Now the apostle turns to such as took the lead in governmental care among the saints, as he had already exhorted gifted persons (1 Peter 4:10, 11), after urging the more general call to fervent love and ungrudging hospitality (8, 9).
“Elders [therefore] that [are] among you I exhort that [am] fellow-elder, and witness of the sufferings of Christ, that [am] also partaker of the glory about to be revealed. Tend (or, shepherd) the flock of God that [is; among you, exercising oversight,31 not by necessity but willingly,32 not for base gain, but readily, nor as fording it over your allotments, but becoming models of the flock. And when the Chief-shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory” (vers. 1-4).
As the apostle’s heart may well have bounded in writing the early verses of 1 Peter 2 which recalled the memorable passage in his life when the Saviour gave him his new name, did it not also swell with deepest gratitude and lowly praise in now writing to elders as he recalled the grace that before his brethren reinstated the one who had thrice denied Him? Feed My lambs; tend (or, shepherd) My sheep; feed My sheep (John 21:15, 17, 18). Yes, Peter was brought to feel and own that his love to the Saviour of which he once boasted had so utterly failed, that only the Lord who knew all things could see it at the bottom of his self-confidence. Notwithstanding all, the Lord did know that he dearly loved Him! To him then and there He confided what was dearest to Himself, His lambs and His sheep, to tend and feed His flock. In like love Peter in his measure appeals to elders as a fellow-elder. Though apostle he takes common ground as far as this was possible, as grace gladly does to further its unselfish purposes. True service, as well as rule, is founded on love; and the love of the servant flows from that of the Saviour. But self needs to be judged in its pride, vanity, and worthlessness, in order that love may be divine and pure.
Men soon perverted service into lordship, though our Lord took pains to anticipate and warn of the danger, and to implant the principle of grace which is suited if held in faith to guard from ill and form the heart according to God. So bold and inveterate was this evil that it followed the apostles themselves up to the last Passover and the Lord’s Supper. “There was also a contention among them which is accounted the greater. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles have lordship over them; and they that have authority over them are called benefactors. But ye [shall be] not so; but he that is greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” Blessed Lord, Thou Thyself wert in the midst of them as He that serveth! then on earth, now in heaven, by-and-by in glory, not only in that day but for ever. When the kingdom is given up, all things having been subdued, even then wilt Thou the Son be subject to Him that subjected all things to Thee, that God should be all in all! This will be perfection in all fulness, as it is Thy grace to make it good without end.
But what corruption in Christendom, a loud contradiction of Christianity, to turn the service of the Lord into worldly rank and means, to emulate the pride of life with claim of superiority over rival grandees, in the name of the Crucified One, who here had not where to lay His head, and laid down that it is enough for the disciple to be as his teacher, and a bondman as his lord!
Nor was it only departure from scripture in worldliness; it is as plain ecclesiastically. For the accepted tradition among the ancient systems, Catholic and Protestant, is that to the bishop or overseer belongs the authority of ordination, consecration of persons and places, and excommunication. Now the written word is positive, that what is called ordination belonged solely to apostles, or an apostolic delegate, like Timothy or Titus, commissioned for definite action in a given time and place. Even when the church looked out God-fearing men for external or diaconal service, like the seven in Jerusalem, the apostles set them over this business (Acts 6:3). But the church in scripture never chose elders; nor did elders, but only an apostle or an envoy by his authority. Hence we read (in Acts 14:23) that the apostles Paul and Barnabas on their return to the gathered saints chose for them elders in every church. Is it needful to say that at a later day Timothy and Titus followed this model, when authorised to act similarly where Paul could not be? Their instructions are simple and clear, as we can see; and they were faithful. Even the competent advocates of Episcopacy acknowledged that in apostolic times there were elders in each local assembly, and that these elders were bishops, the distinction which is found in the second century being unknown in the first, not even a leader among equals. “The” bishop first appears in the letters of Ignatius, who (if not the inventor of that hitherto unknown official, nay in defiance of all scriptural facts and order) is the first to assume its existence and lofty position. His jurisdiction was limited to those in the city. The diocesan bishop later was another and considerable step away from scripture, as were other superior dignitaries, as the church lost its true character and sunk into, or rose in, the world, till the rivalry of the bishops of Rome and Constantinople became a struggle for primacy in honour of old or new Rome, as mistress of the earth, the office as set forth in God’s word being long forgotten and despised.33
For therein eldership is never confounded with gift, whether the
χάρισμα of Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, and 1 Peter 4, or the
δόμα of Eph. 4. For this depends on Christ as the giver, and the Holy Spirit as the power, and never required human choice or appointment, as elders did. The Lord gave them direct. Neither evangelists nor pastors and teachers admitted of intermediate action, any more than apostles or prophets (who constituted the foundation, and therefore were not continued). Apostolic succession is a mere romance, conceived in honour of the bishop when elevated, after the apostles were gone, into an oversight of the overseers, to say nothing of all others, and in fact a creator of them. Thus is presented that three-fold singularity of which so many have been and are enamoured, the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, undergoing another transformation of presbyters into priests, a change still more opposed to Christianity and the church.
