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163

XIII

CHRISTIAN SERVICE FOR GOD'S GLORY

"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer: above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves; for love covereth a multitude of sins: using hospitality one to another without murmuring: according as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God; if any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God; if any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth: that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen."—1 Peter iv. 7-11.

But the end of all things is at hand. Well-nigh two thousand years have passed away since the Apostle wrote these words. What are we to think of the teaching they convey? For it is not St. Peter's teaching only. Those who laboured with him were all of the same mind; all gave the same note of warning to their converts. St. Paul exhorts the Philippians, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (Phil. iv. 5); and in the first letter to the Corinthians the last words before his benediction are to the same purport: "Maran atha" (1 Cor. xvi. 22); that is, The Lord cometh. St. James preaches, "Stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James v. 8). To the Hebrews the Apostle writes, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. x. 37).164 While St. John, who lived longer than any of the rest, conveys the warning even in more solemn tones: "Little children, it is the last hour" (1 John ii. 18). Are we to look on these admonitions as so many mistaken utterances? Are we to think that the disciples had misunderstood the Lord's teaching, or would they say the same words if they were with us to-day?

We may allow that those who had been present at the Ascension, and had heard the words of the angels declaring that "this same Jesus should so come as they had seen Him go into heaven" (Acts i. 11), might expect His return to judge the world to be not far distant. But, in whatever they say in reference thereto, their main concern is that men should be ready. "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh," is the ground-text of all their exhortations. Now had arrived the fulness of the time (Gal. iv. 4) in which God had sent forth His Son, born of a woman; and if we take the verb of St. Peter's sentence ἤγγικε, "has come near", we feel that he viewed the new era on which the world had entered in this light. And so did the other Apostles. One says, "Now once in the end of the ages hath Christ been manifested" (Heb. ix. 26); another teaches that things of old "were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come" (1 Cor. x. 11). God has spoken aforetime in many portions and in many ways, but in the end of these days He hath spoken in His Son (Heb. i. 2). All things are now summed up in Christ; He is the end of all things. Prophecy, type, sacrifice, all have passed away. There will come no new revelation; no word more will be added to the Divine book. Its lessons will find in each generation new illustrations, new applications, but will admit no165 change of form or substance. The Christian dispensation, be it long or short, is the last time; it will close with the Second Advent. And continual preparedness is to be the Christian's attitude. And this is the purport of St. Peter's next exhortations, which are as forceful to-day as they were eighteen hundred years ago.

Be ye therefore of sound mind. Exactly the counsel which should follow the previous lesson. It was misinterpreted at first, as it has been since. We know how unwisely the Thessalonians behaved when they had been told by St. Paul, "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" (1 Thess. v. 2). The Apostle learnt that they were sorely disturbed, and wrote them a second letter, from which we can gather how far they had wandered from soundness of mind. At first the Apostle speaks gently: "Be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present" (2 Thess. ii. 2). But soon he shows us how the excitement had operated. Some among them had begun to walk disorderly, apparently thinking that they might live upon the community, working not at all, but being busybodies. These made, no doubt, the approach of the day of the Lord their pretext. St. Paul bids such men in quietness to work and eat their own bread. To be found at their duty was the best way of preparing for the end.

How soundness of mind may serve the Church of Christ is seen in the settlement of that murmuring which arose (Acts vi. 1) as soon as the Christian disciples began to be multiplied in Jerusalem. It was the Grecian Jews who complained that their widows166 were neglected. The Apostles wisely withdrew from the distribution about which the complaint was made, and more wisely still gave the oversight into the hands of Greeks (as the forms of all their names bear witness) who would be fully trusted by the murmurers. "And the word of God increased." The pages of Church history supply examples in abundance of the need in religious matters for this soundness of mind. We need not go back to very ancient times. What sore evils led to and arose out of the peasant war in Germany in the days of the Reformation, followed by those excesses which disgraced the name of Christianity in Münster and other parts of Westphalia! And in our own land both at that time and subsequently the unwise enthusiasm of those who acted as though whatever had been must be wrong hindered sorely the temperate efforts of the more conservative and sober minds; while undue prominence given to single doctrines of the Gospel has many times warped men's minds; and does so still, making the cause of Christ to be hardly spoken of. A sense of proportion is a gift which the Church may fitly pray for in her members, and that, while they seek to foster the sevenfold graces of the Holy Spirit, they may ever keep in mind the mercy of Him who bestows only a portion on each of us as we can receive it, and makes no man the steward of them all.

And be sober unto prayer. The Apostle selects one example wherein the sound mind ought to be sought after, and he has chosen it so as to be of general application. The wisdom to which he is exhorting is needed for all men, both those who teach and those who hear, those who serve tables and those who are served thereby. Many members of the Christian body,167 however, will not be concerned with such special duties. But all will pray, and so to prayer he applies his precept. Be sober. A sound mind will preserve us from extravagance in our approach unto God. For even here extravagance may intrude. The Corinthian Church had gone very far wrong in this respect. Over-elated, losing soundness of mind, through the bestowal of certain gifts, they had introduced such irregularities into their religious meetings that St. Paul speaks of occasions when they might have been regarded as madmen (1 Cor. xiv. 23). These were public prayers. St. James applies the same standard to private prayers: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss" (James iv. 3). There is no true prayer in your petitions. You have selected in your own hearts what you would fain have and do, and you come before God with these as your supplications. There is no thought in them of yielding to God's will, but only the sense that if your petitions were granted you would reap a present satisfaction. Ye ask amiss. Many a heart can testify to the proneness to err thus by want of sobriety.

Above all things being fervent in your love among yourselves. Soundness of mind and sobriety should dominate every part of the believer's life; but there are other virtues of pre-eminent excellence, unto which, though they be far above him, he is encouraged to aspire. Of these St. Peter, like St. Paul (1 Cor. xiii. 13), places love at the summit, above all things. The word he uses signifies that perfect love which is the attribute of God Himself. To frail humanity it must ever be an ideal. But the Apostle in his second epistle (2 Peter i. 7) has given a progressive list of graces to be sought after in a holy life, a series of mountain summits each above the other, and each made168 visible through the one below it. Here, too, love comes as the climax; and the Revised Version marks it as far above mere human affection: "In your love of the brethren supply also love." Here is no anticlimax, if we once appreciate the grandeur of the concluding term.

In the present verse, however, the Apostle exhorts that this Divine quality is to be exercised by the converts among themselves, and exercised with much earnestness and diligence. It is to be the grace which pervades all their lives, and extends itself to every condition thereof. But we understand why St. Peter has used this word for love as soon as we come to the clause which follows: For love covereth a multitude of sins. To cover sin is Godlike. It has been often asked, Whose sins are covered by this love, those of him who loves, or of him who is loved? The question can have but one answer. There is nothing in the New Testament to warrant such a doctrine as that love towards one's fellow-men will hide, atone for, or cancel any man's sins. When our Lord says of the woman who was a sinner, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much" (Luke vii. 47), it is not love to the brethren of which He is speaking, but love to God, which she had manifested by her actions toward Himself; and when He presently adds, "Thy faith hath saved thee," He tells us the secret of her availing love. But when men are animated by that love toward their neighbours which shows likest God's, they are tender to their offences; they look to the future more than to the past, hoping all things, believing all things; they have tasted God's mercy in the pardon of their own sins, and labour to do thus unto others, to cast their sins out of sight, to put169 them, as God does when He forgives, behind their back, as though in being forgiven they were also forgotten. The phrase is quoted by St. Peter from Prov. x. 12, where Solomon says, "Love covereth all sins," and our Lord's words to St. Peter himself (Matt. xviii. 22) about forgiving until seventy times seven times practically set no limit to the extension of pardon to the repentant. Thus taught, the Apostle uses the noble word ἀγάπη of human tenderness to offenders, because he would urge men to a boundless, all-embracing, Godlike pity for sinners.

