by J. C. Philpot, 1869
It is truly blessed to see by faith the strength and firmness of the foundation which God has laid in Zion. We have this firm and strong foundation brought before us in those words of the Apostle with which we closed our last article, and in which having spoken of Christ as of "a lamb without blemish and without spot," he adds, "Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world." He would thus direct our minds to those eternal transactions before the world itself had birth or being, and to that everlasting covenant in which the whole plan of redemption was laid in the Person of the Son of God. As thus set up in the mind of the Father, and as in due time to assume a nature in and by which all the purposes of grace and love which were in the bosom of God to a guilty race might be accomplished and manifested, he is the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world. (Rev. 13:8.) But as we have almost pledged ourselves to close our exposition of this chapter with the closing year we cannot enter further upon this blessed subject.
The main point in it to which we would call the attention of our readers is the stability and firmness which were thereby given to all the thoughts of God's heart and all the counsels of his infinite wisdom, goodness, and mercy in the gift of his dear Son. We live in a changeable, ever-changing world. All outside us is stamped with mutation, death, and decay; and as regards ourselves everything within us tells us how frail, weak, and mutable we are. Thus, as viewed by the eye of sense and reason, uncertainty and changeability are ever seen to be deeply stamped, not only on every event of time, but on all we are and have in body and soul; and this experience of what we feel in ourselves and see in all around us often greatly tries both our faith and hope, for we are apt to measure God by ourselves and judge of our state before him, not according to his word, but according to the varying thoughts and exercises of our mind.
But when we can look by faith through all these mists and fogs which, as resting on the lower grounds of our soul, so often obscure our view of divine realities, to the fixed purposes of God as manifested in an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, and have at the same time some testimony of our interest therein, ground is thus afforded both for faith and hope as resting, not on our ever-changing feelings, but on the word and promise of him that cannot lie. It was thus David was comforted on his bed of languishing when the cold damps of death sat upon his brow. Much trouble had that servant of God had in his house, and much of it, we may add, procured by his own sins. But what were his last words as he lay upon his dying pillow when the Spirit of the Lord spoke by him and his word was in his tongue? "Although my house be not so with God; yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure—for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow." (2 Sam. 23:5.)
In a similar way the Apostle lays the foundation for faith and hope, not in ourselves, but in the hope and promise of God—"Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged." (Heb. 6:17, 18.) It was then in this "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure," that even before the world was formed, man made, or sin committed—a Savior was provided, a Redeemer set up, and the persons of the redeemed chosen in him and given to him. How can we think, then, that any changing and changeable events in time can alter and frustrate what was thus absolutely fixed by firm and sovereign decree, or that any mutable circumstances in ourselves or others can defeat and disannul the eternal purposes of God?
But we would have known nothing of these eternal realities had not these counsels of infinite wisdom and grace been brought to light in the Person and work of the Son of God as manifested in his appearance in the days of his flesh, and here spoken of by Peter as "a lamb without blemish and without spot," in reference to the sacrifice he was to offer, and of which the Paschal lamb was the type and figure. He, therefore, says, "Who was manifested in these last times for you."
Of this manifestation of the Son of God, the Scriptures, in the New Testament, everywhere speak. It is, indeed, the sum and substance of that special revelation of God which we call the New Testament, for every line of it testifies to the appearance of Christ in the flesh. How striking, for instance, on this point, are the words of John—"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." (John 1:14.) And what a summing-up of the whole gospel is that testimony of the Apostle—"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness—God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." (1 Tim. 3:16.) All the difference, in fact, between a believer and an unbeliever, between being saved and being lost is summed up in the belief in the Son of God as thus made manifest, according to those striking words of our Lord himself—"He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who believes not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16.) And how well with this agrees the testimony given by him who leaned his head upon the Lord's loving bosom—"And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son of God has not life." (1 John 5:11, 12.)
By "these last times" is meant this present dispensation, the dispensation of grace under which we live, and they are called the last times chiefly for two reasons—1, Because Christ was manifested in the last days of the legal dispensation of the old covenant, which now, as decaying and waxing old, was ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13), which it did when at the destruction of Jerusalem the whole of the temple service, including the sacrifices offered there, was brought to an end.
But 2, Another reason why the dispensation under which we live is called "the last days" is because it is the final revelation of God. We cannot here enlarge upon this point. Suffice it to say that under this dispensation we now live. It is "the time accepted," the "day of salvation," of which all the prophets have spoken. (2 Cor. 6:2; Acts 3:24.) Christ is now upon his throne of grace; the great, the glorious, the only Mediator between God and man is now at the right hand of the Father; the Intercessor who is able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him—seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them, still lives to plead, as an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, as the great High Priest over the house of God. But he will leave the throne of grace to take his seat on the throne of judgment; and then "these last days" will close in all the glories of salvation to his friends—and in all the horrors of destruction to his foes.
But this leads us to a very important question, that is, to show, with the Apostle, who they are for whom Christ was thus manifested. "Who by him believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." Several things here will demand our attentive consideration.
1. Observe, first, the special mark which is here given of those for whom Christ was manifested. It is said of them that "by him they believe in God." If this be their distinctive mark, we may well inquire what is intended by it. It must surely be a very great thing to believe in God with a faith that brings salvation with it. It is easy to believe that there is a God in nature, or a God in providence, or a God in grace, according to the mere letter of the word, and this is what thousands do who have no manifested interest in redeeming love and atoning blood. In fact, it is the great delusion of the day, the religion of that religious multitude who know neither God nor themselves, neither law nor gospel, neither sin nor salvation. All this is a believing about God, or a believing of God, such as that he exists, or that he is such a God as the Scriptures represent him to be; but this is a very different thing from believing in God. This is a special and peculiar faith, and implies a spiritual and saving knowledge of God, such as our Lord speaks of (John 17:3); and as none can thus know him unto eternal life but from some discovery of himself, some personal manifestation of his presence, some coming near of himself in the power of his word and the operations of his grace, so none can believe in him without a faith of divine operation. The Apostle, therefore, says, "Who by him do believe in God," that is, not only through the merits and mediation of Christ as the Mediator between God and men, but by his special grace, as the Author and Finisher of faith. To believe, therefore, in God is not an act of the natural mind, but it is the gift and work of God, bestowed upon us through the mediation of Christ, and, therefore, as the Apostle says, "given in the behalf of Christ." (Phil. 1:29.)
2. But observe further, that thus to believe in God is to believe in him as he has manifested himself in his dear Son in all the fullness of his love, in all the riches of his grace, and in all the depth of his mercy. "No man," says John, "has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him." (John 1:18.) God must be seen, not in the terrors of a holy law, but in the mercy and truth of the glorious gospel of the Son of God, and thus be approached and believed in as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Father in him. How few see and realize this, and yet how severely exercised are many of the living family upon this point! To believe in God in such a way as to bring pardon and peace into their conscience; to believe in God so as to find manifest acceptance with him; to believe in God so as to call him Abba, Father, and feel that the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are his children; to believe in God so as to find him a very present help in trouble; to receive answers to prayer, to walk in the light of his countenance, to have his love shed abroad in the heart, to be manifestly reconciled to him and feel a sense of his manifested goodness and mercy—this is to believe in God through Jesus Christ. And O how different is this from merely believing about God from what we see in nature that he is the Creator of all things, or from what we may have realized of his footsteps in providence that he watches over us as regards the things that perish, or from seeing in the letter of the word that he is the God of all grace to those who fear his name!
3. But observe, also, the firm foundation which the Apostle has laid for this faith in God, and how needful it is that this foundation would be strong and good. We build for eternity. Our faith, if it be the faith of God's elect, rests not upon a notion or an opinion, or what the Apostle calls "the wisdom of men," however clear, deep, logical, or refined. (1 Cor. 2:5.) It rests upon a solid foundation—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget this. Our faith may ebb and flow, it may sink very low or rise very high; but its ebbings and flowings, its sinkings and risings do not touch or affect the foundation. That foundation is Jesus Christ, "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Rom. 1:4.) This is the witness of God as distinct from the witness of men, as John speaks—"If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which he has testified of his Son." (1 John 5:9.) Now, when this witness of God to his dear Son, by raising him from the dead, meets with the witness in our own bosom that this blessed Jesus is the Son of the Father in truth and love, this witness in our own bosom to the Son of God as revealed in us, raises up and draws forth a living faith first in the Son of God, and then by him in the Father, who has sent him. This is the witness of which John speaks—"He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10); and by this double witness the soul becomes assured of, and established in the truth as it is in Jesus.
"And gave him glory."—There is a close and intimate connection between the sufferings and death of Christ, his resurrection from the dead, and his entrance into glory. Our Lord, therefore, said to the two disciples journeying to Emmaus—"Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" First the cross, then the crown; first "being made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death," then "crowned with glory and honor." (Heb. 2:9.) This "glory," which God is here said to have given Christ, is his mediatorial glory, the glory which he now has as wearing our nature in union with his own divine Person in the courts of heaven. Our faith, then, has to embrace Christ, not only as suffering and dying on the cross, and thus delivered for our sins, and Christ as risen from the dead for our justification, but as crowned with glory and honor in the presence of the Father. This is that glory of the Lord which we with open face behold as in a glass, that is, the glass of the gospel on which it shines, and by which it is reflected into the heart, and by beholding which we are, says the Apostle, "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18.)
Now, if we watch the movements of faith upon and toward the blessed Lord, we shall see that it embraces Christ mainly under these three points of view as revealed in the word, and through the word revealed by the Spirit to the heart—1, Christ crucified, as putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself; 2, Christ risen from the dead as declared to be the Son of God with power; and 3, Christ in his present heavenly glory as our Mediator, Advocate, and Intercessor above. It is only thus in the actings of faith that we have "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he has consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, his flesh." (Heb. 10:19, 20.) Now, it is this faith in Christ that draws forth and maintains both faith and hope in God.
Out of Christ God is a consuming fire! Our sins are so great, our backslidings so repeated and aggravated, our nature so vile, our hearts so deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, that as we view the infinite Majesty of God, his unspeakable holiness, purity, and justice, and thus see our sins in the light of his countenance, our heart sinks within us with guilty fear, and we can neither believe in him with any comfort, nor even hope in his mercy with any sweet assurance. It is only, then, as we view God manifesting himself in the Person of his dear Son, and for his sake and through his blood and righteousness pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, and accepting us in the Beloved in a way of free and sovereign grace, that our faith and hope can so be in him as to enable us to believe that he is our God, our Father, and our Friend.
And surely there is every encouragement for poor, guilty sinners, "self-condemned and self-abhorred," thus to believe, and thus to hope in God, as having sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, as all such will, sooner or later, find to the joy of their soul.
Having thus spoken of a living faith and hope in God, and having pointed out the firmness of the foundation on which they rest, through Whose mediation they are bestowed, and by Whose power they are wrought, the Apostle goes on to show that this faith and hope will have their attendant fruits—"Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto sincere love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently." (1 Peter 1:22.)
Three fruits of faith and hope in God are spoken of here—1, obedience to the truth; 2, a purifying of the soul; 3, sincere love of the brethren. We shall now, then, with God's help and blessing, attempt to show the connection of these fruits with faith and hope.
1. The first is, "Obeying the truth through the Spirit." By "the truth" we are to understand the whole truth of God connected with the Person and work of Christ as distinct from the law or any scheme of the wisdom of man. The word "truth" has often this meaning in the New Testament. Thus, of our Lord it is said—"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17.) Our Lord is himself emphatically "the Truth" (John 14:6); he came that he would bear witness of the truth, and every one that is of the truth hears his voice. (John 18:37.) But it is in the gospel, in the word of his grace, that this truth is revealed to us. All truth is in Christ; and there is no truth but what comes from him, testifies of him, and centers in him. But this truth is made known to us only in the gospel, and, therefore, the Apostle says—"For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which has come unto you, as it is in all the world; and brings forth fruit, as it does also in you since the day you heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth." (Col. 1:5, 6.)
Now, when this truth is made known with a divine power to our hearts, when, as our Lord says, we know the truth, and the truth makes us free (John 8:32); when we receive it by the teaching and testimony of that Holy Spirit who guides into all truth, then we are said to "obey" it; for the first act of obedience is to receive it implicitly, and to submit to it. The Apostle says of Israel of old, that "they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God."
