But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their intimidation; do not be shaken."
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.
But if ye suffer for righteousness' sake.I. WHY CHRISTIANS MUST EXPECT TO MEET WITH PERSECUTION OR SUFFERING IN THE WORLD.
II. REAL CHRISTIANS ARE HAPPY EVEN IN THE MIDST OF THEIR PRESENT SUFFERINGS. This will appear, if we consider the object, the nature, and the foundation of the Christian's happiness.
1. His happiness is placed beyond the reach of accident, and the fear of change: a God reconciled through Jesus Christ is the supreme object of his happiness and desire.
2. As the object, so is also the nature of the Christian's happiness, such as to justify the assertion that he is happy in the midst of external sufferings. Did the ultimate happiness or salvation of believers depend on any temporary frame or feeling, many of the most eminent saints might often be pronounced miserable. No! the Christian's happiness is founded on the eternal purposes and love of God; and this constitutes at once its security and perfection.
(Thomas Ross, LL. D.)I. SUFFERING IS SUPPOSED, NOTWITHSTANDING RIGHTEOUSNESS, yea, for righteousness; and that, not as a rare accident, but as the frequent lot of Christians. Think not that any prudence will lead you by all oppositions and malice of an ungodly world. Many winter blasts will meet you in the most inoffensive way of religion, if you keep straight to it. Look about you, and see if there be any state of man or course of life exempted from troubles. The greatest are usually subject to the greatest vexations, as the largest bodies have the largest shadows attending them. Take what way you will, there is no place or condition so fenced but public calamities or personal griefs find a way to reach us. Seeing then we must suffer whatever Course we take, to suffer for righteousness is far the best. What Julius Caesar said ill of doing ill, we may well say of suffering ill, "If it must be, it is best to be for a kingdom." But I shall prosecute this suffering for righteousness only with relation to the apostle's present reasoning. His conclusion he establishes.
1. From the favour or protection of God. The eyes of the Lord being over the righteous for their good, and His ear open to their prayer.
2. For the other argument, that the following of good would preserve them from harm, it speaks truly the nature of the thing, what it is apt to do, and what, in some measure, it often doth; but considering the nature of the world, its enmity against God and religion, it is not strange that it often proves otherwise. But if thou knowest who it is whom thou hast trusted, and whom thou lovest, this is a small matter. What though it were deeper and sharper sufferings, yet still, if ye suffer for righteousness, happy are ye.
II. THAT A CHRISTIAN UNDER THE HEAVIEST LOAD OF SUFFERINGS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS IS YET HAPPY, AND THAT HE IS HAPPIER EVEN BY THOSE SUFFERINGS.
1. All the sufferings of this world are not able to destroy the happiness of a Christian, nor to diminish it; yea, they cannot at all touch it; it is out of their reach. If all friends be shut out, yet the visits of the Comforter may be frequent, bringing glad tidings from heaven, and communing with him of the love of Christ and solacing him with that. Banishment he fears not, for his country is above; nor death, for that sends him home into that country.
2. But if in other sufferings, even the worst, the believer is still a happy man, then more especially in those that are of the best kind, sufferings for righteousness. Not only do they not detract from his happiness, but they give accession to it; he is happy even by suffering.(1) It is the happiness of a Christian, until he attain perfection, to be advancing towards it; to be daily refining from sin, and growing richer and stronger in the graces that make up a Christian, a new creature; to attain a higher degree of patience, and meekness, and humility; to have the heart more weaned from the earth and fixed on heaven. Now as other afflictions of the saints do help them in these things, their sufferings for righteousness, the unrighteous and injurious dealings of the world with them, have a particular fitness for this purpose.(2) Persecuted Christians are happy in their conformity with Christ, which is love's ambition. A believer would take it as an affront that the world should be kind to him, that was so cruel to his beloved Lord and Master.(3) Suffering Christians are happy in the rich supplies of spiritual comfort and joy, which in times of suffering are usual; so that as "their sufferings for Christ do abound, their consolations in Him abound much more."(4) If those sufferings be so small that they are weighed down even by present comforts, and so the Christian is happy in them, how much more doth the weight of glory that follows surpass these sufferings! Now these sufferings are happy, because they are the way to this happiness and the pledges of it.
(Abp. Leighton.)I. THE FACT THAT GOOD MEN OFTEN SUFFER FOR THEIR GOODNESS FROM THEIR FELLOW MEN. Peter uses the phrase "but and if," not because the suffering he describes is infrequent, but because it may not be absolutely universal, and because the reflections on which he is dwelling might seem to have made such suffering impossible For —(1) It might seem as though the promised guardianship of God would have ensured security to good men. But, no. Or(2) It might seem that an upright, benevolent life would have won the gratitude and kindness of one's fellows. But, no. "If you would follow the Church in her history, it will be by the track of her blood; if you would see her, it is by the light of the fires in which her martyrs have been burned."
II. THE INSPIRED DIRECTION FOR MEN IN SUCH WRONGFUL SUFFERING.
2. Consecration to Christ.
3. Intelligent conviction.
5. True triumph.All may not be able to wield the sharp sword of argument, but all can wear the silver shield of innocent lives.
III. THE LOFTY PRIVILEGE OF THOSE WHO SUFFER FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE.
1. They are blessed.
2. Their suffering is better than that of those who suffer for wrong doing.
3. Their suffering brings them into intimate fellowship with the Man of Sorrows.
IV. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MEN WHO IN THIS SPIRIT SUFFER WRONGFULLY BEING REALLY INJURED. To all wrongful treatment by the mean, envious, or malicious, the true Christian can say, "You may embarrass my circumstances, undermine my health, filch my reputation, shorten my mortal life, but you cannot 'harm' me."
(U. R. Thomas.)
1. For instance: The man of God should be an embodied conscience. The one endeavour of ungodly men is to drown the remonstrances of conscience. For this they plunge into gaiety, or business, or exploration; for this they hurry from scene to scene; for this they studiously avoid all that savours of God or His claims. But in a holy life they meet with a devout and constant recognition of those claims, coupled with a faithful endeavour to fulfil them. There is an embodiment of righteousness without them, which arouses into instant and unwelcome activity those convictions of their duty which they have done their best to quell.
2. The pride of heart which resents superiority in another. The envy which grudges the influence that goodness always attracts. The malice which broods over the contrast that purity presents to impurity, until the fact of its doing so bulks as a positive injury. All these strong passions of the unrenewed heart, like Pilate and Herod of old, become friends in their common antagonism to the saintliness which intrudes upon their privacy and menaces their peace.
3. Besides, there is always an aggressiveness in true Christianity which arouses strong resistance.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Happy are yeI. THE PATIENT SUFFERING for righteousness' sake is the giving obedience to one of the commandments of Jesus Christ, and that upon the doing thereof depends the truth of their Christianity in this life, and their salvation in the next (Matthew 10:37, 38; Matthew 16:21-25; Mark 8:31-38).
II. THE CHEERFUL ENDURANCE of those evils which befall the Christian in professing the truths of God and obeying His commandments, is an instance of the most heroic virtue, and a happy proof of the sincerity of his piety and faith. It is the most glorious victory over ourselves, our own passions and fears, and that natural inclination which prompts us to secure our life and the conveniences thereof.
III. The Christian's being engaged in the state of persecution, and his valiant endurance of the same, is A HAPPY INDICATION OF GOD'S SPECIAL FAVOUR TO HIM, AND ESTEEM OF HIS FORTITUDE AND UPRIGHTNESS (Acts 9:15, 16; 1 Peter 4:16; Philippians 1:28, 29; Acts 5:40, 41).
IV. As God lovingly calls true Christians to the honour of suffering for His name, so HE GRACIOUSLY RECKONS HIMSELF TO BE HONOURED BY THEIR RELIGIOUS COURAGE AND FIDELITY in the doing thereof (John 21:18, 19; 1 Peter 4:14).
V. The constant integrity of the good man, under all his sufferings for righteousness, CREATES IN HIM THAT INWARD PLEASURE AND PEACE OF MIND WHICH IS THE CONSTANT AND GENUINE EFFECT OF HOLINESS and virtue, and of the soul's being conscious to itself of its own innocence. And it likewise obtains for him these supernatural joys and assistances, which in the hour of temptation flow in from the Holy Ghost (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10; 1 Peter 4:14).
VI. That which is a very considerable proof of the blessedness of those who endure in the spirit of patience and penitence, those sufferings which meet them in the way of their duty; THEY POWERFULLY CONTRIBUTE TO PURIFY THEIR SOULS FROM REMAINING CORRUPTION, and to perfect them into the highest degrees of holiness (Isaiah 27:9; Hebrews 12:10, 11; 2 Corinthians 4:16).
VII. That which, without the possibility of a reasonable contradiction, clears and completes the evidence for the truth of the happiness of these pious ones, who suffer for righteousness' sake, is: THAT THEY ARE SECURED OF THE BLESSEDNESS OF HEAVEN, that though it be future, yet with respect to it St. Peter might very well say in the present tense, "Ye are happy" (Matthew 5:10; Matthew 19:29; James 1:12). Conclusion:
1. From the truth of the fore-said doctrine, viz., the happiness of those who suffer for righteousness' sake, we see the lamentable ignorance and error of carnal and worldly minded men.
2. We learn from the evidence of this great truth, that it is our wisdom, as well as duty, to adhere unto righteousness and truth, even in the time of the most terrible threatenings and persecution.
3. The suffering Christian is taught hereby, that instead of repining against the Divine Providence on account of his sufferings, he ought rather to magnify God, that He graciously affords him the blessed opportunity and means of knowing his own sincerity, of promoting the Divine glory, of partaking of unspeakable spiritual joys, and of being advanced to the most eminent holiness in this life, and happiness in the next.
4. Serious reflection on the felicity of those who suffer for righteousness' sake would be very useful to mitigate the sorrow of those whose dearest friends may at any time be involved in persecution for their keeping the faith and a good conscience.
5. The belief of this truth should stifle our revenge against our most malicious persecutors; seeing we know that, however evil their intention may be, yet the persecution itself through God's grace, turns about in the end to our inexpressible advantage.
6. It is comfortable to observe that the happiness asserted of the sufferers for righteousness is not restricted to any particular instance either of righteousness or suffering.
7. The happiness of those who suffer for righteousness' sake affords a very powerful motive and encouragement to patience and constancy, in the time of the hottest persecution.
(David Ranken.)Isaiah 8:12, 13, it seems probable that St. Peter means such terror as dismays those who do not fear God supremely.
Unnecessary terror: — The earthworm meets threatened danger in a most unphilosophic way. Directly it feels a slight shock in the earth it will hasten to the surface, because it attributes that to the proximity of its enemy the mole. The knowledge that the worm can easily be panic stricken has been acquired by the lapwings (Vanellus), and these birds use it for their own advantage and the destruction of their victim. The lapwings settle down on fields recently ploughed, where they can find an ample supply of worms, and striking against the ground with their feet, induce the worms to come to the surface under fear that the shock is caused by the mole. As fast as the worms come in fear to the surface they are snapped up by the lapwings. Thus by endeavouring to escape an imaginary danger, the worm encounters a real one. There are many creatures, far higher in intelligence than the poor worm, who follow exactly the same panic-stricken policy in the supposed presence of danger. All weak natures, in fact, ale naturally impelled to adopt it. Hence amongst mankind, for want of self-control and discretion, half our miseries, and often our doom, may be traced to acts caused by the dread of a danger which has existed only in our fears.
(Scientific Illustrations.)I. CHRISTIAN COURAGE in not being sinfully afraid of those evils which men may threaten us with, for righteousness sake, is A DUTY FREQUENTLY RECOMMENDED TO US IN SCRIPTURE, and timidity or irregular fear forbidden (Isaiah 8:11, 12; Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5; Philippians 1:27, 28; Jeremiah 1:5-7; Ezekiel 2:6; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 21:7, 8).
II. THE BEING SINFULLY AFRAID OF PERSECUTION, OR THE WRATH OF MAN, IS EXTREMELY UNWORTHY OF A CHRISTIAN.
1. A Christian is the sworn soldier of Jesus, and Jesus has expressly obliged him by an unalterable statute to take up his Cross and follow Him through the most terrible dangers and inconveniences.
2. The Christian professes to believe in an Almighty God, the best friend and sorest enemy; and in Jesus Christ who cheerfully suffered the greatest evils for his sake; and that there is an everlasting life both of happiness and misery, to be bestowed upon men, according to their final constancy or apostasy.
3. The Christian may continually look upon the glorious example of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith; and upon the great cloud of witnesses or martyrs, who feared not the wrath of man, nor loved their lives unto the death.
III. HOLY FEARLESSNESS AND MAGNANIMITY IS, UNDER GOD, A STRONG GUARD TO THE CHRISTIAN'S UPRIGHTNESS AND PIETY; whereas fearfulness and pusillanimity do woefully endanger and betray them (Daniel 3:16-18; Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13; Proverbs 29:25; John 12:42).
IV. The enemies of the Church of God are so entirely subjected to His providence, and the Church, upon the other hand, is so watchfully regarded by the same providence, THAT THE CHURCH'S ENEMIES CANNOT INJURE IT WITHOUT THE DIVINE PERMISSION, or extend their persecutions against the righteous beyond the limits which God has fixed (Psalm 37:32, 33; John 19:10, 11; John 7:30; Luke 22:52, 53).
