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149

XII

THE LESSONS OF SUFFERING

"Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."—1 Peter iv. 1-6.

It is always hard to swim against the stream; and if the effort be a moral one, the difficulty is not lessened. These early Christians were finding it so. For them there must have existed hardships of which to-day we can have no experience, and form but an imperfect estimate. If they lived among a Jewish population, these were sure to be offended at the new faith. And when we remember the zeal for persecution of a Saul of Tarsus, we can see that in many cases the better the Jew, the more would he feel himself bound, if possible, to exterminate the new doctrines. Among the heathen the lot of the Christians was often worse. Did the people listen a while to the teaching of the missionaries, yet so unstable were they that, as150 at Lystra, to-day might see them stoning those whom yesterday they were venerating as gods; and they could easily, by reason of their greater numbers, bring the magistrates to inflict penalties even where the multitude refrained from mob violence. The cry, "These men exceedingly trouble our city" or "These who turn the world upside down are come among us," was sure to find a ready audience; while the uproar and violence which raged in a city like Ephesus, when Paul and his companions preached there, shows how many temporal interests could be banded together against the Christian cause. On individual believers, not of the number of the preachers, the more violent attacks might not fall; but to suffer in the flesh was the lot of most of them in St. Peter's day. Hence the strong figure he employs to describe the preparation they will need: Arm ye yourselves—make you ready, for you are going forth to battle. St. Paul also, writing to Rome and Corinth, uses the same figure: "Let us put on the armour of light," "the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left."

Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind. Though some strokes of the foe will fall on the flesh, the conflict is really a spiritual one. The suffering in the body is to be sustained and surmounted by an inward power; the armour of light and of righteousness is the equipment of the soul, which panoply the Apostle here calls the mind of Christ. Now what is the mind of Christ which can avail His struggling servants? The word implies intention, purpose, resolution, that on which the heart is set. Now the intention of Christ's life was to oppose and overcome all that was evil, and to consecrate Himself to all good for the love of His people.151 This latter He tells us in His parting prayer for his disciples: "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth" (John xvii. 19), while every action of His life proclaims His determined enmity against sin. This brought Him obloquy while He lived in the world, and in the end a shameful death; but these things did not abate His hatred of sin, nor lessen His love for sinners. For still into the city where He reigns there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth (Rev. xxi. 27), though to the faithful penitent "the Spirit and the bride say, Come, and he that is athirst, let him come; he that will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. xxii. 17).

Christ bare willingly all that was laid upon Him that He might bring men unto God. This is the spirit, this the purpose, the intent, with which His followers are to be actuated: to have the same strenuous abhorrence of sin, the same devotion in themselves to goodness, which shall make them inflexible, however fiercely they may be assailed. Let them only make the resolve, and power shall be bestowed to strengthen them. He who says, "Arm yourselves," supplies the weapons when His servants need them. Jesus Himself found them ready when the tempter came, and drew them in all their keenness and strength from the Divine armoury. Satan comes to others as he came to Christ, and will make them flinch and waver, if he can. At times he offers attractive baits; at times he brings fear to his aid. But, in whatever shape he comes or sends his agents, let them but cling to the mind of Christ, and they shall, like Him, say triumphantly, "Get thee behind me, Satan."

For he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin. God intends it to be so, and the earnest Christian152 strives with all his might that it may be so. To help men God sends them sufferings, and intends them to have a moral effect on the life. They are not penal; they are the discipline of perfect love desiring that men should be held back from straying. Men cannot always see the purposes of God at first, and are prone to bewail their lot. But here and there a saint of old has left his testimony. One of the later psalmists had discovered the blessedness of God-sent trials: "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I observe Thy word"; and, in thankful acknowledgment of the love which sent the blows, he adds, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statutes" (Psalm cxix. 67, 71). Hezekiah had learnt the lesson, though it brought him close to the gates of the grave; but he testifies, "Behold, it was for my peace that I had great bitterness.... Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back" (Isa. xxxviii. 17). God had blotted out the evil record, that he who had suffered in the flesh might cease from sin. It is good for us thus to recognise that God's dispensations are for our correction and teaching, and that without them we should have been verily desolate, left to choose our own way, which would surely have been evil; and though we cannot cease from sin while we are in the flesh, God's mercy places the ideal state before us—He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin—that we may be strengthened, nevermore to submit ourselves to the yoke of wickedness. How shall he that is dead to sin live any longer therein? Live therein he cannot. Of that old man within him he will have no resurrection, for though the motions, the promptings to evil, are there, the love of evil is slain by the greater love of Christ.

