1 Peter 1:17

1 Peter 1:17  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
But other considerations are urged of distinctly Christian character, which add immense weight and power both to the new responsibility and to the comfort and cheer of those who are Christ's.
“And if as Father ye call on Him that impartially judgeth according to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourning in fear” (ver. 17).
As Jehovah was the divine name in relation to Israel, so is Father to the Christian, and this, not in the vulgar sense of the derivation from His birth, as fatherhood of Adam and the race (Luke 3:3838Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God. (Luke 3:38), Acts 17:2929Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. (Acts 17:29)), but of the special and spiritual nearness into which the risen Christ brought the believer. “Go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.” He had prepared the disciples for this, throughout His ministry. Rejected by the Jew, He turned from fleshly kin and said, “Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father that is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:49, 5049And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matthew 12:49‑50)). But now that redemption was accomplished and accepted as the new standing fact, now that purification of sins is made, and life given abundantly by His resurrection, He could announce precisely that His brethren enter the same relationships that He Himself had as risen from the dead and taking His place on high. So had He anticipated while opening His heart to the Father in their hearing only a few days before: “I made known to them thy name, and will make it known, that the love wherewith thou lovedst me may be in them, and I in them.” This is Christianity, not in atonement (however true and needed through our sins and ruin), but in its positive excellency and in our special and proper place according to God's counsels and love.
To the fathers dwelling in tents with nothing but His promises He revealed Himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai, their sure and sufficient Protector in the midst of the peoples they were in due time to dispossess. When the time came to bring forth Israel out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, He gave the name of Jehovah as their unchanging Governor, He their God and they His people. “And what great nation is there (Moses could ask), that hath God so nigh to them, as Jehovah our God is in everything we call on Him for?” “Hath God essayed to come and take Him a nation out of the midst of a nation by trials, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a powerful hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that Jehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? Unto you it was shown that thou mightest know that Jehovah He is God; there is none else besides Him. From the heavens He made thee hear His voice, that He might instruct thee; and on earth He showed thee His great fire; and thou heardest His words out of the midst of the fire. And because He loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them, and brought thee out with His presence, with His great power, out of Egypt, to drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as at this day. Know therefore this day, and lay it to thy heart, that Jehovah He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath—none else” (Deut. 4:7, 34-397For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? (Deuteronomy 4:7)
34Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that the Lord he is God; there is none else beside him. 36Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he showed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. 37And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt; 38To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day. 39Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else. (Deuteronomy 4:34‑39)
It was indeed the best portion a nation could have here below till Messiah reigns over them, and the new covenant be made with the houses of Israel and of Judah. But before that day Messiah came for a deeper, holier, and more wondrous purpose—to suffer for sin, and for the sins of all who believe, to the glory of God. The cross of Christ, where He suffered from God as well as from man, presents a work divine beyond all that ever was wrought or can be again. For in this way, so strange to human eyes, not only was the Son of man glorified, but God was glorified in Him Whom man despised and the nation abhorred. Therefore God glorified Him in Himself and glorified Him straightway, instead of in His kingdom of manifested power and might, which He awaits in due time. But in and by His sufferings on the cross atonement was made; and risen from the dead He could and did reveal in all its fullness the name of His Father and our Father, His God and our God; that we might ourselves call upon Him as such, in a blessed nearness never till then appropriated by the faithful, never even possible before save to our Lord Himself.
Yet it is exceedingly important to recognize that divine love never weakens but really and powerfully strengthens our sense of divine light. It is the dread of fallen humanity. Conscious sinfulness, till we know that we have been once for all cleansed sacrificially, makes us shrink from God. How changed all is, when we not only repent and believe but rest on Christ's one offering, whereby He has perfected in perpetuity (εἰς τὸ διηνεκὲς) the sanctified! Then we children of light walk in the light, and prove it as wholesome as it is marvelous. We are thus thankful for the way with us of our God and Father in a world of danger and darkness and deception and self will and rebellion against His will and word. For He “impartially judgeth according to the work of each.”
So had the Lord Himself taught in John 15, speaking of Himself as the True Vine, and of His disciples as the branches. “My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away; and every one that beareth fruit He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit.” Those that remained around Him were already clean because of the word, He had spoken to them; many went back and walked no more with Him, and stumbled at the word being disobedient. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray Him. The Vine represented the external relation, and the branches those who bore His name truly or not. It was no question of life eternal or of union with Him as before. It was a blessed place on earth of cleaving unto Him and bearing fruit, and so every true saint proves; but it might be only mental or external, and so unable to bear the word or overcome the world, and thus in some way come to ruin. The believer welcomes the Father's care and bears more fruit. Even if He chastens, it is a Father's hand, and a proof of His love, the very reverse of alienation from the erring one. “He dealeth with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastening, of which all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” The Father of spirits can make no mistakes, as our honored parents may have done; without fail He chastens for profit in order to the partaking of His holiness (Heb. 12:7-107If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. (Hebrews 12:7‑10)). Man or woman, young or old, poor or rich, He judges according to the work of each. There is no partiality with Him; there is a Father's love in the light.
