerates "lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, ravelings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries," and do not these characterize the Christian world also? If we are free from open idolatry, we are guilty of it in our hearts as much as the heathen themselves: for while some "make a God of their belly," and others are addicted to "covetousness, which is idolatry," we all, in one way or other, "love and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is over all, blessed forever." As to all the other evils, it will be well if we have not been guilty even in the outward act: for "lasciviousness and excess of wine" are not such uncommon evils among us; but, granting that we have been free as it respects the act, have we abhorred the very thought of such evils, as we ought? Have we not, on the contrary, found pleasure in "ravelings and banquetings," and "such like," without ever thinking that "they who do such things cannot inherit the kingdom of God?" Is it not a notorious fact, that this season of the year, which ought to be in a more especial manner consecrated to holy duties, is devoted to "reveling and banqueting;" precisely as if the Lord Jesus Christ had come unto the world, not to deliver us from sin, but to give us a licence to sin? But, whether we have indulged in these things or not, still the same charge must be reiterated against us; namely, that we have lived to ourselves, and not to God; and have made our own inclinations the rule of our conduct, instead of adhering to his commands. This is "the course of this world;" this is the line of conduct which characterizes without exception "the children of disobedience," and the vassals of the wicked one.
Say now, brethren, whether you have not "wrought the will of the Gentiles;" or, in other words, whether you have not lived like "atheists" and heathens?
Let me then proceed to show you,
II. That the time past may well suffice for such a course as that.
Let me put it to yourselves:
1. What benefit have you derived from this course hitherto?
Have you found that the gratifications you have enjoyed have afforded you any solid satisfaction? You "have sown vanity; and what but vanity has been your recompense?" Paul puts the question to us; "What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed?" Has not the creature proved, what God forewarned you it would prove, "a broken cistern, that could hold no water?" You are come, I will suppose, to a season of great trouble, or perhaps of sickness and approaching dissolution. Now what consolation have you from all that ever you enjoyed? Can the remembrance of it comfort you? Can it assuage your pains, or administer support under them? Can it pacify a guilty conscience, or take away the sting of death? Can it gild your last scenes, and brighten your prospects in the eternal world? Alas! alas! have you not "spent your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfies not?" I will even suppose that you have possessed all that Solomon himself possessed, and reveled like him in every species of indulgence: what do you now find it all to be, but "vanity and vexation of spirit?" Is it not "high time, then, that you awake" from your delusions? After having so long "fed upon ashes, and been turned aside by a deceived heart," is it not high time that you at last see, that "you have had nothing but a lie in your right hand?"
2. What benefit do you expect to derive from it hereafter?
If you follow your sinful course ever so long, do you expect that it will be productive of any more happiness than it has already been? Will the creature change? or the condition of man change? Or will God so change the whole course of nature, that you shall find in earthly things what is to be found in him alone? But, if such changes are not to be expected, what will be the issue of such a course at the tribunal of your God? Had you been Gentiles, it might be expected, if I may so speak, that you had lived like Gentiles; or at all events, you would then "be judged by such a law as you yourselves had lived under." But you were Christians; and had the law of God in your hands; yes, and the Gospel of Christ too: and therefore you shall be judged by the law, and by the Gospel, which you have so neglected and despised. I would that Christians would place themselves as at the bar of judgment; and bethink themselves, what will be their view of their present courses then? Will a life of carnal ease and indulgence, together with a neglect of God and of our eternal interests, be found so venial then? To have professed ourselves Christians, and have lived like heathens, will this appear so light a matter, as it is judged now to be? No truly: things will then be seen in their true colors; and the care of the soul will then appear to be, what it really is, "the one thing needful."
If now you are not convinced that the time past is sufficient for such a course, I beg leave to ask, what time you will think sufficient? I presume you will not say, that the whole life is to be spent in such a way: I conceive that no one is so blind, but that he will acknowledge that God ought to be served at some time or other; and that, at some time or other, the concerns of the soul ought to occupy the mind. Even those who die by the hands of the public executioner confess, that some preparation is desirable for them, before they enter into the presence of their God. What time then will you agree to be sufficient to work the will of the Gentiles; and when will you account it reasonable to begin to fulfill the will of God? Will you say, twenty years hence; or, forty years hence? Such a period as that may surely be acknowledged latitude enough, even for the youngest among us. But, if you will go to those who have served the world and their own lusts for twenty or forty years, you will not find them at all more ready to turn to God, than they were the first moment that they entered on that course. On the contrary, the longer they have lived in sin, the more rooted are their lusts, and the more inveterate their habits: their consciences, too, are the more seared and hardened; and the more averse are they to be instructed in the way of righteousness. Besides, are we sure that so many years shall be added to our lives; or that, if they be, we shall be at all more disposed to serve God then, than we are at present? Are we sure that the Spirit of God, to whom we "do despite," will not at last depart from us, and give us up to final impenitence?
Beloved brethren, be persuaded,—whatever be your age, be persuaded, I say,—that the time past is abundantly sufficient for the course which you have followed. And now, without any further delay, begin to "work the works of God." Do you ask, "What is the work of God?" I answer, as our blessed Lord did, "This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom he has sent." This is indeed the one great concern to which we should all attend. We are sinners, obnoxious to God's wrath and eternal condemnation. But Jesus Christ is a Savior: he is sent into the world on purpose to seek and to save that which was lost. Do you then go to him; believe in him; implore mercy through him; cast yourselves upon him; and "cleave to him with full purpose of heart." Let the time which you have spent in the neglect of him be redeemed; and your efforts be the more urgent, in proportion to the time which you have lost. As for the baptized heathens with whom you have associated, "come out from among them," and "no longer conform yourselves to their evil ways." They will, as the Apostle tells you, "think it strange that you continue not to run with them to the same excess of riot as you formerly did; and will speak evil of you on account of it," but be it so: if this be an occasion of grief to you, it should not be on your own account, but on theirs; for "they shall surely give an account to Him that is ready to judge both the quick and dead;" and "their hard ungodly speeches, which they have spoken against you" for his sake, will be visited upon them to their everlasting confusion. Mind you yourselves: seek the salvation of your own souls, whether others will attend to their souls or not. Do not you perish in Sodom, because your relatives mock at your fear of God's judgments: neither linger in the plain, lest the storms of God's vengeance overtake you: but be in earnest: and "whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."
Nearness to Death A Motive to Watchfulness
1 Peter 4:7. The end of all things is at hand: be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
THE office of the Gospel is, not to fill the mind with notions, but to renew the heart, and sanctify the life. It is true indeed, that the smallest conformity to its precepts will cause us to be loaded with obloquy and derision by an ungodly world: but it furnishes us with very sufficient motives to disregard the censures of men, and to devote ourselves unreservedly to God. The nearness of death and judgment is of itself an irresistible argument for maintaining an indifference to earthly things, and for exerting ourselves to the uttermost to secure a happy eternity. Such is the scope of the Apostle's words; in commenting on which we shall notice,
I. The declaration.
It is possible that Peter, in speaking of "the end of all things," might have some reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was fast approaching, and to the consequent annihilation of the Jewish polity. But it is more probable that he referred to the end of the world, which was generally represented as so near, that Paul was obliged to rectify the mistake which had arisen in the minds of the Thessalonians with respect to it. We may however justly consider it as relating to the hour of death, which is to every man "the end of all things" here below. Death terminates our joys and honors, how elevated soever they may be—It puts a period also to our hopes and prospects, be they ever so bright and well-founded—It incapacitates us also for carrying into effect all our purposes and endeavors. We may have seen the vanity of earthly things, and have formed a resolution to withdraw our affections from them, and to prosecute with care the things belonging to our everlasting peace: we may have actually begun to execute our purposes: we may have begun to pay more attention to divine ordinances, than we have done in past times, and to read some religious books, and to cultivate an acquaintance with some pious characters, in hopes of getting instruction from them, and of furthering thereby our eternal interests: but death will cut short all these good beginnings, and leave us cause to bewail to all eternity that we had deferred the concerns of our souls so long. The very instant death comes, there is no more room for repentance; no more shall the tidings of salvation through a crucified Redeemer sound in our ears; no more will the Holy Spirit strive with us to bring us to God; the time for repentance is past; the offers of salvation are closed; the day of grace is come to an end; and nothing remains for the soul but to weep and bewail its folly in Hell forever and ever.
This period is near "at hand" to every one of us. If our life were prolonged to the age of Methuselah, the space would be only as the twinkling of an eye in comparison of eternity: but it is contracted to a very narrow span; nor can we be sure that it shall continue even to the expiration of the present day: so justly may it be said in reference to all of us, "The end of all things is at hand."
The consideration of this solemn truth may well prepare us for,
II. The exhortation grounded upon it.
1. Be sober.
Sobriety does not merely import temperance with relation to meat and drink, but moderation with regard to our desire of earthly things, or our enjoyment of them. Our minds are apt to be very strongly fixed on the things of time and sense; we are fascinated with the prospect of some pleasure, some honor, some emolument, for the attainment of which we labor day and night, and in the possession of which we are ready to say, "Soul, take your ease." But should we do thus, if we considered how transient our enjoyment of them will be? Should we not rather sit loose to the things of this world, seeking them as though we sought them not, and using them as though we used them not? Let us then cultivate this spirit. We need not on this account relax our diligence in our earthly vocations; for diligence is our bounden duty, and will consist very well with the devoutest frame, and most ardent exertions in the Lord's service: but "the affections must be set on things above, and not on things below."
2. Watch unto prayer.
Prayer is indispensably necessary for the salvation of the soul. Without prayer, we can obtain nothing from God, no pardon of sin, no strength for obedience, no preparation for eternity. If we live without prayer, we shall die without hope. But it is no easy matter to persevere in prayer. We can complain to a fellow-creature with ease and fluency: but the moment we attempt to express our wants in prayer to God, our minds wander to the very ends of the earth, and our mouths are shut before him. Any trifling occurrence is sufficient to divert us from prayer: and we postpone this duty from time to time, under the idea of having some more favorable opportunity for the performance of it. But would it be thus with us, if we were duly impressed with the shortness and uncertainty of time? Even the most abandoned malefactors will weep and pray when their execution is drawing near: and should not we, if we felt that "the end of all things is at hand?" Let us then watch against everything that may either divert us from prayer, or distract us in it: yes, let us watch that our prayers be such as our necessities require, and such as God will accept. Let them be offered up with constancy, with fervor, and with faith. And the nearer we approach to our latter end, the more "abundant let us be in supplication and thanksgivings."
To the elder part of this assembly one would think it should be needless to add anything on this subject: for they who have already lived out half their days, must feel (one would imagine) that their "time is short." But, alas! even the aged need to be reminded of this obvious truth, and to be stirred up to improve their few remaining hours. Yes, even they often become more worldly with their advancing years, and manifest as great a backwardness to spiritual duties as they did in the earlier part of their existence. If one of this character be present, may God impress upon his mind a sense of his guilt and folly, and awaken him from his slumbers, before it be too late!.
To the younger part, who dream of months and years to come, it is more obviously necessary to repeat the warning in the text. You are apt to think and say, "It is time enough yet for me to seek after God." But "have you made a covenant with death?" have you been assured that neither disease nor accident shall cut you off in the bloom of life? Look around you, and see how many of your own age are gone within your remembrance. And what if death had seized on you, instead of them; where had you been at this moment? I entreat you, if you have any regard for your own souls, consider this. Put the question to your conscience, and answer it faithfully in the sight of God: and then look at the direction given you by God himself: "Be sober," and moderate in your attachment to the things of time; and "watch unto prayer," that you "may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory."
The Duty and Office Of Christian Love
1 Peter 4:8. Above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
THE divine authority of our religion is fully established. Its external evidences demonstrate God to be its author; nor are its internal evidences less convincing. The tendency of Christianity is to assimilate us to God. All other religions have countenanced a vindictive spirit; but the religion of Jesus inculcates universal love. The New Testament lays the greatest stress upon this duty.
The injunction in the text proposes to our view,
I. The duty inculcated.
The term "charity" is to be understood of Christian love.
Many confine the sense of this term to almsgiving; but almsgiving is a very small part of what is implied in it. Charity includes the whole of our duty towards our neighbors.
This charity or love is our indispensable duty.
Though an old commandment, it is enjoined as a new one. Obedience to it is a sure test of our conversion: it is a good evidence of conversion to ourselves; it is a satisfactory proof to others also. A want of love manifests us to be in an unregenerate state.
It ought to be cordial and "fervent."
Worldly courtesy is but a faint image of Christian love. Love, if pure, and subordinate to God, cannot be too fervent. Our love of ourselves is the rule of love to others: our Lord's love to us is the pattern also of this duty.
We should "above all things" cultivate this disposition.
Love is the greatest of all Christian graces. If we attain to it, we fulfill the law of Christi. But if we be destitute of it, nothing else will profit us.
The children of God should maintain it "among themselves."
Benevolence is due even to our enemies. But there is an especial obligation in the saints to love each other; their union with Christ, and with each other, demands it.
To promote a more uniform attention to this duty, we will consider,
II. The argument with which it is enforced.
The Apostle's words may be considered as relating to,
1. The sins of others.
"To cover the sins" of others (extenuating what we cannot approve; concealing what we cannot but condemn; and throwing a veil over, not errors only, but "sins," yes, even "a multitude" of sins,) is the proper office of love. From this office we should not depart, unless (as in the exercise of the ministerial or magisterial office) the honor of God, and the good of society, require it. A just regard to the great duty of love is of incalculable importance: first, to ourselves; for how can we expect to have forbearance exercised towards us, if we refuse it to others? Next, to the church; for how can the church be edified, if its members do not walk together in love? And lastly, to the enemies of the church, who will not fail to harden themselves in their iniquities, if evil reports in the church, and consequent dissensions and animosities, afford them any occasion. But mutual forbearance will never be exercised as it ought, without a deeply-rooted principle of love. Therefore we should cultivate this principle in order to maintain a becoming conduct.
2. Our own sins.
We must not, for one moment, think that our love, however fervent, can merit the pardon of our sins. Yet our pardon may be, and certainly is, suspended on the exercise of this divine principle. To this the whole Scriptures bear witness; and the words in the original most naturally bear this sense. This sense of them also exactly accords with our Lord's description of the day of judgments. Moreover, in this view the Apostle's argument is far stronger than on the other construction of his words. Let it then operate as a strong incentive to mutual love; for "with what measure we mete, it shall be measured to us again.
1. How justly reprehensible are the generality of Christians!
There is a proneness in all to receive and propagate reports; but none are willing to have their own reputation blasted. Yet there are few who do not scatter defamation. Let us all be ashamed of and resist this sinful propensity; let us watch against every temptation or desire to indulge it; let us regulate our conduct by the law of love; let us study the Apostle's description of charity; and let us attend to the exhortation of John.
