Here we get instruction from God on many details of life and conduct. God’s Word is very full not only of great principles, but of practical details, given in order that the man of God may be “throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:17).
“Wives” are first addressed. Here, as elsewhere, in grace, God begins with the weaker vessel. Subjection is the woman’s place, not only when she has a good husband, but even when he is unconverted. The case here, does not imply that a Christian may marry one unconverted. That is peremptorily forbidden in both Old and New Testaments, and cannot be disobeyed without involving the direst consequences. But a wife married in unconverted days, may be converted after, while her husband is not. These verses tell how she is to demean herself in such circumstances.
“If any obey not the Word,” shews why he remains unconverted: not, as some assert, because he is not elected as his wife, but because he obeys not the Word, he does not bow to the truth, Punishment falls upon men because they “obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thess. 1:9)—not because they are non-elect. To all men’s objections and cavils God’s answer will be—“You did not obey My Word.”
“They may without the Word be gained.” The wife may not be able to speak the Word to her husband—he will not listen—but he may be won without speech, by beholding her chaste manner of life. Here is God’s way of breaking down opposition, overcoming prejudice, and commending the doctrine, where it is impossible to speak it. And while the instruction here is to “wives,” the principle may be applied to all unsaved relations. How sad to have any of them stumbled by behaviour unbecoming a Christian. And mark the word “won”—not only converted, but gained for God, and for you as well. Like the passage in Matthew 18:15—“Thou hast gained thy brother,” broken down his opposition, won him back to God, and to be a better brother to you than ever. O to think that in the unconverted around us, the battle rages every day; God and the devil both seeking to have them. As they “behold” the godly behaviour of those of their kindred who are saved, they may thus be won for God. Just think of that.
Verse 4.—“Whose adorning.” Here is something that everyone can see. How Christians slip over these very plain commands! I know of none so commonly disobeyed; yet they are the very words of God, given for His people’s obedience. People adopt the world’s style, because others do it. You would not wear jewelry and gold, or adorn yourself in gay apparel, if no one else did it; it is easy to follow the example of others, and they take their copy from the world. Ours is not to have our eyes on others, but to do the will of God from the heart, to be obedient in everything. There is nothing little, nothing insignificant concerning which God has spoken. “The hidden man of the heart.” “The Lord looketh upon the heart.” The saints set the fashions, not of Paris or London, but of heaven. He sets the highest value on right motives. Saints have their ornaments too. “The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” “Meek” means yielding, giving up your own interest, your own tastes. This in the world’s estimation is mean and contemptible. The man of will, of determination, who carries everything before him, is admired, extolled; whereas one who yields, who gives up his rights is said to have “no spirit.” What the world holds cheap, God counts dear. Meekness is in the sight of God “of great price.” It is so rare, and it implies identification with a rejected Christ. Then follows an illustration.
Verse 5.—“The holy women who hoped in God;” their faith is held in everlasting remembrance; they trusted God. These are the patterns to copy, not the giddy worldlings who dress as butterflies. Sarah is especially mentioned. She called Abraham “lord,” not in word only, but she did what he told her (see Gen. 18:12)—the only instance where this is recorded. Prompt and full obedience is the only proof of subjection (Luke6:46). Sarah, must have particularly pleased God. She is the only woman in the Bible whose age is given in the New Testament. To “trust God “and “do well,” fearing no terror, is well pleasing to God, and will meet its reward from Him, whatever it may be thought of here.
Verse7.—“Likewise, ye husbands.” The word “husband” means “house-band”— binding all in the household together. This shews his place, and what is expected of him. There is no thought here of the husband who is seldom or ever in his household, who leaves it to servants to order. Two reasons are given for the husband’s tender and considerate treatment of his wife. (1) She is “the weaker vessel”—not formed to rough it in the world, or to go foremost, as he is. (2) She is “a joint-heir of the grace of life,” one with him, and his equal in grace and glory. Subjection of wife to husband is only for a time, a temporary thing for the wilderness, wisely ordered by God for family and earthly life, but when the wilderness is past, and the Father’s house and Kingdom reached, these distinctions will be gone, merged in that which is eternal. What a plea for tender care on his part, and loving subjection on hers!
