1 Peter 3:1-7
Likewise, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word…
If we translate this into modern language, we might say, "The latent good and evil in man." The heart stands for the source, back of all else, from which our life flows. What we love most, that we are. Wherever our deepest longing goes, there we are going. But this profound tendency of the soul is often a hidden tendency. It is "the hidden man of the heart." There is in every man a great deal more of good and of evil than we see. Inside of the visible man, whose face and form we see, there is an invisible man of veins and arteries, and another invisible man of nerves, and a third invisible man of bones; and from the co operation of these proceed the actions of the visible man. What we see in nature is only the visible outcome of what we do not see. So, in the processes of the human soul, what we know proceeds from hidden sources which we do not know. What do I mean by the formation of Christian character? I mean that a man may deliberately choose to be pure, honest, truthful, generous, religious, and that he can turn this choice at last into a habit, so that it shall be natural to him to do right, rather than to do wrong. What he did at first by an effort, and with difficulty, he now does without any conscious effort, and easily. Now, all these instincts, whether original or acquired, are wholly hidden from our knowledge. They are latent until they are called out by some occasion; then they show themselves spontaneously. Some are near the surface, and appear on all occasions; others are deep down, and appear only on special occasions. The moral cowardice in the apostle Peter, which could make him deny his Master, was latent, and Peter could not believe it possible that he should act thus. Circumstances develop latent goodness as well as evil. You are living among neighbours whom you do not know very well. But they seem to you commonplace, or perhaps worldly. But some calamity befalls you. This event brings out the goodness which was lying latent in your neighbours' hearts; latent because nothing appealed to it. How kind they are now! how self-sacrificing! But the sickness of your child was not the cause of this sympathy, but merely the occasion of its manifesting itself and becoming developed. It did not make, it only revealed, these kindly thoughts of many hearts. Just so the great calamities and dangers of a nation arouse as by an electric touch the heroism and self-sacrifice that there may be in the people. Cincinnatus steps from behind his plough; William Tell from his mountain home; Washington from his comforts; to serve his country in council or battle. But "the times which try men's souls" do not make Washingtons and Tells — they only test them and call out their latent virtue. Woe to the nation, woe to the man who is not equal to the test when it comes! If the test does not cause them to rise, it makes them fall. How many examples there are to prove the existence of this latent evil! We have seen a young man go from the pure home of his childhood, from the holy influences of a Christian community. He leaves his home and comes to the city to engage in business. He trusts in his own heart, in his own virtuous habits. But there is latent evil in his heart, there is a secret selfishness, a hidden and undeveloped sensualism, which is ready to break out under the influences which will now surround him. He becomes a lover of pleasure; he acquires a taste for play, wine and excitement. In a year or two, how far has he gone from the innocent hopes and tastes of his childhood! The latent evil that was in him has come out under the test of these new circumstances. Meantime, another young man, apparently no better than he, has, under the same circumstances, developed the seeds of virtuous and holy purposes, and has become a man of unshaken integrity and virtue. Why this difference? You cannot trace it to education, for their education was similar, you cannot account for it by the influence of circumstances, example and outward temptations; for these were the same in both cases. The difference was in the latent character of the two boys. One in the depths of his soul was then a sensualist; was then a worldly and selfish boy. The other, with no better outward habits, had in reality an inward principle of goodness. And circumstances merely developed the latent good and evil of the two. The fact of latent goodness is as true and important as that of latent evil. If our inmost purposes are right; if we have kept our heart with all diligence; if we have habitually trusted our souls to God, then we have a stock of latent goodness, ready and equal for any occasion which may come to call for it. We need not fear, then, that we shall not be able to meet any emergencies. An unsuspected strength will then manifest itself, a courage and faith for which we dared not hope will triumphantly reveal itself. What, then, is the practical conclusion from these facts? It is that we should both distrust ourselves and trust ourselves; that we should pray. "Lead us not into temptation," yet "count it all joy when we fall into temptation." If we are already conscious of our weakness, we may not need the trial which is sent to show us our weakness. But if, nevertheless, God sends the trial, then it was necessary that we should be tried, and let us count it all joy that it has come. If it brings out an amount of latent evil of which we were not aware, then it is well that we should become thus acquainted with our own depths of sinfulness. The disease must be brought out before it can be cured. But if the temptation, on the other hand, reveals and quickens powers of inward virtue and resolution, then let us bless God for this latent goodness which He shows us.
(James Freeman Clarke.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;