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177

XIV

THE BELIEVER'S DOUBLE JOY

"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of His glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy. If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you."—1 Peter iv. 12-14.

After the benediction in ver. 11, we might have supposed that the exhortations of the Apostle were ended. But he now proceeds to make general application of the lessons which above (ii. 19) he had confined to a particular class: the Christians who were in slavery. And the times appear to have called for consolation. The Churches were in great tribulation. St. Peter speaks here, more than in any other passage of the Epistle, as if persecution were afflicting the whole Christian body: Beloved—the word embraces them all—think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, ... as though a strange thing happened unto you. His strong word implies extreme suffering. St. John uses it (Rev. xviii. 9, 18) of the burning up of the mystical Babylon, and it is found nowhere else in the New Testament. A trial meriting this description was harassing the Asian Christians; but spite of the intensity of suffering, which may be inferred178 from his language; he bids the converts not to wonder at it or deem it other than their proper lot: "Think it not strange."

He does not enter upon reasons for his admonition, or he might have selected a goodly list of Old Testament saints who for their faith were called to suffer. For the Jewish brethren, Joseph and David, Elijah and Micaiah, David and his companions in exile, Job and Nehemiah, would have been forcible examples of suffering for righteousness. The Apostle, however selects only the loftiest instance. Christ, the Master whom they were pledged to serve, had suffered, and had said, besides, that all who would follow Him must take up the cross. Need they wonder, then, if in their case they found the Lord's teaching coming true?

But, in describing the purpose of their trials, the Apostle introduces some words which place their affliction in a distinct light: Which cometh upon you to prove you—literally, for your proving (πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμὶν). And the word is that which is constantly used of temptation, whether sent of God or coming in some other way. When viewed as a process of proving, the believers would be able to find some contentment under their persecutions. God was putting them to the test. He would know if they are in earnest in His service, and so they are cast into the furnace, God's wonted discipline. The prophet Zechariah tells both of the process, and the God-intended result: "I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on My name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is My people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God" (Zech. xii. 9). And the Psalmist bears like testimony: "The Lord trieth the righteous" (Psalm xi. 5), and says that for those who are179 found faithful the end is blessedness: "We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place" (Psalm lxvi. 12).

Such thoughts would yield comfort to those for whom St. Peter immediately wrote. They were suffering for Christ's sake; their faith in Him was being tested. But the Apostle's words are left for the edification of all generations of believers. Throughout all time and everywhere there has been abundance of grief and pain. How may sufferers to-day participate in the apostolic consolation? How may they learn to think it not strange that they are afflicted?

The Apostle's words supply the answer to such questions. And they are no light or infrequent questionings both for ourselves and others. Men are prone to lament over temporal losses or bodily sufferings, their own or others', in tones which convey the idea that such trials will in the end be compensated and made efficacious for the future blessing of the sufferer. The New Testament has no such doctrine. "The trial which cometh upon you to prove you," is St. Peter's expression. There is much suffering in the world which is in no sense a participation of the sufferings of Christ, in no sense a God-sent trial for proving the faith of the sufferer.

Here, if honestly questioned, the individual conscience will give the true answer; and if that inward witness condemn the life for no excesses, of which suffering is the appointed fruit, if the bodily pains be not the outcome of a life lived to the flesh, nor the sorrow and poverty the result of follies and extravagance aforetime, then, with the anguish and distress which God hath sent (for we may then count them as of His sending), the Spirit will have bestowed light that we may discern180 their purpose, light which will show us God's hand weaning us from the world and making us ready for going home, or, it may be, giving to others through us His teaching in message and example. Then the enlightened and pacified soul will be able to rejoice amid pain, conscious of purification; and will out of the midst of sorrow see God's designs justified. Satan will look on such times as his opportunity, and suggest to the Christian that he is unduly afflicted and forgotten of God; but the joy which comes from being able to look trouble in the face, as sent by a Father, drives away despondency and puts the enemy to rout. He is triumphant who can rest on a faithful God, with an assurance that with the temptation He will also make the way of escape, that he may be able to endure it (1 Cor. x. 13).

