The opening words of this chapter are connected with what has gone before.
Verse 1.—“Wherefore, laying aside all malice.” “Seeing ye have purified yourselves” (chap. 1:22), put away these unclean and fleshly things. Being pure, we are to purify ourselves. The former is our position, the latter ought to be our practice. The new birth gives a new life, the Spirit indwells the children of God, the effect is they love one another. But the flesh would oppose this, if it had its way. The flesh would practice “guile, hypocrisies, envies, and evil speakings,” but God says, lay all these aside. In proportion as we are filled with the Spirit, and the new life comes out, we are “generously simple.” The essence of Divine life is love: there is no cunning or hypocrisy in it. If one has a bad temper, a little cunning, a tint of hypocrisy, he is not purified practically. The only way to be guileless and free from hypocrisy, and all else that God here bids us lay aside, is to walk in the light with God, and whenever these things crop up, make a clean breast of them at once before Him.
Verses 2-3.—“As new-born babes, desire the guileless milk of the Word.” In the family of God some are babes, others little children, young men, and fathers (1 John 2:13). Some have longer known and enjoyed His love than others: their capacities have increased: they have grown. The way of growth is here set forth. You have “tasted that the Lord is gracious,” got a little sip of His grace and kindness; go on and get more. It was through the Word that you got what you have; now that it has gained an entrance let it flow in freely. “Desire “it, as the unweaned babe does its mother’s breast (see Isa. 28:9). His Word is pure—“guileless:” there is no taint in it. God your Father never will deceive you, so you may take in His Word freely, appropriating it to yourself. As you learn more of Him and of His love and grace, you will grow. It is not the work of a day, but as we take in the Word, we become acquainted with Him, and get fuller glimpses of His love and grace, and this begets the “desire” to know more of Him. God our Father desires our companionship; strange it is that we should need to be told to desire His.”
“That ye may grow thereby, unto salvation.” The last two words are missed out in the Authorized Version. But they ought to be there. Salvation is presented in three aspects in Scripture:—1st, As something done: “Who hath saved us” (2 Tim. 1-9). 2nd, As something going on at present: “He is able to save completely those who are on the way to God through Him” (Heb. 7:25). 3rd, As something yet future: “We look for the Saviour” (Phil. 3:20): “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13:11). The salvation mentioned here is present salvation, from day to day. It is carried on by the Spirit working in us through the Word. Then it comes out in life and walk, and in this way we work out “our own salvation” (Phil. 2:12). If envy or hypocrisy is practised, then you need saving from that. In God’s account we have not got full salvation, until everything belonging to the flesh is got rid of. This will be so, finally, when the Lord comes, and we get bodies fashioned like unto the body of His glory, but all that I learn of God and of His salvation here, will be to my eternal profit hereafter.
Verse 4.—“To whom coming as unto a living stone.” Here we first learn what God has to say of Christ, next what He says of ourselves in association with Him.
In the Old Testament, Christ is generally called the Rock: in the New Testament, the Stone. The Rock speaks of what He is in very deed, essentially the Mighty God; the Stone tells us that He has come down, contracted Himself, if we may so say, in order that we might apprehend Him. He who in the Old Testament proclaims Himself the “I am,” says in the New Testament “I am the Door, the Way, the Good Shepherd, the Life.” He has come down to our capacity, within reach of our comprehension. Yet we have to remember that in His death He was the Rock, (not the Stone) cleft, in order that there might be a hiding-place for us: the Rock smitten that the stream of life might flow, for it was in all the Majesty of His Person that He offered Himself a Sacrifice. So also as the foundation on which the church is reared. “On this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Satan did everything to get Christ down and to keep Him there, but life was mightier than death, and triumphed over it. As one of the Puritans has said—“Death stung itself to death, when it stung Him.” Death did not, could not prevail, against that solid Rock of Divine life, nor can it prevail against those who are built upon Him. The allusion is doubtless to the memorable words of Matthew 16:13-18. Peter is here full of that scene. The Lord Jesus had led His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, just on the borders of the land of Israel. The place was in keeping with the revelation there given, for in the Church—of which here the Lord gives His very first intimation—there is neither Jew nor Gentile, for out from the twain the Church is built (see Eph. 2:15). To Peter’s confession of Christ as “the Son of the living God,” the answer was made “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church is built upon Christ as “the Son of the living God.” Life has conquered death, and triumphed over hell. Peter here calls Him “a living Stone,” and His people “living stones,” each possessed of the same life, having the same nature. Coming to Him, they find in Him life, and He says to all such “Because I live ye shall live also” (John 14:19). How grand it is to see this, to grasp it, and to rejoice in it. There are a number of beautiful parallels between the scene in Matthew 16 and the teaching of this chapter, each serving to explain the other.
