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.…
The apostles of our Lord notice with much complacency the individual virtues which dignified or adorned His character, just as the Evangelists have related the actions in which they were displayed, with much unaffected simplicity. But while they mention particular virtues, they do not lose sight of the effect which they may collectively produce in illustrating the merit of Him in whose deportment they appeared.
I. THE MORAL PERFECTION HERE ATTRIBUTED TO CHRIST. Christ "did no sin." This phrase, according to its original conception, means nothing more than harmlessness; and is not understood to comprehend any positive or superior excellence. But as applied to Christ it means a great deal more; and, indeed, it should in every case mean a great deal more, considering what the Divine law prescribes, and what sin is in reference to it. Sin essentially consists in transgressing or refusing obedience to the Divine law. And the law does not merely prohibit many things which we are accustomed to call sinful, it also enjoins many things which we are accustomed to call holy. The injunctions are as much a part of the law as the prohibitions. He who will not relieve the distress of his neighbour when he has it in his power, is as really a sinner as he who wantonly inflicted the injury which called for this expression of kindness. It is only when a moral agent performs every deed which is commanded as well as abstains from every deed which is forbidden, that he can properly be said to have "done no sin." Now, it is in this strict and elevated sense that Christ "did no sin." All the requirements of the law were fulfilled in His character. Nor can the eye of the most scrutinising observer discover in it one feature of nonconformity, or one act of opposition to the will of Him who ruleth over all. There may be particular virtues, or particular modifications and degrees of virtue, of which His life will afford you no instance. These are wanting, however, only for this reason — that in the execution of His appointed work, and in the peculiar sphere in which He was destined to move, no opportunities occurred for practising them. The path of obedience which was assigned to Him was a long and a rugged one, and He walked in it with undeviating steady fastness, and He walked in it to the very end — manifesting from the very commencement to the very termination of His progress an unreserved acquiescence in the demands of God's law. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals, we are generally necessitated to fix upon some one leading virtue by which they have distinguished themselves; but with regard to Christ we perceive all the virtues adorning His character, and we feel at a loss in determining to which of them we should give the preeminence. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we are frequently obliged to dwell upon the excellence of their external conduct, and to conceal the principles and motives by which they were influenced. But with regard to Christ, so far as they have been developed to us, the principles on which He proceeded were as Divine, and the motives which impelled Him as disinterested and worthy as the actions themselves. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we must always accompany our eulogium with certain exceptions to their disadvantage — certain shortcomings which detract from the splendour or from the value of the good qualities for which we commend them, or certain vices which counterbalance them and render our commendations less cordial. But with regard to Christ we can discern no such imperfection or demerit. In speaking with approbation of our fellow mortals we are always supposed, even when our laudatory language is most unbounded, to allow that we wish not to be strictly apprehended, and to leave it to be understood that there is need for that charity which seeks not to detect the failings of humanity, and tries to cover them when they are known: but with regard to Christ this charity has no room to operate. Nor is this moral perfection either an imaginary or an exaggerated attribute of Christ. As certainly as we know that He lived and died, so certainly do we know that in His life and in His death He was without sin. For this we have every degree of evidence of which the case admits, or which can be desired to satisfy our minds.
