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II

THE HEAVENLY INHERITANCE

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy begat us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, ye have been put to grief in manifold temptations, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth, though it is proved by fire, might be found unto praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ: whom not having seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls."—1 Peter i. 3-9.

"Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh," words true of all this letter, but of no part more true than of the thanksgiving with which it opens. The Apostle recalls those dark three days in which the life he bore was worse than death. His vaunted fidelity had been put to the proof, and had failed in the trial; his denial had barred the approach to the Master whom he had disowned. The crucifixion of Jesus had followed close upon His arrest, and Peter's bitter tears of penitence could avail nothing. He to whom they might have appealed was lying in the grave. The Apostle's repentant weeping saved him from a Judas-like despair, but dreary must have18 been the desolation of his soul until the Easter morning's message told him that Jesus was alive again.

We can understand the fervency of his thanksgiving: Blessed be God, which hath begotten us again by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. No better image than the gift of a new life could he find to describe the restoration that came with the words of the angel from the empty tomb, "He is risen; go your way: tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee." The Lord forgave His sinning, sorrowing servant, and through this forgiveness he lived again, and bears printed for ever on his heart the memory of that life-giving. The very form of his phrase in this verse is an echo from the resurrection morning: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Only in a few passages resembling this in St. Paul's epistles11   2 Cor. i. 3, xi. 31; Eph. i. 3, with which may be compared Rom. xvi. 6. is God called "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ." But Peter is mindful of the Lord's own words to Mary, "Go unto My brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God" (John xx. 17); and now that he is made one of Christ's heralds, the feeder of His sheep, he publishes the same message which was the source of his own highest joy, and which he would make a joy for them likewise. That God is called theirs, even as He is Christ's, is an earnest that Jesus has made them His brethren indeed. To the doctrine of their election according to the foreknowledge of the Father he now adds the further grace which couples the Fatherhood of God with the brotherhood of Christ.

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That these gifts are purely of God's grace he also implies: He begat us again. Just as in natural birth the child is utterly of the will of the parents, so is it in the spiritual new birth. According to God's great mercy we are born again and made heirs of all the consequent blessings. This passage from death unto life is rich, in the first place, in immediate comfort. Witness the rejoicing amidst his grief which St. Peter experienced when he could cry to the Master, "Lord, Thou knowest all things: Thou knowest that I love Thee." But the new life looks for ever onward. It will be unbroken through eternity. Here we may taste the joy of our calling, may learn something of the Father's love, of the Saviour's grace, of the Spirit's help; but our best expectations centre ever in the future. The Apostle terms these expectations a lively, or rather a living, hope. The Christian's hope is living because Christ is alive again from the dead. It springs with ever-renewed life from that rent tomb. The grave is no longer a terminus. Life and hope endure beyond it. And more than this, there is a fresh principle of vitality infused into the soul of the new-born child of God. The Spirit, the Life-giver, has made His abode there; and death is swallowed up of victory.

In continuing his description of the living hope of the believer, the Apostle keeps in mind his simile of Fatherhood and sonship, and gives to the hope the further title of an inheritance. As sons of Adam, men are heirs from their birth, but only to the sad consequences of the primal transgression. Slaves they are, and not free men, as that other law in their members gives them daily proof. But in the resurrection of Jesus the agonised cry of St. Paul, "Who shall deliver me?" (Rom. vii. 24), has found its answer. Christians20 are begotten again, not to defeat and despair, but to a hope which is eternal, to an inheritance which will endure beyond the grave. And as in their spiritual growth they are ever aspiring to an ideal above and beyond them, in respect of the saintly inheritance they have a like experience. They begin to grasp it now in part, and have even here a precious earnest of the larger blessedness; they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise and marked as the redeemed of God's own possession (Eph. i. 13, 14). But that which shall be is rich with an exceeding wealth of glory; Christ keeps the good wine of His grace to the last.