Using hospitality one to another without murmuring. We need only reflect on the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles to realise how large a part hospitality must have played in the early Church as soon as the preachers extended their labours beyond Jerusalem. The house of Simon the tanner, where Peter was entertained many days (ix. 43); the friends who at Antioch received Paul and Barnabas and kept them for a whole year (xi. 26); the petition of Lydia, "Come into my house, and abide there" (xvi. 15); and Jason's reception of Paul and Silas at Thessalonica (xvii. 7), are but illustrations of what must have been the general custom. Nor would such welcome be needed for the Apostles alone. The Churches must have been very familiar with cases of brethren driven from their own country by persecution, or severed from their own kinsfolk by the adoption of the new faith. To such the kind offices of the Christian congregations must have been constantly extended, so that hospitality was consecrated into a blessed and righteous duty. To be "given to hospitality" (Rom. xii. 13) is reckoned among the marks whereby it shall be known that believers, being many, are one body in Christ; and170 from the salutations in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans we can frame a picture of the large work of lodging and caring for strangers as it entered into the duties of a Christian life. The brethren at Rome are exhorted to receive and help Phœbe, the bringer of the Epistle, because she had been a succourer of many, and of Paul himself. Of Priscilla and Aquila, who are next named, we know that they were friends and fellow-workers with St. Paul in Corinth, and that in Ephesus they showed their Christian love toward the stranger Apollos; and not only so, but they provided a place where the brethren might assemble for their worship. Later on is mentioned Mary, who bestowed much labour on the brethren, Urbanus, a helper in Christ, and the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus, whole families made friends through the extension of hospitality. Of the mother of Rufus St. Paul speaks tenderly as his own mother also. The coupling together of Philologus and Julia suggests that they were husband and wife and had opened their doors to the brethren, and the notice of Nereus and his sister points to similar good offices. And from whatever place the Epistle was sent to Rome, there Tertius, St. Paul's amanuensis, was under the hospitable roof of Gaius, whom he speaks of as the host of the whole Church. Doubtless at times the burden might fall heavily on some of the poorer brethren. Hence the need for the Apostle's addition without murmuring. The word is the same which is used (Acts vi. 1) of the complaints of the Grecians. And in this matter, as in all, a sound mind would be called for, that loads might be placed by the Churches only on such as were able to bear them.

The intimate fellowship that would grow out of such exercise of kind offices must have been a power to171 encourage greatly the labourers for Christ. As they dwelt together, hours not given to public ministrations would be spent in private converse, and would knit the members together, and forward the common work. As St. Paul writes to Philemon, who appears to have been eminent in good offices, the hearts of the saints were refreshed by this godly intercourse. In friendly communion the love of all would wax warmer, zeal become more earnest, the weak would be strengthened, and the strong grow stronger.

According as each hath received a gift, ministering it among yourselves, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. The close connexion between gifts and grace is better marked in the Greek than it can be in the English. The χαρίσματα are bestowed upon us by the χάρις of God. But every word in the sentence is full of force. Each hath received a gift. None can plead his lack of faculty; none can claim exemption from the duty of ministering; none is so poor but he has something that he can lay out for the brethren. All have time; all have kind words: the least can give, what is the best of gifts, a good example. But what we have is not our own; it is received: and humility would teach us to believe that God has bestowed on us the powers which we are best fitted, by place and opportunities, to use in His service. None can say of any gift, "It is all my own; I may do with it as I please." God has set the world about us full of His exchangers. The poor, the feeble, the doubting, the fearful—these are God's bankers, with whom we may put out our gifts to usury. And Himself is the security for all that we deposit thus: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it unto Me." Hence we live under the responsibility of stewardship.172 And every man's gift is given to profit withal (πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον, 1 Cor. xii. 7). The Greek implies that it must be shared with others. Nor can any of us make it a profit to himself till he have found the way to make it profitable to his brethren.

