1 Peter 2:13-16
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;…
There is not anything in the world more generally desired than liberty, nor scarce anything more generally abused. The apostles, therefore, especially St. Peter and St. Paul, the two chiefest planters of the Churches, endeavoured early to instruct believers in the true doctrine, and to direct them in the right use of their Christian liberty so often in their several epistles as fit occasion was offered thereunto. And we may further observe concerning these two apostles that St. Paul usually toucheth upon this argument of liberty as it is to be exercised in the case of scandal; but St. Peter oftener, as in the case of obedience. From which words I gather three observations, all concerning our Christian liberty, in that branch of it especially which respecteth human ordinances, and the use of the creatures and of all indifferent things. Either
1. In the existence of it, as free.
2. In the exercise of it, "and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness."
3. In the end of it, "but as the servants of God." The first observation: We must so submit ourselves to superior authority, as that we do not thereby impeach our Christian liberty, "as free." The second this: We must so maintain our liberty, as that we do not under that colour either commit any sin or omit any requisite office, either of charity or duty, "and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness." The third this: In the whole exercise, both of the liberty we have in Christ and of the respect we owe unto men, we must evermore remember ourselves to be, and accordingly behave ourselves as those that are God's servants, "but as the servants of God." The sum of the whole three points in brief this: We must be careful without either infringing or abusing our liberty at all times, and in all things to serve God. Now then to the several, points as they lie in the text. "As free." Which words have manifest reference to the exhortation delivered three verses before the text. Submit yourselves to public governors, both supreme and subordinate, be subject to your own particular masters, honour all men with those proper respects that belong to them in their several stations; but look you, do all this, not as slaves but as free, do it without impeachment of the liberty you have in Christ. First, this liberty is purchased for us by the blood of Christ, and is therefore usually Called by the name of Christian liberty (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1). Secondly, is revealed unto us outwardly in the preaching of the gospel of God and of Christ, which is therefore called the law of liberty (James 1:25; James 2:12). And thirdly, is conveyed unto us inwardly and effectually by the operation of the Spirit of God and of Christ, which is therefore called a free spirit (Psalm 51:12; 2 Corinthians 3:17). Now this liberty, so dearly purchased, so clearly revealed, so firmly conveyed, it is our duty to maintain (Galatians 5:1). A thing whereof it behoveth us to have a special care, and that for weighty respects. First, in regard of the trust reposed in us in this behalf. Every honest man taketh himself bound to discharge with faithfulness the trust reposed in him. Now these two, the Christian faith and the Christian liberty, are of all other the choicest jewels whereof the Lord Jesus Christ hath made His Church the depository. Especially since we cannot so do, secondly, without manifest wrong to Christ; nor, thirdly, without great dishonour to God. Not without wrong to Christ. St. Paul therefore disputeth it as upon a ground of right. "Ye are bought with a price, be ye not the servants of men" (1 Corinthians 7:22). You cannot dispose yourselves in any other service without apparent wrong to Him. Neither only do we injure Christ by making ourselves the servants of men, but we dishonour God also, which is a third reason. For to whom we make ourselves servants him we make our Lord and God. The covetous worldling therefore, by serving mammon, maketh mammon his god. Yea, and our own too, which may stand for a fourth reason. "Ye see your calling, brethren," saith the apostle (1 Corinthians 1:26). He would have men take notice of their Christian calling, that so they might walk worthy of it. Now by our calling we are free men (Galatians 5:13). And being so, we infinitely abase ourselves and disparage our calling, when of free men we become slaves. Leo the Emperor, therefore, by special and severe constitution, forbade all free men within the empire sale of their liberties, calling it facinus in those that were so presumptuous as to buy them, and no less than folly, yea, madness in those that were so base as to sell them; not without some indignation at the former laws for suffering such an indignity to be so long practised without either chastisement or restraint. And if he justly censured them as men of abject minds, that would for any consideration in the world willingly forego their civil and Roman liberty, what flatness of spirit possesseth us if we wilfully betray our Christian and spiritual liberty? Whereby, besides the dishonour, we do also, with our own hands, pull upon our own heads a great deal of unnecessary cumber. For whereas we might draw an easy yoke, carry a light burden, observe commandments that are not grievous in the service of God and of Christ, by putting ourselves into the service of men we thrust our necks into a hard yoke of bondage. Besides these, that do it thus by open assault, I would there were not others also that did by secret underminings go about to deprive us of that liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, even then when they most pretend the maintenance of it. We oftentimes betray away our own liberty when we might maintain it, and so become servants unto men, when we both might and ought to keep ourselves