How beggared earthly speech appears when we essay by it to picture the glory that shall be revealed for us! The inheritance of the Christian's hope demands for its description those unspeakable words which St. Paul heard in paradise, but could not utter. The tongues of men are constrained to fall back upon negatives. What it will be we cannot express. We only know some evils from which it will be free. It shall be incorruptible, like the God and Father (Rom. i. 23) who bestows it. Eternal, it shall contain within it no seed of decay, nothing which can cause it to perish. Neither shall it be subject to injury from without. It shall be undefiled, for we are to share it with our elder Brother, our High-priest (Heb. vii. 26), who is now made higher than the heavens. Earthly possessions are often sullied, now by the way they are attained, now by the way they are used. Neither spot nor blemish shall tarnish the beauty of the heavenly inheritance. It shall never fade away. It is amaranthine, like the crown of glory (1 Peter v. 4) which the chief Shepherd shall bestow at His appearing; it is as the unwithering flowers of paradise.

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Nor are these the only things which make the heavenly to differ from the earthly inheritance. In this life, ere a son can succeed to heirship, the parent through whom it is derived must have passed away; while the many heirs to an earthly estate diminish, as their number increases, the shares of all the rest. From such conditions the Christian's future is free. His Father is the Eternal God, his inheritance the inexhaustible bounty of heaven. Each and all who share therein will find an increase of joy as the number grows of those who claim this eternal Fatherhood, and with it a place in the Father's home.

St. Peter adds another feature which gives further assurance to the believer's hope. The inheritance is reserved. Concerning it there can be no thought of dwindling or decay. It is where neither rust nor moth can corrupt, and where not even the archthief Satan himself can break through to steal. There needs no preservation of the incorruptible and undefiled, but it is especially kept for those for whom it is prepared. He who has gone before to make it ready said, "I go to prepare it for you." The Apostle has made choice of his preposition advisedly. He says, ἐις ὑμᾶς22   The better reading, looking back to the ἡμᾶς of ver. 3, appears to be εἰς ἡμᾶς, and it is well supported.—on your behalf; for your own possession. The inheritance is where Christ has gone before us, in heaven, of which we can best think, as Himself hath taught us, as the place "where He was before" (John vi. 62), the Father's house, in which are many mansions. There it is in store, till we are made ready for it.

For the present life is only a preparation-time. Ere we are ready to depart we must pass through a probation.22 God suffers His beloved ones to be chastened, but He sends with the trial the means of rescue. They are guarded. The word which St. Peter here uses is one applicable to a military guard, such as would be needed in the country of an enemy. God sees what we stand in need of. For we are still in the territory of the prince of this world. But mark the abundant protection: by the power of God through faith. The Apostle's language sets our guardianship forth under a double aspect. The Christian is "in" (ἐν) "the power of God." Here is the strength of our wardship. Under such care the believer is enabled to walk amid the trials of the world unscathed. Yet the Divine shield around him is not made effective unless he do his part also. Through faith the shelter becomes impregnable. The Christian goes forward with full assurance, his eyes fixed on the goal of duty which his Master has set before him, and, heedless of assailants, perseveres in the struggles which beset him. Then, even in the fiercest fires of trial, he beholds by his side the Son of God, and hears the voice, "It is I; be not afraid."

Thus to the faithful warfarer the victory is sure. And to this certainty St. Peter points as he continues, and calls the heavenly inheritance a salvation. This will be the consummation. "Sursum corda" is the believer's constant watchword. The completed bliss will not be attained here. But when the veil is lifted which separates this life from the next, it is ready to be manifested and to ravish the sight with its glory. The sense of this salvation ready to be revealed nerves the heart for every conflict. By faith weakness grows mighty. Thus comes to pass the paradox of the Christian life, which none but the faithful can comprehend: "When I am weak, then I am strong";23 "I can do all things through Christ, that giveth me power."

Hence comes the wondrous spectacle, which St. Peter was contemplating, and which amazed the heathen world, exceeding joy in the midst of sufferings. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, he says. Some have thought him to be referring to a mental realisation of the last time, about which he has just spoken, a realisation so vivid to the faith of these converts that they could exult in the prospect as though it had already arrived. And this exposition is countenanced in some degree by words which follow (ver. 9), where he describes them as now receiving the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.

But it seems less forced to consider the Apostle as speaking with some knowledge of the circumstances of these Asian Christians, a knowledge of the trials they had to undergo, and how hope was animating them to look onwards towards their inheritance, which was but a little while in reversion, towards the salvation which was so soon to be revealed. Full of this hope, he says, ye greatly rejoice, though ye have had many things to suffer. Then he proceeds to dwell on some of the grounds for their consolation. Their trials, they knew, were but for a little while, not a moment longer than the need should be. Their sorrow would have an end; their joy would last for evermore.