2. How worthy of acceptance is the Gospel of Christ!
A sense of Christ's love to us produces love to him. When we love Christ aright, we shall love all his members. This is the invariable effect wherever the Gospel prevails. The knowledge of our own sins will make us tender towards others. The forgiveness we have received will incline us to forgive others. The extent of Christ's love to us will be the ground of our love to our fellow-sinners. Let the Gospel then bring forth this fruit in our hearts and lives; we shall then experience the truth of that Divine assertion. In the exercise of love is the foretaste of Heaven itself.
Persecution for Christ's Sake
1 Peter 4:12–16. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy. If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you; for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters. Yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
THE quiet and repose which Christians enjoy at this day, may seem to render a discourse on the subject of persecution quite uninteresting. But the whole New Testament abounds with warnings to expect it, encouragements to endure it, and directions how to conduct ourselves under it: nor is there any intimation given that this state of things was to be confined to the first ages, when Christianity was new in the world; or that "the offence of the cross should ever cease." On the contrary, we are taught to expect, that "they who are born after the flesh only, will hate those who are born after the Spirit;" and that "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." The circumstance of Christianity having become the national religion, may justly be supposed to have abated somewhat of the fury of persecutors; while the protection afforded by the laws of the land keeps within bounds their hostility against those whom they hate for righteousness' sake. But I am not sure that much of our repose may not be ascribed to the low state of religion among us: and I cannot but think, that, if God were to pour out his Spirit upon us as he did on the primitive Church, and our light were to burn as bright as theirs, there would yet be found much the same rancor in the hearts of men against vital godliness now, as there was in former days: for there are not wanting at this hour many proofs of what men would do to suppress real piety, if the toleration accorded to us by the laws did not restrain them. At all events, we know not what trials we ourselves personally may be called to endure, even though the Church at large should still continue to enjoy tranquility: and for these we ought to be prepared. The words before us are admirably calculated to fortify our minds against all that at any time may come upon us; since, while they teach us to expect persecution for righteousness' sake, they show us,
I. In what light we should view it.
"We should not think it strange, as though some strange thing happened unto us."
God has seen fit to ordain that his people should be subjected to "fiery trials," not only for the discovery of their graces, but also for the improvement of them. To them he has given a new nature, altogether different from that which they brought into the world with them,—a nature, which for its excellence may be compared to gold: but there still remains in them much dross, which must be purged away: and, as gold is both ascertained and purified by the action of fire, so must these be tried and purified in the furnace of affliction. Of course, their persecutors have no such object in view: they seek only to suppress the piety that offends them: but God has other, and very opposite, ends to accomplish: He seeks their advancement in the divine life, and will suffer no heavier trial to assault them than what he has strengthened them to bear, and will overrule for their eternal welfare. True it is that, notwithstanding he has taught us to expect these things, we are ready to account them strange: we think it strange that such trials should come upon us, and from such quarters, and on us who have done so little to deserve them. But we should remember, that "the same trials are accomplished also in our brethren who are in the world;" and that "none have come upon us but what are common to man, nor any which God will not enable us to sustain," and under this conviction we should receive them as our appointed lot, and submit to them as dispensations ordained by God for our eternal good.
We should rather regard it as a ground of joy.
On this subject there is but one testimony throughout all the Holy Scriptures. Our blessed Lord says, "If you be persecuted for righteousness' sake, rejoice you, and leap for joy." Paul tells us, that the true Christian will "glory in tribulations," and that he himself actually "took pleasure in them" from the consideration that Christ's strength would thereby be displayed and glorified. James bids us "count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations," and gives it as his deliberate judgment, "We count them happy that endure." Peter, as this whole epistle informs us, had the same view of the subject: and therefore we feel warranted in saying to all of you, "If you be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are you."
In confirmation of this sentiment, I proceed to show,
II. What reason we have for viewing it in that light.
Certainly it appears strange and paradoxical that the most cruel persecution for Christ's sake should be considered as a ground of joy. But this view of it is just: for, when we suffer for Christ's sake,
1. We are made "partakers of Christ's sufferings."
We all know, that if any part of the human body suffer, whether the head or members, the whole participates in the pain. Now the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of his mystical body, and we are the members: and when he suffered on the cross, we suffered with him; as it is written, "We are crucified with Christ;" "we died with him;" "we were buried with him." So when we suffer, he suffers, as it were, with us: as he said, "Saul, Saul, why persecute you meg?" "In all our afflictions he is afflicted," and "he who touches us, touches the apple of his eye." As far as respects an atonement made for sin, he suffered alone: but, that we may be conformed to his image in all things, he has ordained that his Church should complete and "fill up the measure of his sufferings," so that, though in his own person he is beyond the reach of man's cruelty, he is still enduring much from it in the persons of his people. In truth, it is not on their own account that his people suffer any tiling. If we would but renounce our allegiance to him, the world would find no more occasion against us. It is for His sake that they hate us. They hate not us, but Christ in us: nor do they persecute us, but Christ in us. Therefore our sufferings are his; and, in enduring them, "we are truly partakers of his sufferings."
Now then I would ask, 'If when he drank the bitter cup even to the dregs, and left, as it were, but a drop for us to taste, shall we account it a hard matter to put it to our lips for his sake?' No, we should rather rejoice that an opportunity is afforded us of so testifying our love to him.
2. The Spirit of God descends into our bosom, to support and comfort us.
The Spirit is here called "The Spirit of glory and of God;" as being one with the Father, who is "the God of glory;" and one with the Son, who is "the Lord of glory." His office it is to descend and dwell with the saints, as their Comforter. And when we really suffer for Christ's sake, it is both an evidence that he does rest upon us, and a pledge that he will be with us in a more abundant measure. If the Holy Spirit had not already wrought faith in our hearts, and put somewhat of the image of Christ upon our souls, the world would have suffered us to rest in peace: for "if we were of the world, the world would love its own; but because we are not of the world, but Christ has chosen us out of the world, therefore the world hates us." But the enmity of the world on account of what we have received from this divine Agent, only serves to call down upon us yet richer communications, even such as shall be sufficient to bear us up under our trials, and to make us conquerors over all our enemies.
And shall not this reconcile us to sufferings? Or, should any trials be deprecated, which are productive of so great a benefit? If the loss of Christ's bodily presence was a proper ground of joy to the Disciples, because of the presence of the comforter, who would come to them in his stead, much more may any loss or any trials be welcomed by us, if they may but lead to a more abundant effusion of this divine Spirit upon our souls.
3. God is particularly glorified in us.
Doubtless, on the part of the persecutors, God is dishonored and blasphemed; but on the part of the sufferers he is glorified. Behold a man enduring sufferings for righteousness' sake: what does he say to all who behold him? In respect of words, he may be silent, as a lamb before its shearers: but by his actions, he proclaims in accents that cannot be misunderstood, 'My Lord is worthy of all this: never can I show my love to him sufficiently: if I had a thousand lives, they would be well disposed of in his service: I am ready to bear anything for him; and am so far from regretting that my love is thus put to the test, that I am thankful for it, inasmuch as it gives me an opportunity of evincing my sense of his excellency, and the ardor of my love towards him.'
In another view, too, his sufferings advance the glory of God; because they show how powerful that grace must be, which enables a poor feeble worm to bear them, yes, and to rejoice and glory in them. Many persecutors have been perfectly amazed at the patience of the saints under the most cruel torments that could be inflicted on them: and have been led by the very conduct of the sufferers, not only to embrace the principles which were so mighty in operation, but even to subject themselves to the same torments which they themselves had inflicted upon them.
How does divine grace triumph on such occasions as these! And who would not be willing to suffer, if only Christ might be so magnified, and the efficacy of his grace be so displayed?
4. Our eternal happiness is augmented.
Soon will that Savior who once died upon the cross come again in his glory to judge the world. Then will he gather together his elect from every quarter of the world; and bestow on them that recompense of reward, to which, while suffering for his sake, they had looked forward. He had told them beforehand, that "if they suffered with him, they should also be glorified together." He had told them, that their light and momentary afflictions should work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Even while they were in this life, he had given them an hundred-fold for all that they had lost or endured for his sake: but then will be the time for their "full reward."
Tell me then, I pray you, Will Moses in that day regret that he had "esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt?" Or will those feel any regret, who, "when tortured, would not accept deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection?" Will any of the Apostles regret that they sealed the truth with their blood? Or will any of you regret that you were "faithful unto death, when God shall put upon your heads the crown of life?" No, one moment of that joy will far overbalance whole years of pain. What then will not be our triumph through all eternity?
But, as this subject may be misapplied, let me show you,
III. What we should especially guard against, in relation to it.
We must not bring trials on ourselves by any misconduct of our own.
It is possible enough, that a wild enthusiast may fancy himself at liberty to disregard all human laws, and, while suffering for the violation of them, may conceive himself to be bearing the cross of Christ. Even war itself has been waged, under the idea of its being a service acceptable to God: and within our own memory has a spirit of insubordination and rebellion been too lightly cherished under the cloak of religion. But when persons reap the just reward of such conduct, so far are they from honoring God, that they greatly dishonor him, and expose religion itself to hatred and contempt. The being "a busy-body in other men's matters," is no uncommon character among those who profess religion; and who indulge an assuming, prying, officious spirit, under the idea of rendering a service to God and man. We may also yet more commonly see among professors a neglect of their own proper calling; an intrusion into the callings of others; a substitution of services which do not belong to them, in the place of others which are proper to their situation; an impatience of reproof; an unfitting pertness towards their superiors; and a self-will, that knows no bounds. Ah, brethren! if you suffer for such conduct as this, think not that you are to expect any recompense at the hands of God: the cross which you are called to bear is not Christ's, but your own: and what is inflicted on you by man is only a prelude of a yet sorer punishment that shall be inflicted on you by God, even by that God whom you profess to serve, but whose name you dishonor, and whose displeasure you incur.
But, if we suffer really as Christians, we may rejoice in all that we endure.
Our enemies may think that they load us with disgrace: but shame in such a cause is no shame: it is honor: and we may take it up, and bind it on us as a diadem. The Apostles, when imprisoned and scourged for the truth's sake, "went out from their persecutors, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ." And thus may we do, turning the very indignities that are cast upon us into an occasion of praise to God. Thus "out of the eater we shall bring forth meat, and out of the strong we shall bring forth sweetness."
Two hints, as rising from this subject, I would beg leave to suggest:
1. In embracing religion, be deliberate.
Religion, sooner or later, will subject you to trials: for our Lord has plainly warned us, that, "if we will be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him." He tells us farther, that, "if we hate not father and mother, and even life itself, for his sake, we cannot be his disciples." Then, before we profess ourselves his people, we should "count the cost," we should consider, whether we are willing to "part with all for the pearl of great price." To what trials we may be subjected, we know not; but we must be prepared for the worst. For I have no hesitation in saying, that it were better never to follow Christ at all, than to follow him for a season, and then turn back from him: "It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn away from it: for the last end of such a man is worse than his beginning."
2. In maintaining it, be firm.
If persecution arise for righteousness' sake, you must not be thinking how you may escape it, so much as how you may glorify God under it. I mean not to say, that, "if persecuted in one city, you may not flee to another;" for that liberty was conceded by our Lord himself to his Disciples: but this I mean; that you should not for a moment think of conciliating your enemies by any sinful concession. Your duty to God must be paramount to every other consideration. Your great concern must be, to approve yourselves faithful to him. The Hebrew Youths with the fiery furnace in their view, and Daniel in expectation of the den of lions, thought of nothing but their duty to their God. So you must fear God, and God only. And, if it please God that you should be called to martyrdom itself, be content to "go through much tribulation in your way to the kingdom;" and to ascend to Heaven in a chariot of fire.
The End of Unbelievers
1 Peter 4:17. What shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?
MANY are the troubles of the righteous: and though their afflictions are not always penal, yet they are for the most part to be considered as paternal chastisements, and as the judgments which God inflicts on his own household with a view to their advancement in faith and holiness. On the other hand, the enemies of God often triumph, and revel in a fullness of all earthly enjoyments. But the intelligent Christian will see in these dispensations the certainty of a future retribution, when the wicked shall receive the just reward of their wickedness, and he himself be exalted to an inconceivable state of bliss. He will argue thus: If God so afflict his children in the day of his mercy, how will he punish his enemies in the day of his wrath. And, if he so prosper his enemies and load them with benefits in this valley of tears, what prosperity and happiness must he have reserved for his friends in the regions of glory! If crowns and kingdoms be the portion of many who disregard and despise him, what shall be the inheritance of those who honor and obey him!
Such is the Apostle's mode of arguing in our text; where, speaking of the trials sustained by Christians, he says, If God's paternal chastisements be so severe, what must his vindictive judgments be? If judgment first begin at the house of God, what must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?
To impress this solemn consideration upon our minds, we shall show,
I. Who they are that obey not the Gospel.
To ascertain this, it will be proper to state briefly what the Gospel requires.
The Gospel supposes men to be in a state of guilt and misery, obnoxious to the wrath of God, and incapable of delivering themselves from it. It proposes to them a remedy of God's appointment: it sets forth Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior; and declares that sinners of every description may be washed in his blood, and renewed by his Spirit. But, if we will not apply to him by faith, and thankfully accept his offered benefits, it dooms us to destruction under the aggravated guilt of despising, and trampling under foot the Son of God. The commission which our Lord gave to his disciples, and the answer given by Paul to the awakened jailer, abundantly confirm this view of the Gospel, and show that a cordial acceptance of Christ as our only Lord and Savior is the sum and substance of a Christian's duty.
According to this statement, very many will be found disobedient to the Gospel:
1. They who neglect Christ altogether.
This is so obvious a truth that the mention of it seems needless and absurd: but experience proves that the most abandoned sinners, and most avowed infidels, are often insensible of the guilt which they contract. Be it known however, that their excuses or objections will avail them nothing in the day of judgment: their whole lives were one continued act of disobedience to the Gospel; and they will most assuredly be numbered among the enemies of their incarnate God. Their rejection of him, whether in principle or practice, will be a decisive evidence of their guilt.
2. They who unite something else with him as a foundation for their hope.
The Gospel requires us to renounce all dependence on our own works. However good our works be, they must never for one moment be considered as justifying us before God, either in whole or in part. In Christ alone must be all our hope; and if we attempt to unite anything of ours with his perfect righteousness, we shall not only not add to our security, but shall altogether invalidate all which Christ himself has done for us. Paul asserts this in the plainest terms; and from the fullest conviction of its truth desired to be found in Christ, clad with his righteousness, and his only.
3. They who, while they profess to follow Christ, dishonor him by their conduct.
Many there are who with apparent zeal cry, Lord, Lord, who yet are far from doing the things which he commands. Many, alas! "profess to know him, but in their works deny him," they are observant of outward duties, but inattentive to their spirit and temper: instead of being meek and lowly, patient and forgiving, and solicitous only to honor God, they are proud and passionate, covetous and worldly, and studious rather to be thought Christians than really to deserve the name. Let such know that they "amidst all their appearances of religion deceive themselves, and their religion is vain." By neglecting to walk as Christ walked, they disobey the Gospel, as much as if they rejected him altogether.