“That your prayers be not hindered.” This shews the innermost circle, the very sanctuary of domestic life. Husband and wife are so to live all day, that when they bend their knees together at night, their prayers may unitedly ascend to heaven. If there are broils and jealousies between them, their prayers will be negated, they will fall short of the mark. How all this should speak to those who are unmarried, to see that the partner they choose for life, is one who will be a true help-meet, and not a hinderer of spiritual life and communion with God.
Verse 8.—“Finally.” This word opens a new section. In the early part of the epistle, doctrinal truths are dealt with, regarding our redemption, relationship to God, and pilgrimage upon earth; then our relative duties as subjects, servants, masters, wives, husbands, are set before us; now we come to more detail. First, what we are to be; next, what we are not to be; then how we are to set the Lord before us, and bring Him and His Word into this everyday life of ours. “Be ye all of one mind”—be like-minded. This is God’s first command; exactly opposed to the religious world’s maxim—“Agree to differ.” It does not mean we are to give up any of God’s truth to secure oneness of mind, but conversely, grasping all the Word of God, taking it to our hearts to operate there, it will rally us around and keep us clinging to a living Christ. If we would but cleave to Him, and allow His Word to mould and fashion us in everything, there would be no divisions—no disagreements.
“Having compassion one of another—‘literally’—Be sympathizing.” This is Christ-like, for He sympathizes with our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). Not in a little measure, like the Aaronic priest (Heb. 5:2). There is a striking difference in the Greek between the two; the one means in a little measure, the other fully. We having the nature of the Risen Christ are to “sympathize” with each other, be to each other what He in perfect measure is to us.
“Loving as brethren; lender-hearted, humble-minded.” These are all traits of the character of Christ. They are to adorn us as His followers, especially in our bearing towards one another as His redeemed people in the world.
Next comes what we are not to be, or do. “Not rendering evil for evil;” this is an natural tendency, but it is not God-like. One of the old Puritans has pithily remarked— “To return good for evil is God-like; to return good for good is man-like; to return evil for evil is beast-like; to return evil for good is devil-like.”
“But contrariwise blessing.” Where God is, there ever is blessing. In the temple God dwelt with men, and blessing flowed therefrom; now the individual believer is the dwelling place of God (1 Cor.6:19), and the church is the temple of God in the aggregate (1 Cor. 3:17), therefore, blessing should flow out in rivers of living water to all around. “That ye should inherit a blessing “does not imply merely getting a blessing, but to the action of blessing (see also James 3:10). God would have us to be in the wilderness through which we pass, the channels of His grace to others.
Verces 10-11.—Here our good God is giving us instructions how to live a happy and peaceful life in the wilderness. We are to have the love and mellowness of heaven upon our lips; not to be controversial, dogmatic, cross, and unforgiving; not causing others to suffer by our hard, ungracious words.
Verse 12.—Here the Lord is brought it. His eyes are upon us: His ears are open to our supplications. Who is so-near, so interested in us as He is? Just think of the great God, our own Father, bending down His ear to hear, every time we speak to Him! The wonder is, that we should tell our sorrows, our needs, our desires to any save Himself.
The words are a quotation from Psalm 34:15-16, and here God causes the Apostle to refer to them, just to shew us that He stands to them, and has not forgotten them. “But the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” This is true of all dispensations, but if we turn to the Psalm we find that the next part of the verse, “To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth,” is left out. Why does the apostle break off his quotation at these words? Because they are not being fulfilled in this dispensation. They will be in the millennium. When Christ reigns, He will do that, but in this dispensation of grace, God is allowing man to go on in his wickedness. But when the reign of grace is over, judgment will follow. The silence of Scripture is just as perfect as its utterances, and shews how divine it all is.
