Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. WE HAVE HERE THE IDEA OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH.
1. That implies life. Only living things can grow. Peter can speak of growth because he calls them "new-born babes." Spiritual life is not a mere change or reformation, but an entirely new principle of being. Not only is that implied in such words as, "Ye must be born again;" "If any man be in Christ Jesus, it is a new creation;" "You hath he quickened who were dead;" but entire arguments are based on the use of those words in this sense. It is as impossible for the natural heart, which is enmity against God, to bear fruit to God, as for grapes to grow on thorns; for Divine fruit there must be a Divine nature. This is implanted by the Holy Spirit through the Divine Word. The cry, "Father, Father? is the birth-cry of a new life; from that moment we are of God's family.
2. Also that this life is immature. That truth is helpful to those who have followed the apostle so far, to their discouragement, and are inclined to say, "If holiness is the proof of salvation, and holiness is measured by Christian love, and I have so little of this, is it possible that I am a Christian at all?" These words, however, assume that there may be life without perfection. We are all born babes, and have to reach a full-grown manhood stage by stage. Only Adam came from God's hand perfect. "A babe" is equivalent to weakness, helplessness, ignorance, rudimentariness. Who could guess what a babe could become, or see in the new-born child of God the perfected spirit bowing in the eternal glory before his throne?
3. Also that it is natural for the life to progress. It never occurs to us to wonder if a child will grow; we know it will unless it dies. Disease may retard growth, only death can permanently stop it till maturity is reached. Growth is part of life; naturally, silently, steadily, the babe increases in stature and strength. Then, since spirituality is a life, it only needs that we fulfill the ordinary conditions of life to ensure that it advances from strength to strength. Growth is spontaneous; no man by anxious thought can add to his stature one cubit; give it but the right conditions, and life cannot help growing. Moreover, growth should naturally affect all parts of our spiritual nature, as of our physical; it is only by disuse that some faculties advance alone - faith, or hope, or patience, etc. There is provision in what we are for growth up to him who is the Head "in all things."
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS SECURED. IS not this simpler - not easier, but simpler - more reasonable and possible than many suppose? How do we treat a babe that it may grow? let us treat the spiritual babe-life in the same way.
1. There must be the avoidance of what is antagonistic to life. "Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings." These are but a selection of the evils that are hurtful to the Divine nature; they are probably mentioned here rather than others, because, judging from the frequent exhortations in the Epistle to love, to subjection to one another, etc., they represent a class of sins to which these Christians were specially prone; these were the sins which most easily beset them. As in homes where there are children, there are many devices to keep them from harm, so the spiritual life of the young believer must be jealously guarded from what would check its progress.
2. And there must be the partaking of suitable food. "Desire the sincere [pure, unadulterated] milk of the Word." It is the invariable teaching of Scripture that Christian growth depends on the proper use of the Word of God (Psalm 1:2, 3; Psalm 37:31; John 6:63; John 17:17; Acts 20:32; 1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:17). Christ is the food of the soul, but he is imparted through his Word. The Word of God has for its substance God the Word. Spiritual feebleness is probably spiritual starvation.
III. THE ARGUMENT BY WHICH THE SOUL IS PERSUADED TO USE THESE MEANS. "If so be ye have tasted," etc., that is, seek this spiritual growth:
1. Because your experience of Divine grace has been only a taste of what is possible. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of God's Son. Think what that involves of character and blessedness; and of this most of us have as yet had only a taste! But that taste makes us long for more.
2. Because, also, by growth you prove your reception of Divine grace. "If so be." Then is there doubt about it? Let spiritual growth destroy that doubt. Growth is a sure proof of life. A deeper sense of sin; a more earnest desire for holiness; a greater joy in God, his presence, service, will; - are the clear proof that we have tasted of Divine grace. But if there be no growth, if the means of grace are no more useful to us than rain is to a rock, Divine life within us is not yet. - C.N.
I. SOME OF THE SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD. One of the signs that Christian men and women are, what Peter had heard the Lord say they ought to be, like little children - growing children - is in what they lack. This whole group of evils are most unchildlike evils. "Putting away" implies that they had been wrapped in them, swaddled as it were in them. "Wickedness," or malice. Perhaps the wider meaning of wickedness is intended here. Leighton says, "All is one garment, or parts of one, for sometimes some are mentioned, and sometimes others." "Guile," "hypocrisies" the first being the spirit of deceit, the second the acting a part as on a stage. "Envies;" "evil-speakings." Here again the first describes the malign spirit, the second the speech that spirit inspires.
II. THE CHIEF NOURISHMENT OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD. "Spiritual milk." Milk is a good standard of all food; it contains all the constituents of food. So does the Word of God contain all elements of spiritual nutrition. "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." Similarly, there is a natural aliment, and there is a spiritual aliment. "Without guile;" that food is to be simple, unadulterated. Milk when impure is a terrible source of disease; so the Word of God, when mixed with error, works deadly mischief. "Long for;" have a keen appetite for the Word of God, not for the sugar-plums of sentiment or the stimulants of sensationalism, but the milk of the Word. A true appetite is at once a sign of health and a means to health.
III. THE TRUE DEVELOPMENT OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD. "Grow." The bud that does not become a flower is a failure. So the Christian that does not grow is a failure. Piety is the art of right growing. "Unto salvation." That is the ideal - not mere rescue from guilt, but attainment of holiness; not mere emancipation, but citizenship. "If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." This implies that the Christian character is developed, even in its early stages, from a solid experience. Only tasted, but surely tasted. Luther puts it well for us: "To them who with the heart believe the word, 'Christ has been sent for me and is become mine own; my miseries are his; his life is mine,' - that word is sweet." - U.R.T.
I. NEWBORN BABES.
1. Duty conditioning appetite for the Ignorant. "Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil-speakings." This duty is connected with the foregoing ("therefore"), as coming under it. As the regenerate, we are to put away all dispositions and manifestations that offend against good brotherhood. We are to put away first, as being the radical vice, all malice (as we should read, with the old translation), i.e. the desire to hurt, from the slightest beginnings up to the most deadly passion. We are also to put away all guile, i.e. want of openness, of straightforwardness, also in the whole compass of the idea. With all guile we are to put away its manifestations in hypocrisies, i.e. all attempts to personate, especially to make ourselves appear better than we really are. We are also to put away envies, i.e. pinings on account of the good estate of others. Finally, we are to put away manifestations of envy in all evil-speakings, i.e. attempts to injure the good name of others. From the way in which this duty is brought in, it is evident that it has a bearing on what follows, which is probably this - that unbrotherliness is a bar to our life being properly sustained.
2. Appetite for the Word. "As newborn babes, long for the spiritual milk which is without guile, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation." The apostle seizes upon the fact of his readers having been lately regenerated, and calls them "newborn babes" in relation to God. Babes have suitable nourishment provided for them in their mother's milk; as (whether lately or long ago regenerated) we have suitable nourishment provided for us in what in the spiritual sphere is milk, viz. the Word (without any reference to the distinction of weaker or stronger in it). [Babes] save a pure provision ("without guile" is another unhappy change); so what is provided for us in the Word is pure as mother's milk. Babes have a strong natural craving for milk; so we are to have a strong craving for the Word. Babes are constituted with a strong craving for milk, that their growth may go forward; so we are to have a strong craving for the Word, that our higher development may go forward, which is to issue in salvation (both the elimination of all evil elements and the acquisition of all good elements). From the connection the teaching is that we are thus to see to our individual development for the sake of the society to which we belong. We owe it to Christians collectively that we grow individually.
3. Appetite for the Word encouraged. "If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious." The language is based on Psalm 34:8. It is to be observed that "the Lord" of the psalmist is here taken to be Christ (as appears from the following verse). There is kindness displayed in the nourishment that is provided for babes; so there is the kindness of Christ displayed in what is provided for us in the Word. As the Word, or Divine Revealer, Christ is also the Divine Nourisher. Christians are those who know this, not merely by report, but by experience. They have "tasted that the Lord is gracious." And Peter goes upon the supposition that those who have tasted once will desire to taste again, and will not be easily satisfied.
II. THE HIGHER ISRAEL.
1. Characterization under temple imagery in relation to Christ.
(1) Way in which we are related to Christ. "Unto whom coming." With this there is transition to new imagery. The language is general; yet it was frequently associated with the going up of worshippers to the temple. We are to make our approach to Christ for union to him and communion with him; and our approach to him is to be habitual, that with stronger union there may be closer communion.
(2) Representation that is given of Christ. "A living Stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious." This is a very striking though homely image applied to the most wonderful event or series of events in history. Let us call up the scene from which the language is taken. A building is being erected amid dust and rubbish and confused noises. The builders are ever wanting stones for each new place as it arises in the building, and search about among what are laid down for them. One stone they all pass by because of some defect or blemish that it has in their eyes. You can see, from the way in which they treat it, that it is not deemed worthy to have even an obscure place in the building. But the architect comes and sees to this stone, which was to have no place, being put into the place of honor. It becomes, as we shall see afterwards from its designation, the most important stone in the building. Now, the great archetypal building which is being erected - that of which every building, common or sacred, is a type, that of which the Jewish temple was in a special manner a type - is the Church. The Jewish rulers were employed by God in carrying out his purposes of love and mercy toward the race. They were the builders, having subordinately the selecting and preparing of the stones and the putting them into their places. In this first introduction of the imagery they are not directly referred to; it is simply men that are mentioned. But in accordance with Psalm 118:22, afterwards quoted, we must think of men representatively, i.e. in the builders. Christ was a living Stone, i.e. he was absolutely in living significance all that a stone can be in a building. He came before the eyes of the builders with extraordinary claims, with most exalted ideas, with a most wonderful manifestation of love. He was as a stone laid down for them, and they could not but pass some judgment upon him. What they did (and not merely in their own name, but as representing men) was to reject him even to crucifying him. We see him the "despised and rejected of men" in being a Stone rejected of the builders. He was to be of no use in the Church or theocracy with which these had to do. Ay, they thought that they were relegating him in God's name to a different fate altogether. But what was despised among men was highly esteemed with God. So in striking contrast with the human judgment, it is said here - " with God elect; precious," i.e. he was the great Object of electing love, and had all the qualities on which the Divine approbation could rest. And God, having allowed men to go so far, takes things out of their hands, and, in accordance with his ancient design as to the ordering of things in his Church, instates Christ in the place of highest honor and serviceableness, making him, as we are now to see, the Stone in which we are built up.
(3) What we are in relation to Christ. "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." Very beautiful is the way in which we are called "living stones" along with Christ. We also are living stones, only with this difference, that we derive all our living consequence in the building from Christ. A stone, according to the general idea, is not meant to be by itself; it is meant to be placed along with others in a building. So we rise to the idea of our being as living stones built up a spiritual house. Ancient Israel had a temple; the heightening consideration is that we as Christians are the temple. Whereas also material elements (such as in the Jewish temple) can only in a very restricted way be used for the glorifying of God, there is far greater freedom and capability when we come to the spiritual elements that exist in the Church. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the Church the manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:10). But that is not all; for ancient Israel the complete conception was broken up. They had a temple, and they had also, distinct from it, a priesthood. The heightening consideration is that we combine the two ideas. We are the temple and the priesthood in one. The Jewish priests had a sacred character. "Once a priest, always a priest." They could not take to trading; God's service required their undivided attention. So even in trading we are to have a sacred character, abjuring self and referring all to God. Our feet are always to be found in the path of God's commandments - which cover things both temporal and spiritual. The Jewish priests offered up fruits, animals; the heightening consideration is that we offer up spiritual sacrifices. These are only acceptable to God through Jesus Christ; and therefore we require to remember that his sacrifice comes first. After it, founded upon it, and deriving all their virtue from it, come our sacrifices, which are distinctively eucharistic, i.e. they are forms of giving thanks. They are this even when we begin, as we must do, by offering up ourselves. Gratitude, especially for what has been done for us in redemption, prompts us first to offer up ourselves, and then ourselves in good thoughts, in earnest prayers, in loving deeds.
2. Scriptural foundation for the characterization. "Because it is contained in Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief Corner-stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame." This is a free quotation from Isaiah 28:16. Attention is called to the declaration of the eternal counsel. It is "the Lord God" who says, "I lay;" but there is not excluded laying by human agents. From the temple in Zion we are to pass in thought to the Church. The chief corner-stone is the most important stone in the building, both combining as being in the corner, and supporting as being the foundation-stone; such is Christ to the Church, with the epithets formerly applied to him. The prophet goes beyond this to the consequence of believing. As it stands in the prophecy, the language is, "He that believeth shall not make haste," i.e. shall go on his way calmly. As altered here, it is, "He that believeth on him [Christ as the Stone] shall not be put to shame." Believing, in builders' language, is taking Christ as the Foundation. If Christ is the Foundation, it must be designed that stones should be laid upon him or in relation to him. That is the design of any foundation - the design, then, of Christ as the Foundation. If we are laid upon Christ as the Foundation, we shall never be put to shame; i.e. shall never have the shame connected with the foundation proving insufficient.
3. Consequence of believing. "For you therefore which believe is the preciousness." It is better to translate, "is the honor." This is the positive side of the conception that we have just noticed. Laid upon Christ as the "chief Cornerstone, elect, precious," there is the corresponding honor; i.e. the honor of having a definite, abiding place in the building, with a share in the glory that is communicated to it by Christ.
4. Consequence of not believing. "But for such as disbelieve, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner; and, A Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of offence; for they stumble at the Word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." The statement of consequence is preceded by a statement of wonderful fact from Psalm 118:22, which by our Lord himself, and by Peter in his speech before the Sanhedrin, is connected with the action of the Jewish rulers. The blindness of the builders. The position which these Jewish rulers occupied was a very honorable one. They were appointed to build. It is of the greatest importance that those who lead the thought or action in any way should be really builders, clearly and boldly grasping the principles, and earnestly and vigorously carrying forward the work. It is an incalculable evil when any take advantage of their gifts or position to promulgate opinions which are fitted to sap the foundations - to do the work of him who has been a destroyer from the beginning. There are some, not only in other countries, but in this country, who do not see that it is necessary to build. They are levelers, not builders. They would pull down, not merely the wrongs of past centuries, but the rights of all centuries; not merely church establishments, but the Church itself; not merely human speculations, but the everlasting truths of the Bible. It is a gigantic mistake. A nation's greatness will soon be shown to be hollow, if there is no building up in family piety; no just and generous dealing, as between all classes, and toward other nations. A sad havoc some of our destructives would make, if there were not some honorable public men, and many who are quietly building away in their own homes and in their own neighborhoods, as they see to be right before God. But those Jewish rulers were further appointed to build up the Church. They had to deliberate and to devise regarding all that greatly pertained to the ecclesiastical life of the nation. And the honorableness of their position at that time appears in this, that they might have had the placing of Christ in the building. It was something more honorable than had fallen to Moses, who merely introduced the types of Christ. It fell to them, as the representatives of the Church at the time, to single out and introduce Christ himself. But there, also, lay their great responsibility. They might do a great service, putting Christ into the place intended for him; or they might do a great disservice, setting him aside, and putting him in a false light before the nation - who were appointed to lead when the times were becoming full of most profound interest. It depended on how they used their responsibility. It unhappily turned out in the latter way. Their crime is represented as a refusing of him whom God meant to be chief Cornerstone. What made their conduct so criminal was that they acted against the light. True, there were others who rose up about that time claiming to be the Messiah. But they were there, as the appointed, trained representatives of the nation, to sift the evidence. And the damaging circumstance was that they had evidence more than enough, as full as the conditions allowed, presented to them by Christ; and yet they rejected him. He had a wonder-working power greater than was possessed by their great ancestor Moses - which was a clear mark of God on him. And as remarkable as his forth-putting of power was his range of knowledge, extending beyond earth to the things which he had seen with the Father - which was another mark of God. And then the whole tone of his life was in keeping, and fitted to remove all honest doubt. But these builders were blind. They could not distinguish Messiah-ship when they saw it. They would not even give him credit for ordinary goodness. They could have got as much from the old as would have enabled them to slide easily into the new. Had they truly appreciated the types, they would have known the Antitype. Had they been apt students of prophecy, they would have known him to whom prophecy bears witness. But they had not even the right Old Testament point of view. They were falsely conservative. They had substituted authorized lint outward and temporary forms and ceremonies for the living, eternal ideas, and rabbinical traditions for the decisive words of inspiration. And their conservatism would have been most destructive. If they had got their way, they would have kept Christ from having his proper place or any place in the building. And thus there would have been no salvation for man, but black, terrible destruction. No temple would have risen up in this world, each stone a saved soul. That would have been the consequence of the conservatism of those Jewish leaders. What they thought was building up, and keeping to the truth, and resisting innovation, would have been in its results the pulling down of all to the depths of ruin. So blind were these builders. They are not the only destroyers who would raze to the foundation; but those also are making work for destruction who build narrowly, who do not take the breadth of the Word of God for themselves, nor will allow it for others. Had these Jewish builders been loyal to the truth, reverencing the old which had fairly stood the test, and welcoming also the new which seemed to premise larger development, they would not have made the mistake which they did. Had they even had some spiritual affinity to the Messiah, they would have been carried out beyond their narrowness. Israelites indeed, in whom there was no guile, they would have been carried on from a glorious living past to a more glorious and widening, living future. But this is their condemnation, that light came into the world; and they loved the darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Let us beware of self-deception. These rulers thought they were doing God service in what they did to Christ. If they could so far deceive themselves who occupied so prominent a position in the Church, have we not reason to be on our guard? The builders as overruled by the great Architect. It has always been matter for surprise, how bad men get into power. Job makes it matter of complaint in his day, that the earth was given over into the hand of the wicked. There are some who go great lengths in sin without having much in their power. But when men get a long line, as it were, and go the whole length of it, cruelly trampling on the most sacred rights and tenderest feelings of their fellow-men, the evil seems so great as to call loudly for Divine interference. Think of Nero, for his amusement setting fire to Rome, and then, to screen himself, glutting his soul with the slaughter of God's saints. But never did God allow men to go such lengths, while sitting by and refusing to interfere, as when he allowed those builders to refuse him on whom the whole building up of a Church in this world depended. Never was human liberty brought into such antagonism to the Divine sovereignty. Those who were in power at the time, finding Christ troublesome, were permitted to crucify him. They laid his dead body in a tomb, and rolled a stone against the mouth of it, and sealed the stone, and set a watch, and thought they had done with him. It would have been a sad thing if their conduct had prevented the building up of a Church in the world. That, we know, could never be. This may be put on the ground of the Divine purpose. Christ was the living Stone, elect. He was linked to the Divine purpose, the great object of the Divine election. And we are accustomed to think that the purposes of God must travel on securely through all to their accomplishment. In the place that God intended for Christ must he unfailingly be. But deeper than the purpose itself is the ground of the purpose in the character of God, and the fitness of the Stone for the place. Divine love struggled for gratification in the building of us up out of the ruins of sin; that was the deepest ground of the purpose. It must, however, have been forever pent up, if no path had been found for its egress. But when God really formed the purpose, he must have seen his way to the desired end all clear. To begin to build without knowing how to finish is foolishness, with which only man is chargeable. "Every house is builded by some man; he who built all things is God." He must have had the conception of this universe in his mind before he brought forth those worlds and this earth of ours in all their wonderful order; he had the conception beforehand of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:40), and also of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-19). So when the great Architect had planned the Church from all eternity, and had for ages been making preparations for it, and directing stones to be put into it, he must have known how the Foundation-stone was to be laid. Christ was a fitting Stone for the place. He was not chosen blindly without regard to qualifications. He was not only elect, but also a tried Stone; and, what is the same idea, precious, proved to be precious by trial. One great strain there was that made trial of him, occasioned by our sin; but he stood the test, he was shown to be a precious Stone, sufficient for the purpose of God, and so he was put into the foundation-place. Those builders had not the placing of him there. He was a Stone refused, disallowed by them. But God was independent of them, and got others more humble than they, but more in sympathy with the purpose, to do what they should have done. Ay, even they were taken up into the purpose as unconscious, involuntary instruments. For it was in the very refusing of him in his death that he became chief Cornerstone. They were thus doing what they did not intend to do. And he rose triumphant out of their hands when they thought they had effectually secured him in the tomb. Let us admire the placing of Christ as chief Cornerstone. "This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes." The Lord had his purpose of mercy to men and of honor to Christ carried out notwithstanding the criminal conduct of the builders. And in the history of these latter times the same triumph will be repeated. All schemes that leave out Christ will prove abortive, and those that build by them will be left behind an advancing tide of Christianity. And at last it will be shown, by a clear and abundant induction of facts, that Christ is the only Stone in whom men can be built up into a glorious temple of God. What, then, is the consequence to them that disbelieve, i.e. refuse to believe? The Stone so honored of God becomes, in the language of another prophecy (Isaiah 8:14)," a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of offense;" i.e., in accordance with our Lord's comment on Psalm 118:22 (Matthew 21:44), on which they are broken. They who disbelieve are broken in their spiritual nature; that is their shame. The Foundation-stone which is honor to believers, becomes to them the stone of punishment, the stone of vengeance. They are broken, as if you took a pillar of the temple, and broke it into a thousand pieces. They thus stumble to their hurt and shame, because they disbelieve the Word (as we should translate), i.e. refuse to believe what God says about the Stone. It is God's appointment that they who thus disbelieve should in their fall be broken.