V. The highest pitch to which the malice of the most implacable and powerful adversaries of truth and piety can arrive is, to molest and ruin the faithful professors and friends of the same, IN THEIR OUTWARD, BODILY AND TRANSITORY STATE (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4). Conclusion:
1. That we may attain to Christian fortitude and intrepidity in the time of persecution, it will be necessary for us with a humble importunity to make our addresses to God, that He would be graciously pleased to endue us therewith (Colossians 1:11).
2. If we would not be afraid of men, let us use our utmost endeavours to get our hearts possessed with the awful and holy fear of God; and then we will find by happy experience that the latter fear drives away the former.
3. They whose hearts are inflamed with the love of God, are strongly fortified against the impressions of sinful fear and cowardice, when wrathful persecutors either threaten or attack them (Song of Solomon 8:6, 7).
4. The exercising a lively faith about the glory and happiness which is provided in the world to come for those righteous persons, who valiantly endure all these persecutions, would inspire the Christian with invincible fortitude, fill his soul with a noble contempt of men's terror, and carry him forward triumphantly in the way of his duty, notwithstanding the fiercest opposition of enraged and powerful men (Hebrews 11).
5. They who would not be sinfully afraid of human terror, who would not for the fear of it deny any known truth, or neglect any known duty: let them entertain just sentiments concerning the good and evil things of this present world, the advantages and disadvantages, the honour and dishonour, the pleasures and pains thereof; taking care that they do not overrate them, and that they do not place their happiness in the enjoyment of the former, nor their misery in suffering the latter.
6. It would be very useful to the Christian, for preserving him from cowardice, that he had continually before his eyes the most glorious example of Jesus Christ, the Captain of our salvation, and the heroic bravery and patience of the saints. For then he would be ashamed basely and sinfully to turn his back upon these dangers, which not only his Lord and General, but also his fellow soldiers did boldly encounter and overcome.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Neither be troubled1. The ordinary causes of astonishment and perplexity of spirit in the time of adversity are these —(1) When the evil a person lies under was wholly unexpected.(2) When a man in his calamity is quite forlorn and destitute, has no friend to condole his misery, nor to support him under it.(3) When the evil is lasting and invincible, such as the miserable patient can reasonably propose to himself no deliverance from.
2. These grounds of perturbation are not to be found in those afflictions which the righteous meet with for righteousness sake.(1) Persecution of one kind or other is what the true Christian may expect, and so forearm himself (Luke 9:2; John 15:20; John 16:20, 33; Mark 10:29, 80; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12).(2) The righteous, in the extremest heat of persecution, are not entirely forsaken; but even then they have a great and faithful friend, viz., the Almighty God, who commiserates their distress, bears the heaviest end of the burden, and encourages them under all their troubles (Psalm 91:15; Isaiah 43:2; Isaiah 49:13-16; 2 Corinthians 4:9; Hebrews 13:5).(3) The calamity with which the righteous are afflicted for righteousness' sake is not past hope and remedy. No; they are fully assured of deliverance from it, if not after the manner which they desire, yet in the way which is best for them (Psalm 34:19; Psalm 91:14-16; 2 Chronicles 1:9, 10; 2 Timothy 4:16-18).
I. GOD CAN DELIVER HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE WHILE THEY ARE IN THE EXTREMEST DANGERS AND DIFFICULTIES (2 Peter 2:9).
II. IN SUCH CASES HE HATH VERY OFTEN DELIVERED THEM.
1. Some of these deliverances were accomplished, not by prodigious and amazing strokes of Divine power in suspending or transcending the force and course of natural causes, but by gentle and ordinary means, gloriously conducted by the wise providence of God (Exodus 2; 1 Samuel 23:1; Esther 6:1).
2. Whereas it is said that we are no more to look for miracles, I answer that it is presumptuous to limit the Holy One of Israel, peremptorily to set bounds to the infinitely wise and powerful God where He has not expressly set them to Himself.
3. Let this matter be as it may, yet I hope it will be granted that God is still the God of salvation; that "His hand is not shortened that it cannot save," etc.; that He even is the Lover and Protector of truth and righteousness and the Helper of the helpless; that He can abate the pride, assuage the malice, and confound the devices of the Church's enemies; and, finally, that He can raise up deliverers to the persecuted when and where it was least expected.
III. THERE ARE THE STRONGEST REASONS FOR THEIR BELIEVING THAT AT LENGTH GOD WILL DELIVER THEM ONE WAY OR OTHER.
1. He will deliver them by a temporal deliverance, if that be most agreeable to His wise counsels, to the methods of His providence in governing the world and His Church, and to their true and greatest welfare.
2. If He think it not proper to remove sufferings from them, He will remove them from suffering.
IV. BY HEARKENING TO THIS COUNSEL OF ST. PETER THE CHRISTIAN WILL EXCEEDINGLY CONSULT THE PEACE OF HIS OWN MIND.
1. Excessive and irregular sorrow is of itself a very great calamity; it enfeebles the soul; at once it increases a man's affliction and disables him from bearing the same (Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 18:14).
2. As for anxiety of mind, it distracts and disquiets those who are under its dominion after a most miserable manner.
3. Who can express the misery of those who, in the time of persecution, give way to anger, revenge, impatience, and murmuring? By their blustering passions they raise a perpetual storm within, and are like the troubled sea which cannot rest.
4. Whereas, if they who are persecuted for righteousness sake do wisely follow this direction; if, instead of abandoning themselves to immoderate grief and to pernicious impatience, they maintain a holy cheerfulness of spirit, patience, and contentedness of mind, and cast all their care upon God; then they will find, to their unspeakable comfort, that the blessed fruits of this prudent and religious practice are these: a reviving and supporting cordial to their hearts; an admirable and sweet repose within, while there is nothing but storm without; and that vigour of soul which will enable them bravely to bear up under the heaviest load of adversity.
V. SPECIAL MOTIVES AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR WHICH THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD AVOID ANY OF THOSE PARTICULAR INWARD TROUBLES OR DISORDERS OF MIND TO WHICH HE IS LIABLE IN THE STATE OF PERSECUTION, IF HE BE NOT UPON HIS GUARD AND CONTINUALLY SUPPORTED BY THE GRACE OF GOD.
2. An undisturbed, well-grounded, and governed quietness and alacrity of spirit under sufferings is the highest pitch of faith, and a signal honour done to the attributes and promises of God. Whereas dejecting sorrow and anxious perplexity of mind is too great a proof of the want or weakness of faith, and a tacit reproach to God.