The claim to ordain like an apostle or his delegate would be soon made. To consecrate persons and places would and did follow ere long, although altogether foreign to the New Testament, and as clearly borrowed from the heathen rather than Judaism, which recognised but one sacred centre. The title to excommunicate was a bold contradiction of the Lord’s will and word in committing that solemn responsibility to the assembled saints judging in His name (1 Cor. 5). The apostle Peter dealt personally with a husband and a wife who were guilty of a hypocritical lie to which both had agreed. The apostle Paul could and did deliver blasphemers or other great offenders to Satan. But we may be assured that neither would usurp the function of the assembly in putting away from itself those members that were guilty, after previous warning, of persisting unrepentant in sins incompatible with His presence. Hence we have the latter enjoining on the assemblies distinct action in clearing the saints of what was thus done to their defilement and His dishonour. He (though at a distance) had reliable testimony and quite enough to judge the deed; but he insists on the necessity of their judging such evils as he indicates. “Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover hath been sacrificed, Christ; wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. . . . For what have I to do with judging those that are without? Do not ye judge those that are within? whereas those that are without God judgeth. Put away the wicked man from among yourselves.” Such is the Lord’s commandment to the assembly, not to “the bishops,” not to the elders, not to the gifts many as then were there, but to the entire church in Corinth. Who can deny it?
Elders then are here exhorted by him as fellow-elders; but one who was “witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also partaker of the glory about to be revealed.” It is a fitting and precise description of the facts, and exactly in keeping with his Epistle. He was truly one of “the apostles of the Lamb,” as we hear of them in Rev. 21:14. It has been well remarked, how distinct was the place which divine grace gave to Paul; for his it was in the sovereignty of God to be witness of the glory of Christ, and also partaker of His sufferings, beyond the lot of any other in both respects.
It was and is of all moment to regard “the flock” as God’s; and all the more, because it is the habitual way even of excellent souls to forget this truth and assume that the sheep whom they feed and tend are their flocks. Such a thought betrays an unwitting denial of God’s rights, and falsifies the relation of His sheep, and engenders erroneous interpretation of His word to the hurt of His servants themselves as well as of the saints. Take the common misuse of Heb. 13:17, implying that those that guide, or have the rule, have to give account of the souls who are exhorted to obey them. The truth is, that the guides are called to watch in their behalf as having to give account, not of the sheep, but of their own conduct toward them before the Lord. Again, the unity of the flock of God is undermined by not a few who talk without the least warrant of its consisting of many folds. The Lord on the contrary is showing in John 10, not only that He quits the Jewish fold, and leads His sheep out, but that He has other sheep not of that fold, Gentile believers; both of whom were about to constitute the one flock, as He is the one Shepherd. There was to be no such thing henceforth as a fold, still less many folds, but His new flock. The one flock of Christ contains all Christians. The sheep might gather to His name here, there, and everywhere, with many an under-shepherd; but as He says, “They shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” This is Christian truth.
“Tend the flock of God that [is] among you, exercising oversight, not by necessity but willingly, nor for base gain but readily.” It is not under law but grace, and the zeal of love brightened and cheered and strengthened by the crown of rejoicing in those tended, in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming, the contrast of base gain in this life.
Of another danger they are warned: “nor as lording it over your allotments, but becoming models of the flock.” If the property which flesh counts our own is not really so to the man of faith, but rather the goods of the Master entrusted to his stewardship, how much more have elders to beware of fording over the allotted charge as if it were theirs? No, they are to become models of the flock in the constant remembrance that it is God’s flock, and that they must render account to the Lord how they guided His sheep, as well as of their own walk day by day.
Who then, said the Lord, is that faithful and wise steward whom his lord shall make ruler over his household to give the portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say to you, he will make him ruler over all that he hath (Luke 12:42-44). So the apostle speaks here: “When the chief-shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory.” Alas! ere long the blessed hope faded from their hearts, and the work of oversight was changed into a title of earthly honour and emolument, and the position a lordly installation if not an enthronement; so that Peter, if allowed to see things as they are now, could not recognise the office, as it was according to God, under what it is become according to man in Christendom. Is this to exaggerate, or to say the truth in love? How deep the fall really!
