“Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ to elect sojourners scattered through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1).
When James wrote his Epistle, as bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, it was to the twelve tribes that were in the “dispersion.” It is a mistake to call this a “catholic” address, but it has an expressly large character for Israel; for it appeals to their utmost extent. So on a notable occasion the apostle Paul says before the king Herod Agrippa, “Now I stand to be judged for the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers, unto which our twelve tribes earnestly serving God night and day hope to arrive” (Acts 26:7). That hope hangs on resurrection, as the prophets indicated clearly, and the law too, rightly understood. Wherefore he immediately (ver. 8) speaks of God raising dead persons, as proved in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. God will thus be the doer and giver of all the blessing He promised; and Israel will have only to incline their ear and come to Him, from Whom they had so long departed, and by Whom they were at length for their apostasy dispersed among the nations. But by-and-by they are to hear, and their soul shall live; and He will make an everlasting covenant with them, the sure (the faithful or inviolable) mercies of David, in Him Who is the true Beloved, a witness given to the peoples, a leader and commander to the peoples far beyond the son of Jesse.
“The dispersion” is a phrase evidently familiar to the Jews, which first occurs in John 7:35, and clearly means the Jews dispersed among the Greeks or Gentiles. For the genitive here as often elsewhere expresses a dependence, not immediate but remote and external, as for instance
μετ. Βαβ. removal to Babylon (Matt. 1:11).
But the apostle Peter in this scripture prefixes two words before “dispersion” which necessarily limit the scope of that term. The first, “elect,” points out restriction to individuals chosen of God. They were elect from among the Jews, as believing that Jesus was the Christ and Son of God; whereas their brethren after the flesh for the most part rejected Him. Those who believed were Christians.
Israel had enjoyed the privilege of being the nation chosen by Jehovah as no other people was; and they will in sovereign mercy be reinstated at the end of the age under the Messiah and the new covenant, to be blessed with richer favours and for ever in that fast approaching day. It will be no longer a mixed condition as in the palmiest season of the past. “Thy people also (says Isa. 60:21, 22) shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of my planting, the work of. my hands, that I may be glorified. The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation: I Jehovah shall hasten it in its time.” So Daniel was told later, “At that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan. 12:1).
But that time is not come. Out of the Jewish people, when the apostle wrote, God is choosing to a heavenly calling by the faith of Him Whom the nation rejected and God has glorified on high. They are His present election while the heavens receive the Lord Jesus. To these only does Peter here write; he does not, like James, address a larger circle, some even unconverted, throughout the twelve tribes. He writes only to Christian confessors of the Lord Jesus who had been Jews.
This last is made plain and certain by the second term, “sojourners,” when combined with the word “dispersion” which it qualifies. They were not the primitive possessors of these countries, nor simply “elect” from among its settled inhabitants. They were not only Jews scattered in those parts, but elect “pilgrims” or “sojourners.” This was a title of grace, as “dispersion” was of judgment. Their election in this case was bound up with the journey to the better country, that is, a heavenly. Originally Jews, they were now Christians. This entirely accords with the writer of the Epistle. Peter was an “apostle of Jesus Christ” as he here introduces himself; and as the gospel of the uncircumcision had been confided to Paul, so was that of the circumcision to Peter (Gal. 2:7). Hence it is to such that these two Epistles were addressed. Compare 2 Peter 3:1 with the verse before us. As this is certain, it is unbelieving to allow that any other statements can countervail. Even a man would not write so incoherently: why should men of faith think so unworthily of scripture? Can such persons hold divine inspiration?
It is the more remarkable, because, as we know, the churches throughout Asia Minor had been founded by the apostle Paul and consisted largely of those who had been Gentiles. The delicate consideration of Peter is the more striking, because he directs his appeals throughout a part of that land to those Christian Jews who fell under his administration. Needless to say, his instruction in no way clashed with that which Paul had preached, taught, and written to them, whether Jews or Gentiles. None knew better than Peter how much the Jewish confessors of the Lord Jesus needed to be established in grace; none felt more than he how disposed they were on the one hand to boast in law and ordinances, and on the other to conform to the shameful ways of the Pagans who surrounded them. in his very address or the superscription he strikes the key-note. From the start he thus reminds them, that they were “elect” after a new sort, not national now but personal, and flowing out of the grace of God as Father for known association with Christ not on earth but in heaven. They were therefore but “pilgrims” meanwhile, where He was despised and rejected as a sufferer beyond all others in life (as He was alone and infinitely in His atoning death), that they too might by faith rejoice in sharing His sufferings as far as this could be.
For Peter was jealous over their souls with a godly jealousy, lest election might be severed from a deep sense of divine grace, and the spring be forgotten in claiming the issue. He therefore loses no time in saying plainly that not more surely are they “elect” than “sojourners.” Had he heard the Son of God, in pouring out His heart to the Father, declare that His own (and were they not His own?) were not of the world, as He was not? Had he forgotten the Lord’s repeating, yet more emphatically, “Of the world they are not, even as I am not” (John 17:15, 17)? Here it is a figurative expression, but the same truth. They were elect pilgrims. The world of man’s home was not theirs, nor yet was Canaan, but heaven, yea the Father’s house above. It was not Jewish feeling for the land of promise, but Christian hope in waiting for Christ and to be with Him where He is, and like Him glorified.
Therefore were they but sojourners here looking for glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, and called to gird up the loins of their mind, being sober, and setting their hope perfectly upon the grace to be brought them at that revelation. Practical duties are based on the new relationships of grace; and truth is the communicated knowledge of both. For it is a characteristic of Peter’s method and style to blend all together informally and with fervour, so as to act on the renewed mind, exercising the conscience and the heart. If he has not the immense sweep of Paul in ranging through the counsels of God, if not his the penetrating into the roots of complicated questions and clearing the principles at stake, if a far-reaching and unfailing and subtle dialectic belongs to Paul beyond all others, to no one more admirably than to Peter was it given to strengthen his brethren pithily, earnestly, and affectionately, by the exhibition of Christ and His work, and by the constant application of God’s righteous government, whatever be His grace too.
The names given of the lands, where were the Christian Jews addressed, call for little notice. It has been shown by others that it well suits one writing from the eastern Babylon, but not the little place so named in Egypt any more than the symbolic metropolis of the west. The lack of persons saluted serves to prove that Peter was little if at all known personally there, whatever might be the just weight of inspired letters from him. These various provinces had been the familiar scene of Paul’s labours.
They were “elect,” then, “according to foreknowledge of God [the] Father, in (or, by) [the] Spirit’s sanctification, unto obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ: grace to you and peace be multiplied” (ver. 2).
Israel was the elect people beyond any nation on the earth; but they were elect after quite a different pattern. This clearly appears in Ex. 6:2-4. “And God spoke to Moses, and said to him, I am Jehovah; and I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah I was not made known to them. And I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their sojournings, wherein they sojourned.” The designations as such, were familiar enough previously; but the name was not given by divine authority as a title of relationship to count on, when God first revealed Himself as El-Shaddai to the fathers, next as Jehovah to the sons, of Israel. The true pilgrim fathers were thereby assured of His unfailing protection, weak as they might be, in the midst of the corrupt heathen they were destined to supplant; and the sons were through Moses to know Him as their unchanging Governor who made them a people of possession to Himself through all ages, He that was and is and is to come.
The Christian Jews, believing in Jesus not only Lord and Christ but Son of the living God, as our apostle first confessed Him, were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. So had our Saviour unbosomed Himself in John 17. “I manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them to me; and they have kept thy word.... Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given to me, that they may be one, even as we are . . . . O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee; and these knew that thou didst send me. And I made known to them thy name, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.” So on the Resurrection-day His message through Mary of Magdala was, “Go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God” (John 20:17). How immense the advance in the glory and nearness of the relationship revealed!
According to this form and reality of foreknowledge, then, is the Christian chosen. It was and is Christ’s in the fulness of personal divine dignity; it became ours by grace through redemption. The name of “our Father that is in heaven” shone early through the Lord’s discourses on the mount, as in Matt. 5-7, and in Luke 6 and elsewhere. But it was definitely and fully made our own by the Lord when risen; and thus the Holy Spirit leads our hearts now in joy and in sorrow. It is so that we are entitled distinctively to know Him, as Christ did perfectly. And it was in God’s wisdom that the apostle of the circumcision should make it plain to the believing remnant of the Jews, as the apostle Paul did fully to Gentile believers.
Hence the “sanctification” or “holiness” here spoken of took quite another and far deeper shape. The elect people Israel had been set apart to Jehovah in an outward way. Individually and peremptorily they were circumcised in the flesh on the eighth day Any other peculiar marks were, as the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “carnal ordinances imposed until a season of reformation.” On the contrary the Christian, whether Jew or Greek, enjoys the Spirit’s holiness; he is even born of the Spirit (John 3:6, 8), and thus is the sanctification inward to the utmost degree. Accordingly such a one is “a saint” from God’s first vital action spiritually in his soul. So Ananias instructed of the Lord goes to Saul, just converted, and at once accosts him as “Brother Saul,” before he was even baptised as he was immediately after; so it is in substance for every one that is begotten by the word of truth. The Spirit’s activity is immediate and abiding, the ground of the practical holiness that ensues, which is but partial and relative; whereas what the apostle here introduces is a principle absolute, unfailing, and personal. In practice alas! we must confess, with the Epistle of James, that “we all often offend.” Only unspiritual men flatter themselves otherwise. We too frequently need the active care of the blessed Advocate Whom we have with the Father (1 John 2:1).
Practical sanctification is a capital and constant duty for every Christian; and it is urged, as throughout the Bible, expressly in vers. 15, 16 of this chapter. But in ver. 2 it is solely sanctification in principle, that is, in the life given by grace rather than in the walk which is bound to manifest it, as all the godly must readily own. “As he who called you is holy, be ye also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy.” But so to interpret the Spirit’s holiness (or, sanctification) here would necessarily dislocate the sentence, and could insinuate nothing but error destructive of truth, even the fundamental truth of the gospel. For what we are taught is that those Christian Jews were chosen, in virtue of the Spirit’s sanctification, for obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus: the original spring, the necessary power and process, and the distinct result as a fact. If taken to mean holiness in practice, this would be before coming under the virtue of Christ’s blood. In other words the error must follow, that practical holiness is the way to be justified by His blood; which might suit a besotted Romanist, but must be rejected by the least enlightened among Protestants. It denies the gospel of God’s grace, and is at issue with all scripture that treats of the matter.
But if we understand the words to mean that the Spirit works in souls when born anew, to set them apart to God in this vital and indelible way, all is clear as well as consistent. For His setting apart is unto obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ. We are thus sanctified, not externally but in the new life imparted, to obey as Christ obeyed and to be sprinkled with His precious blood. So the same Saul of Tarsus immediately, when converted, says, “What shall I do, Lord?” His heart’s primary purpose is to obey; as our Lord Himself could say in His unique perfection, “Lo, I am come to do thy will, O God.” The Christian is bent on the same character of obedience. It is not like a Jew, to obey and thus gain life, as under law; it is obeying out of life already possessed, because he believes on Jesus.
Even the order, which to some is a difficulty, strictly adheres to the truth. For converted souls in general, perhaps always, have invariably as the instinct of divine life this purpose to obey as Christ obeyed, not legally, owning God’s wondrous grace, before they do or can apprehend at all fully the efficacy of Christ’s sacrificial work in blotting out all their sins. The interval may be ever so short where the gospel is distinctly proclaimed; but as this is far from usual, one can see that many a soul truly converted may struggle on for weeks or months or even years, without the comforting assurance that Christ’s blood has made them whiter than snow in the eye of God. Saul of Tarsus again supplies an obvious illustration. Was there ever a more notable conversion? Yet was he three days without sight, and did neither eat nor drink: the plain sign of a deep work of self-judgment, in no way of distrust or doubt, before he entered into the settled peace of deliverance by faith of the gospel, which before those days he had only regarded with stern unbelief.
Unquestionably the allusion is to Ex. 24 where Holocaust and Peace-offerings were presented to Jehovah; and Moses took half the blood in basins, and sprinkled half on the altar. Then he read the book of the covenant and the people said, All that Jehovah hath said will we do and obey; and Moses sprinkled the blood on the people, and said, Behold, the blood of the covenant that Jehovah hath made with you concerning all these words. The blood here was the special sanction of death, signified by the blood-sprinkling, in case of disobedience. With this ministry of legal condemnation for the sinner the apostle contrasts the Christian, sanctified by the Spirit from his starting-point, to obey as Christ did in filial love, with the immensely blessed addition of His blood-sprinkling, which cleanses from every sin, instead of menacing inevitable death if we fail. If this was the law wherein Jews boasted, that is the gospel of which Peter was ashamed no more than Paul. The resulting obedience, of which our Lord is alike example and power, is (in other words but the truest sense) our practical holiness; and it confirms in the strongest way the refutation, already ample, of the notion that the Spirit’s holiness in this scripture imports the same thing. For it would really confuse the sentence and destroy the truth generally.
The fact is that theology in all the schools, Popish or Protestant, Calvinistic or Arminian, has somehow lost, and ignores, this most momentous truth of the Spirit’s primary setting apart the renewed soul to God, even before and in order to justification and that obedience which is its inseparable effect. The only person my reading has lit on with any little inkling of its distinctness from the practical holiness which, as all the Reformed at least agree, follows justification, is the excellent and able Abp. Leighton. All others to the best of my knowledge slur over what they did not understand; and this is to say the least.
But I regret to add that none has more impudently tampered with this scripture, to suit his ignorance of it and his desire to uphold mere dogmatic views, than the famous translator and commentator, Beza, or Theodore de Bezel Dean Alford was bold enough sometimes in squeezing the text and its translation through too much confidence in German critics, and his own real desire to be candid, without sufficient knowledge of the truth or subjection to the divine authority of the written word. But even his occasional temerity shines in comparison with Calvin’s successor in the college of Geneva. For I ask any competent scholar whether the ill-regulated wit of man could devise a worse or more shameless perversion of our text than his rendering, “ad sanctificationem Spiritus, per obedientiam,” etc.
ἐν = ad!
εἰς = per! Were it in Homer or Herodotus, one might smile at lapses so absurd on the part of a learned, able, and zealous Christian. But such a dealing with God’s word is atrocious. Yet this flagrant error stands uncorrected in all the five folio editions of his Greek and Latin N.T. from 1559 to 1598.
Had Beza and other theologians been subject to scripture, they would have learnt by grace that what the apostle of the circumcision here teaches is implied by the apostle of the uncircumcision in 1 Cor. 6:11, “But ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Do men with the fear of God assume to correct the inspiring Spirit? Do they allow themselves the daring unbelief that they can alter the apostle’s word, so as to avoid error and sustain their systems of divinity? It is clear that this greatest even of inspired teachers lets the Corinthians and all believers know, that there is a real and most vital sanctification to God which accompanies the first quickening of the soul, when we are born of water and Spirit, and cleansed from our natural impurity by His life-giving power, before we enjoy the blessed sense of God’s justifying us through faith in Jesus and His work. The order of Paul therefore is as necessary and as exact as that of Peter, both conveying the same truth, which has drops out of all the systematic divinity of all ages, as far as I know. The reader can also compare 2 Thess. 2:13. Holiness in practice remains intact, distinct, and imperative, to which justification gives its powerful impulse and cheer.
The apostle here adds, “Grace unto you and peace be multiplied.” The nearest analogy in O.T. scripture, singular to say, is in Dan. 4:1; though the imperial penitent only says, “Peace be multiplied.” So Peter does yet more fully in the address of his Second Epistle to the same dispersed remnant of Christian Jews. It is characteristic of his fervour. James was content to write, “Greeting.” Paul usually says, “Grace to you and peace” though he almost always adds “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” with “mercy” to an individual. Grace is the source, peace the outflow.
In grand terms from a glowing heart our apostle opens his letter after an address, as we have seen, of admirable suitability. It recalls the initiatory of a still greater apostle and the loftier theme of the Epistle to the Ephesian saints. But it is the deeply defined distinction between the two, notwithstanding this obvious resemblance, which gives the true key to both Epistles. He who fails to apprehend the different scope and the divine propriety of each betrays his own spiritual incapacity, and, if he imposes his ignorance on others, is nothing but so far a blind leader of the blind.
“Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ”: so begins the letter to the saints that were in Ephesus. He is the God of the Man, Christ Jesus; He is the Father of Him, His Only-begotten, eternal, and beloved Son. He blessed us accordingly in His sovereign grace as “God,” in His most intimate relationship as “Father.” Every spiritual blessing is conferred; not one fails. It is not natural blessing as on earth to Israel till by transgression they forfeited it. Ours is in the heavenlies where Christ is now glorified at God’s right hand; and all is secured in His redemptive power by virtue of Whom all the universe subsists together (Col. 1:17). It is in Christ so as to be unchanging blessedness, in contrast with those who stood on the conditions of the law fatal to the sinful and fruitless.
No such wealth of privilege, no such heavenly elevation, appears in our text; yet does it announce what is equally momentous for the saint and for God’s glory. Every other spiritual blessing had been in vain, if God’s mercy did not beget us again, as our Epistle declares. There is no blessing more absolutely necessary for a sinner lost and ruined, with the old life depraved by inborn evil, habitual self-will, and incurable alienation from God. Hence the precious assurance of our apostle in words at first strikingly akin to those of the apostle Paul. “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that according to his abundant mercy begot us again unto a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection out of [the] dead” (ver. 3): an entirely new and divine life.
It is not as Jehovah for Israel, nor as Almighty God for the fathers. For us Christians God wrought more profoundly for His glory and for those who believe. It was in Christ’s redemption in view both of the present and future on earth, and for heaven through all eternity. For He went down under God’s judgment of sin, broke the power of sin and death, procured purification for sinners by His blood, and was raised again for the justification of believers. Every saint from the beginning had life in the Son of God: impossible to live to God, as all did, without life in Him. But now the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ wrought in a more triumphant way in Him Who as sin-bearer entered the dark portals of the grave which closed on all others, and so glorified God that He could not but raise Him from among the dead in the virtue of a life which death could no wise touch, so complete that henceforth we belong not to death, but rather death to us. Thus did God as here revealed beget us again through Christ’s resurrection out of the dead. None could speak or know it till that mighty witness of redemption. It was not, nor could be true, till Christ was thus raised.
Truly it was “according to God’s abundant mercy.” If death has no more dominion over the dead and risen Saviour, the believer receives a commensurate portion even now: so much so that were He to come from heaven for us, we should be changed in a moment into the likeness of the body of His glory. Mortality would be swallowed up of life without one dying. We should not be unclothed but clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.
It is therefore “unto a living hope” that God begot us again. “Lively,” though due to Tyndale and followed by Cranmer, Geneva, and even the Rhemish, is inadequate and misleading. Wiclif alone was right. We are viewed as pilgrims still on earth in our mortal bodies. We have left the Egypt world, and have crossed the Red Sea, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, instead of meaning death to us, is our cleansing from our sins; as His life is the spring of that filial obedience, which in Him is seen in absolute perfection. We are here not regarded in the height of the heavenlies, risen with Christ and seated in Him there. But Christ is raised for our deliverance, and we are ushered into the world as set free from the old house of bondage, and we traverse it as the wilderness, led of God on the way to the heavenly Canaan as Israel of old to the earthly.
It is accordingly under this aspect that the Epistle contemplates the Christian. He has to do with a God of grace, not of law for a Jew, and an object of His government here below, till the living hope is realised of being with Christ and in heaven. But that divine government for every day meanwhile is not of the chosen people as of old in earthly power and with deliverances to strike the eye and awe of the nations. A government of souls comes before us while evil is still prevalent in the world; but God makes all things, trials and sufferings of faith in particular, work together for good to those that love Him. As Christ’s resurrection was manifestly the victory of the Saviour for His own over the enemy’s power, behold Him on high to fill them with holy confidence that He will appear to their full deliverance and glory in due time according to promise.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians we find the present association of the Christian and the church with heaven in Christ. Here it is a living hope of reaching heaven through Christ in a glorified state by-and-by. Both aspects of the truth are of the deepest interest and importance: we are on earth redeemed, as pilgrims and strangers, going across a desert and waiting for Christ; we are also even now quickened together with Christ, raised together with Him, and seated in Him in the heaven” lies. As the letter to the Ephesians treats all its topics on this footing from first to last, so does the first Epistle of Peter to the Christian Jews throughout open out to them divine life as theirs, aided by the sustaining power and gracious direction of God, to guide them through this dread and howling wilderness of the world.
Nor are there any proofs of the inspired mind of God finer or firmer than the details of divine truth thus discoverable to the soul dependent on God and honouring His word. Some of the indications, each characteristic of its own book, may appear as we dwell for a season on this or that; but what are they among the many more which remain to reward the diligent searcher into these oracles, nowhere deceiving, never dumb?
The scope of our Epistle excludes, as we have seen, the great truth unfolded in that to the Ephesian saints, that we are already blessed in the heavenlies
(ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις) in Christ. This is connected indissolubly with the mystery of God’s will, which gave Christ, set there above the highest creatures, as Head over all things to the church, the which and which alone is His body. Accordingly we await an administration of the fulness of the seasons or set times, when God will head or sum up all the universe in the Anointed Man, the things in the heavens and those on the earth, in Him in Whom also we were given heritage.1
We have no such elevated relationship revealed here, nor is the boundless inheritance of all creation in this Epistle predicated of us or even of Christ. The inheritance here is simply “in the heavens” to contrast it the more distinctly with that which was Israel’s portion in the land of Canaan. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ begot us again unto a living hope through resurrection of Jesus Christ from out of dead persons. It was a hope therefore superior to the inroads of death. If He died, it was that our sins should not bar us from bliss with Him, inasmuch as His own self bore them in His body on the tree; and He rose that we might enjoy His victory, as well as profit now and ever by His suffering once for sins.
But the apostle pursues the inspired aim yet more definitely into the future — “unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in [the] heavens for you2, that are being guarded by God’s power through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in a (or, the) last season” (vers. 4, 5).
Thus Christ risen and gone on high (instead of taking His seat on the holy hill of Zion, and the sceptre of righteousness over Israel and the nations) has changed the outlook for the believer meanwhile. He too looks by faith on Christ where He is, and awaits the part which the gospel pledges to him in heaven. It is an inheritance which no corruption can destroy, which no defilement can sully, which resists all the withering of time. In itself, in its purity, and in its freshness, it will abide unchanging. It stands in virtue of Him Who not only created all originally but Who has reconciled us, and will more widely still by His blood (Col. 1:20, Heb. 9:23).
The inheritance in view is in no way enjoyed now, but “reserved in the heavens for you.” Who can doubt these words were meant to raise the eyes of these believing Jews especially, and of the readers in general, above “glory dwelling in our land,” as in Ps. 85:9? Yet the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those that turn in that day from transgression in Jacob, when (as surely as Jehovah said the word) His Spirit and His words, according to His covenant, shall not depart from them from generation to generation, from henceforth and for ever. But beyond just doubt, neither the closing promise of Isa. 59 nor the glowing vision of Isa. 60 and of all that follows to the end of the book, speaks of an inheritance “reserved in the heavens” for those who now believe in the gospel. It is Israel and the glory predicted for the earth, though rising up in the last two chapters to “new heavens and a new earth.” The promise is there applied to Jerusalem; but it furnished the ground for Peter in his Second Epistle to look onward to its fulfilment in the largest sense, when the kingdom shall give place to the eternal state, and God shall be all in all. Before that, will be accomplished, inchoatively at least, Israel’s full part in that which shall never know change or eclipse.
The language here recalls Col. 1:5, where the apostle Paul speaks of “the hope that is laid up for you in the heavens.” The saints there, as here, are regarded as on earth, instead of being seen in their present heavenly association with Christ. It is hope anticipating the glory on high, not as already seated together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, as in Eph. 2:6. Only Peter was not given like Paul to tell the saints in the Epistle to the Colossians, that as they died with Christ and were raised with Him, and thus had done with ordinances for men as alive in the world, so they were to seek and mind the things above where He sits, not those on the earth. Indeed our apostle (as we see in 1 Peter 2:24) rises no higher than our death to sins in a practical way, which is true and important, not at all to the doctrine in Rom. 6 of our death with Christ to sin, which is the root, and not merely the manifest effect or offshoot. Every shade of difference proves how grievously those err who think that scripture speaks loosely. For such a thought really betrays the spiritual ignorance of such as presume to judge it; when in fact they, however great their erudition outside (it may be), have need to be taught the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God, and are become such as need milk rather than solid food.
The hope of such an inheritance reserved for them in the heavens was most cheering. But in thinking of themselves and the wilderness through which they pass, they needed and have another source of blessed comfort — you, says he, “that are being guarded by (or, in) God’s power.” What more suitable, what more precious and welcome, than such a divine assurance? The inheritance was kept or reserved for them in the heavens. This was just what was wanted, while they were on the earth waiting and learning self as well as God, and suffering for righteousness’ sake or, still more blessed, for Christ’s name. But, as proving their own weakness and men’s hostility and Satan’s active malice, they were constantly exposed to difficulties, trials, afflictions, and dangers. Hence their need to be meanwhile guarded all the way through. And so they are — garrisoned by God’s power. And if God be for us, who against? Is He not immeasurably more than all?
Still God has His means; and this the apostle proceeds next to tell us. It is “through faith.” Nor can any means for a saint on earth compare with faith. For it beyond all others honours God and the word of His grace, needing dependence on the good Shepherd by the Holy Spirit, Who is sent here and dwells in the Christian, to guide into all the truth, and thus glorify Him by receiving of His and announcing or reporting it to us. Thus is it “by God’s power,” but “through faith” which gives Him His due place, and keeps us in our place of confidence in Him according to His word. For we walk through faith, not through sight (2 Cor. 5:7). It was not so that Israel marched through the wilderness, but guided visibly by the cloud or the pillar of fire. The Christian now, whether a Jew or a Gentile, has to walk through faith, of which the Lord Himself was the blessed pattern and perfection.
But the end is also added: “unto [or, for] salvation.” In our Epistle, as often in the Pauline Epistles, salvation does not stop short of the final result. See Rom. 5:9, 10; 8 Rom.: 24; 1 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 1:14; Heb. 7:25; Heb. 9:28. Hence when our apostle speaks of what is now given and enjoyed, he discriminates it as “salvation of souls” (1 Peter 1:9). Otherwise he connects salvation with the full victory of Christ even for the body; which therefore must look on to the future day.
This is entirely confirmed by the context. Here for instance it is a salvation “ready to be revealed.” This is quite characteristic of our apostle. For the truth which runs through the First Epistle in one form, and the Second in another, is the righteous government of God as made known in Christ to the Christian. John is occupied with eternal life in the Son of God; the issue of which will be the Father’s house where He is, and we are to be, at His coming to fetch us there (John 14:2, 3). 1 John 3:2, 3, adds that if it or He is manifested, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is. The apostle Paul was given, more than any, to make known how the saints are to be changed and caught up to be with the Lord; so as to be brought with Him when that day begins (1 Thess. 3:13, 1 Thess. 4:13-17).
Thus Peter points to the revelation of salvation in the day of Christ’s appearing; because not till then will be the establishment of the kingdom in power and glory when the earth and the earthly people shall taste its blessed effects. Grace will be shown in the richest way by the Lord’s coming to receive us to Himself that we may thus be with Him in the Father’s house: all are caught up alike, as the apostle Paul shows, into the same home of love. But there is no manifestation of righteous government in this; in the revelation to the world there will be in the highest degree. For in His appearing and kingdom each will be seen as having received his own reward according to his own labour. And the Lord, the righteous Judge, will render in that day the crown of righteousness, not to the faithful servant only who was already being “poured out,” but also to all who love His appearing. Then too will Satan be excluded not only from the heavenlies but from the earth. Then will come the world-kingdom of the Lord and His Christ, and not only recompence to the righteous, but destructive retribution to those that destroy the earth (Rev. 11:15-19).
Peter also lays great stress on the fact that Christ has so completely wrought redemption to God’s glory that nothing calls for delay, save the long-suffering of God that is still bringing souls to repentance. Otherwise salvation is “ready” to be revealed “in a last season,” as Christ is “ready to judge living and dead” (1 Peter 4:5). Both belong to that day of manifestation, when evil shall be put down, and judgment, instead of miscarrying as so often now, shall return to righteousness. Never more shall the throne of wickedness claim fellowship with Jehovah. “For He cometh; for He cometh to judge the earth.” Those who mind earthly things cannot love His appearing, which will establish the new divine order of righteous government wherein Jehovah alone shall be exalted.
Thus the new life imparted, as abundant as the mercy that begot us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from out of the dead, has a result no less worthy of the God and Father of our Lord. It is for an inheritance incorruptible in itself, undefiled by evil, and unfading in its beauty. It is not on earth as Israel looks for their portion, but reserved in heaven for saints who in their weakness are being guarded in the midst of difficulties and dangers through faith unto salvation, founded on a sacrifice even now accepted, and therefore ready to be revealed, even for the body, in a last season which will manifest the grand purpose of God.
The apostle now turns to the marked and peculiar characteristic of Christianity which stands contrasted with the hopes of Israel: the co-existence of exceeding joy, whilst passing through keen sorrow of ever so varied kinds. It will not be thus! when Jehovah reigns, the world is stablished that it cannot be moved, and He judges the peoples with equity; when all creation is in harmony, the heavens glad, the earth rejoicing, the sea and its fulness loudly responsive, the field and all that is therein exulting, and the very trees of the wood singing for joy (Ps. 96). While the Lord Jesus abides hidden on high, the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now, though its earnest expectation waits for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom. 8); as their revealing depends on the manifestation of the Lord (Col. 3).
Then, and not before, will come the restitution of all things (Acts 3), when God who sent Jesus the first time for the redemption (by blood) of His heirs will send Him again for redemption (by power) of the inheritance, both heavenly and earthly (Eph. 1:10). Then Zion shall never more taste sorrow or shame; and stiff-necked rebellious Israel shall be meek under Jehovah and David their king, their backsliding healed, themselves loved freely, when He will be as the dew to them (Hosea 3, Hosea 14), and they in the midst of many peoples as dew from Him, as showers upon the grass, a blessing that tarries not for man nor waits for the sons of men (Micah 5).
But though by faith we behold Jesus, Who has been made a little lower than angels on account of’ the suffering of death, for the same reason crowned with glory and honour, now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him, as they will be seen when His world-kingdom comes (Rev. 11:15). Meanwhile sufferings prevail during the present time; and Satan, though known to faith as judged in the cross of Christ, is the ruler of this world, the god of this age blinding the thoughts of the faithless to the end that the illumination of the gospel of the glory of Christ Who is God’s image should not shine forth. Hence the Christian has the part of Christ, rejection and suffering both for righteousness and for His name. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:19). How different from the day when “great shall be the peace of thy (Zion’s) children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee.” “Behold, they may gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall because of thee.” “And nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (Isa. 60:3). “For that nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish” (ib. 12): “Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for Jehovah shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended” (lb. 20).
Undoubtedly these are highly figurative expressions; but they are figures expressive of Israel’s blessings in the days of the future kingdom when Jehovah shall be King over all the earth. In that day shall Jehovah be one, and His name one (Zech. 14:9). Then idols of silver and gold shall be consigned to the moles and to the bats (Isa. 2:20). And peoples shall flow to the mountain of Jehovah’s house; and many nations shall go and say, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His path; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among many peoples and reprove strong nations afar off; and they shall forge their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-knives: nation shall not rise against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:1-3).
In these scriptures there is a true foreshadow of the coming kingdom, but in no sense applicable to the Christian. For he now, though having peace in Christ, shall have tribulation in the world, called to suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ; he knows, that if we endure, we shall also reign with Him, while wicked men and impostors wax worse and worse deceiving and deceived. As our apostle says (2:20), “If when ye do well and suffer, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable (or, grace) with God.” Such is practical Christianity in contrast with the coming kingdom, contradicted alike by the principle and the practice of Christendom. It is therefore the more imperative to dwell on the truth and expose the departure from it for His glory and the walk of faith.
Again we have, in a general application, what the apostle of the Gentiles says of Christian service in the still fuller and more emphatic terms of 2 Cor. 6:4-10. If Paul knew it above measure in his ministry, he like Peter calls on every Christian to be “as sorrowful (or, grieved), yet always rejoicing.”
“Wherein ye exult, now for a little (if it is needful) put to grief in manifold trials, that the proof of your faith, much more precious than gold that perisheth though proved by fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at [the] revelation of Jesus Christ” (vers. 6, 7).