But dare we then pray, as Christ has taught us, "Lead us not into temptation"? Yes, if we ponder rightly on the purport of our petition. Christ does not bid us pray to God not to try us; He Himself made no such prayer for His disciples; He was Himself submitted to such trial: "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief" (Isa. liii. 10). Nay, one Evangelist (Mark i. 12) tells us how He was not led, but driven forth, of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Yet He taught the prayer to His disciples, and He did so because He knew both what was in man, and what was in the world. In the latter since sin entered, the tempter has found manifold enticements to lead men astray. All that belongs to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, riches, influence, beauty, popularity, prosperity of every kind, may be used as tests of faith, may be made to glorify God; but they can also be perverted181 in the using. And there dwell within man strong desires, which he is prompted to gratify at times, without heeding whether their gratification be right or wrong; and when desire and opportunity meet, there is peril to the tempted.

"How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds

Makes deeds ill done!"

And when desire has once gained the mastery, the next yielding is sooner made; the forbidden path becomes the constant walk; the moral principle—the Godlike in the conscience—is neglected; men grow weaker, are led away of their own lusts and enticed.

On the other hand, if the unlawful desire be resisted from the first, each succeeding conflict will offer less hardship, each new victory be more easily gained, and the virtuous act will become a holy habit; the man will walk with God. For this end God uses the evil, of which Satan is the father, to be a discipline, and turns the snares of the enemy into a means of strength for those whom he would captivate. Knowing all this, Christ has left us His prayer. In it He would teach us to ask that God should protect us in such wise that the desire to sin which dwells within us may not be roused to activity by opportunities of indulgence, or if we are thrown where such opportunities exist, the desire may be killed in our hearts. Thus our peril will be lessened, and we shall be helped to walk in the right way, through His grace. Our strong passions will grow weaker, and our weak virtues stronger, day by day.

And such a petition should check all overweening confidence in our own power to withstand temptation, all overreadiness to put ourselves in the way of danger182 that we may show our strength, and that we can stand though others may fall. The sin and folly of such presumption would be constantly present to St. Peter's mind. He could not forget how his own faith failed when he would make a show of it by walking to meet Jesus over the sea of Galilee. Still less could he forget that utterance of self-confidence, which thought scorn of trials to come, "Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee." It needed but the timid suggestion of a servant-maid to call forth that manifestation of feebleness for which only tears of deepest penitence could atone, and which remained the darkest memory in the Apostle's life. He above all men knew to the full the need we have to pray, "Lead us not into temptation."

And in respect of courting trial, even when the suffering to be encountered would be allowed by all men to be suffering for righteousness' sake, the New Testament gives us many lessons that we should not offer ourselves to unnecessary danger. Our Lord Himself (John viii. 59), when the Jews took up stones to cast at Him, hid Himself and conveyed Himself out of harm's way. At another time we are told, "He would not walk in Judæa because the Jews sought to kill Him" (John vii. 1). St. Paul, too (2 Cor. xi. 33), to avoid uncalled-for suffering, was let down by the wall of Damascus, and afterwards made use of the dissensions of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts xxiii. 6) to divert the storm which their combined animosity would have raised against him. In this spirit St. Peter gives his counsel. "Make sure," he would say, "that the trials you bear are sent to prove you. Let constant self-questioning testify that they are proving you; then wonder not that they are sent, but rejoice inasmuch183 as ye are partakers of the sufferings of Christ." He who thus learns the blessing of trial thanks the Lord for his troublous days. He has a double joy, rejoicing in this life, sorrowful yet alway rejoicing; and is assured that at the revelation of Christ's glory his joy shall be still more abundant.

If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye. It was a joy to the Apostles (Acts v. 41) at the beginning of their ministry that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name. Their offence is described as speaking in the name of Jesus, and filling Jerusalem with their teaching. The feeling of their persecutors was so strong that they were minded to slay them, but upon wiser counsel they only beat them and let them go. St. Paul's commission to Damascus (Acts ix. 14) was to bind all that called upon the name of Christ, and his work after his conversion was to be "to bear Christ's name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." What such preaching would be, we gather from St. Peter's words (Acts ii. 22). They taught men that Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God by powers, and wonders, and signs, had been crucified and slain by the Jews, but that God had raised Him from the dead; that He was now exalted by the right hand of God and was ordained of God (Acts x. 42) to be the Judge of quick and dead; that to Him all the prophets bare witness that through His name every one that believeth on Him should receive remission of sins. St. Paul and the rest preached the same doctrine. All that had happened in Christ's life was "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. xv. 3, 4) of the Old Testament; Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. ii. 2), Jesus and the resurrection (Acts xvii. 18), are the topics constant in his letters and on his lips.184 And for their doctrine and their faith preachers and hearers suffered persecution and reproach.

