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VII

CHRISTIANS AS PILGRIMS IN THE WORLD

"Beloved, I beseech you, as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king."—1 Peter ii. 11-17.

The Apostle opens his exhortations with a word eminently Christian: Beloved. It is a word whose history makes us alive to and thankful for the Septuagint Version. Without that translation there would have been no channel through which the religious ideas of Judaism could have been conveyed to the minds of the Western peoples. There are several Greek words which signify "to love," but bound up with every one of them is some sense which renders it ill-fitted to describe true Christian love and still less suited for expressing the love of God to man. The word in the text has been fashioned to tell of that love which St. Paul describes in his "more excellent way" (1 Cor. xiii.). In classic speech it implies more of the84 outward exhibition of welcome, than of deep affection. But the translators of the Septuagint have taken it specially for themselves, and use it first to express the love of Abraham for Isaac (Gen. xxii. 2); and, thus consecrating and elevating it, they have brought it at length to great dignity, for they employ it to signify the love of the Lord for His people and the highest love of man to God: "The Lord preserveth all them that love Him" (Psalm cxlv. 20); "The Lord loveth the righteous" (cxlvi. 8). So in the New Testament it can be used of the "well-beloved" Son Himself. With such an expression of their union to each other in the Lord does St. Peter preface his admonitions. They are counsels of love.

I beseech you, as sojourners and pilgrims. The Christian looks for a life eternal. In comparison thereof the best things of this time are of little account, while the evil of the world renders it no safe resting-place. It is but as a lodging for a brief night, and at dawn the traveller sets forward for his true home. Hence the argument of the apostolic entreaty. You have no long time to stay, and none to waste; your motto is ever, "Onward!" I beseech you to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. Of the perils of life's journey the Psalmist gives us a telling sketch in the first verse of Psalm i.; and if we may accept the words as the outcome of David's experience, they teach us the subtlety of these lusts of the flesh, as they war against the soul. They had led David to adultery and murder. The first stage of the course through which they carry you is described as walking by the counsel of the ungodly. It is not being of their number, but only being ready to accept their advice; and though the course has begun, it is still possible85 for him who walks to turn round and to turn back. The next step shows captivation. The man stands in the way of sinners, not afraid of his company now, though they have a taint of positive guilt instead of the negative character of ungodliness. But the war against the soul goes on; and the captive at the next stage sinks down willingly, is pleased with his chains, sits in the seat of the scorners, as ready now as they to make a mock at sin. With good reason does St. Peter use most solemn words of entreaty. The peril at all times is great. The flesh warreth against the spirit. We cannot do the things that we would. But for these men the danger was extreme. Some of them had lived in surroundings where such sins were counted a part of religious duty; had the support of long prescription; were sanctioned and indulged in by those of the convert's own blood.

Yet the Apostle does not counsel the new-made Christians to run away from this battle. They owe a duty to those who are out of the way, and must not shrink from it, be it ever so painful: having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles. Their lives are to be led in the sight of their fellow-men, to be so led as to have the approval of a clear conscience, and to be void of offence in the eyes of others. This outward seemliness is what Christian love exhibits as a testimony to Christ's grace and an attraction unto the world, making known unto all men the unsearchable riches of Christ: that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. The seemly conduct of believers must be continuous, or it will fail of its effect. It is not one display of Christian conduct, nor occasional spasmodic manifestations86 thereof, which will win men to love the way of Christ. And this is the result without which Christ's people are not to rest satisfied. The evil reports of the adversaries are ill-grounded, but they do not think so; and the only means of removing their perverse view is by a continuous revelation of the excellence of Christ's service. They may rail, but we must bless; they may persecute: we must not retaliate, but returning good always for their evil, make them see at length that this way which they are attacking has a character and a power to which they have been strangers. This enlightenment is implied in the word "behold": They behold your good works. It denotes initiation into a mystery. And to unbelievers Christ's religion must be a mystery. The clearing of the vision leads them up to faith. The word in every place where it occurs in the New Testament is St. Peter's own, and he employs it once (2 Peter i. 16) to describe the vision, the insight, into the glory of Christ, which he and his fellows gained at the Transfiguration. Such a sight removes all questionings, and constrains the enlightened soul to join in the exclamation, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." The victory for Christ is to be won on the very ground where the opposition was made. In the very matter over which the enemy reviled, there shall they praise God for that which they erewhile maligned. This it is which constitutes their day of visitation. Some have thought the visitation intended was to be one of punishment for obstinate withstanding of the truth, but it surely harmonises better with the glory of God that the dispensation should be one of instruction and light. We seem to have a notable example of what is meant in the history of St. Paul. He in all earnestness persecuted the Way unto the87 death. The day of visitation came to him, a day which, while darkening the bodily vision, gave a clearness to the soul. The persecutor became the Apostle to the Gentiles, and the world bore him witness that now he preached the faith of which he had once made havoc (Gal. i. 23). This was God's own conquest, but in the same manner will believers be helped to win their victory. They are to aim at nothing less, never to rest content till the accusers of their good deeds are brought to glory in the performance of the same. So was Justin Martyr won to the side of Christianity: "When I heard the Christians accused and saw them fearless of death and of everything else that is counted fearful, I was sure they could not be living in wickedness and in the love of pleasures" (2 Apol. xii.). Well-doing shall not fail of its reward. Men will testify, as of Isaac of old "We saw plainly that the Lord was with thee, and we said, Let there now be an oath betwixt us" (Gen. xxvi. 28).

The Apostle now turns to one illustration of Christian behaviour wherein the converts might be tempted to think themselves absolved from some portion of their duty. They were living under heathen rulers. Did their freedom in Christ release them from obligations to the civil powers? The question was sure to arise. St. Peter supplies both a rule and a reason: Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. Christians, just as other men, hold their place in the commonweal. All that the state requires citizens to do in aid of good government, order, the support of institutions and the like, will fall upon them, as upon others. Whether the demands made upon them in this wise be always for ends of which they would approve, they are not to discuss so long as their rulers provide88 duly for the social order and welfare. This is the apostolic rule. The reason is, Men are to submit thus for the Lord's sake. The powers that be are ordained of God, and He would have obedience yielded to them. The Bible knows nothing about forms of government; these are to be ordered as men at various times and under various conditions deem most helpful. But the Bible doctrine is that God uses all powers of the world for His own purposes and to work out His will. Of Pharaoh, who had deliberately despised God's messages through Moses, the Divine voice declared that he would long ago have been cut off from the earth, but was made to stand that he might show God's power, and that His name might be declared throughout all the earth (Exod. ix. 15, 16); and of the Assyrian at a later day (Isa. x. 10, 12) God tells how he was used as the rod of the Divine anger, but that the fruit of his stout heart and the glory of his high looks would surely be punished. God employs for His ends instruments with which He is not always well-pleased. These can inflict His penalties, yea even may be made to advance His glory. Pilate was assured by Christ Himself that the power which he was about to exercise was only by Divine permission: "Thou wouldest have no power against Me except it were given thee from above" (John xix. 11); and St. Paul enforces obedience to authorities equally with St. Peter: "He that resisteth the power withstandeth the ordinance of God" (Rom. xiii. 2). Be subject, therefore, whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well. The order under which these converts were living was superintended by some officer appointed by the Roman emperor, and to this89 the form of the Apostle's words applies. The king is the Cæsar; the governor is the procurator or subordinate official by whom the imperial power was represented in the provinces. When St. Peter wrote, Nero ruled in Rome, and was represented abroad by ministers often of a like character.

How extreme must after this be the case of those who would claim freedom to resist the rulers under whom they live. God has allowed them to stand, He is using them for His own purposes, they may be the ministers of His vengeance, and to Him alone does vengeance belong. He intends them also to recognise the merit of the doers of good. It may be that they do not fulfil God's intent in either wise, yet while He suffers them to keep their power the Christian's duty is obedience to every civil enactment, for anarchy would be a curse both to him and to others, bringing in its train more hurt than help. When Christians shall be found among those who abide by the law of the lands wherein they dwell, even should their faith not be accepted by their rulers, their good citizenship will hardly fail to disarm hatred and abate persecution. And so they are to range themselves ever on the side of order. For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. For this end believers are to abide in the world, that through them the world may be renewed. The opponents of their faith suffer, says the Apostle, from lack of knowledge. As he says in another place, "they rail in matters whereof they are ignorant" (2 Peter ii. 12). Had men known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; and did they know, they would not persecute His followers. But knowledge will not come without a preacher. Such preachers of the excellence90 of their faith shall the law-abiding Christians in each community be made. They shall publish the lessons of their own experience; they shall win favour by their example. The world will recognise that these men have a secret which others do not possess, will find that they yield obedience to earthly rulers because they are above all things servants of God. It was through convicting them of their ignorance that Jesus put the Sadducees to silence. "Ye do err," was His argument, "not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt. xxii. 34). And when men are made sensible of such ignorance, they are silenced for very shame (1 Cor. xv. 34). This word "silenced" is very expressive both in the Gospel and here. It implies that a bridle or muzzle is put upon the mouth of ignorance, so that it may either be guided into a better way, or, if not so, be checked from doing harm. For some there are who not only will be ignorant, but foolish also, whom no teaching will profit. But even these will in the end be silenced. So, as says the brother Apostle, "be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. xii. 21).

The first part of the Apostle's exhortation in our verse had in view, it may be, more especially the Gentile converts. Their past life had been one of evil-doing in the sight of God; those whom they had left, and who were most likely to be their adversaries, were still walking in the same ways, and were to be won over and conquered for Christ. He now turns more directly to those who had been Jews. These were no longer bound to the observance of the ceremonial law, and we know from the New Testament as well as from Church history that with this release there were exhibited in the lives of many such excesses as made91 them a disgrace to the Christian name. We find much about these in the Second Epistle. St. Peter would not keep the Jewish converts under the burden of the Law, but he warns them against their besetting danger: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. There were bad Jews, even as there have been bad Christians. These would welcome a rule which set them at liberty from the Mosaic observances, to which their adherence aforetime had been in outward seeming rather than in earnest zeal. To these St. Peter preaches that to lay aside Judaism is not to embrace Christianity. The Leader of the new faith had ever taught a different lesson. He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it, and to set forth God's will in a nobler aspect. Those who would follow Him must take up the cross. His service is a yoke which restrains from all evil. Those who come to Christ come as bondservants of God, free only because they are bound to the observance of the noblest law. They must lay aside the flesh, with its affections and lusts, and not vindicate their freedom by using it as an occasion to riot and self-indulgence.

And the Apostle binds together all his teaching in four closing precepts: Honour all men; Love the brotherhood; Fear God; Honour the king. All men, without distinction, are to be honoured, because in all there remains the image of God. It may be defaced, blurred exceedingly. The more needful is it to deal considerately with such, that we may help to restore what has been marred. Those who are our brethren in Christ, the brotherhood, we shall own with affection, seeking to be of one heart and one soul with them, because they belong to Christ. For them we shall92 have, if we be true to our faith, that mighty love which passeth in excellence both faith and hope. But the exhortation of St. Peter speaks in this wise: Ye who hold your brethren in Christ unspeakably dear, do not allow that love to suffice, to swallow up all regard for other men. They also need your thoughts, your help. The heathen, the unbelievers—these have the strongest possible claim, even their great need. And so with the other pair of precepts. Ye who fear God, which is your foremost duty, do not let that fear lessen your willingness to do honour to your earthly rulers. The feelings toward God and the king differ in character and in degree, but both have their place in proper share in the heart of the true servant of Christ.

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