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223

XVIII

THROUGH PERILS TO VICTORY

"Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom withstand steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. And the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you. To Him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

"By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God: stand ye fast therein. She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son. Salute one another with a kiss of love.

"Peace be unto you all that are in Christ."—1 Peter v. 8-14.

Not only had these Asian Christians to suffer from the opposition and calumnies of the heathen and from the estrangement of former friends: there were perils within the Churches themselves. There were weak brethren, who fell away when trials came, and infected others with their despondency; there were false brethren, with whom faith was a mere consent of the understanding, and not the spring of a holy, spiritual life. These spake of the liberty of Christ as though it were an emancipation from all moral restraints. Such dangers asked for firmness both in the elders and their hearers. To withstand them there must be a constant growth in Christian experience,224 whereby the faithful might wax steadfast, and attain to the strength and stature of the fulness of Christ. These dangers became more manifest before St. Peter wrote his second letter, where we find them described in dark colours.

Here to the converts, exposed to the assaults of these temptations, he enjoins the same well-ordered frame of mind which before (i. 13) he commended to them as they looked forward to the hope in store for them, and also (iv. 7) in their prayers, that their petitions might be such as suited with the approaching end of all things. Be sober, he says again, and combines therewith an exhortation which without sobriety is impossible: Be watchful. If the mind be unbalanced, there can be no keeping of a true guard against such dangers as were around these struggling believers. And it is impossible not to connect such an exhortation from his lips with those words of Christ, which one Evangelist says were expressly addressed to St. Peter, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation" (Mark xiv. 37, 38). He who had received this admonition was conscious that, as in his own case, so with these his converts, the spirit might be willing, but the flesh was weak, and the enemy mighty.

Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. In the days of Job, when God asked of Satan, "Whence comest thou?" his answer was, "From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it" (Job i. 7). Of this Old Testament language the Apostle here makes partial use in his description of the enemy of mankind. He walketh about in the earth, which is his province, for he is called the prince of this world (John xii. 31) and the god of this world (2 Cor. iv. 4). And the Greek225 word ἀντίδικος, "adversary," which St. Peter uses as a translation of the Hebrew "Satan," is well chosen, for it describes not an ordinary enemy, but one who acts as an opponent would in a court of law. Such was Satan from the first, an accuser. In Job's case he accused the Patriarch to his God: "Doth Job serve God for nought?" "Put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, or touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face." In earlier days he appears as the accuser of God Himself: "Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. iii. 4, 5). And with such-like suggestions he assails the faithful continually, speaking either to their unguarded hearts, or by the words of his servants, of whom he has no lack. St. Paul dreaded his power for the Thessalonian converts: "I sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain" (1 Thess. iii. 5). And St. Peter's words are dictated by the same fear; he has the same wish to keep the flock steadfast in their faith. To them Satan's whisperings would be after this sort: "You are forgotten of God"; "Love could never leave you so long in trial." Or his agents would say in scorn, "How can you talk of freedom, when your life is one long torment? What is the profit of faith, when it gives you no liberty?" And such questions are perilous to feeble minds. The Apostle marks the great danger by a comparison which Ezekiel (xxii. 25) had used before him, speaking of the tempter as a roaring lion, ever hungry for his prey. There is but one weapon which can vanquish him. "This is the victory that226 hath overcome the world, even our faith" (1 John v. 4). St. Peter's lesson is the same as St. John's.

Whom withstand steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world. The steadfast faith must be the firm foundation of God; and the same thoughts, which St. Paul commends as a correction of those who have erred concerning the truth, are those most fit to be urged upon St. Peter's converts to render them steadfast. "The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2 Tim. ii. 19), and with the Lord to know is to care for and to save. And "let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness." This is the perfect law, the law of true liberty, and he who continueth therein, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, shall be blessed in his doing. Thus resting on God and thus ruling himself, he shall be kept from the snares of the enemy, and having withstood in the evil day, shall still be made able to stand.

And to such steadfastness the brethren are to be moved by the knowledge that others are in the same affliction. How shall such knowledge minister support? The mere knowledge that others bear a like burden does not strengthen our own shoulders; to hear of others' pains will not relieve our own. Not so. But just as it is a power in warfare when men see their leader before them, facing the same perils, hear his voice cheering them by his courage, inspiring them with his hope; just as it is a support to brave men to find brave brethren at their side in the conflict, animated by the same spirit, marching forward to the same victory, so is it in the Christian struggle. All Christians are to be steadfast, the elders like the leaders of227 an army, the younger like the soldiers who follow, that, moving with one spirit against the foe, feeling that each is like-minded with all the rest, while all are equally conscious of the importance of victory, they may grasp hands as they go forward, and be heartened thereby, being sure that in the danger they will have helpers at their side.

And that he may give the more emphasis to this idea of unity, in which, though the suffering is common to all, yet the hope is also common, and the victory is promised to all, the Apostle does not speak of the converts as a multitude of brethren, but uses a noun in the singular number, naming them (as the margin of the Revised Version indicates) "a brotherhood" (ἀδελφότης). And when they regarded themselves as "a brotherhood in the world," the thought would have its comforting as well as its painful aspect. The world, as Scripture speaks of it, is void of faith. Hence the believer, while he lives in it, is amid jarring surroundings, and is sure to suffer. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." But it is not to last for ever, nor for long. "The world passeth away, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." And though the brotherhood in the world must suffer, yet there is that other brotherhood beyond; and there the suffering will not be remembered for the glory that shall be revealed in us.

And the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you. Being now about to sum up the great work of Christian advancement, in which from first to last the power is bestowed by God, St. Peter finds no title more fitting to express the Divine love than "the God of all grace."228 The invitation to become partakers of the glory which Christ has won by His sufferings, won that He may bestow it upon men, was God's free call. Our sufferings, the discipline which the Father employs to purge and purify us, are to last but a little while. Then those whom He has called He will also justify, and those whom He justifies He will in the end glorify. Thus St. Paul (Rom. viii. 30) describes the operations of Divine grace. St. Peter, with the same lesson, uses words more after his own graphic manner. He gives us a picture of God's work in its several stages. First God will complete in all its parts the work which He has begun. He will make it so that He can pronounce it very good, as He did when the worlds were perfected in the first creation (Heb. xi. 3), making His people to be so perfected that they may be as their Master (Luke vi. 40). Then He will sustain and support that which He has brought to its best estate. There shall not be, as in the first creation, any falling away. New gifts shall be bestowed by the Holy Spirit, through the ministration of the word. It was for such a purpose that St. Paul longed to visit the Roman Church, that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established. And what has been perfected and established shall also by the same grace be made strong, that it may endure and withstand all assaults.

In many ancient texts a fourth verb is given, which the Authorised Version renders "settle." It signifies "to set on a firm foundation," and it is of the figurative character which marks St. Peter's language, and, beside this, is not uncommon in the New Testament (Matt. vii. 25; Luke vi. 48; Heb. i. 10, etc.). But the verbs immediately preceding have no direct reference to a229 building, and the addition arises probably from a marginal note, made to illustrate the text and by some later scribe incorporated with it. The whole passage brings to mind Christ's injunction to the Apostle, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."

To Him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. A fitting doxology to follow the Apostle's enumeration of the riches of Divine grace. He who feels that every gift he has is from above will with ready thankfulness welcome God's rule, and seek to submit himself thereto, making it the law of his life here, as he hopes it will be hereafter.

By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly. Silvanus was that Silas who accompanied St. Paul in his second missionary journey through the districts of Phrygia and Galatia (Acts xvi. 6), to which St. Peter addresses his letter. To send it by the hand of one known and esteemed among these Churches for his former labours and for his friendship with the great Apostle of the Gentiles would secure acceptance for it, while the bearer would testify to the unity of the doctrine preached by the two Apostles. He who had been a faithful brother to St. Paul was so also to St. Peter, and was by him commended to the Churches. For the expression, I account him, implies no doubt or question in the Apostle's own mind. It is the utterance of a matured opinion. The verb (λογίζομαι) is that which St. Paul uses: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. viii. 18). To St. Paul something of the future glory had been shown, and he had felt abundance of present suffering. He had taken account of both sides, and could speak with certainty.230 The brevity of St. Peter's letter could be supplemented by the words of his messenger. For Silas himself was a prophet (Acts xv. 32), and fitted to exhort and confirm the brethren.

Exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God: stand ye fast therein. The grace in its several stages has just been summarised: the calling, the perfecting, stablishing, strengthening; and the whole letter is occupied in showing that at every advance God puts His servants to the test. But the Apostle knows that agents of the adversary are busily scattering the tares of doubt and disbelief where God had sown His good seed. The wrestling is not against flesh and blood alone, but against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness. Hence the form of his exhortation: Stand fast.

She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son. Salute one another with a kiss of love. It is most natural to refer these words to a Church, and not to any individual. Some have interpreted them as an allusion to St. Peter's wife, whom, as we know from St. Paul (1 Cor. ix. 5), he sometimes had as a companion in his travels. But there is a degree of inappropriateness in speaking of a single person as elect along with these various Churches of Asia, whereas the Church in Babylon might fitly have such a distinction. It is unnecessary, too, to explain Babylon (as some have done) as intended for Rome. There was no conceivable reason in St. Peter's day why, when he was writing to lands under Roman dominion, if he meant to speak of the city in Italy, he should not call it by its real name. The Mark here named was most probably the John whose surname was Mark (Acts xii. 12), whose mother231 was a friend of St. Peter's from the earliest days of his apostolic labours. He, too, had been a companion of St. Paul for a time, and made another link between the two great Apostles. St. Peter calls him "son" because it is likely that both the mother and her son were won to the new teaching by him, and he employs the term of affection just as St. Paul does of Timothy, his convert (1 Tim. i. 2, 18; 2 Tim. i. 2). The salutation by a kiss is frequently mentioned. It is called "a holy kiss" (Rom. xvi. 16; 1 Cor. xvi. 20; 2 Cor. xiii. 12; 1 Thess. v. 26) in St. Paul's language. We find from Justin Martyr1212   Apol. i. 65. that it had come to be used in his day as part of the ceremonial preceding the Holy Communion. It was to be a token of perfect love, according to the name which St. Peter here gives it. An evil construction was soon put upon it by the enemies of the faith; and after a long history it fell into disuse, even in the East, where such manner of salutation is more common than in the West. In his final words the Apostle has embodied the benediction of which the kiss was meant to be the symbol.

Peace be unto you all that are in Christ. This is the bond which unites believers into one fellowship. To be in Christ is to be of the brotherhood which has been so significantly marked just before for its unity. And in these last clauses we have examples of the force of the tie. Individuals are brought by it into close communion, as Peter himself with Silas and with Mark, whom he speaks of in terms of family love. To the Churches Silas is commended as a brother in the faith, which faith establishes a bond of strength between the distant Churches which have been called into it232 together. Well might the heathen, wonderstruck, exclaim, "See how these Christians love one another!" And the Apostle's own words mark the all-embracing character of the love: all that are in Christ. They are all brethren, children of the common Father, inheritors of the same promises, pilgrims on the same journey, sustained by the same hope, servants of the same Lord, and strengthened, guided, and enlightened by the one Spirit, who is promised to abide with Christ's Church for ever.


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