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X

THEY WHO BLESS ARE BLESSED

"Finally, be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: and let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? But and if ye should suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled; but sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord: being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ."—1 Peter iii. 8-16.

The Apostle now ceases from his special admonitions, and enforces generally such qualities and conduct as must mark all who fear the Lord. Finally, he says—and the word may indicate the close of his counsels; but the virtues which he inculcates are of so important a character that he may very well intend them as the apex and crown of all his previous advice—be ye all like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded. St. Peter has here grouped together a number of epithets of which all120 but one are only used in the New Testament by himself, and they are of that graphic character which is so conspicuous in all the Apostle's language. Like-minded. If the word be not there, the spirit is largely exemplified in the early history of the Church. How often we hear the phrase "with one accord" in the opening chapters of the Acts. Thus the disciples continued in prayer (i. 14); thus they went daily to the Temple (ii. 46); thus they lifted up their voices to God (iv. 24), for all they that believed were of one heart and one soul (iv. 32). Such lives exhibit harmony of thought, the same aim and purpose. The men may not, will not, always use the same means or follow the same methods, but they will all be seeking one result. Such unity is worth more than uniformity. Compassionate. This feeling St. Paul describes (Rom. xii. 15) as rejoicing with them that do rejoice and weeping with them that weep. For the παθήματα of this life are not always sorrowful, though the best of them are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed (Rom. viii. 18).Loving as brethren. The sense of the brotherhood of Christians is strongly marked in all the New Testament Scriptures. It is the name by which our Lord claims fellowship with men, being not ashamed to call them brethren. It is the designation of the Christian body from the first (Matt. xxiii. 8), is constantly found in the Acts and the Epistles (Acts vi. 3, ix. 30, xi. 29), and has been used of the Church in every age, marking how as one family we dwell in Him. Next comes the word which is not St. Peter's alone: Tender-hearted. St. Paul has it (Eph. iv. 32), but it is no Greek notion. It was a Jewish idea that deep feeling was closely connected with some of the organs of the body; and in the Old Testament,121 as in the story of Joseph (Gen. xliii. 30) and elsewhere (1 Kings iii. 26), we come upon such phrases as "His bowels did yearn upon his brother." This Hebrew notion the LXX. has conveyed into Greek by the word which St. Peter here uses, and which those translators had used and consecrated long before. For them so exalted was the thought contained in it that they employ it in the prayer of Manasses (ver. 7) to express the tenderness of God towards the penitent, the yearning love of the Father, who sees the prodigal afar off, and has compassion. Humble-minded. This word and those akin to it are almost a New Testament creation. The heathen had no admiration for the temper it expresses, and where they do use the word it is in a bad sense as signifying "cowardly" and "mean-spirited." Before Christ none had taught, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt. xxiii. 11).

It is manifest that if such harmony, kind feeling, attachment, affection, and humility flourished among believers, these virtues would put discord to the rout, and leave no occasion for rending the oneness of the Christian body. They would also be proof against evil from without, both in deed and speech, neither tempted to render evil for evil in their actions nor reviling for reviling in their words. They have a duty to the world, and cannot thus belie their Christian profession. They are called to adorn the doctrine of their Saviour, and the Master's sermon has among its prominent precepts "Bless them that curse you." This is the spirit of St. Peter's exhortation, But contrariwise blessing; that is, Be ye of those who bless. For there is a law of recompense with God in good things as in evil; the blessers shall be blessed: For hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.122 It is as though he urged them thus: Ye were aforetime enemies of God; but ye have been made partakers of His heavenly calling (Heb. iii. 1), that ye may come to blessing. This should move you to bless your enemies. And more than this, the servant of God may receive no blessing from the world, may get curses for his blessing; but yet he knows where to flee for consolation. He can pray with the Psalmist, "Let them curse, but bless Thou" (Psalm cix. 28), conscious that the Lord will stand at the right hand of the needy.

The psalmists knew much of such trials, and it is from the words of one of them (Psalm xxxiv. 12-16) that St. Peter enforces his own lesson. It is a psalm full of the knowledge of the trials of God's servants: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous"; but it is rich also in plenitude of comfort: "The Lord delivereth him out of them all." The father of long ago teaches thus to his children the fear of the Lord: He that would love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: and let him turn away from evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears unto their supplication: but the face of the Lord is upon them that do evil. A glance at the Psalm will show that the Apostle has not quoted precisely; and though he has much in common with the Greek of the LXX., he does not adhere closely to that. But he gives to the full the spirit both of the Hebrew and the Greek. The life of which the Psalmist speaks is life in this world. The original explains this by making the latter clause of the verse, "and loveth many days, that he may see good." And the love is to be a noble feeling,123 a desire to make his worth living. Such a life must exhibit watchfulness over words and actions. The precepts begin at the beginning, with control of the tongue. Control that, and you are master of the rest. "It is a little member, but boasteth great things." "The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body" (James iii. 5, 6). It needs to be kept as with a bridle, and not only when the ungodly are in sight, but constantly. But the words of the Psalm contemplate a further danger. Men may give good words with the lips while the heart is full of bitterness. Then the lips are lying, and this is an evil as great as the former, and more perilous to him who commits it, because the sin does not come to the light that it may be reproved, but contrives to wear the mask of virtue.

And the actions need watchfulness also. They must not only possess the negative quality of abstinence from evil, but the positive stamp of good deeds done. "By their fruits ye shall know them." And the work will be no light one. Peace is to be sought, and the Apostle uses a word which implies that a chase is needful to obtain it. St. Paul has a passage very much in the spirit of St. Peter's teaching here, and the words of which picture distinctly the difficulties which the Christian will have to labour against: "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. iv. 3). This tells us why our Apostle urges the pursuit of peace. It is the clasp which binds the Christian communion together. From all sorts of causes men are prone to fall apart, to break the oneness; and peace is able to hold them fast. Hence the diligence in seeking it, the earnestness of the pursuit that it may not elude us.

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But when all is done, when men have not been sitting with folded hands waiting and dreaming that peace would come without pursuit, but have laboured for it, they do not always attain to it. "I am for peace," says the Psalmist, "but when I speak, they are for war" (Psalm cxx. 7). And so the disappointed struggler is directed to the sure source of consolation amid discomfiture. The Lord marks his efforts, knows their earnest purpose in spite of their ill-success. He beholds also those who have withstood them, but with far other regard. St. Peter has not quoted what the Psalmist says of their fate: "God will root out the remembrance of them from the earth." God's righteous pilgrim is not forgotten. His prayer is heard, and will be answered for good. No shadow has come between him and God, though his lot seem very dark. Neither can the wrong-doer raise a shadow to screen himself from the all-seeing eyes. All things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Thus far St. Peter has used the language of the Psalmist, and among the converts the Jews would be sure to supply from the context those other words, "O fear the Lord, all ye His saints; for they that fear Him lack nothing." The Apostle clothes that same thought in his own words: And who is he that will harm you, if ye be zealous of that which is good? He has repeatedly dwelt on the power of goodness to win unbelievers to its side (ii. 12, 15; iii. 1), and the same idea shapes his words now. In those days the Zealots were well known, and their unbounded enthusiasm for their evil cause. Josephus lays the destruction of Jerusalem at their door. The Apostle would have Christ's disciples "zealots" for Him. Let there be nothing half-hearted in their service, and its power125 will be irresistible. It will avail either to silence and confound the adversaries, or to strengthen the faithful so that the smell of the furnace of persecution shall not pass upon them. They shall be enabled to break the chains with which their foes would bind them as easily as Samson his green withes. But and if ye should suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye. If ye endure chastening, God is dealing with you as with sons. He has called Himself your Father; Christ has claimed you for brethren. He, the righteous, suffered; shall we not reckon it for a blessing to be worthy to bear the cross? Only let us be of good courage. He that endureth to the end shall find salvation. And fear not their fear, neither be troubled. Again St. Peter applies the promises of the ancient Scriptures. In the days of Isaiah all Judah was in terror, king and people alike, before the gathering armies of Syria and Israel. In their dread comes the prophetic message, and says to the confederates, "Gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces," and to the tiny power of Judah, "Let the Lord of hosts be your fear, and let Him be your dread, and He shall be for a sanctuary" (Isa. viii. 12, 13). The condition of these Asian converts was one of heaviness through manifold temptations. While the believer lives here he always has his assailants, and in those early days the rulers of the earth were not seldom among the adversaries of the Christians. Hence the Apostle's exhortation is most apposite: Fear not their fear—the things which they would dread, and with which they will threaten you. For what are they? They may take away your property. Be not troubled; you would soon have had to leave it. The loss a few years sooner is no terrible affliction. They may drive you from one land to another. To126 strangers and sojourners what can that signify? If they cast you into prison, the Lord who shut the lions' mouths for Daniel is your Lord also; and I, Peter, know how angel-hands have removed chains and opened prison doors. And should they scourge and torture you, do you shrink from thus being made like unto your Master? Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.

Isaiah's message to disheartened Judah was, "The Lord of hosts, Him shall ye sanctify." On His word shall ye rely, assured that He, the holy God, will fail neither in wisdom nor power. To think otherwise is not to sanctify Him. The Lord knoweth how to deliver out of temptation. St. Peter, who knew Christ as the Son of the living God, applies to the Son the words first spoken of the Father. The Son is one with the Father. Hence he bids the afflicted converts, suffering for righteousness' sake, not to be afraid of the world's terror, but to sanctify Christ in their hearts as Lord. He is the Emmanuel, whom Isaiah was sent to promise. God has dwelt among men, and will be the God and the Deliverer of all His faithful ones. This sense of "God with us" they know, and with the knowledge comes a power not their own, and they fear no more the fear of their adversaries.

It is against foes of another sort that the Christian has now to hold fast his faith, and sanctify Christ as his Lord. There are those who deny Him all that is supernatural, all that speaks of the Divine in His history; who treat the resurrection and ascension of the Lord as groundless legends, due to the ignorance of His followers; and who leave to the Jesus of the Gospels only the qualities of a better fellow-man. These are the enemies of the cross of Christ.

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And of such dangerous teaching it would seem as if St. Peter had been thinking in the words that follow: Being ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you. The believer rests on Christ in faith. But though in his belief there must be much which he cannot fathom, yet it is a belief for men. His service is a reasonable service; he can point to abundance of evidence as ground for his faith; he believes because he has experienced the power of the Spirit, and fears not to trust the Christ whom he has sanctified in his heart as Lord; he knows in whom he has believed. But beside this, he can study the Old Testament; and there he learns how the coming incarnation dominates every portion of the volume, how from the first redemption through the seed of the woman was made known; and he follows the revelation step by step till in the evangel of Isaiah he has predictions almost as vivid and plain as the narrative of the Gospels. Those four narratives are another warrant for his faith, their wondrous agreement amid multitudinous divergences, divergences so marked that none could have ventured to put them forth as history except while the knowledge of those who had seen the Lord and been witnesses of His actions was available to vouch for and stamp as true these varicoloured pictures of the life of Jesus. He has further vouchers in the lives and letters of those who knew and followed the Lord, followed Him, most of them, on the road that led through persecution unto death. And beside all this, there stands and grows the Church built upon this history, strong with the power of this faith and in her holy worship sanctifying Christ as her Lord. These are things to which the Christian appeals.128 They are not the only reasons for belief, but they are those of which he can make other men cognisant, and to which the world cannot continue always blind; and they have a force against which the gates of hell have not yet been, nor ever will be able, to prevail.

These reasons he gives with meekness and fear—with meekness, because in that spirit all the victories of the Lord are to be won; with fear, lest by feeble advocacy the cause of Christ may suffer. And he does not bring words alone with him to the struggle, but the power of a godly life; he is prepared for the conflict by the possession of a good conscience before God and men; he bears in mind the prophetic exhortation, "Be ye clean, ye that bear the vessels of the Lord" (Isa. lii. 11). That injunction was given to those who were in their day strangers and pilgrims. But with the good conscience, pureness of heart in the service of the Lord, there need be no haste, no flight. The Lord will go before them; the God of Israel will be their rearward. And the good conscience has lost none of its efficacy: Wherein ye are spoken against, they may be put to shame who revile your good manner of life in Christ. Of the Christian's faith and hope his revilers know nothing, but his good life and his reasons for it men can see and hear. And these shall gain the victory. But they must go hand in hand. The deeds must bear out the words. When he testifies that his hope is placed where neither persecutions nor revilings avail against it, his life must show him fearless of what the world can do. His position toward it must be that which St. Peter himself took: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" (Acts iv. 19). Men may marvel at what they see in him, but they will take129 knowledge that he has been with Jesus. He is created, new-created, in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. ii. 10). His revilers use him despitefully; but, according to Christ's lesson, he prays for them, and their shafts glance pointless off. Well does St. Paul close his catalogue of the Christian armour "with all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit" (Eph. vi. 18). Thus does the believer wield his weapons effectually. His revilers have no reason for their words; he is careful that they shall have none. As with Peter and John the council could say nothing against their good deed and let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, so shall it be with others of the faithful; and, for very shame at the futility of their accusations and assaults, the revilers shall be put to silence.

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