5. Further characterization under Old Testament designations in relation to God.
(1) God's elect. "But ye are an elect race." This is after Isaiah 43:20. We are not to lay stress upon ancient Israel being of one stone (race), but upon their Divine election, as being the reason of their existence. We owe our existence as the successors of Israel to the fact that we have been chosen by God out of the world.
(2) God's ministers. "A royal priesthood." This is after Exodus 19:6, where the expression is "kingdom of priests." This language, applied to ancient Israel, pointed to all being priests (in token of which the heads of families acted personally as priests in the yearly offering up of the Paschal lamb); it also pointed to their being priests under a great King. The idea was only fully exhibited in the separate yet representative priestly class. They, in a special manner, acted as priests, and had a royal character as belonging to the royal household. This full idea is taken up by us as Christians. We have sacred offices to perform, and we have the honor which comes from our being even here in the "King's palace."
(3) God's saints. "A holy nation." This is also after Exodus 19:6. The leading word is here again the second in the original - holy. "This had to be filled and coined afresh with a new meaning, and thus is one of the words wherein the radical influence, the transforming and newly fashioning power, of revealed religion is most clearly shown" (Cromer). As to the Homeric age, Nagelsbach says, "Holiness, as a constituent element of the Divine viewed in itself, or only perceived in the intercourse of the gods among themselves, is never mentioned. Never is there a title given to the godhead indicating a consciousness similar to that in which the Bible speaks of the true God." According to the conception of ancient Israel, we are to be a community permeated with Bible ideas of God's holiness, and conformed to it in our customs.
(4) God's possession. His right in us. "A people for God's own possession." The idea is contained in Exodus 19:5, "Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people." The language is after Isaiah 43:21 (following, or race-elect). We are already acquired by God; only not fully redeemed (Ephesians 1:14). In so far as the thought of peculiarity is to be associated with the language, it is to be referred to God's right in us, which is peculiar in being supreme. What his right in us involves. "That ye may show forth the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." It involves that we have been redeemed. We became the objects of an effectual and glorious calling. We were at the pole of darkness - away from God in the darkness and chili of our own thoughts. We are now at the opposite pole of light - near to God in the marvelous light and exhilaration of what he is and what he thinks especially about us in redemption. It involves that, as redeemed by God, we show forth his praises, or excellences. Steiger is wrong in saying that the object of this is the conversion of those who still disbelieve. The thought is rather of what has been gained by God. Having effected for us a change of state, the thought of which is oppressive in its vastness, he has gained this, that we show forth his excellences; i.e. as our tribute to God, we tell on, from the depths of our heart the excellences which he has displayed in our blessed experience. Huther remarks that the word is for the most part employed without definite application to telling abroad what happens indoors. Doxology comes in similarly in Ephesians 1:14. Heightening of doxology. "Which in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." This is after Hosea 2:23. The words here, as in Romans 9:25, seem to be applied to the calling of the heathen. Before their conversion they had no true corporate life. Rome could not give them that; they were no people. Now they were the people of God, with a unity of life in Christ, and inheriting all the titles and privileges of ancient Israel. They had a special call, then, to tell out the excellences of God. What were they to tell out? His excellent power, his excellent wisdom, his excellent righteousness. Yes, these, but especially his excellent mercy. Once not in the possession of mercy, that condition was now ended. By circumstances over which they had no control, the gospel had been brought to them in their heathen state. The message of Divine love had touched their hearts. By God's mercy they were numbered among his people - pardoned and cleansed. Well, then, did it become them to pay their highest tribute of praise to the excellence of that mercy that had found them in their forlorn heathenism. And have we not all reason to praise the mercy that has ordered our circumstances, that has broken down the hardness of our hearts, that has admitted us to glorious privileges? - R.F.
I. THE TRUE FOOD OF THE CHRISTIAN SOUL IN ALL STAGES. It is impossible to preserve the force of the Greek in an English translation. The two adjectives which qualify "milk" are both ambiguous. That rendered "sincere" in the Authorized and "without guile" in the Revised Version is evidently suggested by the mention of guile in the previous verse, and may either mean "guileless" in the sense of having no by-ends to serve, or more probably "unadulterated." The other epithet may either mean "belonging to a word," or (as it means in Romans 12:1) "spiritual," that is, figurative, not material. The latter is no doubt its meaning here. But that spiritual, unadulterated milk is certainly the Word of God, and probably the expression was chosen because of the very ambiguity. At all events, Peter's thought is plainly that the Christian soul's true food is the Word, which is at once the instrument of regeneration and the support of life. Of course, he intends by "the Word" the truths which that Word brings to men. We are more accustomed to speak of Christ as being the Food of the soul. Is it possible that Peter here is speaking as his brother John would have spoken, and has floating before his mind in this context the thought of that Incarnate Word who liveth for ever, and in his holy humanity was without guile. This is improbable, and not necessary in order to give full force to the text. "The Word of the truth of the gospel" is the life of our souls, because it proclaims and brings to us Christ, who is truly their Life. The only way by which he can enter the soul to give and to sustain a better being is by means of the truth concerning him received and meditated on. Physiologists tell us that milk contains all the constituents needed for healthy life. The truth as it is in Jesus has no admixture of deleterious matters, is unspoiled by men's errors, and has in it all which the soul needs. As much cannot be said of any other "word."
II. THE APPETITE WHICH ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD CULTIVATE. "Long for" is nearer the intensity of the original than "desire." There is no bodily craving more vehement and tyrannous than that of hunger. We all know how an infant cries for food. Such keenness of appetite ought to mark every Christian. But the very fact that this hunger has to be enjoined is a sad confession. "Infants do not need to be told to seek the mother's breast." But we, alas! have to acknowledge languid indifference and often positive distaste for the wholesome food which God gives. So this appetite has to be cultivated. And that it may, other appetites have to be restrained and starved. We are like children who eat sweetmeats, and so do not care for our meals. If we gorge ourselves on the sugared delights of earth, or on the rank "leeks and garlic" of Egypt, how can the manna but taste insipid to our palates! Therefore abstinence from these, and a tight hand on our desires and passions, are essential if we are to have any healthy hunger for wholesome food. Again, the appetite will in this case secure its being satisfied. This hunger is unlike all other hunger, in that it will certainly be filled. So the apostle does not even say drink, but he only says desire. For he knows that if there be the longing there will be the fruition, as certainly as the air flows into expanded lungs, or the sunshine into opened eyes. Other longings are often pain, and often vain. This is blessed in itself, and blessed in its sure fulfillment. He who can say, "I long for thy Word," will always be able to say," I did eat it, and it was the joy and rejoicing of my heart." Is this eager appetite for the Word of God the characteristic of our Christianity? Does the neglect of Scripture, the preference of almost any book to the Bible, which so many of us must confess, look like it? Does the utter disuse of meditation by such multitudes of professing Christians look like it? Can anybody suppose that people who scarcely ever occupy their minds with Divine truth, except when they languidly sit out a sermon, are thirsting for the pure milk of the Word?
III. THE GROWTH. "Unto salvation" is now usually admitted, as in the Revised Version, at the close of the verse. Of course, that word is here used, as it is in ver. 9 of the previous chapter, for the complete deliverance from evil and investiture with good, which waits the believer in heaven. The whole Christian life on earth, then, is to be a continuous growth. Here we are all but as infants at the best, and we only come to maturity in another life. Salvation is the possession of "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." It is not, as some caricature the Christian doctrine, a mere escape from an outward hell, but is the attainment of the full height of manhood made God-like. That is the goal set before the Christian - an ever-progressive approximation to the unreachable God, an ever-increasing appropriation of infinite perfection into his indefinitely expanding being. And towards that endless growth and eternally increasing knowledge of and likeness to the revealed God in Christ, we may be steadily advancing here. If we will only use the amply adequate means provided for us, and let our souls feed on the Word of God, we shall grow as certainly as the child passes from infancy to boyhood and adolescence. But in order to feeding on that Word there must be rigid self-restraint, and many a struggle with lower appetites. Christian growth is no natural process. The painless, unconscious, spontaneous growth of the infant at the breast, or of the corn in the field, does not tell us all the facts. There are other symbols of Christian progress. It is a pilgrimage often to be trodden with bleeding feet. It is a building which does not "rise like an exhalation," but tasks strength and skill to lay its courses. It is a fight often desperate, always real, and in which that Word of God which is milk for the growing babe, is the sword for the warrior-hand. We have to fight that we may have room to grow; and of our conflict and of our growth the instrument is the Word of God. - A.M.
1 Peter 2:4, 51 Peter 2:4, 5 (to "built up").
Living stones. We have here incidentally a plain proof that to Peter, Jesus Christ was Divine. He has just been quoting Old Testament words which speak of "the Lord" as "gracious," and he goes on, "to whom coming, as unto a living Stone." He therefore regards Christ as standing in the place of the Jehovah of the old covenant, and has neither scruple in asserting that he is the "gracious Lord" of the psalm, nor thought that he need pause to explain or vindicate the assumption. Obviously such a tone indicates that the truth of our Lord's Divinity was familiar to the recipients of the letter. We have here, in broad, general outline, the great office which Christ sustains; the highest gift which he bestows; and the condition on which we receive it from him.
I. CHRIST'S GREAT OFFICE - THE FOUNDATION-STONE FOR ALL MEN'S LIVES AND HOPES. In this metaphor many 01d Testament references unite. The Shepherd, the Stone of Israel had been celebrated in ancient poetry. Isaiah had spoken of the tried Foundation laid by God's own hard in Zion, which yet should be a Stone of stumbling to those who refused to build on it. A psalmist of a later period had sung amidst the ruined walls of Jerusalem, and the effort to rear again the temple, of the Stone rejected by the builders becoming the Head of the corner. A prophet of the same epoch had seen in vision the head-stone of the completed and transformed theocracy brought forth with triumphant acclaim. Daniel had prophesied of a Stone cut out without hands, which should crash among the kingdoms of the earth like a boulder hurled by an avalanche among peasants' cottages and gardens. And all these streams of prediction had been gathered into one, in the words which Peter so well remembered, with which, in those last days of hand-to-hand conflict, his Master had silenced his antagonists, and claimed to be at once the tried Foundation, and the ponderous Rock which, when it was set in motion, would grind opposition and opposers to powder. The echoes of these mighty words stand here, as they have been interpreted to the apostle by all that has passed since he first heard them. He understands now better than he did, even when he fronted the Sanhedrin with the bold proclamation, "This is the Stone which is set at naught of you builders." He has learned that his Lord is not merely meant to be the Foundation on which Israel may build, but that on which "strangers scattered abroad may be gathered into one." In all aspects and relations Jesus Christ is the Foundation-stone. The whole universe rests on him. He is "the Firstborn of every creature," the Agent of creation, the Mediator through whom all things came to be, and based upon whom the mighty whole of the material creation continues to exist. He is the Foundation of humanity, the Root from whom it springs, the Head in which it is gathered into one. He is the Foundation on which the individual soul must build all hope, joy, and goodness. He is the Foundation of the highest and purest form of social life, in which ultimately all others shall merge, and men be one in him. He is the Basis of all true thoughts of God, man, immortality, and duty. He is the Motive and Inspiration of the purest life. His Person, work, and teaching underlie all being, all peace, and all nobleness. He is the "living Stone," inasmuch as in him is essential life, and he ever lives to be the Source of life to all who build on him.
II. CHRIST'S GREAT GIFT, THAT OF ASSIMILATION TO HIMSELF. Coming to him, we become living stones. One can scarcely avoid seeing here some allusion to the apostle's own name, as if he would share whatever honor there was with all his brethren, and disown any special prerogative. "'Thou art Peter' was, indeed, said to me; but you are all living stones. 'On this rock' was, indeed, said to me; but Christ is the only Foundation." Peter's own understanding of these much-controverted words is no bad guide to their meaning. The image here but puts under one aspect the wide general principle that transformation into Christ's likeness is the great end of his work on us. Is he a Son? Through him we become sons. Is he "the Light of the world"? Illumined by him, we too become lights. Is he anointed with the Spirit? Through him we too receive that unction which invests us with his threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. We are one with him, and participate in his relation to God; we are one with him, and receive of his fullness, are clothed with his righteousness, and growingly conformed to his image. We are one with him, and shall be one in destiny. "As he is, so are we in this world." "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." And the deep truth which underlies all these representations is the actual communication of the life of Christ to us. That life rises up from the foundation through all the courses of the building. This truth is more obviously suggested by the kindred metaphors of the vine and the branches, and the head and members; but it is clearly intended here also, and is conveyed, though with some incongruity, by the expression, "living stones." The life which is in us is Christ's life. Therefore it unfolds itself in us in a form like his, and the vital contact with the living Stone makes us, too, living stones.
