The opening verses of this chapter are a continuation of the truths taught at the close of chapter 3, the practical application of them to us. Read in this light, their obscurity disappears.
“Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh,” is an allusion to chap. 3:18: “Arm yourselves likewise with the same mind,” a reference to chapter 3:17. He, according to the will of God, suffered for sin, He was assailed at all points, tempted to turn aside, to shirk the Cross, but He went on steadfastly, doing the will of God. We are to arm ourselves with the same mind, living no longer after the desires of man, pleasing ourselves, doing as we like, but making it our one business to do “the will of God” (ver. 2). In Christ, there was no will of the flesh, but in us there is, and we either yield to it or to God’s will. Walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), the desires of the flesh are not fulfilled, although they are still in us, but as we yield to them and live after the flesh, then, as Rom. 8:13 tells us, we “are about to die.” There are two wills and two counter forces, seeking our allegiance and obedience, and we must yield to the one, or walk in the other. “For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.” Of whom does the Apostle thus speak? Of Christ, or of persecution. When Hagar’s son mocked Isaac, God, hundreds of years after says he “persecuted” him (comp. Gen. 21:9 with Gal. 4:29). It is an abstract proposition, true of both. Of Christ most fully, for when He suffered in the flesh, He ceased to have to do with sin. The believer is dead with Christ, and dead to sin, as Rom.6:fully teaches. The practical effect of this is, that you cannot be going on in sin, or doing your own will. You are a dead and risen man. When the temptation comes, you rather suffer than yield, you choose to die, rather than disobey God. This makes life a warfare. The believer, if he would live to God, and not to self, must be ever on the watch, grasping the sword, because everything around appeals to the flesh within, soliciting to live a worldly and a sensual life. There is this important distinction between the truth taught in John’s Epistles and here: John speaks of the final issue as before God: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin”: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world” (1 John 3:9: 5:4), while Peter deals with the daily practical experience of the saint, in a world where everything is against him, and with a fleshly will and a nature ever ready to yield to what is opposed to God. But the believer has a new life and a new nature, and he can “no longer “live as he did when unconverted, satisfying the desires of the flesh or doing as he sees others do. His one ardent desire is to do the will of God. This makes conversion a very great event, and Christian life intensely practical.
Verses 4, 5.—“Wherein they think it strange.” The world does not understand a true Christian. It laughs at him, perhaps speaks evil of him, and persecutes him. So let it be: it is no more than the Lord promised (John 16:20). And if you have the consciousness that you are pleasing God, you can afford to laugh at the world’s opposition. The ungodly who sneer and maltreat God’s people, will hear of it some day, for they will have to “give an account to Him” of every word they have spoken. “Ready to judge the quick and the dead,” reminds us that the whole dispensation hangs on a thread. What men think sure and stable, and build their hopes on, is ready to vanish. He is “ready,” everything is ready, the only thing that delays the hour, is the longsuffering of God and the ingathering of sinners by the Gospel to His kingdom.
Verse 6.—This is a greatly perverted Scripture. It does not mean that they were dead when God preached to them: but that they are dead now. Peter writes especially to Jews. They had the promises and the covenants set before them in order that they might be saved, and live as spiritual men before God, or that they might be judged according to men in the flesh. Then as now, sinners needed to be “born again,” and although these had not the indwelling Spirit as believers have now (comp. John 8:39: 16:13), yet they had life, and they lived to please God by the Spirit (Psa. 51:11).
Verse 7.—“The end of all things is at hand,” Christ has been rejected by the world: the testimony of the Holy Ghost is being now rejected, and there is nothing to follow grace but judgment. God reckons from His own standpoint, judges in His own light, and He would have His people do likewise. He directs us always to the end. It was only in the sanctuary of God that the Psalmist saw “the end” of the wicked (Psa. 68:17). Things appear in their true light there, therefore we should habituate ourselves to judge of men and things in that light, not after the world’s reckoning. It is on the end of all things being “at hand” that the exhortations which follow are founded. They are fourfold.