II. LET US NOW MAKE OUR APPLICATION OF THIS TRUTH. It is applicable, as we formerly stated, to various useful purposes.
1. And it serves to confirm our belief in the truth of Christ's mission. This effect is produced in some degree simply by viewing Christ in the light of a person of good principle and of excellent character. He holds Himself out as a witness. It is to the truth of revelation that He gives His testimony, or rather it is His own Divine origin and embassy that He certifies. And therefore in proportion to the confidence that we repose in His general worth will be the credit that we give to what He says respecting Himself, and to the message which He brings from heaven. But the argument comes still closer to us than this. Had the Author of Christianity been an impostor, it is impossible to conceive that He should have been of such holy and unblemished character as we find Him to have been. The depravity of heart which gave birth to such a system of artifice, as in this view He must be supposed to have contrived and published, could not fail to have given birth also to a great variety of crimes and vices. On the supposition that Christ was an impostor, it was no ordinary or harmless deception that He was playing off upon mankind. It was founded on the assumption of Divine power; it pretended to aim at the Divine glory; it affected to promulgate the Divine will; it invoked a solemn and visible manifestation of the Divine presence. And while it thus blasphemed against God, it trifled with the understanding and the affections of man. It called upon him to believe what was not true. Now I ask you if it be possible to reconcile such impiety towards God, and such unfeelingness towards men, with that reverence for God, and that tender compassion towards men by which our Lord was so eminently characterised in every other instance? I ask you, if such light and such darkness, such righteousness and such unrighteousness could possibly dwell together, and operate together, in the mind and in the conduct of the same individual? The answer to all these questions must necessarily be in the negative. Christ cannot be a deceiver as to His gospel, and yet in all other respects without sin. You must either give up the one proposition or the other. There is yet another view to be taken of this point. Christ did more than hold Himself out as a Divine messenger — He held Himself out as standing in a peculiar relation to God, as being His only begotten Son, as having the attributes of Deity, as being one with the Father. With these pretensions His sinfulness, even His commission of one sin, would have been completely inconsistent, and would have rendered them utterly false and groundless. His perfect freedom from sin, therefore, is essential to the proof of His Divine mission. It does hot prove that He was God, for He might have been a creature and yet have been preserved from all unrighteousness by God's almighty power. But as He claimed the honour and asserted the possession of supreme Deity, it was necessary that no unrighteousness should cleave to Him. I have still further to observe that the sinlessness of Christ is to be viewed as a miracle, which establishes the truth of His mission as much as any of the miracles which are usually resorted to for this purpose. And it was not possible for Him to be thus sinless, except by the special interposition of heaven. The laws which govern human nature and human condition were here suspended, as it were, for producing that effect. A person wearing the form of fallen humanity exhibited not a vestige of the weakness and the wickedness by which, in every other case, fallen humanity has been characterised.
2. Let us apply the subject for the purpose of encouraging our dependence upon Christ as the foundation of our hope. The law of God has demands upon us that must be fully satisfied before we can obtain His forgiveness and enjoy His favour, and be admitted into His heavenly presence. It demands punishment, and it demands obedience; and we must suffer the one and yield the other, either in our own persons or by a substitute. We are very apt indeed to trust in our own strength for the justification of which as sinners we stand in need. But a little consideration of what our own strength is, and of the achievement to which we propose to apply it, must satisfy us that such a trust is vain. Our only refuge, then, is in a substitute; and it is the great business of the gospel to reveal this substitute as both willing and able to do for us what we are incompetent to do for ourselves. Now, in order that our faith in Him as our surety, who is to redeem us by His vicarious obedience, may be justified, we must have clear demonstrations of His sufficiency for sustaining that important character. It is with this view especially that Christ is represented so distinctly, and declared so frequently, to be without sin. For supposing Him to have been otherwise, then our belief in His adequacy to the undertaking He had engaged in would have been shaken or destroyed. Let this truth be always present to your minds when you think of Christ as the ground of your acceptance; and especially when you look to His death as the sacrifice of atonement which He offered up for your iniquities, and as the finishing act of that obedience which in your stead He rendered to the law of God. Be not faithless but believing. Let not a sense of your unworthiness and guilt fill your souls with desponding fears and apprehensions. But place unlimited confidence in "the holy one and the just." His sacrifice is faultless. His merit is infinite. His work is perfect.
3. Finally, let us apply the subject for one direction in that course of life which we must pursue as candidates for heaven. Though Christ by His unspotted sacrifice and perfect obedience has renewed our title to life and immortality, yet it is still true that without personal holiness we cannot see the Lord. This character is pointed out to us by the precepts and maxims of the gospel. But we have the additional advantage of having it illustrated and enforced by the example of our Saviour. The exhibition of this example was one, though a subordinate, purpose of His incarnation. He has left it upon record expressly and authoritatively, "that we should follow His steps."
(A. Thomson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.