Meditations on First Peter Chapter One

by J. C. Philpot, 1869

Part IX.

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." 1 Peter 1:15-16

It is a very significant circumstance, and no less sad than significant, that the very words "holy" and "holiness" seem almost lost out of the churches of truth. If the correctness of this assertion be doubted, let us appeal to our readers' own experience, and ask them how often in the course of the year do they hear the words in the mouth of the ministers of truth under whom they usually sit. Or if such a word as "holiness" is ever sounded in their ears, is it not more as a term of reproach and an arrow aimed against what is termed "progressive sanctification"—than brought before them and insisted on as a part of the gospel of the grace of God, and in harmony with the Scriptures of truth and the work of grace upon the heart?

The cause, however, of this omission, if what we have stated is correct, is not far to seek. One extreme often leads to another; and thus, as in other cases, because ignorant men have erred in one direction, the advocates of truth have been tempted to err in another, and to overlook or ignore the express language of Scripture, lest it should seem to countenance views to which they are opposed. And what has been the necessary consequence? That it has come to pass, lest they should be thought to favor a 'fleshly holiness'—men of truth have almost dropped the word itself altogether. But because men ignorant of the depths of the fall, and of the distinction of the two natures in those born of God, advocate what every child of God knows, from his own experience, to be false as to the 'gradual sanctification' of what in itself is and ever will be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, is it right, is it consistent with faithful stewardship of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1, 2), and the solemn trusteeship of the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:4), that not only the Scriptural language, "holy" and "holiness," should be tacitly dropped; but what is worse—the thing itself should be neglected and passed by? These may appear to be grave charges; but they are not advanced without some observation and consideration, and their truth or falsehood we shall leave to the judgment of our discerning and experienced readers.

But if our judgment in this matter be correct, and founded on indisputable facts, we need not be surprised that as the neglect of any important part of God's truth must always bear evil fruit, such has been the practical consequence of this omission; and thus, as regards hearers as well as preachers, it has much come to pass that all such exhortations to holiness in heart, lip, and life, as we meet with in the chapter before us, were they now found in the mouth of ministers, would be viewed by many of their people as legal and bondaging, and inconsistent with the purity of gospel truth in its doctrine, if they dare not altogether say with its experience and power.

But if we are brought in any way to this pass—that plain and positive Scripture precepts and exhortations are to be set aside, or thrust out of both pulpit and pew, because they do not suit our views and feelings—may we not justly suspect that there is something wrong somewhere? And should we not search and examine to see whether such an omission may not be founded on some misconception of the truth, even in those cases where there would not be a willing or willful neglect of the revealed will and word of God?

According to our view, the exhortations in the Scripture to holiness are in perfect harmony with the doctrines of grace and the teaching of the blessed Spirit in the soul; indeed, so much so, that they grow upon the Gospel tree as necessarily as good grapes upon the vine of the Lord's right hand planting. In these exhortations, rightly understood, spiritually received and interpreted, there is nothing legal, nothing that genders to bondage, nothing inconsistent with the liberty of the gospel, the freedom of truth, and the blessedness of the love which casts out fear which has torment; for they are all fully impregnated with the dew, the unction, and the power of the Spirit of life—and are full of sweetness and blessedness to those who can receive them in the power of that grace out of which they spring, and of which they form the crowning fruits.

But we resume at this point our exposition of the chapter before us. "As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is writtenBe holy, because I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16.) Let us then see what is the meaning and force of these words.

They remind us, first, of our high calling, and address themselves to us as those upon whom God has had special mercy, and whom, therefore, he has laid under every gracious constraint and spiritual obligation to walk worthy of it. And does not this fully harmonize with other similar passages, such, for instance, as, "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called?" (Eph. 4:1.) By our very calling we are called out of the world, that we should be no longer conformed to it—out of sin, that we should no longer serve it—of self, that we should no longer please and indulge it—out of darkness, that we should no longer walk in it—out of evil in every shape and form, that we should be no longer under its power and influence.

And if any say, "Our nature is so corrupt, our heart so vile, our lusts and passions so strong, sin so alluring, and flesh so weak—that we cannot come out of those things in which we once lived," all that can be said to such persons is, "What then has God done for you by his Holy Spirit, and what evidence do you give that you are partakers of that grace that brings salvation and which teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world? Did not the Lord give himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works?" (Tit. 2:11-14.)