Peter had been taught by the Father to know the Son: it had been revealed to him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then He came to Him, as we read “Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Me” (John 6:45). Here it is “to Whom coming, unto a living Stone”—there is no as, it is a reality— “ye also as living stones:” there is thus identity between the Son and the sons of God. Peter himself was a “stone,” built upon the Rock, from Whom he received a new life and a new name. Simon was his name by nature: Peter his new name by grace (John 1:41-42).
“Disallowed, indeed, of men”—the Christ to whom we have come is a rejected Christ. He was “despised and rejected of men” then: He is disallowed and rejected by the world still. Do you realize this? The more you cling to Him, the more you will share His rejection. It was not for curiosity that at Caesarea Philippi he asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?” before hearing Peter’s confession of Him, but to shew how far from God’s thoughts were all human opinions of Him. Some said He was John the Baptist, some, Elijah, others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. With all their boasted knowledge, none of them knew anything of Him: even the learned Rabbis were in ignorance of Him. “Disallowed, indeed, of men, but chosen of God.” Yes, heaven’s estimate of Him is different from earth’s. God’s choice is what the world rejected. Earth gave Him a cross: God gave Him the throne. The world put Him between two malefactors: God raised Him to the place of supreme honour on the right hand of the Majesty on high. I own frankly, that I do not seek or want the world’s esteem after that. It tells me how little it is worth, for the world despises what God has chosen, and hates that which God loves. So “that which is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). It is one of the signs of how far the people of God have fallen, when they can have the world’s caress. Why, if we were like our Master, we would have the world hurling stones at us, or giving us the cross. “Chosen of God, and precious.” There was no one else to choose, on whom the work He had to do could have been laid. The Word “precious “shews the choice was not arbitrary. The new creation is to be built up on the worthiness of Christ. How the Holy Ghost delights to tell of the worth of Christ, to stand up for the honour of Christ! He tells it out, unfolds it, and repeats it again and again, lest we should have a low or imperfect thought of the worthiness of the Son of God. We were anything but “precious,” for when we came to Christ we were vile and guilty sinners, fit only for the flames of hell. But blessed be His Name, He “made us accepted”—literally—took us into favour “in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6.) As we have it in 1 Cor. 1:30, “Of Him (God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” “Unto you, therefore, which believe, He is precious”—or, the preciousness. There is no worthiness in me, but God has found enough in Christ, and He has put my worthlessness and His preciousness together, to display the worth of His Christ. “He is the preciousness,” and all for me. I do not wonder when I see that, that God loves and blesses me so much: it is all because of what He sees in Christ for me. As we sometimes sing—
“The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me.”
“Ye are built up.” There is not only salvation but edification also in Him. There is church truth seen in clinging to Christ, as well as Gospel truth; they both converge upon a living Christ. Peter does not mention the word “Church,” but it is clearly implied here in our being “built up.” He builds only living stones—the dead have no place in God’s habitation. “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). God is building for Himself a house to dwell in; this is the grand climax of all His work. We are so apt to think of our salvation as the object God had in view when He gave His Son, but the great thought and purpose of God was to gather out from a world wrecked and ruined by sin, stones, each of which cost Him O how much, and after gathering, chiselling, and polishing them, to build them on a living Christ, His new and abiding foundation, for a dwelling-place unto Himself, every atom of which will be instinct with His own Divine life. And then His glory is to fill it, permeate it, and flow out from it to beautify and bless all creation. Like as you always find in the Old Testament connected with the Cherubim, the presence of God, so wherever we have the house of God, there is the presence of God filling it.
