Practical Commentary on 1 Peter
By Robert Leighton, 1611–1684
Chapter One, verses 1 through 4
Verse 1. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
The grace of God in the heart of man is a tender plant in a strange unkindly soil; and therefore cannot well prosper and grow, without much care and pains, and that of a skillful hand, and one who has the art of cherishing it: for this reason God has given the constant ministry of the word to His Church, not only for the first work of conversion, but also for confirming and increasing His grace in the hearts of His children. And though the extraordinary ministers of the Gospel, the Apostles, had principally the former for their charge—the converting of unbelievers, Jews and Gentiles, and so the planting of Churches, to be after kept, and watered by others (as the Apostle intimates, 1 Cor. 3:6); yet they did not neglect the other work of strengthening the grace of God begun in the new converts of those times, both by revisiting them, and exhorting them in person, as they could, and by the supply of their writing to them when absent. And the benefit of this extends, (not by accident, but by the purpose and good providence of God,) to the Church of God in all succeeding ages.
This excellent Epistle (full of Evangelical doctrine and Apostolic authority) is a brief, and yet very clear summary both of the consolations and instructions necessary for the encouragement and direction of a Christian on his journey to Heaven; elevating his thoughts and desires to that happiness, and strengthening him against all opposition along the way--both that of corruption within, and temptations and afflictions from without. The heads of doctrine contained in it are many, but the main that are most insisted on, are these three, faith, obedience, and patience; to establish them in believing, to direct them in doing, and to comfort them in suffering.
And because the first is the groundwork and support of the other two, this first chapter is much occupied with persuading them of the truth of that mystery which they had received and did believe, namely, their redemption and salvation by Christ Jesus; that inheritance of immortality bought by His blood for them, and the evidence and stability of their right and title to it. And then he uses this belief, this assurance of the glory to come, as the great persuasive to the other two, both to holy obedience, and constant patience, since nothing can be too much either to forego or undergo, either to do or to suffer, for the attainment of that blessed state. And as from the consideration of that object and matter of the hope of believers, he encourages to patience, and exhorts to holiness in this chapter in general; so in the following chapters, he expresses more particularly both the universal and special duties of Christians, both in doing and suffering; often setting before those to whom he wrote the matchless example of the Lord Jesus and the greatness of their engagement to follow Him.
In the first two verses we have the inscription and salutation, in the usual style of the Apostolic Epistles. The Inscription has the author and the address— from whom, and to whom. The author of this Epistle is designated by his name—Peter; and his calling— an Apostle. We shall not insist upon his name, that it was imposed by Christ, or what is its signification: this the Evangelists teach us. By that which is spoken of him in various passages of the Gospel, he is very remarkable among the Apostles, both for his graces and his failings; eminent in zeal and courage, and yet stumbling often in his forwardness, and once grossly falling; and these, by the providence of God being recorded in Scripture, give a check to the excess of Rome’s conceit concerning this Apostle. Their extolling and exalting him above the rest, is not for his cause, much less to the honor of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ, for He is injured and dishonored by it; but it is in favor of themselves. As Alexander distinguished his two friends, that the one was a friend of Alexander, the other a friend of the king, the preferment which they give this Apostle is not in good-will to Peter, but in the desire of primacy. But whatever he was they would be much in pain to prove Rome’s right to it by succession. And if ever it had any such right, we may confidently say they have forfeited it long ago, by departing from Peter’s footsteps, and from his faith, and retaining too much those things wherein he was faulty; namely— His unwillingness to hear of, and consent to, Christ’s sufferings—his Master, spare yourself, or Be it far from you—in those they are like him; for thus they would unburden and exempt the Church from the cross, from the real cross of afflictions, and instead of that, have nothing but painted, or carved, or gilded crosses; these they are content to embrace, and worship too, but cannot endure to hear of the other.
Instead of the cross of affliction, they make the crown or miter the badge of their Church, and will have it known by prosperity, and outward pomp; and so turn the Church militant into the Church triumphant, not considering that it is Babylon’s voice, not the Church’s, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
Again, they are like him in his saying on the mount at Christ’s transfiguration, when he knew not what he said, It is good for us to be here: so they have little of the true glory of Christ, but the false glory of that monarchy on their seven hills: It is good to be here, they say. Again, in their undue striking with the sword, not the enemies, as he, but the faithful friends and servants of Jesus Christ. But to proceed.
We see here Peter’s office or title—an apostle; not chief bishop. Some in their glossing have been so impudent as to add that besides the text; though in chapter 5, verse 4, he gives that title to Christ alone, and to himself only fellow elder; and here, not prince of the apostles, but an apostle, restored and reestablished after his fall, by repentance, and by Christ Himself, after His own death and resurrection.
Thus we have in our Apostle a singular instance of human frailty on the one side, and of the sweetness of Divine grace on the other. Free and rich grace it is indeed, which forgives and swallows up multitudes of sins, of greatest sins; not only sins before conversion, as to Paul, but foul offenses committed after conversion, as to David. And not only once raising them from their sin, but when they fall, stretching out the same hand, and raising them again, and restoring them to their station, and comforting them in it by His free Spirit, as David prays. Not only to cleanse polluted clay, but to work it into vessels of honor; not only so, but of the most defiled shape to make the most refined vessels; not vessels of honor of the lowest sort, but for the highest and most honorable services; vessels to bear His own precious name to the nations; making the most unworthy and the most unfit, fit by His grace to be His messengers.
Of Jesus Christ. Both as the beginning and end of his Apostleship, as Christ is called Alpha and Omega; chosen and called by Him, and called to this—to preach Him, and salvation wrought by Him. Sent by Him, and the message no other than His Name, to make that known. And what this Apostleship was then, after some extraordinary way, befitting these first times of the Gospel, that the ministry of the word in ordinary is now; and therefore an employment of more difficulty and excellence than is usually conceived by many, not only of those who look upon it, but even of those who are exercised in it—to be Ambassadors for the Greatest of Kings, and upon no small employment--that great treaty of peace and reconciliation between Him and mankind.
This epistle is directed to God's elect, who are described here by their temporal and by their spiritual conditions. The first has very much dignity and comfort in it; but the other has neither, but rather the contrary of both; and therefore the Apostle, intending their comfort, mentions the one but in passing, to signify to whom particularly he sent his Epistle; but the other is that which he would have their thoughts dwell upon, and therefore he prosecutes it in his following discourse. And if we look to the order of the words in the original, their temporal condition is but interjected; for it is said, To the God's elect, first, and then, To the strangers scattered, &c. and he would have this as it were drowned in the other—chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.
That those dispersed strangers who dwelt in the countries here named, were Jews, appears if we look to the foregoing Epistle, where the same word is used, and expressly appropriated to the Jews. Peter, in Gal. 2:8, is called an apostle of the circumcision, as exercising his Apostleship most towards them; and there is in some passages of this Epistle, somewhat which, though belonging to all Christians, yet has, in the strain and way of expression, a particular fitness to the believing Jews, as being particularly verified in them, which was spoken of their nation. Some argue from the name "strangers," that the Gentiles are here meant, which seems not to be; for proselyte Gentiles were indeed called strangers in Jerusalem, and by the Jews; but were not the Jews strangers in these places, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. Not strangers dwelling together in a prosperous, flourishing condition, as a well planted colony, but strangers of the dispersion, scattered to and fro. Their dispersion was partly, first by the Assyrian captivity, and after that by the Babylonish, and by the invasion of the Romans; and it might be in these very times increased by the believing Jews flying from the hatred and persecution raised against them at home. The places here mentioned, through which they were dispersed, are all in Asia. So Asia here is Asia Minor; where it is to be observed, that some of those who heard Peter are said to be of those regions. And if any of those then converted were among these dispersed, the comfort was no doubt the more grateful from the hand of the same Apostle by whom they were first converted; but this is only conjecture.
Though Divine truths are to be received equally from every minister alike, yet it must be acknowledged, that there is something (we know not what to call it) of a more acceptable reception of those who at first were the means of bringing men to God, than of others; like the opinion some have of physicians whom they love. The Apostle comforts these strangers of this dispersion, by the spiritual union which they obtained by effectual calling; and so calls off their eyes from their outward, dispersed, and despised condition--to look above that--as high as the spring of their happiness--the free love and election of God. Scattered in the countries, and yet gathered in God’s election, chosen or picked out; strangers to men among whom they dwelt, but known and foreknown to God; removed from their own country, to which men have naturally an unalterable affection, but made heirs of a better country (as follows, verse 3, 4); and having within them the evidence both of eternal election and of that expected salvation, the Spirit of holiness (verse 2).