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That ye no longer should live the rest of your time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. Christians must live out their lives till God calls them, and for the rest of their time in the flesh they will be among their wonted surroundings. Just as Christian slaves must abide with their masters, and Christian wives continue with their husbands, so each several believer must do his duty where God has placed him. But because he is a believer it will be done in a different spirit. He is daily cutting himself away from what the world counts for life; he has begun to live in the Spirit, and the natural man is weakened day by day; he knows that what is born of the flesh is flesh, and bears the taint of sin: so he refuses to follow where it would lead him. Men often plead for evil habits that they are natural, forgetting that "natural" thus used means human, corrupt nature. The birth of the Spirit transforms this nature, and the renewed man goes about his worldly life with a new motive, new purposes. He must follow his lawful calling like other folks, but the sense of his pilgrimage makes him to differ; he is longing to depart, and holds himself in constant readiness. Worldly men live as though they were rooted here and would never be moved. "Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names" (Psalm xlix. 11). To the servant of Christ life wears another aspect. He is content to live on, for God so wills it, and has work for him to do. To continue in the flesh may be, as it was to St. Paul, the fruit of his labour. And he welcomes this owning of his work, and will spend his powers in like service. Yet, with the Apostle, he has ever "the desire to154 depart and be with Christ, for it is very far better" (Phil. i. 23).

And as he strives to fulfil God's intent by crucifying the old man and ceasing from sin, the Christian rejoices in a growing sense of freedom. To follow the lusts of men was to serve many and hard taskmasters. Riches, fame, luxury, sensual indulgences, riotous living, are all keen to win new slaves, and paint their lures in the most attractive colours; and one appetite will make itself the ally of another, lust hard by greed, so that the chains of him who takes service with them are riveted many times over, and difficult, often impossible, to be cast off. But the will of God is one: "One is your Master"; "Love the Lord your God with all your heart"; "And all ye are brethren"; "Love your neighbour as yourself." Then shall you enter into life. And the life of this promise is not that fragment of time which remains to men in the flesh, but that unending after-life where the natural body shall be exchanged for a spiritual body, and death be swallowed up in victory.

For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles. The Apostle here seems to be addressing the Jews who, living among the Gentiles, had, like their forefathers in Canaan, learned their works. The nation was not so prone to fall away into heathendom after the Captivity; yet some of them in the dispersion, like Samson when he went down unto the Philistines, may have been captured and blinded and made to serve. The proximity of evil is infectious. To the Gentile converts St. Peter speaks elsewhere as having been slaves to their lusts in ignorance (i. 14). But whether Jew or Gentile, when they had once tasted the joy of this purer service, this law of obedience which made155 them truly free, they would be strengthened to suffer in the flesh rather than fall back upon their former life. The time would seem enough, far more than enough, to have been thus defiled. All was God's; all that remained must be given to Him with strenuous devotion.

St. Peter seems to place in contrast, as he describes the two ways of life, two words, one by which he denotes the service of God, by the other devotion to the world and its attractions. The former (θέλημα) implies a pleasure and joy; it is the will of God, that which He delights in, and which He makes to be a joy to those who serve Him. The other (βούλημα) has a sense of longing, unsatisfied want, a state which craves for something which it cannot attain. St. Paul describes it as "led away by divers lusts, ever learning" (but in an evil school), "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth, corrupted in mind, reprobate" (2 Tim. iii. 7). Such is the desire of the Gentiles. The Apostle describes it in his next words: To have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousings, and abominable idolatries. How gross heathendom can be our missionaries from time to time reveal to us. All the corruptions which they describe were reigning in full power round about these converts. When men change the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of corruptible man or even worse, and worship and serve the creature, their own animal passions, rather than the Creator, there is no depth of degradation to which they may not sink. St. Paul has painted for us some dark pictures of what such lives could be (Rom. i. 24-32; Col. iii. 5-8). But though Christianity in our own land have forced sin to veil some of its fouler aspects, vice has not changed its nature. The156 same passions rule in the hearts of those who live to the lusts of men, and not to the will of God. The flesh warreth against the Spirit, even if the Spirit be not utterly quenched, and brings men into its slavery. For the sake of Christ, then, and for love of the brethren, the faithful have need still to be proclaiming, Let the time past suffice, and by their actions to testify that they are willing to suffer in the flesh, if so be they may thereby be sustained in the battle against sin and may strengthen their brethren to walk in a new way.

Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you. The godless love to be a large company, that they may keep one another in heart. Hence they who have been of them, and would fain withdraw, have no easy task; and to win new comrades sinners are ever most solicitous. Their invitations at first will take a friendly tone. Solomon understood them well, and described them in warning to his son: "Come with us," they say: "let us lay wait for blood; let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them up alive as Sheol, and whole as those that go down into the pit. We shall find all precious substance; we shall fill our houses with spoil. Thou shalt cast thy lot among us; we will all have one purse" (Prov. i. 11-14). This is one fashion of their excess of riot, but there are many more. The Apostle's words picture their life as an overflow, a deluge. And the figure is not strange in Holy Writ. "The floods of ungodly men made me afraid," says the Psalmist (Psalm xviii. 14); and St. Jude, writing about the same time as St. Peter and of the same evil days, calls such sinners "wild waves of the sea, foaming out their own shames" (Jude 14). "Shames," he says, because the floods of excess pour157 on in overwhelming abundance, and those who escape from them do so only with much suffering in the flesh, sent of God, to set them free from sin.

