1 Peter 4:17-19
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us…
Let us consider the solemn truth assumed — "If the righteous be scarcely saved." The meaning of this is that the righteous are saved with difficulty, or, as Steiger well expresses it, "it costs believers much to remain steadfast in their endurance of trials and to glorify God." The radical cause of the difficulty is with the righteous — original sin. The external causes of the difficulty are around believers — the world, which is in league with their infected nature, and offers corresponding objects to all its evil propensities. It is readily admitted that they are surrounded also with the helps of the Church. Now to notice the particular causes of such difficulty. Observe, first, that the faith of the righteous, which is always imperfect, has, like a physical power, a constant tendency to decrease in strength and firmness through its exercise being neglected. The temptations to such neglect are many and great. The righteous, for the most part, are leading a busy life. Hence they are tempted not to find time for the exercise of faith. Besides, sensible things ever surround them, try to press into their souls by every avenue of their senses, and exclusively, fill their affections and engage their thoughts; hence their disinclination to exercise faith would be proportionately increased. True, if the righteous are exposed to temptation to neglect the exercise of faith, they have incentives to attend to the duty. One incentive is a sense of sin. Another incentive is special temptation, or trouble, or difficulty, which often besets them, and urges them to look to their Saviour for deliverance or support. A third incentive is the impulse of the Holy Spirit, inciting thoughts of Christ. Further, the faith of the righteous is liable to decrease in strength and stability, through their failure to properly seek its nourish meat. Thus may their faith decline and waver through defect in spiritual appetite or neglect of spiritual food. And their exposedness to this may hardly be obviated by the frequent calls they may have to the healthy and invigorating exercises of devotion. Again, the faith of the righteous is liable to decrease in strength and firmness, through being exposed to attacks from the unbelief of their fallen nature, called in Scripture the evil heart of unbelief. Natural unbelief, therefore, needs to be much watched and prayed against, and an increase of faith to be much encouraged and prayed for. But further, the danger which their faith is in does not only arise from the unbelief of their fallen nature, but from the encouragement which such unbelief meets with in the world — ah! and the professing Church. For infidelity in sonic degree, practical or avowed, is everywhere manifest. The manner of such injury to their faith will be different at separate times. Sometimes, to notice the two extremes, when it is violently assailed by doubts within and infidel expressions and actions without, its injury will be sudden and apparent, like that of a plant which in spring is smitten with the blast of the east wind, so that one hour its roots are firm and its leaves green, the next its roots are loose, and its leaves dried up and withered. At other times, when its exercise or its nourishment is neglected through a worldly spirit, its injury will be gradual and imperceptible, like that of a plant which, while it is left uncultivated, has a worm at its roots. The righteous are saved with difficulty, secondly, because, in consequence of the general causes mentioned, their holiness is exposed to some degree of failure. It is exposed to this through decrease of faith, like the fruit of a tree through injury of its root, and also, like faith, through its exercise and nourishment being neglected. The holiness of the righteous is exposed to failure in measure through temptations. Again, the holiness of the righteous is exposed to failure through trials. Further, the righteous are saved with difficulty, because they are exposed to failure, in measure, in holiness, through difficulty in certain parts of obedience. It is no easy matter for the righteous, depraved as they are in nature, to perform their various duties in their entirety. But even this is not all; some duties which the righteous have to perform are especially difficult, through their direct opposition to their natural tendencies. I mean such as are involved in the following sayings of the Master: — "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14). Now I have two inferences to draw from this solemn subject.
1. The first is, if the righteous are thus scarcely saved, must not many professors of religion be in a sad mistake?
2. The second inference is that the righteous have great cause for earnest striving that the evidences of their conversion may be clear to themselves and to others.
3. In a word, let them "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling," and "give all diligence to make their calling and election sure."
(C. H. Coleman.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?