Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
Wherein the apostle describes the duties of husbands and wives one to another, beginning with the duty of the wife (v. 1-7). He exhorts Christians to unity, love, compassion, peace, and patience under sufferings; to oppose the slanders of their enemies, not by returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, but by blessing; by a ready account of their faith and hope, and by keeping a good conscience (v. 8–17). To encourage them to this, he proposes the example of Christ, who suffered, the just for the unjust, but yet punished the old world for their disobedience, and saved the few who were faithful in the days of Noah (v. 18 to the end).
The apostle having treated of the duties of subjects to their sovereigns, and of servants to their masters, proceeds to explain the duty of husbands and wives.
I. Lest the Christian matrons should imagine that their conversion to Christ, and their interest in all Christian privileges, exempted them from subjection to their pagan or Jewish husbands, the apostle here tells them,
1. In what the duty of wives consists.
(1.) In subjection, or an affectionate submission to the will, and obedience to the just authority, of their own husbands, which obliging conduct would be the most likely way to win those disobedient and unbelieving husbands who had rejected the word, or who attended to no other evidence of the truth of it than what they saw in the prudent, peaceable, and exemplary conversation of their wives. Learn, [1.] Every distinct relation has its particular duties, which ministers ought to preach, and the people ought to understand. [2.] A cheerful subjection, and a loving, reverential respect, are duties which Christian women owe their husbands, whether they be good or bad; these were due from Eve to Adam before the fall, and are still required, though much more difficult now than they were before, Gen. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:11. [3.] Though the design of the word of the gospel is to win and gain souls to Christ Jesus, yet there are many so obstinate that they will not be won by the word. [4.] There is nothing more powerful, next to the word of God, to win people, than a good conversation, and the careful discharge of relative duties. [5.] Irreligion and infidelity do not dissolve the bonds, nor dispense with the duties, of civil relations; the wife must discharge her duty to her own husband, though he obey not the word.
(2.) In fear, or reverence to their husbands, Eph. 5:33.
(3.) In a chaste conversation, which their unbelieving husbands would accurately observe and attend to. [1.] Evil men are strict observers of the conversation of the professors of religion; their curiosity, envy, and jealousy, make them watch narrowly the ways and lives of good people. [2.] A chaste conversation, attended with due and proper respect to every one, is an excellent means to win them to the faith of the gospel and obedience to the word.
(4.) In preferring the ornaments of the mind to those of the body. [1.] He lays down a rule in regard to the dress of religious women, v. 3. Here are three sorts of ornaments forbidden: plaiting of hair, which was commonly used in those times by lewd women; wearing of gold, or ornaments made of gold, was practised by Rebecca, and Esther, and other religious women, but afterwards became the attire chiefly of harlots and wicked people; putting on of apparel, which is not absolutely forbidden, but only too much nicety and costliness in it. Learn, First, Religious people should take care that all their external behaviour be answerable to their profession of Christianity: They must be holy in all manner of conversation. Secondly, The outward adorning of the body is very often sensual and excessive; for instance, when it is immoderate, and above your degree and station in the world, when you are proud of it and puffed up with it, when you dress with design to allure and tempt others, when your apparel is too rich, curious, or superfluous, when your fashions are fantastical, imitating the levity and vanity of the worst people, and when they are immodest and wanton. The attire of a harlot can never become a chaste Christian matron. [2.] Instead of the outward adorning of the body, he directs Christian wives to put on much more excellent and beautiful ornaments, v. 4. Here note, First, The part to be adorned: The hidden man of the heart; that is, the soul; the hidden, the inner man. Take care to adorn and beautify your souls rather than your bodies. Secondly, The ornament prescribed. It must, in general, be something not corruptible, that beautifies the soul, that is, the graces and virtues of God’s Holy Spirit. The ornaments of the body are destroyed by the moth, and perish in the using; but the grace of God, the longer we wear it, the brighter and better it is. More especially, the finest ornament of Christian women is a meek and quiet spirit, a tractable easy temper of mind, void of passion, pride, and immoderate anger, discovering itself in a quiet obliging behaviour towards their husbands and families. If the husband be harsh, and averse to religion (which was the case of these good wives to whom the apostle gives this direction), there is no way so likely to win him as a prudent meek behaviour. At least, a quiet spirit will make a good woman easy to herself, which, being visible to others, becomes an amiable ornament to a person in the eyes of the world. Thirdly, The excellency of it. Meekness and calmness of spirit are, in the sight of God, of great price-amiable in the sight of men, and precious in the sight of God. Learn, 1. A true Christian’s chief care lies in the right ordering and commanding of his own spirit. Where the hypocrite’s work ends, there the true Christian’s work begins. 2. The endowments of the inner man are the chief ornaments of a Christian; but especially a composed, calm, and quiet spirit, renders either man or woman beautiful and lovely.