In our land suffering such as theirs is no more laid upon us, but for all that the reproach of Christ has not ceased. Our days are specially marked by a desire for demonstration on every subject, and it comes to pass thereby that those who are willing in spiritual things to walk by faith rank in the estimation of many as the less enlightened portion of the world, and are pictured as such in much of our modern literature. All that tells of miracle in the life of Jesus is by many cast altogether aside, as alien to the reign of law under which the world exists; and the Gospel narratives of the virgin-birth, the wonderful works, the Resurrection, and the Ascension are treated as the invention of the fervid imaginations of the first followers of Jesus; while to cling to them as verities, and to their importance and significance in the work of the world's salvation, stamps men as laggards in the march of modern speculation. To accept the New Testament story as the fulfilment of predictions in the Old is reckoned by many for ungrounded superstition; and among the unbelieving there are keen eyes still which gladly mark the slips and stumblings of professing Christians, and throw the obloquy of individuals broadcast upon the whole body.

To hold fast faith at such a time, to accept the Gospels as true and their teaching as the words of eternal life, to see in Christ the Redeemer appointed from eternity by the foreknowledge of God, and to believe that in Him His people find remission of sins, to see and acknowledge above the reign of law the power of the almighty Lawgiver—these things are still beset with trials for those who will live in earnest according to such faith; and if we receive less of the185 blessing which St. Peter here speaks of as accompanying the reproach of Christ, may we not fear that we exhibit less of the zeal and fervour of the Christians to whom he wrote?

Because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. In the former clause the Apostle, speaking of the joy of believers, exhorted the converts to a present rejoicing, even in the midst of sufferings, because these were borne for Christ's sake, that so, when He shall appear in whose name they have suffered, their rejoicing may be still more abundant. In like manner he seems here to regard their blessedness in a double aspect. The Spirit of glory rests upon them. A power is imparted to them whereby they accept their pains gladly, and therein glorify God, and the same Spirit fills them with a sense of future glory. Like Stephen before his persecutors, they become filled with the Holy Ghost, their spirits are lifted heavenwards, and even now they behold the glory of God, and Jesus sitting on the right hand of God. Thus suffering is robbed of its sting, and Christ's reproach becomes a present blessing.

St. Paul combines the same thoughts in his appeal to the Roman Christians. "Let us rejoice," he urges, "in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom. v. 2). This is the glory to be revealed in the presence of Jesus Christ, that eternal weight of glory which affliction worketh for us more and more exceedingly. But he continues, "Let us rejoice also in our tribulations," knowing that by them we may glorify God in our bodies, and that they are the pledge of glory to come. "For tribulation worketh patience, and patience probation, and probation hope, and hope putteth not to shame"—it will not be disappointed; fruition will surely186 come—"because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost which was given unto us." This is the Spirit of God of which St. Peter here speaks. It rests like the cloud of glory above the cherubim, and bestows all spiritual power and blessing; it rests on the suffering believer, and gives him rest.

The Authorised Version has here retained a clause which appears to have been at first but an explanatory note, written in the margin of some copy, and then to have been incorporated with the text: "On their part He is evil-spoken of, but on your part He is glorified." We cannot regret the preservation of such a note. It dates back to very early times. The student who made it could write in the language of the New Testament and in its spirit also. It gives us the sense which was then felt to have most prominence and to be the most important. The way of Christ was evil-spoken of, and it could be no strange thing in those days for His followers to be put to fiery trial. Yet the writer feels that the blessedness of the believer is most secured who, regardless of blasphemers around him, strives with all his powers that in his body, whether by life or by death, Christ shall be magnified.

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