1 Peter 1:6
Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations:…
When he was young, Peter had been peculiarly impatient of sorrow, and blind to its necessity and worth. He had forgotten his reverence for Christ in his refusal to believe, even on his Master's authority, that sorrow could touch so dear a head. Years and experience had taught him the deed meaning of the prophetic contrast which Christ had drawn between his early self-'willed, unhindered action, and his later days, when his will should be crossed and unwelcome compulsion should lord it over him. This Epistle is remarkable for the clearness of its insight and the frequency of its references to suffering as an indispensable factor in the Christian life. When he was old, he had learned the lesson which had been so foreign to his hot youth. Well for us if our past sorrows lie transfigured and illuminated by a beam of light like this in the text!
I. THE JOY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. We have first the source of the joy. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice." The complex whole of the blessings spoken of - the lively hope, the reserved inheritance, the guarding power, the prepared salvation, its future apocalypse - these are the golden threads from which the bright tissue is woven. So this is the first distinction between the majestic Christian joy and the lighter-winged fluttering mirths and pleasures. It flows from no surface-pools, but from deep fountains, and is fed from everlasting fields of pure snow high on the mountains of God. Then we have the depth and calm rapture of the joy in the strong word of the original, which expresses a high degree of exultation. Peter was possibly quoting our Lord's words to his persecuted people, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad." At all events, Christian joy should be no pale and feeble thing, but full-blooded and fall-voiced. It is far unlike boisterous mirth, which is noisy like the thorn-bushes which crackle and flare in flame for a moment. "The gods approve the depth and not the tumult of the soul." A present salvation, fellowship with a present Christ, the large and. sure hope of his appearing, the exercise of faith and love and obedience, the immunity from fear, and the escape from the miseries of self-will, should all combine, like so many streams pouring down the hillsides, in this one deep and smooth-flowing stream of calm and equable gladness. Religion does us good. only as it makes us glad. Any firm and. adequate grasp of the facts and relations which the gospel brings will certainly make a man joyful. The average religion of this day does not believe in its own creed heartily enough to find in it support against temptations or joy in sorrow. If our Christianity has not the power to bless us with gladness in our hearts, there is something wrong either in the completeness of our surrender to it or in the articles of our belief. If our religion is largely self-inspection, or if it dwells on the sterner side of truth, or is mainly a prohibitory law keeping us from doing what we would like, or if it is a languid emotion not half so powerful as common appetites, we cannot expect to get sweet juice of gladness from such shrunken fruit. The coexistence of this joy with sorrow is, further, brought into prominence here. This paradox of Christian experience has seemed so startling that the future tense has been proposed as the true rendering; but a much deeper and grander sense results from adhering to the present tense. It is possible that joy should live side by side in the same heart with sorrow, and neither converting the other wholly into its own substance, and each made more noble by the presence of its opposite. "Central peace" may "subsist at the heart or' endless agitation." Greek fire will burn under water. Flowers bloom on the glacier's edge. The depths of the sea are still, while winds rave and waves heave and currents race above. In the darkest night of sorrow and loss, starry and immortal hopes wilt brighten in our sky, and the heart that is united to Christ will have an inward solemn blessedness which no tempest of sorrow can extinguish.
II. THE SORROW OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. There is much unreality and consequent powerlessness in the one-sided pictures of the religious life so often drawn. To listen to some people, one would fancy that religion was meant to abolish all trial and sorrow. A picture without shadows is unlike anything on earth. The true Christian view neither portrays an impossible paradise nor preaches a hardening stoicism. Here we have in half a dozen words a theory of the meaning and uses of pain and grief, sufficient to live by and to alleviate many a pang.
1. Nonce the insight rote the true nature and purpose of all sorrow. It is temptation, or, more properly, trial. It is intended as a test, a proof, to reveal us to ourselves and so to better us. We do not get to the bottom of our sorrows till we look at the moral purpose which they serve, and regard them as discipline rather than pain. They take a shallow view who contemplate only the smart of the wound and leave out of sight the surgeon's purpose. They take as shallow a view who dispute or deny the benefit of sorrow, and assert that happiness tends to a sweeter virtue than it does. There is a lowly self-distrust quickly passing into calm faith which only sorrow can produce. The will is never bowed into submission without being softened in the furnace, and there is no real goodness but from a submissive will. The props round which the heart twines its tendrils have to be cut down, that it may fasten itself on the only true support. Only when we have nothing else to lean on do we lean all our weight on him.
2. Observe, too, the recognition of the wise adaptation of our sorrows to our need. They are not sent unless "need be." They are sent as need is. In the great Surgeon's instrument-ease are many shining blades, all for cutting and paining. He chooses the right knife, and cuts where wanted, and close beside the sharp instrument lie bandage and balm. It is hard to believe that a sorrow which strikes many is at the same time proportioned in its force to each. But faith knows that Providence neither forgets the general mass in care for the individual, nor loses sight of the wants of the individual in the crowd, but is at once special and general.
3. Finally, observe the transiency of sorrow. It is for a season. That is the highest attainment of faith, to see how short are the long slow hours which pain and grief lengthen. They seem to creep, as if the sun and the moon stood still as of old, that the storm may have time to break on us. But we have to take Heaven's chronology in our sorrows, and, though their duration seems interminable, to feel that after all it is but a little while. The long hours as they appear of a dream are but moments in reality, and seem so when the sleeper awakes. His anger is but a moment; his favor lasts all the life. Weeping may come to lodge with us - a somber guest - for a night; but when the bright morning dawns Joy comes with a shout, radiant as the morning, and at his coming the black-robed visitant steals out of sight. Then the joy that coexisted with sorrow shall survive alone, and "sorrow and sighing shall flee away." - A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: