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IV The Christian Life
For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16.
Here Christ presents us with the cause and as it were the fountain of our salvation, so as to remove all doubt; for our minds cannot come to rest in tranquillity unless they arrive at the free love of God. Since we are not to seek the ground of our salvation anywhere but in Christ, we must try to find out where he came to us from and why he was offered up to be our Savior. This verse distinctly teaches both truths: faith in Christ means life to all men, and Christ had this life because God loved mankind and would not let it perish. This sequence must be carefully noted. When it is a question of the source of our salvation, we must consider the inborn and wicked ambition of our nature, which traps us into the devilish fancy that we deserve to be saved. Therefore we imagine that God is good to us because he judges us worthy of his favor. But Scripture praises everywhere his pure and unmixed mercy, which does away with all merit.
By this text, Christ means to do nothing else than establish the love of God as the ground of our salvation. When we try to go beyond this, the Spirit himself slams the door in our face; he teaches us by Paul’s mouth that God’s love is founded in his own will and purpose (Eph. 1:5). And it is obvious that Christ spoke as he did so as to turn men’s attention from themselves to the mercy of God alone. God does not declare that he was led to deliver us because he found us worthy of such a blessing. On the contrary, he attributes the glory of our deliverance solely to his love. This appears more clearly from the added statement: the Son was given to men that they may not perish. Therefore, 193unless Christ rescues the lost, all are doomed to eternal ruin. Paul expresses the same thing in terms of temporal sequence: We were loved while we were enemies because of sin (Rom. 5:10). For surely, where sin reigns, there is only the wrath of God which carries death with it. It follows that mercy alone reconciles us to God and, in so doing, restores us to life.
The above may seem to conflict with many testimonies of Scriptures that Christ is the ground of God’s love for us, since apart from him they present God as hating us. We must remember what was said before: the secret love with which our Heavenly Father embraces us, being his eternal purpose for us, takes precedence over all other reasons for our deliverance. But it is true that the grace which God wanted to show us, and by which we are moved to the hope of salvation, appeared with the reconciling work of Christ. Since sins are of necessity odious to God, how can we maintain that God loves us freely, unless an offering has been made for these same sins which are offensive to him? Hence, before we receive any knowledge of God’s Fatherly good will for us, the blood of Christ must intercede for us and restore us to God’s favor. Besides, as we were formerly told that God so loved us as to give up his Son to die for us, so it is immediately added that in a strict sense faith should look to Christ alone.
He gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish. Faith looks to Christ rightly when it sees in him the heart of God overflowing with love. Faith rests upon the death of Christ as upon a firm and solid support, and finds in it the only surety of salvation. Only-begotten is emphatic, commending to us God’s love in all its fervor. And because it is hard for men to be persuaded of God’s love, he removes all doubt by saying, We are so dear to God that for our salvation he did not spare his only-begotten Son. Since, therefore, God has testified to his love for us so sufficiently and abundantly, anyone who is not content and still doubts offers no small insult to Christ, as though he were someone who was killed by accident. Rather, we ought to reconsider that since God had the highest regard for his only-begotten Son, our salvation must be very precious to him, because he was willing to pay for it with the Son’s death.
That whosoever believeth in him may not perish. What a praise of faith, that it delivers us from eternal destruction! Christ means clearly that even though we are born for death, by faith in him we are offered a sure deliverance from it; therefore, we ought not to fear the death which still awaits us. And now he adds a 194universal call, inviting all men without exception to share in life, and leaving unbelievers without an excuse. The word world, in the previous phrase, has the same significance. Even though there is nothing in the world worthy of God’s favor, he shows himself gracious toward the whole world, and he invites all men without exception to faith in Christ, which is nothing less than entering into Life.
On the other hand, let us remember that while life is promised in Christ to all who believe, only a small part of the people are believers. Christ is indeed presented to all, but God opens the eyes of the elect alone, and enables them by faith to seek after him. The wonderful effect of faith is also seen in our receiving Christ from the Father, who has in Christ truly freed us from the punishment of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life; for by the sacrifice of his death, Christ has expiated our sins; and now nothing keeps God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since therefore faith embraces Christ, together with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, it is no wonder that by faith likewise we obtain the very Life of Christ.
It is not yet quite clear as to why and how faith gives us life. Is it because Christ himself regenerates us by his Spirit, so that the righteousness of God may live and flourish in us; or is it because, purged by his blood, by God’s free forgiveness, we are accounted righteous before him? Of course these two go together. Still, when it comes to the certainty of salvation, we must hold to it that we live because God loves us, and that freely; this he shows by not imputing our sins to us. Sacrifice is here mentioned because by it sin, curse, and death have been abolished. As I have already explained, the two clauses put together in this verse mean that, having lost life, we recover it in Christ. In this wretched state of mankind, ransom comes before salvation.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. John 15:9.
There is much more in this verse than is commonly believed. Those who think that he is here speaking of the eternal and secret love of the Father, philosophize beside the point. It was rather Christ’s purpose, in effect, to deposit in our laps a sure pledge of God’s love toward us. The abstruse question of how God in eternity loved himself in the Son has nothing to do with this verse. The love in question here has to do with us, because it is as the Head of the church that Christ testifies to God’s 195love for him. Any man who tries to find out how God loved Christ, apart from his office as Mediator, gets caught in a labyrinth, without path or exit. Let us therefore fix our eyes on Christ, because it is in him that we see the pledge of God’s love clearly exhibited. For, God poured his love upon him, so that it might flow from him to the members of his body. This is also the significance of the title, the beloved Son, in whom the will of the Father is satisfied; and we must consider the purpose of this love, which is that God in Christ may be well pleased with us. Therefore, we must not look at God’s love from afar off or in a mirror. Christ was loved by the Father not in and for himself alone, but that he might with himself unite us with the Father.
Continue ye in my love. Some explain these words to mean that Christ enjoined his disciples to love one another. Others explain it better when they say that they refer to the love with which Christ loves us. He in fact bids us live always in the joy of the love with which he once and for all loved us, warning us not to deprive ourselves of it. For many reject the grace offered them, and many throw away what they have in their hands. So then, once we are beneficiaries of the grace of Christ, let us see to it that we do not fall away from it through our own fault.
It is foolish to infer from the above words that, without the help of our constancy, God’s grace avails nothing. I do not concede that the Spirit asks no more from us than what is within our ability. Rather, he shows us where we must turn when we lack the strength to obey him. When we hear Christ, in this verse, exhort us to perseverance, we must not rely on our own energy and industry; we must rather pray him who commands us to confirm us in his love.
For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:39.
We know that the Spirit is eternal. But the Evangelist denies that the grace of the Spirit which was poured upon men after the resurrection of Christ was manifested in public while Christ was in the world in the form of a humble servant. He draws a similar contrast between the New Testament and the Old. In the New Testament, God promises his Spirit to believers as though he had never given him to the fathers. But of course the disciples had already received the first fruits of the Spirit; for where is faith from except from the Spirit? The Evangelist 196does not deny the presence of the Spirit among the godly before Christ’s death; he only says that it was not so conspicuous and striking as after [the resurrection]. This then is the highest adornment of the Kingdom of Christ, that he rules over his church by his Spirit. He came to a proper and solemn possession of his Kingdom when he ascended to the right hand of the Father. No wonder then that the full revelation of the Spirit was deferred until that time.