3. This holy cheerfulness and tranquillity of mind does exceedingly become the servants of God, especially in the time of persecution, and the opposite temper of irregular sorrow and anxiety is extremely unsuitable.
4. The Christian will entertain a horror at immoderate sorrow and anxiety of mind when he seriously considers the dreadful spiritual inconveniences and evils which may follow thereupon, if they be not prevented by the singular goodness of God.(1) Excessive sorrow and anxiety are apt to create in those over whom they prevail an indisposition to the exercise of several graces and duties, the exercise whereof is nevertheless highly necessary in the conjuncture of persecution and distress, viz., faith and dependence on God, resignation, prayer, thanksgiving, etc.(2) Though the persecuted and afflicted Christian has much need of Divine consolations from the Word of God and the immediate influences of His Spirit, yet excessive sorrow and anxiety do exceedingly stand in the way of his partaking of these consolations.(3) Immoderate sorrow and anxiety expose those over whom they prevail to many other dangerous evils and inconveniences. These sinful infirmities incline men to be weary and faint under the cross, to be over-desirous of shaking it off, and to hearken to sinful overtures for that effect.
Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts
(Bp. Moberly.)I. SANCTIFY THE LORD GOD. He is holy, the fountain of holiness. It is He alone who powerfully sanctifies us, and then, and not till then, we sanctify Him. We sanctify Him by acknowledging His greatness and power and goodness, and, which is here more particularly intended, we do this by a holy fear of Him and faith in Him.
II. IN YOUR HEARTS. We are to be sanctified in our words and actions, but primarily in our hearts, as the root and principle of the rest. He sanctifies His own people throughout, makes their language and their lives holy, but first and most of all their hearts. It fears, and loves, and trusts in Him, which properly the outward man cannot do, though it does follow and is acted on by these affections, and so shares in them according to its capacity.
III. THIS SANCTIFYING OF GOD IN THE HEART COMPOSES THE HEART AND FREES IT FROM FEARS.
1. The fear of God overtops and nullifies all lesser fears: the heart possessed with this fear hath no room for any other. It resolves the heart, in point of duty, that it must not offend God by any means; yea, rather to choose the universal and highest displeasure of the world forever than His smallest discountenance for a moment.
2. Faith in God clears the mind and dispels carnal fears. It is the most sure help. "What time I am afraid," says David, "I will trust in Thee." It resolves the mind concerning the event, and scatters the multitude of perplexing thoughts which arise about that: What shall become of this and that? What if such an enemy prevail? No matter, says faith, though all fail, I know of one thing that will not; I have a refuge which all the strength of nature and art cannot break in upon or demolish, a high defence, my Rock in whom I trust.
(Abp. Leighton.)Isaiah 29:23; Leviticus 10:3; Numbers 20:12; Ezekiel 36:23). They sanctify Him who give Him His due, who treat His claims as real and absolute, who look away from all other powers, from all imagined resources or grounds of confidence, to Him as the origin and centre of their existence.
1. St. Peter was thinking immediately of apprehended suffering, and this at the hands of men, unconsciously acting as the instruments of a Master who saw fit thus to "prove" the patience and fidelity of His servants. But a great deal of actual suffering, apprehended or really imminent, comes apart from such instrumentality, or, at any rate, is only indirectly connected with human wills. For instance, suppose we learn that a severe outbreak of disease, infectious and perilous to life, is among us. Should we be likely then to be scared by the terror of such a prospect? or should we have faith enough to sanctify in our hearts, as Sovereign and Lord of all things, the Redeemer who healed sickness in others and accepted crucifixion for Himself? Could we suppress unworthy agitations, adopt all reasonable precautions, and make daily acts of faith in the spirit of Psalm 91:1, 6? But again, we know that very often our fears enormously exaggerate real evils, and very often we are haunted by fears which are altogether imaginary. Why not simply take the Lord at His own word, and put aside faithless "anxiety about the morrow"?
2. Remember, further, that the drama of spiritual life and death can be performed on a humbler stage, under conditions devoid of any impressive brilliancy. A youth, let us say, goes out from some quiet country home into an area which presents new tests to his moral and religious fidelity; the scene may be a college or a workshop, a messroom or house of business — it matters not; suppose he falls in with a bad set; suppose he is mercilessly laughed at if found to persevere in religious habits; suppose that he is accused of self-righteousness, or even of self-interest; suppose that, whether in rough or in polished phrase, the creed of his boyhood is called an obsolete delusion, fit only for those who are content to be tutored by the clergy; is there nothing here like a fiery trial? How will he stand it? Will he begin the downward course by "assuming a vice although he has it not," affecting an indifference to religion beyond what he really feels? Suppose that, on the contrary, he retains that holy fear of God, and perseveres in his duty, just "as he did aforetime" (Daniel 6:10): what will be said of him above? That, young as he is, he is playing the man; that he is responding to grace, and "witnessing a good confession"; that he is "sanctifying Christ in his heart as Lord."
3. And once more: when we are depressed and anxious as to the prospects of the Church and of the. faith; when unbelief is increasingly aggressive, confident of speedy success; when prejudices against that truth of which the Church is the pillar and ground work reappear in all their old force, unallayed by explanations or by conferences; when large masses of European society seem possessed with a spirit of revolutionary lawlessness, which fears God as little as it regards man; then the problem appears too hard, the task too onerous, the promised success past hoping for. But the history of the Church may remind us that as we certainly are "not better than our fathers," so we are not undergoing trials from which they were wholly exempt. But as they could and did fall back, so must we fall back on the invincible conviction that the cause is God's after all. Let the Most High look to it.
(W. Bright, D. D.)
Be ready always to give an answer
A reason of the hope that is in youI. WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE? Hope is the desire of some attainment, attended with expectation or conviction that the object of desire is attainable. It is, therefore, an operation of the mind, which involves the action of reason and judgment. It is a mental state in contrast to despair, where all expectation of success is extinguished. But the Christian's hope is distinguished from all other by its object and end. The object of the Christian's hope is heaven, as a state of holiness and communion with God.
II. WHAT IS THE REASON OF THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE?
1. He has felt himself to be a lost sinner. Christ came to seek and to save them that were lost. Not against their will, but by their own consent. Therefore we see that provision is made for enlightening the mind, so that it may be led to an intelligent choice.
2. He feels that he has fled to Christ for salvation. He is a Saviour, and is embraced and loved and honoured as such.
3. The true Christian finds a third reason to encourage a hope that he is personally interested in the gospel plan of salvation, in the effects of this faith on his life.
