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189

XV

THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE JUDGEMENT HERE

"For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name. For the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God: and if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator."—1 Peter iv. 15-19.

The Apostle now goes one step farther in his exhortations. The brethren are suffering for Christ's cause, and may draw comfort from Christ's example, and be encouraged to patience under their persecutions. But these very sufferings, he would have them see, are God's judgement on His servants in this world, that they may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which they are called to suffer. They must be watchful not to deserve punishment for offences that bring disgrace on themselves and on the cause of Christ.

For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters. He appears to divide these offences into two classes, made distinct by the recurrence of ὡς, "as." The first three concern crimes of which the laws of any land would naturally take cognisance. "Evil-doer" was the190 word employed by the Jews when they brought our Lord to Pilate: "If he were not an evil-doer, we should not have delivered him up unto thee" (John xviii. 30). The last-named offence, meddling in other men's matters, would bring upon the Christians social odium and render them generally unpopular; and it was precisely the kind of conduct likely to prevail in such a time. We have already found the Apostle exhorting Christian subjects not to think lightly of the duty of obedience to heathen rulers, and the like counsel was given to Christian slaves with heathen masters and to Christian wives with heathen husbands. Such persons would often be tempted to step beyond their province with advice, and perhaps remonstrance, and to display a sense of superiority in so doing which would be galling to those who were of another mind. St. Peter's word to describe this fault is his own, but the idea that such fault needed checking is not wanting in the teaching of St. Paul, and may be taken as evidence that such an interfering spirit prevailed. He speaks of those "who work not at all, but are busybodies" (2 Thess. iii. 11), and to Timothy of those who are "tattlers and busybodies" (1 Tim. v. 13).

St. Peter has ranged these offences in a descending order, placing the least culpable last; and their compass embraces all that rightly might come under the ban of the law or incur the just odium of society. To suffer for such things would disgrace the Christian name; but there is no shame in suffering as a Christian, but rather a reason for giving glory to God. That the name was bestowed as a reproach seems probable from Acts xi. 26, and still more from the mocking tone in which it is used by Agrippa (Acts xxvi. 28); and in the earliest apologists we find this confirmed. "The accusation191 against us," says Justin Martyr, "is that we are Christians"; and in another place, "We ask that the actions of all those who are accused before you should be examined, so that he who is convicted may be punished as a malefactor, but not as a Christian."

But if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name. That is, let him be thankful and show his thankfulness that he has been called to bear the name of Christ and to suffer for it. The Authorised Version, adopting a different reading, has "on this behalf." But the sense is nothing different. He is to rejoice that this lot has befallen him, for it is of God's great mercy that we are purified here by trial; he who has not been tried has not entered on the way of salvation. "Let me fall into the hand of the Lord," was the petition of David; and they are more blessed who feel that hand in their correction than those who are cut away from it. It is a terrible lot to think of, if we be abandoned by Him to worldly prosperity. St. Paul congratulates the Philippians "because to them it had been granted, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer on His behalf" (Phil. i. 29); and to another Church (Eph. iii. 13) he declares that his own tribulations, endured for their sakes, ought to be to them a glory, because they made known how precious those believers were in the sight of their heavenly Father for whose sake He allowed another to be afflicted that they might be drawn more effectually unto Him. And if this be so, how much cause have they to bless and glorify God who may be permitted to think that He is using their afflictions for a like purpose.

For the time is come for judgement to begin at the house of God. The time is come. Why does the Apostle192 speak thus? Because the final era of Divine revelation has begun. God has spoken unto men by His Son, and He by His incarnation and death has brought life and immortality to light. The new and living way is opened. We live in the fulness of time, when the faithful, having the testimony of those who companied with Christ, can love Him, though they see Him not, can rejoice in Him, and can receive, with full assurance, the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls. Such souls have their judgement here. With them God's judgement is neither postponed, nor is it penal. It is disciplinary and corrective both for themselves and others. They are the house of God, the pillar and ground of the truth, and can be set forth as the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Of such judgement and its purpose St. Paul also speaks to the Corinthians: "When we" (the servants of Christ) "are judged" (by suffering in this life), "we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. xi. 32). All chastening while it lasts is grievous, yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby. And by such chastisement God prepares Him witnesses to the truth and preciousness of Christianity; and so long as this time, which is now come, shall continue, so long will God try, and make judgement of, His servants in every generation.

In St. Peter's words we have an echo of prophecy. When the hand of the Lord carried Ezekiel in vision back from Babylon to Jerusalem, he heard the voice of God commanding the destroyers, "Begin at My sanctuary" (Ezek. ix. 6). Yet in that evil age some were found who had been sighing and crying for all the abominations that were done in the midst of the city.193 These holy ones, living in a naughty world, were God's witnesses, feeling His judgements, but receiving His mark on their foreheads, that they should not be destroyed with the sinners. Years passed away, and at length the Lord of the Temple has Himself come. He began His judgement at the house of God, casting out all that defiled it. But it then had become a mere "house of merchandise"; nay, at a later day He named it "a den of thieves." At last He left it for ever. Then it ceased to be God's house, and though it was spared some forty years, its fate was fixed when He went forth from it (Matt. xxiv. 1, 2) and said that not one stone of it should be left upon another. Henceforth He will have other temples in the hearts of those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. These are now the house of God. With them He exercises judgement constantly for their instruction and amendment. But it shall turn unto them for a testimony in the end. Not a hair of their head shall perish; in their patience they shall win their souls.