As we keep on coming to Him, cleaving closely to Him, we are “built up a spiritual house.” Such lines of truth as are here suggested, brought and keep me out from the world’s systems of religion. I see that God’s way of building up is by clinging to Christ, and I dare not add anything to Him whom God has pronounced the only foundation of His Church. All other names divide and scatter: His Name unites His own. “An holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” After the house comes the priesthood: first, the stones, then the building, next the priesthood, the worshippers within. God must fill His temple with praise. Of us, as of Israel, true it is—“This people have I formed for Myself; they shall shew forth My praise” (Isa. 43:21). Some say they have nothing to offer. “In His temple every one says—Glory:” (Psa. 29:9) it is all vocal with His praise. “By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” (Heb. 13:15). In calling us priests, God reminds us that we are His worshippers, and that we have something to offer. Worship is higher than service, for in our service we are occupied with man, but in our worship with our God. In Rev. 4:4, we see the heavenly priesthood seated on thrones, with crowns upon their heads. There, their full dignity is seen, for they have reached the other end of the sanctuary, and are glorified in heaven: here they are on earth, in the wilderness. They are twenty-four in number, thus shewing their completeness, as David divided the priesthood into twenty-four courses to praise Jehovah (1 Chron. 25.) Of old the priests were of the house of Aaron, descended from him, one flesh with the high priest: now all the “royal priesthood,”—the only worshippers owned of God in this dispensation—are descended from Christ, and one Spirit with Him. What an honour! What a dignity! Under Christ, the Church will lead creation’s praise. Even now, God is tutoring us for this holy dignity. O what a privilege is ours to worship God, to offer sacrifices “well-pleasing to Him!” God is delighted to be refreshed with the joy and praise of His people; “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me” (Psa. 1:23). As the Levites were given to Aaron (Numb. 8:19) to serve, so we are the servants of God, under Christ. The words of Romans 15:16, shew what true Levitical Gospel service is. But worship is higher than service, although less esteemed. Many still approve of selling the alabaster box of ointment, and giving it to the poor in Levitical service, but Mary “brake the box” and anointed the person of Christ in priestly worship (John 12:3.)
Verses 6-8.—“Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Sion.” This is a quotation from Isa. 28:16, a prophecy uttered seven hundred years before Christ, and here after Christ had died and risen Peter says the same. So important is the truth here stated, that it is repeated twice. And God calls our special attention to it by uttering the word “Behold.” Thus He calls attention to His own work. “Behold I lay.” What a comfort that God Himself has seen to the foundation. He bids us rest securely on what He Himself has seen to. Need we wonder that He adds—“And he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.” God warrants the security of all who trust in Christ. Just think of that: God has made all secure below, and He guarantees all above. What a comfort! What a mercy! While the Christless sinner sinks at death into hades (Luke 16.) the believer sings with the solid Rock beneath his feet—
“On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
“A chief Corner Stone:” Christ not alone supports, but also holds the building together. The corner stone unites two sides of the building together. The more closely saints cling to Christ, the more will they be seen as one. There is no other way of unity save through Christ, the “Corner Stone.” God has only one way of saving sinners, and one way of uniting saints—both through Christ.
“Head of the Corner”—the top stone: this points to the glory, when He whom men rejected will be seen as Head over all. But to the unbeliever, the disobedient, who refuse to “obey the Gospel” (chap. 4:17), this same Christ becomes a “stumbling stone” and a “rock of offence,” and shall yet crush them in judgment (Dan. 2:34-35: Matth. 21:44.) “Whereunto also they were appointed,” does not teach reprobation in the sense that God appointed some to die in their sins and go to hell, but that all who reject God’s overtures of grace, and persist in disobeying His Gospel, hardening their hearts, shall perish as sure as God has appointed it. Man now scorns and rejects God’s call; by and bye God will laugh at his calamity, and mock when his fear cometh (Prov. 1:26).
Verse 9.—“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people”—a people for a possession. Here we have a variety of terms, all full of deepest meaning, applied to the people of God. They are so precious in the sight of God, that like a fond mother to her child, He utters one term of endearment after another over them. Are you tired of hearing them? or would you like God to give up one of His fond words of endearment toward you? As I have already said, Peter writes specially to believing Jews, hence, these words are all taken from the Old Testament Scriptures, they apply primarily to them, but to us also who are now one with them in Christ. Israel was the chosen nation, but when they, as a nation, rejected Christ, God began again with those among them who believed on Him, and they became the nucleus of a new nation, and in the privileges of this we share, as belonging to the “chosen race” under grace. Jehovah offered to make Israel a nation of priests (see Exod. 19:5-6), but Israel chose to be put under law, and forfeited all by breaking it, and He had to choose a priesthood from among them in the house of Aaron. Instead of going on as they had begun, they put themselves under a covenant of works, say, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” and Jehovah answered—“If ye keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me.” He offered to make the whole nation a “Kingdom of priests,” but they would not have it. Has God’s purpose been defeated? Nay, verily. A few centuries to Him are as nothing, and what the nation of Israel did not want then, the true “Israel of God” (Gal.6:16) has received now. The words of Hosea 1:10 and 2:23, are applied in Romans 9:24-26 to us, just as if God had said—Now you have the thing I promised then. “A chosen race:” there was a race of men, and a race of angels before, but now there is a new order of beings altogether; men, indeed they are, but possessed of Divine life and a new nature—“born out of God.”