There is a holiness of which the Scripture speaks and of which it declares that "without it no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14); and though this does not consist in the sanctification of the flesh, or any spiritual improvement begun or progressing of our corrupt nature, yet there is such a thing as being made a partaker of the divine nature, and thus escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:4.) The Lord Jesus Christ is of God made unto us sanctification as well as righteousness and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30); and those who are called by his grace are not only washed and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus—but are sanctified by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11.)

This holiness, then, consists mainly of two points—

1. Being made a partaker of the Spirit of holiness whereby, as born of God, we—are made fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12); set our affection on things above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God (Col. 3:1, 2); have our conversation in heaven (Phil. 3:20); put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him which created him (Col. 3:10); live a life of faith in the Son of God (Gal. 2:20), and beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18.)

To be thus spiritually-minded, to be thus brought near unto God through his dear Son, to walk before him in the light of his countenance, and to know something of spiritual communion with the Lord of life and glory as sitting on his mercy-seat in the fullness of his risen power, and in the heights, depths, lengths, and breadths of his dying love—thus to taste, to handle, to experience, and to enjoy—is to be made a partaker of true holiness and to be sanctified by the Spirit of God as an indwelling teacher, guide, advocate, and comforter. And if we know nothing of these things, at least in some small measure, or are not looking after and longing for them to be brought into our heart by a divine power, we give but little evidence that the grace of God has reached our heart and renewed us in the spirit of our mind.

2. The second branch of holiness is a life, conduct, and conversation agreeable to the precepts of the gospel; and the one springs out of the other. "Make the tree good," said our blessed Lord, "and his fruit good, for the tree is known by his fruit." Gospel fruit must grow upon a gospel tree, and thus the fruits of a holy and godly life must spring out of those divine operations of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of which we have just spoken. Thus to speak, live, and act is to be "holy in all manner of conversation," that is, in our daily walk; and is a fulfilling of the precept which God gave of old to his typical people Israel (Lev. 11:45), and here quoted to show that it is spiritually fulfilled in that peculiar people whom he calls by his distinguishing grace under the gospel.

But though Peter, as speaking for God, thus lays down in his inspired word what would be a precept to last through all time, yet, under the guidance of that holy and divine Teacher who guided his pen and knowing experimentally the weakness of the creature and the power of prayer, he adds—"And if you call on the Father, who without respect of persons judges according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." (1 Peter 1:17.)

Prayer is the breath of the new-born soul, and the blessed Spirit who kindles it in the heart, and from time to time draws it forth into living exercise, teaches the child of God whose body he makes his temple, and in whom he dwells, as a Spirit of grace and supplications, to pour out his heart before God. Thus he calls on the Father, approaching him through his dear Son; and presenting, as enabled, his supplications before the throne of grace, seeks after those blessings of which he is made to feel his deep and daily need. This gracious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Father also of all who believe in his name, even though they cannot always or often see and claim that sweet and blessed relationship, is here said "to judge without respect of persons, according to every man's work."

"Without respect of persons" has a somewhat wide bearing, and one especially suitable to the exhortation with which it stands in connection. It does not, then, merely signify that God is no respecter of persons as regards rich or poor, educated or uneducated, and such other distinctions as now separate man from man in mere social relationships; but it has a bearing also on what is more peculiarly personal and experimental.

Thus when we look sometimes at gospel precepts, and such a one especially as that which here calls upon us to be holy as God is holy, our very heart sinks at what is thus brought before us; and taking a view of what we are as fallen sinners, and being made deeply conscious of our own helplessness and inability, and that everything in us by nature is contrary to God and godliness, it seems to us impossible that we can ever be what we read a Christian should be, or ever do what we believe a Christian should do. By thus looking into our own hearts, and measuring our strength by our own ability, we view the precepts of the gospel with an approving eye as right in themselves, but with a desponding look as regards our own performance of them. We may also be under the power of strong and peculiar temptations, be placed in circumstances in which obedience to the gospel seems almost an impossibility, or so sensibly feel the presence and pressure of a body of sin and death as to think that of all people who ever had a hope in God's mercy we are by nature the vilest, and in power to do that which is good the very weakest. Now this is having respect of persons, and especially of that person whom we know best, with whose every feeling, thought, movement, propensity, inclination, words, and actions, we are most intimately conversant, and with whom all we are and have is bound up for time and eternity—one's own self.

But the Father judges according to every man's work without respect of persons. He does not altogether view us as we view ourselves. Our good deeds are no recommendation to his grace, and our bad deeds, if mourned over, confessed, and forsaken, shall be no hindrances to it. Are we sinful, yes, of sinners chief? God judges us according to our work. By this expression we may understand two things—1, the work of God upon the soul, and 2, those works of righteousness which flow out of it and are brought forth by the special operation of his grace.

