1 Peter 1:1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,
To the strangers scattered ['sojourners of the dispersion,' Revised Version] throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. "The dispersion" was unquestionably the designation of Jewish residents in Gentile countries (John 7:35; James 1:1). "Strangers" means temporary residents in a foreign country. But the question whether this letter is really addressed to Jewish Christians is not necessarily answered in the affirmative by this superscription. For it is quite possible that the Gentile Christians in the countries named may be intended by "the sojourners of the dispersion," the description properly belonging to the Jews being transferred to them as in a profounder sense true of them, just as many other terms applicable to them are transferred in other parts of the letter. This possibility seems to be raised to a very high probability, at least by many expressions in it which appear to imply that the persons addressed were Gentiles. Such, for instance, as 1 Peter 1:14, "the former lusts in your ignorance;" 1 Peter 2:10, "in time past were not a people;" 1 Peter 4:3, "The time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles." If, then, we may fairly take these words as addressed to all Christians, they bring before us the familiar but ever-neglected truth that, if Christians are faithful, to their calling and to their true affinities, they will cherish a sense of belonging to another order of things than that with which they are outwardly connected. The word here rendered "stranger," or, as in the Revised Version, "sojourner," implies both residence in a foreign land, and temporary residence; and if we add to it the remaining word, we have a threefold view of the condition of a Christian, as an alien, a passing visitant, an isolated man.
I. HE IS AN ALIEN. He does not belong to the polity, the order of things in which he lives. No people on earth should understand that metaphor better than Jews and Englishmen; both belonging to nations scattered over the whole world, and accustomed to cherish a keen, proud sense of belonging to another nationality than that under whose flag they may be living. These Jews of the dispersion wandered all over the Roman world; but wherever they went, among the cold storm-swept uplands of Cappadocia and Galatia, in the rude villages of Pontus, or the luxurious cities and busy seaports of Asia Minor, they felt the mystic tie which bound them to Jerusalem on her hills, and the temple gleaming on its rock. So Christians are here members of another nationality, and foreigners in time. St. Paul gives us the same idea under a slightly different metaphor when he bids the Philippians live as citizens of heaven. Philippi was a Roman "colony," that is, it was regarded a piece of Rome itself in Macedonia, governed by Roman law, not by provincial codes, having the names of its citizens enrolled among the Roman tribes. So we, if we are Christians, are colonists here; our mother country is beyond the stars. This is an honor and a privilege. Peter does not utter these words with a melancholy face and a sigh, as so many of us do whose hearts hanker after the world, and would fain have it for our own. The Jew, the Philippian colonist, the roving Englishman were and are proud of their nationality, and knew that it was a descent to be naturalized in their places of residence. Let us glory in our belonging to the city which hath the foundations, and not sorrow that we are strangers. We have ceased to belong to the present material order, because we have been taken up into the higher. We rise to be aliens to earth and the race of men whose hopes and views are limited by it, just as some peasant's son may be educated out of the narrow surroundings and torpid life of his native village, and come to feel that he has little in common with relatives and friends, because a wider horizon expands before his mental vision. So then a prime duty is to keep separate from the order of things in which we dwell, and to keep vivid the consciousness that we do not belong to it. Think of the tenacious individuality of the Jewish people, eagerly mingling in the commercial life of every nation, and often having a large share in its intellectual life, and yet keeping apart, as oil from water. If Christians would learn the lesson, it would be well for them and for the world! Think of Abraham pitching his tent outside the cities of Canaan, mingling on friendly terms with the people, compelling their respect, but yet refusing to enter, and "dwelling in tabernacles, because he looked for the city." Nowadays Christians seem to be trying how far into the city of the Canaanites they can go, and how handsome a house they can build themselves there. It is never well with the Church unless the world describes it, as Haman did the Jews, "a certain people, scattered abroad, and their lives are diverse from all people." It is never well with a Christian soul which does not hear ever sounding in conscience the voice which says, "Come ye out and be separate." The world has got into the Church, and the Church has struck up a friendship with the world; and never was there more need to press upon every Christian that, in the measure in which he belongs to Christ, he is an alien here, and that if he feels quite at home among material things, that is because he has lost his nationality, and has stooped to the degradation of being naturalized in his place of abode.
II. EVERY TRUE CHRISTIAN BELONGS TO THE DISPERSION. Each human heart, even in the closest human love, has to live alone. But those who love Jesus Christ will often have to bear a peculiar solitude which comes from their necessary association with those who do not love him. The loneliness of outward solitude does not pain in comparison with the loneliness of enforced and uncongenial companionship. A Christian is least alone when alone, for then God comes to keep him company. He is most alone when pushed close against those who do not share his faith, for then all the holy thoughts which come to his soul in quiet, as birds will light on the grass, take flight and hide in the trees at the noise of tongues. The isolation is for high purposes. Leaven has to be diffused among the inert mass. Seed stored on a barn floor in heaps is of little use, and likely to rot. It is scattered that it may grow. Salt is rubbed into the meat which is to be preserved. Christians are spread abroad, as brands are carried from a fire, to carry light into dark corners. The same Providence which sent the Jews of the dispersion as missionaries throughout the Roman world, sends us to bear abroad the Name of Jesus. The more we are surrounded with uncongenial associates, the more imperative the duty, and the more hopeful the opportunity, of our witnessing for our King. We have to represent our country among strangers. Its honor is in our hands. We carry its flag. Wandering Englishmen of doubtful character make the name of England abominable, and men like Gordon and many an unknown missionary hero make it fragrant, in lands where they are the only known specimens of the race. Men judge of Christianity very largely by the specimens of it which they see. We are each sent among a circle of associates that they may learn what the gospel can do for men by what it has done for us. Are we such specimens as to inspire onlookers with a respect for the religion which has made us what we are?
III. CHRISTIANS ARE BUT PASSING VISITANTS. The colonists will be called to the mother-city. Native-born Australians think of coming to England as going home, though they have never touched our shores. The outlying posts which have been held for the king amid swarms of alien enemies will be relieved, and the garrisons welcomed to their true country. We too often speak and think of the transiency of this present and the coming of death, with sadness, or at the best with resignation. But if we rightly understood that our deepest affinities connect us with that other order into which death introduces us, and that repose from weary effort, congenial companionship instead of isolation, and all the sweet satisfaction and freedom of home, are death's gifts to the Christian son], we should think of our departure hence with hope. "Were the happiness of the next world as closely apprehended as the felicities of this, it were a martyrdom to live." It becomes us to be "glad" when they say unto us, "Let us go into the house of the Lord." Two men may embark in one ship - the one full of good cheer as the ropes are loosened and the first turn of the screw begins to move her from the pier; the other sad because he leaves all that is familiar and dear. The one is going home from exile; the other is being borne into banishment in a strange land, whose speech he does not know, whose king he does not serve. Which shall I be when death comes? - A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,