And if it begin first at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God? The Apostle joins himself with those of the house of God who will feel the pressure of temporal judgement. He is not forgetful of the Lord's saying, "Simon, behold Satan asked to have you that he might sift you as wheat, but I made supplication for thee that thy faith fail not" (Luke xxii. 31). He knows that he will be tried, but the end to him and all the faithful is that they may be brought into the Father's home. To those who obey not the Gospel the doom pronounced against the Temple answers the Apostle's question. They have had their days of probation, and are like to Jerusalem at the time of the Lord's lamentation, "If thou hadst known in this day194 the things which belong unto peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes" (Luke xx. 42). They cannot be said to disobey a law of which they have not heard; the glad tidings have been preached unto them, but have found no welcome. As of the doomed city, so of them, it may be said, "Ye would not." After their hardness and their impenitent heart, they have treasured up for themselves wrath in the day of the revelation of the righteous judgement of God.

And if the righteous scarcely is saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? The righteous is he who follows after righteousness, but who feels that, in the midst of his efforts of faith, he needs to cry, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." It is of God's mercy that He accepts the aim and purpose of our lives, and counts not by their results. All men are beset with temptation; in many things we all offend. Works of righteousness bear the taint; they come many a time from wrong motives. The best of us need both the Father's chastisement, and, like Peter, the Saviour's prayers, and the Holy Spirit's guidance. This is what the Apostle means by "scarcely saved." By Divine help Christ's servants are brought nearer and nearer to the ideal, "Be ye holy." But though they live not in sin, sin lives in them; and the warfare with evil is not ended till the burden of the flesh is laid aside. And as there are degrees in the progress of the righteous up the hill of faith, so are there in the falling away of the wicked; and St. Peter in his language appears to have had this in mind, for of the ungodly and sinner he uses a verb in the singular (φανεῖται). Where shall he appear? The man begins as the ungodly, a negative character: he thinks not of God; has no reverence for His law; puts Him away from all his thoughts. But in this195 state he will not long remain. There is no standing still in things spiritual. He who does not advance goes backward, and the ungodly soon becomes the wilful sinner. So sure is this development that the Apostle combines the two aspects of the wicked man's life, and asks, not, Where shall they, but Where shall he, appear?

For the judgement which for the righteous begins at God's house, and is wrought out in the trials of this life, awaits the disobedient when life is ended. The Apostle leaves his solemn question unanswered; but at that day there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, only a fearful expectation of judgement. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God then. Hence the greater blessedness of those who are taken into God's hand of judgement now. And thus the Apostle comforts the sufferers.

Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator. Again St. Peter goes back in thought to the words of Christ, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" (Luke xxiii. 46); and on these he builds his final exhortation, which contains within it consolation in abundance. The test of the faithful is his perfect trust. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job xiii. 15), was the confession which marked Job as more righteous than his advisers. The Revised Version has varied the rendering of the final words in that passage in such wise as to explain how the trust is to be exhibited: "I will wait for Him"—wait, sure that the event will be for my comfort and His glory. This is the spirit which waxes strong in trial. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isa. xl. 31), says the prophet. "None that wait on the196 Lord shall be ashamed," is an oft-repeated testimony of the psalmists (Psalms xxv. 3; xxxvii. 34; lxix. 6); and one whose name is a synonym for suffering tells us, "The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him" (Lam. iii. 25). To such trust St. Peter here exhorts, bidding specially them that suffer to rest on the Lord. Though they be punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality, for the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, a trust which they repose in Him while they live here, a treasure guarded by Him in the world to come. St. Paul knows of the efficacy of this perfect trust, for he writes to Timothy, "We labour and strive," counting bodily suffering as nothing, "because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe" (1 Tim. iv. 10).

The Apostle links a holy life most closely with this trust in God. In well-doing commit your souls unto Him. No otherwise can His guardianship and aid be hoped for. But the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, and with Him to know is to watch over and help. Nor should men sorrow when they suffer according to God's will. Rather it is cause for gladness. For conscience must tell them that they need to be purged from much earthly dross which clings about them. So the fire of trial may be counted among blessings.

And with two words of exceeding comfort St. Peter strengthens the believers in their trust. God is faithful; His compassions fail not: they are new every morning. In moments of despair the sorrowing Christian may feel tempted to cry out, with the Psalmist, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath He in anger shut up His tender mercies?" (Psalm lxxvii. 10), but as he looks197 back on the path where God has led him he is convinced of the unwisdom of his questioning, and cries out, "This is my infirmity; I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High."

And this faithful God is our Creator. In the council of the Godhead it was said in the beginning, "Let us make man in our image." And God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, which made of him a living soul. From God's hand he came forth very good, but sin entered, and the Divine image has been blurred and defaced. Yet in mercy the same heavenly conclave planned the scheme for man's restoration to his first estate. The love which spake to Zion of old speaks through Christ to all mankind. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yea, she may forget; yet will I not forget thee" (Isa. xlix. 15). In the fulness of time God has sent His Son to take hold upon the sons of men, to wear their likeness, to live on earth and die for the souls which He has made. Trust, says the Apostle, in this almighty, unchanging love; trust God, your Father, your Creator. He will succour you against all assaults of evil; He will comfort and support you when it is His desire to prove you; He will crown you, with your Lord, when trials are no more.

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