1 Peter 3:10-18
The apostle leads us to expect suffering. There will be more or less of it; for though called to “inherit a blessing,” it is through suffering here. This passage shews out the result of God’s government, but, besides that, it shews that we are brought to God. This is the great central truth. Christ “once suffered for sins … that he might bring us to God.” There is little doctrine laid down in the epistles of Peter, but strong and vivid bringing out of fundamental truths. At the end of 2 Peter we have God’s government of all this present scene; and things that the world is trusting in are all to be consumed; for indeed “the world and all that is therein will be burned up.” There is not a single shelter here to be trusted to: all is going to be rolled up as a garment. Peter does not here dwell upon what was done for believers by Christ at His first coming, but on God’s government closing in the terrible judgment. Are we brought to God?
Verse 10. The moral government of God is not brought to an issue, and cannot be while grace is going on, but the principles of it exist. For example, a quiet, peaceful, upright man would be better off than a turbulent man, etc. “What a man sows that will he reap” even now. It is not that everything gets its just recompense now—quite the contrary; but there are certain consequences a man will suffer for his deeds. There cannot be in this world now the full final expression of God’s government, because sin has come in; and if He were to act in judgment, He would cut it all off; but as a general thing the principle is true— “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous … but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil”; and behind and within it all there is something more. His own power and grace are at work in the gathering out of souls to form His church. In the millennium evil will not be allowed, the sinner will be cut off. There is a secret exercise of this principle now. “If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.” There is the working of sin and evil; but, though the terror of the wicked is here, “be not afraid.” The only thing is to have the single eye and serve with a good conscience; but if you do, you will find plenty to oppose you. “Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled,” “sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread; and he shall be for a sanctuary.” In spite of the blessedness of a peaceful walk, there may be the whole power of Satan brought out against you; but you have the whole power of God: therefore “be not afraid.”
There are two characters of suffering noticed .by the Lord in the sermon on the Mount, as here by Peter—suffering for righteousness’ sake, and suffering for Christ’s sake. The effect of being a Christian is to have a conscience exercised to know what is right for him as such: he walks in God’s presence, and therefore in the light; he has his will thwarted. Thus many things in the world, he finds, will not do for him as walking in the path of righteousness; the world will not have this scrupulousness; and therefore trial comes from them for the believer. His hopes and joys being elsewhere, his treasure and his heart are elsewhere. “Blessed are they that suffer for righteousness’ sake.” Then the Christian must expect to suffer for Christ. And “blessed are ye when men shall revile you,” etc., for my sake. When God becomes the object and motive, he takes suffering as a natural portion. Then it comes to be a question of testimony for God to those-who are not with God; that is a different thing from suffering for conscience’ sake, or righteousness’ sake.
In chapter 4:13, 14, it is Christ’s sufferings, and Christ’s glory. The same Spirit that makes me partaker of the suffering, makes me also partaker of the glory. I should be a witness of His power through the Holy Ghost, a witness for Christ, and not only keeping a good conscience. As a witness for Christ, in being a vessel of His testimony, you share the glory He is in.
Peter does not speak of the church’s place. As in the church, we are all partakers alike of glory according to the gift of grace, we are all predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. But here it is as individuals, and the glory is put before them as the reward of suffering. An energy of love ever goes out if the Spirit of Christ is really there. I cannot see a person perishing, and not feel it. The spirit of love cannot look upon perishing sinners, and not care for them. This becomes an occasion of suffering.
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” God must have His right place in our hearts in both these things; giving God in my heart His true character is sanctifying Him. In whose heart has God this perfect place of power and love? I do not mean in activity, that is according to gift, but in the heart. Where is the heart that keeps itself entirely for God, that is filled with God’s love and holiness? All that is in the world, pleasure, vanity, etc., robs God of His glory in us. God is not then sanctified by us, and this is the secret of our weakness. Could you say to-day—yesterday—that God has had His right place in your hearts? What is the consequence? It ought to be a bad conscience. Ought I to forget my forgetfulness? I shall find it out in weakness, if I do not find it in confession. Power for testifying for God is not there, if I have been talking idleness or vanity. If I turn to anything for God, as if my whole heart were in it, I am in danger; I do not sanctify the Lord in my heart. There may not be insincerity or hypocrisy in it, but the lack of the sanctifying the Lord; and when He has not the place in us’ that makes us happy and that gives us power (for the joy of the Lord is strength), there is not the blessing flowing out to others. We want the practical power of the God that loves us, working in our hearts. What a thing this supposes! If I do not know God, I cannot sanctify Him. It is as being brought to Him I can sanctify Him. The thought of getting to God when I get to heaven, supposes that I have not come to Him now. All we have been speaking of flows out of giving God the place He really has. We are to sanctify the Lord because He is there, trusting in that love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. Why is the conduct of one man different from another man’s? One is without God, and the other has Him as a present spring of delight and strength, love, comfort—this is a total, immense, and infinite change. What a thing to be without God as regards the soul! Immortal beings without God! having faculty, intelligence, sagacity, but without God! Human affection is lovely in the creature, but it is not God. The objeas of affection may come in between the creature and God, even what He has created in us; for blessing may be an occasion of idolatry.
