In our last paper we paused at the words, "Which things the angels desire to look into." As there is much in this expression that demands and will repay reverent and thoughtful meditation, we resume at this point our exposition of 1 Peter 1.
In the Scripture we obtain glimpses and glances of that order of created intelligences known to us by the name of angels, that is, messengers. In both the Old and New Testaments this is their revealed name, as if God would, in his infinite wisdom, present them to us under that aspect as adapted to our capacity to understand and to our faith to receive and believe, without giving us any information of their nature, which, indeed, were it revealed in the word, we might not be able with our present limited faculties to comprehend. That they were created by our blessed Lord, is plainly revealed (Col. 1:16), and that they were created holy and pure is equally plain; for it is impossible that he who is infinite purity and holiness could create any unclean thing. That from this purity and holiness a multitude fell, and by this fall became what they now are, and ever will be, wicked devils, enemies of God and man, is also clearly revealed in the word of truth.
We thus gather from the inspired Scriptures that there are good and bad angels, those who kept and those who kept not their first estate. (Jude 6.) The first are known as "the elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21), to denote that they were chosen in the secret purposes of God to stand when others were allowed to fall; as "the holy angels" (Matt. 25:31; Acts 10:22; Rev. 14:10), to distinguish them from the fallen, unholy, and unclean angels; as "the angels of God" (Luke 12:8; Heb. 1:6), to distinguish them from the angels of the devil. (Rev. 12:7.) They are said also to be "an innumerable company" (Heb. 12:22); for Daniel saw in vision "thousand thousands ministering unto the Ancient of days, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him" (Dan. 7:10), and John declares, "And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." (Rev. 5:11.) They are also declared "to excel in strength" (Psalm 103:20), to be "mighty" (2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 18:21), as indeed the works they have already done sufficiently show (2 Sam. 24:16; 2 Kings 19:35), and as will one day be more clearly seen when they shall come forth at the end of the world to sever the wicked from among the just. As regards their office now, they are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." (Heb. 1:14.) But as it is not our present object to dwell upon the character and ministry of angels, we shall confine ourselves to what is here said of them by the Apostle that they "desire to look into" the mysteries of salvation. The expression is 1, one of reverent inquiry; 2, of holy wonder and admiration.
Now what is it that draws forth this reverent inquiry and this holy wonder and admiration on the part of these angelic beings?
1. They desire to see in the mysteries of salvation the infinite wisdom of God. The Apostle therefore speaks, "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." (Eph. 3:10.) The elect angels had seen their non-elect brethren fall, and in their banishment from heaven and being "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day," witnessed a display of the tremendous justice and indignation of the Almighty. But as viewing the mysteries of redemption, they see a display of an attribute of God before unknown, or at least not manifested in act—mercy. How to reconcile this newly-discovered attribute of mercy with that strict justice of which they had seen such a dreadful example, they knew not. But the explanation of this deep and blessed mystery is presented to their inquiring minds in the Person of Christ, and especially in his sufferings, death, and resurrection, in his atoning blood, justifying obedience, and dying love. In this, as in a glass, they are ever desiring to look, that they may, with the utmost stretch and penetration of their pure angelic minds, see and gather up more and more discoveries of the infinite wisdom of God, that they may forever admire and adore it.
To the carnal, earthly, debased, degraded mind of man the mystery of the Person of Christ, of the cross, of the sufferings, blood shedding, and death of Jesus, whereby he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, is foolishness. He sees no beauty, blessedness, or glory in the Person of the Son of God, nor any wisdom or grace in atoning blood and dying love. But not so with these bright and pure intelligences. They see far better than we can, as being of a higher order of understanding, the wisdom of God in creation and in providence, for in both these domains of divine wisdom much is plain and clear to them which is obscure to or unobserved by us. They have greater opportunities of observation as standing ever in the courts of heaven, and able to fly swiftly (Dan. 9:21) from spot to spot, as well as possessed of an intelligence both high and exalted in itself, and undimmed, as ours, by sin.
