1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent.…
1. It is worthy of observation that in the public services of our church we offer petitions for the literal granting of which we can scarcely dare took. We desire of God, for example, "that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger"; and again, we beseech of Him to "vouchsafe to keep us this day without sin"; but there is not one of us who will presume to say that he ever passes a day without sin. It would argue the want of a real hatred of sin, and would therefore be highly dishonouring to God, to pray to be kept only from a certain degree of transgression, just as though any other degree might be allowed or overlooked. Besides, we cannot be ignorant that humility is at the root of all Christian graces, and that what encourages pride is most injurious to piety. Suppose, then, we were required to imitate a pattern which might be equalled, and is it not certain that as the resemblance seemed to grow, we should feel increasing self-complacency? The fine result of copying an imitable model is, that the vast distance at which we stand from perfection forbids our feeling proud of success. The advance appears nothing, when compared with the space which yet remains to be traversed. Oh! it is practically one of the most splendid things in Christianity, that it fixes our efforts on a model so immeasurably above us, that we have never time to calculate whether or not others are beneath us. We can never repose complacently on what we are; we must always find cause of humiliation in what we are not.
2. We have to go somewhat farther. You may say that whatever the evil consequences of erecting a low standard, there must be much that is disheartening in the copying a model which is confessedly inimitable. On the contrary, we argue, in the second place, that there is everything to encourage us in the fact that the standard cannot be reached; for it certainly is not essential to the suitableness of our example, that it is one whose excellence we may hope to overtake. This would be making our power of imitation, and not noble and beautiful qualities, the guide in selecting an example. It will not be questioned that a faultless work of art, if such there could be, can be only the best model for an artist, and yet the artist may not expect to produce what is faultless. Why is there to be introduced any different rule into the nobler science of moral imitation? Encouragement will depend mainly on the probability of improvement; and this probability being greater with a perfect than with an imperfect model, it follows that we have more cause to feel encouraged in imitating Christ, whom we cannot reach, than one of our fellow men, whom we might perhaps surpass. What the painter seeks is improvement in painting; what the orator seeks is improvement in oratory, and therefore each is anxious to study the prime master in the art. What the Christian seeks is improvement in spiritual graces, and he will gain more from copying Christ, in whom those graces were perfect, than by imitating any saint in whom they were necessarily defective. I know indeed what you may urge in objection to our statement. You may tell us that our illustrations are at fault; that the painter and the orator cherish a secret hope of equalling their models, and that hence they have an encouragement which is not afforded to the Christian. The Christian is not, then, sustained as is the painter or the orator, by the hope, however vague, of reaching, if not exceeding the standard; and the want, you say, of this stimulus, forbids our illustrating the one case by the other. But even if we allow that thorough accuracy of resemblance ought not at least to appear hopeless, we can still plead for the advantageousness of our being set to imitate Christ. Accuracy of resemblance is not hopeless. "Beloved," said St. John, "now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." "As, then, we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." So that as a Christian looks onward to the future he has more to encourage him than the dim possibility which you appeal to as stimulating the painter or the orator. His is the noble, the inspiring certainty, that however slowly, and however painfully goes forward now the imitative work, a day has to dawn, when, fashioned into perfect conformity to the model, he shall be presented unto God "without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." He labours, therefore, as one who knows that his labour is "not in vain in the Lord." We exhort you, then, to the imitation of Christ, assuring you, that the more you strive to acquire the resemblance, the more will you make sure of your calling and election, and the more frequent and delightful will be your foretastes of the joys which shall hereafter be awarded to the faithful. It is not indeed by your own skill or by your own energy that you may look to effect conformity to Jesus; but by the Holy Ghost, that Divine Agent whose special office it is to renew man after the lost image of his Maker.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.