Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Corinthians 7. There was probably another reason for this. Dr. John Brown says, "When we reflect on the character of the conjugal relation among heathens, how much there was of the harshness of the tyrant in the husband, and of the baseness of the slave in the wife, and how much pollution and cruelty prevailed in the home, few things were more calculated to strike heathen observers favorably than the power of Christianity in introducing an order and purity and enjoyment into the domestic circle beyond what heathen philosophy had ever dreamt of." Peter's words are often applicable still. Two hearts, two lives, are often bound together by the closest human tics, one devoted to Christianity, the other not. The case here, however, is not of those who had been united after one had become a Christian; the nature of spiritual life and the direct Word of God forbid union of that kind, and there is no consolation here for the trouble that comes from disobedience in this respect. Here the wife is supposed to have become a Christian since she gave herself to the ungodly husband. The Divine finger is laid on the secret of many a troubled life, when husbands are here spoken of that "obey not the Word;" but the hand that pains is that which heals, for there is hope and strength and comfort for the wounded spirit in "Ye wives, be in subjection," etc.
I. THE CHRISTIAN WIFE IS HERE CALLED TO CONSISTENT CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.
1. And the first point included is faithful fulfillment of the duties of her relationship. "Be in subjection to your husbands;" equivalent to a summary of the various duties of the position. The expression is harsh at first, but the harshness wears off as we think of it, for love is always in subjection, He whose life was the embodiment of love came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Love cannot help serving. This word lays no burden on love but what she lays on herself. Nor is this a one-sided requirement; for the same Word says, "Husbands, love your wives" - so that the subjection is mutual" submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." Yet, though the harshness be removed, the command remains and means something, and it is remarkable that in the three instances in the Epistles where the duties of wives are referred to, the same idea of subjection occurs (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; and here). Woman was made for a "helpmeet for man;" "Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee;" "Man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man." The subjection, therefore, was to be real, yet not that of a servant, but of a companion; man's other self, yet still subject.
2. Possession of that pure character which springs /rein the fear of God. "Chaste conversation;" equivalent to pure manner of life, a character unsullied, and this arising from the fear of God in the heart. The godly wife of an ungodly man is exposed to great difficulty; the husband, troubled by no scruples, will often expect of her what her conscience condemns; and that position is as perilous as it is painful. Now, this word requires no swerving a hair-breadth from righteousness, not even under pressure of the husband's love and plans. "Whoso loveth... husband... more than," etc.
3. Manifestation of the graces of spirituality. "Whose adorning," etc. This does not necessarily condemn what is simply ornamental. Did we only use what is necessary for bare existence, many of our fellow-creatures could not live. God's works also are marked by beauty, needless but for gratification, and we may well copy him within his own lines. But do not let these be your adornment, do not let these be what men think of first when they see you, nor find in them your attraction; but let your adornment be the graces of the inner life. Let Christian women set themselves against the dress curse, one of the greatest curses of the day, and put character first, as God does.
II. THIS IS SET FORTH AS THE MEANS OF WINNING THE UNCONVERTED HUSBAND. These heathen husbands did not frequent the sanctuary, nor listen to the Word, and thus their case seemed hopeless. But the Divine Word may be carried to heart and mind as much by a Divine life as by a Divine book. Feeding on this book, we become its embodiment, living Epistles of Christ, read of all; and the promise is as true of the Word lived as of the Word spoken, "My Word shall not return unto me void." Vers. 5 and 6: not simply the hope to win the husband should lead to living thus, but not otherwise could the wife prove herself a daughter of Abraham, a member of the true Israel. The membership of the Christian wife in God's family is of itself the ground of her doing what is here required; all this is owed to God as your blaster; but there is an additional motive for this in its effect on the husband. See how this operates.
1. A true Christian life is a standing proof of the Divinity of Christianity. How can the doubting husband be undeceived? By the life of the wife.
2. An exemplification of the beauties of holiness is a constant persuasion. Acts of forgiveness, endurance, sacrifice, adherence to right, etc., gradually tell even on the hardened, and often loudly plead for Christ.
3. Conquest by the passive virtues is God's own method. Men dislike direct assaults on their moral nature, but often open their hearts spontaneously to what seems to make no onset. God recognizes that in his dealings with us. The meaning of his cross is, in fact, that he expects to subdue us by suffering for us and bearing with us. We may expect to win by the same means.
III. THIS IS ONLY ACCOMPLISHED BY PERSONAL HEART-CULTURE. How can we gain this becoming character? The passage answers, "By heart-work." Christian character grows from within.
1. Life is a reflex of faith. "What a man believes, that is he." Love, peace, purity, power, etc., are the proper fruits of trust in God; therefore strengthen your faith.
2. Character is according to companionship. We become like those with whom we associate. They take knowledge of those who have been with Jesus. God impresses his image on the soul that is much with him. - C.N.
I. SUBJECTION OF WIVES TO THEIR HUSBANDS.
1. Duty stated. "In like manner, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." The space which is here given to wives, especially in comparison with what is given to husbands, points to the great influence of women in the early Christian Church. The injunction to wives comes under the being subject to every ordinance of man (1 Peter 2:13). Christianity was to be advanced by the subjection of Christians to magistrates placed over them. It was also to be advanced by the subjection of Christian slaves (who were comparatively numerous) to their masters. In like manner it was to be advanced by the subjection of Christian wives (who were comparatively numerous) to their husbands. The duty of subjection is here stated without limitation (which is only introduced in the following verse). It is, however, to be borne in mind that all the subjection enjoined is for the Lord's sake (1 Peter 2:13), so that we have virtually here Paul's injunction in Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. The subjection of wives is founded on an appointed superiority of husbands to their wives. It is not that wives belong to their husbands; for husbands also belong to their wives (Ephesians 5:28). There is a very great amount of equality between wives and their husbands; there is the closest of companionships in married life. But in the interest of order in family life, rule must be placed somewhere; and so it has been placed by God in the hands of those whose duty it is to provide for the maintenance and comfort of their wives. Where, then, there is a difference of judgment in connection with the joint management of a household (which ought not very often to occur), it is the duty of the wife to subject her will to the will of her husband.
2. Wives in a special situation. That, even if any obey not the Word, they may without the Word be gained by the behavior of their wives." Subjection is due in every case, even in so unfavorable a case as that which is now to be dealt with. This was the not infrequent case (all the more, therefore, calling for apostolic legislation) of Christian wives having heathen husbands. We are not to understand that it was open for Christian women to take heathen husbands; but after marriage it might happen (more than the converse) that the wives were converted to Christianity, while their husbands remained in heathenism. The principle of the apostolic legislation is that, even in an unfavorable position, subjection is due. It is implied that wives, when converted, would seek to gain their husbands by the Word. That would be the prompting both of natural affection and of Christian compassion. They could not keep Christ and their new-found joys to themselves. They must tell, in the first place, those in whom they had the deepest interest the gospel of Christ, viz. that as manifesting the Father's love, and impelled by love himself, the Son of God did not eschew human nature, but in it lived a perfect human life and died a death of atonement for sin, to [,ring men out of their sins to a glorious life with himself which is never to know an end. This had been a source of unparalleled joy to them; and they told their husbands about Christ, because they wished them to be sharers with themselves in their joy. The result might be the gaining of their husbands, i.e. first to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom, and then to themselves (to their deep and lasting satisfaction). It is one of Leighton's rich sayings, "A soul converted is gained to itself, gained to the pastor, or friend, or wife, or husband who sought it, and gained to Jesus Christ; added to his treasury [and, we may add, to his instrumentality], who thought not his own precious blood too dear to lay out for this gain." But the word of the gospel is not always obeyed. What if, with the telling and retelling of the Word (blessed and authoritative as it is), husbands do not obey the Word? What if the continued telling of the Word is only to be the occasion of domestic dispeace? Does the duty of subjection then cease? No; the duty of telling the Word then ceases, but not the duty of subjection. Another method is to be tried by them, which may result in the gaining of their husbands. This is behavior without the Word; i.e. acting the gospel, or the silent influence of the life, especially the earnest endeavor to show what gospel subjection is. The hope is held out that this method may succeed where the other fails. If, then, a wife finds herself yoked to a husband who is not converted (whether she has been to blame for her position or not), her duty is with all earnestness to press the Word on him, but not to force it to no purpose but only to produce dispeace; her duty is to cease mentioning the disagreeable subject, and to try the method of the utmost excellence of Christian behavior without the Word. The trial may be prolonged; but length will be forgotten if the Divine answer comes at last in the conversion of the husband.
3. Rules of behavior.
(1) Rule of purity. "Beholding your chaste behavior coupled with fear." The feeling from which good wifely behavior proceeds is fear. Wives are to have fear in the sense of reverence towards their husbands as placed over them in the Lord. They are also to have fear in the sense of shrinking from the not doing of all that is required in the relation. This limits the subjection in forbidding bad compliance, i.e. doing a wrong thing because the husband requires it. If a wife were required to give up her religion, it would be her duty not to obey out of regard to him to whom her husband is subject, and apart from whom he has no authority. But if wives feel that they are thus limited, they will be all the more anxious within the lawful sphere to do their duty. The quality of behavior here fixed upon is chastity, which is to be understood in a certain wide sense. It is a word which is appropriate to wifely behavior. Women are especially endowed with feelings of modesty. In the married relation, while they bestow all love and attention on their husbands, there will be nothing in word, in look, in dress, in act, inconsistent with what modesty requires. "Shamefacedness" is the word used by Paul. To this, then, Christian wives are directed in dealing with their heathen husbands after the Word has been ineffectual. Let their husbands behold, see with their own eyes from day to day, their modest behavior, springing out of the feeling which belongs to subjection; and when the Word-method has failed, this (especially when contrasted with the behavior of heathen wives) may succeed.
(2) Rule of a meek and quiet Spirit. "Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." The rule is expressed positively in figurative language. The negative may seem to be too literal. What has religion to do with the style of putting up the hair, or with what is put on the person? It is a fallacy to suppose that there is any sphere from which religion is excluded. At the same time, religion does not do violence to any natural feeling. It is implied here that it is natural for women to love to adorn themselves. A wife who has not some regard for ornament in her house or person, who is plainness, if not a slattern, who has not a flower to delight the eye, is not likely to have much influence with her husband even for Christianity. We must, therefore, understand the apostle as forbidding the things mentioned without proper subordination, or as ministering to womanly vanity. Especially are we to think of them as forbidden in this aspect, that as immodest, or as encroaching on time, or as heaping up expense, they form a temptation to a wife to be undutiful to her husband. If she would gain him for what is good, she must, without disregard of the lower ornamentation, show proper regard to the higher ornamentation. Let her adorning be not a conspicuous style of the hair, or conspicuous jewels, or conspicuous apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart - not that alone apart from moral characterization, but, while it has its seat in the heart, and is not attractive to the outward eye, let it be in and with the incorruptible. Plaited hair, jewels of gold, apparel, are subordinate as belonging to the category of the corruptible. The incorruptible in adorning that is singled out is a meek and quiet spirit. The first word points to not being easily provoked; the second word points to being in love with a quiet life. A Christian wife might have much to bear from her unenlightened husband, from his imperious temper, from his bad behavior, from his neglect; she might have to bear from him on account of her religion; he might resent her choosing her own religion and (by implication) condemning his; but let her be meek under his wronging of her, and let her say or do nothing to cause dispeace. This in the sight of men may be a very poor ornament; she may seem to be regarding herself as no better than his slave. But God is also looking on the spirit which she is manifesting, and in his sight (which is its highest recommendation) it is of great price. The way God takes to overcome evil in us is, under our provocations, to heap goodness on us. If a Christian wife would conquer her unbelieving husband for Christ, she must in this imitate the Divine procedure.
4. Models of behaviour.
(1) The holy women of old time. "For after this manner aforetime the holy women also, who hoped in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands." In heathen mythology, Penelope, Andromache, Alccstis, are regarded as models of wifely excellence. But Peter, saturated with Old Testament ideas, does not fall back on Greek aforetime, but only on Old Testament aforetime. He sets up as models to those whom he is addressing the holy women, i.e. those who were in covenant with God, and whose conduct was conditioned by the holiness of God. This implied their being believers, and as believers they are further described as those who bolted in God, i.e. raised their expectation from what they believed God to be, and from what they believed God to promise. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and to a future beyond death to be made glorious through his mission to earth. We have not much information as to the facts upon which Peter proceeds; but he plainly certifies it of the holy women as a class, that they adorned themselves after this manner, i.e. with a meek and quiet spirit. They were kept from thinking about mere outward ornamentation, because they looked for something substantial from God. They did this as what was proper to them as subjected to their husbands. Instead of being self-assertive, they were compliant, under the impelling and also restraining of fear. The rule for the holy women of the New Testament time extending down to our day is not different from what was the rule for the holy women of the Old Testament time, resting as it does on a Divine appointment in the earthly constitution. To the models set up by Peter we must add Christian models - women who, saturated with gospel ideas, have been adorned with that which in the sight of God is of great price.
(2) Sarah. "As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose children ye now are, if ye do well, and are not put in fear by any terror." The words founded on are to be found in Genesis 18:12. Sarah's calling Abraham her lord was not confined to the one occasion; it was characteristic of her, showed the habit of her mind toward her husband, and on that ground it is entitled to the weight which is here attached to it. The occasion was also closely connected with the history of redemption, bearing on the birth of Isaac. The apostle could not have found a better model; for Sarah was specially significant, even as Abraham was. If the one was father "of all them that believe though they be not circumcised," the other was mother. What constitutes daughterhood is here not faith, but the evidencing of faith. It is, on the one hand, doing well. Sarah did well in obeying Abraham, and also remarkably in that through faith "she received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised." It is, on the other hand, not doing evil, or, as it is here put in the way of consequence, not being nut in fear by any terror. This was what was to be avoided in Sarah as a model. On the occasion referred to she was made afraid by her evil-doing (laughing at the first mention of a child), and by her fear was led into more sin (in denying that she laughed), thus bringing shame not only on herself, but on her husband. Holy women will not thus compromise their husbands, but, mindful of what is due to them, will concur with them, where the blessing promised to faith is to be obtained.
II. SUBJOINED INJUNCTION TO HUSBANDS.
1. Duty. "Ye husbands, in like manner, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint-heirs of the grace of life." Having dwelt at length (in the interest of Christianity) on the subjection of wives, he feels it necessary to subjoin an injunction to husbands, which he did not feel it to be necessary in the case of magistrates and of masters (few of those being connected with the Christian Church). It is not said that husbands are in like manner to be subject; the likeness can only, therefore, refer to what lies over against the subjection. As subject, the woman is weak - the weaker vessel, not so strong as the man. In this lies a danger to the woman - the danger of being trampled upon. Hence the need of husbands being enlightened in their treatment of their wives. "Dwell with according to knowledge as with the weaker vessel the womanly," is the literal translation and the proper connection. Weakness in the woman calls for knowledge in the man. He is to love, says the Apostle Paul; and the idea is similar here. He is to act according to knowledge, i.e. of the Divine intention or order. He is to put his strength at the service of love, with his strength shielding her weakness and (generally) promoting her good. It is under this enlightenedness that honor comes. Honor is to be paid by husbands to their wives (both being regarded as Christians) on the ground that they are also joint-heirs of the grace of life. They are even, as we would seem to be taught here, to be honored on the ground of nature. "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked." But they are also to be honored as heirs together of the grace of life, i.e. as honored participators (for inheriting here points to honor) with their husbands in the grace that is needed for life or that makes life a blessing, both here and hereafter. It is only in the earthly sphere of things (which is also temporary)that there is not perfect equality; in the heavenly sphere there is no difference. Women stand in the same relation to God, have the same unction on their life, look forward to the same eternal home as their husbands, and by this consideration the honor otherwise due to them and to be apportioned to them must be regarded as greatly heightened.
2. Motive. "To the end that your prayers he not hindered." The duty enjoined must be attended to by husbands, that the prayers offered by them with their wives, and as heads of the household, be not hindered. There is a pointing to this that "the prayers of families are as often defeated by the want of any such concert in the aims, plans, tempers, works, and aspirations of the house, as are necessary to a common suit before God. The prayers should agree with as many other prayers and as many other circles of causes as possible; for God is working always towards the largest harmony, and will not favor, therefore, the prayer of words when everything else in the life is demanding something else, but will rather have respect to what has the widest reach of things and persons making suit with it. At this latter point it is that prayers most commonly fail, viz. that they are solitary and contrary, having nothing put in agreement with them; as if some one person should be praying for fair weather, when everybody else wants rain, and the gaping earth and thirsty animals and withering trees are all asking for it together. What is prayed for in the house by the father is - how commonly! - not prayed for by the mother in her family tastes and tempers, and is even prayed against, in fact, by all the instigations of appearance and pride and show which are raised by her motherly studies and cares. The father prays in the morning that his children may grow up in the Lord, and calls it even the principal good of their life that they are to be Christians, living to God and for the world to come. Then he goes out into the field, or the shop, or the house of trade, and his plans and works pull exactly contrary to the pull of his prayers and all his teaching in religion. What is wanted, therefore, is to put all the causes, all the prayers, into a common strain of endeavor, reaching after a common good in God and his friendship" (Bushnell). - R. F.
I. SUCH APPAREL AND ORNAMENTATION COMMAND THE ADMIRATION OF ALL WHOSE ADMIRATION IS DESIRABLE. Empty fools may admire as supremely admirable in woman the outward display of riches and of fashion, with which the worldly sometimes seek to dazzle and captivate those who are as worldly as themselves. To men of sense such things are utterly indifferent; to men of discernment and character gentle and virtuous dispositions and habits are in a woman beyond all price. Such qualities as Jesus found in the sisters of the home at Bethany won his friendship, and similar qualities will never cease to elicit the approval and appreciation of the upright and the pure.
II. SUCH APPAREL AND ORNAMENTATION ARE INSEPARABLE FROM THE CHARACTER THEY ADORN, AND ARE IMPERISHABLE. Poverty may deprive a woman of the power to dress with expensiveness; advancing years may make the adventitious attractions excused in youth unseemly and ridiculous. But "the meek and quiet spirit" remains unchanged with changing time. Often does it happen that the feminine character, refined and sweetened by the experience of life and by ministrations of pity and of self-denial, shines with a fairer luster with advancing years.
III. SUCH APPAREL AND ORNAMENTATION ARE ACCEPTABLE AND PRECIOUS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD HIMSELF. The approval of our fellow-creatures may be sought with too earnest diligence, and their attachment may be valued beyond its true value. But the qualities which are commended by him who alone judgeth with perfect justice are qualities which cannot be cultivated with too great assiduity and care. Our Lord has spoken with severity of those who seek honor from men in preference to that honor which cometh from God. Of the "meek and quiet spirit" we are told that it is "of great price in the sight of God." What greater inducement than this could be offered to Christian women to look with comparative unconcern upon all those social and external recommendations which are so often over-estimated, and to cultivate with all diligence and devotedness the graces of the Christian character and the charities of the Christian life? - J.R.T.
I. THE CLAIM OF WOMAN TO JUST AND CONSIDERATE TREATMENT IS BASED UPON HER PHYSICAL WEAKNESS. The fact is unquestionable that woman is less robust in constitution, less powerful muscularly, and of more delicate nervous organization, than man. Now, this fact is often made a reason for overbearing demeanor, contemptuous language, unjust dealing, and even brutal abuse, on the part of the man towards the woman. This is so, not only in savage communities, but not infrequently even among civilized nations. Irresponsible power and selfishness concur in leading to feminine degradation. But the apostle brings forward the fact that woman is the weaker vessel as a reason why husbands should live with their wives in a reasonable and kindly manner, and should render to them all due respect.
1. Human sympathy requires that this should be so. There is a natural principle within leading us to cherish kindness towards the weak and defenseless; and this principle is to be encouraged as against selfishness and brutal indifference and injustice.
2. In addition to this natural feeling, there is a cultivated habit of chivalry which tends to the exaltation of woman in human society. Not simply of the young and beautiful, the highborn and accomplished, but of all who are stamped with the seal of true, gentle, and virtuous womanhood. It is in this sense only that we can speak approvingly of sentiments of chivalry.