But there is one question left. Does the Evangelist mean here the visible graces of the Spirit, or that true regeneration which is the fruit of adoption? I answer that the Spirit, which was promised with the coming of Christ, was seen in visible gifts as in a mirror; but here we have to do with the power of the Spirit by which we are born again in Christ and become new creatures. If now we are left on earth, poor, dry, and almost empty of spiritual goods, while Christ sits on the right hand of the Father glorious with the majesty of empire, it is because our faith is too puny and we are too slow [to rise to him].
He who heareth my word, and believeth in him who sent me, hath eternal life . . . hath passed from death to life. John 5:24.
Certain later Latin copies have changed passed into shall pass. But they have done this out of ignorance and rashness; not knowing what the Evangelist meant, they have presumed to do more than what was right. The Greek word is not in the least unclear. There is nothing wrong about saying has passed from death, because the children of God even now have in them the incorruptible seed of life, by which they are called and sit with Christ, by faith, in heavenly glory. Thus they have the Kingdom of God established firmly within them (Luke 17:21; Col. 3:3). Even while their life is hid, they nevertheless by faith do not fail to possess it. Even while they are besieged by death, they have peace because they know that Christ defends them adequately, and that they are safe. The state of the believers in this life is such that they always carry about the stuff of death in themselves. But the Spirit who lives in them is Life itself, and will at the end destroy what is left of death. Paul was right in saying that death shall be the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26). But obviously this verse has nothing to do with the coming full destruction of death, or with the ultimate complete manifestation of Life. The point here is that though life in us is only begun, Christ announces it to the believers as their sure possession. Thus he removes the fear of death from them. And this is 197not surprising, since they are united with (insiti sint) him who is the inexhaustible Fountain of Life.
Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. John 11:25.
This is the exposition of the second clause. It tells us that Christ is the Life, because he will never let the Life he has given us be destroyed, and will on the contrary preserve it till the end. What would happen to us if we, who are flesh and weak, having received the Life, should be left to our own strength? Therefore, if Christ is to finish what he has begun, it needs be that we continue in Life through the power of Christ himself. Believers are said never to die because their souls, born again of an incorruptible seed, enjoy the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, who gives them Life without ceasing. While the body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit is Life because of righteousness (Rom. 8:10). The fact that the outer man decays from day to day does not hurt the believers’ true Life. It even helps its growth, because the inner man in turn is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). What is more, death itself is in its way an emancipation from bondage to death.
And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. John 10:28.
We have this matchless fruit of faith that, by Christ’s command, we live with confidence and safety when we are gathered in his fold. At the same time let us keep in mind the support which makes this confidence firm; for he testifies that he has our salvation in his hand and will remain its faithful guardian. And as though this were not enough, Christ says that his disciples shall be defended by God’s power. This is a striking passage. We are taught that the salvation of all the elect is as certain as that God’s power is invincible. Besides, Christ was not beating the air. He wanted to give them a word of promise and to fix it deeply in their minds. Therefore, we must understand this statement of Christ as showing that the salvation of the elect is sure and firmly established. We are besieged by powerful foes; and we are so weak that every moment might well be our last. But because our salvation is in the hands of One who is greater, who is mightier, than all, we ought not to tremble as though our very life were in peril.
From this we gather further how insane is the trust of the papists which rests on free will, on one’s own virtue and the 198merit of works. Far differently, Christ teaches his own that they must think of themselves as in a forest, surrounded by a host of robbers, knowing not only that they are unarmed and open prey, but also that they carry the stuff of death around with them. Hence, if they would live in safety, they can do it only by confidence in God’s protection. The only reason for security is that our salvation is in God’s hand. Our own faith is unfirm and we ourselves tend greatly to waver. But God who has taken our salvation into his hands is mighty enough to scatter all the weapons of our foes with one puff of his breath. The most important thing we can do is to turn our eyes to this [power of God], if we are not to be overcome by the fear of temptations. For Christ wanted to show us how the sheep are enjoying peace and quiet even while they wander among wolves.
And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath, I am from above; ye are of this world, I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you that ye shall die in your sins, for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. John 8:23–24.
Since they did not deserve instruction, he wanted to confound them with a curt reproof. So, in this place, he declares that they reject his teaching because they absolutely abhor the Kingdom of God. Under world and below he includes whatever men have by nature, and brings out the difference between his gospel and the sharpness and penetration of the human mind: the gospel is heavenly wisdom, but our minds are of the earth. No one, therefore, is fit to be Christ’s disciple unless he is refashioned by his Spirit. And faith itself is so rare in the world because by nature all men, except those he lifts up by a special grace of his Spirit, are turned against Christ and estranged from him. If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
The lost have no way of recovering salvation except by going to Christ. That I am here is emphatic, because it includes all that Scripture says of the Messiah and all that it bids us to hope in him. He is talking primarily about [his work in] the restoration of the church, which exists by the light of faith, and the righteousness and new life which grow from it. Some of the ancients have interpreted this passage as having to do with the divine essence of Christ. But in this they are wrong, because he is speaking of his office [or work] in our behalf. This statement is worthy of special notice. Men are always ignoring the evils which surround them. Even when they have to admit their peril, they neglect Christ and look all around for some other 199useless remedy. The fact is that unless we are extricated by the grace of Christ, we remain subject to the violence of a whole mass of innumerable evils.
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21.
In my Judgment, interpreters so far have given a wrong translation and exposition of this passage; for the distinction they make is that, to Paul, Christ was life, and death gain. I, on the other hand, take Christ to be the subject of both the phrases in this statement, so that he is said to be gain in life and in death. (It is common in Greek to imply the word πρός without using it.) This interpretation, besides being less forced, goes better with what went before and expresses our faith more fully. Paul affirms that it makes no difference to him, and is the same thing, whether he lives or he dies, because having Christ, he is the gainer either way. And certainly, it is Christ alone who makes both our life and our death blessed; otherwise, if death be misery, life is no better. Hence without Christ, there is little to choose between life and death. On the other hand, if Christ be with us, he will bless our death equally with our life; and we shall look ahead to both with hope and gladness.
Which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places. Eph. 1:20.
The Greek word is ἐνέργησεν, whence comes ἐνέργεια. In Latin you might say: According to the efficacy which he effected. My translation means the same, and is not as awkward.
However, here Paul rightly enjoins us to consider the power of Christ; for, so far, its presence in us is hidden, and God’s power is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). How are we ahead of the children of this world, except that our situation seems to be worse than theirs? Even though sin does not reign in us, it is still there. Since death itself is working in us, the blessedness we have by hope is totally hidden from the world; for the power of the Spirit is something flesh and blood knows nothing about. Meanwhile, we are exposed to a thousand distresses, and more than all other men are become objects of derision.
Hence, Christ alone is the mirror in whom we are able to see the glory which is altogether blurred in us who live in weakness under the cross we ourselves bear. Since it behooves us to raise our minds on high, to believe in righteousness, blessedness, and glory, let us learn to turn them to Christ. For we now live subject to the dominion of death; but he, having been made 200alive again by power from heaven, even now has life and dominion. We labor in servitude to sin; and besieged by a thousand afflictions, we are engaged in a dreadful warfare (1 Tim. 1:18); he on the other hand, being seated at the right hand of God, has received all government in heaven and on earth, and triumphs wondrously over his foes as he defeats and overthrows them. We bite the dust, covered with contempt and ignominy; to him is given a name which fills men and angels with reverence, and makes devils and godless men grovel in fright. Here we are impoverished, so poor that we lack everything we need; he on the other hand has been appointed by the Father to possess all blessings and to dispense them according to his good pleasure. In view of all this, we shall be the gainers if we turn our minds to Christ, so that in him, as in a mirror, we may contemplate the wonderful treasures of divine grace and the infinite greatness of God’s power, all of which we can hardly discern at present in our own lives.
Yet a little while, and the world shall see me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. John 14:19.
He continues to speak to his disciples of his special favor toward them, which should have been enough to mitigate and even take away their sorrow. “When I go away,” he says, “and the world no longer sees me, I shall no less be still with you.” If we are to rejoice in such secret vision of Christ, we must not judge his presence or absence with the eyes of the flesh. We must rather be intent upon discerning his power with the eyes of faith. Thus it is that Christ is always present to the believers and seen by them in the Spirit, even though they are bodily far from him.
Because I live. This may be taken in two ways. It may simply confirm what went before, or it may go with the next phrase, which says that the believers shall live because Christ lives. I accept the former alternative, even though we may also learn from it that we live because Christ lives. Christ points out why it is that his disciples shall see him, while the world shall not: Christ cannot be seen except in the spiritual life which the world does not possess. No wonder the world does not see Christ, for it is blind because of death. But no sooner does a man begin to live by the Spirit than he is given eyes with which to see Christ, because our life flows from the life of Christ as from its source. Otherwise, we have no life. We in ourselves are dead, and the life we boast is a most awful death. Therefore, when it comes to 201obtaining life, our eyes must be upon Christ, and his life must be given us by faith. So it is that we receive confidence that, while Christ lives, we are safe from the peril of destruction. For it remains an immovable truth that while he is alive the members cannot be dead.
Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If any man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. John 8:52.
The reprobate who keep on with their stupidity are not touched by promises, whether small or great. Hence they can neither be led nor drawn to Christ. Some think that the Jews slandered Jesus and twisted his words around when they spoke of tasting death, because they had not heard him saying anything of the sort. But I think this objection is flimsy. I rather think that the Hebrews meant the same thing by tasting death and seeing death. Both expressions meant simply “to die.” Of course, to apply the spiritual teaching of Jesus to the body is to interpret it falsely. No believer shall see death, for he is born again of an incorruptible seed. Even though believers die, being united with Christ their head, they shall be not snuffed out by death. Their death is simply a transition to the Heavenly Kingdom; the Spirit dwelling in them is Life because of righteousness, and what is left of death in them is consumed. Those who are carnal know nothing about freedom from death except in an obviously physical sense. And this disease is much too common in this world, since many have only contempt for the grace of Christ, which they judge merely by the senses of their flesh. If we do not wish the same blindness to affect us, let us arouse our minds, so that they may discern spiritual life in the midst of death.
And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Cor. 15:28.
Will God be all in all also in the devil and the ungodly? Far from it, unless perhaps we choose to accept “to be” as meaning to be known and openly be seen. If so, the statement would mean: “Since now the devil is at war with God, since the wicked confound and confuse the order established by him, since we see an infinity of scandalous deeds with our own eyes, it is by no means clear that God is all in all. But when Christ executes the judgment commanded him by God, and 202overthrows Satan and all the wicked, then in their destruction the glory of God shall be revealed. The same may be said of powers which are sacred and legitimate in themselves, for they now prevent, in their way, God’s appearing to us rightly and as he is in himself. But then, God shall be all in the sense that he shall reign alone and directly in heaven and earth, and will therefore be in all; not only in all persons, but in all creatures.”
Now, this is a pious interpretation, and since it agrees well enough with the apostle’s purpose, I am willing to accept it. However, there would be nothing wrong in taking this verse as having to do with believers, in whom God has already begun his Kingdom and shall then perfect it, so that they shall cleave to him completely.
Both these interpretations in themselves are sufficient refutation of those who pretend that this verse proves their wicked deliriums. Some imagine that God shall be all in all, in that all things shall vanish and become nothing. But Paul’s words mean only that all things shall be brought back to God as their only beginning and end, and shall thus be bound firmly to him. Others infer from this verse that the devil and all the wicked shall be saved, as though the fullness of God would not be more striking in the destruction of the devil than if he made him his associate and equal. We see therefore with what impudence such madmen torture Paul’s statement when they use it to establish their blasphemies.
2. THE CHRISTIAN WARFARE
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thess. 5:8.
Paul adds this in order that he may shake us the better out of our torpor. He calls us as it were to arms, to impress upon us that it is no time for sleep. He does not, indeed, mention war. But when he bids us to arm with a breastplate and a helmet, he is in fact calling us to warfare. It goes without saying that anyone who expects a surprise attack must rouse himself and keep watching. Having warned us to be watchful while we have the truth of the gospel for light, he now stirs us up with the argument that we have a battle to fight with the enemy, and that it is much too dangerous to be doing nothing. We know that soldiers, who may ordinarily be rather loose-living fellows, when they are near the enemy and in danger of being killed, avoid getting drunk or any other way of “having fun” so that 203they may watch and be wary. So, since Satan is always breathing down our necks, and is ready and scheming to plunge us into a thousand perils, we ought to be no less watchful and on our guard.
Some interpreters are much too clever in their handling of the pieces of armor mentioned by the apostle. This verse is quite different from Eph. 6:14, where Paul by “breastplate” means “righteousness.” Here it is enough to understand that the whole life of Christians is like a perpetual warfare, since Satan never stops attacking and troubling them. It is therefore necessary to be prepared for resistance; and of course we are warned that we had better be well armed against such a powerful enemy. However, Paul does not in this place go into detail about the armor we must have; he merely mentions two pieces, the breastplate and the helmet. But he leaves out nothing a man needs for this spiritual warfare. For anyone who is provided with faith, hope, and love has all the weapons he needs.
Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. Phil. 1:27–28.
In the second place, he commends to the Philippians an indomitable spirit, that they may not be confounded by the fury of their enemies. At that time the fires of savage persecution blazed almost everywhere, because Satan fought with all his force to prevent the inauguration of the gospel; and the more Christ exercised the grace of his Spirit, the greater was the impotent rage of Satan. The apostle, therefore, enjoins the Philippians to stand firm and not to be perturbed.
Which is to them an evident token of perdition. This is the proper meaning of the Greek, and those who translate as “cause” have no good reason for doing so. When the wicked strive against the Lord, they engage in a preliminary battle which anticipates their ultimate ruin; and the greater the outrage they do against the godly, the more they are bent on their own perdition. Of course, Scripture does not teach us anywhere that the afflictions which the godly suffer at the hands of the godless become the cause of their salvation. Paul calls afflictions evidences or proofs [of salvation] in another place also (2 Thess. 1:5). Instead of the word ἔνδειξιν, which we have here, there he uses the word ἔνδειγμα. It is, therefore, a singular comfort that the attacks and troubles we suffer at the hands of our enemies are visible 204evidences of our salvation. Persecutions are for God’s children the seals of their adoption if they bear them with courage and a calm spirit. The ungodly, on the other hand, produce a token of their condemnation; they hit their foot against a stone which shall be their downfall.
And that from God. This is put here as the last clause, so that it may, with God’s grace, mitigate the bitter taste of the cross. It goes against nature to see in the cross a sign or proof of salvation. In fact, the cross and salvation seem to be contraries. Therefore, Paul asks the Philippians to consider that God turns those things which make for our misery into occasions of well-being. In this way, he shows that enduring the cross is a gift of God; for it is certain that everything which is for our good is God’s gift to us. “To you,” he says, “it is given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Therefore your very sufferings are witnesses to the goodness of God, because in them you have a real evidence of your salvation.” If only we were convinced deep in our hearts that persecutions are among God’s blessings, what progress we should make in the knowledge of divine truth! What is more certain than that the highest honor which grace bestows upon us is that we suffer reproach, or prison, or troubles, or tortures, or even death itself, in his name? For so it is that he decorates us with his medals. And yet there are many who would tell God to take such gifts away, rather than embrace with grateful hearts the cross offered to them. But so much the worse for our stupidity!
For unto you is given in behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake. Phil. 1:29.
He is wise to join faith inseparably with the cross, for in this way the Philippians are taught that they have been called to faith in Christ to the end that they may endure persecution in his name. In other words, their adoption could no more be separated from the cross than Christ could be severed from himself.
Thou therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life: that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 2 Tim. 2:3–4.
It was very necessary to add this second warning. For, anyone who offers to obey Christ, must be ready to endure hardship; there is no perseverance without patience in enduring evil. Therefore he adds, As becomes a soldier of Christ: which means 205that anyone who is in the service of Christ is a soldier, and that such soldiering consists not in doing evil but in patiently bearing it.
It is absolutely necessary for us to think these things over. How many people we see every day who throw their spears away, people who had passed themselves off as good soldiers! And why does this happen, except because they cannot get used to the cross? In the first place, they are so soft that they cannot stand the thought of battle. Secondly, their idea of the warfare is to get into an [immediate] fight with their enemies. They cannot bear to learn what it is to possess their souls in patience.
He continues with the simile from warfare. Strictly speaking, at first he spoke of a “soldier of Christ” in a metaphorical sense. Now he definitely compares military warfare with the spiritual warfare of the Christian man. Military discipline requires that, as soon as a soldier puts himself at the disposal of a general, he leaves his home and every business behind, and thinks of nothing except the warfare to which he is committed. So also we, if we are to give ourselves wholly to Christ, must break away from all the entanglements of this world.
By the affairs of this life he means the care of maintaining a home and other ordinary occupations. The farmers leave their farming, and the merchants their shops and their business until they have served their term as soldiers. So also, whoever wants to fight under Christ must lay aside all the involvements and preoccupations of the world, so that he may apply himself wholly to the warfare. In short, let us keep in mind the old proverb, Hoc age; this do: which means that in doing our holy duty nothing should hinder our zeal and attention. The common translation, “No one who fights for God,” etc., corrupts the whole meaning of what Paul has in mind.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them. . . . Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. Matt. 19:27–29.
Peter tacitly contrasts himself and the other disciples with the rich man whom the world had turned away from Christ. Since they led a life of privation and wandering, and suffered insults and sundry vexations, without hope of a better future, he asks rightly whether it was for nothing that they had left behind 206everything they had and had devoted themselves to Christ. It was absurd that when they had been despoiled by the Lord, they should not receive back more than they had lost.
But then, what were all those things they had left behind? Being poor and low-class folk, they did not even have a house to leave behind; hence, their boasting was nothing less than ridiculous. Our own experience shows that people commonly overestimate the things they do in the way of duty before God. There are people who were hardly more than beggars under the papacy; and now they go around arrogantly, complaining that they have made great sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. However, there was some excuse for the disciples who, although they did not possess splendid fortunes, lived by the labor of their hands, and were no less happy in their homes than people of great riches. And we know that humble people, who are used to a quiet and decent life, find it harder to be torn away from their wives and children than those who are driven by ambition, or thrown this way and that by the winds of prosperous fortune. Of course, unless there was some reward waiting for the disciples, they had been foolish to change their way of life. Still, although one might excuse them on that ground, they were wrong to demand a taste of triumph before their warfare was finished. When annoyance at the delay of our reward creeps upon us, and lures us to impatience, let us first learn to consider the consolations with which the Lord reduces the bitterness of the cross in this world, and then let us raise our spirits to the hope of heavenly life. Christ’s answers make these very two points.
And whosoever shall leave. After having raised their minds to the hope of the future life, he offers them comforts for the present life, and fortifies them for bearing the cross. God does not allow his people to be grievously afflicted, at times even to the point of forsaking them, without making up for their sufferings with his help. Jesus does not say this to the apostles only; he takes the occasion to address his words to all believers in general. The point is that those who willingly give up all for the sake of Christ, have their chief reward in heaven; and yet, even in this life, they are happier than if they had kept everything.
However, it does seem that the hundredfold compensation provided them is not in line with the facts. For in most cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, or other relatives, wives who are widowed and those stripped of their fortunes, all because they have borne testimony to Christ, 207do not recover their losses; on the contrary, in exile, lowly and forgotten, they struggle bitterly with poverty and hardship. To all this I answer: When we consider God’s grace with which he relieves the miseries of his own, we must confess that it is to be preferred to all the riches of the world. For while the unbelievers flourish, they do not know what is waiting for them on the next day; therefore, they must always live in turmoil because of perplexity and fear; neither can they enjoy the smile of fortune without, one way or another, stupefying themselves. Meanwhile, God gives his own a glad heart, so that to them the little they enjoy is worth much more than if without Christ they were affluent with an abundance of riches. I interpret with persecutions added by Mark as follows: Christ means that even though the godly are always persecuted in this world, and live as though the cross were tied to their back, still, the condiment of God’s grace is so sweet that it exhilarates them, and makes their condition more desirable than the luxuries of kings.
[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and complete that which is behind in the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church. Col. 1:24.
The apostle had previously claimed for himself the authority which was his by virtue of his calling. Now he is concerned that the Colossians do not detract from the honor due him as an apostle because he had been in bonds and was persecuted for the sake of the gospel. For, Satan uses these occasions to bring contempt upon the servants of God. Further, the apostle encourages them by his example not to be terrified by persecutions; and he reminds them of his zeal, so that his words may carry more weight. Nay more, he settles the matter with an appeal to his love for them, and asserts that he is joyful and only too willing to suffer affliction for their sakes. Someone will ask, “But where is this joy from?” It is from the fruits which [his labors] have produced. “It is pleasant for me to be afflicted for you, because I do not suffer in vain.” In the same way, in a former letter to the Thessalonians, he says that, having heard of their faith, he rejoices in all privations and afflictions.
And fill up that which is behind, etc. I take and to mean because; he says that he is joyful because in suffering he is associated with Christ. He desires nothing more blessed than such fellowship with Christ. He presents all believers in common with the comfort that in all tribulations, especially in those they suffer for the gospel, they share the cross of Christ, to the end that they 208may rejoice in sharing his blessed resurrection. Nay more, he affirms that in this way what is lacking in Christ’s own afflictions is completed. Romans 8:29 says the same thing: “Whom God has chosen, them he has predestined that they may conform to the image of Christ, who is the first-born among the brethren.” 8585Calvin’s citation is not correct. He has elegit for proe/gnw. Moreover, we know that since the Head and the members are united, the name Christ sometimes includes the whole body. This is evident from 1 Cor. 12:12, where, speaking of the church, the apostle finally concludes that being in Christ is like being [a member] in the human body. Therefore, as Christ suffered once in himself, so he now suffers every day in his members; and the sufferings which the Father decreed and appointed for his body are completed [in the church].
There is a second consideration, which ought to encourage and comfort our spirits in affliction: God himself has fixed and appointed by his providence that we be conformed to Christ by enduring the cross, and that our communion with him extend to this very point.
To this, he adds a third reason: that the sufferings of Christ bear fruit not only for the few, but for the church as a whole. He had before said that he suffered in behalf of the Colossians; now he declares more inclusively that the fruit of his sufferings extends to the whole church. Philippians 1:12 also speaks of this same fruit. What other explanation of this verse is clearer, simpler, and less forced? Paul rejoices in tribulation because, as he writes elsewhere, he considers that if Christ’s life is to be manifest in us, we must carry about his death in our own bodies (2 Cor. 4:10). He says the same in the letter to Timothy: “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him: if we die with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tim. 2:1). All will end in joy and glory. Hence, if the members of Christ are to have a symmetry with the Head, they must not reject the state which God himself has appointed for his church. The third point is this, afflictions must be borne to the end willingly, because they are useful to all the godly and promote the well-being of the whole church, by giving a peculiar beauty to the truth of the gospel.
Then they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. Matt. 24:9.
Now Christ predicts for his disciples another kind of temptation which shall try their faith; namely, that besides the common 209afflictions [of man] they shall be hated and detested by the entire world. It is hard enough and sad enough for the children of God to be afflicted without distinction from and together with the wicked and despisers of God, and to be subjected to the same punishments which come upon the latter because of their crimes. It appears the height of injustice that they should be oppressed with the hardship of greater evils which do not touch the ungodly. Just as wheat, after being beaten with a flail together with the tares, is ground under a millstone and crushed, so also God not only afflicts his own with the wicked, but in addition subjects them to a cross which goes beyond what others [have to endure] so that they appear to suffer far greater misery than all the rest of the human race.
Christ here is speaking of the afflictions which the disciples were to suffer for the gospel. What Paul says in Rom. 8:29 is of course true. Those whom God elects, he destines to bear a cross, so that they may conform to the image of the Son. But there Paul means more than persecution at the hands of the enemies of the gospel. Here, on the other hand, Christ is speaking of the kind of cross which the faithful have to carry because of their witness to the gospel; for this makes it necessary for them to incur the hatred of the ungodly, to face their insults and provoke them to fury. He wants to warn his disciples that, as he had explained to them before, the doctrine of the gospel, of which they were to become witnesses and heralds, would at no time please the world or receive its applause. So he prophesies that they will not be fighting with only a few enemies, but that, everywhere they go, nations shall rise against them.
It was monstrous and incredible, calculated to amaze and trouble the strongest minds, that the name of the Son of God should become so infamous and hateful as to create hatred everywhere toward those who honored it. Therefore, Mark says, take heed to yourselves; and in this way he brings out the purpose and use of the above warning that they be prepared to endure, lest, being incautious, they be overcome by temptation. It is added further by the same Mark that when the disciples of Christ shall be brought before kings and rulers, it will be a testimony against them. Luke puts it a little differently: This will happen to you in testimony; but it means the same thing. For Christ says that, where his gospel is defended at the peril of death, there the testimony for it shall be all the greater.210
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Ps. 44:22.
The faithful here plead for God’s mercy, not because they are punished for their own evil deeds, but because they are hated by unbelievers for the name of God.
At first sight, this seems a foolish complaint, and Socrates’ answer seems the more admirable when, in answer to his wife’s reproach, he said that it was better to die innocent than for his own wrongdoing. Furthermore, the consolation which Christ offered (Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, Matt. 5:10) appears very different from the words of the psalm. Peter also said the same thing: Anyone who suffers for Christ’s name has all the more reason for joy and thankfulness (1 Peter 4:14).
But I answer that although the best comfort for our sorrow is that its cause is connected with Christ, yet the faithful do not complain to God in vain or wrongly when they say that they are suffering unjustly for his sake. For in this way, they want him to come forward with more vigor as their defender, since it is right that he himself take care of his own glory, when the impious insult and deal cruelly with his worshipers. . . .
It is also right to remind ourselves that the faithful have not been so pure of all stain that God would be unjust in exacting punishment for their sins. But, by his incomparable indulgence, he does bury our sins and subject us to unjust persecution, so that we may glory in bearing the cross of Christ and may therefore be sharers and companions of his blessed resurrection.
This doctrine we must take for our own use. First, we must be ready, after the example of the fathers, to bear calmly any suffering by which our loyalty to the confession of our faith is validated. Secondly, in the deepest shadows of death we must constantly call on the name of God, and we must stand fast in fear of him.
Paul (Rom. 8:23) goes further and asserts that this passage does not merely offer us an example, but describes the perpetual situation of the church. Therefore we are assigned, by God’s decree, the perpetual warfare of bearing the cross. At times God spares our weakness by allowing a truce, or a relaxation [of the warfare]. But although swords are not always drawn against us we must, because we are members of Christ, be always ready to share his cross. Let us not then be terrified by the bitterness of the cross, and let us keep this picture of the persecuted church always before us. So long as we are adopted by God in Christ, we are destined for slaughter. If we are to 211prevent the wearisome weight of the cross or our fear of it from turning us away from our faith, we must keep this thought continually in our hearts. The cup which God pours for us we must drink; no man can be a Christian who does not offer himself in sacrifice to God.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. . . . For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Heb. 12:4, 6.
The apostle goes further and reminds us once again that, even while the wicked persecute us in Christ’s name, our warfare is with sin. Christ himself was free from this struggle, because he was clean and unspotted by any sin. In this respect we are unlike him, for sin dwells in us at all times; and our afflictions serve to overcome and rout it.
In the first place, we know that all the evils in the world come from sin; and so came in the beginning death itself. But this is not what concerns the apostle. His point is that the persecutions we suffer are useful to us, because they are medicine for destroying sin. For in this way, God keeps us under the yoke of his discipline, so that our flesh may not play loose with sin. At times he checks our hot blood; at other times he punishes our misdeeds in order that we may afterwards become more careful. Therefore, whether he sets out to heal our vices, or to prevent us from doing evil, as the apostle says, he is training us for the struggle against sin. And when we suffer for his gospel, the Son of God himself honors us with his favor, and does not count our sufferings as punishment of sin. Still we must acknowledge the validity of what the apostle says: When we act against the ungodly in defense of the cause of Christ, we at the same time battle against sin which is the enemy within us. Thus the grace of God is double; he converts the remedy he uses for curing us from our vices into a means of defending his gospel.