free. Which fault we shall be the better able to avoid when we shall know the true causes, whence it springeth; which are evermore one of these two, an unsound head or an unsound heart. Sometimes we esteem too highly of others, so far as either to envassal our judgments to their opinions, or to enthral our consciences to their precepts, and that is our weakness; there the fault is in the head. Sometimes we apply ourselves to the wills of others, with an eye to our own benefit or satisfaction in some other carnal or worldly respect, and that is our fleshliness; there the fault is in the heart. This latter is the worst, and therefore in the first place to be avoided. The most and worse sort, unconscionable men, do often transgress this way. There is, I confess, much reverence to be given to the writings of the godly ancient fathers, more to the canons and decrees of general and provincial councils, and not a little to the judgment of learned, sober, and godly divines of later and present times. But we may not build our faith upon them as upon a sure foundation. What is Calvin or Luther, nay, what is Paul or Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed? That is to say, instruments, but not lords of your belief. To do God and ourselves right, it is necessary we should with our utmost strength maintain the doctrine and power of that liberty wherewith Christ hath endowed His Church, without either usurping the mastery over others, or subjecting ourselves to their servitude, so as to surrender either our judgments or consciences to be wholly disposed according to the opinions or wills of men, though of never so excellent piety or parts. We must so maintain our liberty that we abuse it not, as we shall, if, under the pretence of Christian liberty, we either adventure the doing of some unlawful thing, or omit the performance of any requisite duty. "As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness." The apostle's intention in the whole clause will the better appear when we know what is meant by cloak and what by maliciousness. The Greek word ἐπικάλυμμα, which is nowhere else found in the whole New Testament but in this verse only, signifieth properly any covering, as the covering of badgers' skins that was spread over the tabernacle is in the Septuagint's translation called ἐπικάλυμμα. And it is very fitly translated a cloak, in respect of that notion wherein the word in our English tongue is commonly used, to note some fair and colourable pretence, wherewith we conceal from the knowledge of others the dishonesty and faultiness of our intentions in some things practised by us. It is a corruption very common among us; whatsoever we are within, yet we desire to make a fair show outwardly. We are loth to forbear those sins which we are ashamed to profess, and therefore we colour them and cloak them that we may both do the thing we desire and- yet miss the shame we deserve. You see what the cloak is; see now what is maliciousness. Κακία is the word, which is properly rendered by malice or maliciousness. And as these English words, and the Latin word malicia whence these are borrowed, so likewise κακία in Greek is many times used to signify one special kind of sin, which is directly opposite to brotherly love and charity, and the word is usually so taken, wheresoever it is either set in opposition to such charity or else ranked with other special sins of the same kind, such as are anger, envy, hatred, and the like. And if we should so understand it here, the sense were good; for it is a very common thing in the world to offend against brotherly charity under the colour of Christian liberty, and doubtless our apostle here intendeth the remedy of that abuse also. Yet I rather conceive that the word maliciousness in this place is to be taken in a larger comprehension for all manner of evil and of naughtiness. To use liberty for an occasion to the flesh, and to use liberty for a cloak of maliciousness is the very same thing, and it is a very great sin. For the proof whereof I shall need to use no other arguments than the words of the text will afford. First, every act of maliciousness is a sin; and, secondly, to cloak it with a fair pretence, maketh it a greater sin; but then, thirdly, to use Christian liberty for the cloak giveth a farther addition to it and maketh it a greater sin. First, it is a sin to do any act of maliciousness. Nor so only, but it is a hurtful thing, and of a noxious and malignant quality, as leaven souring the whole lump of our services to God. But if men will need be hypocrites, and must have a cloak for their maliciousness, they might yet at least bethink themselves of somewhat else of lighter price to make a cloak of, and not to use to so base a purpose so rich a stuff, as is this blessed liberty which the Son of God hath purchased with His most precious blood. As in nature, so in morality, by how much better anything is in the right use of it, by so much is it worse in the abuse. Now we see how great a sin it is thus to abuse our liberty it will be needful in the next place to inquire more particularly wherein this abuse consisteth, that so we may be the better able to avoid it. We are therefore to know that Christian liberty may be abused for a cloak of maliciousness these four ways following: First, we may make it a cloak of maliciousness if we hold ourselves by virtue thereof discharged from our obedience, either to the whole moral law of God or to any part of it. Great offenders this way are the libertines, who quite cancel the whole law of God under the pretence of Christian liberty, as if they that were in Christ were no longer tied to yield obedience to the moral law, which is a pestilent error and of very dangerous consequence. The law considered as a rule can no more be abolished or changed than can the nature of good and evil be abolished or changed. It is our