Meditations on First Peter Chapter One

by J. C. Philpot, 1869

Part I.

We are well persuaded from our own experience from within, that there is not only a peculiar safety, but a special blessedness in the laying open of the word of truth, which is not usually to be found in any other path of private meditation or public exposition. God has himself set a special value upon his own inspired Scriptures. "You have magnified your word," says the Psalmist, "above your name;" that is, all your other manifested perfections. (Psalm 138:2.) Nor are the reasons why God has thus magnified his word far to seek. Several occur to our mind:

1. As the display of his own glory is, and ever must be, the chief object and ultimate purpose of all his works, the main reason why God puts this high value on his WORD is because, as being a revelation of his mind and will, it especially glorifies himself. CREATION manifests his eternal being, and with it his greatness, wisdom, and power; "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made" (Rom. 1:20); and PROVIDENCE displays his tender care in sustaining the creatures of his hand in life and being; but it is REVELATION which discovers the thoughts of his heart, and especially the purposes of his grace; and as this discovery of those thoughts of God's heart, "which are to all generations" (Psalm 33:11), is more precious in his sight than any external manifestation of his works, he has magnified his word above those other perfections of his nature in which consists his name.

2. But besides this special reason for magnifying his word above all his name, there is another, in that he has given therein a revelation of his dear Son, who is emphatically the Word; and as all we can now know of the incarnate Word is through the medium of the written word, God has put a special value and honor upon the inspired Scriptures as "the testimony of Jesus;" for that "is the spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10.)

3. Another reason is that he thereby forms a people for himself to show forth his praise. All that is done in and for the soul to conform it to the image of Christ is by the power of the word. Our gracious Lord, therefore, when he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and, as the High Priest over the house of God, offered up that memorable intercessory prayer which the Holy Spirit has recorded John 17, said, "Sanctify them through your truth; your word is truth." This work of sanctification includes the whole of that sacred work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul, whereby it is made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light—which made the Apostle say, in his parting address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32.)

By the word he begets us into spiritual life, as James testifies—"He chose to give us birth through the word of truth;" and to this corresponds the language of Peter in the chapter which we have been led to propose as the subject of our present meditations, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:23.) By this word, in the hands of the Spirit, is the soul first convinced of sin; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. "No," says the Apostle, "I had not known sin but by the law." And as divine life is thus communicated by the word, and with life the knowledge of sin through a condemning law, so is it maintained throughout by the same instrumentality. "As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby."

If we look back to the first work of God upon our soul, and it is often profitable to do so, we shall see that never until then did we feel the power of God's word upon the heart. It was with us as the Psalmist speaks, "The entrance of your words gives light." (Psalm 119:130.) And though we might have been, and no doubt were, very ignorant of doctrinal truth, and had, so to speak, to grope our way to it more by feeling than by sight, yet the word of God was not as before, a sealed book, nor were we deaf to its voice or altogether blind to its meaning, for those words were made true in us—"And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness." (Isa. 29:18.) It was this divine light entering the soul, and this divine life together with it quickening it into faith and feeling, that made us, like the new-born babe, desire the sincere milk of the word; and never, perhaps, was the word more attentively listened to, or the feet made more ready to run after it, than in those early days when eternal realities were first laid with great weight and power upon the mind.

By the word, too, came all our faith; for "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom. 10:17.) By the word came also a good hope through grace—"Remember your word unto your servant, upon which you have caused me to hope." (Psalm 119:49.) It is by the word also that comes love—"O how I love your law! it is my meditation all the day." This is a receiving the love of the truth by which we are saved (2 Thess. 2:10), and a proof that we love God as keeping his commandments through the obedience of faith. (1 John 5:3; Rom. 16:26.) Through the word also is wrought patience—"Because you have kept the word of my patience" (Rev. 3:10); and by the word, not to pursue the subject further, is a hard heart broken into contrition, and a cold heart fired with holy warmth—"Is not my word like as a fire? says the Lord; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29.)

But though such and similar are the effects of the word of God upon the heart, how few, speaking comparatively, even of the living family of God, get from it that fullness of blessing which is thus stored up in it. And are we wrong in saying that one cause of thus coming short of reaping from the word the blessings laid up in it is a lack of prayerful meditation, and of a seeking to enter into the treasures of grace laid up in it by diligent search? God's word is a mine of heavenly truth—"Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for the gold where they refine it." (Job 28:1.) But this vein has to be dug into; this gold does not lie loosely scattered upon the surface. We are bidden, therefore, to "cry after knowledge, and to lift up our voice for understanding; to seek her as silver, and to search for her as for hidden treasures; for only thus can we understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God." (Prov. 2:3-5.)