To awaken such from their slumbers, we proceed to show,
II. What their end shall be.
The peculiar manner in which the Apostle speaks of their "end," intimates that it will be dreadful,
1. Beyond expression.
In the text Peter infers from the trials, which God suffers to come upon believers here, the far greater miseries that shall be endured by unbelievers hereafter. But his very mode of suggesting this inference shows, that the two states could scarcely admit of any comparison: for what are any transient pains of body inflicted by the most ingenious cruelty of man, when compared with the eternal torments both of soul and body, which will be inflicted on the wicked by the hand of an incensed God? Paul institutes a similar comparison, and like Peter, leaves our imagination to supply what no language could possibly express. There are indeed terms used in Scripture to represent to us the misery of the damned. They are represented as "cast into a lake of fire and brimstone," "where the worm of an accusing conscience dies not, and the fire of God's wrath is not quenched;" they "weep and wail and gnash their teeth;" and the "smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever." But, awful as these expressions are, they convey no adequate idea of the misery sustained by those who have perished in unbelief: we must say of that, as Paul says of the things he heard and saw in the third heavens, that it is unutterable.
2. Beyond a doubt.
The Apostle appeals to our own consciences for the truth of the inference which he suggests. He says, in effect, What must the state of unbelievers be? Can it be the same with that of obedient believers? Will God put no difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not? Has not the Scripture plainly declared the end of those who disobey the Gospel? And are we not constrained to acknowledge the equity of that sentence, which the despisers of Christ are taught to expect? Shall an angel from Heaven be accursed, if he presume to preach any other Gospel, and shall we escape with impunity, if we reject this? Our wishes are doubtless in opposition to the declarations of God; but in our judgment we must approve of them; and we shall surely be silent in the day that they shall be enforced, even though we ourselves be the unhappy monuments of God's displeasure.
We may learn from hence,
1. How to judge of our state before God.
Mere morality is by no means a sufficient criterion whereby to judge of our state: we may be free from gross violations of God's law, and yet be far from yielding obedience to the Gospel. Let us then inquire whether we be obeying the Gospel by a simple dependence upon Christ, and by a spirit and temper suited to our profession? This is the test to which we must bring ourselves, since we shall be tried by it at the last day. In vain will be our morality, if Christ be not our only foundation; and in vain will be our professed adherence to Christ, if we do not adorn the Gospel by a holy conversation. Let us then examine ourselves, that we may know beforehand what our end shall be.
2. The importance of considering our latter end.
We are ready enough to contemplate the circumstances to which we look forward in the present life; but O, how backward are we to reflect upon our latter end! Yet the events of this life are not worthy of a thought in comparison of eternity. I pray you, brethren, consider how fast your end is approaching, and what it is likely to be, an eternity of bliss in Heaven, or an eternity of misery in Hell? O, lose not an hour in preparing for your great account! and be careful so to pass through things temporal, that you finally lose not the things eternal.
The Difficulty of Salvation
1 Peter 4:18. If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
EARNESTNESS in the concerns of religion is often thought unnecessary; but the attainment of salvation is by no means easy. This appears from the representations which the Scriptures give of religion; a race, a warfare, etc.
The difficulties implied in these metaphors may well alarm the careless. With this view Peter suggests the awful query in the text.
I. His assumption.
The Apostle did not mean to express a doubt, but rather to assume a position which he deemed incontrovertible. The point he assumes is, that the righteous are saved with difficulty.
The truth of this position will appear, if it be considered that the righteous are not saved without,
God's people are for the most part poor and afflicted. They have much to endure on account of their religion; and trials are for the most part necessary to their growth in grace. If they were without affliction of some kind, they would have reason to doubt whether they were God's children indeed. Trials are to them, as the furnace to the gold, to purge them from their dross, and to fit them for the service of their God.
None have made such high attainments, but they still have conflicts to maintain with Satan, and their indwelling corruptions: it is by these that God keeps them humble. The images by which vital religion is set forth (as running, wrestling, fighting,) sufficiently attest the truth of my position. As long as two principles remain within us, our conflicts must remain.
Who can get to Heaven without them, or even do anything that is good without them? The aid we need, is such as nothing but Omnipotence can supply: if ever we be kept at all, it must be by the power of God himself.
A very slight view of the fact assumed will suffice to show us the reasonableness of,
II. The appeal he founds upon it.
The appeal is stronger than any mere assertion, inasmuch as it makes every man a judge in his own cause. It clearly intimates, that the perdition of the ungodly is,
1. Most certain.
The ungodly, no less than the godly, will be summoned to the judgment-seat of Christ; but the two will be separated as sheep from the goats, and widely different portions will be assigned unto them. How can it be supposed to be otherwise, when the difference of their characters is considered?—If Hell be not an abode fit for the righteous, much less is Heaven a proper residence for the ungodly.
2. Most reasonable.
We confidently appeal even to the ungodly themselves. If such troubles as are often inflicted on the righteous be permitted by God as the beneficial purgations of his friends, what shall be inflicted by God as the vindictive chastisements of his enemies? If such things come on his friends in this state of probation, what shall come on his enemies at the time appointed for final retribution? If such be the visitations experienced by his friends in the day of his mercy, what must his enemies expect in the day of his wrath? Truly I shall wonder if the conscience of any man be either so blind or so obdurate, as not to feel the force of this appeal. If there be such a hardened sinner, let him consult, and provide an answer to, other similar appeals to Holy Writ—To "die without mercy" is bad enough; but there is a "much sorer punishment" awaiting his unhappy soul.
1. How desirable it is to ascertain your true character.
Surely it is no difficult matter to ascertain to which of the two aforementioned classes you belong. Surely you may soon learn whether you are living in the daily habit of penitence, and faith, and unreserved obedience to your God. If God be true, your eternal state shall correspond with your character, whatever it may be.
2. What is that line of conduct which common prudence demands.
If there were no future state, you might go on in your own ways without much concern; but if repentance, faith, and obedience are essential constituents of the character of the righteous, say, whether it be wise to disregard, or even to defer them? The world may deride a life of piety as folly; but it is true wisdom: yes, "the fear of the Lord is the very beginning of wisdom." Let every one then seek that righteousness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Advice to the Persecuted Or Tempted
1 Peter 4:19. Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
GOD has mercifully engaged to save his people at the last. They may however meet with many severe conflicts in their way. Nor are they to expect to he saved but with great difficulty. Nevertheless they may safely commit themselves to God, in hope of a happy issue out of all their trials. Hence the Apostle suggests, in a way of inference, the advice in the text.
We propose to show,
I. What Christians must expect to suffer.
Though all are not called to bear the cross in the same degree, yet all should be prepared to suffer,
1. In their reputation.
That "fear of God" which the Scriptures represent to be "the beginning of wisdom," the world considers as the summit of folly. However wise, learned, or discreet any man may be, he cannot escape the imputation of weakness or enthusiasm, if he will "follow the Lord fully." If our Lord and Master was called Beelzebub, his servants can expect no better name.
2. In their property.
In former times the saints have frequently "suffered the loss of all things," nor is it uncommon now for friends, and even parents, to withdraw their kindness from godly persons on account of their religion. Who does not know that eminent piety is a bar, rather than a help, to promotion? "They then who would be Christ's disciples, must forsake all, and follow him."
3. In their liberty and life.
Through the tender mercy of our God we are protected by the laws of the land: but none can tell what changes may yet arise: multitudes even in this kingdom have suffered death for Christ's sake; and, whether called to this trial or not, we should be prepared for it.