2. The duties of Christian wives being in their nature difficult, the apostle enforces them by the example, (1.) Of the holy women of old, who trusted in God, v. 5. "You can pretend nothing of excuse from the weakness of your sex, but what they might. They lived in old time, and had less knowledge to inform them and fewer examples to encourage them; yet in all ages they practised this duty; they were holy women, and therefore their example is obligatory; they trusted in God, and yet did not neglect their duty to man: the duties imposed upon you, of a quiet spirit and of subjection to your own husbands, are not new, but what have ever been practised by the greatest and best women in the world." (2.) Of Sara, who obeyed her husband, and followed him when he went from Ur of the Chaldeans, not knowing whither he went, and called him lord, thereby showing him reverence and acknowledging his superiority over her; and all this though she was declared a princess by God from heaven, by the change of her name, "Whose daughters you are if you imitate her in faith and good works, and do not, through fear of your husbands, either quit the truth you profess or neglect your duty to them, but readily perform it, without either fear or force, out of conscience towards God and sense of duty to them." Learn, [1.] God takes exact notice, and keeps an exact record, of the actions of all men and women in the world. [2.] The subjection of wives to their husbands is a duty which has been practised universally by holy women in all ages. [3.] The greatest honour of any man or woman lies in a humble and faithful deportment of themselves in the relation or condition in which Providence has placed them. [4.] God takes notice of the good that is in his servants, to their honour and benefit, but covers a multitude of failings; Sara’s infidelity and derision are overlooked, when her virtues are celebrated. [5.] Christians ought to do their duty to one another, not out of fear, nor from force, but from a willing mind, and in obedience to the command of God. Wives should be in subjection to their churlish husbands, not from dread and amazement, but from a desire to do well and to please God.
II. The husband’s duty to the wife comes next to be considered.
1. The particulars are, (1.) Cohabitation, which forbids unnecessary separation, and implies a mutual communication of goods and persons one to another, with delight and concord. (2.) Dwelling with the wife according to knowledge; not according to lust, as brutes; nor according to passion, as devils; but according to knowledge, as wise and sober men, who know the word of God and their own duty. (3.) Giving honour to the wife—giving due respect to her, and maintaining her authority, protecting her person, supporting her credit, delighting in her conversation, affording her a handsome maintenance, and placing a due trust and confidence in her.
2. The reasons are, Because she is the weaker vessel by nature and constitution, and so ought to be defended: but then the wife is, in other and higher respects, equal to her husband; they are heirs together of the grace of life, of all the blessings of this life and another, and therefore should live peaceably and quietly one with another, and, if they do not, their prayers one with another and one for another will be hindered, so that often "you will not pray at all, or, if you do, you will pray with a discomposed ruffled mind, and so without success." Learn, (1.) The weakness of the female sex is no just reason either for separation or contempt, but on the contrary it is a reason for honour and respect: Giving honour to the wife as unto the weaker vessel. (2.) There is an honour due to all who are heirs of the grace of life. (3.) All married people should take care to behave themselves so lovingly and peaceably one to another that they may not by their broils hinder the success of their prayers.
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
The apostle here passes from special to more general exhortations.