1. In looking, then, upon us and judging us without respect of persons as we stand in his sight, God views his own work of grace in the heart, and fixes, so to speak, his eyes upon that. Now this work of his own grace in the heart does not appear in his eyes as it often does in ours. From us the work itself is often hidden. It seems so buried and, as it were, lost out of sight amid our corruptions—sin has so darkened our mind, and unbelief so obscured our judgment, that we often cannot see—not only what God has wrought in us by his Spirit and grace—but that he has wrought in us anything at all.

We may illustrate this by the judgment which we ourselves sometimes form upon those children of God with whom we are brought into some degree of union and communion. Of these some, if not many, are continually doubting whether they are possessed of grace. But we can see through their doubts and fears, and through their darkness and unbelief, clear and plain marks of the work of God upon their soul. This commends them to our conscience, unites them to us in the bands of love and affection, and we receive them as children of God from seeing that grace in them—which they cannot see themselves. How much more, then, can he before whose eyes all things are naked and open see in his children that grace which he himself has wrought in their heart! And by this grace he judges them "without respect of persons"—without any respect to what they are in their own feelings or their own judgment, but as they stand in his sight, not only as "accepted in the Beloved," but as also brought to believe in his dear Son to the salvation and sanctification of their soul.

2. But we may explain the words as applicable also to those works which are the fruit of his grace. All that we do is marred with sin. Our motive may be good, our eye single, our desire sincere; but as the word or action passes from us it becomes marred and defiled by the sin that dwells in us. And the clearer our discernment is of the nature of grace and of our own sinfulness—the more we shall see that nothing really good was ever performed by us. But the great Judge of all, who can read in us what we cannot read in ourselves, looks at those words and actions which spring out of his grace with an approving eye—and separates them from all that sinfulness and selfishness which in our view mar and pollute them.

Thus we see that in the judgment at the great day, when the Lord sets his sheep on his right hand and the goats on the left, he mentions as evidences of his grace to those whom he bids come and inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (Matt. 25:35, 36.) But the righteous who saw in what they had done for him little else but sin and defilement could hardly call to mind that they had ever done anything to show their faith in him or love toward him. "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?" (Matt. 25:37-39.) But the Lord assured them that inasmuch as they had done it unto one of the least of his brethren they had done it unto him. So he said upon another occasion—"And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded." (Matt. 10:42.) In giving the cup of cold water in the name of a disciple they could not see that it was a work of faith and love, and as such was approved of by the Lord. But he who could read his own grace in their heart and could separate the faith and affection which dwelt there from all its surrounding pollutions judged them according to that work.

But how is this connected with that holiness to which the Apostle exhorts us? In this way—that we are not to be cast down and discouraged, still less give up heart and hope, because we find in ourselves everything which is sinful and unholy. We are rather to call upon the Father out of the depths of our own sinfulness, our shortcomings, our many and frequent backslidings, our darkness and unbelief, our sin and guilt, our shame and confusion of face, our helplessness and inability, our many discouragements, sinkings, and castings down—out of all these things we are to sigh and cry, look and long, supplicate and pray, fight and wrestle, strive and struggle—as seeking help from the Father, who will deal with us as dear children, and who, without respect of persons, whatever we may think of ourselves, or others think of us, judges us according to his own work, and not according to our own doubts and fears.

Thus we see the basis on which these exhortations to holiness rest, and that we are not left to work in ourselves that holiness without which no man can see the Lord; but that the Father himself will have respect to his own grace, and, having begun, will carry on and complete the work of faith with power.

But the Apostle adds—"Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear." Our life here is but a vapor. We are but pilgrims and strangers on this earthly ball, mere sojourners, without fixed or settled habitation, and passing through this world as not our home or resting-place. The Apostle, therefore, bids us pass this time, whether long or short, of our earthly sojourn under the influence and in the exercise of godly fear.

We are surrounded with enemies, all seeking, as it were, our life, and therefore we are called upon to move with great caution, knowing how soon we may slip and fall, and thus wound our own consciences, grieve our friends, gratify our enemies, and bring upon ourselves a cloud of darkness which may long hover over our souls. Our life here below is not one of ease and quiet, but a warfare, a conflict, a race, a wrestling not with flesh and blood alone, but with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. We have to dread ourselves more than anything or anybody else, and to view our flesh as our greatest enemy.