It is not responsibility here. My leaning on a friend is not responsibility, my being happy with a friend is not responsibility. If I drink when I am thirsty, it is not responsibility; but God is there, when I drink of the living water which Christ gives me. He makes these affections to flow out to Himself, necessarily and divinely. He is working upon me, communicating to me in the sovereignty of His grace: therefore it is not responsibility. If God then can communicate Himself in our hearts, what a well of water is springing up! I have got trouble, but what is that? I have got that, yea, Him, to give me joy in the trouble, which the trouble cannot touch. I have a spring within and a sanctuary around me. If there is such blessedness in God being sanctified and enjoyed by us, perhaps some of you say, I know nothing about it. I do not speak of enjoyment now; but where a man is a believer, it is not a question of whether he has the relationship of grace, but whether he has failed in it. If I am unfaithful in this love, and unhappy in the consciousness of having done so, it is because I really have it. The thing he has to enjoy is what is in God Himself, and that is His own love. If we believe what God communicates to the soul, by dwelling in us, “we know and believe the love that God hath to us.” A person may say well—I do not know, I cannot speak of the present, but I hope to get to God. The questioning how a man is to get it is very solemn and a sure sign that He is not there.
“That you may be able to give an answer to every man,” etc. It is not you suffering for sins; but if the will of God be so, it is better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing; but do not suppose you are suffering for your sins: Christ has done that for you. If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, it is all well, but for sins—Christ has done it for you, having left you nothing to suffer for them.
How mighty this inward purpose of God! This one act brings a man to God. Christ suffered all His life long, but from whom? Man. But there at the end, the centre of all this, by the cross, we are brought to God Himself. God is in a man’s heart or He is not. But the suffering for sins Christ bore was from God Himself. Here we get the purpose of God, not His government’; and notwithstanding such a death, all the wrath of God, all the power of Satan, all the consequences of sin brought to bear upon Christ on the cross (this was suffering for sin), He did it in respect of what man was, and in respect of what God was, and it was to bring them together. All that was in God was fully brought out. His love brought out suffering, wrath, etc. All that my heart must be rightly exercised about met there. I could not go to God without God knowing what my heart is; and (all the difference of good and evil being to Him) can He know the evil and be indifferent to it? Can He say it is no matter? Impossible! It would be unholiness in Him. Could He see all the levity, ill-humour, wilfulness, indifference in the presence of His cross and be indifferent? What is He to do with it? What is He to do with you? He must put sin away, and He must deal with it in the perfectness of His love and holiness. We have turned God into a Judge by our sins, and I find myself in the presence of the God whom I dreaded. He has put away the sin from my conscience, put His love in my heart, given me to delight in holiness. He who was just suffered for the unjust; and now, being brought to God, there is nothing in Him, with whom I have to do, but what I have been made acquainted with (not His glory yet, of course). I am the sinner He has been engaged about. He has made Himself known to me by what He has done. I know God. What a home I have! Its spring is the love in God’s heart, and it has brought me back to the source of that love. I am brought home to the enjoyment of His love, and am partaker of His nature.
After this I need not say that there are all the exercises of heart in consequence, conflict with evil, etc.; but I can testify to sinners “God so loved the world.” How do you know this? it may be said. I have tasted it. Thus we are fellow-workers with God. We have the immense privilege, according to the sphere given us, of testifying of the love that has saved us. But if I have not this love in my heart, how can I testify of it to others? If I say to one who is weary, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Christ, you will turn to me and say, Have you got rest? A person may warn another, and be exercised himself; but he cannot testify to the truth of deliverance. Could you go and say, He has received me? I can say He has received me, and none viler. Now if you have not got God, you have your sins, your will, your responsibility—but not God. Why did Christ suffer for sins? It was because you were away from God. Now have you the consciousness of having been away from God, and are you, like the prodigal, brought back? If not, it is very solemn. You have loved vanity, you have loved your pleasures, you have loved yourself, and have not God; not wilfully opposing, perhaps, but in the ignorance of unbelief, you are without God—the God of love.
If you have not yet come to God by the cross, may He give you to see it, that you may walk in the spirit of blessing, and sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, living a life of communion with God, and bringing forth the fruit of communion in ways according to it, till you come to the full enjoyment of eternal blessing in the Father’s house on high!