To connect “wherein” with the last season seems poor in comparison with the glorious result generally. It is even misleading, if it be so taken as to deny the Christian’s title to exuberant joy even now in the portion God has given us in Christ. Never will there be a work to surpass, yea or to match, what has been already wrought in the cross. Nowhere else such a concentration of what otherwise must be irreconcilable, majesty and humiliation, holiness and mercy, righteousness and sin, love and hatred, Satan apparently victorious but really and for ever vanquished, man at his utter worst, God in His fullest grace, Jesus at the lowest point of obedience, yet glorifying God absolutely even as to sin, all issuing for the believer to God’s glory in a perfect acceptance and an everlasting deliverance, with the reconciliation of all creation to come. “Wherein ye exult.” What else can we feel through grace? If we believe, we do not wait for the day of sight to participate in this exceeding joy, which breaks forth in thanksgiving and praise. In that day it will without doubt be unmixed with suffering and sorrow. The weakness of the mortal body will be no longer, but incorruption, glory, and power: so thoroughly shall we all be changed at Christ’s coming. There is no scripture, no sound reason, however hostile, to deny present exultation as a proper characteristic of the Christian even now; or this, as the precise meaning here intended by the apostle.
But it is accompanied by being “put to grief” as a needed passing trial in God’s government, while the exceeding joy may and ought to be habitual. For this rests on accomplished redemption and life in the power of resurrection, on the grace and truth which came through the Saviour. These abide unchanging for our souls, whereas the grief is definite; as the very tenses of the verb and of the participle imply, no less than the facts warrant from which both affections cannot but flow. Hence “now for a little” qualifies of course the aorist participle, and in no way our actual exultation as unbelief in effect would make it. This is still more distinctly taught by the brief clause “if needful,” or “if there is need.” How considerate and good! For the Father of spirits deals thus for our profit to the partaking of His holiness. No discipline at the time seems of joy but of grief; but afterward it yields peaceable fruit of righteousness to those that have been exercised by it. So we read in Heb. 12:10, 11.
Nor is Peter’s doctrine really different: “for a little at this time,3 if there is need, put to grief in manifold trials,” or temptations. So triumphantly says Rom. 8:34, It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather raised, who is too at the right hand of God, who also intercedeth for us: who shall separate us from the love of Christ? tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? These were heavy trials, but by no means all; for indeed they are many and manifold. But if we do not know what we should pray for as is fitting, the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us intercedes according to God Who hears Him; and we do know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are called according to purpose.
Only as Heb. 12 looks for a good result now, our text points to yet more by-and-by, as it says, “that the proof of your faith, much more precious than of gold that perisheth though proved by fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory in the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Thus the apostle contemplates the wilderness and our journeying through it. In the type this began for Moses and Israel with a song of exultation; and if Israel failed to continue thus, it is no rule for us, for (or, concerning) whom God foresaw some better thing; and what happened to them is written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. The worshippers once purged have no longer any conscience of sins; and no wonder. For Christ by one offering has perfected for ever — in perpetuity — those sanctified, as Christians are. The wilderness is pre-eminently the scene of temptation. There the heart is put to the proof. All the more needful is it, that in passing through we cherish confidence in God’s love to us. There we find by these trials how weak we are, and alas! it may be, careless, light, and unfaithful. We are sifted like Simon Peter, but have the Lord pleading for us as for him that our faith fail not. For this is the desire and aim, that the proof of our faith might be found to praise.
Note again that praise, honour, and glory are connected with Christ’s revelation. His coming to receive and take us to the Father’s house is supreme grace; in His revelation will be the appraisal of fidelity and reward accordingly. Both assuredly will be verified; but righteous government is quite distinct from sovereign grace.
The apostle explains how it is that the Christian is enabled to exult in the midst of trials ever so severe, yet never allowed but where need calls for them at the present time and for a little while. For assuredly, if God’s power acts as a garrison round His saints whilst they pass through the world, it is no less energetic in controlling every hostile influence, whatever be the malicious wiles of the adversary the devil. Hence can we boldly say, we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those that are called according to purpose. Yea we glory in the tribulations also, knowing what under God is the blessed result both here and hereafter. All the blessing along the way turns upon having Christ as the object before our souls.
“Whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though not now seeing but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and glorified (or, full of glory), receiving the end of your faith, salvation of souls” (vers. 8, 9).
When the kingdom is manifested in power and glory at the revelation of Christ, when Jehovah will punish the host of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth, when with His sore and great and strong sword He will visit leviathan the fleeing serpent and leviathan the crooked serpent, and will slay the dragon that is in the sea, He will in Zion make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And there He will swallow up the veil that veils all the peoples and the covering that is spread over all the nations. He will swallow up death in victory. And the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of His people will He take away from off the earth; for Jehovah hath spoken.
But now there is the contrast which the N.T. everywhere proclaims, as in the opening, and, we shall see, throughout this Epistle; where it was a special aim to instruct the Christian Jews, lest their old Jewish expectation might mingle and lead to disappointment. For we who believe in the rejected but glorified Christ have to do meanwhile with “the mysteries of the kingdom of the heavens” (Matt. 13:12), as the Lord told the disciples. “To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11). As a whole, and in its varied parts, it was a secret for which the chosen people was unprepared, looking mainly for the display of righteousness, when Israel shall blossom and bud, and they shall fill the face of the world with fruit, and Jerusalem shall be called Jehovah’s throne, and all the nations shall be gathered there, to the name of Jehovah, to Jerusalem; and as they shall walk no more with stubborn heart, so shall both houses of Israel be gathered in one, and Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. And no wonder, for Satan shall be bound in the abyss, and Jehovah-Jesus shall be King over all the earth, nor this only but as the Head over all things heavenly as well as earthly.
With the glorious prospect for the universe in ages to come Christianity stands in striking contrast. For the devil, as our Epistle shows (v. 8), walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. It is a wilderness world still, instead of blossoming abundantly and rejoicing with joy and song; and the glory of Jehovah is not yet seen, the excellency of our God, as all the earth in that day shall be filled with His glory. The saints are the very souls who are put to grief, as need arises, in manifold trials. At the same time they are entitled to deeper joys than the displayed kingdom can afford. And here, as the fact had been clearly stated according to experience in the light of the truth, the apostle explains the rich and unfailing source. It is Jesus, the crucified; yet He is not here but risen, yea glorified on high. He is thus the key to all.
“Whom having not seen ye love.” What a difference from the ordinary occasion of human affection, nay more, from the promise to Israel in that day! “Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17). “Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips. Therefore God hath blessed thee for ever . . . Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Ps. 45:2, 6, 7). It is not only His reign of beneficence in power and majesty, but at least Jerusalem begins with looking on Him whom they pierced, and mourning as for an only son, a firstborn. Yet appears their Deliverer when their danger is at its extremity, and their bitterest self-reproach is swallowed up in their loving gratitude for Him whose faithfulness to them no evil on their part could overcome.
Good as their portion will be, that of the Christian is far better. And here the apostle does not even notice the peculiar circumstances of such disciples as beheld the Lord in the days of His flesh. He does not say, “we who saw Him then,” but “ye” as addressing those of the dispersion, just like the bulk who believe the gospel. “Whom having not seen ye love.” Nevertheless it was an immense fact that He had come, the obedient and dependent Man; God’s faithful Witness, manifesting the Father, as we read of Him in the Gospels; accomplishing redemption, and now at the right hand of God above. Hence the Lord pronounced the least in the kingdom of the heavens greater than the greatest before it; and the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 11:40) says that God provided or foresaw “some better thing for us.”
It must be admitted, as to the words before us, that whatever the love the elders cherished for the coming Messiah, it could not have had that impulse and strength which was given by the power of His infinite grace acting on renewed hearts, as they followed His steps, and hung on His words, and delighted in His ways here below. The Lord could say, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see. For I say to you that many prophets and kings desired to see the things that ye behold, and did not see them, and to hear the things that ye hear, and did not hear them” (Luke 10:24). But it is plain that even that wondrous privilege was beneath the mighty accession imported by His death, and resurrection, and ascension, especially when the Holy Spirit was given to apprehend all fully and to bear witness accordingly.
Therefore those who yearn after a Messiah seen on earth know not how much it is to know Him dead, risen, and glorified, even for the deepest profit in tracing His recorded ways on earth. For it is in this light that His every word, step, and act are best understood and enjoyed. There His love shines at its fullest; and we love, because He first loved us, and assuredly love Him beyond all. Now it is in this way that the apostle could say characteristically, “Whom having not seen ye love.” It is just so the Christian loves Christ. He knows His love, as none before Incarnation could know, and beyond all during His ministry. He knows it in His humiliation, in His suffering unequalled and above all comparison in His rejection and cross. He begins, though he never saw Him here, with learning its depths, where those who followed Him on earth closed their difficulties, and passed into spiritual understanding, when He was raised from out of the dead. None has such vantage ground for loving the Lord Jesus as the Christian. Even the apostles loved Him all the more when they emerged from Jewish wraps and veils into that state of light and liberty.
The next clause only confirms the superior blessedness of Christianity: “in whom, though not now seeing but believing, ye exult with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Our Lord has conclusively ruled that believing has a value beyond sight. “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed they, that have seen not and believed” (John 20:29). It is just the difference between the Jews when their blessing comes, and the Christian yet more blessed morally now; and what will it be then? As heaven is above earth Hence it is evident that as Christianity deepens love, so it purifies and strengthens faith. The elders in its power obtained witness; but how immensely the scope of faith is enlarged when the secrets of God are no longer hidden but revealed as now to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit!
Well may the Christian then “exult with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It is so characteristic that our Lord represents its very starting-point in the reception of the prodigal son. For God as such is glorified in that cross of Christ which is its foundation, and He is also as Father in the love of that relationship. “Bring out the best robe and invest him; and put a ring on his hand, and sandals on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it; and let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead and hath come to life, he was lost and is found.” God Himself has His joy in the grace that to such brings salvation. What sanction for its object and all that have tasted of like mercy! And as we are called to grow by the knowledge of God and His Son, so also to rejoice in the Lord always, and in every thing give thanks. Shame on us if we do not now exult with joy unspeakable and glorified, seeing that in the glory is He on whom our blessedness depends. No doubt we boast in hope of the glory of God; but our best, our perfect, security for it is that He is there, entered as forerunner for us.
In accordance with the exultation to which we are even now entitled, while looking on for its perfection when we are glorified, it is added, “receiving the end of your faith, salvation of souls.” We shall not receive salvation of the body till He comes for whom we wait; but we are not waiting for the salvation of souls. This the gospel announces with all plainness of certainty. Christ has wrought such a work for it that no addition could make it more complete in itself or more efficacious for him that believes. He is not like the earthly priest standing to renew what never could be finished. When He had offered one sacrifice for sins, He in perpetuity (or, without a break) sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made the footstool of His feet. Whatever else He may do, He has nothing to do for cleansing the worshippers. For by one offering He has perfected in perpetuity those that are sanctified; His seat there proclaims it.
But we are told by one who denies this present fruit of Christ’s work to be here meant, that the word
κομιζόμενοι quite forbids the sense of “present realising,” and in every one of the references it betokens the ultimate reception of glory or condemnation from the Lord. Is this true? The texts are 2 Cor. 5:10, Eph. 6:8, Col. 3:25, 1 Peter 5:4, 2 Peter 2:13; which in fact disprove the strange allegation. For indisputably the first is from its nature only a future scene with which the aorist subjunctive falls in. The second and third not only presuppose that day but are expressly the future tense; like the fourth. The fifth is a future participle, whereas in the contested case of our text it is the participle of the present tense, and the context confirms that it is now. “Joy one cannot speak out and glorified” may be and is pleaded for a future sense. But will it be really so in that day, when perfection is come? When we know as we are known, will utterance fail as it does now?
“Glorified,” or full of glory, is no doubt an unusual word; yet to attribute this also to a joy too big for our present power of expression seems just to suit the fervour of the apostle. Christ on high its source might readily clothe the Christians’ joy with that character of glory before they themselves are there. Soul-salvation, before our bodies are conformed to the body of His glory, is a worthy end of our faith to receive now; for beyond all controversy the outer man follows the inner, and God never disappoints the believer of his hope. Salvation “of souls” too by its restricted application fittingly lends itself to what the believer receives now; whereas for the future the apostle does not so qualify “salvation,” as we have already remarked.
The concluding verses of the introduction refer to salvation as far as it was originally disclosed to prophets, and now fully presented as glad tidings by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven, consequent on the sufferings which were to befall Christ and the glories that should follow, while we await that power which will even externally deliver from evil at His appearing. The brief unfolding here given was of extreme moment for the believing remnant whom the apostle then addressed and all such as might follow. They had little difficulty in apprehending that the Lord in that day will not only accomplish the blessed and joyous prospect for the earth, but for the heavens also. Salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time, comprehends, though it be not limited to, their entering on an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, reserved for them on high, whilst they need to be guarded in God’s power through faith meanwhile. It is but soul-salvation now, the pledge of what is final, complete, and glorious in that day. The rejection of Christ and His absence on high brought in meanwhile a necessary modification which tests every soul of man, and not least those who had the early and partial revelations of God.
The unbelieving Jews sought to solve the difficulty by the fiction of two Messiahs: one the son of Joseph, of the tribe of Ephraim; the other the son of David, of the tribe of Judah; the first, to contend and suffer death; the second, to conquer and reign gloriously and for ever. The Talmud taught it; the later Targum applied it to Cant. 4:5, Cant. 7:3; and the Rabbins Solomon Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and D. Kimchi popularised it. Now we know that the O. Testament leaves no conceivable opening for two such personages, but lays the utmost stress on their being different states of the same Anointed of Jehovah. He was indeed the Son of David, not through Mary only as in Luke 3, but legally too through Joseph who was of Solomon’s royal stem as in Matt. 1. And, what was of immeasurably deeper importance, He and Be only of David’s sons was David’s Lord, as in Ps. 110:1 cited by Himself to confound the haughty adversaries who doubted and despised Him. The crowd then, and probably their leader, had not yet invented the delusion of a double Messiah; but they left no room for His sufferings, and cared only for His earthly glory as their vested right. Hence when He said (John 12:32), “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all to me” (this He said signifying by what death He was about to die), they answered, “We have heard out of the law that the Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?”
As we shall have more to say, when we look closely into ver. 11, we turn here to examine the details of what precedes in its due order.
“Of which salvation prophets4 that prophesied of the grace that [was] toward you sought out and searched out” (ver. 10).
So we learn from Gen. 49:18. “Salvation” was identified with the coming and work of the Messiah. The believers little if at all understood how it was to be; but they had no doubt of the saving grace which would then be manifested. They recognised signal acts of deliverance meanwhile, as in the days of Moses the miraculous passage of the Red Sea; as in the work which Jehovah wrought by Jonathan; and as later still in Jehoshaphat’s day, when the sons of Ammon and Moab and those of mount Seir destroyed each other to the relief of Judah whom they had menaced with ruin. But they looked on to the latter day as the goal of their hopes, when Messiah should establish the salvation fully and for ever. How clearly it is “grace,” not of works whereof flesh might glory.
Hence in the Psalms we hear as in the last verse of 14, “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When Jehovah bringeth back the captivity of his people, then shall Jacob rejoice, Israel shall be glad.” In the second book Ps. 53. similarly concludes, “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, then shall Jacob rejoice, Israel shall be glad.” The times were dark, and growingly darker; but if the godly remnant fall back on what God, Elohim, is when covenant privileges were no longer enjoyed, they anticipate in faith God’s scattering the ruined foe, and long for final salvation to come out of Zion as His centre, when His people as a whole should return with everlasting joy. It is certain too from Ps. 67 that the Spirit of prophecy, if the written word had been but heeded, regards God’s mercy to Israel as His way to extend His “saving health among all nations.” Sovereign grace is not more sure and definite than rich and free. “Let the peoples praise thee, O God, let all the peoples praise thee. Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy I for thou shalt judge the peoples with equity and govern the nations upon earth.” Nothing can be in more marked contrast with Jewish narrowness. Salvation is neither of prescriptive right, nor of personal merit, but of “grace.” And so will sing in a day yet to come, both the nations, and all Israel that shall be saved.
It is of deep interest to observe that the next Psalm, 68, has for its central truth the Lord ascended on high, the mighty conqueror, Who, as He “received gifts in man” (i.e. as such), gave gifts to men. So the apostle could add, without citing the words which await divine grace in its future activity, “yea, the rebellious also, for the dwelling of Jah Elohim [there].” Alas! the Jews are still rebellious; but the day hastens, when they shall look up and say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Jehovah; and He will assuredly come with a blessing never to pass away. Their God is the God of salvation; and so they are to prove, when in answer to their cry He rends the heavens and comes down, and all their righteousnesses are as a polluted garment in their eyes, as indeed they are, and He clothes them with the raiment of salvation and praise. But we must refrain from citing more from the book of praises.