The apostle was fond of the word “likewise” in a spirit of grace where nature would never have thought of it but rather resented. Thus the latter part of 1 Peter 2 is addressed to domestics; and as he had pressed on the saints in general submission to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, so he urges it on them particularly to their master in all fear, not only to the good and gentle but also to the crooked. For this is grace; and we are called, every one of us, to walk in it as we were saved by it. As law characterised Israel, grace should stamp the Christian, even as Christ was full of grace and truth; and who walked submissively as He? To endure when sinning and buffeted, what glory is it? But if when doing good and suffering ye shall endure, this is grace with God. And there too throughout His life Christ is the model, and above all in His death, where He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that being dead to sins we might live to righteousness: an all-important issue, to convict those who misrepresent, hate, and deride grace. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1), says the apostle, and in ver. 7, “Ye husbands, likewise, dwell with them according to knowledge.” Such was the order in which the Holy Spirit appealed to each.
Here the exhortation was first on the apostle’s part as fellow-elder to the elders among them; and then he adds, “Likewise, ye younger, be subject to elders,” which evidently goes beyond those in official place to all whose years clothed them with title to moral respect if spent in faithful service to the Lord. Indeed it is to be noticed that among the Jewish saints, and in Jerusalem itself, we have no record of a formal introduction by apostolic authority as ruled in the Gentile assemblies (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). They are first mentioned as subsisting in Acts 11:30 and recognised in their place by Barnabas and Saul. The fact is strikingly confirmed by Acts 15 wherein they are repeatedly mentioned with honour. Yet the peculiarity alluded to is no less plain in the critical test of ver. 23, which is the opening sentence of the decree determined at the council. It runs, if we heed the Vatican MS., the Alexandrian, the Sinaitic, the Rescript of Paris, and Beza’s of Cambridge with other good support, not as in the A. V., “The apostles, and the elders, and the brethren,” but “The apostles and the elder brethren”; and this is adopted in the Revised Version, as by Alford, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Westcott and Hort, etc. The reading of the later copies, seems due to conforming the phrase with ver. 22. But this was implied here, as it was there expressly asserted to be “with the whole assembly.” Nor was it the least likely that the ecclesiastical copyists would have dared to introduce a phrase so alien to their habit of helping on hierarchical distinction. Even Luther, Calvin, and others down to our day have felt constrained to yield to the larger sense of elders and youngers in this context.
“Likewise, ye younger, be subject to elders; and all of you bind on humility to one another; because God setteth himself against haughty ones, and giveth grace to lowly” (ver. 5).
Both exhortations have fallen too often on deaf ears. When the apostles passed away, the presbyters easily persuaded themselves, that order called for one of their number to receive or take a chief place over his fellows in a city; especially as the angels of the seven Asiatic churches in the Apocalypse could by a ready mistake be thus construed, until it rose by degrees to be a diocese of any extent. A presbyter, says a grave commentator (in logo), is not called a bishop by ancient ecclesiastical writers, but a bishop is often called a presbyter. Had he overlooked the fact, that the Holy Spirit in Acts 20:17, 28 does call the elders of the church in Ephesus “bishops” (
ἐπισκόπους)? Does not inspiration outweigh all ecclesiastical writers put together and demonstrate their unsoundness when they venture to differ? So the apostle addresses the saints “in Philippi with bishops and deacons.” Also Titus 1:5-7 is almost equally plain. No doubt it is as much opposed to Dissent as to Episcopacy, “the minister” being as antiscriptural as the traditional trio, bishop, priests, and deacons. After the death of the apostles the lawlessness secretly working before grew apace and became bold. The sole divine authority as to this attaches to what they authenticated in the scriptures.
As the elders by unbelieving development sunk into various sorts of clerical irregularity, so did the youngers lose all sense of their due place of subjection. It was an early error that they began to choose bishops on the plea that the multitude of the disciples were allowed to choose men full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom for the apostles to appoint over their diaconal work. For where elders or bishops were appointed among the Gentile churches, the disciples never chose, but the apostles for them, as in Acts 14:23; or if an apostle could not go, he wrote (not to any church but) to an apostolic man like Timothy or Titus, to appoint elders. For the principle is as plain as it is important. As the church contributed its means, it was allowed to choose those it confided in for due administration. But apostles, not the church, had spiritual discernment of the qualities suitable to preside or rule; and they therefore chose elders. Besides, there were endowed with power men that were the gifts of Christ, such as evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc., who were never appointed (like elders locally), but acted freely in their work as they were led by the Spirit in the unity of Christ’s body, the church.
In our day both the clerical spirit and the democratic are so rampant that there is all the more need to heed the gracious appeals of the apostle. Let those who guide never forget that the flock is not theirs but God’s; and that they are to be models to the flock, not lords. Let the younger be subject to elders on principle, instead of seeking their own will or innovations so natural to youth. No doubt blind guidance ends in a ditch; but such direction is not of a Christian type, which is rather the seeing leading the seeing, with eye and heart fixed on Christ, who thus gives singleness of purpose.