At the best, a Christian is but a stranger here, set him where you will, as our Apostle teaches after; and it is his privilege that he is so; and when he thinks not so, he forgets and disparages himself, and descends far below his quality, when he is much taken with anything in this place of his exile. But this is the wisdom of a Christian, when he can solace himself against the hardness and any kind of discomfort of his outward condition, with the comfortable assurance of the love of God, that He has called him to holiness, given him some measure of it, and an endeavor after more; and by this may he conclude, that He has ordained him unto salvation.
If either he is a stranger where he lives, or as a stranger deserted by his friends, and very nearly stripped of all outward comforts, yet may he rejoice in this, that the eternal, unchangeable love of God, which is from everlasting to everlasting, is sealed to his soul. And O! what will it avail a man to be surrounded with the favor of the world, to sit unmolested in his own home and possessions, and to have them very great and pleasant, to be well moneyed, and landed and befriended--and yet estranged and severed from God, not having any token of His special love?
To God's elect.The Apostle here designates all the Christians to whom he writes, by the condition of true believers, calling them elect and sanctified, and the Apostle Paul writes in the same style in his Epistles to the Churches. Not that all in these Churches were such indeed, but because they professed to be such, and by that their profession and calling as Christians, they were obliged to be such. And as many of them as were in any measure true to that, their calling and profession were really such. Besides, it would seem not unworthy of consideration, that in all probability there would be fewer false Christians, and the number of true believers would be usually greater, in the Churches in those primitive times, than now in the best reformed Churches; because there could not then be many of those who were from their infancy bred in the Christian faith, but the greatest part were such as, being of years of discretion, were, by the hearing of the Gospel, converted from Paganism and Judaism to the Christian religion first, and made a deliberate choice of it; to which there were at that time no great outward encouragements, and therefore the less danger of multitudes of hypocrites, which, as vermin in summer, breed most in the time of the Church’s prosperity.
Though no nation or kingdom had then universally received the faith, but rather hated and persecuted it, yet were there even then among them, as the writings of the Apostles testify, false brethren, and unsteady walkers, and men of corrupt minds, earthly-minded, and led with a spirit of envy and contention and vainglory. Although the question that is raised concerning the necessary qualifications of all the members of a true visible Church can no way, as I conceive, be decided from the inscriptions of the Epistles; yet certainly they are useful to teach Christians and Christian Churches what they ought to be, and what their holy profession requires of them, and sharply to reprove the gross unlikeness and nonconformity that is in the most part of men, to the description of Christians. As there are some that are too strict in their judgment concerning the being and nature of the visible Church, so certainly the greatest part of Churches are too loose in their practice. From the dissimilarity between our Churches and those, we may make this use of reproof--that if an Apostolic Epistle were to be directed to us, it ought to be inscribed, "To the ignorant, profane, malicious," &c. As he, who at the hearing of the Gospel read, said, "Either this is not the Gospel, or we are not Christians," so, either these characters, given in the inscription of these Epistles, are not true characters, or we are not true Christians.
Verse 2. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.In this verse we have their condition and the causes of it. Their condition, sanctified and justified; the former expressed by obedience, the latter by sprinkling of the blood of Christ. The causes, 1. Eternal election. 2. The execution of that decree, their effectual calling, which, I conceive, is meant by election here--the selecting them out of the world, and joining them to the fellowship of the children of God. The former, election, is particularly ascribed to God the Father, the latter to the Holy Spirit; and the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is here assigned as the cause of their justification; and so the whole Trinity concurring dignify them with this their spiritual and happy estate.
First, I shall discourse of these separately, and then of their connection.
1. Of JUSTIFICATION, though named last. This sprinkling refers to the rite of the legal purification by the sprinkling of blood; and aptly so; for these rites of sprinkling and blood all pointed out this blood and this sprinkling, and exhibited this true ransom of souls, which was only shadowed by them. The use and purpose of sprinkling were purification and expiation, because sin merited death, and the pollutions and stains of human nature were by sin. Such is the pollution, that it can in no way be washed off but by blood. Neither is there any blood able to purge from sin except the most precious blood of Jesus Christ, which is called the blood of God. That the stain of sin can be washed off only by blood, intimates that it merits death; and that no blood but that of the Son of God can do it, intimates that this stain merits eternal death—and that would have been our portion, if the death of the eternal Lord of life had not freed us from it. Filthiness needs sprinkling; guiltiness, such as deserves death, needs sprinkling of blood; and the death it deserves being everlasting death, the blood must be the blood of Christ, the eternal Lord of life, dying to free us from the sentence of death.
The soul, like the body, has its life, its health, its purity, and the opposite of these—its death, diseases, deformities, and impurity, which belong to it as to their first subject, and to the body by participation. The soul and body of all mankind are stained by the pollution of sin. The impure leprosy of the soul is not an outward spot, but wholly inward; so, as the bodily leprosy was purified by the sprinkling of blood, this is, too.
Then, by reflecting, we see how all this expressed by the Apostle Peter is necessary for our justification.
1. Christ, the Mediator between God and man, is God and man.
2. A Mediator not only interceding, but also satisfying.
3. This satisfaction does not reconcile us, unless it is applied; therefore there is not only mention of blood, but the sprinkling of it. The Spirit by faith sprinkles the soul, as with hyssop, by which the sprinkling was made: this is what the Prophet speaks about, So shall he sprinkle many nations; and which the Apostle to the Hebrews prefers above all legal sprinklings (chapter 9:12-14), both as to its duration and as to the excellence of its effects. Men are not easily convinced and persuaded of the deep stain of sin; and that no other laver can remove it but the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Some who have moral resolutions of amendment dislike at least gross sins, and try to avoid them—to them it is cleanness enough to reform in those things, but they haven’t considered what becomes of the guiltiness they have already contracted, and how that shall be purged, how their natural pollution shall be taken away. Don’t be deceived in this; it is not a passing sigh, or a light word, or a wish of "God forgive me;" no, nor the highest current of repentance, nor that which is the truest evidence of repentance, change—none of these purify us in the sight of God, and expiate His wrath! They are all imperfect and stained themselves, cannot stand and answer for themselves, much less be of value to compensate the former guilt of sin. The very tears of the purest repentance, unless sprinkled with this blood, are impure; all our washings without this are but washings of the Negro—it is labor in vain.
None are truly purified by the blood of Christ, who do not endeavor after purity of heart and life; yet it is the blood of Christ by which they are all made fair, and there is no spot in them. Here it is said, elect to obedience; but because that obedience is imperfect, there must be sprinkling of the blood too. There is nothing in religion further out of nature’s reach, and out of its liking and belief, than the doctrine of redemption by a Savior, and a crucified Savior—by Christ, and by His blood, first shed on the cross in His suffering, and then sprinkled on the soul by His Spirit. It is easier to make men aware of the necessity of repentance and amendment of life (though that is very difficult), than of this purging by the sprinkling of this precious blood. If we saw how necessary Christ is to us--we would esteem and love Him more.
It is not by the hearing of Christ, and of His blood in the doctrine of the Gospel; it is not by the sprinkling of water, even that water which is the sign of this blood, without the blood itself, and the sprinkling of it. Many are present where it is sprinkled, and yet have no portion in it. See to it that this blood is sprinkled on your souls, so that the destroying angel may pass by you. There is a generation (not some few, but a generation) deceived in this; they are their own deceivers, pure in their own eyes. How earnestly does David pray, Wash me, purge me with hyssop! Though bathed in tears, that satisfies not—Wash me. This is the honorable condition of the saints, that they are purified and consecrated to God by this sprinkling; yes, they have on long white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. There is mention indeed of great tribulation, but there is a double comfort joined with it.
1. They come out of it; that tribulation has an end.
2. They pass from that to glory; for they have on long white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb, washed white in blood. As for this blood, it is nothing but purity and spotlessness, having no stain of sin, and besides, has the virtue to take away the stain of sin where it is sprinkled. My well-beloved is white and ruddy, says the spouse; thus in His death, ruddy by bloodshed, white by innocence and purity of that blood. Shall those, then, who are purged by this blood, return to live among the swine, and tumble with them in the mire? What gross injury would this be to themselves, and to that blood by which they are cleansed!