To reconcile us to these dispositions, we proceed to show,
II. Why it is the will of God that we should suffer.
God is pleased to permit it,
1. For the trial of our faith.
God can discern our graces, though we should have no opportunity to exercise them; but, if they be not called forth into act, neither have we the comfort of them, nor he the glory: hence God permits "the fiery trial to try us," that he may discover both to ourselves and others "what great things he has done for us."
2. For the advancement of our graces.
Our graces almost invariably languish when our outward circumstances are easy; but in seasons of difficulty they put forth themselves with strength: though Jesus needed no such stimulus, yet even he was "made perfect through sufferings;" and it is for the accomplishment of the same end, that God has made our road to lie "through much tribulation."
3. For the manifestation of his own glory.
The patience of the saints is a ground of astonishment to the unbelieving world; and the supports which God administers to them fills their hearts with gratitude towards him. But what bursts of praise will resound from the myriads of his redeemed, when all the wonders of his love shall be universally and completely known!
Satisfied with these appointments of the Deity, let us inquire,
III. What our conduct should be when called to suffer.
The best of men may be brought, as it were, "to their wit's end."
But the advice in the text is the most proper that can be given.
1. Let us "commit our souls to God's care and keeping."
We must not attempt to stand in our own strength: nothing less than God's wisdom and power can defeat the conspiracy that is formed against us: we should make him therefore the manager of our cause, and "the keeper" of our souls.
2. Let us at the same time persist "in well-doing."
We must neither be irritated to do evil, nor deterred from doing good. The more we are persecuted for the sake of Christ, the more studious we should be "to put our enemies to silence by well-doing," the very efforts of the enemy to extinguish our light should cause it to shine the brighter.
3. Let us, above all, confide in God "as a faithful Creator."
God has promised to "keep the feet of his saints;" and he will perform it: we should suffer nothing to rob us of this confidence: if we "trust firmly in him, we shall be like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved."
1 Peter 5:5. Be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.
AS words are nothing more than sounds whereby to convey ideas, it may seem of little importance what words are used, provided that the ideas annexed to them are sufficiently distinct. But I conceive, that the adopting of a word which was in use among the unenlightened heathen, and continuing to use it as they did, when from the superior light of Christianity, we know that all the sentiments and feelings originally annexed to it were bad, has a direct tendency to counteract the Gospel, and to perpetuate the darkness of heathenism in the land. I refer here to the word pride; which is frequently used in common conversation, and at the bar, and in the senate, yes and even in the pulpit too, in a good sense; as "a just pride," and "an honest pride." But I know no passage of Scripture that sanctions the feelings which are associated with that term: or, if the term be so explained as to convey nothing but what is consistent with Christianity, still I conceive that such an use of it is highly inexpedient, because it tends to foster in the mind an approbation of sentiments which are in direct opposition to the morality of the Gospel. Humility is the grace which alone becomes the Christian moralist; and the cherishing of any feeling contrary to humility, will, as the Apostle informs us in my text, expose us to God's heaviest displeasure.
In confirmation of this, I will endeavor to unfold,
I. The duty here enjoined.
Humility is not a mere insulated grace, if I may so speak, like patience, or meekness, or any other virtue, but a feeling which pervades the whole man, and is called forth into exercise with every grace. Humility is that to the Christian which holiness is to the Deity. Holiness is not a distinct attribute of the Deity, like justice, or mercy, or power, but a perfection that is blended with all the other attributes, and is the crown and glory of them all. So humility is the warp in the Christian's loom: and all other graces, whether of a lively or somber hue, are the woof, by which the piece is diversified: but from beginning to end, humility pervades it all. On this account, I must speak of humility in a large and extended view, and notice it in all its actings, whether towards God or man.
But there is another reason why this grace must be thus extensively considered; namely, that the Apostle himself here speaks of it in this comprehensive view. If we look at the words which precede my text, we shall find that humility is spoken of as exercised towards men: but in the words immediately following my text, it is connected with our duty to God: "All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time."
Let us then notice this grace,
1. As exercised towards God.
Here it must begin. We cannot have one spark of real humility until we are abased before God, as guilty, helpless, and undone creatures, who have no hope but in the tender mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We must, as far as respects all hope in ourselves, feel ourselves in the very condition of the fallen angels, whose sin we have followed, and whose punishment we are doomed to share. Indeed, indeed, this is our very state, whether we know it or not: and it becomes us to seek the knowledge of it, and to live under a sense of it every day, and all the day long. We should never appear either before God or man in any other dress than this. It was the clothing of holy Job when in his most perfect state: and so far ought we to be from putting it off because God is reconciled towards us, that a sense of our acceptance with him through Christ should operate as an additional motive for making it the one continual habit of our minds. Incessantly should we lie low before him in dust and ashes, and rely altogether upon "his mercy to pardon us, and his grace to help us in every time of need."
2. As exercised towards men.
I forbear to mention any other exercises of this grace towards God, in order that I may keep the subject as simple and intelligible as I can. But in viewing its exercises towards man, I must of necessity diversify it somewhat more. Its chief actings will be found to consist in the following things: we must regard ourselves as the lowest of all; and be willing to be treated by others as the lowest of all; and gladly execute the meanest offices, as the lowest of all.
We must regard ourselves as the lowest of all; "esteeming others better than ourselves," and "preferring them in honor before ourselves," and being ready in all places, and on all occasions, to "take the lowest place." It is not indeed necessary that we should accuse ourselves of sins which we have not committed, or deny the superiority of virtue to vice: but we should have such a sense of the peculiar advantages we have enjoyed, and the infinite obligations we lie under, and the consequent aggravations that have attended the many evils which we have committed, that we should account ourselves "less than the least of all saints," yes, the very "chief of sinners."
Nor must we be offended if we be treated by others as deserving of this character. It is only from pride and a conceit of something good in us, that we are induced to lay to heart the contempt and ignominy that are cast upon us. If we are sincere in abhorring ourselves, it will be a small matter to us that we are abhorred by others. David deserved not the reproaches of his wife Michal: but, when he heard them, instead of being moved with indignation against her, he meekly replied, "I will be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in my own sight." It was but a small matter to the holy Apostles, that they were considered "as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things," they knew that they deserved nothing but wrath and indignation at the hands of God; and, having obtained mercy of the Lord, they cared not what treatment they met with at the hands of men. To be rendered conformable to our Divine Master in the bitterest reproaches, or the most ignominious death, will, if we be truly humble, be a matter rather of joy and gratitude than of mourning and complaint.
At the same time we must be willing to take on ourselves the lowest offices. To become "the servant of all" must be our highest ambition. Even the Lord of Glory himself, in the days of his flesh, came not to be ministered unto, but to minister: and this he did, even to the "washing of his disciples' feet," yes, though he was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." "This is the mind that should be in us," and this is the example which, as far as circumstances will admit of it, we should follow.
Here is the perfection of humility: and this is the grace which every one of us should be putting on from day to day.
Nothing can more strongly mark the importance of this duty, than,
II. The considerations with which it is enforced.
The declaration, that "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble," is cited from the book of Proverbs: and, that it deserves especial attention, is evident from this; that James, as well as Peter, adduces it for the warning and instruction of the Catholic Church.
1. "God resists the proud."
He does so: he abhors the very persons of the proud: "they are an abomination to him," he perfectly scorns them: and "knows them afar off," as objects whom he disdains to look upon.