“Yea, all of you bind on humility to one another.” The more numerous authorities read “all of you, being subject to one another, bind on humility,” but some of the best MSS. and versions drop “being subject,” which results in what has just been given. “Clothed” is too vague here. It is a word unique in N. T. usage, and occurs but rarely elsewhere. The figure is taken from the apron a slave girt on to do his work earnestly without soiling his dress. The Lord from a far different motive stooped lower still when He girded Himself with a linen towel to wipe the feet of His own which He washed clean from defilement. This was holy love; and this alone constrains us to bind on lowly-mindedness, to which we are all exhorted by the apostle who had not forgotten his sad ignorance and error on that memorable and touching occasion.
But he also fortifies the call with the solemn admonition, that God opposes Himself to haughty men, and gives grace to humble, the same quotation word for word as in James 4:6. See Prov. 3:34, and Rom. 12:16. Thus indeed it is a moral principle on both sides which runs through scripture; and it is a lesson for every soul in the church from day to day which none can afford to overlook. It is the more needed, because there is a ready danger of being haughty under a misapplied idea of position and duty, and of losing the grace God is so willing to bestow through failure in cherishing that lowliness which is only found perfectly in Christ.
Humility is a precious quality in the saints; and like other virtues it is apt to be debased by the enemy, and mistaken by themselves according to their own thoughts. It is of moment that we should discover its real nature as made sure and clear by Christ. For He is the true light who makes all persons and all things manifest; without Him its Christian character is not realised. How often it is understood to consist in our being brought to see and detest our own evil! But this is far from the standard of Christianity. For we are thus occupied with ourselves, however right it be to bewail our manifold failures and grievous shortcomings. Certainly it is far better than to be deceived into the notion that we have attained a high stage of holiness, and to thank God that we are not as other men. In its grossest form the error is fed by recourse to a director of conscience, into whose ear we can pour our confessions and seek profit from his ghostly counsels, even if we go not on to the extreme of looking for authoritative relief by his absolution in the Lord’s name from time to time. Again, while souls cling to the invention of the weekly class and its leader to hear and advise on the rehearsed experience of good or bad, others who belong to an opposite pole strive to gather a scanty comfort from dwelling on their felt unworthiness, and to find lowliness in all manners and measures of self-condemnation.
Now the work of Christ, on which the awakened soul is brought to rest, is not only perfect in itself, but it perfects him; as Heb. 10:14 explicitly declares with many other scriptures of differing form but similar import. By one offering Christ has perfected continuously — not merely for ever, but without an interruption — those who are sanctified, or set apart from the world to God by the faith of Christ. This was hard for an Israelite to accept, accustomed as he had been to fall back on his sin or trespass offering, and the priest’s action in sprinkling the blood, offering the fat, and eating his part of the victim, while burning the rest with fire unsparingly. It was so significant a type, identifying the offerer by his hand laid on the head of the offering, with Jehovah’s authority to the priest to atone for him and assure of forgiveness, that one can understand the need of the utmost certainty in order to relinquish the shadow for the substance. But herein are the expressed will of God the Father, the accomplished work of the Son, and also the applied witness of the Holy Ghost in Jer. 31:33, 34 — a predicted remission of sins now so complete, that there is no more offering for sin.
The efficacious bearing of Christ’s sacrifice is as immense to faith, as the glory of His person and the depth of His suffering for sin. It is this which lays the ground for Christian humility; because it gives a purged conscience before God. Till then it was no more than an exercised conscience, and thereby a humbling process in the measure of our spiritual feeling. But in the work of Christ it is God who condemned sin in the flesh, not morally alone as in all that He was and did, but as a sacrifice for sin, that it might be utterly effaced in His sight, as indeed we become His righteousness in Christ. Hence the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins. They are entitled and meant to see themselves so clear in His light as to have done with themselves, and free with a pure conscience and a peaceful heart to enjoy the fulness of Christ. What a deliverance to have done with self! It was humbling to feel and have to own how vile we learnt ourselves to be. Is it not a truer deeper humility to know in His light, that our careless perhaps and certainly unworthy failure cost Him to be as it were consumed to ashes in God’s unsparing judgment of our iniquity laid upon Him? and that we are, that I am, not worth thinking or talking about? How easy this ought to make it for each to esteem the other as better than himself! Such is the basis of Christian lowliness of mind. It is through divinely given faith.
“Humble yourselves (or, Be humbled) therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, having cast all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you” (vers. 6, 7).