But we need not here enlarge upon the power and preciousness of the word of truth; nor would we have dropped even these remarks upon it had we not wished to show that there was a special reason why, if we wrote at all, we would prefer to lay before our readers Meditations upon the word of God in preference to taking up any particular subject. Though the Scriptures are written with such wonderful wisdom, and are so inspired in every line by the Holy Spirit, yet it is not every reader of them, even though possessed of divine light and life, who is able either clearly to understand their divine meaning, or to derive from them that amount of profit which they are capable to impart. They need to be "opened" as Paul's manner was (Acts 17:3); and there are many of God's children who must almost answer with the eunuch to the question, "Do you understand what you read?" "How can I except someone guides me?"

If, then, we can help in any way the diligent search of the Scripture, and by opening up the word of truth may lead our spiritual readers into a clearer and deeper knowledge of it, that they may be fed as with the finest of the wheat, we shall be well repaid for our labor, be it in breaking up the clods, or thrashing out the grain; and as "the husbandman that labors must be first partaker of the fruits" (2 Tim. 2:6), if the Lord be pleased to feed our soul while we are attempting to feed the souls of others, we shall reap a double benefit.

We have felt disposed to lay before our readers some thoughts upon the first chapter of the general Epistle of Peter; and we will preface our Meditations with some general remarks on the character and nature of that Epistle.

i. Its title demands the first place; for though this is not strictly a part of the epistle, yet it is descriptive of its character, and distinguishes it from the epistles of Paul. His, it will be observed, were written either to churches, as to that at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, etc., or to individuals, as to Timothy, Titus, Philemon. The only epistle of Paul which like that before us is of a general character, that is, not addressed to particular churches or persons, is the Epistle to the Hebrews. To show why that epistle was couched in that particular form would take us too far from our present point. Suffice it to say that all the other apostles wrote their epistles, with the exception of two short ones by John, not to churches or individuals, but to the people of God generally. Such is the Epistle of James, the first Epistle of John, that of Jude, and the first and second Epistles of Peter.

They are called General or Catholic epistles, not because their views and doctrines are, in the ordinary sense of the word, general, but because the people to whom they were written formed a part of the mystical body of Christ, irrespective of being gathered together into special and particular churches. They are therefore addressed to characters; and this feature in them makes them especially suitable to us; for either directly or incidentally the various features of divine life in the soul are thereby brought forward and presented to view, and thus, so far as we are able to recognize those peculiar features in our own case, they speak personally and individually to us. But as we shall see this peculiar character of the Epistle before us more fully brought out in the course of our exposition, we need not enlarge upon it now.

ii. The next point which demands our attention is the writer, "Peter." We may here remark incidentally that the ancients had a much more sensible way of addressing their letters than we have. Unless we know the handwriting of our correspondent, we have to go to the end of a letter before we know the writer; and as it often happens that our own name does not appear in the letter at all, and is only written upon the envelope, the letter itself affords no evidence who the person is to whom it is addressed. Now, the ancients avoided all this liability to confusion and mistake by putting the name of the writer, with appropriate titles, if required, to distinguish him, as the very first word in the letter, and the name of the person to whom it was written as the second. We have in the Acts of the Apostles an original Roman letter; and we see in it the two features just described—"Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sends greeting." (Acts 23:26.) Here we see that Claudius Lysias, who wrote the letter, put his own name first, and immediately after the name of Felix, whom with all due courtesy he styles "the most excellent governor," or as we would now say, "his Excellency." Following this ancient and most sensible pattern, Peter puts his own name first; and to give his letter greater weight and authority, adds, "an apostle of Jesus Christ."

How much is involved in the simple word "Peter!" How it calls up to our mind the first and foremost of the disciples of Jesus Christ! How at once rush into our thoughts his warmth, his zeal, his love to his dear Master, the sweet revelation with which he was favored of his being the Son of God, and his bold declaration of it; his cleaving to him when so many went away with that earnest appeal so expressive of the faith and feelings of every God-taught soul, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." And though our admiration of Peter's zeal and warmth is somewhat tempered by his sad fall in the hour of temptation, yet it no more takes Peter out of the affections of our heart than it took him out of the love of his dear Lord. No, it rather gives us a feeling of sympathy with him, as having been ourselves in a similar, if not the same, furnace of temptation as he, and having manifested in the sieve of Satan as little strength to stand as the very prince of the apostles.