III. THE CONDITION OF ASSIMILATION. It is expressed in grand simplicity by that one pregnant phrase, "to whom coming." The original word implies, by the force of a compound, a very close approach. We must be so near him as to touch him, if his transforming power is to flow into our hearts. A hair's breadth of separation is enough to stop the passage of the electric current. The thinnest film of distance between the soul and Christ is thick enough to be an impenetrable barrier. There must be a real living contact if his life is to pour into my veins. And if we ask how this close approach is to be effected, our Lord's own words are the simplest answer, "He that cometh unto me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." We come in the act of faith. To trust him is to draw near to him. Faith is the approach of the soul to Christ, and we touch when, with the reliance of our whole nature, we grasp his cross, and him who died on it, as our only Foundation. But that act of faith must be continuous, if we are to draw life from him in an unbroken stream. The form of expression in the Greek shows that the "coming" is not an act done once for all, but one constantly repeated. The grace drawn from Christ in a moment of active faith cannot be stored up for use in a time when faith has fallen asleep. As soon as we cease to draw near to him, the flow stops. There must be a present faith for a present blessing. Let us, then, rely on no past acts of devout emotion, but hourly renew our conscious faith, and seek to nestle closer to his side, from whom all our life and all its hopes and joys, with all its goodness and power, proceed. So shall there rise up into us, from the living Root, the sap which shall produce in us flowers and abiding fruit. So shall there be one life in him and in us. - A.M.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE THE MATERIAL OF THE TRUE AND SPIRITUAL TEMPLE.
1. They are built in and upon the divinely chosen Cornerstone - Christ himself. Cephas, Peter, "the rock," thus witnesses to the Rock of Ages, whose perfect qualifications to occupy this position were well known to the apostle who enjoyed his intimacy and friendship. His nature, his character, his mediatorial work, all concurred to fit our Lord to be the Support, the uniting and central Force, of the spiritual edifice. None other could have constituted the living unity; none other could have served as the Cornerstone, and at the same time the Foundation-stone, of the new humanity.
2. They are individually living stones; in this differing from the fair and costly masonry employed in the temple at Jerusalem. An intimation this of the dignity of each Christian's vocation, who has his own place to fill, his own work to do, in the spiritual sanctuary; and at the same time a summons to that life, that conscious and voluntary fulfillment of service, which distinguishes the living from the lifeless material.
3. They constitute in concert the "spiritual house," which is the glory of the "new dispensation;" the idea of which is in the mind of the Divine Architect, and which is gradually being brought to realization and perfection under his superintendence, and through the concurrence of those who can only very partially comprehend the bearing of their life upon the glorious whole which is in due time to be consummated. The whole edifice is based by faith upon Christ; the several stones are cemented by mutual love.
II. CHRISTIANS ARE THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE TRUE AND SPIRITUAL TEMPLE.
1. This is asserted of the whole body of the faithful. There are indeed special ministries in the Church - bishops, presbyters, deacons, etc.; but there is one general ministry to which all Christians are called, and that is the priesthood.
2. The character of this priesthood is stamped as "holy." From the Book of Leviticus and other parts of the Old Testament we learn what were the marks of the Hebrew priesthood - their descent, their equipment, their qualifications, their office. But the one all-pervading idea in these regulations was the inculcation of "holiness unto the Lord." Under the new covenant the holiness prescribed is holiness of spirit and of life; not merely purity of vesture, separateness of function, etc.
3. The office of this priesthood is specified: spiritual sacrifices are to be offered. What these are is not here specified, but other passages of New Testament Scripture leave us in no doubt upon this; the Christian sacrifices are comprehended under these two headings - obedience and praise.
4. The acceptance of such service is assured through the intercession of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Thus the apostle, at the expense of combining metaphors scarcely consistent, sets forth more fully the dignity and the duty, the fellowship and the happiness, belonging to all those who are faithful and consecrated members of the living Church of Christ. - J.R.T.
I. DECLARATIONS OF THIS ESTIMATION OF CHRIST.
1. Prophetical declarations, such as these: "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand;" "I have set my King upon my holy hill;" and, "Behold my Servant whom I uphold, mine Elect in whom my soul delighteth."
2. Evangelical. The Lord Jesus was conscious of the Father's favor; he declared that "the Father loveth the Son," and desires "that all men should honor the Son." The forerunner received the witness concerning Jesus: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The multitude were present when the voice came from heaven testifying from the Father: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again."
3. Apostolical. When the inspired and commissioned preachers of the gospel proclaimed Christ, they represented him as "approved of God," who had raised and exalted him, and had "set him at his own right hand." In the Epistles, as for example in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the approval and favor of the Father are mentioned with the view of inspiring a just conception of the dignity of the Divine Son.
II. GROUNDS OF THIS ESTIMATION OF CHRIST.
1. His Divine Sonship.
2. His sympathy with the Father's purposes of redemption.
3. His constant and perfect obedience to the Father's will.
4. His devotion to the Father's glory.
III. PROOFS OF THIS ESTIMATION OF CHRIST. These are in some instances intelligible to reason, but in other instances they are only to be apprehended by faith.
1. This accounts for the appointment of Jesus as the Founder and Head of the Church.
2. And for the supernatural indwelling of Christ by his Spirit in his Church.
3. And for the assurance that the kingdom of Christ, in contrast to all others, shall be universal and everlasting.
4. And also for the appointment of Christ as the one great Judge of all mankind.
IV. PRACTICAL INFERENCES FROM THIS ESTIMATION OF CHRIST. It is not a matter of doctrine only. All hearers of the gospel and all sincere and faithful Christians have reason to rejoice that their Savior Jesus is "elect and precious."
1. There is on this account hope for the future of humanity. If God the Father sets such honor upon Christ, there is encouragement to believe that Christ's work shall not fail.
2. There is for each friend and follower of the Savior a sure prospect of individual salvation. God, who loves and honors the Shepherd, will not suffer the sheep of his flock, for whom he died, to suffer death and destruction. Their security, dignity, and happiness are assured. They are chosen in the Chosen; they are precious for the sake of the Precious.
3. Most obvious are the sin and the peril of those who despise and reject the Elect and Chosen One, the Honored of God himself. If Christ be what he is here declared to be, how clear and cogent is the statement of inspiration, "Neither is there salvation in any other!" - J.R.T.
i.e. 'honor'] because," etc.), we so read it here. The apostle contrasts their position in Christ, first with theirs who reject him, and then with their own former position out of him, both of these being positions of shame, the contrast to which is honor. Shame out of Christ, honor in Christ - that is the idea: "Unto you who believe there is honor."
I. CONSIDER THE HIGH HONOR OR THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Not unnatural for this to be emphasized to the "sojourners of the dispersion," who were exposed to suffering and shame for the gospel. There are many illustrations in the Acts of the bitterness of the unbelieving Jews to their Christian brethren; from the Gentle world, moreover, the first mutterings of Nero's persecution of the Church were beginning to be heard. The Epistle contains several references to a condition of reproach (vers. 12, 15, 19-23; 1 Peter 3:9, 16; 1 Peter 4:13-16). Peter, therefore, reminds them that, though scorned by men, they are crowned with great honor by God. And mark how he illustrates that. As a Jew, writing mainly to Jews, he fixes on what was most honored in Judaism - the temple with its priesthood and sacrifices. Then he turns to their Scriptures, and shows that God's Elect One, who should come, and who would be despised of the people, would be for a Foundation-stone of a spiritual temple, on and into which all who believe should be built; the honor of the Jewish temple was to pass over to the Christian Church. For instance:
1. The Church is God's chosen dwelling-place. Of the temple it was said, "This is my rest forever. Here will I dwell, for I have desired it." The symbol of his presence was there. But of the Church founded on Jesus, he said, "Ye are the temple of the Holy Ghost, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you;" "Where two or three are gathered together," etc. God's dwelling! the place of his most glorious manifestation! Elsewhere we see him as Creator, Sovereign, Judge; here he is at home.
2. The Church is God's peculiar possession. Over the portal of the temple the eye instinctively reads the unwritten inscription, "Holiness unto the Lord." "My Father's house," said Jesus. But so the Church: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a people peculiarly his own." The Church is his as nothing else is - his peculiar treasure; the object of his delight, thought, care, on which he lavishes himself so that it shows forth, as the text says, "the excellences of God.
3. The Church is God's means of making himself known to the world. Like the temple, the depository of sacred truth and influence, which therefrom are to stream into the world's darkness like the light of day. Ye Christians are the light of the world." Think what a Church is in a city - that to which the weary, the tempted, the dark, the sorrowful, come for healing; to which, through the weekly toil, tired hearts look with longing, and in which men with all their wants find God. Such a sanctuary is the Church of Christ, the world's one temple, through which alone can flow from God the healing for its woes. The Church is the fulfillment of the ancient predictions of the temple that should rise on Zion in the latter days, to which all nations should flow, and from which all should be blessed. Well may Peter write to the Church, "Unto you who believe there is honor."
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS HONOR BECOMES THEIRS. "Unto whom, coming as unto a living Stone, ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house " - the Church a fabric of "living" souls.
1. By coming to Christ as a Foundation. Peter said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Christ answered, "Upon this rock will I build my Church." Rome speaks of Peter as the foundation of the Church, but this same Peter speaks of Christ. The Church, thus, are all those who have come to Christ as God's Foundation-stone. And what is that but to come to Christ, to build on him - all our hopes on Jesus, Sacrifice, Revealer of the Father, Intercessor, Lord; not on personal experiences, etc., but on him?
2. That is coming to Christ as the Foundation of a holy temple. For many build on him who do not build to this end. Just to rest on Christ as an insurance against penalty, or to satisfy conscience whilst still belonging to the world, is not to be of the Church; for that we must so build on him as to become part of that spiritual house in which God lives, and walks, and reveals himself, and works.
3. And this coming to Christ as a Foundation of a holy temple, of which all his people form a part. Not to be isolated stones, but to be firmly knit together with the whole. Only thus is the idea of the temple fulfilled. God requires "the building up of the body of Christ, till we all attain unto the unity of the faith. . . unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ from whom the whole body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love."
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THIS HONOR AND THEIR FORMER SHAME. The apostle heightens the honor of the Church by reminding them of their once different position, of theirs who still have no part in him. This gives a rare impulse to joy, gratitude, and service. "Unto you who believe there is honor, but for such as disbelieve, the Stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the chief of the corner [not 'head,' as though topstone, but foundation-stone], and a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of offence; for they stumble at the Word, being disbelieving [same word as ver. 7], whereunto also they were appointed" - appointed not to disbelief, but to find him a Stone of stumbling and Rock of offence if they refused to believe. Hurt, maiming, destruction, are the appointed consequences of rejecting Christ, as salvation is for those who believe on him. Brethren, build on Christ, Peter seems to say, "Remember what you were, what you have escaped, and what you are. - C.N."
I. THE BUILDER A TYPE OF MAN. Paul in detail uses the same figure as Peter, and doubtless Peter learned its use as he listened to his Lord's parable of the mere hearer and doer. These verses remind us:
1. That every man is incessantly building. He is placing stone on stone, layer on layer, in the structure of his character.
2. That character (the thing he is building) has at once an outward aspect and an inward relation. In the first, i.e. his reputation, it is a monument; in the second, i.e. actual character, it is a habitation.
3. Man builds well or ill as he regards or disregards the Divine Architect. "Coming to," i.e. having close, constant contact with "a living Stone," i.e. Christ, who is a Foundation that is more than the stone on which all rests; he is the Foundation out of which life proceeds, and the Corner-stone by which that life is held together and manifested.
II. THE TEMPLE A TYPE OF THE CHRISTIAN MAN. He is a structure as well as a builder. And what a structure! All characters are structures - some are markets, some but pigsties; the Christly are temples. He is a temple:
(1) on the right Foundation;
(2) with glory of completeness;
(3) destined to permanence;
(4) and this strength and beauty not according to man's standard, but God's.
III. THE PRIESTHOOD IS ALSO A TYPE OF CHRISTIAN MEN. Here is further change of figure; but the truth taught is the same. Is he builder? he must build according to God's plan. Is he temple? he must be dedicated by God's presence. Is he worshipper? he must be utterly consecrated to God's service. All Christians are part of the temple; all Christians are part of the priesthood. For all we turn to Christ for Model, Motive, and Merit. - U.R.T.
I. CHRIST IS THE TRUE TEMPLE; WE BECOME A TEMPLE THROUGH HIM. The temple is the dwelling-place of Deity. The need for it arises from man's weakness, which cannot grasp the pure spirituality of the Divine nature, but has to aid its conceptions by localizing God, and still more from man's sin, which to his own consciousness has profaned the world, and cannot bear the thought of God's dwelling among the foulness of everyday abodes. Christ is all which temples shadowed. The temple was the dwelling-place of Deity, and in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. It was the place of meeting between God and man, and in him we draw near to the God who in him has drawn near to us. It was the place of sacrifice, and in his flesh the one propitiation has been offered for sin forever. It was the place of Divine manifestation, and in him the whole glory of the Divine nature has been flashed upon the world with a brightness before which the light that shone between the cherubim pales its fires. The burden of the context here is that by coming to Christ we become partakers of his life, and are therefore assimilated to him. So the whole aggregate of the scattered strangers to whom Peter writes, and all the solitary souls who, one by one, draw near to Jesus, are built up into one great temple, the true sanctuary, consisting of all redeemed humanity, in which God dwells. All Churches are but chapels in its side aisles. Its ample roof covers them all, and will shelter new forms of Christian fellowship as yet undreamed of. Through the ages it is being slowly builded, like some great cathedral unfinished for centuries, each of which has added something to the pile. And as the Church as a whole is the temple, so its members in detail are temples of God. By a real though mysterious indwelling, more real if one may say so, and less mysterious than that by which he inhabits eternity or dwells in the material universe, God comes and makes his abode in every believing soul. A Divine Spirit can fill and penetrate the human spirit, as the sunshine drenches and saturates some poor film of mist, till every particle is suffused with the fiery brightness. We are too apt to water down that most solemn and blessed truth of God's indwelling into the mere presence of an influence on our spirits. We need to rise to the height of the wonderful, awful, gladsome thought that God himself dwells in every soul that comes to Christ.
II. CHRIST IS THE TRUE PRIEST; WE ARE PRIESTS THROUGH HIM. The priest, like the temple, has his origin in man's consciousness of unworthiness to draw near to his God. Therefore he takes one of his tribe, and sets him apart to stand between him and his deity. The priest has to represent man to God and God to man. His chief function is sacrifice, and, in addition to it, he has to be intercessor and mediator - to bring the messages of the god to his worshippers, to represent the worshippers before their god. Jesus is all this in himself, by no external appointment, "not by the law of a carnal commandment, but by the power of an endless life." He is all this in solitary incommunicable manner. He, and none but he, brings God to men, and none but God. He alone is, in real essential unity, man's Representative and Intercessor. He alone offers the sacrifice for the world. He stands the sole Priest, his office unique, his Person sole and supreme, having and tolerating no companions in his solemn entrance within the veil, and having neither beginning of days nor end of life. There is but one Priest in the Church. There are no priests in the Church. All are priests in the Church.
III. CHRIST OFFERS AND IS THE ONE SACRIFICE; WE BECOME ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICES THROUGH HIM. There are two elements in the idea of sacrifice - surrender and expiation. The great work of Jesus Christ embraces both. "Not my will, but thine," is the inmost meaning of his whole life. He offered himself in the perfect, untrodden, joyful surrender of his will to the Father. That sinless Being, perpetually yielding itself in meek obedience, undisturbed by self-will, and spotless in its purity, attains the highest form of surrender, and stands alone as, in that aspect, the fulfillment of the ideal of sacrifice. All the life, which was thus perfect surrender to the Father's will, was also expiation. Himself bare our sins in his lowliness and sorrows, in the sympathy which wrung his heart. But the consecrating oil flows from him to us, and we too, by derivation from him, become priests to God. His hand laid on us sets us apart for sacred functions which are not all unlike his own, but are their consequence and carrying out. We too have to represent God to men, because Christ has given God to us. We have to move among our fellows, showing to them something of the splendor of the Divine love, the reflection of which in us some weak eyes may bear which would be dazzled by the direct beams. We have to intercede for men with God, and are invested with the solemn privilege carrying with it a heavy responsibility of free access to the secret place of the Most High, and of prayer that prevails with him, as well as in the awful solitude when he experienced the utmost penalty of the sin which he had never committed, in the consciousness of separation from God, which is eternal death, and in the physical death which is but the pictured shadow of that awful reality. His sacrifice, as surrender, stands alone in degree, as being absolute and stainless. His sacrifice, as expiation, stands alone in kind, incapable of repetition or imitation, and, blessed be God, needing none. But if we have come to him and partaken of his life, we shall, in the measure of our participation, become sacrifices too - not indeed expiatory, but eucharistic. For, touched by his love, and possessing his Spirit, we shall joyfully give up ourselves. Our true sacrifice is the surrender of our wills to the Divine will. We have to lay ourselves upon the altar which sanctifies and glorifies giver and gift; so shall we receive back again a better sell, ennobled and purified. Life should be one long sacrifice, being all lived with continual reference to him, and continual suppression of self. By him, too, we should offer the sacrifice of praise continually, and present the "much incense" of prayer. By him, too, we are to bring the sacrifices of doing good and imparting, with which God is well pleased. And by him we may at last offer the libation of pouring out our souls unto death, and complete the sacrifices of a life of faith by a death of submission. The dignities and prerogatives of the Christian life, expressed in the grand truths that we are temples and priests, are granted to us, not for honor, but for service. We are temples and priests that we may be sacrifices. All lofty gifts are ours with a view to this highest end, that we may yield ourselves wholly to God, and, losing ourselves in utter surrender, may have our poor sacrifice accepted through him who alone has offered the one perfect sacrifice for sins for evermore. - A.M.