Verses 13-14.—“Imitators of the good One.” The good One is the Lord Jesus. “The world lieth in the wicked one “(1 John 5:19). The Lord was a sufferer for righteousness’ sake here, so have all God’s saints of former times, but ours is something higher still—to suffer for Christ’s sake, for being like Christ. But there is no need for being sad over it, “happy are ye.” It is like Matthew 5:11—”Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you… for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad.”
Verses 15-16.— “Sanctify the Lord Christ.” To sanctify is to separate, to set apart. A saint is a separated person. But how can he “set apart the Lord Christ?” Separate everything from the Lord, set Him alone before you. Let Him alone have your heart, be Lord of every affection there. Then the terrors of the ungodly will not shake you; when the Lord has His right place, when He fills the whole vision of the soul, the scowls of foes, “their terror” will not perturb you.
Verse if.—“Be ready.” This verse speaks of the Lord in the future. His coming is our hope. “Which is in you”—its right place is in the heart. “Let not your heart be troubled”—”I come again” (John 14:1-3). For that coming we are to be ready, waiting, looking. Here we are to be ready to answer those who ask us; this will be easy enough if it fills the heart. And as in the days of old the scoffer asked “Watchman, what of the night?” (Isa. 21:11-12), and was told “The morning cometh and also the night,” so the scoffer’s taunt in the last days is, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter 3:1). Happy, when we can answer, “It is in John 14:2, and in my heart.” But such a confession is not to be made in a flippant or easy way, as if it were the most ordinary thing, but “with meekness “and although full of joy to the believer, yet a most solemn event for it will bring his reward (Rev. 22:12), or loss (1 Cor. 3:14-15), therefore it is to be spoken of with “fear.”
Verses 16-17.—“Having a good conscience.” Only then can we look cheerfully on to the coming of the Lord, and steadfastly resist the world’s attacks. “A good conscience,” is a conscience enlightened by God’s holy Word, bearing witness that we are pleasing God (2 Cor. 1:12: Acts 24:16). Not talking high truth and living worldly, but by a godly manner of life putting to shame those who revile us, so that when our enemies watch our ways, and would fasten on something to speak against, they may positively fix on that in which we know we are well pleasing to God. “If the will of God be so.” Such suffering is part of our wilderness training. Our Father sees fit to let us pass through it. He knows we need it, it is His will. To suffer for welldoing is to be like Christ, what a joy and what a privilege. And then,
“O how will recompense, His smile,
The sufferings of this little while.”
Verse 18.—“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins.” There is a fundamental difference between Christ’s sufferings and ours. His suffering for our misdeeds: not for His own. His sufferings were expiatory and meritorious, not in chastisement as ours often are. If we suffer, let it not be for our misdeeds, but for likeness to Christ. The words that follow are very beautiful: “The Just for the unjust.” The Holy Ghost is solicitous for the honour of Christ: He will not suffer it to be inferred that He suffered for any fault of His own. He is, and for ever was, “the Holy One and the Just “(Acts 3:14): the spotless Lamb of God. “That He might bring us to God.” Already has He brought us nigh by His blood (Eph. 2:13): already has God taken us into favour in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6), and so we sing—
“So nigh, so very nigh to God,
I cannot nearer be;
For in the Person of His Son
I am as near as He.”
And as He has done it already, so He will yet do it for us bodily when the Holy Ghost, the Divine Eliezer, lifts us up, when Christ receives His Bride to Himself and presents her to the Father. “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit.” Apart from Christ’s death, there was no way by which a sinner could be brought to God: no access save by death and resurrection. He was “justified in the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:19), declared to be the Son of God in power by His resurrection from among the dead (Rom. 1:4), laying down His life He took it again (John 10:18). Thus His resurrection is attributed to the Spirit, to the Father, and to Himself, the proof that He was Son of God in power. There is in this Epistle, frequent allusions to the work of the Spirit in different ages, and how the Spirit’s testimony has always been rejected by men. Christ in resurrection is rejected by the world and the Jew as He was while on earth. The Spirit’s testimony to Him is not heard by the world at large, only a few heed it, those who obey the gospel and are gathered to Christ. Verse 21, shews that by His resurrection we get “a good conscience.” All our sins are gone by His death: His resurrection is the proof of it, and by looking to that Risen One, my conscience is purged to serve the living God. It is well to see the connection of these verses: they help to shew the meaning of the verses between which have occasioned much controversy.