But all these outward witnesses, so to speak, of the wisdom and power of God which they see in the light of his countenance, as ever beholding his face (Matt. 18:10), are as nothing compared with what is revealed to them of the inward actings of God's mind, and the discovery to them of those peculiar attributes whereby he reveals himself to their adoring observation, not only as a God of infinite wisdom, but a God of mercy, grace, and love.
2. For they see in the Person and work of Christ not only the depths of infinite wisdom in the contrivance of the whole plan of redemption, and of power in its execution and full accomplishment, but they see, as reflected in the Person and work of the God-man, such lengths, breadths, depths, and heights of love as fill their minds with holy wonder, admiration and praise. For bear in mind what they are whom the angels see to be the objects of this love. Not pure holy beings, such as they themselves are, but vile, degraded, and ungodly sinners. They could well understand the free flowings forth of love to the pure and the holy, for of that they have a personal experience in their own case, and that God can punish and take vengeance upon transgressors they can also comprehend, for of this they saw an instance in the fallen angels; but that the love of God would be fixed on any of the guilty sons of men is beyond the grasp of their natural faculties.
But it is presented to their inquiring minds in God's gift of his dear Son for poor guilty sinners, and in the coming of the Son of his love in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, both to put it away and to condemn it. (Heb. 9:26; Rom. 8:3.) And knowing who the Son of God is as "the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his Person," they see in his incarnation, humiliation, sufferings, blood-shedding, and death, such unspeakable treasures of mercy and grace as ever fill their minds with wonder and admiration.
3. They see also in the mysteries of redemption the way in which Satan, the arch-fiend, the leader of millions of angels into sin and rebellion, the successful tempter and destroyer of man, the proud, self-exalting god and prince of this world, rearing his throne and power in this lower creation as the open antagonist of God and man; they see this prince of the power of the air, we say, defeated, not by force of arms, and cast out of his usurped dominion by the mighty majesty of the Son of God and the brightness of his manifested glory, as they will one day see when he comes again the second time without sin unto salvation, but they see him who had the power of death, wielding it as a weapon of terror and alarm over the redeemed when in bondage, destroyed through death, and behold in the wondrous mystery of the dying of the Lord of life the prince and god of this world, defeated by that very thing, death, of which he had been the introducer through sin into the world. They see with holy wonder and admiration how by the cross the suffering Son of God "spoiled principalities and powers," the thousands of fallen spirits who in league with and under the control of Satan their head set up their dominion in this lower world, and how he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it, or himself. (Col. 2:15, margin.)
What moves their adoring admiration is the way in which this victory over sin in its accursed author and introducer and his associate legions in wickedness was accomplished; that sin was not, as it were, swept out of the world by an act of sovereign power, and its head cast into the lake of fire at once by the arm of the Almighty, but that sin would be atoned for and put away by the blood-shedding and death of the Son of God in our nature, death overcome by his dying the just for the unjust, and Satan judged, dethroned, cast out, and destroyed, as to his dominion, though not as to his being, by his obedience unto death; this act of obedient submission to the will of the Father by the Son of his love fills their minds with holy admiration and astonishment.
4. And as witnessing also the gradual unfolding of the purposes of his grace in the repentance unto life of each successive vessel of mercy, they ever find new matter of praise and joy; for there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
Now these and other mysteries of redeeming love the angels desire to look into, that they may learn from them fresh lessons of the grace and glory of God's incarnate Son and see more and more in him, as the image of God, to admire, adore, and love. What a pattern to them of obedience to the will of God and of diligent, active, unwearied love to the sons of men! What a continual presentation to their inquiring minds of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! And should that be no object of inquiry and admiration to us, which is such an object of inquiry and admiration to them? Are we not much more deeply because personally interested in these mysteries than they are? Redemption was not for angels but for us. They stand round about the throne in the outward circle; but we, if interested in redeeming love, stand, as represented by the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, close to and before the throne, in the inner circle. They have no new song to sing as the redeemed have; no pardoned sin to bless God for, no deliverance from going down into the pit, no manifested mercy to make their souls rejoice.