I. THE TRANSFERENCE TO US OF THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE FOUNDATION'. There are two possible meanings of this phrase, and probably both are included in the apostle's thought. It may either be that the qualities which make Christ precious pass over to us and become our qualities and character, or that the qualities which make Christ precious become available for our benefit. The first of these thoughts is in accordance with the immediate context, for we find the same idea expressed in several aspects in ver. 5, where the living Stone is said to make those who come to him also living stones, and Christians are represented as being like their Lord, living temples, consecrated priests, and acceptable sacrifices. The idea that vital union with Christ brings about a communication of qualities from him to his followers, as if the virtue of the Foundation rose through all the building, is surely taught in a hundred places in Scripture, and is the very climax of the gospel. He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. He that is grafted into the true Olive Tree partakes of its root and fatness. We share our Lord's life; and his character shall growingly become ours. Whatever makes him precious in the sight of God we may partake of, and so be accepted in the Beloved, and be found in him, not having our own righteousness, but clothed with his. We may hope for progressive assimilation to his character, which will not cease till entire conformity has been realized, and we have absorbed all the preciousness of his infinitely worthy and spotlessly pure nature. Water stands at the same level in two communicating vessels, and if our hearts are open to the influx of Christ's life, the flow will not cease till all his is ours, and his fullness has filled our emptiness. Looking at the other aspect of the thought, it implies that the preciousness of the Foundation is available for us rather than communicated to us. The "therefore" of our text suggests that it is substantially equivalent in meaning to the closing words of the previous verse, "He that believeth on him shall not be confounded." So that part of the meaning, at all events, is the security of building on that Foundation. The preciousness of a foundation is its solidity and power to bear the superincumbent pressure without yielding. That steadfast capacity to sustain all our weight if we build ourselves on him is available to behest and bless us. Therefore we need not fear that our Foundation will settle or give. We need not fear to pile upon it all the pressure of our cares and sorrows, or to rear on it a fabric of our hopes and security, it will stand. Those who have reared their lives on other foundations will stand aghast when they feel them crumbling away in some hour of supreme need. They will have to flee with the haste of despair from the falling ruins. But if we have built on Christ, we shall have no need for haste, and no pale confusion need ever blanch our cheeks. The steadfastness of the Foundation will avail to make us builded upon it steadfast too, and, if we believe, all its preciousness will be ours and for us.
II. HOW THIS PRECIOUSNESS BECOMES OURS. The order of the sentence in the original puts emphasis on "who believe." The purpose of the clause is to mark the persons to whom alone the preciousness belongs, in sharp and solemn contrast with another class, to whom none of the saving, but only the destructive, powers which lie in the Foundation pass over. The worth of Christ is ours on one condition, but that condition is inexorable; faith, simple trust, which takes him for what he is and rests the whole being on Jesus as incarnate Son of God, Sacrifice for my sin as for all men's, Inspirer of all my goodness, Pattern, Friend, my Life, my All in all, - is the simple, sole, and indispensable condition of receiving his blessings and being enriched by his preciousness. There is nothing arbitrary in such a condition. It arises necessarily from the very nature of the case. How can Christ's sacrifice benefit me if I do not believe in it? What possible connection can be established between him and me, except through my trust in him? Faith is but stretching out the hard to grasp his extended hand. How can he hold me up, or give me the blessings of which his hands are full, if mine hang listless by my side, or are resolutely clenched behind my back? Faith is the opening of the heart for the inflow of his gifts. How can the sunshine enter the house if doors are barred and windows shuttered? Faith is but the channel through which his grace pours. How can it enter if there be no channel? Faith is the sole condition. Let us learn, then, how much and how little it takes to put us in possession of the preciousness of Christ. How much? Nothing less than the surrender of our hearts to him in entire self-distrust and abasement, and in absolute reliance on his all-sufficiency for our every need. How little? No external connection with Churches or Church ordinances; no efforts of ours after self-improvement nor fragmentary and partial goodness; but simply trust in the Christ whom the gospel reveals. That faith must be a continually active faith. It is "you who believe," not "you who believed," to whom the preciousness belongs. The transference is continual if the faith be continual. Every interruption of the latter causes a cessation in the former, and is marked by breaks like those on a telegraphic ribbon where the contact was suspended. Builders put a film of pitch between the foundations and the upper courses to keep the damp from rising. How often Christians put a film of impenetrable unbelief between Christ and themselves, so that his grace cannot rise in their hearts!
III. THE GRIM ALTERNATIVE. If the condition of possession be as the apostle declares it, then the absence of the condition means non-possession. The freeness and. simplicity of the gospel of salvation by faith has necessarily a dark under side, and the more clearly and joyfully the one is preached the more clearly and solemnly should the other be. Therefore Peter's message would not be complete without the awful "but" which follows. Christ is something to every man to whom he is preached, and does something to him. Mark how significantly the following clause varies the statement of the condition, substituting "disobedient" as the antithesis of "believing," thereby teaching us that unbelief is disobedience, being an act of the rebel will, and that disobedience is unbelief. But observe, too, that while faith is the condition of all reception of Christ's blessings, unbelief does not so isolate from him as that he is nothing to the man. Unbelief, like some malignant alchemy, perverts all Christ's preciousness to harm and loss, as some plants elaborate poison in their tissues from sunshine and sweet dews. One thing or other that great Savior must be to us all. We cannot stand wholly unaffected by him. We cannot make ourselves as if we had never heard of him. There is a solemn alternative offered to each of us - "either... or." Either our life is being received or being rejected - our death. There will come to us from him either the gracious influences which save, or the terrible ones which destroy. He is either the merciful Fire which cleanses and transforms, or the awful Fire which consumes. Faith builds on him as the Foundation, and is secure. Unbelief pulls down that Rock of offence on its own head, and is ground to powder by the fall. - A.M.
1 Peter 2:9 (last clause)
I. WE HAVE HERE A REMARKABLE VIEW OR THE GREAT PURPOSE OF GOD IN HIS HIGHEST WORKING. The manifestation of his own character that his creatures may see it and magnify him, is his end, so far as we can speak of God as having ends which he reaches by his acts. Self-manifestation to creatures who can somewhat feel the infinite beauty and bow adoring and blessed Before it, is his supreme purpose in all his acts. Such an end alone is fully congruous with anal worthy of God. For this end creation came into being, that it might be a mirror of God, and eyes were made that in the mirror they might behold him and rejoice in the vision. Every creature has this for its highest end, to glorify God, because that was God's end in its creation. Of creatures man is the highest revelation of the Divine character; and among men, man redeemed is the highest. This great thought as to God's supreme end being the manifestation of himself has often been stated so as to repel, and to make God almighty selfishness. "For a man to seek his own glory is not glory," and the same thing is true about some forms into which this truth has been thrown. But rightly understood, it is but another way of saying, "God is love." For the impulse and need to impart one's self is the very life of love, and he seeks in all his acts to reveal himself, because, being love, he delights to give himself to his creatures, and because their highest blessedness and their eternal life stand in the knowledge of his Name.
II. WE HAVE, SECOND, AN IMPRESSIVE THOUGHT AS TO THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS GREAT PURPOSE IS EFFECTED. It is largely entrusted to the members of the Christian Church, who are, as George Herbert says of mankind as a whole, "the secretaries of his praise." And there are three ways in which they are and should be so.
1. The very existence of the Church proclaims God's excellences. Its founding, in the one wondrous act of Christ's death, proclaims his wisdom, power, and love, all in superlative degree. All his character shines forth there with brightness before which the revelation of him in creation pales and dwindles, and is as a nebula to a sun. Its preservation, notwithstanding the imperfections and sins of its members and the opposition of its enemies, shows forth his guarding and sustaining power no less than his long-suffering. If the Church had less than almightiness to preserve it, the faults of Christians would have destroyed it long ago, and would have provoked him to destroy it if he bad not been infinite in patience. The great evidence of Christianity is Christ, and the second is the Church.
2. The characters of Christian men reclaim God's excellences. They are "called out of darkness," as the text says, "into his marvelous light," That implies, as part of its meaning, that Christian men do in some measure enter into and walk in that light in which he is. The process of conversion is their passage from the darkness of self, which is ignorance, and sin, and sadness, into the possession, in part at least, of his light, which brings knowledge and goodness and joy. The black thunder-clouds are borne into the sunlight, which pours on their ebon masses and touches them into luster or thins them away. Thus we may and should become means of making God visible and lovely to dim eyes which could not bear to look on his brightness except as reflected in the mirror of our characters. All the beauty of self-sacrifice which has ever irradiated a saint, all the heroism of the martyr, all the wisdom and eloquence of the teachers, all the prudence of the leaders, all the charity and benevolence, are but the reflex of his excellences. All these, which gleam so brightly in the dark world, are but diamond dust, microscopic fragments, as it were, from the solid rock of his infinite perfection. They tell of him, as the stream of its source. How profound the depth, how wide the expanse, how pellucid the waters of that great lake which pours through the ages that broad stream of human goodness that flows between the banks of the Christian Church!
3. We should proclaim God's excellences by direct works, as occasion serves. Every Christian is bound both to witness for God by a life made fair by communion with him, and by speech, when 'speech may be used. It is not enough to show forth his Name in our lives, for sometimes life needs a commentary, and a Christian will often have to avow the principles which guide his actions, in plain words, if the actions are to be intelligible or he to be faithful. Common honesty requires it. Loyalty to our Lord requires it. Ordinary humanity requires it. God has entrusted all Christian men with the treasure of his love in Christ, not that they may themselves be enriched only, but also that by them it may be ministered to others; and the dumb Christian who has never opened his mouth to press the gospel on others incurs a worse "curse" than that which falls on him who "withholdeth bread" from starving lips. Alas! for the many professing Christians who do their best to thwart the Divine purpose in their conversion by cowardly indolent silence! Their duty cannot be delegated, their responsibility cannot be evaded, nor the punishment which comes in their feeble hold of the concealed truth eluded.
III. WE HAVE HERE, TOO, AN EXHIBITION OF SOME OF THE MOTIVES IMPELLING THE DISCHARGE OF THIS DUTY. The greatness of the blessing is suggested by the emphatic words which describe God as calling us out of darkness into his marvelous light. His love and his power have summoned us into light which is his own, thus giving us to participate in the very element of his own being, and which is marvelous, as being bestowed by processes beyond nature which may well call forth wonder, and as in its own luster so far transcending all other light. A gift so wondrous is meant to call forth gratitude, and that gratitude should express itself in a continual offering up of self to manifest God's glory. Thankfulness, then, to him who has called us is the first motive to which the apostle appeals. It is a poor gratitude which never mentions the name of its benefactor. Dumb thankfulness is no thankfulness. If his praises die on our lips, gratitude must be dead in our hearts. A second motive is a sense of responsibility arising from possession of the gift. If we have the light, and are walking in it, how can we bear to know that there are poor souls stumbling in the dark! Put the candle in your window. It may light home some lost wanderer on the dreary moor. A third motive arises from the consideration of God's purpose to which we have already referred. Surely his purpose should be our aim. Our own happiness or salvation is not all God's meaning in his mercy towards us.
"Heaven cloth with us, as we with torches do,
I. The glory of the Christian commonwealth in ITS CHARACTERISTICS. "An elect race;" "a race," i.e. descendants from one stock and kindred one to another. "Elect;" that is, at once choice and chosen. Chosen to be blessed, and to be made a blessing. "A royal priesthood." A kingdom of priests. "Thou hast made us kings and priests." What is the true conception of a king or of a priest? One who lives for others; the king, if you will, in open field; the priest in sacred retirement. We are both. "A holy nation;" i.e. consecrated to religion. Rome may be a martial nation, Greece a cultured nation, Babylon a commercial nation. Israel was nothing if not religious. The Christian commonwealth is to be the Israel of today. "A people for God's own possession," or for special reservation. "Peculiar," a word used to describe the earnings of the slave in his overtime - his "very own." We are the "very own" of God. "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem," etc.; "bought with blood."
II. The glory of the Christian commonwealth in ITS MISSION. "That ye may," etc. This throws us back on the word "elect." We are chosen for this purpose. "Ye may show forth;" tell out to those without what has taken place within. "The excellences of him" - virtues, glories, of God. What a boundless theme! "Who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." God's call, by his Spirit, through his Word, through the conscience, through the ministry, through the sacraments, through providential events, reaches all of us. But "the called" usually denotes those who have responded to the call. The call is from "darkness," i.e. ignorance, error, misery, sin, helplessness, to "light," truth, joy, purity, activity; from the sepulcher to the garden, from the dungeon to the temple, from midnight to noon.
III. These glories of the Christian commonwealth ARE IN STRIKING CONTRAST WITH THE FAST HISTORY OF ITS MEMBERS. "Which in time past." The reference is doubtless
(1) to quicken humility;
(2) to kindle gratitude;
(3) to awaken watchfulness. Were no people; isolated, each self-centered; a chaos, not a commonwealth. "But are now the people of God;" not merely a commonwealth, but a sacred commonwealth, a theocracy. "Which had not obtained mercy," etc.; had not realized it as their own. Pity is care for the weak. Compassion is care lot the suffering. Mercy is care for the undeserving. And it is mercy that has met the Christian man, and made him what he is. - U.R.T.
I. THE DEMAND FOR A BECOMING LIFE ON THE PART OF THE CHURCH. There is a certain behavior which becomes God's people, if only because they are closely observed by the ungodly; the world has a standard of character it expects the Church to reach. We may discourage ourselves by overestimating that standard (probably they do not look for perfection), but we must beware lest we underrate it. What is this character? (Let us remember that it is character; that they care nothing for creed, nor for habits of devotion, nor for our statements as to religious experience, but demand a certain life from the people of God, and watch for it as with an eagle's glance.)
1. It must be an exemplification of righteousness. Straightforward, above-board, strictly upright action, come what may - nothing less becomes the children of the Holy One. Social and commercial morality are not enough. Christian morality, which the world has a right to expect in us, is action from right principle at any cost.
2. It must be an exhibition of peace. The Christian says, "God loves and cares for me; he is my Father; for me he laid down his life; to me he has given all blessing in his Son; and I trust him." Then the world looks in him for that rest of soul which writes itself on the face, silences impatient utterance, and restrains the hasty deed. Nothing less becomes such profession.
3. It must be animated by kind consideration for others. Even righteousness will not satisfy the world; there must be also love. Less cannot become those who have his Spirit of whom it is said, "And God is Love." On the top of the pillars of uprightness there must be the lily work of love; yea, those pillars, hard and cold, must be wreathed from base to capital with love's sweet flowers and fruit, or onlookers will refuse to believe they are pillars of God's temple.
II. THE REASON FOR THIS DEMAND. Three powerful reasons are suggested here.
1. The Christian is essentially different from the world. "Strangers [in another place translated 'foreigners'] and pilgrims." "Ye are not of the world;" "Ye are come to the heavenly Jerusalem;" citizens of another country, subjects of another King, passing through this world to that to which the Heaven-born nature aspires. We are more than others (we are born again); we have more than others (the all-sufficient grace of the Spirit); we owe more than others (redeemed with the precious blood of Christ); then we ought to be more than others.
2. The world regards the Christian with some prejudice. "They speak against you as evil-doers.' The history of the period confirms that; Christian writings of the second century constantly refute false charges of the immorality of Christianity. These false charges are likely to be perpetual; for "if they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub," etc., then so much the more reason for becoming conduct on our park We cannot reason, but we can live down, this prejudice. Each line of life is credited with certain evils; by living above those evils the Christian must roll this prejudice against Christianity away.
3. The influence of Christian character on the world is incalculable. "By your good works which they shall behold, they may glorify God in the day of visitation." An unspeakably solemn word. It implies that, when they are visited by God's mercy, their acceptance of that mercy depends largely on the previous influence of the lives of God's people. Before Lazarus could come forth from his grave at Christ's word, men must roll away the stone. So the stone of prejudice against Christ. By unbecoming conduct we may harden men in sin and unbelief; by becoming conduct we may prepare the way of the Lord.
III. THE MEANS OF FULFILLING THIS DEMAND. "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."
1. Becoming character begins with the heart. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." Only that can come from us which is first put in us. Christian lives are not produced by laying aside this blemish or taking up that excellence, but by prolonged and secret heart-work. "As a man's heart is, so is he."
2. This heart-work requires abstinence from whatever wars against the soul. Not necessarily bad things, but anything that militates against spiritual life. Every wish must be crucified which may be a hindrance to me or to others.
3. This abstinence comes from a remembrance of our obligation to God. Some trees only lose their leaves when new ones come and push them off; thus only by the incoming of new desires and affections do we lose the old ones. The eleventh verse follows the ninth and tenth verses. Abstinence from evil desires follows as a matter of course a remembrance of what God has done for us, and an appropriation of the sublime blessings it gives. - C.N.
1. The flesh in itself is neither good nor bad; it has no moral qualities.
2. The category of evils here enumerated includes envying, pride, heresies.
3. The "flesh" is used figuratively, and is a symbol of the old and lower nature of man. The phrase points to the disorganized, disproportioned, disordered desires of man, and so includes intemperance, gluttony, voluptuousness, bad temper, false ambitions, covetousness, all of which are included in the accursed trinity of St. John, "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the vain-glory of life." We are here taught that -
I. INDULGENCE IN THESE DISORDERLY PASSIONS IS BECOMING NEITHER TO OUR PRESENT CONDITION NOR TO OUR DESTINY. We are "sojourners;" foreigners, not staying here. But more, we are "pilgrims," bent on a higher destination. "Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest."