None need wonder that the prince of prophets is pre-eminently rich in speaking of salvation so divine. In Isa. 12 which closes the first section of his prophecies, Isaiah predicts that Israel shall say, “Behold, God is my salvation: I will trust and not be afraid; for Jah, Jehovah, is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation. And with joy ye shall draw water out of the wells of salvation.” This follows beyond doubt the introduction of Messiah and His future reign in Isa. 11. In Isa. 25:9 he says when drawing to the end of the next section with various and prolonged thanksgiving, “Behold, this is our God: we have waited for him, and he will save us. This is Jehovah, we have waited for him; we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” So in Isa. 26:1, “We have a strong city: salvation doth he appoint for walls and bulwarks.” In his third section, where the final troubler of Israel is revealed with a “woe” to him, Isa. 33., we have in ver. 2, “Jehovah be gracious to us; we have waited for thee. Be their arm every morning, yea, our salvation in the time of trouble;” then in ver. 22, “Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah our lawgiver, Jehovah our king; he will save us.” Again in Isa. 35:4, “Be strong, fear not; behold, your God: vengeance cometh, the recompence of God! He will come himself, and save you.” In the middle or fourth section of history we could not look for more than such a typical reference as Isa. 38:20. But in the fifth where “My servant” appears, we have ample testimony and in forms of great variety beyond the words “save” or “salvation.” He restores, redeems, forms for Himself, pours water and His Spirit upon them, as His witnesses and His servants as He is the God of Israel, the Saviour, “a just God and a Saviour; there is none besides me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isa. 45:21, 22; see also 8, 17; Isa. 46:13). In the sixth division, where Messiah comes out fully and His rejection, salvation is still more conspicuous, as in Isa. 49:6, 8, 25; Isa. 51:5, 6, 8; Isa. 52:7. Who can be surprised that discerns the Saviour suffering, and exalted, in Isa. 53 where we have the fullest and clearest witness to Him and His work, though the expression of “save” or salvation there occurs not? But many other words point to that truth and the meritorious and efficacious cause, as in vers. 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12. In the seventh or last part we have its express and abundant mention, as in Isa. 59:1, 11, 16, 17; Isa. 60:18; Isa. 61:10; Isa. 62:1; Isa. 63:1, 5; Isa. 64:5.
In Jeremiah it is enough to refer to Jer. 15:20; Jer. 30:10, 11; Jer. 46:27; in Ezekiel: Ezek. 34:22; Ezek. 36:29; Ezek. 37:23; in Hosea 1:7; in Zeph. 3:17, 19; in Zechariah: Zech. 8:7, 13; Zech. 9:16; Zech. 10:6; Zech. 12:7. Only it would be a mistake to imagine that other prophets did not predict the same thing in other words. See for example Daniel (Dan. 9:24) who confesses the sins of Israel and pleads the Lord’s righteousness and name. Then comes the answer of a definite time, when the transgression should be closed, and an end made of sins and expiation for iniquity, and everlasting righteousness brought in, and the vision and prophet sealed, and the holy of holies anointed. So it is with others, each in differing forms.
Nothing then can be plainer in result than that prophets predicted concerning the coming salvation, which did not fail for such as believed the gospel, like those to whom the apostle addressed this Epistle. For what if the mass of the Jews were without faith? Their unbelief did not make of none effect the faith of God. Those who submit to His righteousness in Christ reap the blessing.
Prophets before them, we are told, diligently sought and searched diligently concerning that salvation. Their prophesying did not supersede the need or the profit of sedulous research, but rather stimulated it. No honour in prophesying saved its instruments from seeking and searching earnestly to understand what was given them to predict out of the fulness which is in God. Dependence is and has ever been called for, with confidence in His goodness and His tender consideration of our own ignorance and weakness. But the gift of His word encourages us to wait on Him for understanding it as far as pleases Him. So did inspired men, as we see notably in Daniel for a case at hand, as well as for what would only be in the time of the end. Nor can any incidental fact more distinctly prove how truly prophecy was not of man’s will nor shrewd guess of wit, but of God, Who spoke or wrote by His servant in the Spirit. For he had still to sift it with all diligence to understand what he had thus divinely uttered. Salvation was a rich blessing from God, transcending all that they possessed in gracious privilege and bound up with Messiah’s day, which God alone gave prophets to anticipate. But what they prophesied, they needed to weigh and examine deeply to make truly their own, in whatever measure of intelligence this might be.
Let us now consider what is revealed as the object of the research “Searching what or what sort of time the Spirit of Christ that [was] in them did indicate when testifying beforehand the sufferings that [were] for Christ, and the glories after them” (ver. 11).
A mind was at work far beyond that of prophets, yet at work intimately in them; “the Spirit of Christ,” a phrase the more striking because not till long after did the Son become the Christ. But what He was disclosing looked on to that wondrous fact and testified of Him beforehand in that character. It is somewhat as in Heb. 2:17 the apostle speaks of Him as High Priest, whereas He only became a priest properly when He rose from the dead and went to heaven. This some not perceiving have been led on by the enemy to cast the precious truth of propitiation into the chaos of their own error, which denies to His cross its moral glory, and gives it to a fable.
Be it observed that the language employed is unusually precise. The sufferings are said to be not merely “of” Christ, but “for” Him. They befell Him not simply as a fact, but were appointed unto Him; just as the grace was “to youward,” so were the sufferings to “Christward.” Christ is never by Peter used mystically as in 1 Cor. 12:12, but exclusively and strictly in person. Compare especially 1 Peter 4:1, 13.
Nor are we left in doubt what the Spirit of Christ that was in prophets of old did signify, seeing that He testified beforehand, not only the glories of the anointed One Whom all saints awaited, but what at first sight seems beyond measure strong, the sufferings destined for Him which precede. This it was that the astonished disciples were taught by the Lord Himself, both before His death and after His resurrection, and nowhere more clearly than in the Gospel of Luke. “So shall the Son of man be in his day (i.e. His appearing in glory). But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation” (Luke 17:24, 25). Again, when risen He said (Luke 24:26), “Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter his glory? And, beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Who could wonder that they should afterwards say one to another, Was not our heart burning within us as He spoke to us on the way and as He opened to us the scriptures? Now that He is gone, His Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is come to guide us into all the truth.
The saints addressed, like all other Christians, come between the sufferings that came unto Christ, and, if not the glory, certainly the greater part of the revealed “glories” that should follow. For it is plain and sure that the magnificent scenes of the last days, times of restitution of all things whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began, await His coming from the heavens to take the earth and all the universe under His direct and manifested sway.
Messiah, ascending as a conqueror on high, was clearly made known in Ps. 67:28, and His receiving gifts as Man, that Jah Elohim might dwell in Israel, still regarded as the rebellious till He make Zion His abode for ever. Then, on the one hand, God will smite the head of His enemies; and, on the other, princes shall come out of Egypt: Ethiopia shall haste to stretch out her hands unto God, and the kingdoms of the earth shall sing praises to the Lord. The same great truth is reiterated in Ps. 110 — the scripture Christ Himself recited to confound those who denied His divine dignity as David’s Lord. Both psalms strikingly pass from His exaltation in heaven to the day of His wrath. Then Jehovah shall send forth the rod of Messiah’s strength out of Zion, and He shall rule in the midst of His enemies.
What is being done for His friends meanwhile is developed only in the New Testament generally, as here in particular. Room is left for it in the O.T. It is the grace come to the believing remnant, as to us who believe from among the Gentiles, before the generation to come is born again for the days of the displayed kingdom. Undoubtedly He is received up in glory (1 Tim. 3:16); but this is part of the mystery of piety, there made known by the apostle of the uncircumcision, and found so largely explained and applied by him in his Epistles, as it is used briefly and powerfully in what lies before us (1 Peter 1:21, 1 Peter 3:22).
But there are “glories” to come, which give object and exercise for that hope which is a bright and large part of the truth, so characteristic of Christianity, and so difficult for a Jew as such to apprehend. Hence one perceives how unpalatable to a rabbi it is to read in Dan. 9:26 that after a definite interval Messiah the Prince was not to come merely, but “should be cut off and have nothing” i.e. of His Messianic rights, which is the true force. It was ruin to the benighted and faithless people; it brought destruction, as the context shows, on the city and the sanctuary. The facts and the prophecy which revealed this and more, they themselves cannot deny. Yet are they still impenitent, unbelieving, unblessed, and disposed to deny a great prophet, who shed light on what and what sort of time the Spirit of Christ was signifying, as was done in various ways.
But those who believe the gospel, Jews or Gentiles, come in according to the new principle of sovereign and indiscriminate grace to save souls. The Saviour, rejected by the Jews as a whole, is gone up on high, not at once to introduce the Kingdom in power and glory as even the apostles at first expected, but to inaugurate the mysteries of the Kingdom, itself a mystery, while He sits at the right hand of glory above. This it was which perplexed prophets of old, and not only the sufferings destined for Him Who might well have seemed the last One to suffer. Yet so said the prophetic word, so testified beforehand the Spirit of Christ that was in prophets: the Servant Righteous beyond all comparison was to be equally the sufferer beyond comparison. Suffering is an enigma to all who believe not what sin is before God; but even to those who did believe of yore, which of them so read the riddle that the Christ was to fathom its depths? For He was to suffer, not only from man because He was faithful to God, but, yet more overwhelmingly as it must beyond controversy be, from God because He was faithful for man, for sinful man! Yet Daniel is equally clear that the people are to be delivered after a time, the last time of distress without parallel, when blessed is he that comes to those days, and the prophet like all the righteous dead shall then stand in his lot. It is part of Christ’s glories to follow, when He shall reign, not as Son of David only, but with the wide and everlasting dominion of Son of Man.
Long before the prophet of the captivity, the lowly seer of Moresheth-gath, testified (v. 1-3) of the Judge of Israel smitten with a rod upon the cheek. Even a rabbi cannot mistake that He was to be born in Bethlehem, though overlooking on the one side His rejection, and on the other His going forth from of old, from everlasting days. Knowing Him not, they in judging Him fulfilled also the voices of the prophets which were read every sabbath. “Therefore will he give them up until the time when she that travaileth hath brought forth.” The birth of the new-born Israel is thus postponed; while Christ sits, rejected by them but exalted by the right hand of God to the blessing of such as Peter was writing to. When that day comes (the prophetic terminus of glory for Israel and the earth), “the residue of His brethren,” instead of being added together now to form the church as on and after Pentecost, “shall return unto the children of Israel.” Then shall He stand and feed them in the strength of Jehovah, in the majesty of the name of Jehovah his God. And, instead of being scattered as now, outside their land, they shall abide: for then shall He be great even to the ends of the earth. And this [Man] shall be Peace. When the last head of a great country, the leader of the outside nations, shall come into the land, it will only be to find power there, not the previous weakness. Then the enemy’s land shall be wasted retributively; and the remnant of Jacob be not only as a dew of blessing in the midst of the peoples, but also as a lion among the beasts of the forest.
Here again was no obscure intimation of the sufferings to come for Christ and of the glories that are to follow them. But seek diligently and search out as they did, no small difficulty remained, even for those who pondered the wonderful words of Isa. 49:3-8, Isa. 50:4-9, Isa. 52:13-15, and Isa. 53, the most detailed and luminous of all: the sufferings which awaited Messiah, and the glory of His people Israel. But there was also a covert allusion in Isa. 65:1, 2, to a time, and a singular sort of time, when God would be found by the heedless Gentiles, and find in Israel a people disobeying and opposing; just as Moses of old predicted (Deut. 32) that God would provoke them to jealousy through a no-nation, and anger them through a nation void of understanding.
But we know that even those who were blessed in seeing and hearing what many prophets and kings desired to see and hear, so little realised our Lord’s clear and repeated explanation of His coming death of rejection and ignominy, that they were utterly staggered when it came to pass. “We were hoping,” said two of them no more downcast than others on the resurrection day, “that He it is that was about to redeem Israel.” His sufferings in redeeming by His blood, so far from entering their hearts, were the stumbling-block; whereas, as the Lord assured their troubled souls, this was both the only way consistent with God’s character and their moral necessities, and the very truth set out in the scriptures. He must be a suffering and an ascended Christ: as emphatically for the Christian now going to heaven, so for Israel and the nations to be blessed on the earth by-and-by under His reign of glory.
In fact, however, the first prediction in the first book of scripture made known to the instructed ear what prophets searched into, and what the apostle explicitly states here with all clearness of light from Christ dead, risen, exalted, and about to appear in glory. The figurative terms are intelligible and expressive. The woman’s Seed (in itself a phrase as gracious as startling and unique) should have His heel bruised, but bruise the serpent’s head: a victory over the power of evil complete and final, but not without keen suffering. Again, blessing even for all families of the earth, when idolatry had overspread them, was promised in Abram’s seed in Gen. 12; but fuller light came in Gen. 22, where the father’s only son is seen risen from the dead in the same parable which presented him previously as the lamb God would provide for a burnt-offering. Thereon Jehovah’s oath which distinguishes, in a way which the apostle Paul gives us to understand, the numerous seed which shall possess the gate of the enemies (as in O.T. prophecy), and the Seed without any such number attached but “one” only, in Whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This last Gal. 3 applies to the grace come now to Gentiles no less at the least than to Jews who believed. What a testimony is it not to “the sufferings Christward, and the glories after these things”?
The same principle might readily be shown in the history of Joseph, suffering in the pit at the hand of his brethren, and then both sold to Gentiles and consigned, if not to death, to the Gentile prison; but exalted to rule the world, administering its power with the same wisdom that had been manifested in previous humiliation, to the glory of him who sat on the throne. We at least are inexcusable if we cannot clearly discern what prophets may have duly searched. Add to this, that so it was before he made himself known to his guilty brethren whose sins he forgave, preserving their life no less than the Egypt-world’s that he governed. Can one fail to read here another application of our text? Nor would it be difficult to trace a fresh testimony beforehand in the blessing Jacob a-dying pronounced on his sons, yet to be fulfilled, for their good portion at the end of days, if we may not now speak of it all more particularly.
Genesis is not singular in this respect. So it might be shown in the types of Ex. 12 and Ex. 14, Ex. 15. So too throughout the earlier and the later prophets. The Book of Psalms is quite as rich in the same witness borne beforehand to Christ. What can be deeper, what more undeniable, than the testimony to His sufferings and His consequent glories in Psalm 22 and Psalm 102? These may be the fullest; yet are they but a part of what presents both, in that rich collection which the Lord loved and used so perfectly, and prophets searched not in vain, though at a great interval, in their day.
We have next an interesting intimation made as to enquiring prophets, full of importance to us no less than to those the apostle was addressing: —
“To whom it was revealed that not to themselves but to you5 they were ministering the very things which have now been announced to you through those that brought you glad tidings by6 [the] Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into” (ver. 12).
There is no distinction more characteristic than the one just brought out. The Holy Spirit wrought in those of odd as “the Spirit of prophecy”; and so He will work in days to come, as we learn from Rev. 19:10. Our brethren that have the witness of Jesus at the end of the age, when the final conflicts arise, will know the Spirit’s action in a prophetic way, not as the one Spirit who baptised us into one body, the church, and who dwells with and in us individually (John 14:17).
Here we have the contrast drawn. It was revealed to the O.T. prophets that not to themselves but to us they ministered the things announced now to the faithful through the gospel. They prophesied of the privileges now enjoyed. The Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven at Pentecost is not giving a prophetic testimony to Jesus as then. He is as given to the Christian a Spirit of present communion in a way which was not and could not be, till Christ had come and accomplished redemption.
Fully is it admitted that all saints of old were born of God. If not born of water and Spirit, they could not see or enter the kingdom of God, as the Lord told Nicodemus. This was no privilege special to Christianity, as some shortsighted men conceive. It is indispensable for that kingdom of God in which shall come many from east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, as well as with the elders before them, and prophets and saints after them. Flesh and blood cannot inherit God’s kingdom, nor does corruption inherit incorruption. But all the children of God without exception will have their part in it, as they that are Christ’s are raised at His coming.