I. He teaches us how Christians and friends should treat one another. He advises Christians to be all of one mind, to be unanimous in the belief of the same faith, and the practice of the same duties of religion; and, whereas the Christians at that time were many of them in a suffering condition, he charges them to have compassion one of another, to love as brethren, to pity those who were in distress, and to be courteous to all. Hence learn, 1. Christians should endeavour to be all of one mind in the great points of faith, in real affection, and in Christian practice; they should be like-minded one to another, according to Christ Jesus (Rom. 15:5), not according to man’s pleasure, but God’s word. 2. Though Christians cannot be exactly of the same mind, yet they should have compassion one for another, and love as brethren; they ought not to persecute or hate one another, but love one another with more than common affection; they should love as brethren. 3. Christianity requires pity to the distressed, and civility to all. He must be a flagrant sinner, or a vile apostate, who is not a proper object of civil courtesy, 1 Co. 5:11; 2 Jn. 10:11.
II. He instructs us how to behave towards enemies. The apostle knew that Christians would be hated and evil-entreated of all men for Christ’s sake; therefore,
1. He warns them not to return evil for evil, nor railing for railing; but, on the contrary, "when they rail at you, do you bless them; when they give you evil words, do you give them good ones; for Christ has both by his word and example called you to bless those that curse you, and has settled a blessing on you as your everlasting inheritance, though you were unworthy." To bear evils patiently, and to bless your enemies, is the way to obtain this blessing of God. Learn, (1.) To render evil for evil, or railing for railing, is a sinful unchristian practice; the magistrate may punish evil-doers, and private men may seek a legal remedy when they are wronged; but private revenge by duelling, scolding, or secret mischief, is forbidden Prov. 20:22; Lu. 6:27; Rom. 12:17; 1 Th. 5:15. To rail is to revile another in bitter, fierce, and reproachful terms; but for ministers to rebuke sharply, and to preach earnestly against the sins of the times, is not railing; all the prophets and apostles practised it, Isa. 56:10; Zep. 3:3; Acts 20:29. (2.) The laws of Christ oblige us to return blessing for railing. Mt. 5:44, "Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those that persecute you. You must not justify them in their sin, but you must do for your enemies all that justice requires or charity commands." We must pity, pray for, and love those who rail at us. (3.) A Christian’s calling, as it invests him with glorious privileges, so it obliges him to difficult duties. (4.) All the true servants of God shall infallibly inherit a blessing; they have it already in a great degree, but the full possession of it is reserved to another state and world.
2. He gives an excellent prescription for a comfortable happy life in this quarrelsome ill-natured world (v. 10): it is quoted from Ps. 34:12–14. "If you earnestly desire that your life should be long, and your days peaceable and prosperous, keep your tongue from reviling, evil-speaking, and slandering, and your lips from lying, deceit, and dissimulation. Avoid doing any real damage or hurt to your neighbour, but be ever ready to do good, and to overcome evil with good; seek peace with all men, and pursue it, though it retire from you. This will be the best way to dispose people to speak well of you, and live peaceably with you." Learn, (1.) Good people under the Old and new Testament were obliged to the same moral duties; to refrain the tongue from evil, and the lips from guile, was a duty in David’s time as well as now. (2.) It is lawful to consider temporal advantages as motives and encouragements to religion. (3.) The practice of religion, particularly the right government of the tongue, is the best way to make this life comfortable and prosperous; a sincere, inoffensive, discreet tongue, is a singular means to pass us peaceably and comfortably through the world. (4.) The avoiding of evil, and doing of good, is the way to contentment and happiness both here and hereafter. (5.) It is the duty of Christians not only to embrace peace when it is offered, but to seek and pursue it when it is denied: peace with societies, as well as peace with particular persons, in opposition to division and contention, is what is here intended.
3. He shows that Christians need not fear that such patient inoffensive behaviour as is prescribed will invite and encourage the cruelty of their enemies, for God will thereby be engaged on their side: For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous (v. 12); he takes special notice of them, exercises a providential constant government over them, and bears a special respect and affection to them. His ears are open to their prayers; so that if any injuries be offered to them they have this remedy, they may complain of it to their heavenly Father, whose ears are always attentive to the prayers of his servants in their distresses, and who will certainly aid them against their unrighteous enemies. But the face of the Lord is against those that do evil; his anger, and displeasure, and revenge, will pursue them; for he is more an enemy to wicked persecutors than men are. Observe, (1.) We must not in all cases adhere to the express words of scripture, but study the sense and meaning of them, otherwise we shall be led into blasphemous errors and absurdities: we must not imagine that God hath eyes, and ears, and face, though these are the express words of the scripture. (2.) God hath a special care and paternal affection towards all his righteous people. (3.) God doth always hear the prayers of the faithful, Jn. 4:31; 1 Jn. 5:14; Heb. 4:16. (4.) Though God is infinitely good, yet he abhors impenitent sinners, and will pour out his wrath upon those that do evil. He will do himself right, and do all the world justice; and his goodness is no obstruction to his doing so.