(R. H. Bailey.)I. THE NEED OF A DEFENCE OR APOLOGY. Religion is always the thing in the world that hath the greatest calumnies cast upon it, and this engages those who love it to endeavour to clear it of them. This they do chiefly by the course of their lives; yet sometimes it is expedient, yea, necessary, to add verbal defences, and to vindicate not so much themselves as their Lord and His truth, as suffering in the reproaches cast upon them. Christian prudence goes a great way in the regulating of this; for holy things are not to be cast to dogs. But we are to answer every one that asks a reason or an account, which supposes something receptive of it. We ought to judge ourselves engaged to give it, be it an enemy, if he will hear; if it gain him not, it may in part convince and cool him; much more should he be one who ingenuously inquires for satisfaction, and possibly inclines to receive the truth, but is prejudiced against it by false misrepresentations of it.
II. ALL THAT WE HAVE TO GIVE ACCOUNT OF is comprised here under this — "the hope that is in you." Many rich and excellent things do the saints receive, even in their despised condition here; but their hope is rather mentioned as the subject they may speak and give account of with most advantage, both because all they receive at present is but as nothing compared to what they hope for, and because, such as it is, it cannot be made known at all to a natural man, being so clouded with their afflictions and sorrows. And, indeed, this hope carries its own apology in it, both for itself and for religion. What can more pertinently answer all exceptions against the way of godliness than this, to represent what hopes the saints have who walk in that way? If you ask, Whither tends all this your preciseness and singularity? Why cannot you live as your neighbours and the rest of the world about you? Truly, the reason is this — we have somewhat farther to look to than our present condition, and somewhat far more considerable than anything here; we have a hope of blessedness after time, a hope to dwell in the presence of God, where our Lord Christ is gone before us; and we know that as many as have this hope must purify themselves even as He is pure. The city we tend to is holy, and no unclean thing shall enter into it. The hopes we have cannot subsist in the way of the ungodly world; they cannot breathe in that air, but are choked and stifled with it; and therefore we must take another way, unless we will forego our hopes and ruin ourselves for the sake of company.
III. THE MANNER OF THIS. It is to be done with meekness and fear; meekness towards men and reverential fear towards God. "With meekness." A Christian is not to be blustering and flying out into invectives because he hath the better of it against any man that questions him touching this hope; as some think themselves certainly authorised to rough speech, because they plead for truth and are on its side. On the contrary, so much the rather study meekness for the glory and advantage of the truth. "And fear." Divine things are never to be spoken of in a light way, but with a reverent grave temper of spirit; and for this reason some choice is to be made both of time and persons. The soul that hath the deepest sense of spiritual things and the truest knowledge of God is most afraid to miscarry in speaking of Him, most tender and wary how to acquit itself when engaged to speak of and for God.
IV. THE FACULTY FOR THIS APOLOGY. "Be ready." In this are implied knowledge and affection and courage. As for knowledge, it is not required of every Christian to be able to prosecute subtilties and encounter the sophistry of adversaries, especially in obscure points; but all are bound to know so much as to be able to aver that hope that is in them, the main doctrine of grace and salvation, wherein the most of men are lamentably ignorant. Affection sets all on work; whatsoever faculty the mind hath it will not suffer it to be useless, and it hardens it against hazards in defence of the truth. But the only way so to know and love the truth and to have courage to avow it, is to have the Lord "sanctified in the heart." Men may dispute stoutly against errors, and yet be strangers to God and this hope. But surely it is the liveliest defence, and that which alone returns comfort within, which arises from the peculiar interest of the soul in God, and in those truths and that hope which are questioned: it is then like pleading for the nearest friend, and for a man's own rights and inheritance. This will animate and give edge to it, when you apologise, not for a hope you have heard or read of barely, but for a hope within you; not merely a hope in believers in general, but in you, by a particular sense of that hope within.
(Lyman Abbott, D. D.)I. IT IS THE DUTY OF EVERY CHRISTIAN TO USE HIS MOST SERIOUS ENDEAVOURS THAT HE MAY UNDERSTAND THE REASONS AND GROUNDS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.
2. The sincere and humble performing of this duty would contribute very much to render our religion and the acts thereof acceptable to God; as being thereby more suitable both to His nature and ours, more fit for us to offer, and for Hint to receive (Mark 12:33; Deuteronomy 15:21; John 4:22-24).
3. That which should very much excite the Christian's endeavours, to understand the principles and reasons of his holy religion is that his being ignorant of them would be a most shameful and ignominious thing. How extremely reproachful is it that men whom God hath adorned with judgment for the direction of their actions should be stupid children, or very brutes in their religion!
4. This ignorance is also extremely dangerous to the Christian, because it exposes him to all the attempts of the enemies of the truth, and makes him a cheap and easy conquest to persecutors and impostors.
5. The duty of inquiring into the reason of religion is particularly incumbent upon those who disclaim an infallible judge of controversies upon earth, and reckon it to be a Christian privilege and right to receive no articles of faith upon the sole credit of human authority.
6. The woeful divisions of Christendom in matters of religion, the high pretensions of each party to the truth, and our being surrounded not only with heresy and schism, but also with downright infidelity, do loudly call us to a most impartial inquiry into the grounds and principles of faith, that so we ourselves may be well instructed and confirmed therein, and be likewise ready to give an answer to those who ask us a reason of the hope that is in us.
7. Consider the most effectual methods for attaining the knowledge of the grounds and reasons of our holy religion, and our ability to vindicate and explain them to others as we shall have occasion.(1) We must in all humility by frequent and importunate prayer apply ourselves unto God the Father of lights, the great Author of wisdom and knowledge (Ephesians 1:17, 18; James 1:5; Colossians 1:9).(2) We must make the Scriptures our continual and serious study (2 Timothy 3:15, 17).(3) We must exercise ourselves unto godliness (Psalm 25:12-14; Psalm 119:100; Proverbs 2:7; Proverbs 3:32; John 7:16, 17; John 14:21).(4) A devout and conscientious attending upon religious assemblies will be very profitable to the Christian in this affair (Ephesians 4:11-15).
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS INDISPENSABLY BOUND CONSTANTLY TO ADHERE TO THE TRUTHS AND PRECEPTS OF THE GOSPEL, AND, WHEN CALLED THEREUNTO, TO CONFESS THE TRUTHS AND OBSERVE THE PRECEPTS THEREOF, EVEN IN THE MOST DISCOURAGING JUNCTURES.
1. Our Lord has in the plainest and most peremptory terms, and with the most weighty sanctions, obliged all His follower's constantly to adhere to His doctrines and precepts; and, when called thereunto, to confess the one and obey the other, when persecution threatens or attends the doing either of them (Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:24-26; Luke 14:25-27).
2. The Christian is bound to the performance of this duty by the laws of the highest equity and justice; and the doing otherwise would involve him in the guilt of the most criminal iniquity and unrighteousness to his sovereign Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).