It was that mighty hand of God which made the sinless Jesus sin for us, when He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. So Israel will yet confess, the generation to come when this unbelieving and adulterous generation shall pass; and Christ’s words are more widely and manifestly verified than ever. We who now believe, whether Jew or Gentile, while He is unseen, delight to see the truth as before God; and blessed, as Himself said, are they that saw not and believed. We rest on the depth of that atoning work when darkness shrouded the cross, and His voice attested that God hid His face and forsook Him, the rejected Messiah, the Son of man giving His life a ransom instead of many, yea for all; that we who believe might be healed by His stripes, and made meet to share the portion of the saints in the light.
Under that mighty hand which has thus wrought and given us everlasting redemption are we called to be humbled. We fail alas! in the abiding sense of this marvellous light into which God called us. But therein it is our privilege to walk, as 1 John 1:7 tells us; and it is our fault only if we do not walk consciously there. Thereby is that humility secured to which we are here exhorted. Would there be defect if our souls were ever realising that most solemn yet most gracious presence? Yet it is into this grace that faith in our Lord Jesus has brought us, and gives us to stand (Rom. 5:2).
Nor is less than this the proper and constant standing of the Christian. It is our shame to forget or alight such favour. And those who deny the new privilege (out of a Puritan jealousy on behalf of the O.T. saints) are indifferent servants for the honour of Christ or the Christian faith. It may sound lowly for the believer to cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of this body of death?” But this ignores that it was a passing state, and that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and death.” Thus my confession now on failure becomes a deeper self-loathing. O blessed man that grace has made me, what shame to Him as well as to me that I should now defile my feet! that I, perfectly atoned for, should have sinned against grace as well as holiness, and need to be sprinkled with the water of separation to restore my communion! What agonies my sinful folly cost the Saviour!
In God’s blessed presence let us be ever humbled, and all the more because it is always open to us through the rent veil. We contributed nothing to Christ’s cross but our sins: the grace therein was God’s sovereign grace. The effect of Christ’s work is that divine righteousness which we became in Him; and we boast (for it is more than “rejoice”) in hope of the glory of God. And indeed He will exalt us in due time. For it will be the day when Christ shall be manifested, and we also shall with Him be manifested, in glory. While He our life is hidden, it is inconsistent and incongruous that we should now look for any glory in this world, least of all from that world whose princes crucified the Lord of glory. As loyal to the crucified One we wait for the appearing of His glory, in order to share it with Him. For did He not tell us, that the glory which the Father had given Him He has given to His own, that they may be one as the Father and the Son are one, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know (not believe, as now) that the Father sent the Son, and loved the saints even as He loved the Son? Then the world shall behold Him and them in the same heavenly glory. Never will there be our perfection in unity till then, and only of that future day does the Lord say it. Truly God will exalt us in due time. Our call is to suffer meanwhile with Christ, and also for His name, that we may be also glorified together.
But of another privilege the apostle here reminds us in connection with being humbled now and waiting for His glory in the day of Christ. He says, “having cast all your care on him, because he careth for you.” He assumes this relegation, in faith, of our every anxiety on our God and Father, who loves to bear burdens too great for His weak ones, for whom He has joys and service which demand freedom of spirit for their right aim and end. How enfeebling is the unbelief that fancies it our duty to be weighed down outwardly and inwardly! Why, Christian, have you not rolled upon Him the weight that oppresses you? Is not His word to us plain and certain? Does He not care for you — He that gave His Son for your sins, He that numbers all the hairs of your head?
Here again the apostle exhorts to be vigilant and to watch. In his former injunction (1 Peter 4:7) it was in view of the end of all as being drawn nigh; here it is because of danger from their great adversary.
“Be vigilant, watch: 34your adversary [the] devil as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brotherhood that [is] in the world” (vers. 8-10).
It is of interest to note how distinctly the enemy is presented as the power of evil with which we have to cope, no less than our God and the Lord Jesus to care for us. Here, as the apostle regards us, not as the Epistle to the Hebrews in view of the sanctuary, but as at the same time exposed to the peculiar stress of the desert, he appropriately sets forth our adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion walking about, and seeking whom he may devour.
To the Roman saints, exhorted to be wise for that which is good, and simple as to evil, the word is that the God of peace shall bruise Satan under their feet shortly, and the grace of Christ meanwhile with them. What a blessing had they so continued, instead of human wisdom and ambition, leaving room in time for the most loathsome system of impurity, imposture, pride, and bloodshed!
To the Corinthian assembly, not adequately weaned from philosophic wisdom and the persuasive words of excellent speech, the warning is, as the serpent beguiled Eve by his craft, lest their thoughts should be corrupted from simplicity as to Christ. False apostles can thus pass as ministers of righteousness, as Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.
The Ephesian saints, carried up to the highest plane, are characteristically reminded of the victory over the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience now led captive, but having wiles, with towering pretensions in the heavenlies, against which we need the panoply of God. The Colossian saints have a somewhat similar reference, though much shorter.
