Salvation - The Work of God for Men - Part 2
R. Grant, Stevenston
These studies are concerned with tracing the work of God -Father, Son and Spirit -for, in and through His people. Having already considered the work of the Father in the salvation of men, we now turn to the second and third themes.
2. THE WORTH OF THE SON, 1. 6-9 If the believer's hope is based on the work of the Father, his love is now said to be centred in the Person of the Son. Hope is concentrated on the future, but our paragraph finds its main interest in the present-"though now" in contrast with "the last time". The inheritance waits to be enjoyed in all its fulness in the future, but it may be enjoyed in a measure now. As faith triumphs in tribulation borne for the Lord Jesus, as hope brightens in anticipation of His coming, as love deepens in spite of separation from Him - then and in that measure are we grasping, in time, the reality of eternity. The paragraph speaks of
Christ Exalted in the Afflictions of His People, vv. 6-7, and tells how faith is tested by suffering.
The Paradox of Trial-"ye rejoice, though ... in heaviness". The heirs of glory are exposed, as their Lord was, to the hatred of men. In His will, they may well have to endure manifold trials, but they have His own blessed assurance that their joy is inviolate no matter what men may do. His words "your joy no man taketh from you", which have been proved and witnessed in the sufferings of His people through the centuries and are for our encouragement, have never been withdrawn or invalidated.
The Period of Trial -"for a season". "Weeping", says the psalmist, "may endure for a night". Paul, reviewing what was, by time's measure, a long experience of affliction, assesses its duration as "but for a moment". He was, of course, seeing it in the perspective of, and by contrast with, "eternal... glory". The great thing is that there is a divinely set limit to the sufferings of the people of God; they are "for a season". The God who controls the "whomsoever", Dan. 5. 21, the "whatsoever", Acts 4.28, and "whithersoever", Prov. 21.1, of earthly rule, has assuredly set limits to the power of men to afflict His blood-bought people. After all, it is only "if need be". He alone knows what is necessary to the accomplishing of His purpose, and what may befall His people is certainly within the scope of His design. "Wherefore", says Peter, in a word which focuses a number of the ideas discussed in the Epistle, "let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator", 4. 19.
The Purpose of Trial -"that the trial of your faith . . . might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ". Trial is linked in the New Testament with the discipline of sons, Heb. 12. 10, with the development of character, James 1. 3, with the day of compensation, 2 Cor. 4. 17, and here with the display of Christ. The "precious" faith here is not used in the sense of the body of truth, but of the Spirit-given ability to receive and rest upon the promises of God in spite of every contrary evidence. It is a staggering thought that the enduring confidence of His loved ones under trial will accumulate to His glory in that coming day of display and be recognized then, as it should be now, as the fruit of His own blessed activity. Gold, even gold tried by the fire, is doomed to perish: but faith that triumphs in suffering is destined to endure in the display of the glory of that blessed Man. The paragraph speaks, too, of
Christ Enthroned in the Affections of His People, v. 8,
and describes how love is tested by separation. The world has two contradictory sayings -"out of sight, out of mind" and "absence makes the heart grow fonder". Generally, unless love is strong, the former is truer to experience than the latter and, in the end, merely human love must fade in the absence of its object. But in the case before us now, the affections of the believer are, by a miracle of divine grace, entwined around a Man whom he has never seen. Two factors at least explain this remarkable fact. First of all, there never was another like the Lord Jesus. Comparatives and even superlatives of language fail. "Better", "best" do not do Him justice - He is unique! The second is that the believer's love is not merely human - it is an element of the divine nature which he now possesses as the result of new birth, and we know that "love is of God". His love for the Lord Jesus is not only elemental; it is evidential of his possession of divine life. But the paragraph speaks of
Christ Enjoyed in the Anticipations of His People,
w. 8-9, and describes, this time, how hope is tested by suspense. The believer's joy
Has a Source - in his faith, "yet believing, ye rejoice". "Seeing is believing" is not his rule of life, for his faith is set on the unseen.
Has Substance -"in whom ... ye rejoice"- in a Man who is real enough and whose attractiveness is strong enough to make His followers independent of earthly sources of enjoyment, and to make them content to be strangers and sufferers in the world for His sake.
Has Serenity -"ye rejoice", not with the transient joy of the worldling in his passing pleasures, or in his failing friendships, or in his changing moods, but with the deep, settled joy of heart-occupation with his unchanging, incomparable Beloved.
Has Sublimity -"receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls"- in the hope so large and so real in the heart of the believer that it grasps already, in time, the realities of the glory of the future. It is "unspeakable"; it defies expression in human terms. It is "full of glory". It has in it something of the glory into which the Lord Jesus has already gone, and to which the believer hastens. Though he is not yet in heaven, heaven may be in his heart, since his Lord is there. The extent to which it is so is the measure of his present possession of the inheritance of verse 4.
3. THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT, 1. 10-12 If the believer's hope is based on the work of God the Father, and his love centred on the Person of the Son of God, this paragraph describes the work of the Spirit of God as the ground of the believer's faith. The initial act of faith is in the past of the believer's life, while his love finds its opportunities in the present, and his hope is concentrated on the future. His salvation, in all its completeness in time and eternity is, thus, a work to which the infinite resources of the Godhead are committed. This salvation is said to be
The Subject of Prophetic Anticipation-"concerning
which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently", 1. 10 r.v. The prophets referred, to are most probably the Old Testament prophets. Part of the purpose of the context is to contrast the fulfilment of God's purpose in the New Testament with its failure in the Old, and prophets and preachers are one of the points of difference. There is, moreover, a contrast of manner implied in the expressions "the Spirit of Christ which was in them" and "the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven", and a contrast of time in the word "now". Assuming Old Testament prophets to be the subject of verse 10, the passage bears witness to the relatively unprivileged position of these selfless men who spoke in mystery, even to themselves. Nevertheless, their words, communicated by the Holy Spirit, 2 Pet. 1. 21, give witness and sanction to the way of suffering for which the Christ was destined.
One reason why the witness of the prophets is mentioned is to carry weight in Jewish minds -"all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?", Luke 24. 25-26. Says Peter, in effect, what has befallen you is not only in keeping with what has befallen your Lord, but was foretold by our own prophets.
One other practical lesson must be drawn from verse 12. The ministry of these men is said to be "unto us"- and it would be a tragic loss to miss the benefit of them by imagining them to be out of season. Salvation is, too,
The Subject of Evangelic Announcement - they are "the things, which are now reported unto you by them which have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost (Spirit) sent down from heaven". The contrast, in this passage, between prophets and preachers has already been mentioned. Prophets by the Spirit in them "revealed" foretellings; preachers, in the power of the Holy Spirit on the earth, "reported" facts. Several features of this activity warrant attention.
The Presentation and Attitude of the Preachers. To this work of proclaiming the Gospel men in those early days and ever since have given themselves, often at the sacrifice of all else. That they should do so bespeaks a deep conviction and, especially in those first preachers of whom Peter speaks primarily, a vital personal experience with Christ. Saints do these men - and their Master - a grave dishonour to despise them; it happened to Paul at Corinth, and, tragically, it happens still.
The Power and Authority of the Preaching. It was "with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" that these men preached. We can afford to turn a deaf ear to the words of men, but even if we dislike God's messenger (and God's words are as binding on saints as they are on sinners) we dare not despise his message. Even if the messenger is unworthy of his message, the word has its own authority. "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not", Matt. 23. 3. But we must not forget that Peter is writing to confirm and encourage. He is here stressing that the word by which we were brought to the Lord Jesus was no less the work of the Spirit of God than was the word of the prophets.
The Privilege and Advantage of the Hearers. What the prophets said and their hearers heard was largely mystery or, at best, but partly understood. Its full significance was for a later age, and before its fulfilment all the original speakers and hearers had long passed off the scene. But present readers of this Epistle are blessed that we are the hearers of statements of historical fact. They heard about the future; we have heard about accomplished events in the past. Their blessing depended upon their acceptance of a promise; ours on faith in an accomplished work. But this salvation is
The Subject of Angelic Amazement -"which things the angels desire to look into". Even now, the matter and manner of the salvation of men and all it involves, are matters of wonder to angelic beings. They neither comprehend nor communicate these great and wonderful things. It is not only that they do not share the blessings of salvation; they are beyond them! It is a matter for worship that men, on the other hand, are the recipients and the beneficiaries of such a revelation, while angels are but the wondering witnesses. Dr. Saphir has a comment in his book Christ and the Scriptures which may help to put the subject in perspective. "If an angel from heaven, who had been before God's throne for thousands of years, came to earth and, dwelling among us, was willing to communicate unto us out of the treasure of his knowledge of divine things, how eagerly we would seek his society and how attentively we would treasure up his words. But the Bible is better than such a celestial messenger. It is given by God Himself as the best and most perfect Teacher. He, in His infinite wisdom, has adapted both the matter and the manner to our wants and peculiar position in this world. He has revealed to us things into which the very angels desire to look. What can be more precious than His own language and His own words revealing to us the inmost thoughts and purposes of His heart. We ought to open the Bible with the most lively gratitude".
In the light of these blessed facts about the Word of God given and communicated by the Holy Spirit of God Himself, surely we dare not handle these precious Scriptures with anything but the deepest reverence and affection, nor accept their testimony with anything but the utmost confidence.
May the Lord give us to know the reassuring power of the theme of these verses in the early part of Peter's writing; under their blessed influence, may faith and love and hope find some stimulus, so as to keep our hearts true in such a world as this.