Submission, then, to the truth, a reception of it into the heart, an embracing of it in faith and affection, a yielding of ourselves to it as exceedingly precious, is an obeying of it, and is, therefore, called by the Apostle, "the obedience of faith." (Rom. 16:26.) This is receiving the kingdom of God as a little child in humility and love; and those who do not so receive the kingdom of God cannot enter therein. This is "an obeying from the heart that form of doctrine which is delivered to us" (Rom. 6:17), by which is meant that the heart obeys the mold of truth in the same way as in casting metal the copy obeys the model. But this obedience which the Apostle calls "obeying the gospel" (Rom. 10:16) is "through the Spirit," who by his secret teachings, not only brings the truth before the eyes, but sealing it upon the heart by his divine power, produces that obedience of faith whereby the truth is received in the love of it.
2. Now, the effect of this is to purify the soul. Speaking of the Gentiles, Peter said in the council at Jerusalem—"And God, who knows the hearts, bore them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." (Acts 15:8, 9.) Thus we see that there is it purifying of the heart by faith. This purifying consists mainly in four things. 1. In purifying the understanding by the shining in of divine light, so as to cleanse it from error; 2, in the purifying of the conscience, to cleanse it from guilt; 3, in the purifying of the will, to cleanse it from self-will and self-seeking; and 4, in purifying the affections, to cleanse them from the love of all that is evil.
Our space will not allow us to trace out the various ways in which the soul is thus purified, nor how a believer may be said, according to the language of the Apostle, to purify his soul by acting in sweet co-operation with the blessed Spirit. The point on which the Apostle seems chiefly to dwell in this purification of the soul by obeying the truth, through the Spirit, is the purifying of the affections from selfishness, so that the third fruit of which we have already spoken may be brought forth—"sincere love of the brethren."
3. Love to the brethren is the first evidence of having passed from death unto life, and will ever be found to rise or sink with faith in the Son of God and with receiving the love of the truth into an obedient heart. In our day there is little "sincere love of the brethren," and the reason is because faith and love in and toward the Lord himself are at so low an ebb. There is a great deal of feigned love, hypocritical love, as the word "feigned" means in the verse before us—many soft, smooth, honeyed words—but little real, sincere, spiritual affection. In a similar way, says Paul, "Love must be sincere." (Rom. 12:9), where it is the same word as is here rendered "sincere," and in both places means literally, as we have hinted, "without hypocrisy."
The Apostle, therefore, here bids us put away all this hypocrisy, all this pretense of affection, often worn as a cloak of real dislike and hatred, all these words smoother than butter when there is war in the heart (Psalm 55:21), all this "How are you, my brother?" before the dagger was plunged into his belly (2 Sam. 20:10); and "to love one another with a pure heart;" that is, a heart purified by grace and the love of God shed abroad in it from selfishness, self-seeking, carnal preferences, and every other corrupt affection which may mar the purity of spiritual love.
Nor is he satisfied with a cold, half-hearted love. He says, "See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently." Let there be warmth and fervor in your love to the brethren as well as sincerity and truth. Do not content yourselves with a poor, base, pitiful, half-dead love, a love that bears nothing, suffers nothing, and does nothing; a love which neither warms your own heart nor anybody else's, and which is so feeble and so faint that, like a fire almost gone out, we can scarcely tell whether it is alight or not, and which neither blowing nor poking will make to burn up.
He thus urges on us a love to the brethren which has these two qualities—purity and warmth, or, as the word might be rendered, intensity. Let your love first be pure and then fervent or intense, not slack and loose, like a let-down musical string, but tense and tightened, so as to give out a clear and definite note. Let heart be joined to heart with a tender flame of pure affection; let all impure motives be hated and abhorred, such as loving the rich for what you can get, "having men's persons in admiration because of advantage" (Jude 16); or the respectable as reflecting a little of their station on you; or the amiable because they are so kind and gentle; or the young, the handsome, and the well-dressed because they please the eye, and thus, perhaps, mingle the lust of the flesh with the love of the Spirit. Hate and abhor all this filth of the flesh, and not only so, but let your love be fervent as well as pure, and let the fervor of your mutual love break forth and burst through all those hindrances which so dampen and obscure it. Alas! alas! how deficient are we all here! What little real brotherly love there is in the churches! What strife, contention, and division in many! What coldness, shyness, and deadness in nearly all! A few here and there may seem closely knit together and to walk in love and affection; but taking the churches generally, never was love to the brethren, as it appears to us, sunk lower than now.