II. THE CLAIM OF WOMAN TO JUST AND CONSIDERATE TREATMENT IS BASED UPON HER SPIRITUAL EQUALITY. Granted that there is on the average physical inferiority in the one point of strength, it must be maintained that, in a higher plane, inferiority vanishes. Husbands are reminded that their wives, being Christians like themselves, are joint-heirs with them of the grace of life. If, then, the former motive was addressed to compassion, this appeals to reverence. God himself acknowledges "the weaker sex" as appointed unto immortal blessedness through his Son, our Redeemer. How justly, then, are men required to give all honor to those who are fellow-inheritors with themselves of a domain and a dominion so unspeakably glorious!
1. The woman is by the Father of the spirits of all flesh regarded with the same interest as the man. Womanhood is God's own creation, and the feminine characteristics and graces are revelations of God's own thoughts and purposes. Humanity without the feminine element would be incomplete, one-sided, and lacking in the harmony of "perfect music set to noble words."
2. The woman is equally with the man redeemed by the Friend and Savior of mankind. Our Lord's ministry upon earth was a ministry to both sexes. He counted holy women among his friends; he comforted sorrowful women in their distress; he saved sinful women from their debasement. And his death was for all mankind; his mediation brings near to God all who were afar off - woman as well as man.
3. The woman is appointed with the man to share the happiness and the service of heaven. The grace which bestows eternal life is extended to the wife as well as to the husband. As there is a place for woman in God's gracious heart, so is there a place for her in God's glorious and blessed home. Such are the high considerations which hallow and dignify the Christian home! - J.R.T.
but live as though they did not. Sharing in all else, but units and solitary in things eternal. Two fellow-travelers walking to Emmaus, each talking with Jesus as they go, but neither with the other - that is the case supposed here. ("According to knowledge;" equivalent to knowledge of what is possible and due to two hearts bound together, first by natural relationship, and then by common love to God.)
I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF MUTUAL PIETY IN HUSBAND AND WIFE. They are both "heirs of the grace of life;" but the fear is that they do not dwell with one another as "heirs together." Two persons may make the same journey, and never speak. How different that from two who go in every respect together, having common interest in all that happens! The one is far less blessed than the other. Peter here urges the greater blessedness. Think how much it involves.
1. It produces the closest possible union. For that there must be no secrets, nothing reserved. Thus we can get nearer to God than to any other; we can never lose ourselves but in the heavenly Father. But those we love best on earth may come closer to us in this respect than they sometimes do; and some Christian husbands and wives may thus be more to each other than they are, sharing not only temporal, but spiritual affairs. In this way there may be a union unutterably more intense, precious, and fruitful, than before.
2. It provides much powerful support. Our deepest spiritual experiences cannot be told; many others should not be. In some things God would have us for himself. But there is much also of the spiritual life whose utterance to a fellow-creature is a distinct need of the soul; as our Lord himself, in taking the favored three apart with him at some of the crises of his history - the Transfiguration, for instance, and Gethsemane - seemed to express the need of human sympathy, although in its highest degree he had the Divine. God, moreover, has given us our fellows to be a helpmeet to us, as well as himself, and we are only complete with both. It would lighten the spiritual burden and brighten the spiritual journey for husband and wife to commune together of the way they go.
3. It gives the most blessed of all anticipations. "Till death us do part" is only true of those whose union is not in the Lord. Absence for the day's work, or across broad seas, does not part husband and wife; they are still one, still one another's. To more does death rend in twain Christian spirits; the oneness remains, and there will be a meeting again soon; and that meeting will be heaven. If supreme love to God, which is required of us on earth, be consistent with profound and tender love to a fellow-creature, which is also required, they will be mutually consistent in the higher world. Yea, then God will be more to us, being shared with the other at our side, and the benediction of his presence will impart an added rapture because it is given to us both. Of those who are gone before it is said, "They without us are not yet made perfect." "So" - i.e. "together " - "we shall ever be with the Lord." That is our prospect. Then let us by a mutual piety anticipate heaven now.
II. THIS BLESSEDNESS DEMANDS MUTUAL PRAYER FOR ITS ENJOYMENT. In "that your prayers be not hindered," is not the apostle thinking of mutual prayer? If mutual prayer be wanting, is not the blessedness of mutual piety also wanting as the result? Tertullian wrote, "What a union is that which exists between two believers, who have in common the same hope, the same desire, the same service! Like brother and sister, united both in spirit and in flesh, they kneel together, they pray and fast together, they teach and support each other with gentleness, they share one another's trials, and conceal nothing from each other, and they rival each other in singing with their heart to God. Christ is pleased to see and hear these things. He sends down his peace upon them. Where two are thus met he is with them, and where he is the evil one cannot come." That is, perhaps, Peter's thought here.
1. Mutual prayer is the first and most natural form of spiritual intercourse. If we cannot break through our reserve so far as to pray together, it is unlikely that we have any communion on spiritual topics. It would seem the first instinct of a Christian man to ask her he loves best to kneel with him at the throne of grace. Probably this prayer is the door to spiritual intercourse, the removal of the barriers of timidity through which we must pass to the enjoyment of a mutual piety.
2. The utterance before God of a common experience tends to conscious spiritual oneness. We never know how much we are one with other saints till we join with them in prayer; then we find ourselves sorrowing, rejoicing, hoping, loving, fearing, trusting alike, and are thereby drawn closer together still. That principle operates even more certainly in the mutual prayer of husband and wife.
3. The fact of mutual prayer tends to mutual spiritual fidelity. Would not mutual prayer go far to be a remedy for the difficulty which it is to be of spiritual use to those nearest to us? The parent who prays with his household, the husband with his wife, will find it specially hard to sin against or with them. As the spirit of prayer prevails, the spirit of unkindness, indifference, evil example, etc., will lessen. "That your prayers be not hindered" is thus the warning to those who would be "heirs together of the grace of life."
III. THIS PRAYER REQUIRES THE FULFILLMENT OF MUTUAL DUTIES FOR ITS SUCCESS. If prayer helps duty, so duty helps prayer. Is not the fact that some Christians in the same home seldom pray together, due to the fact of an inconsistent life - the life of a kind which makes the proposal to pray impossible? That seems to be the idea here: "Ye husbands, dwell with them,... giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers," etc.
1. The consideration of what we owe to one another will prevent the neglect of mutual prayer. "Honor" is due to the wife on the physical ground - she is "weaker," which brings corresponding duties to the stronger; and on the spiritual ground - she is partaker of the same immortal nature, with its great conflicts and high responsibilities, equally an heir of Divine grace, which brings corresponding duties to the fellow-heir. The consideration of that should lead to united prayer.
2. The fulfillment of what we owe will afford the right spirit for prayer. As long as the wife is defrauded of what she has a right to, mutual prayer, if not impossible, will be robbed of its sweetness and power. Unkindness and bitterness kilt prayer. Mutual prayer can only flourish in the atmosphere of mutual love. - C.N.
Finally, be ye all like-minded, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Only a colon separates this passage from what follows: ought it not, therefore, to be taken with the subsequent verses? I think not. Peter is evidently thinking here of the mutual relation of believers; whilst in the next verse he passes to the thought of how Christians should treat their persecutors: "Not rendering railing for railing," etc. Then why should there only be a colon between the two? Because the two are so closely connected. It is in fellowship with our brethren that we find much of the inspiration we need for facing and conquering persecution from without.
I. BROTHERLY LOVE THE IDEAL OF A CHRISTIAN CHURCH. Is it possible for a Christian to have no practical relationship with the Church? I do not say that it is not possible, but such a position is very unlikely. A Christian is he who is born into the family of God, and a certain close relationship to the Father's other children is, in the nature of the case, almost inevitable.
1. By brotherly love we come nearest to the spirit of the Father. The feelings which are classed under the term "love" vary considerably. Love may be due to admiration for the personal qualities of another, to a common interest in Church matters, to a sense of obligation, the fruit of gratitude; but there is nothing essentially Christian in all that. Brotherly love is to love another because he is our brother, and for no other reason; not because there is anything lovely in him, but just because we have a common father. Brotherly love towards God's children - that is Divine; that is to be of one spirit with the Father; that is to feel in measure as he does.
2. By brotherly love we come nearest to the example of Christ. The Church is to be a perpetual representation of Jesus - what he was and is. By his gracious Spirit he is embodied in his people; and they most truly approach his likeness who love those who are his. He loves the world; he died to save it; but he has a love of fellowship for those who come to him out of the world that he can have for no others, his love, his joy, his work, his life, his glory, all theirs; reaching the climax in the prayer, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.'
3. By brotherly love we come nearest to the fulfillment of our mission as a Church. The Church has a mission to itself as well as to the world. Christians are banded together in fellowship for mutual help; they are united that they may build up one another; and this building up is to be done by love. What will not love do for the brethren? It will encourage the timid, help the weak, uphold the infirm, seek the wandering, give the vigor of joy to those who are strong, will stoop even to wash the disciples' feet. The Church, fulfilling her mission to herself in love, thereby begins her mission to the world.
II. WE HAVE HERE A WARNING- AGAINST TWO HINDRANCES TO THIS IDEAL.
1. Divergence of aim. "Be ye all like-minded." That does not mean unanimity of sentiment and action in all matters; for that is manifestly impossible. Variety of thought and feeling and action there must obviously be; but there is, of course, a limit to this variety. The Church cannot fulfill her calling as the "pillar and ground of the truth" unless there be a consent of opinion as to what that truth in its essential features is. We have different work, different positions in the Church, and sometimes different views as to the best things to do; but if Christian love is to be maintained, as the different colors into which the prism diverges the light - red, and purple, and orange, and the rest - all blend and are lost in the pure white ray they form, so we must learn the secret of blending our differences in a holy unanimity. Perhaps nothing is harder than to sink, and that gracefully, so that no one knows we are doing it, our personal feeling into the common feeling of the rest. How can all be like-minded? In the Revised Version the word "courteous" drops out, and in its place we have "humble-minded." That is it; heart-culture, personal discipline, stern struggle, are needed if we are to be like-minded, laying a strong hand on self, and keeping it under when it wants to rise.