Nor need we here dwell on the hindrance of Satan to the apostle, or on his temptation of the saints in Thessalonica, as spoken of in the First Epistle; nor on the awful prediction of his future power at the end of the age as in the Second.
We can passingly notice what more affects leaders, the fault and the snare of the devil endangering an overseer, as in 1 Tim. 3:6, 7; and the possible recovery from his snare, as in the Second Epistle (2 Peter 2:22, 26), for adversaries that repent.
In Hebrews 2:14, 15, he is the one that has the might of death annulled through the Saviour’s death; and in the Revelation he is shown fully both as to the church and in the world to his utter ruin.
We are entitled to resist him as the Epistle of James (James 4) also urges, however loudly he may roar, and menace with destruction. He is a conquered foe, as faith knows; and the name of Him we confess is ample to terrify him. But confidence in our wisdom, or righteousness, exposes to inevitable defeat. Our strength is in Christ, whose grace suffices, and power is perfected in weakness. Therefore we are bid to resist, stedfast in faith. Some understand “in the faith;” but I question the strength in such an encounter of faith only viewed objectively. It appears rather to be encouragement given to our subjective faith in the Lord. Our apostle is eminently practical, however important it is that we be sound in the faith. It is no strange thing to be thus assailed. So he reminds us that we know that the selfsame sufferings are accomplished in the brotherhood that is in the world. They have like relationships to God which expose them to persecution through the spite of Satan against Christ, even more than against themselves.
If the apostle does not hide from the pilgrim the power and malice of the enemy in this desert world, what fervour characterises him when he sets God before us in that love which is above every danger and difficulty, turning all for good to those that love Him!
“But the God of all grace that called you unto his everlasting glory in Christ Jesus, after having suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, stablish, strengthen, ground: to him [be or, is] the glory and the might for the ages of the ages. Amen” (vers. 10, 11).
It is more than a closing prayer, a most confident assurance based on a full knowledge of God as revealed in Christ, and on the already accomplished work of redemption displayed in the power of His resurrection. As Peter began the epistle, so he concluded it. He, like Paul as to his beloved Philippian brethren, had confidence in this very thing, that He who began in them a good work would complete it until Jesus Christ’s day. Satan might roar and devour. But, as Paul wrote to the Roman saints, if God be for us, who against us? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him grant us all things? Who shall lay accusation against God’s elect? God is He that justifies: who is he that condemns? Christ is He that died, yea rather that was raised, who is also at God’s right hand, who intercedes too for us: who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? According as it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we were accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay in all these things we more than conquer through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The apostle of the circumcision followed the apostle of the uncircumcision in tracing all blessing to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, not rising to the height before us in Ephesians but alike pointing to the same source in his opening words. As the resurrection was the mighty key-note to the one, the ascension gave the heavenly mark to the other. Both were led of the Spirit to present the divine source flowing in the richest streams of goodness suited to the varying circumstances of the saints addressed. None is so characterised as Paul by revealing the eternal and immense counsels of God for the universe with the glorified Christ at the head of all things, heavenly and earthly, and the church, His body, above any question of Jew or Greek, the sharer as His bride of all given to Him.
Yet Peter was inspired here to speak of “the God of all grace’“ a title of peculiar significance, and for all saints wherever and whatever they might be; but how divinely wise and suited to the Christian elect of the Jewish dispersion! Many of them had, no doubt, heard Paul and his companions who long laboured in their part of the East, as Peter had not. Paul indeed was called to write elaborately and powerfully to the believing Hebrews, and bring them definitely out of the old legal elements which had so straitened and hampered them, before judgment was actually accomplished on the earthly city and sanctuary. So on Peter devolved the task of feeding and tending by his epistles those sheep who needed comfort and confirmation, now that their great teacher was no more to see their face.
Thus, while there are the clearest tokens of identity between what Peter writes and his preachings in the Acts of the Apostles, he too teaches here, as we have already seen, much beyond what was then required or seasonable. This wondrously beautiful summary before us reflects that advance with all due meetness and forcible compression. Not the God of our fathers which glorified His servant Jesus, but “the God of all grace that called you unto his everlasting glory in Christ Jesus.” It is not merely the God of the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the God of all overcoming love as manifested in Christ Jesus, superior to, not weakness and failure alone, but the hatred of the enemy seemingly successful to the uttermost in the cross, which His grace turned to be the ground of deep and righteous judgment of sin, yea, making them, the believers, now as spotless in His eyes as the Lamb, through His precious blood. Nor this only; for He called us, not to salvation of souls alone, great as this grace is, but to His everlasting glory in Christ. For it is a glory which far exceeds the earthly kingdom, with its thousand years of righteousness reigning, and Satan shut up, and creation rejoicing after its long thraldom of vanity and groan.