The saints of old, before He came in flesh and suffered as He did once for sins, could not have more than “the Spirit of prophecy.” And it appears from the Revelation, that so it will be again during the Apocalyptic crisis, when the heavenly saints are seen on high, and Jewish and Gentile saints will be separately called to bear witness on earth in the tribulation to come. All that is revealed of them in those trying scenes points to a distinct testimony and experience, resembling substantially that of the elders who had witness borne to their faith and through it, but with the faith and witness of Jesus too, as far as it is given them. They will look for His coming in His kingdom. But nothing indicates the possession of those privileges, individual and corporate, which we now enjoy through the Holy Spirit given to us.
They will not know that their bodies are Christ’s members (1 Cor. 6), and that they are a living God’s temple (2 Cor. 6); nor will it be theirs to say that they have put on Christ in Whom they are all one, and there can be neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, nor male and female, but who as being sons have the Spirit of God’s Son sent into their hearts crying, Abba, Father (Gal. 3, 4). It would be language beyond their intelligence to hear of the glory of His grace (which God freely bestowed on us in the Beloved), still more to be the fulness of Him that fills all in all (Eph. 1:23). Nor could they, as Paul exhorted the Colossian saints, give thanks to the Father who qualified them for their share in the inheritance of the saints in light, Who rescued them from the power of darkness and translated them into the kingdom of the Son of His love. They will in faith long for the glorious future He shall establish; but they must fast and groan for the present. The two witnesses prophesy (not, preach grace) in sackcloth, but with power to devour their enemies with fire, killing those who would hurt them — power to shut heaven, and over the waters, and to smite the earth, till their hour is come on finishing their testimony. Symbolic and figurative this is no doubt, but the symbols and figures are of a state wholly foreign to that of the Christian and the church.
Far different is your position, says the apostle, who have not only the prophetic testimony of old, but had glad tidings brought to you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven. Even the babes of the family have an unction from the Holy One and know all things (1 John 2:20); they know the Father, as well as their sins forgiven for the name’s sake of Christ. The Christian dwells in God and God in him: what greater blessedness can there now be? He is sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, Who is the earnest of our inheritance. We are children of God, kings and priests. We are Christ’s body, and bride. We are heavenly in title, and about to bear the image of the Heavenly at His coming. What precious, holy, or glorious privilege is withheld from us? In short, as another apostle says, “all things are yours;” not that ye in yourselves are anything, but that Christ is the whole sum and substance of blessedness. “All things are yours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” What a circle, and what a centre!
How wondrous it is that the rejection of Christ which would prove the Jews returned from Babylon worse than their fathers banished there and elsewhere for their idolatry (as Isaiah and others foretold), is made by God’s grace in the cross the turning-point of all blessing! Hence is the righteousness of God. Receiving it by faith now (while the people generally are as unbelieving as the nations generally) the remnant according to the election of grace enters into better blessings than if He had been received in the display of His kingdom. For thus only in divine wisdom could these exceeding privileges be the portion of believers on earth, with the further privilege of suffering, not only for righteousness, but for His name. Truly, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says (Heb. 11:40), God provided, or foresaw, “some better thing” concerning us.
It is the interval after propitiation was made, Christ meanwhile exalted at God’s right hand, and the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven, which gives occasion and ground for the special privileges of the Christian and of the church, as well as of the gospel. The Messiah had been cut off and had nothing (i.e. of His Messianic glory on Zion and over all the earth); but He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father for His new and higher glory; and by-and-by He will appear for the promised glory before the world. Christianity comes in between. Cf. John 17:24, Rev. 11:15.
Thus the joys of communion as well as peace in Christ are tested fully. Also love has the freest scope, in the endurance of suffering for good rather than evil, and for earnest service both in the church and in the gospel. Thus hope again acquires its highest character, no less than spiritual understanding while we wait for Christ’s coming and the glory to be revealed in the last time. The new blessedness is so rich and peculiar, that the Holy Spirit, besides illuminating the ancient oracles of God, was already inditing another divine volume, and expressly in the leading tongue of the Gentiles, of which this Epistle forms a part. It is written in Greek, not in Hebrew, even though addressed to believing Jews, or to the twelve tribes of Israel. Nothing short of this would set forth the now things adequately, beginning with Christ’s advent and atoning death, and closing with that great prophecy, which, while it crowns all the predictions, fitly concludes the entire revelation of God.
Who can wonder that the verse ends with “which things angels desire to look into?” Angels were upheld by the Son. They were enabled to keep their first estate. They did not need redemption like guilty man. But they were permitted, not only to shout for joy when the corner-stone was laid in founding the earth, but in the multitude of the heavenly host to praise God at the birth of the Saviour, and say, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men. It was not that they doubted; but what wonder and awe, yet eagerness withal, must have filled them as they bent down to apprehend what His sufferings meant, and indeed His humiliation at large, and the glories after these! Oh, what lessons to learn of God in men, and above all in that one Man Who best proved the divine complacency in mankind!
Exhortation here begins, founded on the preceding verses. Now that Christ is come, and gone to heaven, having borne our sins, the believing Jews were objects of rich and sure blessing, far beyond what their fathers enjoyed before the law or since.
The glory is not manifested on earth as the prophets predicted, but this will have actual accomplishment in a new age. There is now an intermediate state for saints on earth before that new age: faith, love, and hope have their fullest exercise, after the sufferings destined for Christ were closed, while He is received up in glory. It is therefore before the revelation of His other glories to all the earth, and indeed to the universe. Our life is hid in God; but when He is manifested, so shall we be with Him in glory. The glories after His sufferings are not therefore complete, but in a large measure await His appearing at the end of the age.
Yet the glory in which He sits already at God’s right hand has a momentous bearing on the soul individually and on the church as a body. Hence even now we exult with joy unspeakable and full of glory; for Christ, its spring, is glorified and we expect to be, now receiving the end of faith, salvation of souls, but not yet that of our bodies. Meanwhile we have for our profit, not only what prophets testified beforehand, but the still fuller light of truth announced in Christ and since Christ by apostles and others, who evangelised in the power of the Spirit sent forth from heaven, as Father and Son alike promised. This is Christianity, not promise but accomplishment of redemption by Christ’s work, and, as shown elsewhere, for Gentile believers as much as Jewish, though these only are addressed here by the apostle appropriately to this message.
“Wherefore, having girded up the loins of your mind, losing sober, hope perfectly for the grace that is to be brought to you at Jesus Christ’s revelation (ver 13).
The allusion in the opening clause is evidently to their forefathers at the first passover: a memorial to them, a feast to Jehovah to be kept by an ordinance for ever. “Thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand.” Could words or acts more graphically give us the living picture of a people screened from divine judgment, and leaving in haste the house of bondage for a land flowing with milk and honey? The Lord in Luke 12:35 employed the same figure, with others, to impress on His disciples their pilgrim character in waiting for His coming: in no taking of their ease, but constant readiness to do His will earnestly, as is meant by their loins girt about. On occasions of active exertion the garments, instead of being allowed to flow loosely, were tucked up, that the work might be done without impediment. So would He now have our hearts engaged without wandering affections or distraction of mind. The blessing is assured to our faith; we love Him Who first loved us, and He with a love above all measure; whilst the prospect before us is glorious beyond all comparison.
The apostle’s phrase “the loins of your mind” renders inexcusable the notion of such fathers as interpreted it of chastity; for this would require another expression of quite distinct form. It seems strange that Calvin should characterise a turn so unintelligent in itself, and unsuitable to the contest, as philosophising refinedly about the loins. It is a wholly baseless importation of prurient ideas, natural perhaps to those who piqued themselves on a fair show in the flesh, which soon betrays its hollowness by falling into all manner of uncleanness. He himself however had no doubt of its quite different meaning, in the disentanglement of the Christian from all hindrance to devotedness.
There is another term which immediately follows, of great practical moment, “being sober.” It is expressly from its form a continuous habit; which is the more emphatic, because the form of the phrase before, with which we have been occupied, implies no less precisely the act done and settled; and such is the force of the hope which immediately follows. They had once for all girt up the loins of their mind; their hope was set with equal decision upon the grace to be brought to them at Christ’s appearing. The nature of the case called for and explained these being accomplished facts in their souls. But the sobriety in question calls for unceasing diligence.
For there is much in the gospel and in the truth now fully revealed, which might naturally lead to the utmost enthusiasm. We see how it affected outside observers on the day of the church’s birth. All were amazed and in perplexity when they heard Galileans speaking in the various tongues of the Gentiles the great things of God. Some mocking said, They are full of new wine. Apart from the striking phenomenon of grace which was thus ungraciously maligned, how much there is in Christianity if realised to fill the heart and lips to overflowing! Even the eminently wise Paul could say, “whether we are beside ourselves, it is to God; or we are sober, it is for you” (2 Cor. 5:13). Here no doubt it is the kindred thought of discretion that is expressed; but it is at bottom the same truth. Before God and to Him, the heart may rightly go forth in ecstasy; but when we think of men and even the saints, a more guarded feeling is well on our part.
Hence the same apostle exhorts the saints that were in Ephesus to guard against exciting causes. “Be not drunk with wine whereby is dissoluteness, but be filled with the Spirit.” Where He becomes the source and power of all within us, acts outward should be according to God’s mind. Our singing even is meant to be so characterised that it may please Him Whom we praise, in no way carried away by sweet sound, but with the spirit and with the understanding also.
Hence then “being sober” is laid on us as a continuous duty. It is a figure naturally drawn, as all admit, from keeping clear of all intoxication; which for the Christian means the avoidance of everything apt to excite the flesh or spirit. Young Thessalonian believers are thus exhorted, “So then let us not sleep as do the rest, but let us watch, and be sober [the same word as here]. For they that sleep sleep by night, and they that drink drink by night; but let us, being of the day, be sober, having put on a breastplate of faith and love, and hope of salvation as helmet.” In 1 Peter 4:7 the word, in view of the end of all things having drawn nigh, is “Be of sound mind therefore, and be sober unto prayers.” (So also in 1 Peter 5:8). Here it is not constant habit that is involved in the form of the phrase, but the soul’s attitude due to so solemn a fact. Both appeals have their importance. The call in our verse 13 is grounded on known redemption as our portion, whilst we journey through a wilderness world, with an expectation worthy of what God has already given us in Christ.
Of this he proceeds to speak in the next words, “hope perfectly for the grace that is to be brought to you at Jesus Christ’s revelation.” One cannot doubt that it is the glory about to be revealed unto us, as it is put in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 8:18, 19), the revelation of the sons of God. Nor does our apostle treat of anything beyond that supreme bliss, which he describes as “the grace that is to be brought” in that day. For he does not open out, as Paul did in 1 Thess. 4, the preliminary stage and the special action of the Lord, in Himself descending from heaven with that shout which shall assemble His own whether dead or alive to meet Him in the air. Our Epistle dwells on the manifestation of the saints with Christ in glory without telling us how the wondrous issue is to be effected.
It is so intrinsically blessed, and so efficacious even now for the well-being of the soul, that he bids the saints “hope perfectly” for the grace to be brought then and thus. “To the end,” as in the A.V. and so understood by many, seems short of what is intended by the adverb; nor does any sufficient reason appear to make us swerve from the simple meaning. It is likely that translators shrank from connecting perfection with a hope which too often fluctuates, if it be not also rather indefinite and feeble. They preferred “to the end.”
But it is the aim of the Spirit apparently to reveal it in its power, grandeur, and blessedness, so that the coming glory should be regarded as part of that grace which we have known in Christ’s death and resurrection for our souls, and the rest we are awaiting for our bodies. Then indeed we shall be conformed to the image of God’s Son, the Firstborn among many brethren. The grace that is to be brought in that day is a meet object for our hope to have once for all and perfectly; just as in Heb. 10 we are now called to approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water. For the veil is rent; and we who believe have boldness to enter into the holies by the blood of Jesus. It may be that none of those addressed by Peter did “perfectly” hope for that grace to come, as sure as the grace which had already appeared; but the aim of this scripture was to invite, yea, to urge it. Why should the saints not cherish the hope fully and without a waver? He Who has promised will assuredly perform. Let us treat all shortcoming in hope as a wrong done to His grace and truth.
It may seem strange that our apostle writes here of the grace to be brought at Christ’s revelation only to those who now believe. Prophets do speak of this, as may be seen with especial plainness in Isa. 8:13-18. To this throughout is the Epistle directed, rather than to the far more common witness which prophecy bears to the manifest and wide-spread blessing when Christ comes in His kingdom with power and glory. Then all Israel shall be saved; and their receiving and fulness shall be “life from the dead” to the world at large. But this would not have been meat in due season to the believing remnant whom Peter here addresses. Hence he stops short of any development on that head which fills the prophets, and he dwells simply on their own Christian portion at the revelation of Christ. This is what they needed, and what the Holy Spirit gave him to minister. Compare the preceding ver. 4. What will be by-and-by for Israel and the nations on earth the prophets fully declare from Isaiah (we might add from Moses) to Malachi.
“So great salvation” calls for earnest decision and sobriety, brightened as it is by a perfect hope which puts not to shame. But next the apostle insists on a quality of the new life we have in Christ which is as indispensable for the saint, as it is due to God.
“As children of obedience, not conformed to the former lusts in your ignorance, but according to the Holy One that called you, be ye also holy in every [part of] conduct, because it is written, Holy ye shall be, because I [am] holy” (vers. 14-16).
The Christian is characterised as a child of obedience. This is far more energetic than the “obedient children” of the A.V. which rightly speaks of men in their unrenewed state as the children (or rather sons) of disobedience (Eph. 2:2, Col. 3:6). It is the habitual bent of fallen nature to disobey God. Now on the contrary, when sanctified by the Spirit, we are so for obedience, childlike obedience, as we see its perfection in our Lord Jesus. As He is our pattern as well as life, it is to His obedience we are livingly set apart, no less than to the sprinkling of His blood. Quickened by the faith of Christ, we are neither left to ourselves like the Gentiles, nor set under the law as the Jews; but are subject to Christ and His word as the perfect law of liberty; even as it was His meat to do the will of the Father that sent Him.
Here it was of the more consequence to express this, as the apostle was addressing such of the circumcision as believed. Re-action is ever a danger. They might have slipped into the delusion that all direction was gone because the law was; a mere negation for those delivered from the bondage of the law. But Christ freed from law only to lead into a constant obedience far deeper and more comprehensive. So in Romans 8 the apostle taught the saints in Rome, Jewish or Gentile, that if the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (which is our law) set free from the law of sin and death (against which Israel and man vainly strove), it is through redemption that the law’s righteous requirement (
τὸ δικαιωμα) might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to flesh but according to Spirit. And this walk is solely one of obedience. We are not our own but bought with a price, and what a price! “Glorify God then in your body.” We are the Lord’s freedmen, had we been slaves; we are Christ’s bondmen, had we been freest of the free. The Christian denies his Master and his standing, if he claim independence of His authority and His word. The more he knows his privileges, the greater is his obligation to obey. He was once, Jew or Gentile, a son of disobedience; he is now a child of obedience; let him be consistent as such. “If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” The apostle John only confirms and completes Paul and Peter.
Such then is the great governing principle; and so it must be, unless God’s children are to have an unnatural independence, yea mastery, of God Himself, and thus subvert the highest of all rights. But it is of moment also to beware of old habits, which may not be weighed sufficiently when the Christian relationship is new; for habits are apt to re-assert their evil influence when the truth has no longer the fresh power over the soul which the ungrieved Spirit maintains. Hence it is here added, “not conformed to the former lusts in your ignorance.” When the True Light was unseen, the heart’s ignorance of God was extreme. Here it is no comparison of Jews with heathen, but their real state pointed out as before Him, when divine love was as unknown as light. How rank was the growth of lusts in that ignorance! They were now the more to beware of being conformed to what dishonoured Christ, being themselves begotten of His God and Father unto a living hope. If God’s power alone keeps, it is through faith, which implies the heart simple and subject to His word. Those who are still passing through the wilderness need to be on their guard, vigilant, and self-judging.