Let us remember that the apostle is speaking to people who had thrown away their possessions and suffered many indignities; and had done all that willingly and with joy. And yet, he charges them with indolence because, exhausted while the battle was still in progress, they had not kept up the strenuous march to the end. It is not for us to ask the Lord to discharge us from his army, no matter what fighting we have done. For Christ will have no discharged soldiers, except those who have overcome death itself. . . .
For whom the Lord loveth. The reasoning of this verse seems 212rather shaky. The Lord afflicts the elect and the reprobate without distinction, and his scourges are evidence of his wrath more often than of his love. So says Scripture, and experience confirms it. And yet, with regard to the believers, it is not surprising that the apostle refers only to the benefit they derive from the troubles they experience. When God punishes the reprobate he shows himself as a severe and wrathful judge; with his elect, he has no other purpose except to promote their salvation; and this is a demonstration of his Fatherly love. Moreover, since the ungodly do not know that they are governed by God’s hand, they think that most of their troubles happen by chance. The ungodly are like a wrongheaded young man, who leaves his father’s house and wanders far away; when he all but perishes from hunger and cold and other evils, he admits that he has met the just punishment of his stupidity; by his sufferings he sees the value of being docile and obedient, but he does not understand that his troubles are the chastisement of his father. So also the ungodly, having alienated themselves from God and his household, do not understand that they are still within the reach of God’s hand. Therefore, let us keep in mind that we cannot taste the love of God in our afflictions, unless we are persuaded that they are rods with which our Father chastises us for our sins. Nothing like this occurs to the reprobate, who have the mentality of fugitives from God. This is why it is proper that judgment should begin at the house of God.
Wherefore, even though God’s hand falls upon those in his house and those outside, it falls upon the former to show his peculiar care for them. The true solution of our problem is as follows: anyone who knows and is persuaded that he is castigated by God must promptly go on to consider that God afflicts him because he loves him. Since the godly know that God intervenes in their punishment, they have a sure pledge of his good will towards them; for if he did not love them, he would not care about their salvation. Hence the apostle concludes that God offers himself as a Father to all those who endure correction. Those who would rather kick like wild horses, or harden themselves and fight back, are a different sort. In short then, the apostle teaches us that, when God corrects us, he does so only as our Father, provided we yield and obey.
3. THE CROSS AND PERSECUTION
And when forty years were expired, there appeared unto him in the 213wilderness of Mount Sinai an angel of the Lord in aflame of fire in a bush. Acts 7:30.
It remains to say something of the burning bush. God frequently makes use of a certain similarity among things for giving us signs; and this is the common reason for the sacraments. Besides, nothing could have been more appropriate for confirming the faith of Moses in God’s present business with him. Moses knew in what state he had left his people. Although they were a great multitude, they were not unlike a bush. For the denser a bush and the more twigs it has, compactly put together, the more likely it is to burst into flame and the fire spreads most easily to all its parts. Similarly, the band of Israelites was weak and exposed to every kind of harm. This unwarlike multitude, kept down by its own dead weight, inflamed the fury of the Pharaoh until it could burst out with success. A people oppressed by a cursed tyranny is like a pile of wood which has caught fire on all sides. Nothing keeps it from being quickly reduced to ashes, unless the Lord himself sit in the midst of it. Although this story refers to the unusual persecution which was aflame at that time, it nevertheless in a way depicts the perpetual state of the church which is never, in this world, safe and free from affliction. For what are we but food for fire? Countless burning torches of Satan fly around constantly, and set souls as well as bodies on fire; but the Lord himself, by his wonderful and matchless grace, guards and defends us. The fire, therefore, must needs so burn that in this life it reduce us to nothing. But since God dwells in our midst, he keeps us from harm in the midst of our tribulation, as we read also in Ps. 46:5.
And the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates rent off their [the apostles’] clothes, and commanded to beat them. Acts 6:22.
When Luke tells us how a crowd gathered together, how some nobodies — in fact jugglers and those who put their bodies on sale, whose sordid ways everybody knows — raised a hue and cry, he reminds us of the world’s fury against Christ. Although folly and levity are ever present among the whole population, the amazing power of Satan appears when those who are otherwise reserved and stable suddenly get excited over nothing and join the company of worthless people in resisting the truth of God. Nor did the magistrates themselves show any more restraint. By their gravity, they should have appeased the fury 214of the populace. They should have opposed violence with energy, and, with their resources, taken the side of the innocent. Instead, they make a disorderly and noisy arrest; and before hearing the truth of the matter, they have the apostles stripped of their clothes and whipped with green rods. Such is the deplorable depravity of mankind that almost all the tribunals of this world, which should be sanctuaries of justice, have been polluted by an impious and unholy assault upon the gospel.
One might also ask, Why were the apostles thrown in prison, when they had already received their punishment? For prisons were established for keeping people in custody, partly for punishment and partly that more might be learned about their case. But it is evident that the servants of Christ are treated with less humanity than adulterers, robbers, and other malefactors of their kind. This gives us a clearer insight into the power of Satan, who incites the spirits of men so that they observe no kind of justice when they persecute the gospel. Still, though the lot of the godly in defense of the gospel is harder than that of the godless in their wickedness, yet theirs is the brighter, because in all the evils which they undergo, they triumph gloriously before God and his angels. They indeed suffer insult and ignominy, but because they know that the wounds of Christ are more precious and carry more dignity in heaven than all the vain and smoky pomps of the earth the more they are wronged and slandered by the world, the more abundant reason they have for glorying. For, if Themistocles8686Themistocles (ca. 514–449 B.C.), the Athenian leader in the naval battle of Salamis against Xerxes, was a forceful and imaginative statesman. His checkered career ended in ostracism, and he went to Asia Minor where he was received by the Persians and lived in Magnesia until his death. He was a strong man, but he does not appear to have been a model of virtue. (See Plutarch’s Lives.) used to be so honored by profane writers that they preferred his prison to the seats and courts of magistrates, how much more we should honor the Son of God in whose cause the faithful at all times suffer persecution for the gospel’s sake. Besides, even though the Lord allowed Paul and Silas to be inflicted with scourging at the hands of godless magistrates, yet he did not let them suffer shame without turning it into a greater glory. Since the persecutions which go with bearing witness to the gospel are left over for us from the passion of Christ, as our Prince himself converted the curse of the cross to a chariot of triumph, so also he shall adorn the prisons and gibbets of his servants, and 215there they shall triumph over Satan and all the sons of wickedness.
Rending their garments. Since the ancient interpreter8787Jerome. had translated this phrase rightly, it was wrong of Erasmus to change it to mean that the magistrates tore their own garments. Luke simply meant to say that when the holy men were beaten, the order of lawful judgment was neglected and that those who laid hands upon them were so violent that their clothes were torn. For it was most alien to Roman custom for magistrates to tear their clothes to pieces publicly in the market place, especially when the matter on hand had to do with an unknown religion, whose protection was no great concern of theirs. But I will not dispute at length about such an obvious matter.
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6–7.