The God of all grace, who called saints to His everlasting glory in Christ Jesus, is the best security against all that creature can or cannot do meanwhile; and the more, because as Father He carries on a constant, watchful, and righteous government of His children all through the wilderness (1 Peter 1:13-17). But there is another needed and weighty consideration. As Jews, they might associate with the Christ immunity from suffering and promotion to high honour; but as Christians, their portion is to share His sufferings for righteousness and love and truth. No mistake more common in Christendom than looking for present reward and distinction and ease through the gospel and the church. But it is a hateful lie of Satan. The Corinthian saints slipped easily into this snare, to the apostle Paul’s pain and horror (1 Cor. 4:8-14); it was still more natural for such as had been Jews. So the apostle Peter seeks throughout to impress suffering as the necessary path of the Christian, and “after having suffered a little while,” as his beloved brother to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:32-39), fortified by not a few even of old (Heb. 11:35-38) but above all by His case who sums up all as our perfect exemplar (Heb. 12:2, 3). It is through suffering in faith and patience that we are disciplined and bear fruit to Him who deigns thus to prune the branches of the vine.
And what more emphatic than the cheering declaration to which he that wrote put his seal, as one who had proved it so truly in his own experience that the God of all grace “Himself shall perfect, stablish, strengthen, ground.” Could those addressed, could we, lose one of these mighty encouragements? Could we allow them to lack the most definite meaning, or to be heaped together as a faggot deriving its virtue from the binding together of the weak? Are they not each strong and expressive, to give without bands the utmost possible confidence in His all-sufficient love to us? It is much that He will “perfect” those who in themselves lack all, in the sense of a complete furnishing and adjustment. It is more that He will “stablish” those who need to be turned inside out, as Peter once in his self-confidence, to lean on Himself and His word by faith. It is precious that He will “strengthen” those that know themselves as weak as water spilt on the ground, and changeable as the wind. It is if possible more, that on the Rock that never moves He will “ground” those who learn deeply their nothingness, and worse still.
Be it ours to join with his immediate object, in the apostle’s ascription of praise and thanksgiving, “to Him be (or is) the might unto the ages of the ages. Amen.” Assuredly “the glory” is His also; but the connection here seems to strengthen the testimony of the few witnesses (A B 23, ancient Latin copies, etc.) which express only His “might” in the race of the adversary. The great majority however read “the glory and the might,” which was a frequent phrase, as in 1 Peter 4:11, Jude 25 enlarged, and Rev. 1:6. But “dominion” answers to
κυριότης, rather than to
κράτος as to which translators vacillate.
The Epistle thus concludes.
“By Silvanus, the faithful brother, as I account, I write to you in (by) few [words], exhorting and testifying that this is God’s true grace in which stand (or, ye stand). She that is in Babylon elect with [you] saluteth you, and Mark my son. Salute one another with a kiss of love. Peace to you that are in Christ” (vers. 12-14).
It is of interest to learn that Silas, or Silvanus, the fellow-labourer of Paul in Achaia and Macedonia was the messenger through whom Peter sent his first Epistle to the saints of the Dispersion. Once Peter had himself been far from faithful to the Christian truth of liberty for Gentile as for Jew that believed the glad tidings; and Paul withstood him to the face. For it was not to walk straightforwardly according to the gospel, but to compromise it to the Lord’s dishonour. Now Peter writes fearlessly to confirm with his apostolic testimony the yet bolder and deeper witness which the apostle of the uncircumcision had borne in Asia Minor, through one who was in his estimate as in Paul’s a faithful brother, a suited link between them. It was to hold fast the Head from whom all the body, ministered to and united together by the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God.
His words were few but weighty from one who was justly looked up to by Christian Jews who had already profited in those Gentile lands by him whose province lay there especially. But God took care that so conspicuous a pillar of the circumcision as Kephas should write without doubt and fervently in the same strain of grace to the sheep whom the Lord confided to his love and care. Who can fail to recognise an unjealous largeness which was quickly forgotten, or rather never known, in haughty Christendom with its little yet ever-growing fences, bound up by official pride, miscalled rights, far from the Lord’s mind as possible.
Nor can any description of the Epistle be more exact than “exhorting and testifying that this is God’s true grace in which” he calls them to “stand.” It is what every intelligent saint cannot fail to discern as distinguishing Peter’s letter beyond James, Jude, John, or even Paul, though each wrote from the heart, with solemn sense of divine authority, and in abundant love to the saints, each with his own distinctive excellency as a good steward of God’s various grace, and as of strength which God supplied. How earnestly Peter exhorted! How freely and pertinently he testified as from his Master, full of grace and truth, to the glad tidings of God’s true grace! Yes, in his glowing words is no exaggeration. He adhered to what he bore witness at a great earlier crisis (Acts 15). He believed, and would have them to believe, “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved as they,” not merely they even as we then a noble testimony in Jerusalem above all.