3. The wilful and deliberate renouncing of the Christian faith, or any of the articles and precepts thereof, with a design to avoid persecution thereby, or to retain or acquire the advantages of this world, is at once an instance of the most horrible impiety, of the vilest falseness and dishonesty, and of the most abject cowardice. The apostate plainly declares that he fears weak man more than Almighty God, that he prefers the transient things of time to the infinite joys of eternity.
4. What in the most dangerous seasons ought to prevail with the Christian to be steadfast and firm in professing the truths, and obeying the precepts of his holy religion, is that his constancy would tend very much to the glory of God, the interest of religion, and the advantage both of the friends and enemies of truth and righteousness.
5. The disciples of Jesus Christ are both exceeding encouraged and obliged to a noble and bold adherence to the truth and their duty in the time of persecution, by His glorious example, and that of confessors and martyrs under the Old and New Testaments.
III. THE QUALIFICATIONS WHICH MUST ACCOMPANY AND ADORN THE CHRISTIAN IN THE DISCHARGE OF THE DUTIES CONTAINED IN THIS INJUNCTION.
1. Calmness and patience of spirit, whereby the Christian may avoid exasperating the adversaries of the truth by wrath and passion while he vindicates the same.
2. A holy and religious fear, lest by an indiscreet and unwarrantable zeal, or any other sinful misbehaviour, he should offend God, or give just offence unto men, and particularly to his lawful governors.
3. A good conscience founded upon a blameless and Christian behaviour, by which he may be able to silence or refute the calumnious reproaches of heathens and infidels.
(David Ranken.)I. THE RELIEVER MAY BE QUESTIONED CONCERNING HIS HOPE — l. By the infidel. To the mere scoffer the Christian is not required to reply. With such our only aim should be so to speak as to awaken the conscience, and arouse and touch the heart.
2. By the worldling. The hope of the believer will stand the severest scrutiny; while the worldling is often found to confess that the advantages of the present state are with him who is living under the influence of a hope that has respect to the future.
3. The sincere inquirer after truth may question him. One who has just been made sensible that he is a sinner against God, and needs pardon. His mind is full of anxiety; and he feels that he needs direction, instruction, and guidance.
II. THE BELIEVER SHOULD BE READY TO ANSWER THOSE WHO INQUIRE CONCERNING HIS HOPE.
1. He should be ready to answer, not forward, but prepared, competent to reply.
2. The reply should be an answer. It should be to the point; adapted to the character, and appropriate to the circumstances of the questioner. "A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
III. THE DISPOSITION WITH WHICH THE INQUIRY SHOULD BE ANSWERED.
1. With meekness. By a harsh manner of vindicating the truth, the enmity of the carnal heart against it may be increased.
2. With fear. With holy fear and jealousy of ourselves, that we may speak only that we have known, and testify only that we have seen.Lessons:
1. Believers, aim to be intelligent Christians.
2. Be humble, meek disciples of your great Master.
3. Many of you may never while on earth be questioned concerning your hope. The day is fast coming when "the fire will try every man's work of what sort it is." What will be the character of the worldling's hope then?
Essex Remembrancer.I. THAT IF WE ARE TRUE CHRISTIANS, THERE IS A HOPE THAT IS IN US. If we are true Christians, Christ is in us the hope of glory.
1. This hope may be distinguished from the hypocrite's hope by its objects. It regulates all its expectations by the Word of God.
2. This hope may be farther distinguished by its basis. This is the inviolable truth of God's promises, made to sinners through Christ.
3. This hope may be farther distinguished by its effects. It purifies the heart.
II. THAT THERE IS A REASON FOR THIS HOPE. It is a reason for this hope, that the Word of God, written by the inspiration of His own Spirit, correctly defines its objects. A true Christian can also give a reason for the ground of his hope. It is Christ. There is a reason for the hope that is in us, in the effects which we are conscious it has produced upon us. It has a holy tendency.
III. THAT WE ARE TO EXPECT THAT MEN WILL ASK US A REASON OF THIS HOPE. Some may ask a reason of the hope that is in us, from a sincere desire to know and to embrace the truth. But others may ask us a reason of the hope that is in us, from a wish to weaken our confidence, or to tear us away from the hope of the gospel.
IV. THAT WE ARE TO BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ACCOUNT TO THOSE WHO THUS ASK, A REASON OF THE HOPE. THAT IS IN US. Have I searched the Scriptures with becoming diligence, so as to know the evidence on which my faith rests? Have I been so convinced of the truth and power of the gospel by the Spirit of God, that I am prepared to defend it as the wisdom of God and the power of God?
V. THAT WE ARE TO BE SO PREPARED AS TO BE ABLE TO DO THIS WITH MEEKNESS AND FEAR.
1. With meekness. We are to defend the gospel in the spirit of the gospel.
2. With fear. Not terror, but reverence.Application:
1. If you are disposed to question the reality of the religion of the heart, it is not because there can be no proof given of it, but from an indisposition to believe it.
2. Be sure that nothing but a "lively hope" implanted within you will avail to the good of your soul, and that all profession without it will be ineffectual to your salvation.
3. Dread being the subject of a delusive hope.
4. If you have reason to fear that hitherto your hope has been a deceptive one, seek and pray to be made the subject of a good hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, that abandoning all other dependence, you may be led to Christ for salvation, on whose merits and righteousness you shall not depend in vain.
(Essex Remembrancer.)I. ALL REAL CHRISTIANS POSSESS A HOPE PECULIAR TO THEMSELVES. It is a hope in connection with Christ, a hope arising from the gospel. The hope of the Christian is called a living hope. It is a hope that sustains the spirit here, and embraces celestial happiness hereafter.
II. THIS HOPE RESTS ON GROUNDS THE MOST SOLID AND INDUBITABLE. This hope is generated in them by the resurrection of Christ. They have the testimony of all holy men in all ages, and they have their own experience.
III. THIS HOPE CANNOT BE CONCEALED, AND OUGHT NOT TO BE CONCEALED. The Saviour commands that those who have this hope in them should confess Him.
IV. THOSE WHO HAVE THIS HOPE IN THEM MAY SOMETIMES BE QUESTIONED CONCERNING IT.
V. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE ARE CALLED UPON TO EXPLAIN, TO VINDICATE, AND EVEN TO RECOMMEND THE RELIGION WHICH BRINGS US SUCH A HOPE. There might have been Jews anxious to know what Christianity was; there might have been Gentiles doubting as to the truth of their systems, and desiring to be instructed in the doctrines of Christianity; and there may still be those with whom we have to do, who may be anxious for information, and it should be our delight to explain, to vindicate and to recommend the hope that we cherish.