That he may give more precision to his counsel, the Apostle proceeds to speak of gifts under two heads into which they are naturally divided. First come those which St. Paul (Rom. xii. 6-8) ranges under the head of prophecy, embracing therein teaching and exhortation likewise: If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God. The first Christian preachers must have gained their knowledge of the life and teaching of Jesus by listening to the narratives of the twelve, and must have gone forth to give their teaching orally. The training of those who were appointed to minister in the various places whither the apostolic missions penetrated must have been of the same kind. In those first years there was work to be done which would seem more important than the writing of a Gospel history. When such preachers published to the congregations what they had learnt of the Master's lessons, their sermons would be orally given, and though conveying the same instruction, would be liable to constant modifications of words. It was from such oral teaching that the variations found in the Gospel narratives probably had their origin. The preachers gave the spirit, and as nearly as possible the text, of what they had been taught. Perhaps by memoranda or otherwise, they would refresh their knowledge of the apostolic words, so as to adhere as much as might be to what they had first received. The word λόγια—oracles—which the Apostle here employs, seems intended to remind such preachers and teachers that173 they now, as the Jews of old, had received "living oracles" (Acts vii. 38), words by which spiritual life was conveyed, to deliver to the Church. Those of them who were Jews would call to mind how God's prophets had constantly prefaced their message with "Thus saith the Lord" or concluded it with the Divine accrediting, "I am the Lord"; and that the Christian prophet must bear in mind that he is only an ambassador, and must abide by his commission, if he would speak with authority, that as a steward he must ever think of the account to be some day given of the "oracles of God" (Rom. iii. 2) with which he was entrusted, and must "handle aright the word of truth" (2 Tim. ii. 15). For all such is St. Peter's admonition, If any man speaketh, speaking as it were oracles of God.

And next he turns to those gifts which are to be exercised in deeds, and not in words: If any man ministereth, ministering as of the strength which God supplieth. Under "ministry" St. Paul classes (Rom. xii. 7, 8) giving, ruling, showing mercy. These are duties which secure the temporal condition of the Church and her members. The New Testament story suggests many offices which could be discharged by those who had not devoted themselves in a special manner to the ministry of the word. How much service would be called for by those collections for the saints which St. Paul urges so frequently upon the Churches! How many houses would find employment in such labours as were exhibited in the home of Dorcas! How many a traveller, bent on his secular work, would carry apostolic messages or letters to the flocks of the dispersion! To these may be added those offices of mercy which St. James describes as θρησκεία, outward acts of religion, to visit the widows and fatherless in their affliction.174 The strength which God supplieth embraces every faculty or possession, be it wealth, administrative skill, or special knowledge. The physician and the craftsman alike may spend their powers for Christ. All may be consecrated, ministered, as supplied of God. And it is a gain to the Church when, following the apostolic pattern, these duties of external religion are severed from the prophecy, the spiritual work of the teacher.

That in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, whose is the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. This is to be the thought which animates all who minister: that each man's service may be so rendered to his brethren that it will work for the glory of God. And Christ has led the way. He testifies in His final prayer, "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do" (John xvii. 4). Of our work we can use no such words. We are but unprofitable servants. In many things we offend all. But all may labour in the Christlike spirit; and thus through Him, through service rendered in His name and for His sake, will God be glorified. The thought of Jesus humbling Himself, taking the form of a servant, testifying of Himself, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many," can give a dignity to lowliest labour, and at the same time can impart consolation to the true labourers, for whom this mighty ransom has been paid, their inheritance won, their salvation achieved; while the Conqueror of sin and death, their Redeemer, has taken His seat at God's right hand, where worshipping spirits ever praise Him, saying, "Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive the glory, and the honour, and the power" (Rev. iv. 11).

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