Another consideration follows and lifts the eyes yet higher. “But according to the Holy One that called you, be ye too holy in every [part of] conduct.” Holy is He that called them out of darkness unto His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9). Holy is He that called them by His grace unto His eternal glory in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 5:10). He is just the same every step of the dangerous journey they were meanwhile treading. They were even now in the nearest relation to Him as objects of His love, and after a sort which was only shadowed by His people of old. Then it was national and after a fleshly and temporal sort, though individual faith pierced through to the Coming One and to things better and enduring. Now it was distinctly personal in character and everlasting. For the people and the land and the world Jesus was the rejected Christ; higher and larger glories came into view, grace fuller and more intimate. “He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. When he shall put forth all his own, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice.” The highest in earthly position might claim or call away; but such are strangers to those that have heard the voice of the rejected Christ. “And a stranger will they not follow; for they know not the voice of strangers.” Can one wonder? He is the door that opens into every blessing. By Me (said He) if any one enter, he shall be saved, and shall go in and shall go out, and shall find pasture. Who but He could truly say, I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly? It is now in the power of His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). If He that called them is holy, how essential it is. that they should cherish the same character of separateness from evil to Himself, and this without stint or limit? “Be ye too holy in every part of conduct.”7
Was this an unheard of requirement on God’s part? Far from it. When as Jehovah He governed a people after the flesh, even so it could not be otherwise: “Because it is written, Holy ye shall be, because I am holy.” The apostle cites Lev. 11:44: see also Lev. 19:2; Lev. 20:7, 26. Without doubt, as we read in Heb. 9:10, the Levitical system consisted only of meats and drinks and divers washings, ordinances of flesh imposed until a time of rectification. Christ brought in His person grace and truth, and redemption enables us to walk accordingly in the Spirit. It is now the children, not of the fathers, but of God the Father, whose standing is not in flesh, but in Christ. The holiness rises according to the place and relationship.
If the principle in itself be thus invariable, the character of the holiness is akin and proportionate to the blessing conferred. As there is no bound to the grace and truth received in receiving Christ, so must the holiness suit the Holy One revealed in the Son of God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. And Christ is the light, not of Jews only but of the world. Hence he that followeth Him shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The natural man, no matter how intelligent, never rises to this; if he profess Christianity, as he may and often does, it is unreal. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth.” The believer alone has reality in Christ, whence is the contrast: “but if we walk in the light as He is in the light [and there every true Christian does walk], we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from every sin.”
We all know how often it is argued that this is a condition. Who doubts this of “If we walk” etc.? But what most who so talk overlook is that it is the condition of being a Christian, not in name only but in deed and truth. The apostle John in no way means of some real saints compared with others. It is the condition of such as are brought to God. It is the unquestionable privilege of all the faithful who follow Christ, unless it be pretended that any faithful souls do not follow Him. It is not a question of walking according to the light which admits of different degrees, but of walking in it, which belongs alike to all who were once darkness but are now light in the Lord. They are therefore exhorted to walk as children of light. But John expresses the necessary condition assumed: if we walk in the light as God is in the light (true of every real follower of the Lord Jesus), then have we these other privileges. For all now go together, as the gift of divine grace: we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from every sin. They are the constant enjoyment of all that walk in the light, as do all that are Christ’s.
So too in this Epistle of Peter the exhortation to be holy is addressed to all. If all were alike sanctified of the Spirit in principle, as we have seen in ver. 2, all are in ver. 15 enjoined to be holy, because the God that called them is holy. Here it is holiness in practice, without which (as Heb. 12:14 solemnly assures) no one shall see the Lord. If ye live after the flesh, ye are about to die (Rom. 8:13). Know ye not that unrighteous men shall not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9)? He that soweth to his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). We need not surely quote more of these grave warnings.
It is well to guard against the misuse of this text and others, as if God’s word gave apparent support to the heterodoxy of perfection in the flesh, otherwise styled sinless sanctification, whether taught by A’Kempis and other Romanists, by Jer. Taylor and W. Law, by J. Wesley and his followers, or by the American school of so-called higher holiness, with its modifications in Great Britain since it got discredited. Nothing can be plainer than that scripture urges God’s people, or as we now say His children, to be holy, because He is. It is a call addressed to all. The false deduction is of a state attained by special faith in some. And this has led J. W., if my memory serves aright, to misquote, “holy as God is holy.” What is written is the reason God lays down: He requires practical consistency with Himself in those that are His. Nothing can be more certain, becoming, and necessary. But to be holy as He is holy is in any case mistaken, and liable to most presumptuous thoughts if not blasphemous error.
Possibly what was running in the good man’s head was our Lord’s injunction in Matt. 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” But this text has no real connection with the aim for which it is produced. For our Lord simply insists on the grace toward evil men which His disciples are to cultivate, after the pattern of their heavenly Father, Whose sun is made to rise on evil and good, and Who sends rain on just and unjust. What has this to do with the question of the old man in believers? There is power in the Spirit given to us against every ill; but this assertion is very distinct from the assumption that sin is extinct and gone from any saint on earth. It ought never to be allowed to act.
But other considerations are urged of distinctly Christian character, which add immense weight and power both to the new responsibility and to the comfort and cheer of those who are Christ’s.
“And if as Father ye call on Him that impartially judgeth according to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourning in fear” (ver. 17).
As Jehovah was the divine name in relation to Israel, so is Father to the Christian, and this, not in the vulgar sense of the derivation from His breath, as fatherhood of Adam and the race (Luke 3:38, Acts 17:29), but of the special and spiritual nearness into which the risen Christ brought the believer. “Go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” He had prepared the disciples for this throughout His ministry. Rejected by the Jew, He turned from fleshly kin and said, “Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:49, 50). But now that redemption was accomplished and accepted as the new standing fact, now that purification of sins is made, and life given abundantly by His resurrection, He could announce precisely that His brethren enter the same relationships that He Himself had as risen from the dead and taking His place on high. So had He anticipated while opening His heart to the Father in their hearing only a few days before: “I made known to them thy name, and will make it known, that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.” This is Christianity, not in atonement (however true and needed through our sins and ruin), but in its positive excellency and in our special and proper place according to God’s counsels and love.
To the fathers dwelling in tents with nothing but His promises He revealed Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, their sure and sufficient Protector in the midst of the peoples they were in due time to dispossess. When the time came to bring forth Israel out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, He gave the name of Jehovah as their unchanging Governor, He their God and they His people. “And what great nation is there (Moses could ask), that hath God so nigh to them, as Jehovah our God is in everything we call on Him for?” “Hath God essayed to come and take Him a nation out of the midst of a nation by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a powerful hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that Jehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto you it was shown that thou mightest know that Jehovah He is God; there is none else besides Him. From the heavens He made thee hear His voice, that He might instruct thee; and on earth He showed thee His great fire; and thou heardest His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them, and brought thee out with His presence, with His great power, out of Egypt, to drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as at this day. Know therefore this day, and lay it to thy heart, that Jehovah He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath — none else” (Deut. 4:7, 34-39).
It was indeed the best portion a nation could have here below till Messiah reigns over them, and the new covenant be made with the houses of Israel and of Judah. But before that day Messiah came for a deeper, holier, and more wondrous purpose — to suffer for sin, and for the sins of all who believe, to the glory of God. The cross of Christ, where He suffered from God as well as from man, presents a work divine beyond all that ever was wrought or can be again. For in this way, so strange to human eyes, not only was the Son of man glorified, but God was glorified in Him Whom man despised and the nation abhorred. Therefore God glorified Him in Himself and glorified Him straightway, instead of in His kingdom of manifested power and might, which He awaits in due time. But in and by His sufferings on the cross atonement was made; and risen from the dead He could and did reveal in all its fulness the name of His Father and our Father, His God and our God; that we might ourselves call upon Him as such, in a blessed nearness never till then appropriated by the faithful, never even possible before save to our Lord Himself.
Yet it is exceedingly important to recognise that divine love never weakens but really and powerfully strengthens our sense of divine light. This is the dread of fallen humanity. Conscious sinfulness, till we know that we have been once for all cleansed sacrificially, makes us shrink from God. How changed all is, when we not only repent and believe but rest on Christ’s one offering, whereby He has perfected in perpetuity (
εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς) the sanctified! Then we children of light walk in the light, and prove it as wholesome as it is marvellous. We are thus thankful for the way with us of our God and Father in a world of danger and darkness and deception and self-will and rebellion against His will and word. For He “impartially judgeth according to the work of each.”
So had the Lord Himself taught in John 15., speaking of Himself as the True Vine, and of His disciples as the branches. “My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every one that beareth fruit He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit.” Those that remained around Him were already clean, because of the word He had spoken to them; many went back and walked no more with Him, and stumbled at the word, being disobedient. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him. The Vine represented the external relation, and the branches those who bore His name truly or not. It was no question of life eternal or of union with Him as glorified. It was a blessed place on earth of cleaving unto Him and bearing fruit, and so every true saint proves; but it might be only mental or external, and so unable to bear the word or overcome the world, and thus in some way come to ruin. The believer welcomes the Father’s care and bears more fruit. Even if He chastens, it is a Father’s hand, and a proof of His love, the very reverse of alienation from the erring one. “He dealeth with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” The Father of spirits can make no mistakes, as our honoured parents may have done; without fail He chastens for profit in order to the partaking of His holiness (Heb. 12:7-10). Man or woman, young or old, poor or rich, He judges according to the work of each. There is no partiality with Him; there is a Father’s love in the light.
But the present participle expresses here, not the abstract principle, but His actual dealing in distinct reference to the time of our sojourning. It is uncommonly bold to say otherwise in presence of John 5:22, and indeed the contest; where our Lord teaches that the Son quickens in communion with the Father, but has all judgment committed to Himself, because He is the Son of man. He only, of the Persons in the Godhead, became man, and suffered to the utmost in that humiliation; so He only has authority to execute judgment (in the final and everlasting sense) in that very nature. This is set beyond fair doubt, because the Lord declares that the believer does not come into judgment, by any such solemn act as He speaks of; whereas it is certain that every believer does become subject to the judgment which the Father now carries on while we are here. It is not that future act in God’s judgment, no doubt through Jesus Christ the Lord (Rom. 2:16, Rom. 14:10); it is not the Father’s doing but the Son of man’s. But it is the Father Who now judges according to the work of each saint in his sojourn here.
That this scripture goes no farther than the Father’s present scrutiny is evident from the exhortation which follows: “Pass the time of your sojourning in fear.” At Christ’s appearing there is for those addressed or others like them no sojourning more. Any such time is ended. Pilgrimage in the wilderness is exchanged for an abiding city, the coming one. There is no longer grief which we no doubt needed, but praise and glory and honour, with an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. But now it is our responsibility as Christians that our conduct be “in fear” of our Father and God, Whose word is living and operative, sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern both thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature unapparent in His sight; but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes with Whom we have to do.
It may be well, even if hardly needful, to say that the fear enjoined on the believer, during the time of his earthly course, is not only consistent with enjoying our Father’s love but its inseparable accompaniment. “There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared,” says Psalm 130:4. Hence “blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah, that delighteth greatly in His commandments” (Ps. 112:1). Not only is “the fear of Jehovah the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7), but “happy is the man that feareth always” (Prov. 28:14). It is in contrast with him that hardens his heart, who shall fall into mischief.
There is a natural fear of unbelief, which distrusts God and really hates Him. Of this John speaks in his First Epistle (1 John 4:18), as incompatible with love as with faith and hope, in short with the knowledge of God and His Son. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love [His, not ours] casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth hath not been perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” A true and filial spirit fears the commandment; as whoso despiseth the word shall be held accountable. In His fear is strong confidence, for He looks to the man who trembles at His word. No privileges of grace are meant to hinder or weaken this pious fear and godly awe. We shall also give account of all done in the body before Christ’s tribune, and receive accordingly. But this to us who believe is not the judgment from which grace exempts.
So the apostle Paul speaks of being with those who received the gospel at Corinth “in fear and in much trembling,” though in the full assurance of faith and in labours as abundant as his love; and in the Second Epistle he praises the saints for receiving Titus with fear and trembling (2 Cor. 7:15), to his comfort and the joy of his fellow-workman. What a contrast with the wicked and slothful bondman in the parable! Him the Lord describes as being afraid of the gracious Master, counting Him “an austere man,” and therefore hiding His talent in the earth, instead of using it faithfully for the good of others in His service, relying on His love!
Well did one write more than two centuries ago, “This fear is not cowardice; it doth not debase, but elevates the mind; for it drowns all lower fears, and begets true fortitude and courage to encounter all dangers for a good conscience and the obeying of God. ‘The righteous is bold as a lion’ (Prov. 28:1); he dares do anything but offend God; and to dare do that is the greatest folly and baseness and weakness in the world. From this fear have sprung all the generous resolutions and patient sufferings of the saints and martyrs of God, because they durst not sin against Him; therefore they durst be imprisoned, and impoverished, and tortured, and die for Him. Thus the prophet [Isaiah 8:12, 13] sets carnal and godly fear as opposite, and the one expelling the other. And our Saviour [Luke 12:4], ‘Fear not them that kill the body; but fear Him Who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say to you, fear Him!’ Fear not, but fear; and therefore fear that ye may not fear” (R. Leighton in loco, Jerment’s ed. i. 133, 4).
The fear in which the saints were urged to pass the time of their sojourn is the farthest possible from that doubt as to their souls and distrust of God’s grace, which go together if they be not the two sides of the same unbelief that leaves Christ out as revealed in the gospel. Such a dread is wholly excluded by the words which follow, as they ground the inculcated fear on the comforting and assured fact of having been redeemed, and redeemed by that which is of all things the most precious to God, and the most efficacious for sinners.
“Knowing that not by corruptibles, silver or gold, ye were redeemed, from your vain course ancestrally handed down, but by precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless” (vers. 18, 19).
Jewish believers ought to have been familiar with redemption. In its earthly and temporal shape it is the central truth of the book of Exodus; wherein their bitter bondage and oppression forms the beginning; and God dwelling in the tabernacle in their midst, founded on that redemption, is the close. But they also came under the law, which Israel then undertook to obey. They thus let slip the promises to the fathers, and slighted the grace just shown to themselves from the Red Sea all the way to Sinai. This was fatal; not because the law was not good, but because they were weak and ungodly, sinners and enemies, as another apostle describes man’s natural state (Rom. 5). To such, no matter what long-suffering and goodness may be shown, the law must prove a ministration of death and condemnation. And so it was to the elect nation, which blindly and self-righteously offered to stand on legal conditions.
Now it is by grace that any have been or can be saved, and therefore through faith. This was attested to their fathers, as plainly as any shadows could convey it, in the combined type of Jehovah’s Passover and Israel’s passage of the Red Sea. The blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door-posts and upper lintel of each house expressed in that figure the sacrifice of Christ (1 Cor. 5). This alone could perfectly meet His moral judgment and not only screen a people justly exposed to it, but give them there and then to feast on the lamb’s body. With bitter herbs they were to eat; for repentance toward God must accompany the faith that He would see the blood that night and pass over all within the sprinkled doors; also with loins girded, shoes on feet, and staff in hand, as pilgrims henceforth turning their back on Egypt for Canaan, but meanwhile crossing the desert. But there was a great supplement — the passage of the Red Sea; which in figure joins the resurrection to the death of the Lord Jesus for us. Here it was divine power righteously exercised on behalf of :His people, impossible without the Victim’s blood, but now annulling the enemy’s power, and entitling them to sing as delivered, Jehovah too no longer as a judge shut out, but leading and fighting for them victoriously. Christ was not only a propitiatory through faith in His blood, but given up for our offences and raised for our justification. It is God for us (Rom. 8) but by Christ, Who gave Himself for our sins to take us out from the present evil age. We are thereby brought to God, not yet to heaven though made meet for it as Col. 1:12 declares with all plainness and decision.
It is of this redemption Peter speaks when he tells the saints that they “were redeemed,” and that they knew it consciously (
εἰδότες). It was no longer a simply objective fact: this they had at first to apprehend by faith; it was now part of their inward realisation by the Holy Spirit. And the Epistle to the Hebrews (9:12) characterises it, in contrast with the foregoing pattern, as “everlasting redemption.” An eternally divine Person was needed, as He deigned to become incarnate, in order by His atoning death to obtain it; and having obtained it, He entered once for all into the heavenly sanctuary where we know Him now on high. Redemption is therefore an accomplished standing of rich and immediate consequence to God Who is glorified by it, and to the believer; and of his acceptance, not Christ’s resurrection only is the guarantee but His session at God’s right hand above.