2. Exclusiveness of feeling. "Compassionate (the Greek word is συμπαθεῖς, our word, "sympathy," fellow-feeling). Our Churches are not always conspicuous for that. They are often broken up into little sets, little bands of friends complete in themselves; then farewell to the reign of Christian love, with its benediction, and in its place expect hard thoughts, bitter feelings, wounded spirits, lonely lives, and the curse that means. But how can we get this compassion? The apostle adds, "tenderhearted" (as the same Greek word is rendered in Ephesians 4:32), and in that he may be showing us how to secure the like-heartedness. It comes from keeping the heart tender. We must live much with Christ; a tender heart will come from that, and a like tenderness with his people.
III. WE HAVE HERE THE INFLUENCE OF OUR ATTAINMENT OF THIS IDEAL (OF BROTHERLY LOVE) ON THE WORLD. The Church has a mission to those who are without; but that will not be fulfilled till her mission to herself is fulfilled. A Church building up herself in love will be the Church which compels the Gentiles to "glorify God in the day of visitation."
1. The Spirit works where love is. Absence of love is to him an ungenial atmosphere; it grieves him and tempts him to depart, or to withhold his gracious influences.
2. The beauty of piety reveals itself where love is. Love which is independent of the restraints of natural affection, and loves men not because they are good, but because God loves them; love which is disinterested and strong to sustain and protect, and tender to make common cause with those who need it, and which sheds a holy grace over the life; - that love will at least constrain the world to acknowledge its Divinity, and we may expect to hear more frequently that welcome utterance, "I will go with you, for I perceive that God is with you." And God himself will triumph over such, in the ancient words, "I drew them with cords of love." - C. N.
I. WHEREIN DOES UNITY BETWEEN CHRISTIAN PEOPLE CONSIST? St. Peter, as Leighton suggests, here denotes five graces, of which "love" is the stalk, having two on either side. "Like-minded;" not simply what our word "mind" usually means - thought, opinion; but judgment, purpose, affection. "Compassionate," or sympathetic; i.e. feeling with others. "Loving as brethren." True family life is a model of Church life. "Tender-hearted;" insensitiveness disqualifies for Christian life. "Humble-minded;" the old version has "courtesy; ' this is the genius or secret of courtesy. The lowly temperament makes little of itself and much of others: its possessor, and he alone, is the gentleman.
II. HOW IS UNITY BETWEEN CHRISTIAN PEOPLE MANIFESTED? The tone of social relationship here enjoined is pitched in a far higher key than the prevalent one, "retaliate," etc.; it is in harmony with the sermon on the mount. "Not rendering evil for evil, nor reviling for reviling." The first excluding all the actions, the second all the words, of resentment. "But contrariwise blessing. This is a distinct reminiscence of the sermon on the mount.
The sandal tree perfumes, when riven, III. WHAT IS THE METHOD FOR ATTAINING THIS CHRISTIAN UNITY? 1. There is first of all a direction as to the detail of speech. "Refrain," etc. 2. There is then a wide and deep precept applying to the whole of life. "Turn away from evil, and do good." The negative and the positive are here. IV. WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES FOR DOING ALL AND BEING ALL THAT WILL ENSURE THIS UNITY? 1. The Christian man is called to inherit blessing. 2. The cultivation of the essential spirit of Christian unity ensures the summum bonum of individual life. "Love life; see good days." 3. The relationship of God is the great determining condition and motive in all that leads to this Christian unity. "The eyes of the Lord... face," etc. - U.R.T.
III. WHAT IS THE METHOD FOR ATTAINING THIS CHRISTIAN UNITY?
1. There is first of all a direction as to the detail of speech. "Refrain," etc.
2. There is then a wide and deep precept applying to the whole of life. "Turn away from evil, and do good." The negative and the positive are here.
IV. WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES FOR DOING ALL AND BEING ALL THAT WILL ENSURE THIS UNITY?
1. The Christian man is called to inherit blessing.
2. The cultivation of the essential spirit of Christian unity ensures the summum bonum of individual life. "Love life; see good days."
3. The relationship of God is the great determining condition and motive in all that leads to this Christian unity. "The eyes of the Lord... face," etc. - U.R.T.
I. UNION AMONG THEMSELVES. "Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded." "Finally" does not point to the close of the Epistle, but to the close of a particular series of injunctions. He has been addressing various classes represented in the Churches; he might have included others, but he will simply address all. He has it principally in his mind to address them on their attitude toward a hostile world; he is preparing the way in exhorting them to union among themselves. Let them all be like-minded, i.e. have the same exalted opinion of Christ and the same views as to the methods of advancing his cause. Let them also be affected along with it (as the literal translation is), i.e. have the same feelings - the same sympathy with truth and antipathy to error, the same feeling of gladness when the cause is triumphing, and the same feeling of depression when it receives a temporary check, yet of hope of its ultimate triumph. Let them also love the brethren, i.e. be drawn to them who have the same views and the same feelings. Let them also be tender-hearted, i.e. considerate of their brethren in distress. Kindness such as was exhibited by the Gentile Christians to the poor saints in Judaea has great influence in promoting unity. Let them be humble-minded, i.e. willing to sink, not the truth, but self; for there is nothing more destructive of unity than self-assertion. It is with a feeling of regret that we have to part with the precept, "Be courteous," as being a distinct recognition of what are called by-works, or accessory virtues. "They are valid only as small coin, and yet conduce to strengthen man's virtuous sentiments, were it even merely by awakening the endeavor to bring this outward form as near as possible to a reality, in rendering us accessible, conversible, polite, hospitable, and engaging in our daily intercourse; which things do promote the cause of virtue by making it beloved (Kant).
II. BEARING TOWARD A HOSTILE WORLD.
1. To bless because called to obtain a blessing.
(1) To bless. Not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but contrariwise blessing." There is a law of non-retaliation under which we are placed as laid down by the Master. The magistrate is warranted in proceeding on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (administering punishment and administering it in proportion to the offense); and we may be warranted, as Paul was, in taking advantage of the law to shield us from wrong (where more good is not to be gained by waiving our rights). It does not belong to us to say authoritatively what justice demands; and certainly in any action we take or word we utter we are not simply to gratify vengeful feeling. When men emit their malice on us in evil or railing, we are not to reciprocate their feeling in rendering evil for evil or railing for railing; but, as standing on higher ground, and owning another Master (Luke 6:27-29), we are to bless them, i.e. both in act and in word to study their good.
(2) Because called to obtain a blessing. "For hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing." We may well study the good of those who injure us, when we think of the large blessing which on our conversion we were called to inherit. God did not then take justice out of us, deal with us according to our deserts, but acted in the most liberal, kingly manner; and should not we deal nobly with others?
2. Citation from the thirty-fourth psalm.
(1) How the blessing is viewed. "For, He that would love life, and see good days." This confirmatory citation (introduced without a formula) extends over three verses. The Septuagint rendering here is, "What man is he that desireth life, that loveth to see good days?" It is implied that it requires an effort to love life, i.e. to have it wisely loved. It requires an effort to see good days, i.e. days in which the blessing of God is enjoyed. The psalmist had probably in his mind length as one element; so "many" is introduced into the Old Testament translation. But it is to be remembered that days, however long or outwardly prosperous, are not good days without the Divine blessing.
(2) Conduct by which the blessing is conditioned.
(a) Righteousness in speech. "Let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile." When tempted to use bitter or calumnious words, or to use honeyed words for evil ends, let him put a stop to it - holding back his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. For evil feelings indulged in speech, or deceit in speech found out, may rob him of much of the pleasure of life, if not of life itself.
(b) Righteousness in act. "And let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it." When tempted to follow mischief which he has devised, or to declare a state of war, let him turn away his feet from the mischief and contrive well doing, let him make peace his object sought, and let his chase after it (as it were fleeing from him) be keen. For evil feelings indulged in act, peace once broken, may lead to the embittering or shortening of life.
(3) Reference to the Divine dealing. "For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil." The anthropomorphism is marked - the eyes, ears, face, of the Lord. God is no respecter of persons; but he is favorable to the righteous, i.e. the right-speaking and right acting. His sympathies are with them; his providence is in league with them. His eyes are upon them, i.e. to note their condition, to delight in their struggles after conformity to his will, and to send them tokens of his favor. His ears are unto their supplication, i.e. to mark it, to answer it, especially when it rises out of experience of wrong. On the other hand, God is unfavorable to them that do evil things, i.e. make a practice of it, refusing Divine mercy and paying no heed to Divine threatenings. There is not much expressed here; it is only the disjunctive word that suggests the face of God as not full of pleasure, but full of displeasure, upon them that do evil. "With the froward thou wilt show thyself froward." It is well that there should be a deep and widespread impression of the truth that God is contrary to them that are contrary to his laws, and forbids them in their contrariety to have what he promises to the righteous - life and good days.
3. Application of the citation. "And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" The Septuagint rendering of Isaiah 50:9 is, "Behold the Lord, the Lord will help me; who is he that will harm me? There is a way in which we can be proof against harm, i.e. any real injury to our happiness. It is by being zealots, not unenlightened zealots, but zealots of the good, i.e. all that is prescribed by God. So long as the Israelites were zealous in their attachment to God and his ordinances they were invulnerable.
4. Blessedness of suffering for righteousness sake.
(1) The pronouncing blessed. But and if ye should suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye." While proof against harm, they might be called to suffer. In the event of their suffering for righteousness' sake they would come within the scope of the Savior's beatitude, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The preaching of righteousness in the life is offensive to the world, and provokes its dislike and malice. But those who are persecuted because of the right ordering of their life are not to be commiserated: they are to be pronounced blessed. They have the satisfaction of being at peace with their conscience, the satisfaction of enjoying the approval of their God, who will not forget their faithfulness.