Those who are chosen to this sprinkling, are likewise chosen to obedience. This blood purifies the heart; yes, this blood purges our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.
2. Of their SANCTIFICATION. Elect unto obedience. This teaches us that to God alone belong absolute and unlimited obedience--all obedience by all creatures. It is the shame and misery of man, that he has departed from this obedience, that we have become children of disobedience; but grace, renewing the hearts of believers, changes their natures, and so their names, and makes them children of obedience (as afterwards in this chapter). As this obedience consists in the receiving Christ as our Redeemer, so also at the same time as our Lord or King; in an entire rendering up of the whole man to His obedience. This obedience, then, of the Only-begotten, Jesus Christ, might well be understood not as His actively, but objectively, as 2 Cor. 10:5. I think here it is chiefly understood to mean the obedience which the Apostle in the Epistle to the Romans calls the obedience of faith, by which the doctrine of Christ is received, and so Christ Himself, which unites the believing soul to Christ—He sprinkles it with His blood, to the remission of sin—and which is the root and spring of all future obedience in the Christian life.
By obedience, sanctification is intimated; it signifies both habitual and active obedience, renovation of heart, and conformity to the Divine will. The mind is illuminated by the Holy Spirit, to know and believe the Divine will; yes, this faith is the great and chief part of obedience. The truth of the doctrine is first impressed on the mind—and pleasant, loving obedience flows from it. From there all the affections, and the whole body, with its members, learn to willingly obey, and submit to God; while before they resisted Him, being under the service of Satan. This obedience, though imperfect, yet has a certain, if I may so say, imperfect perfection. It is universal in three kinds of ways:
1. In the subject. (The whole man)
2. In the object. (The whole word of God)
3. In the duration. (Constantly and perseveringly)
The whole man is subjected to the whole word of God, and that constantly and perseveringly. The first universality is the cause of the other. Because it is not in the tongue alone, or in the hand, but has its root in the heart--it does not wither as the grass or flower lying on the surface of the earth; but flourishes, because rooted. And it embraces the whole word of God, because it arises from a reverence it has for the Lawgiver Himself. Reverence, I say, but tempered with love; hence, it considers no law nor command little, or of little importance, which is from God, because He is great and highly esteemed by the pious heart; no command hard, though contrary to the flesh, because all things are easy to love. There is the same authority in all, as James divinely argues; and this authority is the golden chain of all the commandments, which if broken in any link, all fall to pieces.
That this threefold perfection of obedience is not a picture drawn by fancy, is evident in David, Psalm 119, where he subjects himself to the whole law: his feet, verse 105; his mouth, verse 13; his heart, verse 11; the whole tenor of his life, verse 24. He subjects himself to the whole law, verse 6, and he professes his constancy therein, in verses 16 and 33: Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end.
II. We have the causes of the condition above described. According to the foreknowledge of God the Father. The most exact knowledge of things is, to know them in their causes; it is then an excellent thing, and worthy of their endeavors who are most desirous of knowledge, to know the best things in their highest causes; and the happiest way of this knowledge is, to possess those things, and to know them in experience. To such the Apostle here speaks, and sets before them the excellence of their spiritual condition, and leads them to the causes of it. Their state is, that they are sanctified and justified: the nearest cause of both these is, Jesus Christ. He is made to them both righteousness and sanctification: the sprinkling of His blood purifies them from guiltiness, and quickens them to obedience.
Now follows to consider the appropriating or applying cause, which is the Holy, and holy-making or sanctifying Spirit, the Author of their selection from the world, and effectual calling unto grace. The source of all, the appointing or decreeing cause--is God the Father: for though they all work equally in all, yet, in order of working, we are taught thus to distinguish and particularly to ascribe the first work of eternal election to the first Person of the blessed Trinity.
In or through sanctification. For to render it, elect to the sanctification, is strained: so then I conceive this election is their effectual calling, which is by the working of the Holy Spirit; as in 1 Cor. 1:26-28, where vocation and election are used in the same sense: You see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, &c., but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. It is the first act of the decree of election; the beginning of its performance in those who are elected; and it is in itself a real separation of men from the profane and miserable condition of the world, and an appropriation and consecration of a man to God; and therefore, both regarding its relation to election, and regarding its own nature, it well bears that name.
Sanctification in a narrower sense, as distinguished from justification, signifies the inherent holiness of a Christian, or his being inclined and enabled to perform the obedience mentioned in this verse; but it is here more large, and co-extends with the whole work of renovation; it is the severing or separating of men to God, by His Holy Spirit, drawing them unto Him; and so it includes justification, as here, and the first working of faith, by which the soul is justified, through its apprehending and applying the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Of the Spirit.The word calls men externally, and by that external calling prevails with many to an external reception and profession of religion; but if it is left alone it goes no further. It is indeed the means of sanctification and effectual calling, as John 17:17, Sanctify them through your truth; but it does this when the Spirit, who speaks in the word, works in the heart, and causes it to hear and obey.
The heart or soul of a man is the chief and the first subject of this work, and it is but slight false work that doesn’t begin there; but the Spirit here is rather to be taken for the Spirit of God--the efficient cause of this sanctification. And therefore our Savior in that place prays to the Father, that He would sanctify His own by that truth; and this He does by the concurrence of His Spirit with that word of truth--which is the life and vigor of it, and makes it prove the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. It is a fit means in itself, but it is a prevailing means only when the Spirit of God brings it into the heart. It is a sword, and sharper than any two-edged sword, fit to divide, yes, even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit; but it does not do this without being in the Spirit’s hand, and Him applying it to this cutting and dividing. The word calls, but the Spirit draws, not severed from that word, but working in it, and by it.
It is a very difficult work to draw a soul out of the strong hands and chains of Satan, and out of the pleasing entanglements of the world, and out of its own natural perverseness--to yield up itself to God—to deny itself, and live to Him, and in so doing, to run against the mainstream, and the current of the ungodly world without, and corruption within. The strongest rhetoric, the most moving and persuasive way of discourse, is all too weak; the tongue of men or angels cannot prevail with the soul to free itself, and shake off all which holds it captive. Although it is convinced of the truth of those things that are represented to it, yet still it can and will hold out against it, and say—You shall not persuade me, even though you convince me. The hand of man is too weak to pluck any soul out of the crowd of the world, and to set it in among the elect number of believers. Only the Father of spirits has absolute command the souls of men, to work on them as He pleases, and where He will.
This powerful, this sanctifying Spirit knows no resistance. He works sweetly, and yet strongly. He can come into the heart, whereas all other speakers are forced to stand without. The still voice within persuades more than all the loud crying without; as he who is within the house, though he speaks softly, is better heard and understood, than he who shouts outside the doors.
When the Lord Himself speaks by this His Spirit to a man, selecting and calling him out of the lost world, he can no more disobey than Abraham did, when the Lord spoke to him in an extraordinary manner, to depart from his own country and kindred—Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him. There is a secret, but very powerful, virtue in a word, or look, or touch of this Spirit upon the soul, by which it is forced, not with a harsh, but a pleasing violence, and cannot choose but to follow it. How easily did the disciples forsake their callings and their dwellings to follow Christ! The Spirit of God draws a man out of the world by sanctified light sent into his mind:
1. Revealing to him how vile and false the sweetness of sin is, which captivates men and amuses them; and how dreadful and sad is that bitterness which will follow upon it.
2. Setting before his eyes the free and happy condition, the glorious liberty of the children of God, the riches of their present enjoyment, and their far larger and assured hopes for hereafter.
3. Making the beauty of Jesus Christ visible to the soul; which immediately perceives it, that it cannot be stopped from coming to Him, though its most beloved friends, most beloved sins, lie in the way, and hang about it, and cry--Will you leave us so? It will tread upon all who come between it and the embraces of Jesus Christ, and say with Paul, I was not disobedient unto, or unpersuaded by, the heavenly vision.
It is no wonder that the godly are by some called singular and precise: they are so, singular—a few selected ones picked out by God’s own hand, for Himself: Know that the Lord has set apart him that is godly for himself. Therefore, says our Savior, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." For the world lies in unholiness and wickedness—is buried in it. As living men can have no pleasure among the dead, neither can these elected ones among the ungodly; they walk in the world as warily as a people neatly appareled would do among a multitude that are all filthy, sullied and bemired.