There is another and future application of divine power which is called redemption, as in Rom. 8 for “our body” when raised or changed at Christ’s coming (1 Cor. 15:23); so too of the acquired possession, “our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14: cf. Rom. 8:19-22). But this power of His glory is also founded on His work as well as His person. The same principle applies to its very frequent use in the Psalms and Prophets to the future deliverance of Israel for His kingdom on earth. See Ps. 103:4, Ps. 106:10, Ps. 107:2; Isa. 35:9, etc., Isa. 41:14, etc., Isa. 43:1, Isa. 44:22, 23, Isa. 48:20, Isa. 52:9, Isa. 63:9. Another word also conveys it, as in Isa. 1:27, Isa. 29:22; Isa. 35:10, Isa. 51:11; Jer. 15:21, Jer. 31:11; Hosea 13:14; Micah 6:4; Zech. 10:8. All however rests on His blood-shedding. The return from Babylon was an outward sample and pledge.
True redemption was no mere release by creature means, such as the children of Israel knew, when every man in the numbering of them had to give a ransom for himself as a living man to Jehovah, “that there might be no plague among them.” Here it was no question of sins or sacrifice but of a ransom for his life against plague. Accordingly the principle established was a sacred half-shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary. “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than the half shekel when they give the heave-offering of Jehovah to make atonement for your souls” (Ex. 30:15).8 This was a beautiful token that each of the people, all alike, belonged to Jehovah their Divine Guardian and Governor. But in presence of Christ and His redemption already possessed, even silver that shadowed grace or gold that represented divine righteousness, were but “corruptibles,” fading away before the glory that both surpasses and abides (2 Cor. 3:9-11).
It is worthy of remark, that the saints are here said to be redeemed, among its manifold and wondrous results, from their vain course, or mode of life, handed down from their fathers. Language so precise to describe, not Gentile idolaters, but the Jews since the Maccabees in their tenacity of tradition from father to son, it is hard to conceive. Of old before the Babylonish captivity, kings, priests, people, ran a race after the abominations of the heathen. But this hateful lusting after strange gods they learnt to abjure; and even Antiochus IV. (Epiphanes) could only impose his profane Hellenising on Jerusalem and the Jews for a measured space by treachery and violence, by pillage and massacre. Our Lord Himself formally charged even the more orthodox and learned among them with neutralising the most solemn duties of the law on its human side, and thus the word of God, because of the tradition of the elders. It made them “hypocrites.” “In vain do they worship me” (citing Isa. 29:13); a prophecy which embraces their final trouble but deliverance when at the lowest, as well as their sinfully blind state, that brought them so low, about to pass away for ever at the end of the age.
Can there be a more authoritative comment on the apostle’s description of their state before they were redeemed? Their manner of life, even in its religious aspect, had neither purpose nor result. No doubt this might well be said of Paganism, which was wholly a lie with demons behind it; but how emphatic when applied truly to men confident of being a guide of the blind, a light of those in darkness! Only among Jews had the early fathers a claim from God. But this was for His promises, not for any such tradition of theirs, as the sons imagined. For the truth, “one is your Father, who is in heaven” said the Lord to the disciples. Fore-fathers, of whom scripture gave a reliable and sad account, were their trust, not the living God. They were guilty, because only they knew those sure and unambiguous oracles; but the heathen knew them not, and filled the void with the deceptive myths of poets. Gentile religion, like their wisdom, did not come down from above, but was earthly, natural, and demoniacal. What a contrast with ours which has its centre in Christ and its basis in His redemption, its glorying in God, its charter in His word, and its power in the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven!
Accordingly the redemption is here said to be “by precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless.” The order of the Greek, which some prefer in English also, is “by precious blood as of a lamb . . . , Christ,” followed closely by “fore-known” etc. in ver. 22. The truth in substance remains the same. Christ’s blood is of all things precious. “Without shedding of blood is no remission”; by His blood our conscience is purged from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9, 10). Not only are believers redeemed by it, as here; but it is everlasting redemption, as we have seen. In Christ we have redemption through it, not yet of the body, but the remission of offences (Eph. 1:7). Nor was there forgiveness only but peace through the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20), and justification in virtue of it (Rom. 5:9). For indeed as He loves us, so He washed us from our sins in His blood (Rev. 1:6). As we now drink the cup of the new covenant in His blood, so in heaven the new song is of the Lamb slain Who bought to God by His blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Is it not indeed precious blood?
The allusion is plain in “as of a lamb unblemished and spotless.” It may well be to the paschal lamb of which we have spoken. They had too the burnt-offering of the morning, and especially perhaps the evening lamb, offered between the evenings, day by day continually. It was at the door of the tent of meeting before Jehovah, “where I will meet with you, to speak there unto thee [the mediator]. And there I will meet with the children of Israel; and it [the tent] shall be sanctified by my glory.” So it stands in Ex. 29:38-46, the book of redemption. Thus only could Jehovah dwell in their midst. Hence we can measure the daring that takes away from the Prince of the host the “daily” or continual offering (Dan. 8); for it was the exclusion of the visible link of acceptance between God and His people on earth: a more impious affront than any political oppression of His people.
For the Christian the sanctuary is on high. “For Christ is not entered into holies made by hands, figures of the true, but into heaven itself now to appear before the face of God for us” (Heb. 9:24); and there He entered once for all by His own blood (12). “For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7: 26).
The apostle next treats of the comforting truth, in order to establish the saint, that however new to them the gospel might be, it was all settled in God’s mind and counsel before man fell, yea before creation. Redemption was no remedial afterthought, though of course implied in the sentence of Jehovah Elohim on the serpent in paradise, and shadowed in sacrifice ever after.
Hence we here read of Christ, “foreknown9 indeed before [the] world’s foundation, but manifested at [the] last of the times for your sake, that through him believe on God that raised him out of [the] dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (vers. 20, 21). All the older English versions, save that of Rheims, add “who was” foreknown. But the absence of the article forbids this. It is assumed rather than asserted.
Such language is never employed about the divine dealings with Israel. Rich and large as are the promises to the fathers, they never go back into eternity as here. Hen may reason in an abstract manner on prescience and omniscience; but the fact is plain, that God did not speak to the fathers nor through the prophets of blessings before the world’s foundation. They were made in time, however enduring they may be.
Here we learn that which transcends the promises. Lately come in manifestation, Christ as God’s Lamb was foreknown before creation. The gift of His Son to suffer and redeem was ever in the mind of God. He knew what the creature would be if put to proof, and that none could stand save those upheld by the word of His power. Meanwhile every means to instruct and to direct, to cheer and to restrain, to warn and to alarm, was tried; and this formally and fully in Israel separated from the nations for God’s grand moral and religious experiment; vain as it must prove. God showed all along how thoroughly He knew the end from the beginning, though they believed it not, seeking to make their own righteousness out of that law which was meant to prove the impossibility. For through law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20), as salvation is only through the faith of the Saviour.
“Foreknown” could not suffice. Christ was “manifested” in due time; and the due time was “at close of the times.” Long had been God’s patience; manifold His dealings in moral government, if by any means there might be fruit from man for His acceptance. But the fall, though in one man, was of the race; and the sample of the race under the special care of God proved the tree to be worthless, producing therefore bad fruit. If any one could have been conceived to change the result, it was the Lord Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. When He was sent, as He Himself puts it, the husbandmen said among themselves, This is the Heir: come, let us kill Him, and seize on His inheritance. And they caught and cast Him out of the vineyard and slew Him. But in Christ’s rejection on the cross God made Him that knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. For therein only was God glorified as to sin. The Son of man bore His judgment of evil, as He had already glorified His Father in the unfaltering obedience of a life devoted to do His will. Hence as it was God’s righteousness to raise Jesus from the dead and give Him glory at His right hand, so it is to justify every one who believes in Jesus.
It is accordingly written “manifested at the last (or, the end) of the times for your sake.” The most ancient and best MSS. (ABC), many good cursives, and old versions give this sense; not “at the last time” according to earlier editors. It is similar in force to Heb. 1:1. where the form is “at the last of these days.” In fact the gospel was sent out to Jew first, and to Greek. Among those who believed, the dispersed Jews to whom the apostles wrote received it as God’s power unto salvation. When boasting is excluded, and ought to be silenced, God speaks, and speaks in love to all; for all are lost sinners. When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for ungodly men. Such as owned their guilt and ruin before God cast themselves on Christ and His precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless. Nothing else could meet adequately either God or man. And as these believing Jews submitted to the righteousness of God, they became entitled to the blessing of the gospel.
But it is an error often made to confound what is here annexed with the statement in Rev. 13:8. For this scripture teaches no more than our text that the Lamb was slain from the founding of the world, a meaning only made possible by a mystical imagination. The comparison however of what is said in Rev. 17:8 affords plain evidence that the name written in the book of life of the Lamb slain is the true connection with the world’s founding, not that the Lamb was then slain. For the later scripture referring to the same truth omits “of the slain Lamb,” but affirms the writing in the book of life from that time.
Nor is this all. “From” the world’s founding is not of the same import as “before” it. Let us respect and learn from the very words of God. Those saints who are preserved from yielding to the Beast at the close of the age had their name written from the foundation of the world in the slain Lamb’s book of life. With this we may compare the King’s language to the blessed from all the nations, severed like sheep from the goats, to inherit the kingdom prepared for them “from” the world’s foundation. But the phrase used in Eph. 1:4 as in 1 Peter 1:20 is pointedly different. As Christ was foreknown and loved by the Father (John 17:24) “before” then, so did God choose in Christ us who now believe “before” the world’s foundation, that we should be holy and unblemished before Him in love. It is easy for a Christian to understand Christ foreknown before time began; but how wondrous the grace that God chose us to such an association and for such a purpose! He was known before creation, as He had a glory in personal right above it; we by grace are objects of divine counsel which His work suite in order that we may enjoy all whore He is, and with Him.
Then the apostle carefully defines who they are that are thus blessed, though in no way confined to the believing remnant of Jews, “for your sake that through Him believe on God.” The testimony of the gospel is quite unlimited. “Disciple all the Gentiles (or, nations),” said the Lord (Matt. 28:15); “preach the gospel to all the creation” (Mark 16:15); “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations” (Luke 24:47). Nor is He less explicit in the gospel of John: “for God so loved the world that He gave his Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have life eternal.” Here as we have the result no less plainly unlimited as in the other Gospels, so does the Lord restrict life and salvation to those that believe the testimony of God.
There is a difference in the reading but not in the truth. Three MSS. (AB 9), supported by the Latin Vulgate, say “that are through him ‘faithful’.” The great weight of copies, uncial and cursive, with the ancient versions generally, support the usual text “that through him believe.” Faithful often says more than believing, in no case less. The substance remains the same. Not a doubt can there be to a renewed mind that it is through Christ that we are faithful toward God. The question is, if this be intended here, where faith appears to be set before us, rather than the fidelity which springs from it. If so, it is a truth no less certain than interesting that through Christ we believe on God.
Men talk of rising “through nature up to nature’s God.” But how could this, even if true of any, avail for a fallen soul whose sins morally compelled the Creator to become a Judge? lend what could His providence, real and gracious and mighty as it is, do to cleanse the sinner from his guilt or to give him reconciliation with God and assurance of His love? The law again, righteous and holy and good as it is, could only aggravate his misery if his conscience rightly felt his evil state, and God’s just and necessary displeasure with a creature, originally upright, but now so alienated, self-willed, and rebellious. No, it is the Lord Jesus Who alone could and did meet the otherwise insuperable difficulty. It was His to conciliate what without Him was irreconcilable on any ground of truth; but He only by His sacrificial death for our sins. In His cross divine love and light, grace and righteousness, majesty and mercy, unite to bless those who repent and believe the gospel. Thus only are loving-kindness and truth met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Hence then through Him we believe on God as the Saviour God, giving His beloved Son for our offences and raising Him again for our justification. It is not said here, as once to us when mere sinners, that through the Father’s drawing one comes to Christ; but now we through Christ believe on God in the deep, intimate, and enduring way that is revealed to us as saints
No one hath seen God at any time: the Only-begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father — He declared Him. It is through Christ that we believe on God, as Light and Love, Saviour and source of all grace, Who sent Christ and drew us to Him, made us His children, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. But we must not forget that by receiving God’s testimony the soul believes on Christ. “Verily, verily, I say to you, He that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me hath life eternal” (John 5:24). Christ being received makes God known more fully to faith, as in resurrection He could say, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God (John 20:17).
Here it is intimated of those “that believe on God that raised him out of [the] dead, so that your faith and hope are (or, should be) in God.” The resurrection of Christ from among the dead and the glory given to Him on high are God’s mighty and distinct evidence that He is for the believer absolutely and for ever. If anything could have made this doubtful, it was our sins. But they were laid — yea, He laid on Christ (Isa. 53:6) the iniquity of us all. Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Where are they now? When He made purification of the sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Not one sin did God leave on the believer; not one did Christ carry into heaven; for what He thus did was the will of God; so that our faith and hope are in God. The teaching is thus far the same as in Rom. 4:24, 25. We can no more doubt God for the future than for the past, as the apostle so triumphantly declares in Rom. 8. If God be for us (and this He has proved irrefutably to the utmost), who against?
The apostle had appealed to their conscious knowledge of redemption by that which is of all things most precious to God — the blood of Christ as of a lamb unblemished and spotless. And if it was eternally before God, however late in accomplishment, God’s raising Christ from the dead had through Him so acted on them, that their faith and hope were in God. From Him they looked for all good, and nothing but good, henceforth and for ever. He has now further considerations of the greatest weight in urging the saints to mutual love; for this is only secondary to receiving Christ and the truth, without which is no love according to God’s nature.
Thus the saints are authoritatively taught the true source of their purification. It is from God as certainly as it is to God. It is not ritual which could not purge the conscience, but in the fullest sense personal; it was not in their habits only, or even their thoughts and affections. They had purified “their souls,” that is, their inner selves in all extent. For a man’s soul is essentially the seat of his conscious individuality, of his will, of his responsibility to God. His inner capacity is in his “spirit,” for or about which he is as responsible as for the things done through the body as the outer instrument; but his responsibility lies in the soul. Soul and spirit however are so closely joined, that but one of the two generally is named, as here. Only the one which is named in scripture, though not excluding the other, is always strictly correct and has its proper force. On the other hand men and in particular philosophers, as they shrink from facing their responsibility to God, constantly incline to count the “I” to be in the “spirit,” of which they are proud, rather than in the “soul,” awakening thoughts which they do not relish. What depths of sin and shame has not man’s will led him into?
But those to whom the Epistle is addressed had no more hesitation in owning the truth as to themselves than the apostle had in crediting them with the grace in question. It is not a wish or a prayer that they should be purified, but rather is assumed as a settled fact, as surely as they were faithful. This is said in no levity, nor does it imply the least licence; save that they were still passing through a desert world, exposed to a sleepless enemy. Hence were they dependent on their unseen God and Father, as He is unfailingly faithful to such. But the call to love one another is manifestly grounded on the assurance that they had purified their souls already; which involves the responsibility of continual consistency with this state of purity, and of self-judgment in case of failure. It is the regular Christian standing, which may be varied in the form of expression; but it meets us substantially in every apostolic Epistle.
Hence our apostle averred the like grace for the believing Gentiles, when he pleaded the cause of their liberty against Pharisaic brethren who sought to put them under law: “And the heart-knowing God bore them witness, giving the Holy Spirit just as to us also, and made no difference between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” As in Acts 15:8, 9 “faith” is stated to be the subjective means, our scripture says yet more that it was by the Jews’ “obeying the truth” objectively put before them. “Obedience to the truth” is but another and fuller way of expressing their faith. To have a solid and divine character there must be subjection to the truth.
Further, the purification of their souls is next shown to be “unto brotherly affection unfeigned.” Before we have purified our souls, there is every thing not only to hinder such affection but to render it impossible. Sin, darkness, self, fleshly and worldly lusts, and under Satan’s power make men more and more miserable, relieved only by pleasures as vain as the religious efforts of a bad conscience in lieu of happiness. How deep the ruin of the fall! God good and holy, whom man gave up and lost, was replaced by the liar and the murderer! Cain is the firstborn of Adam and Eve: what a witness of natural religion and of brotherly affection! Abel testifies to grace by faith. By birth we are like the one, by new birth our part is with the other. “By faith Abel offered to God a mere excellent sacrifice than Cain.”
God justified us by faith, giving us redemption through the blood of Jesus. Not otherwise were our souls purged, and thereby are we fitted for brotherly affection, such as God looks for in Christians. In ordinary circumstances any other feeling would dishonour and in effect deny the relationship which grace has established for our present and mutual recognition. Scripture clearly lays down the exceptional cases, and how we ought then to behave; but we need not now say more about it. This is the Lord’s new commandment. By this, said He, shall all know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love among one another.