He will not hear any prayer that they may offer up. See the Pharisee and the Publican. You would imagine that a man who could make such appeals to God, respecting his manifold and self-denying services, should surely find acceptance at the throne of grace; while a man so conscious of his vileness as the Publican was, and with so little to say in his own behalf, should, comparatively at least, be disregarded. But the very reverse was the case; for "the publican went down to his house justified rather than the other," and this is declared to be the universal rule of God's procedure; for that "every one who exalts himself shall be abased; but he, and he only, that humbles himself, shall be exalted."
Nor will God communicate to such persons any spiritual blessing. Instead of drawing them to himself, "he will scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He will fill the hungry with good things, but the rich he will send empty away." Their "esteeming themselves to be rich and increased in goods, and to have need of nothing, when they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked," renders them perfectly disgusting in his sight: and the higher they are in their own estimation, the more he nauseates and abhors them.
But this is not all; for he will surely fight against them, to bring them down. Nebuchadnezzar from his own experience attested, that "those who walk in pride, God is able to abase;" and he might with truth have added also, is determined to abase. For the Prophet Isaiah has plainly warned us, that "the lofty looks of men shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down; and the Lord alone shall be exalted: for the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low."
Now, I pray you, let this consideration be duly weighed, in order that you may with zeal and earnestness address yourselves to the duty that is here inculcated. If you bring not a broken and contrite spirit before God, and if you exercise not a spirit of meekness and lowliness before men, think not that God will ever look with delight upon you, or acknowledge himself as your friend: for assuredly he is, and will be, your enemy, and will sooner or later resent the dishonor which you do unto him. He may not inflict on you such judgments as he did on Nebuchadnezzar or on Herod: if he only leave you to yourselves, you will soon find what an evil and bitter thing it is to cherish such a disposition in your hearts: for, as "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," you may expect the effects of a spiritual dereliction; you may expect, that, "being lifted up with pride, you will fall into the condemnation of the devil."
2. He "gives grace unto the humble."
What will he not do for those who are of an humble and contrite spirit? If there were but one such object in the whole universe, God would look through all the shining ranks of angels that surround his throne, and fix his eyes on him: he would even come down to him, and dwell with him; yes, and dwell with him for the express purpose of comforting and reviving his drooping soul. If he offered up a prayer, God would hear and answer it: if, on any sudden emergency, he only poured forth a cry, God would attend to it, and not forget it: and if there were only a desire in his heart, even that should be noted, in order to satisfy and fulfill it. See this exemplified in King Josiah. God had determined to destroy Jerusalem: but because Josiah was of an humble spirit, he would first take him to himself, and not suffer him to witness the calamities which were coming upon his nation: "Because your heart was tender, and you did humble yourself before God, when you heard his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humble yourself before me, and did rend your clothes, and weep before me, I have even heard you also, says the Lord." See it yet more strongly illustrated in the case of the most wicked man that perhaps ever existed upon the face of the earth, the man that made the very streets of Jerusalem to run down with the blood of innocents, and set up his idols in the very House of God: see it, I say, in the case of King Manasseh; of whom it is said, "When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled him greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him," behold! of this man it is said, "God was entreated of him, and heard his supplication."
Say now, whether here be not encouragement enough to seek humility? Find an humble person to whom God ever refused anything. You cannot. A humble person may be "cast down for a time; but he shall soon be lifted up: for God will save the humble person."
What shall I then add to these considerations?
You need no other inducement to work either upon your hopes or fears. To have God your enemy, determined to "resist you," would be the greatest evil that could befall you: but to have him your friend, pledged to supply you with all the blessings of grace and glory, would be the summit of human bliss. Commending then this alternative to your devoutest meditations, I would say to all of you, in the animated language of the prophet, "Awake, awake, put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city." There is nothing so "becoming to one of God's elect, as humbleness of mind," nor any ornament he can wear so pleasing to his God. Come then, beloved, and clothe yourselves with humility; and wear it so at all times, that you may be known by it, as a man is by his accustomed dress: so shall "God be glorified in you," and all who behold you be compelled to "acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth."
The Duty of Casting Our Care On God
1 Peter 5:7. Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you.
INEXPERIENCED Christians are generally partial in their views of religion. They often exalt one duty, to the neglect, if not the exclusion of another: but a proficiency in the divine life will discover itself by the united exercise of the various, and apparently opposite, graces. Faith will not exclude fear, nor meekness fortitude. Every grace will be limited and tempered by some other. The soul must be humbled before God in dust and ashes: yet should it rely on him with most implicit confidence.
I. The duty of Christians.
Christians have learned "not to seek great things for themselves." Hence they are free from the corroding cares of avarice and ambition.
But they still have many grounds of care.
They cannot but feel some concern respecting their bodily wants: the casualties of life may also occasion some uneasiness; but they have other cares far more weighty and important: they see many dishonoring their holy profession: they feel within themselves also "an evil heart of unbelief; nor are they ignorant of Satan's devices to overthrow them. Moreover they frequently anticipate future evils; and tremble, lest in the day of adversity they should faint. Thus do they torment themselves with anxious and desponding fears.
It is their duty, however, to "cast their care on God."
To cast their care upon any creature would be fruitless, and it would involve them in the deepest guilt. God alone is able to sustain their burden: on him they are commanded to cast it: they must do so in the exercise of faith and prayer; nor are any cares whatever to be excepted, "Cast all your care," etc.: none are so small but they shall be regarded, none so great but they shall be alleviated.
There is a backwardness in many, to comply with this duty.
II. Their encouragement to perform it.
God extends his care to the whole creation; but in a more especial manner cares for his people.
He conducted the Jews through the wilderness: he interposed for them in all their dangers: he supplied their every want. Thus, though less visibly, he still regards those who trust in him. He watches over them for good: he limits and restrains all their adversaries: he sympathizes with them in all their afflictions: he imparts to them all temporal and spiritual blessings: he hears and answers all their supplications: he accounts them his most inestimable treasure: he communes with them as his sons and daughters: he takes upon him the management of all their concerns.
What encouragement does this afford us to trust in him!
Our Guardian and Protector is infinitely wise.
He knows what trials we stand in need of: he can suit all the circumstances of them to our necessities: he can overrule them for our eternal benefit.
He is possessed of almighty power.
There is no difficulty from which he cannot extricate, nor duty which he cannot enable us to discharge. Should we, for whom such wisdom and power are exercised, be anxious?
Moreover he is good and gracious.
What innumerable blessings has he already bestowed upon us! He has even given his own Son to die for us. What then can we have to fear, if we trust in him?
Above all, he is a faithful God.
He has promised seasonable protection and strength. And is not his word a sure ground of confidence? Surely then we should be filled with consolation rather than with care.
1. How needful is it that all should acquaint themselves with God!
Gaiety and dissipation may bear up the spirit in prosperity; but God alone can comfort us in adversity. At the hour of death we shall all need Divine support. Let the careless then begin to reflect upon their state: let them provide a refuge against the day of trouble: let them follow that beneficial advice.
2. How happy would Christians he if they rightly enjoyed their privileges!
It is their privilege to be "without carefulness." If they trusted in God as they ought, nothing could disturb them. Hence that exhortation to joy in God. Let the afflicted saints then commit themselves to him: let them know that duty is theirs, but events are his: let them, in the face of all difficulties, adopt the words of Joshua—: let them, with Hezekiah, repose themselves on God.
The Means of Defeating Satan's Malice
1 Peter 5:8, 9. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith.
THERE are many who deny the influences of the Holy Spirit. No wonder therefore if the agency of Satan be called in question. But there is abundant proof in the Scriptures that Satan exercises a power over the minds of men. Peter had learned this truth by bitter experience.