But he comes before us in this epistle as "an apostle of Jesus Christ;" and a discerning eye can see in it not only the inspired and authoritative language of an apostle, but of one also whose spirit had been meekened and softened in the furnace of affliction. He writes, therefore, not merely "as an apostle of Jesus Christ," but, as he speaks elsewhere, as one "who also is an elder," both in years and grace, "and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed." This epistle, therefore, was written by him, not in that proud and haughty spirit which his pretended successors have shown so continually in their Papal bulls, but though claiming to speak with authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, yet as one who to the authority of an apostle joined the love and affection of a friend and a brother.

iii. The date of the epistle is somewhat uncertain, but as the Apostle speaks in it of "judgment beginning at the house of God," and intimates that "a fiery trial" was at hand which would try the faith of those to whom he wrote, it was probably written some little time before the destruction of Jerusalem, and not very long before his own martyrdom A.D. 64 or 65. It is not, indeed, of any great consequence, but we may not, therefore, greatly err if we fix the date about A.D. 61 or 63.

iv. The people to whom it was written is the next point to be considered; for independently of its being a general or catholic epistle, that is, addressed to the saints of God generally, it bears upon its front that it was written to "the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." The expression "strangers scattered" may be rendered more literally "strangers of the dispersion;" and this connects it with the general Epistle of James, which is addressed to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad;" or as it might be rendered more literally, "the twelve tribes which are in the dispersion." A light also is cast upon the expression by a similar term which we find in John, where the Jews ask, "Will he go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles?" where it is in the original "the dispersion of or among the Greeks." (John 7:35, margin.)

To understand this point better we must bear in mind that there was a very large population of Jews scattered through the various provinces of the Roman Empire, or rather the eastern portion of it. We see this in the Acts of the Apostles, where we find in almost every city a colony of Jews who had their synagogue, and to whom, in the first instance, Paul used to preach. Now among this scattered Jewish population, who were generally called Hellenists from speaking Greek, as distinct from the Hebrews who lived in Palestine who spoke Hebrew, or rather a dialect of it called Aramaic, the gospel had made many converts; and Peter being eminently the apostle of the Jews, as Paul was that of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7), he addresses this epistle to those believing Jews who were scattered through the various provinces of Asia Minor which he enumerates, and which it is not necessary for us to enter into or explain.

But as brought under the power of divine grace they were "strangers" in a spiritual and experimental sense, and were scattered not only locally, but experimentally.

It is here that the epistle meets us; here it becomes addressed to characters; here it speaks to us as being spiritually and experimentally what they were locally—scattered strangers.

The main character of a child of God is that he is a stranger upon earth. Such was David when he said, "I am a stranger in the earth; hide not your commandments from me" (Psalm 119:19); and again—"I am a stranger with you and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." (Psalm 39:12.) Such also were those blessed characters of old who are said to have "died in faith," and to have "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Heb. 11:13.) Such also was Moses in the land of Midian, and such were the feelings of his heart when he named his eldest son Gershom, "a stranger here." (Exod. 2:22, margin.) And such before him was Abraham, who "by faith sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country." (Heb. 11:9.) Such was Jacob in the land of Padan-aram when "he sore longed after his father's house." (Gen. 31:30.)

And such shall we be in our daily experience, if the same grace which wrought in their hearts has touched ours. Indeed, one of the first effects of the grace of God upon our soul was to separate us from the world, and make us feel ourselves strangers in it. It was once our home, the active, busy center of all our thoughts, desires, and affections; but when grace planted imperishable principles of life in our bosom, it at once separated us from the world in heart and spirit, if not at first, through weakness of the flesh, in the fullness and decision of actual life and walk.

Nor has the word "scattered" a less significant meaning. It is true that those to whom the epistle was primarily written were scattered literally and locally; for in those Asiatic provinces the Jews generally were dispersed here and there, as solitary units in a population alien to them, not only on such a fundamental point as religion, but in all those observances, habits, customs, and even thoughts and feelings which sprang out of this religion as shoots from a deep root. There was a deep, impassable barrier between Jew and Gentile, as Peter well expressed it—"You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation." (Acts 10:28.)