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THESE DISORDERLY PASSIONS IS HOSTILE TO OUR OWN INWARD LIFE. "Which war against the soul;" war against all the garrison and inmates of the soul - against reason, defying and dishonoring it; against memory, burdening and crushing it; against hope, darkening it and turning it into terror; against imagination, polluting and degrading it; against conscience, cutting and maiming, though they cannot kill it; against the affections, ravaging and spoiling them; in a word, against "the soul.
III. FREEDOM FROM THESE DISORDERLY PASSIONS, BESIDES DELIVERING FROM INTERNAL STRIFE, WILL MAKE OUR OUTWARD LIFE A SOCIAL BLESSING. Four facts are here suggested on this point.
1. Outward life scrutinized. They behold" it.
2. Outward life readily calumniated. "They speak evil of you." Slanders brought against early Christians were many, foul, and baseless. It was a king who said, "It is kingly to do good, and to be evil spoken of is kingly." Paul, James, Peter, and our Lord teach that to do good and be evil spoken of was the lot of a Christian.
3. Outward life should be beautiful. "Good works;" i.e. beautiful works. No scenery can be or should be so fascinating, so awe-inspiring, as the scenery of souls. They may show forth most of the beauties of holiness, the beauty of God.
4. Such outward life leads to God being glorified. "They may glorify God." Many a man has found some noble or gracious life of kinsman, or of friend, or of hero to be "the gate Beautiful," by which he has gone into the temple of the fellowship and service of God. - U.R.T.
I. ASPECT UNDER WHICH THEY ARE ADDRESSED. "Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims." There is here a well-marked transition to a new section. It is introduced by a word which gives an earnest, affectionate tone to his exhortation. He addresses them under the aspect of " sojourners and pilgrims." The language is based on Psalm 39:12, "For I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner, as all my fathers were," where, in the Greek translation, the same two words are used as here. The two words strengthen the idea; there is very little difference in sense. The first word points to our not being at home; the second wind points to our not being among our own people. We are not at home on earth where there is so much evil, where especially we have not the immediate presence of our Father. To this is added that we do not live among our own people; for, though we have our own circle, yet the men of the world are as those that speak a strange language and do not follow our customs.
II. DUTY PRESENTED.
(1) Form. "To abstain from fleshly lusts." We are not to understand "fleshly" in the narrow sense, but as including all the desires of sinful human nature. The context suggests lusts that have to do with insubordination; and there are not excluded drunkenness, gluttony, and what is called lust. They agree in being irregular; they are the desires belonging to our nature going beyond the order appointed for them. The call is to abstain from them. This is a Christian word with a wider range than is sometimes given to it in the present day. It defines the movement we have to make against our lusts.
(2) Reason. "Which war against the soul." There is reason for our moving against fleshly lusts in this, that they move against us. They are not only antagonistic, but are actively aggressive. They move against us in our highest nature, viz. the soul - that by which we are capable of a higher destiny than is to be got on earth. As sojourners and pilgrims, we are looking forward to "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven;" we must not, by giving ourselves into the power of lusts, unfit ourselves for our noble destiny. "Abstain" is the word for those who would have their souls saved.
(1) Form. "Having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles." The whole of Christian duty is not contained in the word "abstain." There must be, on the positive side, the having our behavior seemly. The usual translation of the word is "beautiful," "fair." Where strictness is often repellent; there must be what is attractive about our conduct, especially if we take into account those who are yet unfriendly to Christianity.
(2) Christian motive. "That wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." There is often a very loose way of classifying men. The Christians were classed with evildoers. Those who had the highest conception of God were spoken against as atheists, simply because they rejected the objects of heathen worship. Those who were called by their religion to live most holy lives were spoken against as anarchists, and even as introducing abominations, the only foundation for it being that they had necessarily to put themselves in opposition to many heathen ways. How, then, were they to act before the heathen? They were to see well to the seemliness of their behavior. Peter might have urged that they were to do this, that they might not come into collision with heathen authorities. He goes a point beyond that, and urges that by good works (beautiful works, being the same word that is translated "seemly") they were to aim at the conversion of the heathen. We can understand, from what follows, that he had in his mind exemplariness in the different relations of life, and not returning evil for evil; but we can also think of the deeds for which Tertullian praises the Christians. "When the pagans deserted their nearest relatives in a plague, Christians ministered to the sick and dying. When the pagans left their dead unburied after a battle, and cast their wounded into the streets, the Christians hastened to relieve the suffering," By such fair deeds as these they could hope to break down prejudice. The heathen beholding them might be led to change their mind about them as irreligious in their faith and life, might be led to think favorably of their God, and thus to be converted to Christianity. Such a result would be glorifying to God, and it was only in keeping with his procedure. It was a day of visitation from God (in the coming of the missionaries) that accounted for their deliverance from heathenism; what was to hinder a similar day of visitation in the conversion even of their defamers? - R.F.
I. THE CHRISTIAN VIEW OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT.
1. Regarded in itself, it is a human institution, but it is nevertheless ordained by God. In this respect it is in the same case as the family. To believe in a Divine Ruler and a divinely appointed order, is to accept the state and its ordinances as appointed by the wisdom of God himself.
2. The Christian recognizes the Divine principle of government as personified in civil rulers. These are supreme-as kings; or persons commissioned, and exercising delegated power, as governors.
3. The Christian perceives the necessity of those functions which rulers are bound to discharge. There is no government worthy of the name which does not punish evil-doers, and protect, favor, and praise those who do well.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S DUTY TOWARDS CIVIL GOVERNMENT.
1. Generally speaking, that duty is submission, loyalty, and cheerful obedience. When laws are promulgated, the Christian respects and observes them; when taxes are levied, the Christian pays them; when service is required, the Christian renders it.
2. He acknowledges that this course of conduct is supported alike by the example and by the teaching of Christ.
3. Yet this obedience is within certain limits, and is subject to certain reservations. No man is under obligation to obey an ordinance of the civil power which is contradictory to the express and unmistakable law of God. And when the ruler himself is disloyal, and violates the constitution to which ruler and subject alike are subject, there are cases in which even resistance is allowable, if not binding.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S MOTIVES TO OBEY THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT. He does not act simply in his own interest, to avoid penalties, to secure place.
1. He obeys for the Lord's sake, i.e. with a Christian aim before him.
2. He obeys because such is the will of God himself.
3. He obeys in order to remove hindrances from the way of the progress of Christianity among men. Scandals are avoided, prejudices are overcome, good will is conciliated; and the path is made clear for the progress of the gospel. Loyalty to the state and to the sovereign is loyalty to Christ, to God. - J.R.T.
I. THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN CITIZENSHIP, "Submit yourselves to every human institution... 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 " - that includes all human institutions for the well-being of the nation at large, whether in the wider circle of imperial, or the narrower circle of local, matters, and, says the apostle, "Submit yourselves to that."
1. What, then, is the submission which the Christian owes to the state? The only submission possible to those to whom Peter wrote was that of tribute and obedience; under the despotic policy of the empire they could do no more; they had no power to ameliorate the laws nor to choose their rulers. With us it is not so. If we only pay the taxes and obey the authorities, we do not submit ourselves. "Submit yourselves unto God" means "give yourselves." So read the word "submit" here. The Christian is bound to give not only his substance and doings to these, but himself. As Christians, nothing ought to be alien to us which concerns the world our Lord loved and died for.
2. What are the limits of this submission? We must read this with the limitation everywhere implied. "Fearing God" comes before "honoring the king." Peter was himself an illustration of that, when he told the rulers "We must obey God rather than man." But the text refers to submission of ourselves; we must do that as far as we are to do all else that is right - that is, as far as our opportunities and talents permit. Opportunity and talent are the limit of duty. Health, home-claims, higher claims, natural aptitude, etc., these show us where and how far we may go. God's barriers are always plain to him who fears God.
3. What, then, is the objection to this submission? We are told that Christians are citizens of another world, and should have no part in this. But it is mean to get all the good out of the world we can, and refuse to do it all the good we can. We are told that Christ lived in the midst of political corruption, and did not raise his voice against it. But he was ever propagating those principles which undermine corruption, and his healing miracles show that his heart was set on ameliorating physical woe. We are told that we should come out of the world, and be separate. But that cannot mean that the Christian - the Christian physician, say - is to refuse to help the world. If the world chooses to help me to do a good work, I know no command which, because of their co-operation, bids me stand aloof.
II. THE LOFTY PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THIS DUTY IS TO BE FULFILLED. What is wanted is, not so much that Christians should take these things up, as that they should do so from sacred conviction, and "as becomes the gospel of Christ."
1. This must be done "for the Lord's sake. The earth is the Lord's... the world and they that dwell therein." How much does he care for men, who for them became incarnate, and endured the death of the cross! Then everything that tends to their development and enfranchisement is dear to him.
2. This must be done that "with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. If the world come to regard Christianity as having to do mostly with beliefs and emotions, they will look upon it as unreal and worthless. It is not by fighting more or less extinct Satans" that we secure the world's respect for Christ, but by earnestly grappling, for his sake, with the real evils of the day.
3. This must be done "as servants of God. This duty is not without peril to personal spiritual life; it often calls the Christian to associate with those who have no fear of God, and work accordingly, and exposes him to the danger of falling to their level. The political atmosphere is often morally deadening Our safety is in going into this deliberately as God's servants, to do his will, and that at any cost, wearing heaven's livery, and making heavenly influences tell upon our fellows.
III. THE DIVINE WARNING AGAINST THE DANGER IN THE FULFILLMENT OF THIS DUTY. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of evil [κακία, equivalent to 'evil of any kind']." The Christian public man needs anxiously to look beneath his activity, and see if any evil thing is concealed and fostered there.
1. There is the evil of self-seeking. Of doing this unconsciously, not for Christ, but for personal ends.
2. And there is the evil of love of the world. Public life has a terrible tendency to foster a spirit of worldliness, and to counteract this we need plenty of heart and closet work. There is no peril in this if we put "fear of God ' before the "honor of the king" - if, whilst we "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's," we "render to God the things that are God's;" if, whilst submitting ourselves "to every human institution," etc., we maintain the lofty feeling and character of "the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the people peculiarly God's own." - C.N.
I. THE NECESSITY OF LOYALTY. In our present condition there must be the ruled and rulers. It may be well to seek a change of rulers; it certainly is often well to seek a change of laws; but while rulers, whether "kings or governors," are for "vengeance on evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well," it is the duty of the true citizen to be loyal.
II. THE FREQUENT CHARGE OF DISLOYALTY BROUGHT BY THE FOOLISH AGAINST REFORMERS. Such men as St. Paul was addressing were, as Christians are, of necessity, reformers. There was all the more need that they should, by fitting loyalty, put to shame the ignorance of foolish men who calumniated them. Even their very freedom, as being under a higher than mere human law, might seem to be used as "a cloak of wickedness." Therefore they were to be the very bondservants of God.
III. LOYALTY IS INCOMPLETE UNLESS IT INCLUDES HONOR FOR ALL MEN, LOVE FOR THE CHRISTIAN BROTHERHOOD, AS WELL AS OBEDIENCE TO THE RULER. The true loyalist is no recluse, but a philanthropist and a Church-member.
IV. THE SUFFICIENT AND ABIDING MOTIVE FOR SUCH LOYALTY IS DIVINE. "For the Lord's sake." - U.R.T.
I. CATEGORY UNDER WHICH THE DUTY IN THE RELATION COMES. "Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." There are various ordinances of man; i.e. Divine appointments for human relations which are subject to human molding. With reference to every such ordinance our duty is subjections, i.e. deference, even when we cannot give our approval. We are to be subject to the ordinance for the Lord's sake. There is here the Pauline thought that it is Christ who is represented in the position of authority, and we are to be subject to those in authority for the sake of him whose representatives they are. There is thus the placing of society, not only on a religious, but on a distinctively Christian basis. "The relation of superiority and subordination which permeates the whole of human society, and excludes all abstract liberty and equality, - this pervading relation of contrast, tending nevertheless to unity between authority and liberty, authority and obedience, authority and filial piety - in its original source, in its inmost foundation, and in its actual essence, is not of man, cannot be deduced from the right of the stronger or the more able, nor from the common consent, but rests on God's will and appointment, and is subject to his guidance. This implies that, in honoring his parents and obeying the laws, one obeys not only man, but also God. It implies that, whilst superiors and subordinates are mutually bound to each other, both are engaged to a higher third party, whose servants they both are, whose laws they must both obey, and to whom both must render an account. It implies, in one word, that the whole order of human society in its ultimate resort rests on the Divine will as its foundation" (Martensen).
II. PARTICULAR DUTY OF SUBJECTION TO CIVIL AUTHORITIES. "Whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him." There is here specified the ordinance of civil government. It is viewed concretely in the persons in whom it has reality. The highest authority is vested in the king; he is represented as sending governors, i.e. giving authority to magistrates under him. There is no determination here of the best form of civil government; that is left to human molding. The duty of being subject is not made dependent on the government under which we are placed being the best, nor is it made dependent on legitimacy; we have simply to do with the government in fact, and its acting head as representing to us, however imperfectly in the civil sphere, the government of Christ. Our subjection takes the form of obeying the laws, paying taxes, lending our influence on the side of authority. What we render to our civil rulers should be all the more satisfactory that we render it to them for the sake of that Lord in whose Name we regard them as acting.
III. JUSTIFICATION OF THE ORDINANCE OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT. "For vengeance on evildoers and for praise to them that do well." This language is connected with the under-magistrates, but with them as sent by the supreme magistrate. It therefore puts before us the idea of civil government. It is the employment of force, but for moral ends. It is for vengeance on evildoers; i.e. it sets itself to repress evil-doing (such as it takes notice of by proportionate punishments. It is also for praise to them that do well; i.e. it sets itself to encourage law-keeping and industrial enterprise by adequate protection to life and property. This is no human conception; it is the bodying forth (however imperfectly) of the Divine love for order, for settled institutions. "God is not the Author of confusion, but of order, and as in all the Churches of the saints," so also in the states great and small.
IV. MOTIVE INFLUENCING SUBJECTION. "For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." It is implied that there was an impression abroad that the Christians were evildoers, or elements of disorder in the state. That impression was not founded on fact; the apostle sets it down to the ignorance of foolish men, i.e. their self-caused inability in their ignorance to understand the Christian position (rather than to malice). It was not the quiet voice of wisdom, but rather the loud voice of foolishness. The Christians were really the greatest friends of order, and it was not only their interest but their recognized duty to occupy no doubtful position toward the Roman state. It was a direction to ancient Israel in captivity in Babylon, "Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace." Paul gives directions even to give thanks for kings and for all that are in authority. So it is here declared to be not good policy, but the will of God (which should have the highest power to influence), that by well-doing, i.e. specially by the greatest exemplariness in keeping the laws, they should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
V. PRINCIPLE CONDITIONING LIBERTY. "As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God." We should rather read "malice" and "servants." It is against good interpretation to bring in here Christian freedom in general. We are free specially in relation to the state. We are free to obey, or not to obey, the laws of the land. We are free to aspire after better conditions for the state. But we are not to allow our freedom to degenerate into license. We are not to use it as a pretext for gratifying our private revenge. We are not to use it as a cloak underneath which we strike at established authority. How, then, are we to find the right course? It is by this consideration, that we are servants of God, and bound by his laws. And if the laws of the land require what his laws forbid, or forbid what his laws require, our duty is to refuse obedience to them. We have an example of the latter in the refusal of the apostles to cease teaching in the name of Christ. When brought before the authorities for breaking the laws, they said, "We ought to obey God rather than man." They were willing to take the consequences, but they would not cease preaching Christ. However much we are in love with order, are willing to be subject to the ordinance for the Lord's sake, there is limitation. If a government were to seek to impose on us a form of religion of which in our conscience we did not approve, our choice would lie between suffering and exercising such power as we had. And if we as citizens had the power we believe that it would only be according to the mind of God that we should use it to overthrow the tyranny - the higher consideration in this, as in many cases, overruling the lower.
VI. SURROUNDINGS OF THE DUTY OF SUBJECTION.
1. All men. "Honor all men." We must understand the worst of men as included. The ground of the honor is the worth which essentially belongs to humanity by its Divine constitution. We are made in the image of God, made to think of God and to do the will of God, made for God and immortality. The form in which Kant puts it is the following: "No man can be employed, neither by others nor by himself, as a mere instrument, but is always to be regarded as an end. And as he cannot dispose of himself for any price (which would be subversive of his own self-reverence), neither is he at liberty to derogate from the equally necessary self-reverence of others as men; i.e. he is obliged practically to recognize the dignity of every other man's humanity, and so stands under a duty based on that reverential observance which is necessarily to be demonstrated towards every other person." Besides this essential worth, there is superadded worth in the fact of the Incarnation. "The religion of Christ is a testimony to the worth of man in the sight of God, to the importance of human nature, to the infinite purposes for which we were framed. God is there set forth as sending to the succor of the human family his Beloved Son, the bright image and representation of his own perfections; and sending him, not simply to roll away a burden of pain and punishment, but to create man after the Divine image, to purify the soul from every stain, to commute to it power over evil, to open before it immortality as its aim and destination. And these blessings it proffers, not to the few, not to the educated, not to the eminent, but to all human beings, to the poorest and the most fallen. Honor, then, man from the beginning to the end of his earthly course. Honor the child. Welcome into being the infant, with a feeling of its mysterious grandeur, with the feeling that an immortal existence has begun, that a spirit has been kindled which is never to be quenched. Honor the child. On this principle all good education rests. Never shall we learn to train up the child till we take it in our arms, as Jesus did, and feel distinctly that ' of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Honor the poor. This sentiment of respect is essential to improving the connection between the more and the less prosperous conditions of society. Till Christianity shall have breathed into us this spirit of respect for our nature, wherever it is found, we shall not know how to raise the fallen. Perhaps none of us have yet heard or can comprehend the tone of voice in which a man thoroughly impressed with this sentiment would speak to a fellow-creature" (Channing). This duty is fittingly made the basis; for when we have learned to honor all men for the worth of their nature, we shall come more readily to being subject to what God has appointed for man - including civil government.