(2) Feeling accompanying the blessedness. "And fear not their fear, neither be troubled." It is remarkable how much the apostle's thought runs in Old Testament language. The language here and in the beginning of the next verse is based on Isaiah 8:12, 13. Their persecutors would seek to inspire them with fear, to throw them into a state of perturbation; but let them not fear their fear, neither be troubled. "Should the empress determine to banish me, let her banish me; ' the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof.' If she will cast me into the sea, let her cast me into the sea; I will remember Jonah. If she will throw me into a burning fiery furnace, the three children were there before me. If she will throw me to the wild beasts, I will remember that Daniel was in the den of lions. If she will condemn me to be stoned, I shall be the associate of Stephen, the proto-martyr. If she will have me beheaded, the Baptist submitted to the same punishment. If she will take away my substance, 'naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return to it'" (Chrysostom).
(3) Means of being undisturbed in the blessedness.
(a) Adoration of Christ. "But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord." Peter gives a Christian coloring to the Old Testament language. Our hearts are our temple; there we are to sanctify Christ, i.e. to hold him as holy. We are to fear him as shown to be holy in his redemption-work, and also as by his redemption-work made our Lord. In the quiet of our hearts habitually fearing him as our Redeemer whose every word is to be obeyed, the fear of man will not find admission.
(b) Apology in presence of men. That we are to be ready with our apology. "Being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear." Peter begins," Being ready always with an apology," i.e. answer, or defense. It is not intended that we should master Christian apologetics - be able to answer every objection which infidels may start. The apology which is contemplated here is of a much more simple nature, viz. that we should be able to make a plain statement of the considerations that have had weight with us in leading us to be Christians. We are here regarded as having a hope in us, i.e. as a living, active principle. It is true that we belong more to the future than to the present. What is fulfilled is but small in comparison with what is yet to be fulfilled. This hope is rationally produced, and we ought to be able to give a rational account of it. Can we give a clear statement of its nature, and of the grounds on which it rests? It is the hope of salvation, i.e. of ultimate complete deliverance from the power of sin. It is the hope of eternal life, i.e. of the present life being perfected. It is the hope of a resurrection, i.e. of the body laid in the grave being raised. It is the hope of glory, i.e. of our whole nature having a shining form. It is the hope of the glorious appearing of Christ, i.e. to have his own glory fully manifested and to consummate ours. It is the hope of being forever with the Lord, i.e. happy in his presence and fellowship. We rest our hope on the work of Christ. We feel that his righteousness is reason for the accusings of conscience being silenced, and for God bestowing on us all manifestations of his love. We rest our hope on the promise of God in Christ. We have not only fact to rest on, but the expression of fact in word, and to his word God has added his oath, "That by two immutable things [the word and the oath both based on fact] in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." We further rest our hope on our experience. "Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. What we have already experienced of God does not discourage us; on the contrary, it is strong reason for our looking for the plenitude of the Divine blessing. We are to be ready always with our apology; that does not mean that we are to be always putting forward our apology, for we must use discretion. But we are to be ready with our apology whenever occasion offers. The occasion contemplated is any one asking us a reason concerning the hope that is in us. We are then to be equal to the occasion; we are not to let slip the opportunity of our commending our Master. Let us not be silent through ensnaring fear; but let us come forward and tell what Christ has done for us, and what we expect from him. But let us put forward our apology with meekness. Then must ye not answer with proud words, and bring out the matter with a defiance and with violence, as if ye would tear up trees" (Luther). Let us also put forward our apology with fear, i.e. the fear of damage being done to the cause by the weakness of our apology, leading us to make God our Counsellor.
(c) Way in which we are to be ready with our apology. "Having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ." We must have materials for our apology, else we shall never be ready with it. These materials are to be supplied from a good life, which is here viewed in connection with having a good conscience, i.e. habitually acting according to our convictions of duty. When spoken against, we shall best put our revilers to shame by recounting facts which can bear the light. In the absence of these, no amount of skill of speech will make us good apologists, whom fear cannot disturb.
(4) The blessedness brought out by contrast. "For it is better, if the will of God should so will, that ye suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing." It is better, subject to the condition of the Divine willing of suffering. He does not say how it is better. His former thought was that in suffering for our faults there is not the noble element that there is in suffering for well-doing. Thus is he helped to rise to the sublime height of Christ's suffering.
5. Blessedness of suffering for righteousness sake illustrated by the example of Christ.
(1) In bringing us to God Christ suffered not for his own sins. "Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God." Stress is to be laid here, as at the close of the second chapter, on the exemplary character of Christ's sufferings. But Peter could not regard these in their lower aspect without also bringing in their higher aspect. The great object of Christ was to bring us to God, i.e. not merely into a state of reconciliation to God, but into a state of fellowship with God. His suffering was for this end. He suffered for sins; and so far he might seem to have the character of an evil-doer. But the sins were not his own; as it is added that he was the Righteous One (Peter's designation of Christ in Acts 3:14) for the unrighteous, i.e. us who needed to be brought to God. The idea of substitution is not brought forward, but it is in the background. We are rather to think of advantage conferred as giving Christ indisputable authority as example. Do we suffer for well-doing? Christ, it is said, also suffered, by whose well-doing (the thought is) we are so mightily advantaged. But the apostle has a look beyond this; of which he gives a hint in the word "once." Christ suffered once; i.e. suffered, and then passed into a state in which he suffers no more. So we are to understand that we have this to comfort us (Christ being our Example), that our suffering is only once; it is what comes after suffering that is permanent.
(2) His being put to death was followed by his being quickened. "Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit." There is a resuming of the thought of suffering in connection with its worst and last phase. Though the Righteous One, he was treated as a malefactor, and put to death ("killed" is Peter's word in Acts 3:15); he thus came within the scope of his own beatitude, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." His suffering in the interest of human well-being was followed, as has already been indicated, by his suffering no more. It is now declared that it was followed by his being quickened. It is further declared that it was followed by his resurrection and ascension; and before he leaves his theme, it is declared that it is yet to be followed by his coming to judgment. Thus no sooner did he suffer, than he came to be in the ascendant. The starting-point of his after-suffering career was his being quickened. His being put to death was in the flesh; i.e. on the side of his nature by which he was connected with earth and had a mortal existence. His being quickened is contrasted in being not in the flesh, but in the spirit; i.e. on the side of his nature by which he was above earth and had an immortal existence. At death there takes place a separation of soul and body. During the time Christ's body was in the grave his soul was in Hades. It was Peter who showed himself alive to this important fact in his comments on the words of the sixteenth psalm, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell," in his sermon on the day of Pentecost. The expression of the fact in the Apostles' Creed is that he "descended into Hades." By "Hades" is denoted the invisible world, with the special association of the world of the dead. Between our death and the resurrection we are to be in art incomplete state in so far as soul and body are not to be united. Our Lord's identification with us extended to his being for a determined time in this incomplete state. At our death (if we axe in Christ) we believe that there is to be a quickening of us in spirit in connection with our being placed under higher conditions. So we would seem to be taught here, regarding our Lord, that the extinguishing of his life in the flesh was immediately followed by a quickening in that which could not die, and had a separate existence. While his body was not yet quickened, there was a bursting forth of glorious activity in his spirit in the new sphere of things and altered conditions into which he passed.
(3) Being quickened, he was also active in Hades. "In which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which aforetime were disobedient, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water." In the spirit quickened, he was also active in a particular form. The congenial abode of Christ in Hades was Paradise, or the abode of the blessed dead. But he did not simply abide in Paradise; he went from it to the abode of the unsaved dead. This is here called a prison, being the place where there is meantime abridgment of liberty. He penetrated even to this department of Hades, and preached. This is a word of evangelical sense in the New Testament, and [is to be interpreted in accordance with the reference to Christ's death going before, and also in accordance with the preaching of the gospel in 1 Peter 4:6. We may understand that in Paradise he not only manifested himself as the Incarnate One, but also announced his death and his soon-to-be accomplished resurrection. And we are not to think of other announcement than this in the place where spirits are imprisoned. It is not said that he preached unto all the spirits in prison, but only unto a section of them, viz. the spirits of them that perished in the Flood. It cannot be said of the antediluvians referred to that they were very unfavorably situated for trial. There was addressed to them a call to repentance; for Noah preached - preached what their sins would bring upon them (according to the revelation made to him), but also preached the means of deliverance. He preached not only by word, but by act. And God was not in haste to destroy. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years." During all the time the ark was a-preparing the long-suffering of God waited, i.e. not to destroy. But the men of Noah's time were disobedient, i.e. refused, made light of proffered deliverance; and as they were overtaken by an earthly judgment, which was so complete that only eight souls ("so few as eight") were saved by means of the water, with regard to which the others, to their destruction, were skeptical. And they are here represented in the next world as spirits in prison. And yet to them Christ went and announced his death and coming resurrection. There is a certain mystery resting upon this fact which it was not the purpose of God by Peter to remove. It was sufficient to emphasize the fact that, so far from being crushed by death, he was gloriously active, even in the world of the unsaved dead. Seeing that the full significance of the fact has not been disclosed, it would be wrong to be dogmatic; at the same time, we are bound not to let go the fact which is to be regarded as an important addition to the facts contained in the Gospels. What has been given as the interpretation was substantially what prevailed until the time of Augustine. The Augustinian interpretation, the influence of which is evident in our translation, starts frown the assumption that Peter does not intend to bring out an antithesis between what was done to Christ in the flesh and what was done to Christ in the spirit. It also proceeds on the assumption that it was not Christ that preached, but Noah. There was not a proper going from one place to another, and after Christ's death. The preaching was not founded on Christ's death. It was addressed not properly to spirits, but to men in the flesh. These were not literally in prison, but in the prison of sin. They were not properly aforetime disobedient, but disobedient when Noah preached. Thus does the long-prevailing Augustinian interpretation break down along the whole line.
(4) Not held in Hades, he reappeared in resurrection-form and with resurrection-power on earth. "Which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Water saved the eight; so water saves us still, i.e. in the antitype, the type being now baptism. How does baptism save us? It may be said of the Flood that it was the baptism of the earth. It was associated with the washing away of the filth of the old world; it was also associated with the bringing forth of a renovated world. So baptism is associated with the putting away of the filth of the flesh; it is also associated (which is to the purpose here) with the interrogation of a good conscience toward God. At baptism there used to be transacting by question and answer such as this: "Dost thou renounce Satan?" "I do renounce him." "Dost thou believe in Christ?" "I do believe in him." "Dost thou take thy stand by Christ?" "I do take my stand by him." Of the new life thus entered on by explicit covenant the efficient cause was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus the apostle gets back to his line of thought. So far from being crushed by death Christ was not held within the world of the dead. The quickening which pervaded his spirit extended also, and from his spirit, to his body. He reappeared for a time on earth in resurrection-form, bringing in glorious resurrection-power first for the souls of men - of which the earthly channel is baptism.
