Suffering for Christ
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
1 Peter 4:12-19.
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved — then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator."
The Christians to whom Peter wrote were in trouble on account of their religion, and the apostle wished to cheer them. He tells them not to be surprised at "the fiery trial — as though some strange thing happened unto them," something which they had no reason to expect, something different from what happened to other Christians. It was not so. Christians must be prepared to suffer for their Master's sake. Most Christians are called to suffer for Him, more or less.
He bids them rather rejoice because, in suffering, they were but partakers with their Master Himself; and if they suffered with Him, they might hope to be glorified with Him too. Let shame and reproach therefore come upon them for His sake — still they were happy, and so he would have them think themselves. If they suffered reproach — then it was in the best cause, the cause of Christ. The Holy Spirit was with them and would be with them through all. Their enemies were also the enemies of Christ; those who reproached them, also blasphemed Him. While they, on the contrary, had the opportunity of bringing glory to Him by following Him closely and by bearing persecution with meekness and courage.
But let them take care to do nothing inconsistent with that holy Name by which they were called. Let no follower of Christ expose himself to any just accusation. Let none by any crime bring disgrace on his Master's cause, or give occasion to the enemies of the cross to speak against the religion of Christ. Let all guard against this.
Then, if any should still suffer as a Christian, in the good cause, not for doing wrong but for doing right, "let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this behalf." There was no shame in such suffering — but rather honor. "For the time is come," he says, "that judgment must begin at the house of God." That is to say, it pleases God, who orders all things and all seasons — that this should be a time of judgment, of trial, of affliction; and that the house of God, that is, His spiritual house, the Church of Christ, should be the first to suffer.
Yet let not Christians despond. It pleased God that they should suffer, but what were their sufferings — compared with what would fall upon the enemies of the cross? "If it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"
At present it might seem that the followers of Christ were the worst off — they suffered, and their persecutors prospered. But this was only for a time. The end would come — a happy end for the suffering Christians, and a dreadful end for their persecutors. How was it possible that these should escape? It pleased God to make His servants partakers of the sufferings of Christ, to chasten them for their good, and to lead them to glory by the pathway of trial. But how much greater sufferings must be in store for those who would not obey the gospel! Not chastisements, as in the case of the Christians — but the just outpouring of God's wrath for sin.
He follows this up with another question, "If the righteous one is scarcely saved — then where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" This word "scarcely" does not mean that there is any doubt about the righteous being saved. There is none. The soul of the believer is safe in Christ. "He is able to save to the uttermost — all who come unto God by Him" (Hebrews 7:25). "They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand" (John 10:28). But the difficulties of the Christian course are so great; its hindrances, temptations, and trials so many; that the apostle speaks "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved"; surely — yet hard; like the shipwrecked sailor, who has struggled to land through the rough waves that drove him hack again and again, and now rests safe on the rock beyond their reach; he too is saved, completely saved, but "scarcely saved."
Now, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved — then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" If the dangers and difficulties in the way of salvation are so many and great, even to one who presses toward the mark and seeks salvation as the one thing needful — then what must become of the careless sinner, who neglects his soul and slights his Savior, and does not seek his soul's salvation?
What will become of the ungodly and the sinner in the great day of the final judgment? What a solemn question! A question without an answer. It needs no answer. Conscience itself gives the answer — the conscience of the ungodly and the sinner — an answer which he fears to think of and drives from his mind — and yet knows to be true.
But this question need cause no fear to the humble servant of Christ who believes in Him, follows Him, and perhaps suffers for His sake. Let not such a one fear. The apostle bids such to "commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." Let them fear nothing but sin. In well doing, in a prayerful and watchful course, in a constant and earnest endeavor through grace to maintain a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men — let them commit their souls to God in the confidence of faith.
He is their Creator — He made them. He rules and governs all things — He can preserve them and save them. And He will do so, for He is their faithful Creator. He has promised to save all who come to Him by Christ Jesus. He has both provided and accepted the great atonement. He has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He will be faithful to His covenant. He will not require again the penalty that has already been paid in the precious blood of Christ. Not one word of promise shall fail — He will save His people with an everlasting salvation.
The humble believer who lies on a bed of pain and sickness, and for the love of Jesus strives to bear all with patience and submission, though he may be free from persecution and may even be surrounded by those who like himself love the Savior — is yet no doubt accepted as a sufferer for Christ's sake, a sufferer according to the will of God. Let such a one take to himself the comfort of this passage. It is not for the persecuted alone — but for all Christ's sufferers. Let him commit his soul again and again to his God and Savior. Let him not doubt or fear. God will be with him through all — even to the end. And at length He will take him to his eternal rest, where all suffering will be past forever!