Never, therefore, at any period or in any climate has the Jew been anything but a stranger; and he is still in this country, as he was in Asia even before the destruction of Jerusalem, a solitary being, except so far as he cleaves closely to his own people. But what was true of the Jew generally, was of the converted Jew true specially. Those of the stock of Israel to whom the word came with power, that "remnant according to the election of grace" of which Paul speaks (Rom. 11:5), were in a special sense "scattered strangers." They were, speaking comparatively, very few in number, the main harvest, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, being reaped from the Gentiles. Israel after the flesh "stumbled at the stumbling stone;" for "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God." The few, therefore, of the literal Israel who were called by grace were indeed "scattered strangers;" for they were but a sprinkling here and there, two or three berries on the top of the uttermost bough; and as having to endure great persecution from their own body, who then, as now, abhorred with the deepest loathing every convert to the Christian faith, they were "strangers" as having neither brother nor friend among Jew or Gentile, and no union or communion except with those who were partakers of the same precious faith.

But we may view the words as having a spiritual and experimental bearing. Those who truly love and fear God are in our day "scattered strangers." Even literally and locally they are scattered here and there, a few in this town or in that village; but wherever they dwell separate in heart and spirit, and as far as they can in worship and service from all amid whom they dwell; and as they are strangers inwardly and experimentally by the power of divine grace making this world to them a wilderness, so are they scattered inwardly and experimentally by the breath of the Lord having blown upon their natural strength, wisdom, and righteousness, and scattered to the four winds of heaven every delusive hope, and all confidence grounded in self. Nor are they less "scattered" by the various trials and temptations through which they are called to pass, the effect of which often is to fill them with confusion, to scatter their thoughts to the wind and leave them often as the hymn says: "Half a wreck by tempest driven."

It is, however, to such "scattered strangers" that the epistle speaks; and its first word is a word of consolation and strength to gather together as it were these scattered outcasts of Israel, to plant them on a sure basis, and to give them an encouraging testimony that though strangers to man and often to themselves, they are not strangers to God; and though scattered in their bodies locally and in their souls spiritually they are gathered up into the book of life in which their names have been written from eternity as the elect of God.

v. The next word that meets our eye is "elect."
Peter, we see, "the Apostle of Jesus Christ," does not shun or keep back the doctrine of election. He counted it neither dangerous nor licentious, but puts it forward in the most prominent manner as the distinctive blessing of these "scattered strangers." "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ; grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied." (1 Peter 1:2.) But it will be observed that he speaks of these scattered strangers as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." By this foreknowledge he does not mean merely that God knew from all eternity those who would believe in his dear Son. Foreknowledge of the persons of the elect in the divine economy precedes election. "Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate" (Rom. 8:29); and this foreknowledge was not any eternal foreview of their faith or love in time, as if that were the ground of God's choice of them; but it implies, first, that thorough knowledge which God had of them, and of all that would concern them, of all the depths of sin and rebellion, disobedience and ungodliness, of which they might be guilty before called by grace, and of all their grievous backslidings, slips, and falls, with all the base returns that they would make for his goodness and mercy toward them after he had touched their hearts by his finger.

And secondly and chiefly, it signifies the good will and pleasure, with that everlasting love of God the Father, whereby he foreknew them with a holy approbation of them, a divine affection toward them, and a holy and unalterable delight in them as viewed in his dear Son, chosen in him and accepted in the Beloved. And thus election is not, if we may use the expression without irreverence, a dry choice of them in Christ, but a choice of them as foreknowing, with a holy approbation, each of his elect family, personally and individually, and however they might differ among themselves in the infinite variety whereby one man varies both naturally and spiritually from another, yet that his approving knowledge of each and all of them in Christ Jesus was in sweet harmony with his determinate choice. To realize this in soul feeling is very sweet and precious.

We do not know ourselves. We may have seen a little into our fallen state by nature, and may know something of the awful evils that lurk and work within; we may have had some passing skirmishes, or even some hot battles with our proud, rebellious, unbelieving, infidel, and desperately wicked heart, but we do not know ourselves as God knows us. And though we may cry, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts," yet how shallow for the most part and superficial is that knowledge and experience of ourselves! How little do we measure our sinfulness by the holiness of God, or look down into the depths of our nature as they lie naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do! When, then, we think that he who knew from the beginning all that we ever would be in the depths of the Adam fall, and yet chose us by determinate decree in his dear Son unto eternal life, what a blessed lift does it give to the soul out of all those sinkings into which a sight and sense of sin is continually casting it.

But we may observe also that the Apostle couples with election both means and ends. The ends are "unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," the means are "sanctification of the Spirit." But as the consideration of these points demands more space than we can now give them, we shall defer our Meditations upon their to our next paper.