(5) Having risen from earth, he now reigns from the right hand of God in heaven. "Who is on the right hand of God, having gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him." So far from being crushed by death, Christ is now established at the right hand of God. After having, as typified in baptism, efficiently left a channel of regenerating influence for men, he left earth. As he went from one department of Hades into another, so he went up from earth into heaven. In heaven he is at the right hand of God - gloriously reigning there, angels and authorities and powers, even all the orders of the heavenly hierarchy, being made subject unto him. If Christ, then, suffering for righteousness' sake, thus came to be in the ascendant, shall not we, suffering for righteousness' sake, come to be in the ascendant too, all the more that He is now in a position to bring this about for us? - R. F.
I. CALL TO BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US. From the ninth verse to the twelfth: you can hardly read these words without feeling you are listening to one who heard the sermon on the mount, and is inspired with its spirit; and we cannot help noting the change they imply in Peter himself. But perhaps it was what he saw in his Lord, more than what he heard from him, to which the change was due; Christ's character carrying his words home with transfiguring force. We do not wonder that it was Peter who wrote, "Not rendering evil for evil," etc., and it is the word and example of the same gracious Lord that lays the same burden on us. And mark the blessing to ourselves that grows out of that. Never give place to evil in word, or act, or thought, let the provocation be what it may. Yea, not only so, return evil with good, recompense wrong with right, and your fidelity to Christ will make an open way through the skies, through which you shall see his smile and hear his "Well done!" and find for your prayers and spirit a clear path to his throne.
II. CALL TO BE FEARLESS ABOUT WHAT OUR PERSECUTORS CAN DO TO US. "And who is he that will harm you," etc.? Persecution need not harm us, brethren; it is only one of God's refining fires, that, when thus he has tried us, we may come forth as gold. And what is the remedy for this fear? Peter is thinking of a passage in Isaiah where Judah is called, instead of fearing idolatrous Syria and trusting in Sennacherib, to fear and trust in the Lord. "Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear." Now, with that Old Testament passage before us, the change which the Revisers have made here is very striking. Instead of" Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts," it is, "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord." Peter, the Jew, who knew that perhaps the very highest title which could be ascribed to Jehovah was "the Lord of hosts," did not hesitate to give that title to Christ. Peter had known him in the humiliation of his human life; he had even washed Peter's feet, yet Peter uses his name and that of "the Lord of hosts" as convertible terms - speaks of these two as one. Peter, at least, had no doubt of the Deity of Jesus. And this attitude also has a blessing attached to it, "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye."
III. CALL TO MAINTAIN A GOOD CONSCIENCE IN THOSE THINGS ABOUT WHICH OUR PERSECUTORS REPROACH US. "And be ready always to give an answer," etc. A good conscience, a good conduct, a good answer - I think that is the order here. A good conscience. Be sure that you are suffering for goodness and not for badness; be sure that you have an unclouded sky between you and God; be sure that, when your heart does not condemn you, you hear him saying, "Neither do I condemn thee." And out of that will come what Peter calls "your good conversation," i.e. conduct. For as the sunshine develops and perfects the hidden beauties of nature and the fruits of the earth, so does the light of God's favor resting upon the conscious soul draw forth into character the graces of the spiritual life. The clear conscience that catches Heaven's smile is always followed by a brave and beautiful piety, which is its own justification against those who speak evil of it. And see the blessing attached to that! There is a broad sense, no doubt, in which we might apply these words to the Christian hope generally, and the duty of being able to give an intelligent and saris-factory reason for its possession; but their meaning here seems to be more defined. The good conduct that issues from the good conscience and puts to shame the evil speakers, leads them to question us about the hope which they see hidden within us and sustaining us, and they come to envy it, and secretly to want to know what it is. Now, says Peter, "be ready to tell them; let them know that it is the grace of Christ which renews and sanctifies." One of the benedictions of persecution endured and triumphed over is that it may bring the very persecutors themselves to the feet of Jesus. Then, brethren, can we not endorse the truth in the verse which closes this long passage, "It is good, if the will of the Lord be so, that ye suffer for well-doing." It is good in its purifying efficacy on ourselves; it is good in its tendency to glorify God; it is good as a saving power on our fellow-men. - C.N.
Romans 8:31-35), or that in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9), the Septuagint Version of which is evidently the basis of our text. We have probably here a consideration additional to that preceding, in order to confirm the conclusion of the blessedness of holiness. The apostle has been quoting, with evident delight in the flowing periods, the assurance of the psalm, that God's watchful eye is upon the righteous. Here he as it were says - and, besides, it is the general experience of the world - lovers of good get good from men. As Christ said, "Sinners also love those that love them."
I. THE SORT OF MEN THAT GENERALLY GO UNHARMED. The Revised Version reads "zealous" instead of "followers," and probably is right in the substitution. If "followers," or more literally, "imitators," were retained, it would be most natural to translate "him who is" instead of "that which is" good. But the antithesis with the previous verse ("them that do coil") and with the word translated "harm," which is from the same root as that rendered "evil,' makes the neuter more probable. If, then, we take "zealous for that which is good" as the description of the kind of men to whom the promise implied in our text is made, we may say that it is not the actual possession of purity and virtue which draws men's affections, so much as a certain enthusiasm for goodness and aspiration after it. It is possible to be good in a very disagreeable fashion - to be pure as the eternal snows on the Alps, and cold and forbidding as they. And it is possible to have the whiteness of even an austere morality lit up with a rosy gleam of ardor and emotion which shall make it lovely as that same snow as it blushes in the rising sun. The morality which casts, for the most part, a shield around its possessor is "morality touched by emotion," in which good is evidently loved as well as practiced, and practiced because it is loved. It is precisely there that so much goodness presents an unlovely face to the world. The doer does net seem to find delight in it himself, and so the onlookers have little in him. If our practice of purity be obviously reluctant and constrained it will net dispose men to look on us with respect or favor. We must be "zealous of good" if we are to claim the benefit of this promise. And it is extremely improbable that such zeal or enthusiastic emotion shall be continuously cherished towards a mere neuter abstract - that which is good. A living Person is needed to evoke it. If the abstract "good" be the personal God our Father; if it be incarnated in Jesus Christ our Brother who loves us, and to whom as their conscious and responsive Object our hearts may turn; - then there may be such zeal, but scarcely if we have to be zealous only for that cold and vague impersonal idea - goodness. It is very hard to keep up enthusiasm for anything ending in "ness." Men must have a person to love, and their desire after purity is deepened and changed into a more ardent earnestness when "that which is good" takes human form and becomes "him who is good, the perfect Christ, the Image of God, the only Good." All earnest seeking after moral excellence leads the seeker at last to Jesus Christ, and the merchantman's quest for many goodly pearls ends in the finding of one entire and perfect chrysolite in which all fragmentary preciousnesses are sphered.
II. THE SAFETY OF THESE ENTHUSIASTS FOR THE GOOD. There is an antithesis in the original which is lost in our versions, but may be represented by some such rendering, "Who is he that will do bad things to you, if you be zealous of the good?" That principle thus forcibly put, by the triumphant challenge of the question and by this sharp antithesis, may be illustrated by several considerations which are linked together in such a way that each comes into play where the preceding ceases or fails.
1. The first of these is that, as a rule, a character of obvious single-minded enthusiasm for goodness conciliates. Men are not so bad but that there is a place in their hearts and consciences which can be touched by goodness, especially if it is accompanied with that self-forgetfulness and consciousness of imperfection which zeal for goodness will always bring. When good men are disliked it is very often not for their goodness but for some accompaniment of it which would be better away, such as their want of tact or of sympathy, their apparent sense of superiority, or the like. But even if men are not won to love purity, or even to be at ease in the presence of good men, they will very seldom go so far as to put dislike into action and do harm to one who does good to them. The traveler without a revolver is safest. Fire at the gaping crowd on the banks, and they will overwhelm you. Meet them with a smile and a handful of gifts, and you will almost always make friends. Gentleness and patience, sympathy and love, clear a path for their possessors. It is not vinegar, as the old legend has it, which will split the rocks. "When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him." Of course, this is not true without exception, as the whole history of good men shows, and as Peter goes on to admit. Sometimes, righteousness excites men's enmity, and, when it fails, then the second consideration comes in.
2. That is, that God will protect those who for righteousness sake suffer. The grand promises which Peter has been quoting from the thirty-fourth psalm come into play. A tacit comparison is suggested between the good man's enemies and his defenses. "The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous," and that being so, though deadly foes prowl round him with their cruel eyes gleaming like a lion greedy of his prey, the question of our text rings out the same assurance as Paul's proud challenge, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Many a time the persecutor has had. to confess that just as he seemed to have the prey in his power -
"The man sprang to his feet, 3. But that Divine protection is not always granted. Peter had indeed experienced deliverance at the eleventh hour, but his Lord had told, him that one day the putting off of his tabernacle was to come by violence; and more, one of the apostles had already trod that brief and bloody path of martyrdom which he knew lay before him and before many of those to whom his writings would come. What, in such extreme cases, should be the worth of such a saying? Is it not grimly contradicted by the scaffold and the fire? No; for even if these two outer walls of defense are carried by the enemy, and men's malice is not softened but rather embittered by goodness, and God's love does not see fit to shield us from the blow, the inner line of fortification remains impregnable. In the utmost extremity of outward suffering, ay, even from the midst of the fire, the Christian may ring out the triumphant words of our text; for no real harm can touch us if we be zealous of that which is good. The evil in the evil will be averted. The bitter will be changed into sweet, as in the old legend the shower of burning coals became a shower of rubies. The poison will be wiped from the arrow. The loving heart that cleaves to Christ and desires most to be united to him will not count that an evil which brings it nearer its home and its joy, nor think the wildest storm a calamity which blows it to Christ's breast. The same events may be quite different in their character to different men. Two men may be drowned in one shipwreck. To the one it may be the opening of the door of his Father's house to the weary pilgrim and the very crown of God's mercies. To the other it may be misery and truly a sinking in a boundless sea of death. All depends on our relation to God, who is the Source of all good. If we love him in Christ, and are seeking as our highest aim amid the illusory and fleeting good of earth to press closer to him, then he will deliver us from all real evil; and "who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" "All things work together for good to them who love God." - A.M.