2. The brotherhood. "Love the brotherhood." We are to understand all that truly belong to the Christian circle. We are to love men beyond the brotherhood, but compassionately with a view to their being brought within the brotherhood. It is only within the brotherhood that we can get outlet for our brotherly feelings, because it is there only that there is community of life, that there are excellences on which we can rest with complacency. "In its true idea, or regarded as the union of those who partake in the spirit of Jesus Christ, I revere it as the noblest of all associations. Our common social unions are poor by its side. In the world we form ties of interest, pleasure, and ambition. We come together as creatures of time and sense for transient amusement or display. In the Church we meet as God's children; we recognize in ourselves something higher than animal and worldly life. We come, that holy feelings may spread from heart to heart. The Church, in its true idea, is a retreat from the world. We meet in it that by union with the holy we may get strength to withstand our common intercourse with the impure. We meet to adore God, to open our souls to his Spirit, and, by recognition of the common Father, to forget all distinctions among ourselves. This spiritual union with the holy is to survive all ties; the union of the virtuous friends of God is as eternal as virtue; and this union is the essence of the true Church." Let us, then, value the brotherhood as meeting the social side of our spiritual life; let our love go out towards all who have the reality of life in Christ, however much they may differ from us; let our love go out towards them even in proportion to the depth of their life; let us rejoice in the progress they are making; let us seek also the better realization of the brotherhood, including many conquests for it from the world. Stress was to be laid on this in connection with subjection to civil authorities; for if the brotherhood was dear to them as Zion of old to the captives (Psalm 137.), great care was to be taken that there was no unnecessary collision with these authorities.
3. God. "Fear God." This is the feeling of reverence which we are to entertain towards God as infinitely exalted above us. We are to fear God because of the far-reaching power, wisdom, even goodness, which he has displayed in his works. Even in the contemplation of a little flower, Linnaeus said, "God eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, I saw him as he was passing by from behind, and I was amazed." We are to fear him because he gave us being, because he has bound us by natural law, because he has especially bound us as free responsible beings by moral law. We are to fear him who is the absolutely holy Lawgiver, and especially when he commands from Calvary. It is evident that this fear to God has to do with subjection to civil authorities. It will keep us from over-estimating the ruler, as though his word were simply to be obeyed, his example to be followed. We have first to inquire whether no injury is done thereby to Divine law. It will keep us, on the other hand, from under-estimating the ruler. As placed over us under God, he has (with the necessary reservation that has been pointed to) a right to our obedience.
4. The king. "Honor the king." We may esteem the king because of his personal excellence, and we may be attached to his rule because of the advantages connected with it; but we honor him because of the office which he holds. Without this feeling animating us, we cannot give subjection so as to enjoy the approval of our God. - R.F.
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S SPIRITUAL FREEDOM.
1. He enjoys freedom in relation to God. Apart from the great redemption, man is, as sinful, exposed to the Divine displeasure and righteous condemnation. From this he is delivered, i.e. set free; and that by an act of God's own clemency and interposition.
2. He is emancipated from the slavery to which sin formerly subjected him. The Scriptures everywhere represent the service of sin as serfdom, not as honorable and worthy of such a being as man. And experience shows that this view is just, that the servant of sin is the slave of sin. Now, from this bondage Christ liberates his people. Sin has not dominion over them. No created power could effect this great enfranchisement; it is the work of the Divine Savior clothed with the omnipotence of Heaven.
3. He is also freed from subjection to the authority of man. As the soul recognizes the right of Deity, the power claimed by humanity recedes and diminishes. Another and a higher standard than human authority claims profoundest reverence; and, where there is a conflict, the Christian spirit realizes freedom from the created yoke.
II. THE CHRISTIAN'S RENUNCIATION OF THE COUNTERFEIT OF LIBERTY. No doubt many, under the guise of Christianity, have adopted antinomian principles; it was so in apostolic days; it is so now. Against this error Peter faithfully warns those lately emancipated from bondage to sin and death. We are warned in this language:
(1) that it is possible for men nominally Christian to be in bondage in respects in which they ought to be free; and
(2) to be exercising freedom where they ought to submit to restraint. The history of Christendom assures us that there is a tendency, on the part of those who realize their new and sacred privileges, to despise the safe way of scrupulous and watchful obedience. And on the other hand, it is found that traditional chains are retained and cherished which should be cast off with indignation and hatred.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S SPIRITUAL BONDAGE. All the while that he is free, the Christian is the true servant and bondman of the Lord Christ. Of this service it may be said that it is:
1. Voluntary, because adopted and accepted deliberately, upon a consideration of the claims of Christ, and the true duty and interest of his emancipated ones.
2. Practical, being the service not only of the heart, but of the bodily nature and outward life.
3. Honorable. In the slavery of sin is disgrace; but to serve Christ is higher honor than for a minister of state to serve a good and mighty king, than for a pupil to serve a master of power and genius.
4. Happy and advantageous. The Christian does not serve for the sake of the reward; but he does not serve without a reward. Christ has it in his power to recompense, and he exercises this power for the benefit of his faithful adherents and friends. There is no joy like that of serving Christ, and no recompense such as that which he does and will confer. In a word, it is the experience of the Christian that true service and true liberty are united in his life, and in his life alone. - J.R.T.
I. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH HUMANITY IS TO BE HONORED.
1. Natural grounds. All men are creatures of God's almighty power. Not only so; all are made in the image of God, however that image has been defiled and partially effaced by sin. Hence the capacity for great things, for a holy and self-denying life, for fellowship with God.
2. Supernatural grounds. The revelation of God's love and pity is for the benefit of mankind at large. God is "the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe." Christ died for all, and, as the Son of man, partook the common nature, lived the common life, died the death which is the common lot, that he might "draw all men unto himself." The provision of the gospel, the grace of the Holy Spirit, are for all, irrespective of nation, of rank, of any adventitious distinction. How, then, can the Christian do other than honor those for whom God himself, the Fountain of all honor, has done so great things?
II. THE WAYS IN WHICH HUMANITY IS TO BE HONORED.
1. By a watchful cherishing of a spirit respectful and considerate, and by the avoidance of a contemptuous disposition.
2. By a sympathetic demeanor towards fellow-Christians, whatever their position in society.
3. By efforts for the enlightenment and evangelization of men of every nation and every condition in life. - J.R.T.
necessity. The power lay with the master, and the bondslave must needs submit. There was expediency. Resistance and rebellion on the part of the slave would only bring upon him punishment and increase of suffering. But Paul relies upon the distinctively Christian motives to produce patience and submission.
I. CHRIST'S OWN EXAMPLE OF PATIENT ENDURANCE OF WRONG. Our Savior, though sinless, suffered the contradiction and the contumely, the agonies and the death, inflicted by unjust and unfeeling men. And he did this without even reviling his enemies. The apostle, in vers. 21-24, paints in impressive colors the figure of the meek and much-enduring Redeemer, and holds up this incomparable figure for the admiration and imitation of the Redeemer's followers and friends.
II. CHRIST'S EXPRESS COMMAND THAT HIS PEOPLE SHOULD REFRAIN FROM RETALIATION. His precepts, preserved in the sermon on the mount, expressly forbade revenge, and inculcated brotherly kindness, and, more than this, the return of good for evil. And when Jesus himself was seized by the agents of those who plotted against his life, he forbade his friends to draw the sword in his defense.
III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF ENJOYING A HIGHER, A SPIRITUAL, LIBERTY. The meanest bondman who found Christ found freedom. He may have been treated with contempt and even harshness and cruelty; but he knew within himself that he was the Lord's freedman. He could endure bondage to an earthly master, for Christ had set him free from sin and spiritual slavery and death. Carrying this conviction in his breast, he could joyfully endure insults, injustice, and ill treatment.
IV. THE HOPE AND PROSPECT OF LIBERATION. His view might be gloomy as far as the earthly horizon extended. But he looked forward to "death, which sets the captive free." He was the free citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, and his prospect in the life to come was bright. A Stoic slave, like Epictetus, was conscious of possessing, in the power of suicide, the means of freeing himself from a yoke which became insupportable. But this power extended only to release; the Christian bondman, forbidden self-destruction, had before him a brighter hope - a hope not only of release, but of liberty and glory.
V. THE DESIRE TO PRODUCE AN IMPRESSION FAVORABLE TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. Submission was not only "thankworthy," and "acceptable with God;" it might well prove profitable to fellow-men. When masters met, not with a sullen acquiescence, not with a surly defiance, not with a stolid insensibility, but with uncomplaining, cheerful obedience, a favorable impression was produced upon their minds. They could not but inquire into the cause which produced fruit so unusual and so admirable. And they could not but, in many instances, examine into the religion which introduced into human society an element so new, so impressive, and so beneficial. - J.R.T.
Mark 14:53-66). Are not both these events hidden beneath the text? The events of that solemn night when he heard Jesus say, "I have given you an example," were burned into his memory. Uppermost in his thought of Jesus would be that of patient endurance, as when he answered the high priest nothing, and his servant's denial by a look.
I. THE PERSONS ADDRESSED. "Servants." That is:
1. In lowly life there may be the working out of noblest principles. Remember that the apostle has taken ver. 12 for his text in this second section of the Epistle. What more could the cultured and influential do than he there requires, but which he urges here on slaves? At any rate, it ranks high in Christian service. The greatest principles of grace can be exemplified in the humblest position. As the Son of God was in the Babe of Bethlehem as truly as he is on the eternal throne, the love of God may inspire us, the will of God be done by us, and the glory of God secured by us, in the humblest ranks and tasks as in the highest.
2. Where no great deed is apparent, there may be the greatest victories. These servants were not called to prominent places in Church life, nor to activity in public events, nor to anything the world counts great, but to patient endurance. Yet is anything harder, and therefore, greater? It requires greater force of Christian character to suffer than to act; many eyes are fixed on action, in suffering we are cast almost wholly on the unseen. Was not Christ's power in his sufferings? Not before his miracles, but before his cross, the world bows with awe. Just as his own nine beatitudes reach their highest point in "Blessed are ye when men shall revile," etc. Let the sufferer, him with few talents, him who is oppressed, know that in enduring well he may rank with Jesus Christ's nobility.
3. Untoward circumstances may be used to the highest results. It seems a misfortune to be oppressed, but these verses show how much is possible by endurance. Then we can exemplify Divine grace, "for this is grace, if a man for," etc.; we can constrain others to "glorify God in the day of visitation;" we can in this important point follow Christ; and we can secure much of that personal godliness which was the end for which he died - "that we might live unto righteousness." There is no abiding satisfaction without travail of soul; life's storms may cast up rare treasure to our feet.
II. THE DUTY ENFORCED. Patient endurance of undeserved suffering.
1. Notice that the endurance must be undeserved. Scripture consolations are often taken by sufferers who have no right to them. Much of our suffering is deserved - e.g., bad treatment from others, which is often due to our moral unloveliness. The apostle, however, thinks of that which is unmerited - suffering, e.g., for right doing. There is a mystery in this, but it is something that Scripture recognizes this, yea, even says it is this "whereunto ye are called."
2. This endurance is due to a consciousness of God. "This is grace, if a man for conscience toward God," etc. All endurance is not Christian. We may endure because we are not sensitive, or because we are stoical. That is not the endurance that needs Christianity for its existence, or that is followed by Christian blessing. Aim at the endurance which is only possible through taking God into account: "God is in my trouble, and God is with me in my trouble." "He endured as seeing him who is invisible."
3. This is the endurance which is fulfilled after the manner of Christ. It is possible to endure, but with impatience and repining. Christian endurance is of a higher order; it is like Christ's, who had no unkind feeling for his persecutors. At the feast they said he had a devil, but, nothing daunted, he stood and cried, "If any man thirst," etc.; he rejected the suggestion to call down fire on the inhospitable village; he called Judas in the moment of his treason, "Friend;" he healed Malchus's ear who was binding him; he forgave Peter's denial; he prayed for his murderers. We are here summoned to endurance like that (vers. 22, 23).
III. THE MOTIVES APPLIED. How can we rise to endurance like this? Three motives are suggested here.
1. This patient endurance is pleasing to God. "If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable [literally, 'grace'] with God." He regards it as grace, or, if you will, as thanks. It is the utterance of the submissive spirit which says, "Not my will, but thine be done." It is wonderful that we can give pleasure to God; yet every token of loving, trustful, obedient submission must please the Father. Think of him saying, "For my Name's sake thou hast borne," etc.
2. This patient endurance is following Christ. "Leaving us an example." There is much comfort in knowing we put our feet into his footprints, and that he knows what we suffer, since he has experienced it first. It is much to have indications that we are on the right track. "If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross, and follow me;" "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own, but," etc. But best of all, to follow him is to ensure his presence. His servants serve at his side, as Peter did. To follow is to follow him close. "To go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach," is to go forth "to him."
3. This patient endurance is a working out of redemption. "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being," etc. Since Christ by his sacrifice has freed us from sifts condemnation that we might become righteous, it becomes us to welcome anything by which that righteousness may be attained. If for our righteousness he would endure the cross, we may not shrink from the discipline of his love to that end. - C.N.
I. THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A SERVANT. "Be in subjection." Obedience is the essential virtue of servitude. Fulfill commands. Discharge tasks. "With all fear." Not terror, but proper awe. The craven is not the product of Christianity, but the respectful man is. Widen the application to all employed. How this teaching oils the wheels of the social machine!
II. THE DIFFICULTIES OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A SUFFERING SERVANT. There is no one-sided view of social duty here. It is implied:
1. Difficulties often arise from the character of employers. There is an exquisite ideal for masters here - "good and gentle. But many a servant "endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully." Some masters are "froward," i.e. like a crooked stick you do not know how to hold. Some are rough. Their servants are buffeted - tongue, fist, temper, strike.
2. Such difficulties, when rightly met, bring honor and Divine praise. This leads to -
III. THE DIGNITY OF THE CHRISTIAN AS A SUFFERING SERVANT.
1. Dignity, inasmuch as a suffering servant may resemble the blessed Savior. Follow his steps who was
(1) perfect, yet wronged;
(2) reviled, yet unreviling;
(3) suffering, yet not vindictive.
2. Dignity, because inasmuch as for our salvation our Lord became a suffering Servant. Burdened, we are relieved by him; dead, we are quickened by him; diseased, we are healed by him; wandering, we are restored by him; and that by his being burdened and dying. - U.R.T.
I. THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE SUBJECTION TO MASTERS. "Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear." The word for "servants" here is more courteous than in Ephesians and Colossians. It is literally "domestics," and includes free servants and bondservants. From the strain of the exhortation it would seem that the latter are principally addressed. It belongs to the present constitution of things (and for ends of training) that some are in the position of requiring service, others are in the position of rendering service. It is proper that the will of the former should regulate the service, that the will of the latter should be subjected in the service. This is the Divine foundation on which mastership and servitude rest. The feeling proper to servants in the relation is fear. Paul uses stronger language when he says, "with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5). Peter strengthens, too, but it is not by an additional substantive, but by an adjective, "with all fear." That cannot mean "all that fear can be," but rather" all that fear should be in the relation." There is fear in the sense of reverence to be shown towards the regulator of service (not diminishing or exaggerating what there is in that); and this will be accompanied by another fear, viz. anxious solicitude about coming up to all that is due in the service. There is a higher setting of the duty, which is not to be left out of view. There is fear in the sense of reverence to be shown towards him who (to our greater freedom and comfort in service) is over the earthly regulator of service; and this will be accompanied by another fearing, anxious solicitude about coming up to all the Divine requirements in the service. In this there is the condemnation of bad compliance, i.e. doing what is wrong because the master requires it. According to Roman jurists, such bad compliance was the duty of freedmen, the necessity of slaves. We can understand that Peter intended to guard against bad compliance when he does not state the duty of subjection absolutely, but with modification.
II. SUBJECTION EVEN TO MASTERS THAT ARE FROWARD. "Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." We cannot but admire the great sobriety that there is in apostolic teaching. There are masters that are good, i.e. amiable, and that are also gentle, i.e. showing their amiability in exacting nothing but what is reasonable. In the case of such masters there can be no question of the obligation of service. Unless the servant is ill-grained, the service is rendered freely and without any sense of burdensomeness. But what about masters that are froward, or awry, i.e. ill-dispositioned, and that show their ill disposition by making unreasonable demands of their servants, and (when they can do it with impunity) abusing them? Is there any obligation of service there? "Yes," say the apostles, with the sobriety characteristic of them, "the obligation remains, and remains the same.