Endeavor to have this sanctifying Spirit in yourselves; pray much for Him; for the promise has passed to us--that He will give this Holy Spirit to those who ask. And shall we be such fools as to lack Him, for lack of asking? When we find heavy fetters on our souls, and much weakness, yes averseness to follow the voice of God calling us to His obedience, then let us pray with the spouse, Draw me. She cannot go nor stir without that drawing; and yet, with it, not only goes, but runs. We will run after you.
Don’t think it is enough that you hear the word, and use the outward ordinances of God, and profess His name; for many are thus called, and yet but a few of them are chosen. There is but a small part of the world outwardly called, compared to the number who are not called; and yet the number of the true elect is so small, that the number of those who are called, are the many. Those who are in the visible Church, and partake of external vocation, are but like a large list of names (as is usual in civil elections), out of which a small number is chosen to the dignity of true Christians, and invested into their privilege. Some men in nomination to offices or employments, think it a worse disappointment and disgrace to have been on the list, and yet not chosen, than if their names had not been mentioned at all. Certainly, it is a greater unhappiness to have been not far from the kingdom of God, (as our Savior speaks), and miss it, than still to have remained in the furthest distance; to have been at the mouth of the haven, the fair havens indeed, and yet driven back and shipwrecked.
Listen to the Apostle’s advice, and at length set about this in earnest, to make your calling and election sure. Make sure your effectual calling, and that will bring with it assurance of the eternal election and love of God towards you, which follows to be considered.
According to the foreknowledge of God the Father.Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world, says the Apostle James. He sees all things from the beginning of time, to the end of it, and beyond to all eternity, and from all eternity He foresaw them. But this foreknowledge here relates peculiarly to the elect. To 'know' in Scripture sometimes denotes love. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous. And again, You only have I known of all the families of the earth. And in that speech of our Savior, relating it as the terrible doom of reprobates at the last day, Depart from me, I know you not--I never knew you.
So then this foreknowledge is none other than that eternal love of God, or decree of election, by which some are appointed unto life, and being foreknown or elected to that end, they are predestinated to the way to it. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. It is most vain to imagine a foresight of faith in men, and that God in the view of that faith, as the condition of election itself, has chosen them: for:
1. Nothing at all is future to God, or can have that imagined futurity, so to speak--but as it is, and because it is, decreed by God to be. And, therefore (as says the Apostle James in the passage before cited) Known unto God are all his works--because they are His works in time, and his purpose from eternity.
2. It is most absurd to give any reason of Divine will outside of Himself.
3. This easily solves all that difficulty which the Apostle speaks of; and yet he never thought of such a solution, but runs high for an answer--not to satisfy caviling reason, but to silence it, and stop its mouth. For thus the Apostle argues, You will say then to me, Why does he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will? No but, O man, who are you who reply against God? Who can conceive where this should be, that any man should believe unless it has been given him of God? And if given him, then it was His purpose to give faith to him; and if so, then it is evident that He had a purpose to save him; and for that end He gives faith.
4. This seems cross to these Scriptures, where they speak of the subordination, or rather coordination, of those two: as here, foreknown and elect, not because of obedience, or sprinkling, or any such thing--but to obedience and sprinkling, which is by faith. So God predestinated, not because He foresaw men would be conformed to Christ--but that they might be so: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate. And the same order, And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved. Also, And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
This foreknowledge, then, is His eternal and unchangeable love; and that thus He chooses some, and rejects others, is for that great purpose, to manifest and magnify His mercy and justice. But why He appointed this man to salvation, and not the other; made Peter a vessel of this mercy, and Judas of wrath--this is because it seemed good to Him. If this is harsh, yet is Apostolic doctrine. Has not the potter (says Paul) power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? This deep we must admire, and always, in considering it, close with this: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
III. The connection of these we are now take notice of; that effectual calling is inseparably tied to this eternal foreknowledge or election on the one side, and to salvation on the other. These two links of the chain are up in Heaven in God’s own hand. But this middle link of effectual calling is let down to earth into the hearts of His children; and they, laying hold on it, have sure hold on the other two, for no power can sever them. If therefore they can read the characters of God’s image in their own souls--those are the counterpart of the golden characters of His love, in which their names are written in the book of life. Their believing writes their names under the promises of the revealed book of life, the Scriptures; and so ascertains them, that the same names are in the secret book of life which God has by Himself from eternity. So that finding the stream of grace in their hearts, though they see not the fountain from where it flows, nor the ocean into which it returns--yet they know that it has its source, and shall return to that ocean which arises from their eternal election, and shall empty itself into that eternity of happiness and salvation!
Therefore much joy arises to the believer: this tie is indissoluble, as the agents are, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: so are election, and effectual calling, and sanctification, and justification, and glory. And therefore, in all conditions, they may, from the sense of the working of the Spirit in them--look back to that election, and forward to that salvation. But those who remain unholy and disobedient, have as yet no evidence of this love; and therefore cannot, without vain presumption and self-delusion, judge thus of themselves--that they are within the special love of God. But in this, Let the righteous be glad, and let them shout for joy, all who are upright in heart.
It is one main point of happiness, that he who is happy knows and judges himself to be so: this being the peculiar good of a reasonable creature, it is to be enjoyed in a reasonable way; it is not as the dull resting of a stone, or any other natural body in its natural place; but the knowledge and consideration of it is the fruition of it, the very relishing and tasting its sweetness. The perfect blessedness of the saints is awaiting them above; but even their present condition is truly happy, though incompletely, and but a small beginning of that which they shall have in eternity. And their present happiness is so much the more, the clearer their knowledge and firmer their persuasion they have of it. It is one of the pleasant fruits of the godly, to know the things that are freely given to us of God. Therefore the Apostle, to comfort his dispersed brethren, sets before them a description of that excellent spiritual condition to which they are called.
If election, effectual calling, and salvation, are inseparably linked together, then by any one of them a man may lay hold upon all the rest, and may know that his hold is sure; and this is that way by which we may attain, and ought to seek that comfortable assurance of the love of God. Therefore make your calling sure, and by that your election; for that being done, eternal glory follows of itself. We are not to pry immediately into the secret eternal decree, but to read it in the performance. Though the mariner sees not the pole-star, yet the needle of the compass which points to it tells him which way he sails: thus the heart that is touched with the magnet of Divine love, trembling with godly fear, and yet still looking towards God by fixed believing, points at the love of election, and tells the soul that its course is heavenward, towards the haven of eternal rest. He who loves God, may be sure he was loved first by God; and he who chooses God for his delight and portion, may conclude confidently that God has chosen him to be one of those who shall enjoy Him and be happy in Him forever; because our love and electing of Him is but the return and repercussion of the beams of His love shining upon us.
If you find within you sanctification by the Spirit, this argues, necessarily, both justification by the Son, and the election of God the Father. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. He called those He has elected; He elected those He called. Where this sanctifying Spirit is not present, there can be no persuasion of this eternal love of God: those who are children of disobedience can conclude no differently of themselves, than that they are the children of wrath. Although, from present unsanctification, a man cannot infer that he is not elected—for the decree may, for part of a man’s life, run, as it were, underground—yet this is sure, that that state leads to death, and unless it be broken, will prove the black line of reprobation. A man has no portion among the children of God, nor can read one word of comfort in all the promises that belong to them, while he remains unholy. Men may please themselves in profane scoffing at the Holy Spirit of grace, but let them nevertheless know this, that that Holy Spirit, whom they mock and despise, is that Spirit who seals men unto the day of redemption.
If any claims to have the Spirit, but turns away from the straight rule of the Holy Scriptures, they have a spirit indeed, but it is a fanatical spirit, the spirit of delusion and giddiness; but the Spirit of God who leads His children in the way of truth, and is for that purpose sent to them from heaven to guide them there, squares their thoughts and ways to that rule: and that word whereof He is Author, which was inspired by Him, sanctifies them to obedience. He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. Now this Spirit within us who sanctifies, and sanctifies to obedience, is the evidence of our election, and the pledge of our salvation. And whoever are not sanctified and led by this Spirit, the Apostle tells us what their condition is: If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Let us not delude ourselves: this is a truth, if there be any in religion—those who are not made saints in the state of grace, shall never be saints in glory. The stones which are appointed for that glorious temple above, are hewn and polished, and prepared for it here; as the stones were wrought and prepared in the mountains for building the temple at Jerusalem. This is God’s order. He gives grace and glory. Moralists can tell us that the way to the temple of honor, is through the temple of virtue. Those who think they are bound for heaven, yet live in the ways of sin, have either found a new way untrodden by all who have gone before, or will find themselves deceived in the end. We need not then that poor scheme for the pressing of holiness and obedience upon men, to represent it to them as the meriting cause of salvation. This is not at all to the purpose, considering that without it the necessity of holiness to salvation is pressing enough; for holiness is no less necessary to salvation, than if it were the meriting cause of it; it is as inseparably tied to it as the purpose of God. And in the order of performance, godliness is as certainly before salvation, as if salvation wholly and altogether depended upon it, and was in point of justice deserved by it.
