I. NOTICE REGARDING THE LETTER.
1. The bearer. "By Silvanus, our faithful-brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly." Peter has written at considerable length, and yet, in comparison with the crowding of thoughts on his mind, briefly, being able to be brief because he had so qualified a messenger in Silvanus. This Silvanus or Silas is a link between Peter and Paul. He was associated with Paul in the writing of the two letters to the Thessalonians. He had assisted Paul in the founding of the Churches here addressed. This associate and assistant of Paul's Peter accounted a faithful brother. As he had been faithful in past services to the Churches, he would also be faithful in this.
2. Aim. "Exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God: stand ye fast therein." "He proposed an exhorting and a testifying, both in close connection with each other, as- the immediate juxtaposition of the ideas shows. The occasion of them lay in this, that the readers, as professing Christians, had to endure severe afflictions through the slanders of the heathen. In view of the dangers lying therein, the apostle was careful, on the one hand, to exhort them to patience, by directing their minds to the future inheritance, as also to the continuance in holiness, and to a conduct towards each other and towards the heathen, such as would lead the latter to see how groundless their slanders were; and, on the other hand, that his exhortation might not be without a firm basis, to assure them that a state of suffering was the true Divine state of grace" (Huther). Having stated his aim, he also exemplifies it. Having testified to their standing in the true grace (we. may understand through Pauline preaching, which thus agreed with Petrine preaching) he exhorts them to stand fast therein.
1. The Church in Babylon. "She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you." It is significant of the widespread activity of Peter that he was at this time writing from Babylon. He was attracted to this city (changed from what it had once been) by the number of Jews that were resident there· Christianity had found a congenial soil among them; and now, on the occasion of Peter writing to the elect Churches of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia the co-elect Babylonian Church sends greeting to them.
2. Mark. "And so doth Mark my son." As Timothy to Paul, so was Mark to Peter, his son, i.e. convert, companion, helper. It was to the house of Mary the mother of Mark that Peter went when he was miraculously delivered from prison; it is pleasing to see the old friendship kept up. Thus associated, we can scarcely think of Mark writing his Gospel without consulting with Peter.
3. Mutual salutation. "Salute one another with a kiss of love." What Paul calls the holy kiss, Peter calls the kiss of love, i.e. Christian brotherly love. When this Epistle was read aloud in open assembly, at the close of the reading, the men were to kiss each other, and the women, sitting apart, were also to kiss each other. The fraternal kiss, with which every one, after being baptized, was received into the particular community - which the members bestowed on each other just before the celebration of the communion, and with which every Christian saluted his brother, though he never saw him before - was not an empty form, but the expression of Christian feeling; a token of the relation in which Christians conceived themselves to stand to each other. It was this, indeed, which in a cold and selfish age struck the pagans with wonder; to behold men of different countries, ranks, stages of culture, so intimately bound together; to see the stranger who came into a city, and by his letter of recognition made himself known to the Christians of the place as a brother beyond suspicion, finding at once among them, to whom he was personally unknown, all manner of brotherly sympathy and protection (Neander).
III. BENEDICTION. "Peace be unto you all that are in Christ." Christ said, "Peace be unto you." The addition made by Peter to the Master's words defines the range within which he invokes peace. Let none that are in Christ want the peace of the Divine forgiveness, of the Divine keeping. - R.F.
The Church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you.
I. WE HAVE HERE AN OBJECT LESSON AS TO THE UNITING POWER OF THE GOSPEL. Just think of the relations which, in the civil world, subsisted between Rome and its subject provinces: the latter, with bitter hatred in their hearts to everything belonging to the oppressing city, having had their freedom crushed down and their aspirations ruthlessly trampled upon; the former, with the contempt natural to metropolitans in dealing with far off provincials. The same kind of relationship subsisted between Rome and the outlying provinces of its unwieldy empire as between England, for instance, and its Indian possessions. And the same uniting bond came in which binds the Christian converts of these Eastern lands of ours to England by a far firmer bond than any other. The separating walls were high, but, according to the old saying, you cannot build walls high enough to keep out the birds; and spirits, winged by the common faith, soared above all earthly made distinctions and met in the higher regions of Christian communion. Now our temptation is not so much to let barriers of race and language and distance weaken our sense of Christian community, as it is to let even smaller things than these do the same tragical office for us. And we, as Christian people, are bound to try and look over the fences of our "denominations" and churches, and recognise the wider fellowship and larger company in which all these are merged.
II. We note, further, THE CLEAR RECOGNITION HERE OF WHAT IS THE STRONG BOND UNITING ALL CHRISTIANS. Peter would probably have been very much astonished if he had been told of the theological controversies that were to be waged round that word "elect." The emphasis here lies, not on "elect," but on "together." It is not the thing so much as the common possession of the thing which bulks largely before the apostle. In effect he says, "The reason why these Roman Christians that have never looked you Bithynians in the face do yet feel their hearts going out to you, and send you their loving messages, is because they, in common with you, have been recipients of precisely the same Divine act of grace." By the side of these transcendent blessings which they possessed in common, how pitiably insignificant all the causes which kept them apart looked and were! And so here we have a partial parallel to the present state of Christendom, in which are seen at work, on one hand, superficial separation; on the other, underlying unity. The splintered peaks may stand, or seem to stand, apart from their sister summits, or may frown at each other across impassable gorges, but they all belong to one geological formation, and in the depths their bases blend indistinguishably into a continuous whole. Their tops are miles apart, but beneath the surface they are one.