He believed in the same grace still. It is not man conceding or yielding, it is not fearing nor yet pleasing man. It is God’s true grace, in which, he says, “Stand,” as he did not doubt they were standing. Nor was it needless so to exhort as a last call. What one of our own poets says of his imagined angel, a saint should here and now surely be,
“Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified;
His loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal.
Nor number, nor example, with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind.”
We owe it to God, and to our Lord Jesus; but His grace can alone make us thus stand.
The subjoined salutation is strikingly instructive. Not from the Apocalyptic Babylon did Peter write, but from the great ruined city in the East, to which Jews strangely clung, when the natives migrated elsewhere. Many Jews still lived there as they did for hundreds of years after as before, and there had a famous school of Rabbinical lore, which issued in their most copious Talmud completed about 500, A.D. There, it appears, Kephas led about a sister wife, like the other apostles and the brethren of our Lord (1 Cor. 9:5, 6); as scripture fails not to inform us, and thus gives the lie to the false and demoralising tradition which Romanism prefers to the plain and holy word of God. For this seems the real bearing of “the co-elect 35 [sister] in Babylon” who salutes those addressed, no less than does Mark his son.
The apostle, we see, was careful not to speak of “the church” as such in either of his Epistles: they are essentially individual in their character. It was an oversight, therefore, to interpolate “the church,” even in italics. We have no ground to think there was an assembly there, and can readily conceive that the apostle (with his wife, and Mark caring in love for them both in advanced age) should yearn to impart the gospel to the benighted Jews, so dear to him in that distant quarter, far away from the fabulous Episcopate of which tradition dreamt in the West. How forced and unnatural to borrow from the future symbol of John in Rev. 17 for an epistle so simple, fervent, and matter of fact, as this of Peter unquestionably is!
Assuredly, too, one likes to think of Mark in happy and devoted service, as none other than he whose early failure is recorded when he ventured in zeal beyond his then faith to accompany Barnabas and Saul on their first circuit among the Gentiles. If he then so soon grew weary or discouraged, he at a later day, when it was peculiarly sweet to the apostle of nations, became serviceable to him for ministry (2 Tim. 4:11), and even before this had won back his confidence (Col. 4:10). As his mother’s house had been a house of prayer, when his spiritual father’s life was in extreme danger, he is now the attendant on those so long dear to him, and shares their visit of love for the gospel’s sake as well as the saints, where of old their forefathers had been sent in captivity. Any other Mark, like any other Silas, we might expect to be distinguished from each of those familiar to us in scripture; whereas those we have already known appear in this new phase with natural propriety.
It was meet in this world of selfishness and sin for the apostle Paul to invite the saints in Rome, Corinth, and Thessalonica to salute one another with a holy kiss; and not less so that Peter should bid the Christian Jews, scattered in lands devoted to dark paganism, salute one another with a kiss of love. The affections are apt to grow cold, as the world’s spirit prevails; and Jews needed the intimation as well as Greeks and Romans.
And how precious is “peace” as the suited portion to us all that are in Christ! How unseemly among such is difference and dispute, self-seeking and strife! Were Christ the object as He is entitled to be, these things could not be. Peter had not forgotten His words, so welcome to their hearts on the resurrection day, “Peace to you; and having said this He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced therefore, having seen the Lord. He said therefore again to them, Peace to you: as the Father sent me forth, I also send you.”
31 B here as remarkably omit
ἐπισκοποῦντες as A P add after “willingly”
κατὰ Θεόν. The Revisers follow the latter in their text, the former in the margin.
33 All are or may be aware of the effort to make capital out of the “angels” of the Apocalyptic churches. But this is not nor ever was a ministerial title save among Irvingites, though Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists have each and all striven (in honour and support of their opposed theories) to divert it from its exceptional place in that great prophecy. It was really such a representative man in each of the seven Asiatic churches as the Lord viewed as identified with the good or evil of these several communities. He might be an elder, or a teacher, or both, or perhaps neither; but he must somehow be responsible for the state of the assembly to be here addressed as its “angel”: a man, of course, and not an invisible being, any more than a new official.
34 The best authorities do not support the “because” of the Text. Rec. followed by the A.V.
35 It is interesting and fair to note that the Sinaitic Uncial does read here
ἐκκλησία, or “church.” In this it stands alone among primary authorities: a thing almost impossible, if true; but easily accountable, if spurious. Old versions in such a question count little or nothing, as probably but expressing an ellipse.