Seeing, then, there is no other way to happiness but by holiness, no assurance of the love of God without it, take the Apostle’s advice; study it, seek it, follow earnestly after holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
Grace to you, and peace, be multiplied.It has always been a civil custom among men, to season their conversation with good wishes one for another; this the Apostles use in their epistles in a spiritual way suitable to their holy writings. It well becomes the messengers of grace and peace to wish both, and to make their salutation conform to the main scope and subject of their discourse. The Hebrew word of salutation we have here—Peace, and that which is the source both of this and all good things, in the other word of salutation used by the Greeks—Grace. All right rejoicing, and prosperity, and happiness, flow from this source, and from this alone, and are sought elsewhere in vain. In general, this is the character of a Christian spirit, to have a heart filled with blessing, with this sweet good will and good wishing to all, especially to those who are their brothers in the same profession of religion. And this charity is a precious balm, diffusing itself in the wise and seasonable expressions of it, upon fitting occasions; and those expressions must be cordial and sincere, not like what you call holy-water, in which there is nothing else but falsehood, or vanity at the best.
This manifests men to be the sons of blessing, and of the ever-blessed God, the Father of all blessing, when in His name they bless one another: more than this, our Savior’s rule goes higher, bless those who curse you, and urges it by that relation to God as their Father, that in this they may resemble Him: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven. But in a more eminent way it is the duty of Pastors to bless their people, not only by their public and solemn benediction, but also by daily and importunate prayers for them in secret. And the great Father, who sees in secret, will reward them openly. They are to be ever both endeavoring and wishing their increase of knowledge and all spiritual grace, in which they have Paul as a frequent pattern. To those who are messengers of this grace, if they have experience of it, it is the oil of gladness that will dilate their heart, and make it large in love and spiritual desires for others, especially their own flocks. Let us consider,
1. The matter of the Apostle’s desire for them—grace and peace.
The matter of the Apostle’s desire, grace. We need not make a noise with the many academic distinctions of grace, and describe in what sense it is here to be taken: for no doubt it is all saving grace to those dispersed brethren, so that in the largest notion which it can have that way, we may safely here take it. What are preventing grace, assisting grace, working and co-working grace (as we may admit these differences in a sound sense), but various names of the same effectual saving grace, in relation to our different state? As the same sea receives different names from the different parts of the shore it beats upon. First, grace prevents and works; then it assists and prosecutes what it has wrought: He works in us both to will and to do.
But the whole sense of saving grace, I think, is comprehended in these two.
1. Grace in the fountain, that is, the peculiar love and favor of God.
2. Grace in the streams, the fruits of this love, (for it is not an empty, but a most rich and liberal love,) namely, all the graces and spiritual blessings of God bestowed upon those whom He had freely chosen.
The love of God in itself can neither diminish nor increase, but it is multiplied, or abounds in the manifestation and effects of it. So then, to desire grace to be multiplied to them, is to wish to them the living spring of it—that love which cannot be exhausted, but is ever flowing forth, and instead of abating, makes each day richer than the one before. And this is that which should be the top and sum of Christian desires—to have, or want any other thing indifferently, but to be resolved and resolute in this, to seek a share in this grace, the free love of God, and the sure evidences of it within you, the fruit of holiness, and the graces of His Spirit. But most of us are taken up with other things. We will not be convinced how basely and foolishly we are busied, though in the best and most respected employments of the world, as long as we neglect our noblest trade of growing rich in grace, and the comfortable enjoyment of the love of God.
Our Savior tells us that one thing is needful, signifying that all other things are comparatively unnecessary, by-works, and mere impertinences: and yet in these we lavish out our short and uncertain time; we let the one thing needful stand by until we find leisure. Men who are altogether profane do not think about it at all. Some others possibly deceive themselves thus, and say, When I am finished with business I am engaged in, then I will sit down seriously to this, and bestow more time and pains on these things, which are undeniably greater and better, and more worthy of it. But this is a neglect that is in danger to undo us. What if we never finish that business, but die before it? Or if we do not, yet some other business may step in after that. Oh! then, say we, that must be dispatched also. Thus, by such delays, we may lose the present opportunity, and in the end, our own souls.
Oh! be persuaded that it deserves your diligence, and that without delay, to seek something that may be constant enough to abide with you, and strong enough to uphold you in all conditions, and that alone is this free grace and love of God. While many say, Who will show us any good? Few set in with David in his choice--Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon me, and this shall rejoice my heart more than the abundance of corn and wine. This is that light which can break into the darkest dungeons, from which all other lights and comforts are shut out; and without this all other enjoyments are, what the world would be without the sun—nothing but darkness. Happy are those who have this light of Divine favor and grace shining into their souls, for by it they shall be led to that city, where the sun and moon are unnecessary; for the glory of God lightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
Godliness is profitable unto all things, says the Apostle, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come; all other blessings are the attendants of grace, and follow upon it.
This blessing which the Apostle here, as Paul also in his Epistles, joins with grace, was, with the Jews, of so large a sense, as to include all that they could desire; they wished peace, they meant all kind of good, all welfare and prosperity. And thus we may take it here for all kind of peace; yes, and for all other blessings; but especially that spiritual peace, which is the proper fruit of grace, and so intrinsically flows from it. We may and ought to wish outward blessings for the Church of God, and particularly outward peace—as one of the greatest, so one of the most valuable favors of God: thus prayed the Psalmist, Peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces.
But that Wisdom which does what He will, by what means He will, and works one contrariety out of another, brings light out of darkness, good out of evil—can and does turn tears and troubles to the advantage of His Church; but certainly, in itself, peace is more suitable to its increase, and, if not abused, it proves so too. As in the Apostolic times, it is said, The Church had peace, and increased exceedingly. We should also wish for ecclesiastical peace for the Church, so that she might be free from dissensions and divisions. These readily arise, more or less, as we see in all times, and haunt religion, and the reformation of it. Paul had this to say to his Corinthians, though he had given them this testimony, that they were enriched in all utterance and knowledge, and were lacking in no gift, yet, presently after, I hear that there are divisions and contentions among you. An enemy has done this, as our Savior speaks; and this enemy is no fool, for, by Divine permission, he works to his own end very wisely; for there is not one thing that does on all hands choke the seed of religion so much, as thorny debates and differences. So, in succeeding ages, and at the breaking forth of the light in Germany, in Luther’s time, multitudes of sects arose. Profane men not only stumble, but also fall and break their necks upon these divisions. "We see," think they, and some of them possibly say it aloud, "that those who care most about religion cannot agree on it: our easiest way is not to embroil ourselves, nor at all trouble ourselves with the business." Many are of Gallio’s temper--they will care for none of those things. Thus these offenses prove a mischief to the profane world, as our Savior says, Woe unto the world because of offences!
Then those on the erring side, who are taken with new opinions and fancies, are altogether taken up with them, their main thoughts are spent upon them; and thus the sap is drawn from that which should nourish and prosper in their hearts, sanctified useful knowledge, and saving grace. The other are as weeds, which divert the nourishment in gardens from the plants and flowers; and certainly these weeds, men’s own conceits, cannot but grow more with them, when they give way to them, than solid religion does; for their hearts, as one said of the earth, are mother to those, and but stepmother to this. It is also a loss, even to those who oppose errors and divisions, that they are forced to spend their time in that way; for the wisest and godliest of them find (and such are sensible of it) that disputes in religion are no friends to that which is far sweeter in it, but hinder and abate it—namely, those pious and devout thoughts that are both more useful and truly delightful.
As peace is a choice blessing, so this is the choicest peace, and is the peculiar inseparable effect of this grace with which it is here jointly wished—Grace and Peace; the flower of peace growing upon the root of grace. This spiritual peace has two things in it.