But the present participle expresses here, not the abstract principle, but His actual dealing in distinct reference to the time of our sojourning. It is uncommonly bold to say otherwise in presence of John 5:2222For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: (John 5:22), and indeed the context; where our Lord teaches that the Son quickens in communion with the Father, but has all judgment committed to Himself, because He is the Son of man. He only, of the Persons in the Godhead, became man, and suffered to the utmost in that humiliation; so He only has authority to execute judgment (in the final and everlasting sense) in that very nature. This is set beyond fair doubt, because the Lord declares that the believer does not come into judgment, by any such solemn act as He speaks of; whereas it is certain that every believer does become subject to the judgment which the Father now carries on while we are here. It is not that future act in God's judgment no doubt through Jesus Christ the Lord (Rom. 2:16; 14:1016In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)
10But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10)
); it is not the Father's but the Son of man's. But it is the Father who now judges according to the work of each saint in his sojourn here.
That this scripture goes no farther than the Father's present scrutiny is evident from the exhortation which follows: “Pass the time of your sojourning in fear.” At Christ's appearing there is for those addressed or others like them no sojourning more. Any such time is ended. Pilgrimage in the wilderness is exchanged for an abiding city, the coming one. There is no longer grief which we possibly needed, but praise and glory and honor, with an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading. But now it is our responsibility as Christians that our conduct be “in fear” of our Father and God, Whose word is living and operative, sharper than any two-edged sword, and penetrating to division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern both thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature unapparent in His sight; but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes with Whom we have to do.
It may be well, even if hardly needful, to say that the fear enjoined on the believer, during the time of his earthly course, is not only consistent with enjoying our Father's love but its inseparable accompaniment. “There is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared,” says Psa. 130:44But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. (Psalm 130:4). Hence “blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah, that delighteth greatly in His commandments” (Psa. 112:11Praise ye the Lord. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. (Psalm 112:1)). Not only is “the fear of Jehovah the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:77The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)), but “happy is the man that feareth always” (Prov. 28:1414Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief. (Proverbs 28:14)). It is in contrast with him that hardens his heart, who shall fall into mischief.
There is a natural fear of unbelief, which distrusts God and really hates Him. Of this John speaks in his First Epistle (4:18) as incompatible with love as with faith and hope, in short with the knowledge of God and His Son. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love [His, not ours] casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth hath not been perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” A true and filial spirit fears the commandment; as whoso despiseth the word shall be held accountable. In His fear is strong confidence, for He looks to the man who trembles at His word. No privileges of grace are meant to hinder or weaken this pious fear and godly awe. We shall also give account of all done in the body before Christ's tribune, and receive accordingly. But this to us who believe is not the judgment from which grace exempts.
So the apostle Paul speaks of being with those who received the gospel at Corinth “in fear and in much trembling,” though in the full assurance of faith and in labors as abundant as his love; and in the Second Epistle he praises the saints for receiving Titus with fear and trembling (7:15), to his comfort and the joy of his fellow-workman. What a contrast with the wicked and slothful bondman in the parable! Him the Lord describes as being afraid of the gracious Master, counting Him “an austere man,” and therefore hiding His talent in the earth, instead of using it faithfully for the good of others in His service, relying on His love!
Well did one write more than two centuries ago, “This fear is not cowardice; it doth not debase, but elevates the mind; for it drowns all lower fears, and begets true fortitude and courage to encounter all dangers for a good conscience and the obeying of God. The righteous is bold as a lion' (Prov. 28:11The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1)); he dares do anything but offend God; and to dare do that is the greatest folly and baseness and weakness in the world. From this fear have sprung all the generous resolutions and patient sufferings of the saints and martyrs of God, because they durst not sin against Him; therefore they durst be imprisoned, and impoverished, and tortured, and die for Him. Thus the prophet [Isa. 8:12, 1312Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. 13Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:12‑13)] sets carnal and godly fear as opposite, and the one expelling the other. And our Savior [Luke 12:44And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. (Luke 12:4)], ' Fear not them that kill the body; but fear Him who, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say to you, fear Him! ' Fear not, but fear; and therefore fear that ye may not fear” (R. Leighton in loco, (Jerment's ed. 1:133, 4).