Even though the ending of the Greek verb is unclear, the sense of the passage requires that we read you exult rather than exult! The phrase in which refers to the manifold hope of salvation set down in heaven. But Peter does not so much praise as exhort them. His purpose is to teach the benefit we receive when we hope that we shall be saved; namely, the spiritual joy which not only mitigates the bitterness in all evil, but also conquers all melancholy. So, there is more to exult than to rejoice.
But it appears rather contradictory that the faithful who exult with joy should at the same time be sorrowful, for these are opposite feelings. But they know by experience what words can hardly express: that joy and sorrow go together. However, to settle the matter with few words, the faithful are not blocks of wood that they should be bereft of human sensibility when they meet sorrow, or that they should not be afraid when in peril, or be troubled by poverty, or by the hardships they have to endure under persecution. Therefore, evil does indeed make them unhappy. But faith sweetens their sorrow, so that there is no lack of joy in them because of it. Their sorrow yields to their rejoicing, rather than preventing it. Again, even though joy overcomes sorrow, still it does not abolish it, because it does not deprive us of our humanity. Thus we learn true patience; for its beginning and, as it were, its very root is the knowledge 216of God’s favor, especially the awareness of the honor he has done us by his free adoption. Anybody who keeps this grace of God in mind has little trouble in absorbing the evils which he endures. For, why is it that we are oppressed by a melancholy spirit if not because we have no taste for the good which is spiritual? Anybody who realizes that the troubles he undergoes have their proper use as trials expedient for his salvation, not only rises above them, but also turns them into occasions of joy.
Ye are in heaviness. Since the reprobate in their turn are not immune to evil, do they not also experience sorrow? Yes, they do. But Peter recognizes that the faithful suffer sorrow willingly, whereas the godless murmur and are perverse enough to battle against God. The godly man suffers as a tame ox bears his yoke or as a horse that is broken submits to the bridle even when put on by a child. God visits the wicked with trouble, even as people bridle a fierce and ornery horse with violent hands: the horse kicks and fights back; but it is no use. Hence, Peter praises the believers because they bear their troubles willingly, and not under compulsion.
He says now for a season by way of consoling his readers. For the shortness of time is a mitigation of the evils we suffer no matter how hard they hit us. And we must remember that this present life lasts only a moment.
If need be. The reason for our sufferings is here taken for their cause. The apostle wants to make it clear that God does not make a trial of his people without reason. If God afflicted us without a reason, our burden would be too heavy to bear. Therefore, Peter argues for our comfort on the ground of God’s purpose, not that we can always see the reason for our afflictions, but that they occur rightly (so we ought to be persuaded), since they occur at God’s pleasure. . . .
More precious than gold. He argues from the lesser to the greater. For, if we prize a corruptible metal like gold so much that, to prove its value, we test it with fire, is it any wonder that God should want to prove our faith, which he prizes much more highly, in the same way? Even though the words of the apostle suggest another interpretation (in that he seems to set no value on gold), he nevertheless compares faith to gold so as to present it as the more precious of the two, and to imply that it is worth the trial to which God subjects it. Besides, the full extent of the meanings of δοκιμάζεσθαι (tried) and δοκίμιον (trial) is not certain. One cannot be sure whether he is speaking of a double testing of gold with fire: once when it is purified of its dross; 217and then, when it is tested for judging its quality. Both of these tests apply to faith very well. Much of the impurity of unbelief remains in us. When we are, as it were, purified in God’s furnace by various afflictions, the dross in our faith is purged, and the faith becomes pure and clean before God. At the same time it is tested to show whether it be a true or false faith. I accept willingly both these views of the matter, which seem to be justified by what follows immediately in our text. For, since silver is worthless before it is purified, so also our faith receives the honor of a crown before God when it is proved in the proper way.
At the appearing of Jesus Christ. This is added to teach the faithful to keep their spirits high until the end. For now our life is hidden in Christ; and it will remain hidden, and as it were buried, until Christ appears from heaven. The whole course of our lives moves toward the destruction of the outer man; and all the things we suffer are so many anticipations of death. Therefore, if we want to see glory and praise in the midst of our afflictions, we had better fix our eyes on Christ. For the trials, which are so full of reproach and shame for us, are in Christ full of glory. But such glory in Christ is not as yet seen clearly because the day of our consolation has not as yet arrived.
Searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. 1 Peter 1:11.
Peter tells his readers that their sufferings had been foretold long before by the Spirit, so that they may endure them with a calm spirit. But there is much more to this statement. He means that from the very beginning God has so ordained and governed the Christian church that the cross has been the preparation for victory, and death the way to life. Such is the clear testimony of Scripture. Therefore, there is no reason why we should be unduly depressed by our troubles, as though they meant our misery, when the Spirit of God himself calls us blessed.
But notice the order. He puts sufferings first, and the glories which are to follow second; and he makes it clear that this order can be neither changed nor reversed. The afflictions come first; and then comes glory. There are two striking thoughts expressed in this sentence: Christians must first suffer many tribulations that they may know the joy of glory; secondly, their sufferings are not evil, because they are bound closely with the 218glory to come. Since God himself has ordained this conjunction, it is not for us to tear one part away from the other. But it is a rare comfort to us that this situation of ours has been predicted so many ages ago, from which we gather that our coming deliverance from it is no empty promise. Hence we also know that we suffer not by chance but by the solid providence of God. And furthermore, we acknowledge that the prophecies are as mirrors, which in our very tribulations present us with an image of heavenly glory.
Of course, Peter says that it is Christ’s own sufferings that were foretold by the Spirit; but he does not separate Christ from his body. Therefore, we must not limit the sufferings in question to Christ’s own person. We must rather begin with the Head, that the members may follow him in their order. As Paul says, we must conform to him who is the first-born among his brethren (Rom. 8:29). Hence, Peter is speaking not of something peculiar to Christ, but of the universal situation of the church. We have a better confirmation of our faith in that he invites us to consider our own sufferings in relation to Christ: because in this way, in our relationship to him, we discern better the connection between death and life. It certainly is right and fitting that in this sacred union, the Head should suffer daily in his members. For in this way his sufferings are completed in us, and his glory in turn is fulfilled in his members. More is said about this in Col. 3 and 1 Tim. 4.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12–13.
There is a great deal said about afflictions in this epistle. We have explained the reason for this elsewhere. However, we must notice that sometimes when he calls the believers to patience, he speaks in general of the common ills which infest human life; here, on the other hand, he speaks of the evils which the faithful suffer for Christ’s name. In the first place, he reminds them that they must not be surprised [by affliction], as by something sudden and unexpected; that they must meditate upon the cross for a long time, in order to be prepared to bear it when the occasion arises. Anyone who has chosen to go to war under Christ will not become panicky when he meets persecution; he will rather bear it with patience as one who knows all about it. Therefore, if we would have presence of mind when persecutions 219rush upon us and overtake us, we need to be accustomed in good time to diligent meditation upon the cross. Moreover, he makes two statements to show that the trial of the cross serves a useful end: by it God proves our faith, and we thus become companions of Christ. In the first place, let us keep in mind that the trial which proves our faith is most necessary. We should therefore be only too glad to obey God when he provides for our own salvation. But our chief comfort should be sought in the society of Christ. Therefore, Peter not only forbids us to be surprised when he puts the cross before us, but also bids us to be joyful. It is indeed a matter for joy that by means of persecution God makes proof of our faith. But it is a far surpassing joy that the Son of God puts us in a class with himself, to lead us with himself to a blessed participation in the glory of heaven. We must take it as axiomatic that if we bear the dying of Christ in our flesh, his own life shall appear in us. The wicked also have their many troubles; but because they are separated from Christ, they get nothing in return except the wrath and execration of God. So it is that they are soon swallowed up by melancholy and terror.
This then is the whole comfort of the men of faith: they are Christ’s associates, that they may in time come to have a share in his glory. So, we must always consider that the way is from the cross to the resurrection. But since this world is a labyrinth where no escape from evil is in sight, Peter turns our eyes to the future when the glory of Christ shall be revealed. What he means is that we must not spurn the day of his revelation because it is now hidden, but we must live in expectation of it. He sets before us a double joy: one which we now have in hope, and another which shall be complete at the coming of Christ. Because the first is mixed with sorrow and sadness, it is the latter which he connects with exultation. It is not good sense to be dreaming in the midst of tribulation of a joy which shall rid us of all trouble. But the consolations of God do temper our experience of evil so that, while we suffer, we have joy.
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye, and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled. 1 Peter 3:12–14.
It ought to be enough to take the sting out of whatever evil we suffer that we are under the eyes of the Lord and that in his 220own good time he will come to our help. The sum of the matter, therefore, is that the well-being which he speaks of depends upon God’s protection. For, if the Lord did not keep watch upon his own, they would be like sheep exposed in advance to wolves for destruction. And if the slightest trouble makes us cry out, or if we are kindled so quickly to fury and burn with a desire for vengeance, it is doubtless because we neither take to heart that we are under God’s care, nor acquiesce in his help. We are taught patience in vain, unless our spirits be first imbued with the teaching that God cares for us and will come to our aid in his good time. If we are persuaded that God wills to defend the cause of the righteous as a Father, our first and single-minded concern becomes to be innocent of evil; and then, when we become beset and troubled by the unjust, we flee to God’s protection. The apostle’s purpose in telling us that the ears of the Lord are open to our petitions is to move us to persevere in prayer.
But the face of the Lord. With this phrase Peter points out that since the Lord is our vindicator, the godless shall not be permitted to flourish forever in their insolence. At the same time, he threatens that if we take it upon ourselves to defend our lives against the wicked, we shall have God himself against us. But, it may be objected, experience teaches us far otherwise; for the more just a man is, and the more he loves peace, the more he is vexed by the wicked. To this I answer, No one follows justice and peace so far that he does not sometimes, some way, sin in this matter. But we must observe above all that in this life we are promised nothing beyond what we need for doing our duty. Hence, our peace with the world is often turned into trouble, in order that our flesh may be subdued for obedience to God; hence, whatever causes us trouble, nothing should be a loss to us [but it should contribute to the same end of obedience].
And who is he, etc. He again confirms the above with an argument derived from common experience. It happens often that the wicked pick a quarrel with us, or that they are cut to the quick by us. We may fail to put ourselves out to win their favor; for the truth is that anyone who keeps being kind is able to soften hearts which are otherwise like iron. This same truth is set forth by Plato in the First Book of The Republic: στάσεις γάρ που ἤ γε ἀδικία καὶ μάχας ἐν ἀλλέλοις παρέχει. η δὲ δικαιοσύ [ομεγαηατ]η ὁυόνοιαν καὶ φιλίαν . . “Injustice provokes seditions and hatreds and quarrels; but justice, concord and friendship.” However, even though this happens commonly, it is not always 221so. No matter how much the children of God try to pacify the wicked with goodness, and to show kindness toward all, they are nevertheless often attacked without any just cause. Therefore, Peter adds: If ye suffer for righteousness’ sake. . . . His point in short is that the believers try to obtain in this life a state of tranquillity, more by being good than by being violent and quick to avenge. And then, if having left nothing undone toward peace, they still suffer, even in this they are happy, for they suffer for righteousness’ sake. This last phrase is a far cry from the judgment of the flesh. But it is not a rash statement of Christ; and Peter himself does not repeat it rashly when he takes it from the mouth of the Master. For God will ultimately come forth as our liberator; and he will establish openly what at present seems unbelievable: that the miseries which the godly bear with patience are in truth rich with happiness. To suffer for righteousness’ sake means not only to be subject to some privation or discomfort in espousing a good cause, but also to suffer injustice, as happens when a man who fears God and does no evil finds that those around have turned against him.
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well-doing, than for evil-doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. . . . 1 Peter 3:17–18.
For it is better. This phrase qualifies not only the next sentence, but also the whole passage. Peter has spoken of the confession of faith, which at that time was a perilous affair. He now adds that it is much better for them to bear privation in defense of a good cause, and so to suffer unjustly, than to be chastised for their own infamy. But this encouragement is understood when we ponder it inwardly, rather than by much talk around it. We read often in profane writers that, when we suffer evil and must needs go through with it, a good conscience is help enough. This sounds very courageous. But it still is true that the spirit is strong only when it looks to God. Therefore he adds the conditional phrase if it be God’s will. By these words he tells us that when we suffer any evil unjustly it comes about not by accident, but rather, and surely, by the will of God. And he assumes and confesses that God neither wills nor appoints anything except for the best of reasons. Hence, the believers have this comfort in their miseries, that God knows all about it; they know that it is God who leads them to the scene of contest, in order that under his auspices they may show forth their faith.
For Christ also. It is another comfort that, if in our afflictions 222we have a good conscience, we suffer after the example of Christ: and in so doing, we are blessed. And at the same time the apostle proves, from the purpose for which Christ died, that it is not fitting for us to be chastised for doing evil. He reminds us that Christ suffered to lead us to God: and what does he mean except that by the death of Christ we have been so consecrated to God that we are to live and die to him! There are then two parts to this statement. The first is that we are to bear persecution with equanimity, since the son of God himself shows us the way; the other is that, since by the death of Christ we have been set aside for obedience to God, we are to suffer not because of our misdoings, but for righteousness’ sake.
But now someone may bring up the question, is it not true God chastises believers when he allows them in some way to be afflicted? I answer that God often inflicts upon believers the punishment they deserve. And this Peter himself does not deny. But he reminds us what a great comfort it is to have our cause bound up with God! We shall see in the next chapter that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are not being punished by God for their sins. We shall also consider in what sense they are called innocent.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed: but let him glorify God on this behalf. 1 Peter 4:16.
After having forbidden Christians to hurt or do any harm so that they may not, like the unbelievers, arouse the world’s hatred by their evil-doing, he now bids them to thank God when they suffer persecution in the name of Christ. Certainly, it is no ordinary kindness on God’s part that he not only has freed us and exempted us from the common punishment of sins, but also calls us to an honorable warfare, in which we may suffer exile or privation, or insults, or even death itself. It is therefore plain ingratitude to God that, when persecutions come upon us, we murmur or cry out, as though some grave injustice were being done to us; we ought rather to count it gain and favor from God.223
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