The form of St. Peter's words,33   Ἐι δέον ἐστί—if need be, as need there is. it is true, seems to imply that there must always be the need for our chastening. And what else can the children of Adam expect? But it is He, the Father in heaven, who fixes both the nature and the duration of His children's discipline.24 Some men have felt within themselves the need of chastisement so keenly that they have devised systems for themselves whereby they should mortify the flesh, and prepare themselves for the last time. But of self-appointed chastenings the Apostle does not speak. Of such the converts to whom he writes had no need. They had been put to grief in manifold temptations.

We can gather from the Epistle itself some notion of the troublous life these scattered Christians had amid the crowd of their heathen neighbours. They were regarded with contempt for refusing to mingle in the excesses which were so marked a feature of heathen life and heathen worship. They were railed upon as evil-doers. They suffered innocently, were constantly assailed with threatenings, and passed their time oft in such terror that St. Peter describes their life as a fiery trial.

Yet in the word (ποικίλος) which he here employs to picture the varied character of their sufferings we seem to have another hint that these did not fall out without the permission and watchful control of God Himself. It is a word which, while it tells of a countless variety, tells at the same time of fitness and order therein. The trials are meted out fitly, as men need and can profit by them. The Master's eye and hand are at work through them all; and the faithful God keeps always ready a way of deliverance. In this wise does St. Peter proclaim that the putting to grief may be made unto us a dispensation of mercy. Himself had been so put to grief by the thrice-repeated question, "Lovest thou Me?" (John xxi. 17). But a way was opened thereby for repentance of his triple denial, and that he might thrice over be entrusted with the feeding of Christ's flock. Such was the putting to grief of the25 Corinthian Church (2 Cor. vii. 9) by St. Paul's first letter, for it wrought in them repentance, so that they sorrowed after a godly sort. And such sorrow can exist side by side with, yea be the source of, exceeding joy. The Apostle of the Gentiles is a witness when he says that he and his fellow-labourers are "sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing" (2 Cor. vi. 10).

The Christian does not allow troubles to overwhelm him. The very comparison which St. Peter here institutes, speaking though it does of a furnace of trial, bears within it somewhat of consolation. Gold that is proved by the fire loses all the dross which clung about it and was mingled with it before the refining. It comes forth in all its purity, all its worth; and so shall it be with the believer after his probation. The things of earth will lose their value in his eyes; they will fall away from him, neither will he load himself with the thick clay of the world's honours or wealth. The ties of such things have been sundered by his trials, and his heart is free to rise above the anxieties of time. And better even than the most refined gold, which, be it never so excellent, will yet be worn away, the faith of the believer comes forth stronger for all trial, and he shall hear at the last the welcome of the Master, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," the joy which He bestows, the joy which He shares with those that follow Him.

This is the revelation of Jesus Christ of which St. Peter speaks. This is the praise which through His atonement His servants shall find, and shall become sharers of the glory and honour which the Father has bestowed upon Him. To Christ then turns every affection. Whom not having seen ye love. This is the test since Christ's ascension, and has the promise of26 special blessing. To His doubting Apostle Christ vouchsafed the evidence he desired, for our teaching as well as for his; but He added therewith, "Blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed." And their joy is such as no tongue can tell. Not for that are they silent in their rejoicing; their hearts overflow, and their voices go forth in constant songs of praise. But ever there remains with them the sense, "The half has not been told."

For faith anticipates the bliss which God hath prepared for them that love Him, and enters into the unseen. The Holy Spirit within the soul is ever making fuller revelation of the deep things of God. The believer's knowledge is ever increasing; the eye-salve of faith clears his spiritual vision. The thanksgivings of yesterday are poor when considered in the illumination of to-day. His joy also is glorified. As his aspirations soar heavenward, the glory from on high comes forth, as it were, to meet him. By gazing in faith on the coming Lord, the Christian progresses, through the power of the Spirit, from glory to glory; and the ever-growing radiance is a part of that grace which no words can tell. But so true, so real, is the sense of Christ's presence that the Apostle describes it as full fruition. Believers receive even now the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls. So assured does He make them of all which they have hoped for that they behold already the termination of their journey, the close of all trial, and are filled with the bliss which shall be fully theirs when Christ shall come to call His approved servants to their inheritance of salvation.


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