III. CONSIDERATION DRAWN FROM THE PRAISEWORTHY CHARACTER OF SUBJECTION TO MASTERS THAT ARE FROWARD. For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God." It was the slave especially that suffered wrongfully. There was a great wrong in his being a slave, and there were many wrongs connected with his state of slavery. He was at the mercy of his owner; if he did not get justice, he had no redress. Was his position, then, unendurable? By no means; the apostle contrives even to throw a halo around it. He does so by bringing God into the question. If a man has the consciousness of God, i.e. of him as recognizing not only his rights of humanity but also his sonship in Christ; of him also as able to right all matters between him and his master, and to see to all fidelity receiving its reward at last; of him especially as appointing griefs for his earthly lot; - then he can endure those griefs, whatever they are. And if he thus encourages himself in endurance, then there is that which is acceptable. It is difficult to catch the precise shade of meaning. One way of it is "there is grace." But we must not run into the Roman Catholic error of supererogatory merit, which can be communicated to others. Another way of it is "there is loveliness." That readily passes into the meaning "there is that which, coming out into beauty, calls for praise." This meaning seems to be caught up in the following word, "glory." In enduring griefs from a bad master there is something like martyrdom. But let a man be on his guard here. If he commits a fault and is buffeted (receives a blow) for it, and takes this patiently, there is no halo attaching to that. It is when a man does well in the matter of service, and suffers for it, and then takes it patiently, that he has praise in the highest sphere (whatever men may think of it), viz. praise with God for conduct that rises into loveliness.
IV. CONSIDERATION DRAWN FROM THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.
1. Their exemplary character.
(1) Reason for their being presented as an example. "For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps." Servants were called to endure suffering. When they were called to be Christians like others, they were called to the proper bearing of all hardships appointed for them. There was One whose example was to be studied by them. It will not be thought that Christ is unworthy of imitation. It may, however, be thought that he is too great for imitation - that he is only for admiration. The word translated "example" suggests a great picture left us in the life of Christ: how are we to copy it line for line? Christ is also put before us here as Leader of the way: how are we to follow him step for step? The solution of this is that his example is singularly imitable, that he is a Leader whom it is singularly easy to follow. There is a vulgar greatness which is full of self-importance, which is imprisoned in private interests, which multiplies distinctions. But true greatness is forgetful of self, covets nothing which it cannot communicate, goes down in hope of raising up. We are told here that Christ suffered as well as the slaves. We are told also that he suffered for the slaves (the meaning of which is afterwards brought out). He thus, on the one hand, brought excellence near to us; we do not think of his teaching theoretically as from a chair of learning. On the other hand, by the great advantage conferred on us, he obtained the right to be our Example, power over us to make us follow him.
(2) The innocence of Christ in his sufferings. "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Did slaves suffer innocently? Christ suffered innocently too. It is to be noted that the idea of sinlessness entered into the Old Testament conception of the Messiah. The language here, with a slight exception, is taken from the Septuagint Version of Isaiah 53:9, "He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." The Servant of God (in this a pattern to servants) did no sin, i.e. brought no suffering upon himself by his own faults. This sinlessness extended to faultlessness in speech, especially to freedom from a common fault in slaves connected with the frequent use of force. Guile was not found in his mouth, i.e. there never passed from him, even inadvertently, an expression that was fitted to convey a false impression (with the escaping of suffering or anything else as his end). For completeness we must give this sinlessness a positive aspect, He did always what the truth required in act, and spoke always what the truth required in speech. What we have here in a general statement is given in detail in the portraiture of Christ in the Gospels. It is interesting to notice the impression produced on the apostles by what they saw. "The idea of sinlessness was by no means so common an idea that all that was necessary to lead men like the apostles to apply it to Christ was an accident or some insufficient occasion. Quite the contrary: this idea was never thought of, nor had it ever entered into the heart of man to conceive it, until it appeared, not as an idea merely, but as a reality, in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Even now to believe in the realizing of the idea of sinlessness in an individual is not so very easy a thing for human nature in its present state. Men are not in general much addicted to the weakness of believing too easily in the existence of purity of heart and true greatness; it is a fact that they are only too prone to doubt them when they really exist. It appears as something marvelous and extraordinary in the extreme, that once, and only once, in the world's history (and that, too, in a time of great moral degradation) the impression could be produced upon the minds of a number of men, that a character was unfolding itself before their very eyes, of perfect purity and sinless holiness, and that the consequence of its manifestation was to produce in them a faith for which they lived and in which they died. But once does this fact occur in the history of mankind" (Ullmann).
(3) The patience of Christ in his sufferings. "Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously." There is here an echo of Isaiah 53:7, "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." When he was reviled, i.e. was injured in what was said against him, he reviled not again; i.e. did not resent the injury by any injurious word in return. When he suffered, i.e. was injured in what was done to him, he threatened not; i.e. though conscious of power, he was not provoked by the injury to exercise his power, or even to threaten the exercise of it, against his enemies. The words have special but not exclusive reference to the judgment-scene followed by the crucifixion-scene. When reviled as a sabbath-breaker, he calmly answered that his Father worked on the sabbath day as well as himself. When reviled as casting out devils by the prince of the devils, he met the wicked suggestion by calmly showing how Satan could not cast out Satan. When reviled as a blasphemer, he simply vindicated himself by pointing to his works. When he was brought before the Sanhedrin on charges which were clearly unfounded and prompted by malice, he was silent under them; and it was only when he was appealed to by oath that he lifted his eyes to his judges, and said, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." When, again, he was brought before Pilate on a charge of sedition which his judge knew to be unfounded and malicious, he maintained the same silent demeanor; and it was only when he was appealed to that he fearlessly asserted his claim of Kingship. He silently submitted to the rudest mockings, to the most cruel scourgings. He silently carried his cross, and when, nailed to it, he looked round on his murderers, the prayer which rose to his lips was, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." He was able to endure all this unjust treatment without being hurried into a wrong, word, without any disturbing influence on his mind, because he committed himself to him that judgeth righteously, i.e. in the consciousness of his rectitude he left himself and all his interests to him whose judgment was different from and of a higher order than the judgment of the Sanhedrin and the judgment of the Roman governor. And what a powerful argument (how touching, too, to be brought in for the sake of the slaves!) to induce them to bear patiently all their wrongs which, however great, were small in comparison with the wrongs which were heaped on Christ!
2. Their vicarious character.
(1) Punishment for our sins. "Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree." The language is still suggested by Isaiah 53. "Tree" is the word which Peter uses in his sermons for the cross. The simple statement here is that Christ carried the burden of sins. An expansion of it is that he carried the burden of sins to whom they did not belong. A further expansion of it is that he carried the burden of our sins in his body, i.e. on the ground of human nature in its completeness (body as well as soul). The statement fully expanded is that he carried the burden of our sins in his body on to the tree, i.e. to the place where death was inflicted on him for them. He carried the burden of the Divine displeasure against our sins so as to carry them away into forgetfulness.
(2) Salvation intended by them. "That we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness." This death unto sins is death not merely unto their condemnation, but unto their power. The life unto righteousness is life not merely in the possession of the favor of God, but in the possession of power to do the will of God. In the state in which Christ found us it was natural for us to seek to revenge ourselves for injuries. In the state which Christ intends for us it becomes natural for us to be placable, to be silent under injuries, and to seek by our gentleness to overcome the evil that is manifested against us. And that is part, only part, of the Divine life which Christ died to secure for us.
(3) Salvation experienced through them.
(a) Restoration to health. "By whose stripes ye were healed." The language is from Isaiah 53:5. Having changed to "we" in the previous parts of this verse, he now returns to "ye." It is implied that in their former state they were sick. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." There was an irregular action of their powers, with languor, feverishness, loss of appetite, and other distressing symptoms. But the time came when healing was experienced, giving the powers their regular action and bringing back tone, endurance, keenness, and all healthful symptoms. The remarkable thing is that the healing is ascribed to the Savior's stripes. The word is literally weal (in the singular number), i.e. the mark of a stripe. It is a word with which slaves were familiar, as they were also with buffeting formerly used (to which, as well as to stripes, Christ was subjected). Weal is taken here as the symbol of Christ's atoning death; and the slaves are told, in a way that was fitted to go home to them in the remembrance of bitter experiences, that from the mark of the lash on our Lord healing had gone forth on them.
(b) Return to the fold. "For ye were going astray like sheep; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." The language is based on Isaiah 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray," the metaphor being abruptly changed, as in Isaiah. In their former state they were like sheep without any one to care for them, or keep his eye on them. Sheep, left to themselves, wander from the fold. So we, left to ourselves, wander from God who is our Home, our Fold, where we have shelter and abundance. They were now in the happy condition of having a Shepherd and Bishop for their souls. The words refer to Christ. The first points rather to the actual bestowal of care; the second points rather to observation that leads to care being bestowed. Christ leads us to rich thoughts; and he does not lead us to rich thoughts without keenly observing our condition. If we would have this Shepherd and Bishop for our souls, we must, like those whom Peter addresses, be turned toward him. The words would seem to indicate the action that is needed on our part. We have nothing to do but to turn ourselves toward Christ. We are to turn ourselves from our sins which have been atoned for, and no longer constitute a hindrance; and we are to turn ourselves toward Christ to have his affection in the form of care and oversight, with which our souls can lack nothing. - R.F.
I. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST OUR GAIN. It is interesting to notice the change in the apostle's insight into the meaning of Christ's sufferings. At first, it was he especially to whom they were a stumbling-block. The very intensity of his belief that his Master was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," made him recoil from the thought of his violent death as an inconceivable contradiction. "Be it far from thee, Lord. This shall not be unto thee!" expressed with characteristic vehemence at once his blindness and his love. Even after the Resurrection, Peter's earlier preaching, as recorded in the Acts, does not go beyond putting in contrast the two things - the death as man's crime, the rising again as God's seal. He does not seem, in these first days of transition, to have reached the harmonizing thought of the purpose of the sufferings. But in this Epistle these sufferings have become the very keystone of the arch. The references to them are continual. The whole fabric of his theological and moral teaching is built on them. The black thunder-cloud has been discerned to be the source of all-refreshing rains and the cause of fruitfulness, and the inexplicable anomaly has been unfolded as the deepest truth on which faith and hope and soul-transforming love, the mother of all practical obedience, may fasten and feed. The one thought which has thus illuminated the darkness is the recognition of Christ's sufferings as for us. The world has admitted that the Sufferer had no sin of his own. Unless we see in them suffering on behalf of others, his life becomes the great indictment of God's providence. Only when we see that he was wounded for our transgressions do we understand the mystery of the cross. The text does not define the manner in which these sufferings work on our behalf. "For us" is not necessarily "instead of us." But there can be no doubt as to what that manner was in the view of the apostle. "His own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree," says the context. His death was a sacrifice; by the sprinkling of his blood we are hallowed. No other view does justice to the plain import of these and other passages than that which takes Christ's sufferings to be substitutionary in their character and propitiatory in their operation, and therefore to be for our advantage. Note, too, that the apostle dwells on the sufferings, the actual mental and physical pain, and not only on the that of death. The loving memory of the eye-witness of his Lord's Passion retains each incident of the slow torture, the buffeting, the mocking, the livid weals of the cruel scourge, the fainting form bearing the heavy cross, and the unmoved meekness in it all. Sensuous representations of Christ's sufferings have often been carried too far, but surely there is a danger of going to the other extreme; and every Christian life needs for its vigor a believing and realizing contemplation of the sufferings of Christ endured for and instead of us.
II. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST OUR PATTERN. We are familiar with the idea that our Lord's life is our pattern. But here we have his Passion presented not only for our faith, but for our imitation.
1. Note the special force of the two metaphors here. "Example" is only used here in the New Testament. It means a copy of writing set to a scholar to be traced over by his unaccustomed hand. Think of the clear firm characters below, and the wavering clumsy ones scrawled over them. How the figure speaks of careful observance of the example, of laborious effort after reproducing it, and of the hope of constant gradual improvement! The view of the whole Christian life which is involved in the figure is that in it all we are like schoolboys writing our copybooks, which have to be examined by the Master one day. What we have written, we have written. Let us live as remembering that we have to take up our books to the Master's desk when school is ever! The other metaphor is remarkable on Peter's lips. Did he remember how rashly he had asked, "Why cannot I follow thee now?" and the last solemn command by the fire of coals on the lake-side? The word employed has the force of "follow closely." We are to take Christ for our Guide, as men walking across a glacier might do by their guide, stepping in the prints of his footsteps, and keeping very near him.
2. Notice the solemn thought that Christ's sufferings can be imitated by us. They stand alone in their bearing on man's salvation, and in certain respects, in their severity and awfulness. We have but, at the most, to go a little way down the awful descent which he traveled to its depths, to drink a little of the cup which he drained to its dregs, t,, stand on the edge or' the storm through the worst of which he passed. But yet the same spirit and temper may be ours. Not the mocking but the meekness, not the scourging but the submission, not the dread desertion by the Father's love but the Son's cry to the Father, may be copied by each of us in our lighter griefs. Complete surrender to the will of God and meek endurance of the enmity of men are to be our patterns. The highest ideal of human character is the Christ who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. How utterly opposed to it are the so-called virtues of high-spirited resistance, and the whole practice of most of us in regard to slights, insults, and injuries! We call ourselves Christians, and say that we take Christ for our Example: do we ever remember that his cross is not only the ground of all our peace and hope, but the law of our lives? or bethink ourselves that whatever more "being made conformable to his death" may mean, it means that "when we do well and suffer for it, we take it patiently," and let no anger, or revenge, or bitterness to our worst enemy ever ruffle the clear waters of our hearts?
III. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST OUR POWER. The world has plenty of examples. Men do not go wrong for want of patterns. The worst man knows more of goodness than the best man does. Models make us neither willing nor able to copy them. What is the use of a headline in a copy, be it ever so beautifully written, if the scholar has no will to imitate it, has a lame hand, and a bad pen with no ink in it? We want something more than examples if we whose disease is that we know the good and choose the evil are ever to be better. So all types of Christianity which merely take Christ as an Example fail to get his example imitated. We must begin with "Christ suffered for us" if we are to live like Christ. Only when I look to his cross as the great act of his love, by which he gave himself wholly for me and bore the burden of my sin, do I receive the power to follow him and live as he lived. That death, if I look to it with faith, opens the deepest springs of love in my heart, which make obedience to and imitation of him necessary and delightful. It joins me to him in a union so close that in him I am crucified to the world, and a new life, the life of Christ himself, is implanted within me. It brings to me a new power of holiness in the Spirit which he gives. Unless the sufferings of Christ are to us the propitiation for our sins, they will never be to us the pattern for our lives. Unless they are the pattern for our lives, it is vain to fancy that they are the propitiation for our sins. What God has joined together let not man put asunder. "Christ has suffered for us" - there is the whole gospel; "leaving us an example" - there is the whole Law. - A.M.
very practical man. When he wrote his Epistle, he wrote it to actual living men and women. God be praised that we are taught our doctrines, not in theological treatises, but in letters which were the outpouring of soul to soul. Certain superfine religionists think the real occupations and relations of life as something quite beneath their notice. So did not the apostle. For instance, he knew that some of the Christian people who would read his letter were slaves; and accordingly he wrote to them as to slaves. There is no doubt that Christianity introduced among mankind principles which first ameliorated, and then abolished, slavery. But Peter had to deal with facts as they were. Christianity was to help men, not only to rise above slavery, but - whilst slavery still endured as an institution - to make the best of it. So Peter told these slaves that there was a work for them to do, a witness for them to offer, whilst they were still slaves. He bade them remember how their Master Christ, who was at the same time their Redeemer, had borne himself amidst injustice, false accusation, contumely, and suffering. And he brought to bear the willing sacrifice of Christ for them upon their hearts, as a Divine motive to endurance and patience. They were not so ill treated as their great Savior had been; and, whilst he was perfectly innocent and good, they were not free from human infirmities. It was certainly their duty to display the spirit of their Lord, to do what he had done, to endure as he had endured. Thus they should honor him. Thus they should be in the way of reaping some wholesome fruit of blessing for themselves. Thus they should win others to the faith which none could help admiring. And thus they should secure for themselves a sure recompense of reward.