III. Then, lastly, WE MAY FIND HERE A HINT AS TO THE PRESSING NEED FOR SUCH A REALISATION OF UNITY. "The Church that is in Babylon" was in a vary uncongenial place. Thank God, no Babylon is so Babylonish but that a Church of God may be found planted in it. No circumstances are so unfavourable to the creation and development of the religious life but that the religious life may grow there. An orchid will find footing upon a bit of stick, because it draws nourishment from the atmosphere; and they who are fed by the influx of the Divine Spirit may be planted anywhere, and yet flourish in the courts of our God. But it also gives a hint as to the obligation springing from the circumstances in which Christian people are set, to cultivate the sense of belonging to a great brotherhood. Howsoever solitary, and surrounded by uncongenial associations any Christian man may be, he may feel that he is not alone, not only because his Master is with him, but because there are many others whose hearts throb with the same love, whose lives are surrounded by the same difficulties. If thus you and I, Christian men, are pressed upon on all sides by such worldly associations, the more need that we should let our hearts go out to the innumerable multitude of our fellows, companions in the tribulation and patience and kingdom of Jesus Christ.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Marcus my sonI. THE WORKING OF CHRISTIAN SYMPATHY. Mark was a full-blooded Jew when he began his career. "John, whose surname was Mark," like a great many other Jews at that time, bore a double name, one Jewish, "John," and one Gentile, "Marcus." But as time goes on we do not hear anything more about "John," nor even about "John Mark," which are the two forms of his name when he is first introduced to us in the Acts of the Apostles, but he finally appears to have cast aside his Hebrew, and to have been only known by his Roman name. And that change of appellation coincides with the fact that so many of the allusions which we have to him represent him as sending messages of Christian greeting across the sea to his Gentile brethren. And it further coincides with the fact that his gospel is obviously intended for the use of Gentile Christians, and, according to an old and reliable tradition, was written in Rome for Roman Christians. All of which facts just indicate two things, that the more a man has real operative love to Jesus Christ in his heart the more he will rise above all limitations of his interests, his sympathy, and his efforts, and the more surely will let himself out, as far as he can, in affection towards and toils for all men. This change of name, though it is a mere trifle, and may have been adopted as a matter of convenience, may also be taken as reminding us of a very important truth, and that is, that if we wish to help people, the first condition is that we go down and stand on their level, and make ourselves one with them, as far as we can. And so Mark may have said, "I have put away the name that parts me from these Gentiles, for whom I desire to work, and whom I love; and I take the name that binds me to them." You must become like the people that you want to help.
II. The history of Mark suggests THE POSSIBILITY OF OVERCOMING EARLY FAULTS. We do not know why he refused to bear the burden of the work that he had so cheerily begun. When he started he did not bargain for going into unknown lands, in which there were many toils to be encountered. He was willing to go where he knew the ground. At all events, whatever his reason, his return was a fault, or Paul would not have been so hard upon him as he was. And the best way to treat him was as the apostle did; and to say to Barnabas' indulgent proposal, "No! he would not do the work before, and now he shall not do it." That is often God's way with us. It brings us to our senses, as it brought Mark to his. We do not know how long it took to cure Mark of his early fault, but he was thoroughly cured. The man that was afraid of dangers and hypothetical risks in Asia Minor became brave enough to stand by the apostle when he was a prisoner, and was not ashamed of his chain. And afterwards, so much had he won his way into the apostle's confidence, and made himself needful for him by his services, that the lonely prisoner, with the gibbet or headsman's sword in prospect, feels that he would like to have Mark with him once more, and bids Timothy bring him with himself, for "he is profitable to me for the ministry." Let no man set limits to the possibilities of his own restoration, and of his curing faults which are most deeply rooted within himself. Hope and effort should be boundless. So we may win victories on the very soil where formerly we were shamefully put to the rout.
III. Take another lesson — THE GREATNESS OF "LITTLE" SERVICE. We do not hear that this John Mark ever tried to do any work in the way of preaching the gospel. His business was a very much humbler one. He had to attend to Paul's comfort. That needed some self-suppression. It would have been so natural for Mark to have said, "Paul sends Timothy to be bishop in Crete, and Titus to look after other churches; Epaphroditus is an official here, and Apollos is a great preacher there. And here am I, grinding away at the secularities yet. I think I'll 'strike,' and try and get more conspicuous work." Or, he might perhaps deceive himself and say, "more directly religious work," like a great many of us that often mask a very carnal desire for prominence under a very saintly guise of desire to do spiritual service. That was self-suppression. But it was a clear recognition of what we all ought to have very clearly before us, and that is, that all sorts of work which contribute to one end are one sort of work; and that at bottom the man that carried Paul's books and parchments, and saw that he was not left without clothes, though he was so negligent of cloaks and other necessaries, was just as much helping on the cause of Christ as the apostle when he preached.
IV. Take as the last lesson THE ENLARGED SPHERE THAT FOLLOWS FAITHFULNESS IN SMALL MATTERS. What a singular change! The man that began with being a servant of Paul and of Barnabas ends by being the evangelist, and it is to him, under Peter's direction, that we owe what is possibly the oldest, and, at all events in some aspects, an entirely unique, narrative of our Lord's life. For quite certainly, in God's providence, the tools do come to the hand that can wield them, and the best reward that we can get for doing well our little work is to have larger work to do. The little tapers are tempted, if I may use so incongruous a figure, to wish themselves set up on loftier stands. Shine your brightest in your corner, and you will be "exalted" in due time.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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