“A royal priesthood,” allied to Christ, the King-Priest, the great Melchisedec, who “shall be a Priest upon His throne” (Zech.6:13.) Under the old covenant, the office of prophet and priest had been combined in one person, as Ezekiel, as also that of prophet and king as in David, but God never allowed any single individual to hold the offices of priest and king together. This honour is reserved for Christ, and through our being descended from Him, having our genealogy clearly traced to our priestly head, we are a “royal priesthood.” A priest gives up all earthly inheritance: a king receives and rules over all. As priests we enter in where our great High Priest has gone, prevailing there: when He comes forth to reign as King we too shall come forth to rule with Him here. As priests we worship now in the immediate presence of God; as kings we shall come forth with Christ to rule with Him, and under Him the entire creation for God. God’s full time for Christ to reign has not yet come, for “we see not yet all things put under Him,” but when it does come, His saints shall reign with Him.
“A people for a possession,” a people for God to clasp to His heart, to live in His love, to dwell in His presence. It is like that beautiful word in Eph. 1:5, “Having predestinated us … unto Himself”: to be His own, a people near to Him. How the world’s religion denies all this, by making such distinctions as “clergy” and “laity,” with their altar rails, with humanly-appointed priests inside, saying to all others, “Keep off, stand aside; I am holier than thou.” God make us to cleave to, and tremble at His Word, and to love and keep His way. “To shew forth the praises of Him who called you.” God has done all this for us, and we are to drink it in, believe it, enjoy it. What for? Is there to be no response, no concomitant results? Yes, indeed. These great and glorious facts are to sway us, to take hold of us, so that we shall give out praise to Him who has done so much for us. When we come together to worship, to be glowing as seraphim, not whispering, but “shewing forth” God’s praises, giving Him a foretaste even now, of what He shall have from “the great congregation” of His saints by and bye, and when we go forth among men shewing forth in our lives His excellencies. “Into His marvellous light”—that uncreated light in which He dwells, is our home. He has called us into it, fitted us for it, and there we are to abide, looking down upon the world. What a calling! What a place! “Into His marvelous light”; “without blame, before Him in love” (Eph. 1:5). Oh, my God, Thou hast done all this for me! How do I respond? Do I love to gather with God’s saints to worship and to pray, or would I clip the time for worship and for prayer? Or do I practically deny that I have been “called out” to be for God’s possession, in a Risen Christ, by going into the world, muddling in its politics, taking part in its schemes, and voting for its rulers, as if I belonged to earth?
“An holy nation, a peculiar people.” What a wealth of names God delights to heap upon His own! Not meaningless, as many of earth’s titles are, but all telling out His heart’s love for His own, with the place He has called them to fill up there, and down here. “A peculiar people”— purchased to be His own, to be controlled by His Word, different from all others upon earth. How God delights to see His own respond to the call, taking their place before Him as the objects of His love, and standing out clear and separate from the world as “the people of God.”
Ver. 10.—“Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” This should be another incentive to praise. What were we, where were we, but for God’s grace? The reference is to the passage in Hosea 1:9, where God calls Israel “Lo-ammi—not My people,” which abides until this day. Will God have no worshippers, none to praise Him during the time the sentence is being executed upon Israel? Romans 9:23, 26, is the answer, where God tells that He will call, from both Jews and Gentiles, a people to whom He will shew the riches of His glory, in making them “vessels of mercy, prepared unto glory.”
Verse 11.—“Dearly beloved, I beseech you.” Here is the language of endearment, God beseeching, rather than commanding. Similar is the language used in Romans 12:1, 2 Cor. 6:2: grace first bestows, then entreats. How unlike man it all is! He assumes to be great, and issues his commands peremptorily; but He who is the great and mighty God, uses the language of entreaty to those who are the creatures of His hand, the subjects of His saving grace.