Verses 19.—“In which also He went and preached to the spirits in prison.” Peter abounds in references to the Spirit’s work: in sanctification (chap. 1:2): in the prophets (1:11): in the preaching of the gospel (1:12): in conversion (1:22). But the testimony of the Spirit is resisted now, as in ages past: the majority always refuse His testimony: only the few receive it. Look at the days of Noah, days of God’s longsuffering, days of the Spirit’s striving (Gen.6:4), days of Noah’s preaching, yet only eight were saved: the rest rejected and perished.
This passage has been the subject of much controversy, and a doctrine has been extracted from it, which is contrary to Scripture from end to end. It has been made to teach (1) that after His death Christ went to the spirits of the redeemed which were in prison, and announced His victory, But such an interpretation cannot stand, for we are told they were “disobedient”—that is wicked spirits. Then (2) it is said, that Christ went and preached to the spirits which had been long in prison; but that is to support the theory of purgatory, and is contrary to revelation. It is not said in the passage that the preacher went to prison to preach, nor is it said that the spirits were in prison when they were preached to. The simple reading of the passage is, that the Spirit of Christ in Noah, preached to the antedeluvians, who heard but despised the testimony, and are now in prison, not to be preached to, but “reserved unto judgment.” This word follows the statement that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5, 9), and is meant to be a key to the former passage. “While the ark was a preparing,” God in longsuffering waited for a hundred and twenty years, and during all that time the Spirit strove, and Noah preached. Yet only a few were saved: the mass rejected the testimony then as now, and perished. It is a solemn warning to sinners now, not a hope of mercy in the world beyond, as the devil has tried to make it appear.
Verse 21—“The like figure, whereunto even baptism doth now save us.” The ark was a type of Christ. The flood fell upon it, and so all the waves and billows of Divine wrath went over Christ when He stood as our Surety on Cavalry. But the ark did not remain under the deluge. It was by these very waves of death borne to a new world, and all who were in it. It was brought to rest on Mount Ararat with its living freight, in a new world over which the bow without an arrow was spanned. Baptism is the figure of death and resurrection, of identification with Christ in both. All my sins put away, all I am as a sinner ended, buried out of sight. Raised up in Christ to a new life, a new world. How good! “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Water baptism is the expression of the believer’s identification with Christ—not a confession of Christ as it is most commonly called—but identification with Him. In this light the passage becomes beautiful, full of spiritual meaning and not an empty form. What baptism, represents is, identification with Christ in death and resurrection. It tells that I am no longer in Adam fallen, but in Christ risen. Those who see this grand truth, will not object to be immersed in water, when the Lord commands it, but will say like the eunuch “See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized” (Acts 13:36) “Not the putting away, the filth of the flesh”—baptism does not do that, or express it, but its burial. “But the answer”—the request— “of a good conscience toward God.” An evil conscience knows what I have done, and what God requires: a good conscience knows what Christ has done, and that God is satisfied. “By the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Not by making excuses, but owning all my sin and failure: I look to the risen Christ there in heaven, my righteousness, and I have peace. As He is clear of the grave clothes, so am I of my sins. What a grand motto for those who are down-hearted and distressed about their sins—“A good conscience by the resurrection of Christ.”
Verse 22.—“Who is gone unto heaven.” Peter does not dwell at large on ascension; that is more connected with church truth, Paul’s message, while Peter deals with the kingdom. Peter saw and received his ministry from a risen but not an ascended Christ: Paul saw, heard, and received his ministry from Christ glorified, at God’s right hand.