1 Peter 4:17-19

1 Peter 4:17‑19  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The apostle had put forward the sufferings of the saints as fellowship with Christ's sufferings. They could not share His grace without sharing what this entailed on Him in an evil world where God is hated quite as much as He is dreaded by a bad conscience and an unbelieving heart. They were therefore to count persecution no strange thing, but to be expected where sin pervades and prevails, where darkness is put for light and light for darkness, where good is called evil and evil good, where sweet is accounted bitter and bitter sweet. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the portion of the righteous be but the rejection which their Lord had? The disciple is not above his teacher, nor the bondman above his lord. Every one when perfected shall be as his master. It was saintly privilege and to be accepted with thanks and exultation. It was to be reproached in His name, the Spirit of glory and of God resting on them that their groans might have a divine and unselfish character, and themselves be strengthened with all power according to the might of His glory unto all patience with joy.
Now he turns to the moral side, after an earnest exhortation against the dangers for a Christian in the midst of the worst examples. Assuredly if God judges, it is for good reason; and judge He must, according to His holy nature, what is inconsistent. with it, and lifts itself proudly and rebelliously against Himself. Already too men slept, and the enemy sowed darnel, and the evil could not be expelled till the consummation of the age when the Son of man takes it in hand with power and glory. The Holy Spirit was sent for the good news, the saints, the church, but not to apply remedy to the ruin. This is reserved for the Lord who will at His appearing bring in times of restoration of all things, as the prophets spoke and God through them since time began. 2 Thess. 2, one of the earliest communications to the church, is explicit that the mystery of lawlessness was already at work. This is the succession that is never interrupted, though kept in check by the Spirit of God till He departs, and the apostasy ensues, which culminates in the lawless one fully displayed in his audacious taking of his seat in God's temple, showing himself that he is God.
Hence says our apostle, “Because the time [is] that judgment begin from the house of God; and if first from us, what [shall be] the end of those that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous is with difficulty saved, where shall the impious and sinful appear? Wherefore also let those that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing1 to a faithful Creator” (vers. 17-19).
So it had been in the awful judgment which befell Jerusalem and the Jews as described by Ezekiel. “Begin at my sanctuary,” said Jehovah, where man assumed indefectibility; and such is the vain confidence of tradition, in the face of the plainest testimonies to the contrary in the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Revelation. The glory of Jehovah refused to dwell in His house defiled by abomination, and yet greater abominations, the last of which was that eastern attitude which has ever stamped the idolator, never the true worshipper of our God and Father. No doubt, salvation ever was of God and in sovereign grace; and this in Christianity is made more evident and indisputable than it ever had been. But God from the first maintained His title to judge every departure from Him; and none ought to be so ready and so thorough in confessing their sins as those who own that all they enjoy and boast is of His grace. Whereas the plague-spot in Christendom, as in Israel, is to claim for its most guilty and apostate state the immunity that belongs to the counsels of grace. Never was Judah loftier in its pretensions and louder in its sense of security than on the eve of unsparing judgment. And now it is still more guiltily the fact with Christendom.
Here it is where even real disciples sadly fail. Party-spirit blinds; for what is Christendom but a scattered group of parties? As another apostle taught, there were schisms even then; and there must be heresies or sects as it really means, the inevitable effect if not corrected by self-judgment; and these we now see all around and unblushing. Those that carry the head highest can hardly deny it. Their own association is of course the true one, if not quite immaculate in their eyes; but they must know of souls on earth more than themselves subject to the word and Spirit of God, devoted to Christ's name, and separate from the world. This might pierce their conscience, and lead them by grace to discover the overwhelming ruin underneath the haughtiest prejudice. But the darkness which besets all who yield to the fatal assumption of indefectibility in the Christian profession hinders the entrance of divine light as to this into their souls. The testimony of Paul has been alleged; here before us is that of Peter. Jude is in prophetic vision as distinct and pregnant, as he is brief. “Woe to them, because they went in the way of Cain, and gave themselves up to the misleading of Balaam for hire, and perished in the gainsaying of Korah.” John penetrates deeper than all when he calls it “the last hour” of many antichrists come, the heralds of the antichrist.
But where is this felt by saints generally and confessed with grief before God and with shame before men? If they go so far as to protest against this evil or that, they are satisfied with their part, even though they in fact join in with what they own as deplorable, or alas! seek to explain away.
Let them heed the way of the godly in Israel, though surely the Christian is bound to go farther still and judge more profoundly through far more light. From Moses to Samuel how much is there to learn in presence of the people fighting against God! From Jeremiah and Daniel, from Ezra and Nehemiah, what agony over the remnant's short-coming, what bearing the burden of all Israel's sins, of people, priests, and kings! Is the church to have no such sense of responsibility? Is the Christian, because he has eternal life and is justified, to have no sorrow because of the beautiful flock of Christ harried and scattered, and of the rashness, heats, and self-will which oft caused it?
Undoubtedly scripture provides to faith and fidelity a clean path outside corporate as well as individual defilement. But if there be not a spirit mourning and broken that precedes recourse to it and that is kept up ever after, a hard and cold self-righteousness will rush in there, the sure proof of failure that only adds sin to sin, and that forebodes worse evil still. If we are of the church, Christ's body, it is a heartless thing that we are only to feel what wrong we have personally done. The true principle is that, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and of this suffering the spiritual are deeply sensible. But the self-satisfied is quite indifferent. He has his party, and is content. In Christ we see the perfection of His love in this respect as in all others. He bore on His spirit the burden of every woe He relieved by His power: how much more did He feel all the unworthy selfishness which impeded and weighed down His beloved ones! We are entitled and bound by grace to share this divine affection with Him. The faith which refuses sin works by love to warn the saints who yield to it, but also to intercede on their behalf. Christ would have us wash one another's feet; but what lowliness and love we need to do it aright!
Now if judgment begin from the house of God, as it does and ought (compare Amos 3:22You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:2)), what must be the end of those that obey not the gospel of God? This is the only obedience to which the unforgiven is called. What a proof of blind wickedness that any sinners should refuse! For the gospel of God is the glad news of full remission of his sins in the blood of Jesus. Yet what thousands and millions dare hell-fire rather than believe on Him. What shall their end be?
No wonder that the apostle speaks of the righteous saved with difficulty. Yes, the obstacles are many and immense; and there is no good thing in them, that is, in all naturally theirs, while even as saints, what weakness and exposure! “Who then can be saved?” said the disciples, when they heard of special difficulty for the rich, who, as they thought, had such advantage over all others. But Jesus looking on them with His unfailing love replied, “With men this is,” not difficult, but “impossible “; but (thanks forever to His name!) “with God all things are possible.” Salvation is of God, as His is the gospel which proclaims it to everyone, poor or rich, that believes. But all the more appalling is the lot of those who not only violate His law but scorn or neglect His gospel. Where shall the impious and sinful appear?
God is not only the One that raises the dead, as already shown us in Christ for the deliverance of our souls; He does not cease to prove Himself “a faithful Creator” to such as suffer on earth. “Wherefore also let them that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls” to Him thus “in well-doing.” He is tender to His creatures; how much more to His children, suffering wrongfully for a little while! The sentiment is closely in keeping with the testimony to such Jews as were now Christians.