1. Reconciliation with God.
2. Tranquility of spirit.
The quarrel, and matter of enmity, you know, between God and man, is, the rebellion, the sin of man; and he being naturally altogether sinful, there can proceed nothing from him, but what foments and increases the hostility. It is grace alone, the most free grace of God, that contrives, and offers, and makes the peace, else it had never been; we would have universally perished without it. Now in this is the wonder of Divine grace, that the Almighty God seeks agreement, and entreats for it--with sinful clay, which He could wholly destroy in a moment. Jesus Christ, the Mediator and Purchaser of this peace, bought it with His blood, and killed the enmity by His own death. And therefore the tenor of it in the Gospel runs still in His name: We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul expresses it in his salutations, which are the same with this, Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As the free love and grace of God appointed this means and way of our peace, and offered it—so the same grace applies it, and makes it ours, and gives us faith to apprehend it. And from our sense of this peace, or reconciliation with God, arises that which is our inward peace--a calm and quiet temper of mind. This peace which we have with God in Christ, is inviolable; but because the sense and persuasion of it may be interrupted. The soul that is truly at peace with God may for a time be disquieted in itself, through weakness of faith, or the strength of temptation, or the darkness of desertion; losing sight of that grace, that love and light of God’s countenance, on which its tranquility and joy depend. You hid your face, said David, and I was troubled. But when these eclipses are over, the soul is revived with new consolation, as the face of the earth is renewed and made to smile with the return of the sun in the spring; and this ought always to uphold Christians in the saddest times, namely, that the grace and love of God towards them depends not on their sense, nor upon anything in them, but is still in itself incapable of the smallest alteration.
It is natural for men to desire their own peace, the quietness and contentment of their minds: but most men miss the way to it; and therefore find it not; for there is no way to it, indeed, but this one by which few seek it--namely, reconciliation and peace with God. The persuasion of that alone makes the mind clear and serene, like your fairest summer days. My peace I give unto you, says Christ, not as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled. All the peace and favor of the world cannot calm a troubled heart; but where this peace is which Christ gives, all the trouble and disquiet of the world cannot disturb it. When he gives quietness--who then can make trouble? when he hides his face--who then can behold him?
All outward distress to a mind thus at peace, is but as the rattling of the hail upon the rooftop, to him who sits within the house at a sumptuous feast. A good conscience is called so, and with an advantage that no other feast can have, nor could men endure it. A few hours of feasting will weary the most professed epicure; but a conscience thus at peace is a continual feast, with continual unwearied delight. What makes the world take up such a prejudice against religion--as a sour unpleasant thing? They see the afflictions and griefs of Christians--but they do not see their joys, the inward pleasure of mind that they can possess in a very hard estate. Have you not tried other ways enough? Has not he tried them who had more ability and skill for it than you, and found them not only vanity but vexation of spirit? If you have any belief of holy truth, put but this once upon the trial, seek peace in the way of grace.
This inward peace is too precious a liquor to be poured into a filthy vessel. A holy heart, that gladly entertains grace, shall find that it and peace cannot dwell asunder. An ungodly man may sleep to death in the lethargy of carnal presumption and impenitence; but a true, lively, solid peace, he cannot have. There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked. And if He says there is none, speak peace who will, if all the world with one voice should speak, it shall prove none.
2. The MEASURE of it—that it may be multiplied. Consider the measure of the Apostle’s desire for his scattered brethren--that this Grace and Peace may be multiplied. This the Apostle wishes for them, knowing the imperfection of the graces and peace of the saints while they are here below; and this they themselves, under a sense of that imperfection, ardently desire. Those who have tasted the sweetness of this grace and peace--call incessantly for more. This is a disease in earthly desires, and a disease incurable by all the things desired; there is no satisfaction attainable by them. But this avarice of spiritual things is a virtue, and by our Savior is called Blessedness, because it tends to fullness and satisfaction. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Verse 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, Verse 4. To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away.
It is a cold lifeless thing to speak of spiritual things upon mere report: but those who speak of them as their own, as having share and interest in them, and some experience of their sweetness--their discourse of them is enlivened with firm belief, and ardent affection. They cannot mention them, but their hearts are straight taken with such gladness, as they are forced to vent in praises. Thus our Apostle here, and Paul, Eph. 1 and often elsewhere, when they considered these things with which they were about to comfort the godly to whom they wrote, they were suddenly elevated with the joy of them, and broke forth into thanksgiving. So teaching us, by their example, what real joy there is in the consolations of the Gospel, and what praise is due from all the saints to the God of those consolations.
This is such an inheritance, that the very thoughts and hopes of it are able to sweeten the greatest griefs and afflictions. What then shall the possession of it be, where there shall be no severance, nor the least drop of any grief at all? The main subject of these verses is that, which is the main comfort that supports the spirits of the godly in all conditions.
1st, Their after inheritance, as in the 4th verse.
2ndly, Their present title to it, and assured hope of it, verse 3.
3rdly, The immediate cause of both assigned, namely, Jesus Christ.
4thly, All this derived from the free mercy of God, as the first and highest cause, and returned to His praise and glory, as the last and highest end of it. For the first:
1. Their after inheritance. [But because the 4th verse, which describes it, is linked with the subsequent, we will not go so far off to return back again, but first speak to this 3rd verse, and in it,] Consider:
1. Their Title to this inheritance, Begotten again.
2. Their Assurance of it, namely, a holy or lively hope. The title which the saints have to their rich inheritance is of the most valid and most unquestionable kind, namely, by birth. Not by their first natural birth, by that we are all born to an inheritance indeed, but we find what it is, Children of wrath--heirs apparent of eternal flames. It is an everlasting inheritance too, but so much the more fearful, being of everlasting misery, or, so to speak, of immortal death: and we are made sure to it; those who remain in that condition cannot lose their right, although they gladly would escape it; they shall be forced to enter possession.
But it is by a new and supernatural birth that men are both freed from their engagement to that woeful inheritance, and invested into the rights of this other here mentioned, as full of happiness as the former is of misery: therefore are they said here to be begotten again to that lively hope. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has begotten us again. And thus are the regenerate the children of an immortal Father, and, as such, entitled to an inheritance of immortality: If children, then heirs; heirs of God; and this sonship is by adoption in Christ; therefore it is added, Joint-heirs with Christ. We, adopted; and He, the only begotten Son of God, by an eternal, ineffable generation. And yet, this our adoption is not a mere outward designation, as adoption is among men; but accompanied with a real change in those who are adopted, a new nature and spirit being infused into them, because of which, as they are adopted to this their inheritance in Christ, they are likewise begotten of God, and born again to it, by the supernatural work of regeneration.
They are like their heavenly Father; they have His image renewed on their souls, and their Father’s Spirit: they have it, and are actuated and led by it. This is that great mystery of the kingdom of God which puzzled Nicodemus; it was darkness to him at first, until he was instructed in that night, under the cover of which he came to Christ. Nature cannot conceive of any generation or birth, but that which is within its own compass: only those who are partakers of this spiritual birth understand what it means—to others it is a riddle, an unsavory, unpleasant subject. It is sometimes ascribed to the subordinate means—to Baptism, called therefore the washing of regeneration: to the word of God, that immortal seed, by which we are born again; to the ministers of this word, and the seals of it. For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you have not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel.
But all these means have their vigor and efficacy in this great work from the Father of spirits, who is their Father in their first creation and infusion, and in this their regeneration, which is a new and second creation: If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Divines have reason to infer from the nature of conversion thus expressed, that man does not bring anything to this work himself. It is true he has a will, as his natural faculty; but that this will embraces the offer of grace, and turns to Him who offers it, is from renewing grace, which sweetly and yet strongly, strongly and yet sweetly, inclines it.
1. Nature cannot raise itself to this, any more than a man can give natural being to himself.
2. It is not a superficial change; it is a new life and being.
A moral man in his changes and reformations of himself, is still the same man. Though he reforms so far that men, in their ordinary phrase, shall call him quite another man, yet in truth, till he is born again, there is no new nature in him. The sluggard turns on his bed as the door on the hinges, says Solomon. Thus the natural man only turns from one custom and posture to another. But the Christian, by virtue of this new birth, can say indeed--I am not the same man I was. You who are nobles, aspire to this honorable condition; add this nobleness to the other, for it far surpasses it; make it the crown of all your honors and advantages. And you who are of ignoble birth, or if you have any crack or stain in your birth, the only way to make up and repair all, and truly to ennoble you, is this—to be the sons of a King, yes, of the King of kings, and this honor have all his saints. To as many as received Him, He gave this privilege to be the sons of God.