And if there be no hope of winning recruits or alluring back those who have escaped, the godless follow another course. They hate, and persecute, and malign. Ever since the days of Cain this has been the policy of the wicked, though not all push it so far as did the first murderer (1 John iii. 12). For the life of the righteous is a constant reproach to them. They have made their own choice, but it yields them no comfort; and if one means of making others as wretched as themselves fails, they take another. They point the finger of hatred and scorn at the faithful. To the Greeks Christ's faith was foolishness. The Athenians, full of this world's wisdom, asked about Paul, "What will this babbler say?" and mocked as they heard of the resurrection of the dead. With them and such as they this life is all. But the Christian has his consolation: he has committed his cause to another Judge, before whom they also who speak evil of him must appear.

Who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. The Christian looks on to the coming judgement. He can therefore disregard the censures of men. Neither the penalties nor the revilings of the world trouble him. They are a part of the judgement in the present life; by them God is chastening him, preparing him by the suffering in the flesh to be more ready for the coming of the Lord. In that day it will be seen how the servant has been made like unto his Master, how he has welcomed the purging which Christ gives to His servants that they may bring forth more fruit. He believes, yea knows, that in the158 Judge who has been teaching and judging him here day by day he will find a Mediator and a Saviour. With the unbeliever all is otherwise. He has refused correction, has chosen his own path, and drawn away his neck from the yoke of Christ; his judgment is all yet to come. The Judge is ready, but He is full of mercy. St. Peter's phrase implies this. It tells of readiness, but also of holding back, of a desire to spare. He is on His throne, the record is prepared, but yet He waits; He is Himself the long-suffering Vinedresser who pleads, "Let it alone this year also."

Such has been the mercy of God even from the days of Eden. In the first temptation Eve adds one sin upon another. First she listens to the insidious questioning which proclaims the speaker a foe to God: then without remonstrance she hears God's truth declared a lie; hearkens to an aspersion of the Divine goodness; then yields to the tempter, sins, and leads her husband into sin. Not till then does God's judgement fall, which might have fallen at the first offence; and when it is pronounced, it is full of pity, and gives more space for repentance. So, though the Judge be ready, His mercy waits. For He will judge the dead as well as the living, and while men live His compassion goes forth in its fulness to the ignorant and them that are out of the way.

For unto this end was the gospel preached even to the dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. "Unto this end"—what does it signify? What but that God has ever been true to the name under which He first revealed Himself: "The Lord God, merciful and gracious" (Exod. xxxiv. 6); that He has been preaching the Gospel to sinners by His dispensations from159 the first day until now? Thus was the Gospel preached unto Abraham (Gal. iii. 8) when he was called from the home of his fathers, and pointed forward through a life of trial to a world-wide blessing. Heeding the lesson, he was gladdened by the knowledge of the day of Christ. In like manner and unto this end was the Gospel sent to God's people in the wilderness (Heb. iv. 2), even as unto us; but the word of hearing did not profit them. With many of them God was not well pleased. Yet He showed them in signs His Gospel sacraments. They were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, did all eat the same spiritual meat, and all drank the same spiritual drink (1 Cor. x. 2-4), for Christ was with them, as their Rock of refreshing, all their journey through the desert, preaching the Gospel by visitations now of mercy, now of affliction. Unto this end He brought them many a time under the yoke of their enemies; unto this end He sent them into captivity. Thus were they being judged, as men count judgements, if haply they might listen in this life to the gospel of trial and pain, and so live at last, as God counts life, in the spirit, when the final judgement-day is over. They are dead, but to every generation of them was the Gospel preached, that God might gather Him a great multitude to stand on His right hand in the day of account.

Some have applied the words of this verse to the sinners of the days of Noah, connecting them closely with iii. 19; and truly, though they be but one example out of a world of mercies, they are very notable. They were doomed; they were dead while they lived: "Everything that is in the earth shall die" (Gen. vi. 17). Yet to them the preacher was sent, and unto this end: that though they were to be160 drowned in the Deluge, and so in men's sight be judged, their souls might be saved, as God would have them saved, in the great day of the Lord. But every visitation is a gospel, a gospel unto this end: that through judgement here a people may be made ready in God's sight to be called unto His rest.

Few passages have more powerful lessons than this for every age. The world is full of suffering in the flesh. Who has not known it in many kinds? But it is in consequence, to those who will hear, very full of Gospel sermons. They cry aloud, Sin no more; the time past may suffice to have wrought the will of the Gentiles. Suffering does not mean that God is not full of love; rather it is a token that, in His great love, He is training us, opening our eyes to our wrong-doings that we may cast them off, and giving us a true standard to judge between the desire of the Gentiles and the will of God. And though men may look on us as sore afflicted, our Father, when the rest of our time in the flesh shall be ended, will give us the true life with Him in the spirit.

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