3. But that Divine protection is not always granted. Peter had indeed experienced deliverance at the eleventh hour, but his Lord had told, him that one day the putting off of his tabernacle was to come by violence; and more, one of the apostles had already trod that brief and bloody path of martyrdom which he knew lay before him and before many of those to whom his writings would come. What, in such extreme cases, should be the worth of such a saying? Is it not grimly contradicted by the scaffold and the fire? No; for even if these two outer walls of defense are carried by the enemy, and men's malice is not softened but rather embittered by goodness, and God's love does not see fit to shield us from the blow, the inner line of fortification remains impregnable. In the utmost extremity of outward suffering, ay, even from the midst of the fire, the Christian may ring out the triumphant words of our text; for no real harm can touch us if we be zealous of that which is good. The evil in the evil will be averted. The bitter will be changed into sweet, as in the old legend the shower of burning coals became a shower of rubies. The poison will be wiped from the arrow. The loving heart that cleaves to Christ and desires most to be united to him will not count that an evil which brings it nearer its home and its joy, nor think the wildest storm a calamity which blows it to Christ's breast. The same events may be quite different in their character to different men. Two men may be drowned in one shipwreck. To the one it may be the opening of the door of his Father's house to the weary pilgrim and the very crown of God's mercies. To the other it may be misery and truly a sinking in a boundless sea of death. All depends on our relation to God, who is the Source of all good. If we love him in Christ, and are seeking as our highest aim amid the illusory and fleeting good of earth to press closer to him, then he will deliver us from all real evil; and "who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good?" "All things work together for good to them who love God." - A.M.
I. OF WHAT DOES CHRISTIAN ZEAL CONSIST?
1. Its spring, its source, is grateful love and ardent consecration to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Here no fanaticism is possible. There is the best reason and ground for such emotions; the danger is in the direction of indifference and coldness. Interest in Divine truth cannot be too keen; consecration to Divine service cannot be too complete.
2. Its tokens and evidences are these - earnestness in devotion, in praise and prayer, both public and private; earnestness in the discharge of daily duty, however secular, yet sanctified by the Christian motive and spirit; earnestness in discouraging and repressing all sin; earnestness in exerting social influence for the spread of truth and righteousness.
II. WHY SHOULD CHRISTIANS BE ZEALOUS?
1. The Scriptures expressly enjoin and encourage zeal. "Be zealous!' is the admonition the ascended Savior addresses to his Church. "It is good always to be zealously affected in a good cause," is the assertion of an apostle.
2. Our Lord Christ was supremely zealous, He was "clothed with zeal as with a cloak." In his conduct was a fulfillment of the words, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." Zealous in love, he loved to the end; zealous in labor, he finished the work given him to do.
3. The best and most useful men have been zealous. This is true of the apostles, of the great thinkers and scholars of the Church, of the Reformers, of leaders in benevolent effort and missionary enterprise.
4. The presence or absence of zeal affects the character beneficially or injuriously. Its absence is accompanied by spiritual declension; its presence promotes the true prosperity of the Church and the advance of the gospel; and these in turn react upon the individual character and further its higher development and everlasting well-being. - J.R.T.
1 Peter 3:13-181 Peter 3:13-18 (part).
Suffering for righteousness.
I. THE FACT THAT GOOD MEN SUFFER, FOR THEIR GOODNESS, FROM THEIR FELLOW-MEN. Though Peter used the word "if," it was not because such suffering was unlikely or infrequent, but because it was not universal, and because the reflections on which he had been dwelling seemed calculated to make such suffering impossible.
1. For it might seem as though the promised guardianship of God would have ensured the security of good men. But no.
2. Or it might have seemed that an upright benevolent life would have evoked nothing but kindness and gratitude from one's fellow-men. But no. "Who is he that will harm you?" read in the lurid light of persecution, cannot mean, "Who is he that will have the Will to harm you?" However mysterious it may be, it is an unquestioned and unquestionable fact that men suffer for righteousness' sake. It was so from Daniel to Peter, from Moses to Paul. "If you would follow the Church's history," it has been too truly said, "it is by the track of her blood."
II. THE INSPIRED DIRECTION FOR MEN IN SUCH WRONGFUL SUFFERING. "Fear not their fear;" that is, the fear their threats seek to awaken. "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord;" give him the shrine of worship. "Ready always to give a reason." Be, in Newman's sense, ready with an "apologia." "Having a good conscience;" that is, one keenly alive and free from reproach. "That they may put to shame them that revile." Wear the silver shield of innocent lives, so be "defenders of the faith."
III. THE LOFTY PRIVILEGE OF THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE. "Blessed are ye." Here, again, as often in this Epistle, is an echo of the sermon on the mount. All the Beatitudes pledge you blessing. "Better, if the will of God should so will, suffer for well-doing," etc. God wills suffering. God wills suffering for well-doing. But there is no element of reproach in that, not to say of remorse. Suffering is of service, and it is "better" the suffering (which all need) should not come from our sin. "For Christ also suffered for sins, the Righteous for the unrighteous." Fellowship with him is ensured.
IV. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MEN WHO SUFFER IN THIS SPIRIT BEING REALLY INJURED. "And who is he that can harm you?" Canon Mason says this form of inquiry, beginning "and," has always in it a ring of scornful assurance. Here is the "charm" for Christians to wear - " a good conscience." Then to all wrongful treatment of malign men you can say,
"Strike! you cannot harm.
I. THE TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS CHRISTIANS SHOULD EXPECT. These, of course, are many and various; but it is instructive to notice what those are which are here singled out and placed in prominence, doubtless by the wisdom of the inspired apostle.
1. Christians may expect to suffer for well-doing. That is, they will have to endure injustice from the world, which will not appreciate their character and their efforts for its good.
2. They may expect to be evil spoken of, as if evil-doers. That is, they will have to endure calumny from those who will take pleasure in detracting from their merits, magnifying their faults, misrepresenting their motives, and traducing their life.
II. THE REFLECTIONS BY WHICH IN SUCH CASES CHRISTIANS MAY BE COMFORTED.
1. They should not forget that it is the will of God that his people should suffer, even wrongfully.
2. They should cherish the assurance that none can really harm them.
3. They should consider that their lot is compatible with happiness.
4. And they may even believe that some who have ill treated and slandered them may come to be ashamed of their sinful conduct.
III. THE PRACTICAL PRINCIPLES BY WHICH CHRISTIANS MAY IN SUCH CASES FORTIFY THEMSELVES.
1. Let them sanctify in their hearts Christ as Lord.
2. Let them be prepared with a reasonable account of their hope, the hope which sustains and cheers the afflicted follower of Christ.
3. Let them discard all fear of their sinful adversaries, and confront them with boldness and cheerfulness. - J.R.T.
I. THE FACT OF CHRIST'S SUFFERING.
II. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH CHRIST SUFFERED. It is here that the mystery of the fact is to be found. The Sufferer was the Righteous One, blameless in character, upright in conduct, beneficent in ministry. Yet he suffered, notwithstanding all this. That the unrighteous should suffer, this appears to us natural; they eat of the fruit of their doings; they reap as they have sown. But in the agony and death of Jesus of Nazareth we see the undeserved sufferings of" the Holy One and the Just."
III. THE PERSONS FOR WHOM CHRIST SUFFERED. This consideration increases the mystery and enhances the interest of the Passion of our Redeemer. At first sight it seems as though, if undeserved sufferings are to be endured, this must be at least on behalf of the virtuous, the meritorious, the pious. But it was otherwise, it was exactly contrary, with the sufferings of Christ. He died for the unrighteous, for those who had violated the laws of God and the laws of man!
IV. THE CAUSE BY AND FOR WHICH CHRIST SUFFERED. He was brought to the cross by the sins of men; and it was on account of those sins that he deliberately and graciously consented to die. The connection between sin and suffering is obvious in God's providential treatment of men; it is equally obvious in God's merciful redemption of men by his Son Jesus Christ.
V. THE INTENT AND AIM WITH WHICH CHRIST SUFFERED. Nothing more sublime in itself, or more welcome to the sinner's ear, can be found than the statement in this verse of the purpose for which our Lord Jesus accepted the death of humiliation and shame - it was "that he might bring us to God." Surely the simplest and yet the grandest statement of Immanuel's voluntary and sacrificial death!
VI. CHRIST'S SUFFERING OUR EXAMPLE AND MOTIVE. Let Christians see to it that, if they suffer, it be not for ill-doing, but (like their Lord) for well-doing. Such endurance may be wholesome discipline for them, and it may be the means of good to others. - J.R.T.
secret of pardon, but also of holiness. Christ alone will not avail us; it must be Christ crucified, every step of the way, till what has been the inspiration of our spiritual life down here, of every duty, every conflict, every joy, every hope, will be the inspiration of our song up there: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." Let us see how Christ's sufferings bear on the conduct of his persecuted people.
I. THE SUBSTITUTIONARY SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST. "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."