And yet so pure and holy is the flame of their love to God (Heb. 1:7), and such delight do they take in knowing and doing his will, of which they give the perfect exemplar, according to the well-known petition in the Lord's prayer (Matt. 6:10), that they admire, love, and adore what they have no personal interest in; and so far from feeling pity for or sympathy with their fallen brethren, or any jealousy at the promotion of man into their place, and even over their own head in the Person of Christ, they rejoice in the will of God simply because it is his will. What shame and confusion should cover our face that we should see so little beauty and glory in that redeeming blood and love which fill their pure minds with holy and unceasing admiration; and that they should be ever seeking and inquiring into this heavenly mystery, that they may discover in it ever new and opening treasures of the wisdom, grace, mercy, truth, and love of God, when we who profess to be redeemed by precious blood, are, for the most part, so cold and indifferent in the contemplation and admiration of it.
But we must not linger on this deeply-interesting subject, but pass on to the next point which the Apostle brings before us—"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:13.) The Apostle now comes to practical exhortation. Having laid down the grounds of our faith and hope, and encouraged us by the example of the angels to look more closely and inquire more deeply into the mysteries of redeeming love, he enforces upon us such a path of holy obedience as will be for our own establishment and comfort, and for the glory of God.
1. He bids us first to "gird up the loins of our mind." The ancients wore loose garments; and these, though cool and well adapted to the climate, yet had various inconveniences which they sought to remedy by, as it were, tightening or girding them up with a strong belt that went round the loins and was fastened in front. We need not refer to the various passages of the Old Testament where the expression occurs in its literal sense. Here, of course, it is used figuratively and spiritually. To gird up, then, the loins of the mind is to do spiritually in the matters of the soul what was done naturally by such a bodily act in the matters of the body. It implies, therefore,
i. Readiness. The first thing the wearer of loose garments would do to prepare himself for action would be to gird up his loins, so as to be ready to move at the word of command. "Gird yourself," said the angel to Peter, "and bind on your sandals." (Acts 12:8.) There is a readiness of mind to receive the word (Acts 17:11), a readiness to will (2 Cor. 8:11), a readiness to revenge, not oneself, but all disobedience in oneself (2 Cor. 10:6), a readiness of spirit even when the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38), a readiness to every good work (Titus 3:1), a ready mind to serve the Church willingly, and not for filthy lucre. (1 Peter 5:2.) This readiness of a willing spirit to run the way of God's commandments, when he enlarges the heart, seems denoted by the expression, "Gird up the loins of your mind."
ii. It also implies strength to do and suffer the will of God. "Those who stumbled," says Hannah of old, alluding to her once tottering steps, "are girded with strength." (1 Sam. 2:4.) "It is God," said David, "that girds me with strength." (Psalm 18:32.) We have much to do and much to suffer in the path of tribulation, and in this path we cannot properly or safely walk with loose disordered affections, unstable, unfortified minds, with a faith and hope not braced up and strengthened to fight the good fight, and lay hold of eternal life.
iii. It implies also that we should not let our garments trail in the dirt, so as to soil our profession, get them entangled in the thorns and briers of the cares of this life, or of strife and contention, and thus have them rent and torn; but to walk through this world as a meticulous woman picks her way through a miry road, avoiding every puddle, and gathering her clothes carefully round her that they be soiled as little as possible by the mud.
If we let our thoughts and affections fall, as it were, where they will, they will soon fall into the dirt. Our thoughts, our words, our looks, our movements and actions, must be held in and held up from roving and roaming at their wild, ungoverned will, or we shall soon fall into some evil that may cover us with shame and disgrace. If we are to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand, we must stand "having our loins girt about with truth" (Eph. 6:14); and this will keep our garments from being defiled with either error or evil.