So the Spirit guards against mere forms or words by qualifying the brotherly affection for which their souls were purified as “unfeigned.” Pretence to a good that is not genuinely felt is hateful to God, and unworthy of His child. Hence the value of cherishing the sense of His presence to be kept from hypocrisy in this way as in every other. Let us never forget His marvellous light into which He carried us out of darkness. “know ye not,” says the apostle Paul, “that ye are God’s temple, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you”?
Hence the exhortation, which is not tautological as some have irreverently said, “Out of a pure heart love one another fervently,” or intensely. It is a simple charge that the object in view may be earnestly heeded. God’s love to us is the spring of all our blessing, and never did it flow out so freely and fully as when man’s sin proved how utterly undeserving he was, and no less wretched and helpless. Then it was, and at the lowest point, when God turned his evil in rejecting and slaying Christ, His Son, to the proof of His own all-overcoming goodness in making Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in Him. In the faith of Him and His sacrifice have we purified our souls, hitherto steeped in defilement, unto unfeigned brotherly affection. Let us love then the objects of the same divine love, who rest on the same sin-cleansing sacrifice. No doubt they were called to be holy throughout their course, because He Who called them is holy; but they were bound to love their brethren, not for any reasons of their own or for reasons in others, but “out of a pure heart” and “fervently”: had not God so felt and dealt with them? Even to heathen, when they believed in Christ, the apostle could write (1 Thess. 4:9), “ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”
Yet the purification of the believer’s soul, effected as it is already, is not all that enforces brotherly affection unfeigned and fervent. Our new birth as saints has this love essentially in its nature, as surely as it is through God’s word. So the passage proceeds:
“Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through God’s living and abiding word” (ver. 23).
It is not without intention that the participle of the active perfect is employed in ver. 22, and of the passive perfect in ver. 23. Rigid Calvinism seems hardly compatible with the former, nor rigid Arminianism with either. Revealed truth, large no less than exact, insists on both as a settled standing of grace; on which is based the call to be imitators of God as children beloved, and to walk in love, as the apostle of uncircumcision exhorts us. It is not that purification precedes the new birth as matter of fact; for to be born anew is the first vital dealing of grace with the soul, but purification attests it.
Evangelicalism is here utterly lame and short, if we may judge by the theological text-books, and such discourses as meet the public eye. Of course, one could not expect sound doctrine from Romanist divines; but those considered orthodox Protestants are on this scarcely better. Their idea is a change on man by the Spirit’s action through the word of God on his faculties, which are no longer devoted to self and Satan but directed to His service. But this is rather descriptive of the effect than a statement of the operating cause or means under His hand. Scripture is abundant and clear that a life is given to the believer (and Christ is this life, as the old one is from Adam fallen), which acts through our faculties on objects revealed by God and far beyond those of natural life. Thus, as our Lord taught, one sees and enters the kingdom, not only by-and” by but now by faith; or as the apostle puts it, translated by the Father into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
In vain do unbelieving professors, or saints misled by tradition, decry this new order of being as mystic. For the life of which the saint partakes was comparatively hidden from O.T. believers; yet they had it in Him Who had not yet appeared, but was truly hoped for. Now since Christ came, this and much more is cleared up; and the believer is assured that he has it as a present thing, whatever be the added blessedness at His coming again when the body is swallowed up by the life which the soul has already in Christ. For indeed it is life eternal, and so declared even now; and woe to him who is emboldened by the enemy to deny it! For this is the soil out of which grow the fruits of the Spirit working on the inner man to the glory of Christ its source, a life even now quite as real and incomparably more blessed and momentous than the old Adamic life. Calvin is almost as vague as the rest; only Leighton here speaks as one taught of God as far as he goes.
We have then been begotten again, as not even the Jews were, whatever their boast of being Abraham’s seed and of never being in bondage to any, at the very time when they were undeniably slaves to the Romans for their apostasy, and of their father the devil, in believing his lie against Him Who is the true God and the life eternal. But the believer has been begotten, “not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible,” not of man or through man, but through God’s living and abiding word. So the Lord declared to Nicodemus, Except one be born anew (i.e. of water and of Spirit), he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God (John 3:37). That which is born of flesh is flesh; and that which is born of Spirit is spirit. The flesh does not become spirit, any more than the spirit becomes flesh. The life given is of God, in Christ, and by the Spirit who employs the word here figured as often by “water.” To bring in baptism here is not only foreign to the context, but opposed to all the scriptures which treat of the subject. James 1:18 is as adverse as Paul (1 Cor. 4:15), and John (John 15:3) no less than the text of Peter before us. Very likely all the fathers who discuss it join in gross and superstitious error; and Calvin may have been the first of the theologians, as Hooker says, who rejected the error; but so much the greater is their shame. This truth is as sure as it is transparent.
What can be more apt for the apostle’s purpose than the passage he cites from the prophet? In setting forth the blessedness of being born again, he makes it more felt by contrasting with it universal nature, and nature at its best.
“Because all flesh [is] as grass, and all its glory as a flower of grass. The grass withered and the flower fell away; but the word of [the] Lord (Jehovah) abideth for ever. And this is the word that as glad tidings was preached unto you (vers. 24, 25).
It is the twofold lesson of repentance and faith, which is thus appropriately attached to being born again. Hence, in comforting His people, it is not only the coming of a Deliverer that is in question, even if this Deliverer be Jehovah, but the necessity that the people should judge themselves in His sight. The voice of one crying in the wilderness needs the supplement of a second that cries so solemnly of fallen man, “all flesh is grass, and all its comeliness as the flower of the field.” Israel had flattered itself that they were wholly different from other men. But a voice which flatters not must cry that it is not merely the Gentiles that perish, but “surely the people is grass.” Where were the ten tribes? and why chased out of Immanuel’s land? And where had Isaiah just announced to the king of David’s house, that their treasures and their sons were to be carried away? Was it not to Babylon, the centre of graven images and enchantments and sorceries, because of Judah’s persistent love of idols? Which of human kind so guilty as the favoured people, and its most favoured tribe?
Nor was this all. For the scattered remnant to whom the apostle wrote knew of another sin still more heinous, into which they had lately fallen though long predicted by the same prophet (Isa. 49 - 57) with its terrible issue in receiving “the king,” the Anti-christ of the last days, as must surely be accomplished in its time. Yes, “all flesh is as grass, and all its glory as a flower of grass.” Difference there is. Some are much fairer than others, refined, tender, generous, brave, affectionate, and religious after the flesh. There is not only the grass in general, but its flower. And men are apt to admire and even adore what is so pleasant to their eyes, their fancy, and their feelings. But nothing is right truly, where God has not His rights: and He as plainly judged man’s sin, as He clearly presented the only hope for the sinner in the woman’s Seed, the virgin’s Son, Immanuel.
Hence to believe in Him, now come and dead and risen and ascended, is the only salvation; and nothing more truly causes the penitent soul unsparingly to own its natural ruin and its sins. For it is no light thing for man to sit in moral judgment on himself; and it is just what the Spirit of God works in him (not at first peace or liberty, far from either indeed, but) the deep sense, not only of what he has done but what he is before God as a sinful man. That the Son of God is come from God, and by Him sent, not to condemn but as a Saviour, encourages him to integrity in self-judgment. Without doubt it is deeply painful under the word and Spirit of God to be brought down in conscience of one’s own evil in His sight into the dust of death; and the sight of Christ by faith by His very perfectness increases the self-loathing. How sweet then to have the testimony that the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from every sin! that He made peace by the blood of His cross! that He is not only the Living Bread, as come down out of heaven, but by His death gives us to eat His flesh and drink His blood, so that I dwell in Him, and He in me!
The Pauline teaching, of not only His death for us but of our death with Him, carries out the truth still more thoroughly; but even in its simpler form by our Epistle we are enabled to write death on all humanity, and forbear to boast of what seems fairest outwardly. Nor is it an idea or sentiment, but a reality personal and experimental for our everlasting profit henceforth, not only in distrusting ourselves, but in tenderness toward others, and in boasting in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through Whom now we received the reconciliation.
The reason too is certain and extreme. All flesh is as grass, and all its glory as a flower of grass. In human nature, fallen as it surely is, there is no stability; its flower only and altogether evanescent. Withered the grass, fell away the flower. There can be no trust, no dependence on the creature. Are we then left to ourselves, our sins and our follies, just when we most evidently need the only true God, as good as He is great? Not so. We had no just claim; we shamelessly deserted Him when He showed us nothing but tender mercy; like Adam, we forgot His word and disobeyed Him, we believed the liar and the murderer, and hoped we might sin and not surely die. This was ruin now; and if this were all, it led to ruin everlasting. For sin breeds more sin; and such was and is the history of the race. But He spoke, even when judging the sin and sentencing the enemy, of One Who should vanquish him who wrought the mischief; and of the One to vanquish Satan, keenly suffering as the woman’s Seed, in the infinite compassion of God for the ensnared. If human nature at its best is feeble and failing, man needs what abides; and so in contrast with that which fades away, “the word of the Lord (Jehovah) abideth for ever.”
Here, in ver. 25, it is not
λόγος as in ver. 23; for the latter is used to convey the meaning or mind of God, whereas
ῥήμα is the expression, what was actually said or written. Compare the distinction which our Lord Himself draws between His “speech” (
λαλιὰ) and His “word” in John 8:43: they did not know His speech, because they were unable to hear His word. When the divine truth is received, the words that express it become understood, not before. Here
ῥήμα, “word” goes beyond “speech” and is applied to Jehovah’s message; which not only withered up self-dependence, but gave them His word immutable and abiding for ever. “And this is the word that as glad-tidings was preached unto you.” What a spring of confidence to those that preach and to those that hear the gospel!
It is not only His abstract mind, but His meaning expressed fully and communicated indelibly in the scriptures. He would give His people solid assurance of the comfort He held out so emphatically to them, even before He set out by His prophet the twofold and tremendous indictment of their guilt. For, as in Isa. 40 - 48 He arraigns their idolatries which sent them captives to Babylon, so in Isa. 49 - 57. He predicts after the return the deeper guilt of rejecting the Righteous Servant, His Anointed, and receiving, as they surely will, the Antichrist, the wilful king of the latter day. But where sin abounded, grace shall surpass it all, as the rest of Isaiah triumphantly proves, and the elect remnant at the end of the age shall be His possession for ever; no longer bondmen but above bondage, yet all the more truly His servants, His Onesimi, once severed but now indissolubly joined, once unserviceable but now serviceable to Himself and a blessing to all the families of the earth according to unfailing promise.
But the apostle also shows that the remnant of Jews who now receive Christ anticipate, as do the faithful from among the nations, the blessing in the gospel already preached. They have before hoped in Christ, as the apostle Paul expresses it in Eph. 1:12. If the mass are now blinded, if mercy shall prevail over every obstacle in the darkest days of the consummation of the age, neither these reasons nor any others hinder sovereign grace while Christ sits at the right hand of God. Those of the Jews who now receive the glad-tidings have their hope in Christ realised to the full, before the remnant becomes the strong nation of the new age. Such is the force of their pre-trusting in Him, while their brethren in the flesh refuse Him, and before the latter day bow to Him in faith. They are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. We are also those who from among the Gentiles have heard and believed the word of truth, the glad tidings of our salvation. For as there is no difference in the ruin, so there is none in the salvation according to the riches of God’s grace.
Here too is implied the immense superiority of Christian blessedness over that of which the Jews so loudly boasted. They undoubtedly had privileges from Jehovah as the seed of Abraham: and they were born to them, if at least duly circumcised as they were, in witness of the uncleanness of the flesh. But their privileges were earthly, external, and temporal; and so it had been openly proved in O.T. times by the Babylonish captivity, as it was soon to be more overwhelmingly by the Roman scattering of much longer duration. Far different is the Christian’s portion even now, and far brighter his hope. Hence in the Epistle to the Hebrews the emphasis on “eternal” or “everlasting.” Such is the salvation (Heb. 5:9) as is the judgment (Heb. 6:2); such the redemption (Heb. 9:12), the Spirit (ver. 14), and the inheritance (ver. 15), as the blood is of an “everlasting” covenant (Heb. 13:20). To this, without referring to other proofs, may be added the “better” blessings, as in Heb. 7:19, 22, Heb. 8:6 (twice), Heb. 9:23, Heb. 10:34, Heb. 11:16, 40.
Our apostle of the circumcision does not write so elaborately, but was led to base the greatness of God’s gift to the believer on the being born again, of seed not corruptible but incorruptible through God’s living and abiding word; a character and source of being quite above nature, in contrast with transitory flesh, even in Israel, and founded on His word spoken and written which expressly abides for ever. This is the very word that was preached unto them with all its glad news, that they might know that they had through it received a new nature as incorruptible and everlasting as His word Who communicated both. The fervour of his heart breaks out in the simple earnestness with which he speaks of a boon so needful and so blessed for man as he is. He would have his brethren know it theirs now without a shade of uncertainty.
We can readily understand that there was at least as great danger for the Jewish Christian, as for the Gentile to allow questions to arise in his heart in presence of snares and the world’s unbelief. We find the apostle Paul recalling in 1 Cor. 15 the gospel which he preached to them, which they also received, wherein also they were standing, through also they were saved if they held fast the word which he preached the gospel to them, unless indeed they believed in vain. For they were doubting of the resurrection which is an essential truth of the gospel, Christ not only having died but being risen. So here the apostle Peter reminds his brethren of the ever abiding word in the gospel announced to them, the source of their new and imperishable life as believers.
1 It is an instructive proof how little the most eminent critical ability avails for the N.T., that Lachmann edited
ἐκλήθημεν (A D E F G) in Eph. 1:11, where spiritual intelligence is certain that it must be
ἐκληρώθημεν, the added truth of our heirship. The Vulgate had similarly erred though qualifying it by “sorte,” as also the Peschito and Harcl. Syrr.; Memph. etc. in the rendering of “chosen” which belongs to the calling, not to the inheritance.
2 There are but few cursives which read
ἡμᾶς “us,” as do Steph edd. 3 and 4, and Beza edd. 1 and 2, and Elz. It is in none else even of the Barber editions, as Erasm. Complut. Ceph. Beb. Colin. Steph. 1 and 2. Beza is right in edd. 3, 4, and 5. No uncial is known to sanction “us,” which seems due to assimilating ver, 4 to 3, in disregard of what follows.
ἄρτι is in no way superfluous, if
ἀγαλλιᾶσθε be as it is a proper present; for it goes with the participle to counteract any wrong use of the aorist. The grief comes transiently now, and only where an unerring God sees the need. This when trusted is a great cheer in the trial.
4 It is not “the” prophets as a body, but persons so characterised, Hence the article follows, “that” prophesied concerning the grace that was destined for those that now believe. Prophetic character is all the more brought into prominence by omitting the article before
προφῆται. Class is in view rather than the persons as an entire and definite object before us.
5 ”To us” (
ἡμῖν) seems so natural that one need not be surprised that this reading should appear in K, many cursives, and some ancient versions, more than even in ver. 10. But there is no sufficient ground to doubt that
ὑμῖν (“to you”) is the true text, as attested by the best and oldest copies, with the bulk of juniors and with good and ancient versions. Text. Rec. presents the record rather unnaturally in giving
ὑμᾶς in ver, 12.
6 The preposition is not read by A B, some cursives, and Greek and Latin fathers. Ancient versions are in such a case uncertain. The great mass favour
ἐν which would mean “in the power or virtue of,” or “by” as we say briefly.
7 ”Conduct” answers to the early meaning of “conversation,” which is antiquated and nearly obsolete, being now confined to free interchange of speech. It is strange that Johnson, Richardson etc., ignore this, the uniform sense in the A.V of O. and N T i.e.. “behaviour,” “conduct,” “course,” or “practical life.” Webster edited by Goodrich and the Century Dict give it as the first sense of the word.
8 Think of Peter’s unintelligent zeal in maintaining that his Master was a good Jew in paying this temple tax, and of the Lord’s gracious reproof in summoning to Peter’s hook the fish with the shekel in its mouth to pay “for Me and thee.”
9 Tyndale and others since say “foreordained,” but this goes beyond the word which ought to be rendered faithfully. A commentator cites Rom. 8:29 to justify the change, but the text is adverse, because it distinguishes the two.
10 The most ancient and best MSS. do not read
διὰ πνεύματος “through the Spirit,” the Latins strangely giving charitatis “of love,” instead of veritatis “the truth” which is certainly right. A few omit