4. This patient humble behaviour of Christians is further recommended and urged from two considerations:—(1.) This will be the best and surest way to prevent suffering; for who is he that will harm you? v. 13. This, I suppose, is spoken of Christians in an ordinary condition, not in the heat of persecution. "Ordinarily, there will be but few so diabolical and impious as to harm those who live so innocently and usefully as you do."(2.) This is the way to improve sufferings. "If you be followers of that which is good, and yet suffer, this is suffering for righteousness; sake (v. 14), and will be your glory and your happiness, as it entitles you to the blessing promised by Christ" (Mt. 5:10); therefore, [1.] "You need not be afraid of any thing they can do to strike you with terror, neither be much troubled nor concerned about the rage or force of your enemies." Learn, First, to follow always that which is good is the best course we can take to keep out of harm’s way. Secondly, To suffer for righteousness sake is the honour and happiness of a Christian; to suffer for the cause of truth, a good conscience, or any part of a Christian’s duty, is a great honour; the delight of it is greater than the torment, the honour more than the disgrace, and the gain much greater than the loss. Thirdly, Christians have no reason to be afraid of the threats or rage of any of their enemies. "Your enemies are God’s enemies, his face is against them, his power is above them, they are the objects of his curse, and can do nothing to you but by his permission; therefore trouble not yourselves about them." [2.] Instead of terrifying yourselves with the fear of men, be sure to sanctify the Lord God in your hearts (v. 15); let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, Isa. 8:12, 13. Fear not those that can only kill the body, but fear him that can destroy body and soul, Lu. 12:4, 5. We sanctify the Lord God in our hearts when we with sincerity and fervency adore him, when our thoughts of him are awful and reverend, when we rely upon his power, trust to his faithfulness, submit to his wisdom, imitate his holiness, and give him the glory due to his most illustrious perfections. We sanctify God before others when our deportment is such as invites and encourages others to glorify and honour him; both are required, Lev. 10:3. "When this principle is laid deeply into your hearts, the next thing, as to men, is to be always ready, that is, able and willing, to give an answer, or make an apology or defence, of the faith you profess, and that to every man that asketh a reason of your hope, what sort of hope you have, or which you suffer such hardships in the world." Learn, First, An awful sense of the divine perfections is the best antidote against the fear of sufferings; did we fear God more, we should certainly fear men less. Secondly, The hope and faith of a Christian are defensible against all the world. There may be a good reason given for religion; it is not a fancy but a rational scheme revealed from heaven, suited to all the necessities of miserable sinners, and centering entirely in the glory of God through Jesus Christ. Thirdly, Every Christian is bound to answer and apologize for the hope that is in him. Christians should have a reason ready for their Christianity, that it may appear they are not actuated either by folly or fancy. This defence may be necessary more than once or twice, so that Christians should be always prepared to make it, either to the magistrate, if he demand it, or to any inquisitive Christian, who desires to know it for his information or improvement. Fourthly, These confessions of our faith ought to be made with meekness and fear; apologies for our religion ought to be made with modesty and meekness, in the fear of God, with jealousy over ourselves, and reverence to our superiors.
Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
The confession of a Christian’s faith cannot credibly be supported but by the two means here specified—a good conscience and a good conversation. conscience is good when it does its office well, when it is kept pure and uncorrupt, and clear from guilt; then it will justify you, though men accuse you. A good conversation in Christ is a holy life, according to the doctrine and example of Christ. "Look well to your conscience, and to your conversation; and then, though men speak evil of you, and falsely accuse you as evil-doers, you will clear yourselves, and bring them to shame. Perhaps you may think it hard to suffer for well-doing, for keeping a good conscience and a good conversation; but be not discouraged, for it is better for you, though worse for your enemies, that you suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing." Learn, 1. The most conscientious persons cannot escape the censures and slanders of evil men; they will speak evil of them, as of evil-doers, and charge them with crimes which their very souls abhor: Christ and his apostles were so used. 2. A good conscience and a good conversation are the best means to secure a good name; these give a solid reputation and a lasting one. 3. False accusation generally turns to the accuser’s shame, by discovering at last the accuser’s indiscretion, injustice, falsehood, and uncharitableness. 4. It is sometimes the will of God that good people should suffer for well-doing, for their honesty and for their faith. 5. As well-doing sometimes exposes a good man to suffering, so evil-doing will not exempt an evil man from it. The apostle supposes here that a man may suffer for both. If the sufferings of good people for well-doing be so severe, what will the sufferings of wicked people be for evil-doing? It is a sad condition which that person is in upon whom sin and suffering meet together at the same time; sin makes sufferings to be extreme, unprofitable, comfortless, and destructive.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
Here, I. The example of Christ is proposed as an argument for patience under sufferings, the strength of which will be discerned if we consider the several points contained in the words; observe therefore, 1. Jesus Christ himself was not exempted from sufferings in this life, though he had no guilt of his own and could have declined all suffering if he had pleased. 2. The reason or meritorious cause of Christ’s suffering was the sins of men: Christ suffered for sins. The sufferings of Christ were a true and proper punishment; this punishment was suffered to expiate and to make an atonement for sin; and it extends to all sin. 3. In the case of our Lord’s suffering, it was the just that suffered for the unjust; he substituted himself in our room and stead, and bore our iniquities. He that knew no sin suffered instead of those that knew no righteousness. 4. The merit and perfection of Christ’s sacrifice were such that for him to suffer once was enough. The legal sacrifices were repeated from day to day, and from year to year; but the sacrifice of Christ, once offered, purgeth away sin, Heb. 7:27; 9:26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14. 5. The blessed end or design of our Lord’s sufferings was to bring us to God, to reconcile us to God, to give us access to the Father, to render us and our services acceptable, and to bring us to eternal glory, Eph. 2:13, 18; 3:12; Heb. 10:21, 22. 6. The issue and event of Christ’s suffering, as to himself, were these, he was put to death in his human nature, but he was quickened and raised again by the Spirit. Now, if Christ was not exempted from sufferings, why should Christians expect it? If he suffered, to expiate sins, why should not we be content when our sufferings are only for trial and correction, but not for expiation? If he, though perfectly just, why should not we, who are all criminals? If he once suffered, and then entered into glory, shall not we be patient under trouble, since it will be but a little time and we shall follow him to glory? If he suffered, to bring us to God, shall not we submit to difficulties, since they are of so much use to quicken us in our return to God, and in the performance of our duty to him?
II. The apostle passes from the example of Christ to that of the old world, and sets before the Jews, to whom he wrote, the different event of those who believed and obeyed Christ preaching by Noah, from those that continued disobedient and unbelieving, intimating to the Jews that they were under a like sentence. God would not wait much longer upon them. They had now an offer of mercy; those that accepted of it should be saved, but those who rejected Christ and the gospel should be as certainly destroyed as ever the disobedient in the times of Noah were.
1. For the explication of this we may notice, (1.) The preacher—Christ Jesus, who has interested himself in the affairs of the church and of the world ever since he was first promised to Adam, Gen. 3:15. He went, not by a local motion, but by special operation, as God is frequently said to move, Gen. 11:5; Hos. 5:15; Mic. 1:3. He went and preached, by his Spirit striving with them, and inspiring and enabling Enoch and Noah to plead with them, and preach righteousness to them, as 2 Pt. 2:5. (2.) The hearers. Because they were dead and disembodied when the apostle speaks of them, therefore he properly calls them spirits now in prison; not that they were in prison when Christ preached to them, as the vulgar Latin translation and the popish expositors pretend. (3.) The sin of these people: They were disobedient, that is, rebellious, unpersuadable, and unbelieving, as the word signifies; this their sin is aggravated from the patience and long-suffering of God (which once waited upon them for 120 years together), while Noah was preparing the ark, and by that, as well as by his preaching, giving them fair warning of what was coming upon them. (4.) The event of all: Their bodies were drowned, and their spirits cast into hell, which is called a prison (Mt. 5:25; 2 Pt. 2:4, 5); but Noah and his family, who believed and were obedient, were saved in the ark.