Verses 8-12.—1. How as Christians we are to behave toward God. 2. How to behave toward each other. 3. How to conduct ourselves in the Assembly of God. 4. How to conduct ourselves in and towards the world. God-ward, we are to be “sober,” unmuddled, and “watch unto prayer.” The former word will cut us off from the world’s influence, sever us from its ways, as we see its end at hand The latter tells us we are in the presence of God, where we can tell Him everything, seek His guidance in all, and receive grace and strength to live and act as those who are not of the world. Peter may here have in view that chapter in his own history when, failing to “watch and pray” (Mark 14:38) he became “muddled” and mixed with the world, denying his Lord. How easy it is to do so. O let us keep ever in view the end of all things “at hand:” it will keep us separate and dependent. 2. “Have fervent love among yourselves.” Not “charity,” which as the world uses the word, is a nauseous and worthless thing—but love, “fervent,” or extreme love. This alone will keep saints right with each other. Then follows a quotation from Prov. 10:12 “Love shall cover the multitude of sins.” This does not mean that we are to wink at sin, or suffer it in our brethren. To do so would not be love, such as God’s love is to me: but a false liberalism. But just as God has found a way at great cost to cover a multitude of sins, not winking at them, but righteously dealing with them, and so acting toward us in grace that we acknowledge them fully, so we as “imitators of God and beloved children” (Eph. 5:1) are so to seek lovingly, faithfully with tender hands and many tears, to turn the sinning one from “the error of his way;” and then shall we “save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). Love, will tell our brother his faults, after we have wept and prayed over them in secret, with the yearning desire to deliver him from them, but love will never whisper them to others behind his back, and all the time pretend to have great affection for him. 3. In the Assembly. If God has given you a gift, you are to use it according to the ability that God giveth, for the help and edification of others. There are two sets of gifts mentioned in the Word: those are Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Cor. 13:28: then seven in Rom. 12:6-8. You may not be a teacher able to expound the Word to thousands, but you can surely speak “five words “for the edification and cheer of others. But in view of the end of all things being at hand not to fill up time or to shew off your ability. 4. In the world. It is assumed, that if you are true to God you will be persecuted. It may only be the curling of the lip or the scorner’s sneer, but God counts that persecution. We live in days of luxurious ease, it may be that ere long the blast of red hot persecution may come and put us to the test. Would you think that strange? Would you be alarmed and flee? It is no more than others suffered, and the Lord promised (John 16:33), yet how few would “rejoice” to become sharers of Christ’s suffering for righteousness sake, in a world where He was rejected. “That when His glory shall be revealed.” How close to the “sufferings” is “the glory”; you seldom find the one without the other. What is “glory”? The uncovered excellences of Christ. The angels do not behold Him in all His glory, that sight is reserved for the Church. We shall be the first to see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). What a sight that will be! Just to think, we shall gaze upon Him in all His peerless, matchless excellency, “as He is,” and be like Him. If you have suffered a bit for Him here, you will “be glad with exceeding joy” then.
Verses 14-16.—“Reproached for the name of Christ”—not for the name of a church, or a creed; not for some pet name of our choosing, but for His Name. “If any man suffer as a Christian;” that is the proper, full name, called by God upon His people (see Acts 11:26, of which the proper rendering is, “The disciples were called of God Christians first in Antioch.”) Not for his own evil doings or his own bad name, but for being a true Christian “let him glorify God in this name.” There is real joy now, and there will be a bright reward in the day of Christ’s judgment seat for suffering thus.
Verses 17-20.—“The time is come that judgment must begin at the House of God.” This is a solemn passage. It is an allusion to Ezekiel 9:6, where the dwelling-place of God was the scene of Divine judgment because of sin allowed. And it began with those who were ancient men before the house. We learn the same lesson from Lev. 10:1-2. Officially, Aaron’s sons were nearer to God than others, yet for one sin they were struck dead. Ananias and Sapphira’s judgment in New Testament times shews, that while God is now dealing in grace, His character is unchanged. “Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever” (Psalm 90:3:5). In His house then He will brook no evil. With His written Word in our hands we are called upon to “judge ourselves,” that we may not be judged, but if we fail then He will chasten us. And if in the Church we fail to judge those who are within (1 Cor. 5:12), the Lord will come in and judge them Himself (1 Cor. 11:32). He is building a house, making it exquisitely beautiful, to fill it with His glory, and He will take care that all belonging to it is competent to stand in His uncreated light. And here comes the pointed, solemn question: If God is dealing so in judgment with His own within His house, in this the day of His grace “What shall the end be ‘of them that obey not the Gospel?’” The judgment of the Christless sinner is yet to come; he seems to escape now, but there will be no escape then (Heb. 2:3). “And if the righteous scarcely be saved”—that is, saved with difficulty—saved even though the flesh within, the world around, and the devil against them, combine to allure or drag them away. Yet because God was ever on the alert to keep, to strengthen, to restore to the narrow path, they are saved. But it took “the exceeding greatness of His power” (Eph. 1:19) to do it—a stupendous work, the full extent of which we shall only know, when we stand with Him in glory—“Where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear!” An awful question? Where? Their case has yet to be taken up, in stern, inflexible judgment before the “great white throne” (Rev. 20:12). There, before the eyes of the holy Judge, the “ungodly” in all his hideousness, and the “sinner” in all his filthiness must “appear,” and from thence be hurled into the lake of fire.
Surely then it is better to suffer a little here, while God is breaking us down, scourging and correcting us, in order that we may be partakers of His holiness, whether the suffering come from the hands of man (as in Heb. 11:34-40), or, directly from His own hand (as in Heb. 12:5-10), than to come under the crushing judgment yet to come on the world. The closing words, “Commit their souls to Him in well doing as unto a faithful Creator,” are very precious. They shew that when you suffer, you are to cling closely to Him, who first gave you being as “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), who by that word which at the beginning said “Light be,” called you out of darkness into His marvellous light, and who in loving faithfulness has watched over, shielded and kept you, amid all the dangers, trials, and persecutions of the wilderness.