“As strangers and pilgrims.” “Strangers,” eyes the land where we now are, for God has called us out of the world. “Pilgrims,” eyes the land to which we are going. The one word marks our relation to things below, the other to things above. Do we look like strangers here? Do the world’s festivities and pleasures charm us as once they did, or has God’s call to something higher and better, spoiled us for them all? “Pilgrims,” because we are going home. “I go to prepare a place for you,” said the Lord Jesus. He would not have called us away from things below, without preparing something better for us above. “If it were not so I would have told you.” He would not set us on pilgrimage, and bids us suffer here, without giving a full reward. Even now, He gives “an hundredfold” for everything lost for Him. How? you may ask. By the whispers of His love, by foretastes of His glory. He makes His pilgrim people even now so happy, that they wish they could sacrifice more for Him. Soon the pilgrimage will be over. We shall hear sounds and see sights earth never dreamt of, and better still, we shall take part in them. Not the music of earth, so marred and associated with forgetfulness of God, often the handmaid of Popery and worldliness, but the harps of God, and the songs of the redeemed.
“Abstain from fleshly lusts.” You are a pilgrim; be content with pilgrim fare. Fleshly desires fulfilled, will numb your spiritual life and hinder you. “If ye live after the flesh, ye are about to die” (Rom. 8:13). “Having your conversation honest”—your behaviour, or manner of life beautiful, “among the Gentiles.” In the general habit of our lives among men, when we enter a shop, or travel in a train, do those around know that we are Christians? This is what glorifies God: not loud talk and low walk, but a behaviour becoming the Gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27). “In the day of visitation.” There are times when God takes special dealing with ungodly men, when He makes them feel that He has to do with them; then, if they have been convinced by the reality of the manner of life they have seen in Christians with whom they have come in contact, that will come up, and they will confess there is a difference. If they do not own it now, they shall in the day of the Great White Throne. They may “speak against” God’s people “as evildoers”: not think, for whatever their lips may say, godly behaviour leaves its witness in the consciences of the unconverted, which they cannot resist.
Verse 13.—“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” Although not of the world, yet for “the Lord’s sake,” who owns us, we are to obey those who are in authority. We are in the world, as well as in the church, and as subjects it is ours to obey,
Verses 13-17.—When God’s pilgrim people thus act and thus live, the enemies of the truth are muzzled; they have nothing to speak against, nothing to take hold of. “Love the brotherhood.” This word occurs twice in Peter’s Epistles, here and in chapter 5:9; neither of the other apostles use it. Peter once needed to be reminded that he was not above his fellow-disciples, when the Lord said . “When thou art turned round, strengthen thy brethren “(Luke 22:32). Now he uses this word to shew that all are to be together; no rivalry, no clerisy, no assuming lordship over brethren.
Verses 18-21.—These verses teach us, that we are not only to suffer patiently when we are at fault, but even when we do well; not only to love and obey the good and gentle, for sinners do as much as that (see Luke6:32, 33), but to shew grace and to exercise patience toward our enemies, even as Christ left us an example, for not only did He come on earth to die for us, but to shew us by His example how we are to live.
Verses 22-24.—“Who did no sin.” Yet His life was a life of suffering, because He was so utterly opposed to all the sin around. “He was reviled.” Many of the Psalms tell of the bitter reproaches he had to bear, yet He bore it all, He took it all to His God, to “Him who judgeth righteously.” All will be made clear one day; leave it to God, and do not take your cause out of His hand.
Verses 24-25.—“Who His own self, bare our sins in His own body upon the tree.” All His life He was a sufferer for righteousness; on the Cross He suffered for sin, not indeed His own, but “our sins.” There He bore them “His own self.” So took them upon Him that He could say, “My sins are not hid from Thee” (Psa. 69:5). They were all reckoned to Him, in order that none of them might be counted against me. By His bruises we are healed, in order that, being freed from sin, “we might live unto righteousness.”
Verse 25.—“Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd.” Here the contrast between the past and the present of the sheep is very marked. “Going astray,” self-willed, ungoverned. “Returned to the Shepherd and Bishop”—to be fed and ruled by Him, who lives to bring to glory, the “little flock” for which He died. What a variety of offices He fills, and how worthily and faithfully He fills them all! How His Shepherd character shines out in such a passage as Isaiah 40:10! He never tires of it, never delegates it to others. True under-shepherds do not gather the sheep around themselves, but, like the sheep dogs, they only bring the sheep around His feet to be fed by Himself.