singular comfort then, and the happiest fruit of our Christian liberty, that we are freed by Christ, and through faith in Him from the covenant and curse of the law; but we must know that it is our duty, notwithstanding the liberty that we have in Christ, to frame our lives and conversations according to the rule of the law. The second way whereby our liberty may be used for a cloak of maliciousness is when we stretch it in the use of things that are indeed indifferent beyond the just bounds of sobriety. It belongeth to every sober Christian advisedly to consider, not only what in itself may lawfully be done or left undone, but also what in godly wisdom and discretion is fittest for him to do, or not to do, upon all occasions, as the exigence of present circumstances shall require. He that without such due consideration will do all he may do at all times, under colour of Christian liberty, he shall undoubtedly sometime use his liberty for a cloak of maliciousness. It may be done a third way, and that is by using it uncharitably, which is the case whereon I told you St. Paul beateth so often. When we use our liberty so as to stumble the weak consciences of our brethren thereby. He that will have his own way in everything he hath a liberty unto, whosoever shall take offence at it maketh his liberty but a cloak of maliciousness by using it uncharitably. The fourth and last way, whereby we may use our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness is by using it undutifully, pretending it unto our disobedience to lawful authority. And so I pass to my last observation. The observation was this: In the whole exercise both of the liberty we have in Christ and of those respects we owe unto men, we must evermore remember ourselves to be, and accordingly behave ourselves as those that are God's servants; in these last words, "But as the servants of God," containing our condition and our carriage. For the first, We cannot imagine any consideration, that may be found in any service in the world, to render it desirable, which is not to be found, and that in a far more eminent degree, in this service of God. If justice may provoke us, or necessity enforce us, or easiness hearten us, or honour allure us, or profit draw us to any service, behold here they all concur. First, It is the most just service, whether we look at the title of right on His part or reasons of equity on ours. It is, secondly, the most necessary service. Necessary, first, because we are born to serve. We have not the liberty to choose whether we will serve or no; all the liberty we have is to choose our master. It is necessary, secondly, for our safety and security, lest, if we withdraw our service from him, we perish justly in our rebellion. It is necessary, thirdly, by our own voluntary act, when we bound ourselves by solemn vow and promise in the face of the open congregation at our baptism. It is, thirdly (which at the first hearing may seem a paradox, yet will appear upon further consideration to be a most certain truth), of all other the most easy service, in regard both of the certainty of the employment and of the help we have towards the performance of it. He that serveth many masters, or even but one, if he be a fickle man, he never knoweth the end of his work. It is some ease to know certainly what we must do; but much more to be assured of sufficient help for the doing of it. It is, fourthly, the most honourable service. He goeth for the better man that serveth the better master. It is, fifthly and lastly, the most profitable service. We are indeed unprofitable servants to Him, but sure we have a very profitable service under Him. These things among others the servant of God may certainly reckon upon as the certain benefits of his service wherein his Master will not fail him if he fail not in his service — protection, maintenance, reward. And he that will be God's servant in truth, and not only in title, must perform all these to his heavenly Master. Reverence is the first, which ever ariseth from a deliberate apprehension of some worthiness in another more than in a man's self, and is ever accompanied with a fear to offend and a care to please the person reverenced; and so it hath three branches, whereof the first is humility. From which fear of offending a care and desire of pleasing cannot be severed. Obedience is the next general duty. Servants be obedient to your masters. We are to show our obedience to our heavenly Master yet further by submitting to His wholesome discipline when at any time He shall see cause to give us correction. The third and last general duty is fidelity. "Who is a faithful and wise servant?" "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," as if the wisdom and goodness of a servant consisted in his faithfulness. The first whereof is heartiness in His service. There are many servants in the world that will work hard and bustle at it lustily for a fit and so long as their master's eye is upon them, but when his back is turned can be content to go on fair and softly and fellow like. Secondly, We must show our faithfulness to our Master by our zeal in His behalf. A faithful servant will not endure an evil word spoken of his master behind his back, but he will be ready upon every occasion to vindicate his credit and to magnify him unto the opinion of others. He will make much of those that love his master, and set the less by those that ce not for him. And as to his credit principally, so he hath an eye also, in the second plce, to the profit of his master. Thirdly, If we be His faithful servants, we should let it appear by our diligence in doing His business. No man would willingly entertain an idle servant. We see now what we are to do if we will approve ourselves and our services unto the Lord our heavenly Master.
Parallel VersesKJV: Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;