IV. THIS VINDICATION AND RECOMMENDATION OF OUR HOPE OUGHT ALWAYS T O BE DONE IN A SPIRIT BECOMING THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE SUBJECT. It is no light thing to deal with questions of this sort. Peter says, "Be always ready" — qualified, fitted for it.
Homilist.The words suggest four things in relation to religion.
I. ITS PROSPECTIVENESS. It is a "hope." Personal religion is a great hope in a man.
II. ITS SOCIALITY. Here is asking questions and answering them. Genuine religion excludes the anti-social and dissocialising element — selfishness.
1. It has a community of paramount interest. All religious souls have the same imperial concerns.
2. A community of leading aims. One grand purpose runs through all godly hearts.
III. ITS REASONABLENESS. "Give a reason for the hope." Every godly man can give a reason for this hope. It does not require erudition or talent to enable him to do so. Ask him why does he hope to become good, and he could give such answers as these:
1. Because my nature was made for goodness
2. Because Christ came into the world to give me goodness.
3. Because God works to make me good.
4. Because the great struggle of my nature is to be good. These are good reasons, are they not?
IV. ITS REVERENCE. "With meekness and fear."
(Homilist.)I. THE CHRISTIAN HOPE? Why is the word hope used instead of that of faith? Usually it is faith that stands so conspicuously in the foreground in Christianity. Faith has mainly a reference to the hard dry facts of the intellect. Of course there is in Christianity a living, vital faith, and every Christian must possess this. But hope is a much softer word, and has to do more with the emotional part of human nature. Hope to be worth any thing must be based upon faith. Yet hope is the higher state of the two. The reason why St. Paul so often speaks of hope is twofold:
1. It had a reference to the early state of his people.
2. This hope was connected with something personal and future. Hope will, of course, differ according to the disposition of the man. The miser hopes for gold, the ambitious man for power, the vain man for applause. But we have to do with the Christian's hope.(1) The Christian has a hope in the purpose of his life. He has a mission in the world which God has planned, and he knows that whatever happens will be for the best. He allows all his arrangements to depend upon the Divine Will. In the most minute events of life, as well as in the most gigantic schemes that the human brain can evolve, God rules.(2) The Christian has a hope in the trials and afflictions of life.(3) The Christian has hope in death. The most brilliant human lives must end.(4) The Christian has hope in the hereafter. This is the most glorious hope of all.
II. THIS HOPE HAS A RATIONAL BASIS. The hope of the Christian may be cheering and consoling, yet if it had not a rational basis it might after all be a delusion. But Christianity is as much in harmony with reason as it is with the emotional side of man's nature. And it is the only religion that has a rational foundation. The necessity for a revelation from God has been felt in all ages and amongst all peoples. And if such revelation has been made it must be found in the Bible, for it can be no where else. Then the evidences of the truth of Christianity are overwhelming. The resurrection of Christ is a fact established by conclusive evidence.
III. EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE PREPARED TO DEFEND HIS HOPE. "Be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you." Each man is expected to be able to defend his faith. This reason must be —
1. Intellectual. Christians ought to study the evidences of the truth of their religion.
2. Moral. Every Christian's life ought to be morally higher than that of others.
3. Spiritual. The Christian religion is an experimental religion. "He that believeth hath the witness in himself."
IV. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH OUR REASONS ARE TO BE GIVEN.
1. Meekness. There must be no self-sufficiency. Humility is a Christian virtue. A religion of love must be defended lovingly.
2. With fear. This means reverence to God and respect to man. He must take care that the great truths which he has to teach do not suffer from his ignorance or incompetency. We must each make this hope our own. Christianity is a personal matter.
(George Sexton, LL. D.)
1. It makes our convictions respected. There is persuasion in the forceful putting of a thought, and in sentences sharply drawn and well considered. The effect of words, as of soldiers, can be trebled by their manner of marshalling. A word aptly chosen is an argument, and a phrase judiciously contrived a syllogism. And so Peter would have his readers study to state their hopes and the grounds of them in an orderly and intelligent manner, and procure for their convictions in this way a respect, at least, among those whose opinions differed or even antagonised.
2. Another benefit intended was the effect which the rational statement of an opinion has in giving to that opinion firmer establishment in our own minds. Our religious beliefs are sometimes irresolute, because we do not know with precision what they are, nor with definiteness why they are. We are established by feeling the grounds of our establishment. The boat drifts till it feels the pull of its anchor. We get a sense of stability by inspecting the means of our stability. If we are crossing a stream upon a bridge of ice or timber, even though assured of safety, we contemplate with earnest pleasure the massiveness of its icy or oaken beams. Even confidence loves to be reminded of the grounds of its confidence, and wins bravery from their review. The architect Jets the buttresses and the broadened courses of basal masonry as far as possible lie out in the light. Such a disposition of facts satisfies the eye because it satisfies the mind. We get a sense of stability by inspecting the means of stability.
(C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
(J. Lillie, D. D.)
With meekness and fearbut: of two Greek words so rendered, the more forcible is found here in all the best MSS. and ancient versions. St. Peter presses this condition most urgently; of all dangers that of angry, arrogant, and irreverent demeanour on the part of men closely, and often captiously, questioned, is the most common and subtle. Sweetness, coupled with awe, remembering whose cause is defended, will commend true reasoning, and they will be in themselves evidences calculated to impress and often to win opponents. The word "fear" may also include anxiety to avoid giving offence by inconsiderate or intemperate arguments, but it certainly does not mean fear of magistrates. The Christian is bound to submit to law, but is released from all fear of personal Consequences when put on his trial.
(Canon F. C. Cook.)
Having a good conscience
Homilist.I. The possession of a good conscience is POSSIBLE FOR MAN.
1. A conscience that rules the entire man.
2. A conscience that is ruled by the will of God.
II. The possession of a good conscience DOES NOT PROTECT FROM THE TONGUE OF CALUMNY. The man who lives in a corrupt world, ringing out a good conscience in every tone of his voice, and radiating it in every action, has ever awakened the most antagonism amongst his contemporaries, and will ever do so.
III. The possession of a good conscience WILL UTTERLY CONFOUND YOUR ENEMIES.
1. Slanderers of the good are often confounded now in courts of law.
2. Slanderers of the good will be overwhelmingly confounded one day in the moral court of the universe.
IV. The possession of a good conscience is VITALLY CONNECTED WITH A CHRISTLY LIFE.
(Homilist.)I. CONSCIENCE IS AN ESSENTIAL ATTRIBUTE OF PERSONAL BEING. It is that in which we are consciously bound in allegiance to the Great Supreme in truth, righteousness, and goodness. Its function is —
1. Prospectively, to incite to good and to restrain from evil; and —
2. Retrospectively, to fill with joy when the evil has been overcome and the good achieved, and to reprove and fill with shame and remorse when the good has been eschewed and the evil e done.
II. A GOOD CONSCIENCE IS A MOST DESIRABLE POSSESSION.
1. It must he a conscience binding its possessor to the right and good. It is not always thus with conscience. It binds, indeed, to what the man judges to be right. But his judgment may be wrong (John 16:2; Acts 26:9). It needs to be enlightened to see light in God's light (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
2. It must be a faithful conscience. Some consciences are insensitive, cauterized (Ephesians 4:17-19; Ephesians 5:7-14; 1 Timothy 4:1, 2). A good conscience is faithful, and performs its proper function.
3. A good conscience is a peaceful conscience. If burdened with guilt and fear it is essentially "an evil conscience." For such a conscience there is only one source of peace (Hebrews 9:13, 14; 1 John 1:7; Romans 5:1).
III. THE VIRTUE OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE. It is a precious possession.
2. For the Church and the world. A church made up of such members, of meal firmly holding "faith and a good conscience," must be a mighty power amongst men; "putting to silence" the ignorant and foolish (1 Peter 2:15); and lending the observant "to glorify God in the day of visitation."Conclusion:
1. By penitent faith in Jesus secure a good conscience.
2. By obedient faith in Jesus keep a good conscience.
I. MISTAKEN VIEWS ON THIS SUBJECT ARE, IT IS TO BE LAMENTED, VERY COMMON.
1. Natural amiableness of disposition is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. How many a friend, whose heart is desperately wicked in the sight of God, still cherishes the strongest earthly friendship! How many an individual, whose heart never entertained any just sense of the enormity of sin as perpetrated against a holy God, has yet sighed and cried over the miseries of mankind, and has done what he could to alleviate human wretchedness! But these emotions are no proof whatever of the conscience being right. Guilty, indeed, must that conscience be which can resist so much natural tenderness.
2. Partial contrition on account of sin is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. Who experiences at times greater anguish than the drunkard? but who returns so readily or so speedily as he to his wonted practices?
3. Limited abstinence from evil is sometimes mistaken for a good conscience. Many are to be found who cautiously shun some sins, while they confidently rush upon others. All such partial turning from sin, or abstinence from evil, must prove that the conscience is not right before God.
II. WHAT, IT MAY NOW BE ASKED, IS, IN THE SCRIPTURAL SENSE OF THE TERM, A GOOD CONSCIENCE?
1. It is a conscience renewed by Divine grace.
2. It is a conscience regulated by the holy Scriptures. Even after holy principles are implanted within us, the conscience is liable to err unless a standard is provided by which its decisions may be governed. That standard the Word of God supplies. To it we must appeal in every situation in which we are placed. From it we must derive all that instruction in righteousness which we need.
"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain."But observe this, that not only does a man's own conscience pass sentence on his conduct; but the consciences of others, if they chance to be acquainted with it, do so too, and to this may be due a great intensification either of the pleasure or the pain which conscience causes. For instance, a man may have committed a crime and suffered for it in his conscience, but gradually time assuages his pain, and he is forgetting it. Well, suddenly it is found out, and the conscience of the public is brought to bear on him. He is put out of respectable society, and feels now for the first time the full enormity of what he has done. The conscience is an intuition of God. We have seen that as soon as the choice is made and the deed done, conscience inflicted immediate reward or punishment. But it has another function. It hints unmistakably at reward and punishment yet to come, and from another source. You remember how Hamlet expresses this when contemplating the crime of suicide:
"The dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourne
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all."In the Egyptian book of the dead, which has just been published in Europe, but is many centuries older than the Christian era, two hundred and forty figures are represented as meeting the soul when it enters the other world. These are virtues, and to each of them the soul has to answer how far it has practised these virtues in this life; and besides this strict inquiry, up in the corner of the picture God is represented weighing the heart. Analyse your own consciousness when conscience is acting, and see if it does not inform you that God is looking on. For instance, when you have done something wrong, and are feeling ashamed and horrified, are you not aware that God is near you, and that it is from His hand that retribution is to come? Will you permit me to say a word about the cultivation of the conscience? Conscience is the foundation of character. Does a man listen to the voice within him? Can he look himself straight in the eyes? That is the most important question you can ask about any man. There are some men and women that would almost as soon meet a tiger in the jungle as meet themselves in solitude. But if a man is accustomed day by day to bring his conduct under the survey of his own conscience, and if he is moved with joy and sorrow according to the sentences which conscience pronounces, that man is safe. He will not need to mind much what the opinion of other people is about him. Yet conscientiousness is not everything. It may be only a petty and self-satisfied pharisaism. There are few things that astonish me so much as to find how many people there are whose final judgment on themselves is this, that they have never done anyone any harm, and they have not much to reproach themselves with. That betrays an unenlightened conscience. The conscience requires to be made observant and sensitive by acquaintance with the law of God, as revealed in His Word, and especially as expounded by Christ Himself, when He taught that even when the outward conduct is correct the law may be broken, in the secret thoughts and wishes.
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
1. By making him feel directly the presence of God, the conscience of the Christian becomes an organ of the Holy Spirit. "Greater is He that is with us, than he that is in the world," is his constant thought. He feels thus: I have the moral power of the universe on my side. Truth must prevail, with God to back it, in the end.
2. A good conscience sets a man free from all unworthy motives. Whether those around him persecute or approve, to him matters little. He does not derive his principles of belief and conduct from any censure or approval of theirs. He feels that he need conceal nothing. He can afford, in every sense, to "walk in the light." How much anxiety and inward disquietude is saved by this; how much perilous manoeuvring is made needless!
3. As a consequence of this, a directness of aim and simplicity of character distinguishes the man. He will not flatter, he will not violently condemn. How different this from seeking human applause as an object, and then bribing for it in its own base coin, by adulation, by trimming to prejudices, by adopting false views and echoing mere popular cries.
(H. Hayman, D. D.)Hebrews 9:14), sprinkled with the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:22), borne witness to by the Holy Ghost (Romans 9:1), whilst a joy, which is full of glory, wells up within it (2 Corinthians 1:12), and as a calm, unruffled lake of peace it reflects the cloudless heaven of God's good pleasure above. Such a conscience is a good companion for our days, and a good bed fellow for our nights. Every effort should be made to preserve its integrity. And when life is moulded by such an inward influence, it will live down all misrepresentation and slander, it will outshine all the mists of envy and malice which have obscured its earliest beams, it will falsify false reports. Detractors shall be ashamed at the triumphant answer made to their accusations by the unblemished beauty of a holy Christian life; whilst those that love God shall take heart.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
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