2. From the whole we learn that, (1.) God takes exact notice of all the means and advantages that people in all ages have had for the salvation of their souls; it is put to the account of the old world that Christ offered them his help, sent his Spirit, gave them fair warning by Noah, and waited a long time for their amendment. (2.) Though the patience of God wait long upon sinners, yet it will expire at last; it is beneath the majesty of the great God always to wait upon man in vain. (3.) The spirits of disobedient sinners, as soon as they are out of their bodies, are committed to the prison of hell, whence there is no redemption. (4.) The way of the most is neither the best, the wisest, nor the safest way to follow: better to follow the eight in the ark than the eight millions drowned by the flood and damned to hell.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Noah’s salvation in the ark upon the water prefigured the salvation of all good Christians in the church by baptism; that temporal salvation by the ark was a type, the antitype whereunto is the eternal salvation of believers by baptism, to prevent mistakes about which the apostle,
I. Declares what he means by saving baptism; not the outward ceremony of washing with water, which, in itself, does no more than put away the filth of the flesh, but it is that baptism wherein there is a faithful answer or restipulation of a resolved good conscience, engaging to believe in, and be entirely devoted to, God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, renouncing at the same time the flesh, the world, and the devil. The baptismal covenant, made and kept, will certainly save us. Washing is the visible sign; this is the thing signified.
II. The apostle shows that the efficacy of baptism to salvation depends not upon the work done, but upon the resurrection of Christ, which supposes his death, and is the foundation of our faith and hope, to which we are rendered conformable by dying to sin, and rising again to holiness and newness of life. Learn, 1. the sacrament of baptism, rightly received, is a means and a pledge of salvation. Baptism now saveth us. God is pleased to convey his blessings to us in and by his ordinances, Acts 2:38; 22:16. 2. The external participation of baptism will save no man without an answerable good conscience and conversation. There must be the answer of a good conscience towards God.—Obj. Infants cannot make such an answer, and therefore ought not to be baptized.—Answer, the true circumcision was that of the heart and of the spirit (Rom. 2:29), which children were no more capable of then than our infants are capable of making this answer now; yet they were allowed circumcision at eight days old. The infants of the Christian church therefore may be admitted to the ordinance with as much reason as the infants of the Jewish, unless they are barred from it by some express prohibition of Christ.
III. The apostle, having mentioned the death and resurrection of Christ, proceeds to speak of his ascension, and sitting at the right hand of the Father, as a subject fit to be considered by these believers for their comfort in their suffering condition, v. 22. If the advancement of Christ was so glorious after his deep humiliation, let not his followers despair, but expect that after these short distresses they shall be advanced to transcendent joy and glory. Learn, 1. Jesus Christ, after he had finished his labours and his sufferings upon earth, ascended triumphantly into heaven, of which see Acts 1:9–11; Mk. 16:19. He went to heaven to receive his own acquired crown and glory (Jn. 17:5), to finish that part of his mediatorial work which could not be done on earth, and make intercession for his people, to demonstrate the fulness of his satisfaction, to take possession of heaven for his people, to prepare mansions for them, and to send down the Comforter, which was to be the first-fruits of his intercession, Jn. 16:7. 2. Upon his ascension into heaven, Christ is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. His being said to sit there imports absolute rest and cessation from all further troubles and sufferings, and an advancement to the highest personal dignity and sovereign power. 3. Angels, authorities, and powers, are all made subject to Christ Jesus: all power in heaven and earth, to command, to give law, issue orders, and pronounce a final sentence, is committed to Jesus, God—man, which his enemies will find to their everlasting sorrow and confusion, but his servants to their eternal joy and satisfaction.