In this view the caution he gives us is worthy of particular attention:
I. The malice of Satan.
Satan is the great adversary of mankind. It was he who caused the fall of our first parents. He has exerted a similar influence over all their descendants. He still maintains his enmity against the seed of the woman. He is justly compared to "a roaring lion."
He is subtle.
The lion prowls with subtlety in search of prey: this is noticed in David's description of wicked men. Satan also uses many devices to destroy souls. He suits his temptations to us with astonishing craft: he draws us into his snare before we are aware of his designs. To be acquainted with his devices is a most eminent and useful part of Christian knowledge.
He is active.
The lion ranges far and wide in search of his prey; and Satan "walks to and fro throughout the earth," he ceases not from his exertions day or night. He is the more diligent as knowing that his time is limited. He has legions of emissaries acting in concert with him. If at any time he suspend his attacks, it is but for a season, that he may return afterwards with greater advantage.
He is cruel.
The lion little regards the agonies which he occasions; nor has Satan any compassion for the souls which he destroys. The savage animal kills to satisfy the calls of nature; but our adversary reaps no benefit from the destruction of men. His exertions serve only to increase his own guilt and misery; yet is he insatiable in his thirst for our condemnation.
He is powerful.
Feeble is the resistance of a lamb against the voracious lion: still more impotent are men before "the God of this world." Satan, has a limited power over the elements themselves. The ungodly are altogether subjected to his will; nor would the saints have the smallest power to resist him, if God should deliver them into his hands.
If we believe this representation of Satan's malice, we cannot but desire to know,
II. The means of defeating it.
Our adversary, though great, is not invincible. There is one stronger than he, that can overcome him; and God has prescribed means whereby we also may vanquish him:
An undue attachment to the things of time and sense gives him a great advantage over us. He will not fail to assault us on our weak side; but a deadness to the world will in some measure disarm him. He prevailed not against our Lord, because he found no irregular affection in him; nor could he so easily overcome us if we disregarded earthly things. A contempt of life has been a principal mean whereby the saints and martyrs in all ages have triumphed over him.
Unwatchfulness, even in a victorious army, exposes it to defeat: much more must it subject us to the power of our subtle enemy. Peter had experienced its baneful effects. He had been warned of Satan's intention to assault him. He had been commanded to pray lest he should fall by the temptation; but he slept when he should have been praying. He stands in this respect, like Lot's wife, a monument to future generations; but vigilance on our part will counteract the designs of Satan. The armed Christian, watching unto prayer, must be victorious.
The timid Christian falls into a thousand snares. The only way to obtain a victory is, to fight manfully; and this is the duty of every follower of Christ. We must never give way to Satan. We are called to wrestle and contend with him; nor shall our resistance be in vain.
Unbelief is a powerful instrument in the hands of Satan. He excites it in us that he may turn us from the faith: we must therefore hold fast the doctrines of faith. We should not suffer ourselves to be moved from the hope of the Gospel: this is our anchor whereby we must outride the storm. We must also steadfastly exercise the grace of faith. This is the weapon whereby we overcome the world; and by this shall we triumph over Satan himself.
Let not the ungodly despise this adversary; but let them seek deliverance from him through the Gospel; and let the godly be continually on their guard against him, so shall they experience that promised blessing.
God's Goodness an Encouragement To Prayer
1 Peter 5:10, 11. But the God of all grace, who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
AMONG the various testimonies of affection which faithful ministers will give to their people, that of praying for them is the most unequivocal, and most important. And in this the Apostles eminently distinguish themselves in all their epistles. In the petitions before us, we behold the glowing zeal of Peter, studious to exalt the honor of his God, and to promote to the utmost the welfare of the saints.
His words scarcely admit of any profitable distribution: we shall therefore make some observations on them, in the order in which they lie.
The first thing that calls for our attention is, the honorable appellation he gives to God.
God is the only fountain of all grace. There is none in the creature, which has not been derived from him. But in him is "all grace;" converting, comforting, sanctifying, establishing grace. He is "the God of" all grace: all kinds of it, and all degrees, are in him. Whatever be the grace that we severally want, we shall find an inexhaustible fullness of it treasured up in him. And, if we ask of him in terms of the most extensive import, and then stretch our imaginations far beyond what it is in the power of language to express, it still will be true, that "he gives more grace;" and gives it freely too, according to his own sovereign will, even to the very chief of sinners.
Next we have an account of what God has done for his believing people.
God has "called them," not merely by the outward ministry of his Gospel, (for that he has given to thousands who reject him,) but by the inward operation of his grace. Nor is it to any common mercy that he has called them, but to "his glory," yes, to the "eternal" enjoyment of it. What a stupendous act of grace!—Yet this is greatly heightened by the means which he has used for the communication of this blessing. He has sent it by the ministry, (by the ministry, do I say?—hear, O you heavens, and be astonished, O earth!) He imparts it through the mediation of "Christ Jesus," his only dear Son.
O that this glorious description of the Deity might always be remembered by us in our addresses at the throne of Grace!
The petitions which the Apostle offered on behalf of the saints, were exactly such as their state required.
They were now enduring "a great fight of afflictions," and, in order that they might persevere unto the end, it was necessary that they should be "established" in the faith, "strengthened" in the profession, and "settled" in the enjoyment of the Gospel. For these things therefore the Apostle prayed; knowing, by bitter experience, that they must come from God, the only Author of such inestimable blessings. For these things also should our prayers be offered: and the consideration of what God is in himself, and has done for us, may well encourage us to offer the most enlarged petitions. If we "open our mouth ever so wide, we need not doubt but that he will fill it."
His prayers, however, were qualified with a very necessary concession.
God has not given us any reason to expect an exemption from suffering: on the contrary, he has told us plainly, that our road to Heaven lies through much tribulation. Even "Christ himself was made perfect through sufferings;" and every child of man must be conformed to him in this respect. Sufferings are sent to try, to illustrate, and to confirm our grace; and finally, to work out for us a proportionable weight of glory. The Apostle therefore did not presume to interfere with the established order of things; but only to pray, that their trials might be as light and transient, as would consist with the accomplishment of their proper ends. In this respect he sets us a good example; and teaches us to desire rather a sanctified use of our afflictions, than a premature removal of them.
To these he added a doxology well suited to the occasion.
Who can reflect on what God is in himself, or on what he has done for us, or on what he is ready to do for us, and not desire that his name may be glorified, and that every thought may be subjected to his holy will? When the Apostle says, "To him be glory and dominion forever and ever;" who is not ready to exclaim with ardent affection, "Amen, and amen?"
O brethren, let such views occupy our attention, and such prayers and praises be ever ascending from the altar of our hearts!
This subject may be of use,
1. For reproof.
How far are the generality of professing Christians from such exalted views of God, or such deep concern for the welfare of men's souls! If they think of God in the quality of a Governor and Judge, they are not conscious of any defect, though they scarce ever raise their minds to him as their adorable Benefactor: and, if they occasionally promote the comfort of men's bodies, they seem to themselves excused for not attending to their souls. But, beloved, let us not be contented to live in so low a region, or to exercise so little grace: but let our love to God and man bear some affinity and proportion to the love that God has shown to us.
2. For encouragement.
What is there that we may not expect at the hands of such a God? We may go to him for ourselves; we may go to him for others: we may ask of him all manner of grace: the weakest may obtain strength; and the most wavering may obtain establishment in the divine life. Let us know the privilege of prayer. Let us, especially under our afflictions, betake ourselves to a throne of grace: and if, while we are praying to him, our trials increase, let us not be discouraged: only let us tarry his leisure; and our sorrows shall before long be turned to joy, and our prayers to praise.