1 Peter 3:14-17
But and if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;…
Some thirty years after this letter was written to the Christians, amongst others, of Bithynia, another letter was written about them from the Roman governor of Bithynia to his imperial master at Rome. The answer to that letter is also preserved. The magistrate asks advice, and the emperor gives it, as to the treatment of these Christians. Such questions as these were presenting themselves: Is the name itself of Christian to be a crime apart from any proof of accompanying offences? Is recantation to be accepted in exemption from punishment? Hitherto his practice has been to give time to reply to the interrogation. He has brought out the images, the emperor's image among them; and if the accused would repeat after him a form of adoration of the heathen gods, and if he would add execration upon the name of Jesus Christ, he has dismissed them; if not he has ordered them for execution. Trajan replies that he entirely approves the course adopted. No search had better be made for Christians; if accused and convicted they must still be allowed the alternative of recanting, but in default of thus purging their crime they must take the consequences. Anonymous informations, he adds, as it were in a postscript, are not to be attended to; they are a bad precedent and quite out of date. I make no apology for recalling these few well known particulars of a famous letter, as giving great reality to the position of Christians in the age and even in the very region in which St. Peter here writes. It is quite plain that the account which St. Peter speaks of as likely to be demanded of them is a judicial proceeding, and that the answer which he bids them to have ready is the plea of guilty or not guilty when they are asked — and know too well what it means — "How say you, are you Christians or not Christians?" There are persons in this London to whom the straightforward dealing, creditable to them on the whole, of Pliny and Trajan with those Christians of Bithynia would have presented an alternative of intolerable embarrassment. Such direct demands for a "Yes" or a "No," to the inquiry, "Christian or no Christian?" are out of date; they would make no allowance for the intellectual difficulties of the nineteenth century; they are too rough and peremptory for us; we are balancing, we are waiting to settle a hundred things ere we get to this. Of course we do not worship images, of course we shall utter no anathema of Jesus Christ, but to go to the stake for Him, to be sent to Rome to be executed for Him — no, no. You must not suppose us indifferent to the difficulties of the age; you must not suppose anyone undervalues the difficulties of believing or exaggerates the satisfactoriness of the evidence. It is not so. But neither can we consent to throw back or to throw forward the whole question of Christian or not Christian, as though we might live and die without settling it for ourselves either way. Be very glad that we do not incur the sharper alternative of the great first struggle between Heathenism and Christianity, that we find ourselves in days of public toleration and mutual civility imposing no condition of faith or speech upon those who would buy or sell in the market place or eat and drink at the banquet tables of the world. We will look into this; and we are struck before all else with the title given to our Christian possession. The account demanded of one of those Christians of the first age in Bithynia was not of their opinions, not of their doctrines, not even of their beliefs, it was of their hope. St. Peter, wishing to animate these Bithynians into a readiness to make answer at the bar of some emperor or proconsul, "I am a Christian," goes to the root of the matter by calling their Christianity a hope. He says to them in that word, "Remember Jesus Christ brought life and immortality to light by His gospel. Keep Him and you have a sure, a blessed hope through Him who loved you; part with Him, and you are thrown back at the very best upon the one guess among many of a heathen philosophy." That hope which was the secret of courage in days when to be a Christian was to be in danger of being a criminal under a capital charge is no less the one thing needful when the answer must be given with no penal consequences in the counting houses and drawing rooms of Christendom. It is the hope which attracts; it is the hope which animates; it is the hope which convinces and which persuades. It may be doubted whether hope occupies quite the place it ought to have in the Christianity of this generation. We hear much of duty, much of effort, much of work, much of charity, and something of self-denial; but these things are often found in almost absolute isolation from peace and joy in the "good hope through grace"; much time is given to controversial or speculative theology, little to the actual anticipating and foretasting of the powers and glories of a world to come. And this silence springs from the secret or half-avowed thought, it is out of date; it was the privilege, or it was the fancy of days gone by. These things ought not so to be. If a man would settle it with himself quite in the early days of his believing that he means to look for the life of the world to come on the definite ground of the atonement and promise of his Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ, and if he would have out this treasure every morning, handling, admiring, cherishing it, so that it should never be out of his thought or out of his heart and soul, and so that he should positively intend to carry it with him to and through the grave and gate of death, then there would beam in his very countenance such a light of hope as would make young men and old take knowledge of him that he knew Jesus Christ and was on his way to Him; ready always, such would be the result, to make his defence to every one that put him on his trial concerning the hope that is in him. Oh! be able to tell these unsatisfied questioners that you have a hope — a hope that serves as your anchor, a hope that keeps you steady amidst the swelling and surging waves of circumstance; a hope that makes you happy; a hope that quickens and concentrates energy; a hope which enters within that veil, which hangs and must hang here between the visible and the invisible! Be able to say and to mean this, and then you will be Christian apologists in the best of senses, not excusing the inquirer, which would be a fatal indulgence, one iota of definiteness which we feel regarding the personality and regarding the inspiration of the Saviour, but making him feel that there is a ready access and a joyous welcome for him "to enter with boldness into the holiest by the blood of Jesus Christ." We end with the two words with which St. Peter ends this verse. Ready, he says, to defend your hope "with meekness," to defend your hope "with fear." Oh! what mischief has arisen to the acceptance of the gospel, and so to the salvation of souls, by the neglect of these two rules on the part of Christian apologists! Make answer, but let it be for a hope which is first in you, and let it be also with "the meekness" of one who knows himself dust and ashes, and with the reverence of one who feels God near, and sees in the man opposite to him a soul for which Christ died.
Parallel VersesKJV: But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;