Unto a lively hope.Now are we the sons of God, says the Apostle, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. These sons are heirs, but all this lifetime is their under-age; yet, even now, being partakers of this new birth and sonship, they have a right to it, and in the assurance of that right, this living hope; as an heir, when he is capable of those thoughts, has not only right of inheritance, but may rejoice in the hope he has of it, and please himself in thinking about it. But hope is said to be only of an uncertain good: true, in the world’s phrase, it is so; for their hope is conversant in uncertain things, or in things that may be certain, after an uncertain manner: all their worldly hopes are tottering, built upon sand, and their hopes of Heaven are but blind and groundless conjectures. But the hope of the sons of the Living God is a living hope.
That which Alexander said when he dealt liberally about him, that he left hope to himself, the children of God may more wisely and happily say, when they leave the hot pursuit of the world to others, and despise it--portion is hope. The thread of Alexander’s life was cut off in the midst of his victories, and so all his hopes vanished; but their hope cannot die nor disappoint them. But then it is said to be lively, not only objectively, but effectively; enlivening and comforting the children of God in all distresses, enabling them to encounter and surmount all difficulties in the way. And then it is formally so; it cannot fail—it dies not before accomplishment. Worldly hopes often mock men, and so cause them to be ashamed; and men take it as a great blot, and are most of all ashamed of those things that reveal weakness of judgment in them. Now worldly hopes do thus—they put the fool upon a man: when he has judged himself sure, and laid so much weight and expectation on them, then they break and foil him. They are not living, but lying hopes, and dying hopes; they die often before us, and we live to bury them, and see our own folly and unhappiness in trusting to them. But at the utmost, they die with us when we die, and can accompany us no further.
But the Christian hope answers expectation to the full, and much beyond it, and deceives no way but in that happy way of far exceeding it. A living hope—living in death itself! The world dares say no more for its device, than 'While I breathe I hope'—but the children of God can add by virtue of this living hope, 'While I breathe my last, I hope.' It is a fearful thing when a man and all his hopes die together. Thus says Solomon of the wicked: When he dies, then die his hopes; (many of them before, but at the utmost then--all of them!) But the righteous has hope in his death. Death, which cuts the sinews of all other hopes, and turns men out of all other inheritances, alone fulfils this hope, and ends it in fruition; as a messenger sent to bring the children of God home to the possession of their inheritance.
By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.This refers both to begotten again by His resurrection, and having this living hope by His resurrection: and well suits both, it being the proper cause of both in this order. First, then, of the birth; next, of the hope. The image of God is renewed in us by our union with Him who is the express image of his Father’s person. Therefore this new birth in the conception is expressed by the forming of Christ in the soul; and His resurrection particularly is assigned as the cause of our new life. This new birth is called our resurrection; and that in conformity to Christ, yes, by the virtue and influence of His. His resurrection is called a birth, He the first begotten of the dead, and that prophecy, You are my Son; this day have I begotten you, is applied to His resurrection as fulfilled in it. God has fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he has raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second Psalm, You are my Son, this day have I begotten you. Not only is it the exemplar, but the efficient cause of our new birth. Thus, in the sixth chapter of Romans, and often elsewhere.
And thus likewise it is the cause of our living hope—that which indeed inspires and maintains life in it. Because He has conquered death, and has risen again, and that is implied which follows, He has sat down at the right hand of God, has entered into possession of that inheritance—this gives us a living hope, that, according to His own request--that where He is, there we may be also. Thus this hope is strongly underpinned, on the one side, by the resurrection of Christ; on the other by the abundant mercy of God the Father. Our hope does not depend on our own strength or wisdom nor on anything in us; (for if it did, it would be short-lived, would die, and die quickly!) but on His resurrection--who can die no more: for in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God!. This makes this hope not to imply, in the notion of it, uncertainty, as worldly hopes do; but it is a firm, stable, inviolable hope--an anchor fixed within the veil.
According to his abundant mercy.Mercy is the spring of all this; yes, great mercy, and manifold mercy; "for (as Bernard says) great sins and great miseries need great mercy; and many sins and miseries need many mercies." And is not this great mercy--to make of Satan’s slaves--sons of the Most High God? Well may the Apostle say, Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! The world knows us not because it knew not Him. Those who have not seen the father of a child cannot know that it resembles him. Now the world knows not God, and therefore discerns not His image in His children, so as to esteem them for it. But whatever be their opinion, this we must say ourselves, Behold what love! to take firebrands of hell, and to appoint them to be one day brighter than the sun in the skies! to raise the poor out of the dunghill, and set them with princes!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.Here, lastly, we see it stirs up the Apostle to praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the style of the Gospel; as formerly, under the Law, it was The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and The God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. This now is the order of the government of grace, that it holds first with Christ our Head, and in Him with us. So He says, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God; which, as Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechism, observes, shows us not only our communion with Him—that might have been expressed thus, I go to my God and Father—but the order of the covenant, first my Father and my God, and then yours. Thus ought we, in our consideration of the mercies of God, still to take in Christ, for in Him they are conveyed to us: thus, With all spiritual blessings in Christ.
Blessed.He blesses us really. He blesses by doing us good. We bless Him by acknowledging His goodness. And this we ought to do at all times, I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. All this is far below Him and His mercies. What are our lame praises compared to His love? Nothing, and less than nothing! But love will stammer, rather than be silent. Those who are among His children begotten again, have, in the resurrection of Christ, a lively hope of glory: as it is, Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. This leads them to observe and admire that rich mercy whence it flows; and this consideration awakes them, and constrains them to break forth into praises.
To an inheritance incorruptible.As he who takes away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon niter, so is he who sings songs to a heavy heart. Worldly mirth is so far from curing spiritual grief, that even worldly grief, where it is great and takes deep root, is not allayed--but increased by it. The more a man who is full of inward heaviness is surrounded by mirth, the more it exasperates and enrages his grief; like ineffective weak medicine, which removes not the disease, but stirs it up and makes it more agitated. But spiritual joy is seasonable for all conditions; in prosperity, it is pertinent, to crown and sanctify all other enjoyments, with this which so far surpasses them; and in distress, it is the only cordial of fainting spirits: so, He has put joy into my heart. This holy mirth makes way for itself, which other mirth cannot do. These songs are sweetest in the night of distress. Therefore the Apostle, writing to his scattered afflicted brethren, begins his Epistle with this song of praise, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The matter of this joy is, the joyful remembrance of the happiness laid up for them, under the name of inheritance. Now this inheritance is described by the singular qualities of it. They contain,
1. The excellence of its nature.
2. The certainty of its attainment. The former in these three, Incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away; the latter, in the last words of this verse, and in the verse following: Reserved in heaven for you, &c. God is bountiful to all—gives to all men all that they have--health, riches, honor, strength, beauty, and wit: but those things He scatters (as it were) with an indifferent hand. Upon others He looks, as well as upon His beloved children; but the inheritance is peculiarly theirs. Inheritance is convertible with sonship; Abraham gave gifts to Keturah’s sons, and dismissed them, but the inheritance was for the son of the promise, Gen. 25:5-6. When we see a man rising in preferment or estate, or admired for excellent gifts and endowments of mind, we think--'there is a happy man'. But we consider not, that within a while he is to be turned out of all, and if he has not something beyond all those to look to, he is but a miserable man, and so much the more miserable, that once he seemed and was reputed happy.
There is a certain time when heirs come to possess: thus it is with this inheritance too. There is mention made by the Apostle of a perfect man—unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And though the inheritance is rich and honorable, yet the heir, being young, is held under discipline, and possibly dealt with more strictly than the servants—sharply corrected for that which is overlooked in them; but still, even then, considering that which he is born to, his condition is much better than theirs, and all the correction he suffers harms him not, but prepares him for his inheritance. The love of our heavenly Father is beyond the love of mothers in tenderness; and also beyond the love of fathers, who are usually said to love more wisely, in point of wisdom. He will not undo His children, His heirs, with too much indulgence. It is one of His heavy judgments upon the foolish children of disobedience, that ease shall slay them, and their prosperity shall prove their destruction.