But we must not linger here; but as we wish to close our Meditations with the closing year, pass on to the next point dwelt on by the Apostle—"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever." (1 Peter 1:23.)
It is only those who are born again of the incorruptible seed of the word of God who can and will love one another. All that is born of the flesh is flesh, and therefore corrupt and corruptible; and such ever must be the feigned love of mere professors of religion. It is corrupt in its very birth, has the taint of mortal disease in it from the beginning, and usually manifests itself in its true character as false, deceitful, and hypocritical before it dies its natural death in open enmity and dislike. But that which is born of God, the new man of grace, of which love is the distinguishing feature (1 John 4:7; 5:1), is, like himself, incorruptible. It is a new, holy, and heavenly nature, and therefore cannot be stained with sin, though it lives and dwells in a body which is nothing but sin; nor can it ever die or see corruption, for as God himself lives and abides forever, so will that which is born of God live and abide forever, for it lives in death, through death, and after death, and has its eternal home in the bosom of God.
Now, none but those who are thus made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) are born again, and as such possess a life which can never die; for as their first birth introduced them into this lower world, so their second birth introduces them into the upper world. Our Lord, therefore, said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He who believes in me has" (not "shall have" hereafter, but "has" now) "everlasting life." (John 6:47.) And similarly to the woman of Samaria—"The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14.) All around us is fading away; but the life which Christ gives to those whom the Father has given unto him is eternal. (John 17:2; 10:28.)
He, therefore, adds, "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." (1 Peter 1:24, 25.) All flesh, and everything that springs from the flesh, and is connected with the flesh, is as grass, which, for a time, looks green and flourishing; but touched with the mower's scythe, or scorched by the midday sun, soon withers and fades away. Such is all flesh, without exception, from the highest to the lowest. As in nature, some grass grows thicker and longer than others, and makes, for a while, a brighter show, but the scythe makes no distinction between the light crop and the heavy, so the scythe of death mows down with equal sweep the rich and the poor, and lays in one common grave all the children of men. No, all the glory of man, everything in which he boasts himself, all his pride and honor, pomp and power, are but as the flower of grass.
You have seen sometimes in the early spring the grass in flower, and you have noticed those little yellowish "anthers," as they are termed, which tremble at every breeze. This is "the flower of grass;" and though so inconspicuous as almost to escape observation, yet as much its flower as the tulip or the rose is the flower of the plant which bears each. Now, as the grass withers, so the flower thereof falls away. It never had, at its best state, much permanency or strength of endurance, for it hung as by a thread, and it required but a little gust of wind to blow it away, and make it as though it never had been. Such is all the pride of the flesh, and all the glory of man.
But is there nothing that endures amid all that thus withers and falls away? Yes, the word of the Lord. We need hardly observe that the Apostle here is quoting and commenting on a well-known passage in the prophet Isaiah—"A voice said, "Shout!" I asked, "What should I shout?" "Shout that people are like the grass that dies away. Their beauty fades as quickly as the beauty of flowers in a field. The grass withers, and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever." (Isa. 40:6-8.) Upon this prophetic declaration the Apostle puts his comment—"This is the word which, by the gospel, is preached unto you;" as if he would say, "The word of our God, of which the prophet declared it would stand forever, is the word of his grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is now preached by us apostles unto you. It was to this preached gospel that Isaiah referred, and you yourselves who hear it are witnesses of its accomplishment."
Now, the same gospel which was preached unto them is preached unto us in the word of truth which we have in our hands; and if we have received that gospel into a believing heart, we have received for ourselves that word of the Lord which endures forever. And thus, though all our own flesh is as grass, and all in which we might naturally glory is but as the flower of grass, and though this grass must wither in death, and the flower thereof shall fall away, when the place which now knows us shall know us no more, yet we have an enduring substance in the gospel of the grace of God, and, so far as we have received that gospel, and known it to be the power of God unto salvation, when our earthly house of this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
With these words we close our exposition of 1 Peter 1; and if we have in any way been favored and blessed to throw any light upon this part of God's word, or brought forward anything which may have been for the edification, encouragement, and consolation of our spiritual readers, to the God of all grace be ascribed all the honor and glory!