2. "Be sober," adds the Apostle, or, as the word might be translated, be "watchful." Sobriety in religion is a blessed gift and grace. In our most holy faith there is no room for lightness. The things which concern our peace are solemn, weighty matters, and if they lie with any degree of weight and power on our spirit, they will subdue that levity which is the very breath of the carnal mind. Some men are naturally light, and as a man's natural make and disposition will sometimes, in spite of his better feelings and judgment, discover itself, some good men and acceptable preachers have fallen into the snare of dropping light expressions in the pulpit. But it is much to be lamented that they have set such an example, for many have imitated their lightness who do not possess their grace, and have availed themselves of that very circumstance as a recommendation which in those good men was but an infirmity. How different was the testimony which Burnet gives of Leighton—"I can say with truth, that in a free and frequent conversation with him for above two-and-twenty years, I never knew him speak an idle word, or one that had not a direct tendency to edification; and I never once saw him in any other temper but that which I wished to be in the last minutes of my life."
But sobriety implies not merely the absence of all unbecoming levity in speech and conduct, but the absence also of all wild, visionary imaginations in the things of God. It denotes, therefore, that "spirit of a sound mind" which the Apostle says is the gift of God. (2 Tim. 1:7.) Few things are more opposed to that wisdom which is from above (James 3:17), and to that anointing which teaches all things, and is truth, and is no lie (1 John 2:27), or to the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope—than those wild flights of imagination, and those visionary ideas and feelings which so many substitute for the solid realities of the life of God. These are some of the strongholds of which Paul speaks and which he had to pull down. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4, 5.)
These vain "imaginations," these speculative ideas and enthusiastic visionary ramblings, often the fruit of a disordered mind, or produced by Satan as an angel of light, which some seem to think so much of, Paul would pull down as strongholds of delusion. Hart seems at one time to have been nearly caught in this snare—"But, after many a gloomy, doleful hour spent in solitude and sorrow, not without strong and frequent cries and tears to God, and beseeching him to reveal himself to me in a clearer manner, I thought he asked me, in the midst of one of my prayers, whether I rather chose the visionary revelations, of which I had formed some wild idea, or to be content with trusting to the low, despised mystery of a crucified man?"—Hart's "Experience."
He therefore says in one of his hymns:
Vital godliness, it is true, has its mysteries, its revelations, and manifestations, its spiritual and supernatural discoveries and operations; but all these come through the word of truth, which is simple, weighty, and solid, and as far removed from everything visionary or imaginative, wild or flighty, as light is from darkness; and therefore every act of faith, or of hope, or of love, will be as simple, solid, and weighty as the word of truth itself, through the medium of which, by the power of the Spirit, they are produced and called forth. If any doubt this, let them read in some solemn moment the last discourses of our blessed Lord with his disciples. How simple, how solid, how weighty are these discourses. Must not, then, the faith which receives, believes, and is mixed with these words of grace and truth, the hope which anchors in the promises there spoken, the love which embraces the gracious and glorious Person of him who spoke them, be simple and solid too? What room is there in such a faith, hope, and love for visionary ideas, wild speculations, and false spiritualizations of Scripture, any more than there is in the words of the Lord himself?
2. But to be "sober" means also to be wakeful and watchful, as we find the word used by the great Apostle—"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet." (1 Thess. 5:6, 7, 8.) Here sobriety is opposed to sleepiness, and is connected with walking in the light and in the day, as sleepiness and its frequent cause, drunkenness, are connected with darkness and night.
One of the greatest curses God can send on a people and its rulers, its prophets and seers, is a spirit of deep sleep, as the prophet speaks—"For the Lord has poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes; the prophets and your rulers, the seers has he covered." (Isa. 29:10.) But to be sober is to be awaked out of this sleep, and, as a consequence, to walk not only wakefully but watchfully. It implies, therefore, that careful, circumspect walking, that daily living, moving, speaking, and acting in the fear of God whereby alone we can be kept from the snares spread for our foot at every step of the way. How many have fallen into outward evil and open disgrace from lack of walking watchfully and circumspectly and taking heed to their steps. Instead of watching the first movements of sin and against, as the Lord speaks, "the entering into temptation" (Luke 22:40), they rather dally with it until they are drawn away and enticed of their own lust, which as unchecked goes on to conceive and bring forth sin, which, when it is finished or carried out and accomplished in positive action, brings forth death. (James 2:14, 15.)
Here, however, we must pause in our exposition of the chapter before us.