While the children of God are childish and weak in faith, they are like some great heirs before they come to years of understanding: they consider not their inheritance, and what they are to come to, have not their spirits elevated to thoughts worthy of their estate, and their behavior conformed to it. But as they grow up in years, they come, little by little, to be aware of those things, and the nearer they come to possession, the more apprehensive they are of their quality, and of what does answerably befit them to do. And this is the duty of those who are indeed heirs of glory—to grow in the understanding and consideration of that which is prepared for them, and to fit themselves, as they are able, to those great hopes. This is what the Apostle Paul prays for, on behalf of his Ephesians, The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. This would make them holy and heavenly, to have their conversation in heaven, from where they look for a Savior.
That we may, then, the better know something of the dignity and riches of this inheritance, let us consider the description which is here given us of it. And, first, it is—
Incorruptible.Although this seems to be much the same with the third quality, That fades not away, (which is a borrowed expression for the illustrating of its incorruptibleness,) yet, I think that there is some difference, and that in these three qualities there is a gradation. Thus it is called incorruptible; that is, it perishes not, cannot come to nothing, is an estate that cannot be spent. But though it were abiding, yet it might be such as that the continuance of it were not very desirable; it would be but a misery at best, to continue always in this life. Plotinus thanked God that his soul was not tied to an immortal body.
Then, undefiled; it is not stained with the least spot: this signifies the purity and perfection of it, as that the perpetuity of it. It does not only abide, and is pure, but both together; and it abides always in its purity and integrity.
And lastly, it fades not away; it does not fade nor wither at all, is not sometimes more, sometimes less pleasant, but ever the same, still like itself; and that is the immutability of it. As it is incorruptible, it carries away the palm from all earthly possessions and inheritances; for all those epithets are intended to signify its opposition to the things of this world, and to show how far it excels them all; and thus comparatively we are to consider it. For as divines say of the knowledge of God which we have here, that the negative notions makes up a great part of it—we know rather what He is not, than what He is, infinite, incomprehensible, immutable, &c.; so it is of this happiness, this inheritance: and indeed it is none other than God.
We cannot tell you what it is, but we can say so far what it is not, as it is unspeakably above all the most excellent things of the inferior world and this present life. It is by privatives, by removing imperfections from it, that we describe it, and we can go no further—Incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away. All things that we see, being compounded, may be dissolved again. The very visible heavens, which are the purest piece of the material world, notwithstanding the pains the philosopher takes to exempt them, the Scriptures teach us that they are corruptible, They shall perish, but you shall endure: yes, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall you change them, and they shall be changed. And from thence the Apostle to the Hebrews, and our Apostle, in his other Epistle, use the same expression.
But it is unnecessary to fetch too great a compass, to evince the corruptibility of all inheritances. Besides what they are in themselves, it is a shorter way to prove them corruptible in relation to us and our possessing them--by our own corruptibility and corruption, or perishing out of this life in which we enjoy them. We are here—perishing among perishing things; the things are passing which we enjoy, and we are passing who enjoy them. An earthly inheritance is so called in regard of succession; but to everyone it is at the most but for the term of life. As one of the kings of Spain replied to one of his courtiers, who, thinking to please his master, wished that kings were immortal. If that had been, said he--I would never have liked to be a king. When death comes, that removes a man out of all his possessions to give place to another; therefore are these inheritances decaying and dying in relation to us--because we decay and die; and when a man dies, his inheritances and honors, and all things here, are at an end, in respect of him; yes, we may say the world ends to him.
Thus Solomon reasons, that a man’s happiness cannot be upon this earth; because it must be some durable, abiding thing that must make him happy—abiding, namely, in his enjoyment. Now, although the earth abides, yet, because man abides not on the earth to possess it, but one age drives out another, one generation passes, and another comes—as wave is driven on by wave, therefore, his rest and his happiness cannot be here.
Undefiled.All possessions here are defiled and stained with many other defects and failings—still somewhat lacking, some damp on them or crack in them; fair houses, but sad cares flying about the gilded and ceiled roofs; stately and soft beds, and a full table, but a sickly body and queasy stomach. As the fairest face has some mole or wart in it, so all possessions are stained with sin, either in acquiring or in using them, and therefore they are called, mammon of unrighteousness. Iniquity is so involved in the notion of riches, that it can very hardly be separated from them. Jerome says, To me it appears, that he who is rich is either himself an unjust man, or the heir of one. Foul hands pollute all they touch; it is our sin which defiles all that we possess! It is sin that burdens the whole creation, and presses groans out of the very frame of the world. For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. Sin is the leprosy which defiles our houses, the very walls and floors, our food and drink, and all we touch; polluted when alone, and polluted in society; our meetings and conversations together being for the greatest part nothing but an interchange of sin and vanity. We breathe up and down in an infected air, and are very receptive of the infection by our own corruption within us. We readily turn the things we possess here to occasions and instruments of sin, and think there is no liberty nor delight in their use, without abusing them. How few are those who can carry, as they say, a full cup without spilling; who can rightly use great wealth and estates; who can bear notoriety without pride, and riches without covetousness, and ease without luxury!
Then, as our earthly inheritances are stained with sin in their use, so what grief and strife, and contentions about obtaining or retaining them! Does not matter of possession, this same—mine and yours—divide many times the affections of those who are knit together in nature, or other strict ties, and prove the worst cause of strife between nearest friends? If we trace great estates to their first original, how few will be found that owe not their beginning either to fraud, or rapine, or oppression! and the greatest empires and kingdoms in the world have had their foundations laid in blood. Are not these defiled inheritances?
That withers not.A borrowed speech, alluding to the decaying of plants and flowers, which bud and flourish at a certain time of the year, and then fade and wither, and in winter are as if they were dead. And this is the third disadvantage of possessions and all things worldly--that they abide not in one estate, but are in a more uncertain and irregular inconstancy than either the flowers and plants of the field, or the moon, from which they are called sublunary; like Nebuchadnezzar’s image, degenerating by degrees into baser metals, and, in the end, into a mixture of iron and clay.
The excellence, then, of our heavenly inheritance is, that it is free from all those evils. It falls not under the stroke of time, comes not within the compass of its scythe, which has so large a compass, and cuts down all other things. There is nothing in it weighing it towards corruption. It is immortal, everlasting; for it is the fruition of the immortal, everlasting God, by immortal souls; and the body rejoined with it shall likewise be immortal, having put on incorruption, as the Apostle speaks.
It fades not away.No spot of sin nor sorrow there; all pollution wiped away, and all tears with it; no envy nor strife; not as here among men, one supplanting another, one pleading and fighting against another, dividing this point of earth with fire and sword. No! this inheritance is not the less by division, by being parted among so many brethren, everyone has it all, each his crown, and all agreeing in casting them down before His throne, from whom they have received them, and in the harmony of His praises. This inheritance is often called a kingdom, and a crown of glory. This word may allude to those garlands of the ancients; and this is its property, that the flowers in it are all Amaranthes (as a certain plant is named), and so it is called, A crown of glory that fades not away. No change at all there, no winter and summer: not like the poor comforts here, but a bliss always flourishing.
The grief of the saints here, is not so much for the changes of outward things, as of their inward comforts. Sweet the hour--but short the tarrying. Sweet presences of God they sometimes have, but they are short and often interrupted; but there no cloud shall come between them and their Sun--they shall behold Him in His full brightness forever. As there shall be no change in their beholding, so no weariness nor abatement of their delight in beholding. They sing a new song, always the same, and yet always new. The sweetest of our music, if it were to be heard but for one whole day, would weary those who are most delighted with it. What we have here cloys, but satisfies not; the joys above never cloy, and yet always satisfy.
We should here consider the last property of this inheritance, namely, the certainty of it—Reserved in heaven for you; but that is connected with the following verse, and so will be fitly joined with it.
Now for some use of all this. If these things were believed, they would persuade for themselves; we would not need to add any entreaties to move you to seek after this inheritance. Have we not experience enough of the vanity and misery of corruptible things? And are not a great part of our days already spent among them? Is it not time to consider whether we are provided with anything surer and better than what we have here? Whether we have any inheritance to go home to after our wandering? or can say with the Apostle, We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens?
If these things gain our assent while we hear them, yet it dies so easily. Scarcely any retire themselves after to follow forth those thoughts, and to make a work indeed of them; they busy their heads rather another way, building castles in the air, and spinning out their thoughts in vain contrivances. Happy are those whose hearts the Spirit of God sets and fixes upon this inheritance: they may join in with the Apostle, and say, as here, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you!