1. A plain statement of the substitutionary character of our Lord's sacrifice. How does Christ save? By substitution. In that word is the explanation of our Lord's sacrifice and of his sufferings; they were endured by him as our Substitute, in our stead. They were undoubtedly the expression of his perfect consecration to the Father, the great proof of his obedience; they were also the great revelation of God's love and mercy to the sinful, of his yearning for the restoration of the lost; but they were this, without which they would have been in every other respect unavailing, they were the endurance in the stead of the sinner, of that which alone makes his righteous forgiveness possible. But it is said that Jesus was simply revealing what God was willing to bear for man's redemption, and that it is by this revelation of love he saves us. That is not what Scripture says. "God made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;" "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree [or, 'to the tree,' and left them there]." But, says another, "Christ saves by his holy example, leading us to holiness, and not by his cruel sufferings. So far from that, the apostles, in their teaching, gave weight to the death of Christ as the world's hope. "In him we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins," "We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ;" "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." Others say that this was a mere Jewish mode of expression; the apostles were only meeting Jewish prejudice when they spoke thus. But we find they use the same words in writing to the Gentiles - to the Churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc. It is also said that there is an element of injustice in the idea of substitution. Is it not unjust to inflict the punishment incurred by one on another who is innocent? But that is not the case here. Jesus was God - this was God himself making the atonement necessary for our forgiveness by shedding his own blood.
2. The necessity for such a sacrifice is implied in its design. What was its design? "To bring to God," says the text. But there are two great obstacles to our coming back to God - one on his part, and one on ours. How can he receive us sinners? How can we dare to come? How can God receive us? "Cannot I," says a father, "forgive my child just because I will?" No, you cannot, if, like the great Father, you have been compelled to declare what the penalty of transgression must be. That is God's position. He can only forgive if he forgives righteously. How shall he do that? The substitution of Christ is the answer. Apart from that, how could we dare to go to him? Some say Christ saves by revealing God's love, by alluring us to follow his example of self-sacrifice. If that is all the gospel you have for me, I am condemned the more; for I am conscious of the unutterable distance between what Jesus was and what I am. I dare not go to God, and I must pass into the unseen hopeless. But when we follow the meaning of these words, "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God," we can go hack to God then, and are welcomed for Christ's sake.
II. THE RESULT OF THIS TO HIMSELF.
1. Quickened spiritual power. "Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." It should read, "in the spirit," not "by the Spirit." There is no reference here to the work of God the Spirit, to whom elsewhere the resurrection of Christ is attributed; it is here simply a contrast between Christ's flesh and his spirit. His spirit did not die; it was raised by the death of the flesh into new energy, and he became able to do what before was impossible. He had often thought of this: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
2. Influence on spirits in prison. This subject we will leave for the present.
3. Ascension to heavenly authority. "Who is gone into heaven," etc. What see we now? "I looked, and behold in the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain." Redemption enthroned. All things required to glorify redemption. Devils restrained by the Redeemer's will; angels his swill-winged messengers; providences, his servants; history, the unfolding of his purpose; the kingdoms of this world become his kingdom; and he ever living to secure this glorious consummation. But this had been impossible apart from the atonement; it was only through the cross that Jesus changed the throne of heaven from that of almightiness and mercy to that of redemption.
III. THE BEARING OF THIS ON PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS.
1. It sets forth Christ's claim on our suffering for him. There surely is nothing like a remembrance of his cross to constrain us to take up ours.
2. It reminds the persecuted of the spiritual quickening that may come through the suffering. For what was true of Jesus is to be as true of us: "Put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit." The storm which shakes us to the center sends our roots down deeper, mooring us the faster to the Rock of Ages. Suffering has a rare tendency to send us down to the foundation of things, a rare tendency to send us home to the Life of all, and closer contact with him means more life from him.
3. This points to the glorious end of the suffering of the saints. First the cross, then the crown. Jesus once suffered, then heaven and the right hand of God, and "angels and authorities and powers subject unto him." - C.N.
I. The CHARACTER Of the mission of the Savior.
1. His mission was one of suffering. He "suffered." Christianity is not the worship of sorrow, according to the cavil of some; but it is the worship of One who had much to do with sorrow, touched it at its every pore.
2. His mission was one of innocent suffering. Many suffer wrongfully, he absolutely innocently. "The Righteous."
3. His mission was one of vicarious suffering, "for," i.e. on account of, the unrighteous.
4. His mission was one unconquered by suffering. "Being put to death in the flesh, he was quickened in the spirit."
II. The PURPOSE of the mission of the Savior. "That he might bring us to God." Implying:
1. We are away from God. Not
(1) locally, but in
(2) estrangement of heart. That is the "far country."
2. We can be restored to God. The great gulf is not fixed. The golden wind of the gospel is "reconciliation."
3. God himself brings us back by Christ. No mutual quarrel; God always pitiful. "Long suffering," etc. Guthrie well says, "The central truth of the Bible is not that God loves us because Christ died, but that Christ died because God loves."
III. THE EXTENT OF THE INFLUENCE of the Savior's mission. The literature of ver. 19 is a library. But apart from any confusion created by that literature, is it not clearly taught? -
1. That Christ had a mission to disembodied spirits after his death. Killed in the flesh, in the spirit he triumphed, and in the spirit went on that wider, deeper mission.
2. His mission to disembodied spirits was in harmony with that of all his life. He "preached." Some read it, "He sealed with the curse of damnation." Is it not rather, as everywhere, "proclaimed repentance, pardon," "heralded love and mercy and hope"?
3. This mission was to disembodied spirits in a state or place of misery. "Prison." Some change the word to "Paradise." Dare we do that? It is rather the abode of the guilty, the disobedient, of whom the apostle gives a dark specimen (ver. 20). Dean Alford says, "This throws a blessed light on one of the darkest enigmas of Divine justice." Yet mark, there is no light view of sin here. It is awful for spirits to be in prison, and in prison for twenty-four centuries. - U.R.T.
be, will fall in naturally with it. May I venture to show why I cannot accept either of two common explanations of these words? It is thought by some that after our Lord's death (possibly in the interval between his death and resurrection) his disembodied spirit passed into the unseen world, and preached the gospel to the disobedient dead. Now, if that be the proper meaning of the words, if they cannot mean anything else, we must accept it. That the words taken by themselves will bear that meaning cannot probably be denied: then why should we hesitate to adopt it? I might remind you that as far as those three days are concerned, we seem to be told that they were spent in Paradise with the Father and the redeemed. "This day," he said to the penitent thief, "thou shalt be with me in Paradise;" "Father," he said, "into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the spirit." Then, if this passage does mean that Christ preached to the dead, it only speaks of the dead in the days of Noah; it seems incredible that these comparative few should be singled out from the great mass of mankind for so great a blessing. I might remind you, too, that if these words mean that the impenitent dead have a second chance, they stand alone in Scripture, at least as far as I am aware. But weightier than all is the fact that the plain teaching of this book is to the contrary. I know the tenacity with which we cling to the hope that those who have never heard the gospel shall yet hear it, if not here, hereafter; and that many have cherished this hope, partly on the strength of these words. My hope of that is not less because I do not see it encouraged here. I know God well enough, and I know this book well enough, to know that no man will be condemned because of Adam's sin; through Christ every man stands on a fair footing; the condemning sin is rejection. Then the Savior must be presented to each hereafter, if not here. I cling to the hope that the preaching of the Savior on the other side of the grave will bring multitudes to heaven who died without a gospel. But for you who have the gospel now, this is your day of grace; with you, salvation is now or never. It has been supposed that these words refer to Christ, by his Spirit, preaching in the days of Noah to men who were then on earth, but who, when the apostle wrote, were in the unseen world - "spirits in prison." But there are two fatal objections to this meaning - one is, that there is nothing here about God the Spirit, as I have already shown; and the other is that such a meaning is foreign to the drift of thought in the chapter. It is not easy to see what room there is in that for the interjection of a reference to the Spirit of God striving with men nearly three thousand years before; it seems altogether irrelevant to the apostle's argument - that alone condemns it.
I. WHAT, THEN, IS THE MEANING OF THE PASSAGE? There is no necessity to refer the words, "spirits in prison," to those who have passed into the unseen world; for in Scripture the ungodly are constantly spoken of as in a state of imprisonment, bondage, captivity. "Spirits in prison" may then be said to be a frequent designation of the unredeemed on earth; indeed, the very word "redemption" carries this idea. Some may object that the context seems to imply that the spirits referred to are the spirits of the dead. Not necessarily so. If we refer the expression not to certain individuals, but to the whole lost race, the difficulty vanishes. Christ did not preach to the same persons that were disobedient before the Flood, but to the same race, the same spiritual condition. But did Christ thus preach? Certainly, through his servants. It has been said that the more correct title of the Acts of the Apostles would be the Acts of the Risen Lord. But why this reference to the days of Noah? If you look through Peter's Epistles you will see that he seems to have regarded the Flood as a dividing-line between two worlds, which afford points of contrast. We have this contrast here. The power of God over "spirits in prison" was straitened formerly, - after all the years through which his long-suffering waited, only "few, that is eight souls, were saved;" but since Christ suffered for sins, this is the record," The same day there were added to the Church about three thousand souls;" and the record ends with the great multitude which no man can number, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.
II. THE DESIGNATION OF THOSE TO WHOM CHRIST PREACHED, "SPIRITS IN PRISON." "Spirits:" what are they? Ah! who can tell? Immortal natures, whose greatness is not hinted at in the frail tabernacle in which they dwell. Spirits never destined to find their home in the dust, or their joys on earth, but to rise in the free vast world of spirits to the Father of spirits, wearing his likeness, fulfilling his will, sharing his glory, standing before his throne. Think of these in prison, bound by the fetters of sin, groping in darkness, in the narrow chamber of an ever-narrowing life - bound, with Satan for the gaoler. The power with which the crucified Christ preached to these. The power over men and on men's behalf which our Lord possesses, he acquired through his cross; only if he were "lifted up" would he be able to draw all men unto him.
III. THE FREEDOM IN THE CLEANSING OF THE CONSCIENCE WHICH RESULTED FROM HIS PREACHING. The twenty-first verse is very complicated; the mixture of metaphor, too, is not in accord with modern ideas, but it is frequent in Scripture. Here there are two incongruous figures blended, but the idea is this: Peter had said that Noah was saved by water, and he adds as it were, "And by the way it is water that saves you, that which is typified in the water of baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience towards God, through the resurrection of Christ. Sin is the great bond that holds Satan's captives fast - sin in the conscience; there is no freedom for the soul till that is removed. Salvation, i.e. freedom, comes through cleansing (water); cleansing comes through a crucified Savior; "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin." Brethren, therein lies Christ's delivering power. - C.N.