1 Peter 1:17-21
And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work…
"Walk during the time of your sojourning here in fear." How does that comport with the preceding glowing exhortation to "perfect hope"? How does it fit in with the triumphant words in the earlier part of the chapter about "joy unspeakable and full of glory"? Does it not come like a douche of cold water on such thoughts? Peter thinks they can co-exist; and, more singular still, that the same object can excite both. Nay! there is no perfect hope which does not blend with it this fear; and joy itself lacks dignity and nobleness unless it is sobered and elevated by an infusion of it.
I. HERE WE HAVE, FIRST, A FATHERLY JUDGMENT. Mark the meaning and the limits of the fatherly and filial relation which is laid at the foundation of the exhortation of my text. "If ye call on the Father" — he is speaking distinctly and exclusively to Christian people. Much has been said in recent days, and said in many aspects nobly, and with good results upon the theological thinking of our generation, about the Fatherhood of God. But, we are never to forget that that one word covers in the Bible two entirely distinct thoughts. In one aspect, God is the Father of the spirits of all flesh by their derivation of life from Him. But in another "to as many as believed on Him to them gave He power to become sons of God." And it is on the latter Fatherhood and sonship that the apostle builds the exhortation of my text. Well, then, further, the apostle here desires to guard us against another of the errors which are very common in this generation. The revolt against the sterner and graver side of Christian truth has largely found footing in a mistaken idea of the implications and bearing of that thought that God is our Father. That relationship has been thought to swallow up all others, and men have been unwilling to entertain the ideas of a righteous Governor, a supreme Law giver, a retributive Judge. And Peter brings the two ideas into juxtaposition, seeing no contradiction between them, but rather that the one necessarily involves the other. Is it not so in your own homes? Does your fatherhood swallow up your obligation to estimate the moral worth of your child, and to proportion your conduct accordingly? The judicial aspect is essential to the perfection of Fatherhood; and every family on earth mirrors the fact to those that have eyes to see. Mark, still further, the emphatic characteristics of this paternal judgment which are set forth in my text. It is "without respect of persons." Peter is going back on his old experience in that unique word. Do you remember when it was that the scales fell from his eyes, and he said, "I perceive that God is no respecter of persons"? It was in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. Note, further, that this paternal judgment which comes on the child because he is a child, is a present one. "Who judgeth," not "who wilt judge." Ah! day by day, moment by moment, deed by deed, we are coming under the judicial light of God's eye, and the judicial force of His hand. "The history of the world is the judgment of the world," so the lives of individual Christians do record and bear the results of a present judgment of the present Father. Then mark, still further, what the thing judged by this present impartial Fatherly judgment is "According to his work." The text does not say "works," but "work" — that is, each man's life considered as a living whole; the main drift and dominant purpose, rather than the isolated single acts, are taken into view. Now, from all this, there just comes the one point that I want to urge upon our hearts and consciences — viz., that Christian people are to expect, today and hereafter, the incidence of a Father's judgment. The Jews came to Jesus Christ once and said, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" His answer made the same remarkable use of the singular instead of the plural to which I have drawn attention as occurring in this text — "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." Yes! And if we, in any real sense, are doing that one work of God — viz., believing on Jesus Christ — our faith will be a productive mother of work which He will look upon and accept as an odour of a sweet smell, "well-pleasing unto God." There is a paternal judgment; and the works which pass it are works done from the root and on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.
II. WE HAVE HERE A SON'S FEAR. Now, fear is, I suppose, best explained as being the shrinking anticipation of evil. But, as the Old Testament has taught us, there is a higher and a lower form of that apprehension. In the higher it is sublimed into lowly reverence and awe, which fears nothing so much as being alienated from God. And that is the fear that my text would insist upon. The evil which a Christian man, the son of the Father, and the subject of His judgment, has most to apprehend — indeed, the only evil which he has really to apprehend — is that he may be tempted to do wrong. So this fear has in it no torment, but it has in it blessedness and purity and strength. It is perfectly compatible with all these other emotions of which the lower form of fear is the opposite; perfectly compatible with confidence, with hope, with joy — nay I rather, without this wholesome and restraining dread of incurring the displeasure of a loving Father, these exuberant and buoyant graces lose their chiefest security. The fear which my text enjoins is the armed guard, so to speak, that watches over these fair virgins of hope and joy and confidence that beautify the Christian life. If you wish your hope to be bright, fear; if you wish your joy to be solid, fear; if you want your confidence in God to be unshaken, cherish utter distrust of yourself, and fear. Fear only that you may depart from Him in whom our hope, and our joy, and our confidence, have their roots. That fear is the only guarantee for our security. The man that distrusts himself and knows his danger, and clings to his refuge is safe. This son's fear is the source of courage. The man whose whole apprehension of evil is dread of sin is bold as a lion in view of all other dangers.
III. Lastly, HERE IS THE HOMECOMING, WHICH WILL FINISH THE FEAR. "The time of your sojourning," says Peter. That thought runs through the letter. It is addressed "to the strangers scattered abroad," and in the next chapter he exhorts Christian people, as "strangers and pilgrims," to "abstain from fleshly lusts." Here he puts a term to this dread — "the time of your sojourning." Travellers in foreign lands have to light their fires at night to keep off the lions, and to set their guard to detect the stealthy approach of the foe, You and I, whilst we travel in this earthly pilgrimage, have to be on our guard, lest we should be betrayed. But we are going home. And when the child gets to the Father's house it does not fear any more dangers, nor need bolts and bars, nor guards and sentries. Why did God give us this capacity of anticipating, and shrinking from, future evil? Was it only meant that its red light should be a danger signal in reference to fleeting worldly evils? Is there not a far worse possibility before us all? Let me press on you this one question: Have you ever, in all the wide range which your fears of a future have taken, extended it so far as to face this question, "What will become of me when I come into contact with God the Judge and His righteous tribunal?" You will come in contact with it. Let your fear travel so far, and let it lead you to the one Refuge.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: