1 Peter 3:14-17
But and if you suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;