This fear is not a slavish, legal fear, such as that which John speaks of, and of which he says that "it has torment," but that holy, godly, and filial fear which is the first fruit and mark of covenant grace, and is a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death. Where this fear is absent, or even if not wholly absent, not in full exercise, we are sure to go wrong, for "by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." How needful, then, is it to pass the time of our sojourning here in the exercise of this godly, reverential fear! And let no one think that this filial fear is inconsistent with faith even in its highest risings, or with love in its sweetest enjoyments. In fact, it is only to those who fear his great name that the Lord manifests himself in his beauty and blessedness, for "the secret of the Lord is with those who fear him, and to them (and to them alone) does he show his covenant." Hart, therefore, sweetly says of the men who fear the Lord:

"His secrets they shall share;
His covenant shall learn;
Guided by grace shall walk his ways;
And heavenly truths discern."

We may observe also that there is a very close and intimate connection between this godly fear and being "holy in all manner of living." When do we drop into levity of conversation? When do light and frothy words fall from our lips? When do any of those hasty bursts of temper, or those fretful expressions, or that more carnal, worldly talk to which we are naturally prone hover upon our lips and break forth, more or less unguardedly, from our tongue? Is it not when this godly fear is not rolling its streams as a fountain of life to water the soul and soften it into humility and love, and is not springing up in wholesome checks and godly admonitions to keep the tongue as with a bridle, and to rule that little member which, though so little, if untamed, defiles the whole body?

But if this fear be in exercise it will restrain that levity of speech which not only grieves and wounds our own conscience, but is often a stumbling-block to the world, a bad example to the family of God, and a weapon in the hands of Satan to bring death into their soul. We would do well to ponder over those words of the Apostle and to carry them with us when we are brought into conversation with others in the daily walks of life—"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Eph. 4:29, 30.)

But we may observe also the strong ground of obligation under which we are laid thus to act—"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18, 19.)

The foundation of a gospel walk and conduct is laid in redemption. We received from our fathers by tradition and example "an empty way of life," in the case, at least, of those of us who had not godly parents, and to whom religion was a thing utterly unknown, even by name, until by a special act of sovereign grace the Lord was pleased to drop it into our hearts. We might have been brought up carefully, strictly, morally, and even been taught certain forms of outward religion. But, viewed in the light of divine teaching, it was "an empty way of life." It began and ended with the world. Every thought, motive, word, and action was bounded by this life; and even if this empty way of life were free from outbreaks into positive evil, still death was stamped upon it throughout. Nor could we have redeemed ourselves from it. Were we even made sensible of the future misery which was entailed thereby, we could not "with corruptible things," the only things which our heart could produce within, or the corruptible things, as silver and gold, without, redeem ourselves from this empty way of life, so as to deliver our souls from the wrath of God due to it.

But O the unspeakable depths of the goodness and mercy of God! O the riches of his superabounding grace! When there was no other way of redemption, God sent his only-begotten Son, that by his precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, we might be redeemed from all the consequences of our empty way of life received by tradition from our fathers; and not only from all its consequences, but what the Apostle is here especially aiming at, from its power and practice. You know, he says, that you were redeemed from this empty way of life not with silver and gold, as slaves are redeemed by man from man. Such perishing, corrupting, and corruptible things, torn out of earth's mines, as men employ for purposes of redemption, could make no atonement to God for your sins and crimes; but the precious blood of Christ—precious in the sight of God as the blood of his dear Son, precious in the sight of the saints as their full and sufficient ransom, could and did redeem you from all iniquity, and by doing so, laid you under the deepest obligation to walk no more in that empty way of life which you received by tradition from your fathers, but to be holy in all manner of living.

It will be observed also that it is a knowledge, a personal, experimental knowledge of this redemption, which lays us under a spiritual obligation to walk worthy of our high calling. And it acts in this way. A view by faith of the bleeding, dying Lamb of God, a seeing and feeling what he suffered in the garden and on the cross to redeem us from hell, will ever make sin hateful in our eyes, and holiness longed after as the soul's happiest element. If ever sin is ever mourned over, hated, confessed, and forsaken; if there are ever ardent desires after a conformity to Christ's image; if there is ever a longing after union and communion with him, it is at the foot of his cross. By it and it alone is the world crucified unto us, and we unto the world; and well may we say that our highest attainment in grace is to have the experience of the Apostle—"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20.)

But to show the firmness and stability of this foundation, the Apostle tells us that Christ was "foreordained before the foundation of the world," and therefore that the whole plan was laid in the counsels of infinite wisdom and grace.

But as the consideration of this point would take up too much of our present space, we must defer our thoughts upon it to the next paper.