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Fortitude and Circumspection; Advice to Suffering Christians. (a. d. 66.)
12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. 17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
The frequent repetition of counsel and comfort to Christians, considered as sufferers, in every chapter of this epistle, shows that the greatest danger these new converts were in arose from the persecutions to which their embracing Christianity exposed them. The good behaviour of Christians under sufferings is the most difficult part of their duty, but yet necessary both for the honour of Christ and their own comfort; and therefore the apostle, having extorted them in the former part of this chapter to the great duty of mortification, comes here to direct them in the necessary duty of patience under sufferings. An unmortified spirit is very unfit to bear trials. Observe,
I. The apostle's kind manner of address to these poor despised Christians: they were his beloved, v. 9.
II. His advice to them, relating to their sufferings, which is,
1. That they should not think them strange, nor be surprised at them, as if some unexpected event befel them; for,
(1.) Though they be sharp and fiery, yet they are designed only to try, not to ruin them, to try their sincerity, strength, patience, and trust in God. On the contrary, they ought rather to rejoice under their sufferings, because theirs may properly be called Christ's sufferings. They are of the same kind, and for the same cause, that Christ suffered; they make us conformable to him; he suffers in them, and feels in our infirmities; and, if we be partakers of his sufferings, we shall also be make partakers of his glory, and shall meet him with exceeding joy at his great appearing to judge his enemies, and crown his faithful servants, 2 Thess. i. 7, &c. Learn, [1.] True Christians love and own the children of God in their lowest and most distressing circumstances. The apostle owns these poor afflicted Christians, and calls them his beloved. True Christians never look more amiable one to another than in their adversities. [2.] There is no reason for Christians to think strange, or to wonder, at the unkindnesses and persecutions of the world, because they are forewarned of them. Christ himself endured them; and forsaking all, denying ourselves, are the terms upon which Christ accepts of us to be his disciples. [3.] Christians ought not only to be patient, but to rejoice, in their sharpest sorest sufferings for Christ, because they are tokens of divine favour; they promote the gospel and prepare for glory. Those who rejoice in their sufferings for Christ shall eternally triumph and rejoice with him in glory.
(2.) From the fiery trial the apostle descends to a lower degree of persecution—that of the tongue by slander and reproach, v. 14. He supposes that this sort of suffering would fall to their lot: they would be reviled, evil-spoken of, and slandered for the name or sake of Christ. In such case he asserts, Happy are you, the reason of which is, "Because you have the spirit of God with you, to fortify and comfort you; and the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of glory, that will carry you through all, bring you off gloriously, and prepare and seal you up for eternal glory. This glorious Spirit resteth upon you, resideth with you, dwelleth in you, supporteth you, and is pleased with you; and is not this an unspeakable privilege? By your patience and fortitude in suffering, by your dependence upon the promises of God, and adhering to the word which the Holy Spirit hath revealed, he is on your part glorified; but by the contempt and reproaches cast upon you the Spirit itself is evil-spoken of and blasphemed." Learn, [1.] The best men and the best things usually meet with reproaches in the world. Jesus Christ and his followers, the Spirit of God and the gospel, are all evil-spoken of. [2.] The happiness of good people not only consists with, but even flows from their afflictions: Happy are you. [3.] That man who hath the Spirit of God resting upon him cannot be miserable, let his afflictions be ever so great: Happy are you; for the Spirit of God, &c. [4.] The blasphemies and reproaches which evil men cast upon good people are taken by the Spirit of God as cast upon himself: On their part he is evil-spoken of. [5.] When good people are vilified for the name of Christ his Holy Spirit is glorified in them.
2. That they should take care they did not suffer justly, as evil-doers, v. 15. One would think such a caution as this needless to such an excellent set of Christians as these were. But their enemies charged them with these and other foul crimes: therefore the apostle, when he was settling the rules of the Christian religion, thought these cautions necessary, forbidding every one of them to hurt the life or the estate and property of any one, or to do any sort of evil, or, without call and necessity, to play the bishop in another man's charge, or busy himself in other men's matters. To this caution he adds a direction, that if any man suffer for the cause of Christianity, and with a patient Christian spirit, he ought not to account it a shame, but an honour to him; and ought to glorify God who hath thus dignified him, v. 16. Learn, (1.) The best of men need to be warned against the worst of sins. (2.) There is very little comfort in sufferings when we bring them upon ourselves by our own sin and folly. It is not the suffering, but the cause, that makes the martyr. (3.) We have reason to thank God for the honour if he calls us out to suffer for his truth and gospel, for our adherence to any of the doctrines or duties of Christianity.
3. That their trials were now at hand, and they should stand prepared accordingly, v. 17, 18.
(1.) He tells them that the time had come when judgment must begin at the house of God. The usual method of Providence has been this: When God brings great calamities and sore judgments upon whole nations, he generally begins with his own people, Isa. x. 12; Jer. xxv. 29; Ezek. ix. 6. "Such a time of universal calamity is now at hand, which was foretold by our Saviour, Matt. xxiv. 9, 10. This renders all the foregoing exhortations to patience necessary for you. And you have two considerations to support you." [1.] "That these judgments will but begin with you that are God's house and family, and will soon be over: your trials and corrections will not last long." [2.] "Your troubles will be but light and short, in comparison of what shall befal the wicked world, your own countrymen the Jews, and the infidels and idolatrous people among whom you live: What shall the end be of those who obey not the gospel of God?" Learn, First, The best of God's servants, his own household, have so much amiss in them as renders it fit and necessary that God should sometimes correct and punish them with his judgments: Judgment begins at the house of God. Secondly, Those who are the family of God have their worst things in this life. Their worst condition is tolerable, and will soon be over. Thirdly, Such persons or societies of men as disobey the gospel of God are not of his church and household, though possibly they may make the loudest pretensions. The apostle distinguishes the disobedient from the house of God. Fourthly, The sufferings of good people in this life are demonstrations of the unspeakable torments that are coming upon the disobedient and unbelieving: What shall the end be of those that obey not the gospel? Who can express or say how dreadful their end will be?
(2.) He intimates the irremediable doom of the wicked: If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear, v. 18. This whole verse is taken from Prov. xi. 31, Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; how much more the wicked and the sinner? This the LXX. translates exactly as the apostle here quotes it. Hence we may learn, [1.] The grievous sufferings of good people in this world are sad presages of much heavier judgments coming upon impenitent sinners. But, if we take the salvation here in the highest sense, then we may learn, [2.] It is as much as the best can do to secure the salvation of their souls; there are so many sufferings, temptations, and difficulties to be overcome, so many sins to be mortified, the gate is so strait and the way so narrow, that it is as much as the righteous can do to be saved. Let the absolute necessity of salvation balance the difficulty of it. Consider, Your difficulties are greatest at first; God offers his grace and help; the contest will not last long; be but faithful to the death, and God will give you the crown of life, Rev. ii. 10. [3.] The ungodly and the sinner are unquestionably in a state of damnation. Where shall they appear? How will they stand before their Judge? Where can they show their heads? If the righteous scarcely be saved, the wicked must certainly perish.
4. That when called to suffer, according to the will of God, they should look chiefly to the safety of their souls, which are put into hazard by affliction, and cannot be kept secure otherwise than by committing them to God, who will undertake the charge, if we commit them to him in well-doing; for he is their Creator, and has out of mere grace made many kind promises to them of eternal salvation, in which he will show himself faithful and true, v. 19. Learn, (1.) All the sufferings that befal good people come upon them according to the will of God. (2.) It is the duty of Christians, in all their distresses, to look more to the keeping of their souls than to the preserving of their bodies. The soul is of greatest value, and yet in most danger. If suffering from without raise uneasiness, vexation, and other sinful and tormenting passions within, the soul is then the greatest sufferer. If the soul be not well kept, persecution will drive people to apostasy, Ps. cxxv. 3. (3.) The only way to keep the soul well is to commit it to God, in well-doing. Commit your souls to God by solemn dedication, prayer, and patient perseverance in well-doing, Rom. ii. 7. (4.) Good people, when they are in affliction, have great encouragement to commit their souls to God, because he is their Creator, and faithful in all his promises.