I. LOOK AT THE FACT OF CHRIST'S SUFFERING. That the Founder of our religion should suffer is itself an astonishing and instructive fact. Buffering and shame, sub - mission to violence and cruelty, - these are not usually associated with power and victory. Yet the Author of the religion which has the greatest influence over mankind, and is molding the history of the world, was pre-eminently a Sufferer. We believe that this was foretold. It cannot be questioned that the first Christian preachers and writer's proclaimed, without any reserve, the humiliation and the woe of their great Lord. They even gloried in the cross. Peter was, perhaps better than any man, able to witness to the sufferings and to the demeanor of Jesus Christ. He was "with him in the garden;" and although he fell asleep, yet, on waking, he saw on his Master's brow the "bloody sweat," and read upon his Master's features the agony of soul through which he had passed, with no human sympathy, with none to share his awful watch. Peter was there when Judas betrayed the Lord with a kiss, and beheld the meekness with which he yielded himself into the hands of his foes. It was Peter who drew the sword in defense of his Master, and who heard that Master's rebuke, and his language of pathetic resignation, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" The same Peter followed Jesus into the judgment-hall, and saw the Lord whom he loved bound and reviled, and witnessed his meekness under insult and injustice. Upon himself Jesus had turned the glance of affectionate reproach, which smote him to the heart, and opened the fountain of his tears. It was Peter who entered the empty grave of the risen Immanuel. It was Peter who, when forgiven his faithlessness and fear, was assured by the Lord of a share in the humiliation and agony of the cross. Who, then, so fit as Simon Peter - both by his opportunities of observing the Lord's sorrow and anguish, and by his warm and tender love for Christ - to speak of the Redeemer's woes, and to testify of his bearing and his spirit, when he "endured the contradiction of sinners against himself"? The witness of this companion and friend of Christ Jesus is that he suffered. That our Lord endured weariness, hunger, and thirst; that acutest pain was suffered by him in the closing hours of his life; - this the whole record abundantly proves. And his mental sufferings were made evident by the tears he shed, the sighs he heaved, the groans and cries he uttered. His soul was "exceeding sorrowful;" it was "troubled." Keenly susceptible to human emotions, he was distressed at his rejection by his countrymen, at his desertion by his friends, at his betrayal by one disciple, his denial by another. A yet further and a more mysterious woe was that which he endured when he bare the burden of the sins and sorrows of mankind, and "tasted death for every man." As the Son of man, the Head and Representative of the race whose nature he assumed, Christ Jesus shared our lot in more than all its grief and anguish. Great stress is laid upon the fact that Jesus was reviled. It was woe enough, so it might be thought, to suffer in our stead; but what shall be said of the endurance of the taunts and mockery of those for whom he came to die, whom he came to save? This was the bitterest earthly ingredient in the bitter cup which Jesus drank. Now, all these sufferings were undeserved. The apostle observes upon Christ's innocence. He "did no sin." With a reference to Isaiah's prediction, he boldly proclaims his Master's guilelessness. Whatever afflictions befall us in this life, candor constrains us to admit that we deserve all, and more than all, that we endure. If they are punishment, the strokes inflicted are lighter than the guilt they chasten. But nothing of this kind can be said of our Savior's pains. tits very enemies could substantiate no charge against him, and in this their testimony supports the assertions of his friends. And Paul says, "He knew no sin." "In him is no sin," says John. And Peter's witness is in the text, "He did no sin." To complete the picture, we must observe the demeanor of our Savior when enduring these afflictions. Men too often complain and murmur, whilst some rebel against the trials appointed for them. No one here is perfected in patience. But we are well reminded of the meekness and the patience of Christ. He endured more than we are ever called upon to suffer, yet he uttered no word of impatience. He endured his sufferings at the hands of injustice, and was cruelly and unpardonably wronged; yet he had only submission - no resentment - to return to his injurers, and a prayer to offer for their forgiveness. "He was reviled, but he reviled not again." The impenitent malefactor by his side joined in the jeers of the rulers and the people around the cross. But Jesus held his peace. When his sufferings were acute, he gave way to no impulse of revenge against his persecutors. Although he might have come down from the cross, or have summoned legions of angels to his rescue, "he threatened not." He was content that the will of God should be done. Men might judge unjustly. God is he who judgeth righteously. To him, accordingly, the Lord Jesus committed all - himself and his cause. What a picture is this of superhuman self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice! As we contemplate the sinless Sufferer, first in the garden, then before his judges, and finally upon the cross, we are constrained to acknowledge with the centurion, "Certainly this was a righteous man! Truly this was the Son of God!" The scene surpasses all that man has invented. The character exhibited is one beyond the attainment of human virtue. We cannot wonder that the name of Jesus has become, and must ever remain, the symbol of love and meekness, patience and long-suffering, submission and self-restraint and self-denial.
II. The apostle, however, does more than state a fact - HE EXHIBITS THE PURPOSE for which our Savior thus suffered. It was "for us" - for our advantage, on our behalf. It was certainly not for his own sake. Jesus neither deserved to suffer, for he was faultless, blameless; nor did he stand in need, as we do, of the discipline of affliction, for there was no dross to purge away, and no gain could accrue to the pure gold by its being cast into the furnace. The end for which our blessed Redeemer consented to endure the humiliations of his life and the agonies of his death was no personal end; he suffered "for our sake." There were two distinct and yet closely related purposes which the Savior had before him in his sufferings. Both are stated in this passage very explicitly. There are some minds that look only at the one of these purposes; there are different minds that regard only the other. But the sober and attentive student of Scripture cannot fail to recognize the necessity of both, and their harmony with each other. Christ's endurance of sufferings, being exemplary, furnishes us with the model of our patience and submission; and the same endurance of sufferings, being sacrificial and substitutionary, supply us with ore' highest motive. That Christ is an Example for our imitation is not only taught in Scripture; it is a truth seized upon by every Christian whose Christianity is not merely nominal - who is by the Holy Spirit awakened to spiritual life. When he said, "Learn of me," "Follow me," Jesus sanctioned this view of the religious endeavor and prayerful aim of his disciples. And the apostles frequently admonish their converts to imitate the conduct, to share and display the spirit, of the Divine Leader and Lord. His obedience to the Father, his holy life, his benevolent disposition, his self-denying labors, are all put before us as a model which we are to study and to copy. In this passage the especial point selected for imitation is the meekness and long-suffering of our Lord. This is represented as a "copy" which he has left behind, that we may place it before our eyes, and try to produce a good, correct, well-studied imitation of it. We are told to follow in his steps; he is the Guide, to whom we entrust our way, in whose wisdom we have confidence; where he treads it is for us to follow, placing our feet in the footmarks he has left behind him. By these two simple and beautiful figures it is shown how we should lay to heart the perfect example of our Lord, and seek to make it ours. Human examples are so faulty, and human characters, even when noble, so lacking in sympathy, that hero-worship (as it has been called) is a very perilous proceeding. The young are more likely to emulate the questionable side of a great man's character, if that side be dazzling. Thankful should we be that our Creator, who has implanted within us the principle of imitation, has made provision for calling out that principle, and giving it full scope. The imitation of Christ is the lifelong practice and discipline of every pupil and learner in the spiritual school of God. The Divine Spirit must be the Teacher, revealing and applying the lesson to the scholar's heart, firing that heart with a holy ambition to be conformed to the sacred likeness of the Lord. But this is no such easy matter. Our gracious God and Father, who knows our nature perfectly, knows that it would be vain to set before men a perfect example of holiness and of patience, and then bid them and leave them to aspire to conformity thereto. Hence the further purpose of the Savior's sufferings. We are happily familiar with the great and precious truth, so strikingly exhibited in the twenty-fourth verse, "who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." When Christ suffered as he did, it was not simply as an illustration of the grace of patience. It was both to secure to us the pardon of our sins, and to provide us with a motive of holiness, in the experience of his sacrificial grace. Without himself becoming a sinner, he nevertheless took the sinner's place, entered into the case of the sinner, and took upon him the sinner's burden, dying the death of the cross - appropriate, indeed, to the sinner, but only appropriate to the holy Christ as the sinner's Representative and Savior. By "bearing our sins" we are to understand a sacrificial, and therefore a redemptive, act. Whilst many popular teachers are insisting that sin can never be forgiven, and that every man must bear to the uttermost the consequences of his sins, the gospel comes with the good news of the remission of sins, and the favor of God for those who receive the Christ as their Mediator and Redeemer, in humility faith, and penitence.
III. The apostle traces THE OPERATION OF THIS DIVINE PRINCIPLE. It is not enough to tell that Jesus died, and died for us sinners. We need to show what is the result of Christ's sacrifice - that is, upon the heart and life of Christians. For whilst it has a relation to God and his government, it has also a relation - and one naturally more comprehensible by us - to our own moral life and conduct. "That we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness." Now, you need not to be told that these poor Galatian and Cappadocian bondmen must have been, before their conversion, in a position very unfavorable for the formation of a just and pure character, for living a blameless and benevolent life. They must have been alive to sin and dead to righteousness, No power but that of the cross could be "the power of God unto salvation" to such men. And in this they were representatives of mankind. The gospel of Christ both kills and makes alive. It slays the principle of sin; it quickens the principle of obedience to God. Those who are pardoned and justified by the grace of God, and through faith in that Christ who "loved us, and gave himself for us," are brought under the power of new and spiritual motives - the motives of gratitude, devotion, and love. Righteousness thus becomes the atmosphere the Christian breathes, the element in which he lives. It is for Christ's sake that he aspires to participation in Christ's character. And by fellowship with Christ he grows into what his Lord would have him be. The two motives thus coalesce. Believing in Jesus, the Christian comes to live, as a ransomed being, a life of devotion to his Redeemer and Liberator. Honoring Jesus, pondering his character, studying his will, he is "changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Thus is verified the exquisite and figurative language of Peter, "By whose stripes ye were healed." He walked in darkness, that you might walk in the light. He was vanquished, that yon might conquer. He suffered and stooped, that you might reign. He tasted the gall and the wormwood of the crucified, that you might drink the wine of the kingdom and share the banquet of the blessed. He entered the prison-house, that you might go forth into glorious liberty. He died, that you might live. He gave himself up to the blows and stripes of the smiter that your wounds might be healed, that you might come to spiritual strength and soundness. Christian people! the practical lesson of the text is plain for you to read. Whether by persecution, or by opposition and enmity, or by misunderstanding or calumny, you must needs have something to bear in this world of probation and discipline. Remember what this Apostle Peter says, "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully." "If when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called." When distressed by the treatment you receive from wicked, unjust, or unreasonable men, forget not this. Then is the time to prove the reality of your religious principles. Flee to the mediation and sympathy of Christ. Ponder the example, and cultivate the spirit of Christ. Act as a friend, slave, of Christ. Revile not again. Commit yourselves to him that judgeth righteously. Fret not yourselves because of evil-doers. Trust in the Lord. He shall bring out your righteousness as the light, and your judgment as the noonday. Hearers of the gospel! the principles of life now unfolded must appear to you the noblest, the purest, and the best in the universe of God. Yet, as sinners, you have not acted under the influence of those principles. Understand that you are in need of the blessings of that redemption which Jesus wrought, in order that you may die unto sin, and live unto righteousness. It is good- news for you that Christ died for you, that the past of sin and anger and hatred may be slain, and that yours may be the new creation, which is the incorruptible seed of the new, spiritual, and endless life. - J.R.T.
I. THE SHEPHERD OF SOULS. It is needless to trace this metaphor through the Old Testament, where it is employed to express the relation of Jehovah to Israel. The most familiar of all the psalms shows us a single devout soul appropriating the whole rest and blessedness of the thought for the nourishment of the individual life of trust. Isaiah's great prophecy of the Servant of the Lord proclaims the coming of Jehovah to feed his flock like a Shepherd. Ezekiel brings out more plainly still that not only Jehovah, but Jehovah's "servant David," is to be the Shepherd in a golden future. Zechariah's mysterious words add dark shades to the picture, and set forth Jehovah's Shepherd as smitten by Jehovah's appointment. And all these foreshadowings are interpreted and the scattered beams focused in the words which were as vivid in Peter's memory as when first spoken, and far better understood than then: "I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd giveth his life for his sheep." It is remarkable that, with all this prophecy and teaching from our Lord himself, this text and one verse in Hebrews are the only places where the name is applied to him in the New Testament, especially when we remember how early and how universally the figure came to be employed in the succeeding periods. What aspects of our Lord's relation to us does it present? The ancient application of the metaphor, not only in Israel, but in other lands, was to kings and rulers; but we cannot confine the meaning thus. The twenty-third psalm and the tenth chapter of John give far deeper and tenderer thoughts than rule. There are mainly three ideas expressed.
1. The first is guidance. The shepherd leads. "When he puts forth his sheep he goeth before them." And under that thought is included all the shaping of outward life, for Christ is the Lord of providence, and the hands that were pierced for us hold the helm of the universe. But our text does not add, "of souls," without a deep meaning. It would have us see the operation of our Shepherd's care, not only nor chiefly in outward life. And therefore we must think of his guidance as mainly his leading of our souls in paths of righteousness, and "showing us that which is good." His recorded example, the touch of his hand on our wills, the sweet constraint of his love, the wisdom which directs breathed into the soul which lives in fellowship with him, and has silenced the loud voice of self that his voice may be heard, - these are the Shepherd's guidance of the sheep. His sceptre is a simple shepherd's staff. He says," Come, follow me;" and his sheep walk not in darkness, but have the light of life.
2. The second thought is guardianship. David learned to trust his Shepherd's care over him in dangers by meditating on his own hazarding his life against the "lion and the bear." Our Shepherd gives his life to drag us from the mouth of the lion. Body and soul are under his care. Himself may sometimes strike a straying sheep with his merciful rod, but he will let no foe touch us, and our sorrows are tokens of his care, not of their power. If we keep within hearing of his voice, sin, which is our only real enemy, will not harm us. Our docile submission is the correlative of his guidance, and our trust should answer to his defense. If he guard, let us press close to the shelter of his presence, and ever look for the benediction of his eye.
3. The third thought is provision. He will not lead where we must starve, but even in the most unpromising situations will show his flock some scattered blades of grass which they may crop. "Their pastures shall be in all high places, the very bareness of the mountain-tops yielding food. He himself is the Pasture as well as the Shepherd of the soul, and ever gives himself to satisfy the hunger of the human heart, which needs a changeless and perfect love, a personal truth, an all-commanding will to feed upon, else it aches with hunger. And for outward wants these too he remembers, and on the lowliest shore will kindle a fire of coals, and himself prepare food for his servants. So let us wait on the Shepherd of our souls, assured that his sheep never 'look up, and are not fed.'"
II. CHRIST THE BISHOP OF OUR SOULS. Undoubtedly the allusion here is to the bishop or elder of the early Church, with distinct reference to the etymological meaning of the word as well as to the functions of the officer. Looking to the later development of these, and to the associations which they have connected with the word, the marginal rendering of the Revised Version ("overseer") is perhaps better than "bishop." How closely the two ideas of "shepherd" and Church "overseer" are connected is clear from Paul's address to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20.), and from the exhortations in this Epistle (1 Peter 5:1, 7) to the elders to feed the flock, as well as from the universal use of "pastor" as a synonym. What aspects of Christ's relation are thus presented?
1. We have the great truth that he is himself the Source from which all Church officers draw at once their authority and their faculty. He gives all gifts to men, and sets them in his Church. If they forget that, and use their offices for themselves, or fancy that they originate the gifts which they but receive, they are usurpers. From him are they all. To him should they all live and serve. There is but one Authority and one Teacher in the Church; the rest are delegates. There is but one Fountain; the others are cisterns. "One is your Master, and all ye are brethren."
2. The original meaning of the word is "overseer," and that suggests the vigilant inspection which he exercises over his Church. The good Shepherd knows each sheep by name, and his watchful eye is on every one of the flock. The title is the condensation into one word of the solemn clause in the apocalyptic vision of the Christ in the midst of the golden lamps, which tells how "his eyes were as a flame of fire," and of the sevenfold "I know thy works," which heralds each message to the Churches. The thought has many sides, according to the spiritual condition of each. To Ephesus which has left its first love, to Sardis ready to die, to Laodicea sinking from lukewarmness to ice, it comes monitory, rebuking and putting to shame, though even in these the clear eye sees for the most part something to commend. To Smyrna, threatened with persecution and martyrdom, it brings courage and the assurance of a crown of life. To Philadelphia, which has kept his Word, it seals the joy of his approbation, which is reward indeed. So to us all, the thought that we walk ever in the light of his countenance and are searched by the flame of those eyes may be a gladness, as bringing the assurance of his perfect knowledge who loves as he knows, and is guided by it in all his care for us and gifts to us. "Search me, O Lord, and know my heart."
3. The thought that Christ discharges for each soul an office of which the elders in the Church is a shadow, may also be suggested. He teaches and he rules. All authority over and all illumination in our souls are his. And that not merely through men, nor only by the influence of his past life and death as recorded, but by a present and continual operation on our spirits. We have not only a Christ who lived and died, and so declared the Father, but a Christ who lives, and from his throne in the heavens is still declaring him to all listening loving hearts. The present activity of Christ is plainly implied here. Nor have we to think of him as only helping and teaching the collective body, but single souls. He is not here spoken of as the Shepherd of the flock and the Overseer of the Church, blessed as that truth is; but he is held forth as Shepherd and Bishop of each unit in the Church, for he sustains these relations to the individual, and will draw near to each of us, solitary and small, if we will only believe that by his stripes we are healed, and, conquered by his dying love, turn from our wanderings and couch trustful at his feet. - A.M.
I. A PICTURE OF THE FLOCK.
1. What were those for whom the good Shepherd suffered and died? They were strayed sheep, who had wandered from the pastures of obedience in different directions, but all into positions of danger and beyond power of return.
2. What are they now that God's mercy has in Christ followed and found them? They have returned from their wanderings, and have re-entered the enclosure of safety; they are enjoying the favor of the Shepherd, the abundance of the pasture, the security of the fold. How true was this of Peter himself, of those to whom he wrote, of every Church gathered, whether from Judaism or from heathenism, to the love and care and fellowship of Christ!
II. A PICTURE OF THE SHEPHERD AND OVERSEER OF THE FLOCK.
1. He is represented as seeking and recovering the lost. Thus early Christian art delighted to depict him - as on the walls of the catacombs. Christ not only pitied the lost sheep, he actively interposed on their behalf, to save them from destruction. In carrying out his purpose of mercy he suffered on their behalf and in their stead; he laid down his life for his sheep.
2. He is represented as the Overseer of those whom he has recovered. As such, he controls and governs them; he guides them into green pastures and paths of righteousness; he supplies their wants from the abundance of his bounty; he delivers and protects them from all their foes. - J.R.T.