Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 1:15 - 1:16

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 1:15 - 1:16

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1Pe_1:15-16. As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

IT is thought by many, that the Gospel is unfriendly to morality: and it must be confessed, that, when stated in all its freeness and in all its richness, it bears that aspect: for it proclaims a free and full salvation to men; and that solely by faith. It declares, that if men rely on their works, in any measure, for justification before God, or perform them in any respect with a view to obtain justification by them, they make void the cross of Christ, and cut themselves off from all hope of an interest in him. The Gospel authorizes us to say, that the most abandoned of mankind are as welcome to all its benefits as the most moral; and that “where sin has abounded, grace shall much more abound.” Now, these statements certainly do appear open to the objection that is brought against them: for, if past sins are no bar to our acceptance with God, and moral services cannot procure it, to what purpose is it to avoid sin, or to do good works? We may as well at once give loose to all our evil propensities, and “continue in sin, that grace may abound.” Now, it is worthy of particular notice, that these were the very objections urged against St. Paul’s statements [Note: Rom_5:1; Rom_5:15.]: and he was constrained to answer them, not by weakening the force of his statements, but by obviating the objections themselves; and shewing, that the Gospel, as preached by him, both made provision for holiness, and secured it against a possibility of failure [Note: Rom_3:31.]. The truth is, that though the law, as a covenant, is superseded by the Gospel, which introduces a better covenant, it is in force as much as ever, as a rule of life; and that, whilst we are without the law, in relation to its ceremonial ordinances, we are “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,” in relation to its moral power and ascendency [Note: 1Co_9:21.]. St. Peter shews this with peculiar force: for, speaking to persons who were called to the knowledge of Christ and of salvation by him, he cites out of the Levitical law the command of God respecting holiness, and applies it to Christians as still existing in all its primitive force. Without any fear, therefore, of being legal, as it is called, or of clogging the Gospel with duties not pertaining to it, I proceed to set before you,

I.       The injunction given us—

Repeatedly was this command given to the Jews of old [Note: Lev_11:44; Lev_19:2; Lev_20:7.]. Let us consider,

1.       Its import—

[Holiness is a conformity to the mind and will of God. And to it are we called by the Gospel [Note: 1Th_4:7.]. “The grace which brings salvation to us, teaches us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world [Note: Tit_2:11-12.].” Negative holiness, if I may so express myself, is to be sought in the first instance. We are “no longer to fashion ourselves according to our former lusts in our ignorance [Note: ver. 14.];” but, advancing to the positive execution of our duty, we are to be “holy in all manner of conversation.” In all our walk with God, we must be sincere and upright: there must be no allowed guile in our hearts. And in our intercourse with men, every action, word, and thought, must be under the influence of love, and agreeable to its dictates. Neither times nor circumstances are so to operate as to produce in us any allowed deviation from God’s perfect law. We are to be altogether “a holy people unto the Lord.” It was for this end that the Lord Jesus Christ both lived and died, even “that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Tit_2:14.].” And to this are we chosen by God himself: for though “we were chosen to salvation, it was to be through sanctification of the Spirit, as well as through the belief of the truth [Note: 2Th_2:13.].” To this effect St. Paul speaks: “God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we may be holy [Note: Eph_1:4.].” And to the same effect St. Peter also says, in the commencement of this epistle; “We are elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience [Note: ver. 2.].” The command then is clear, that we are to be holy both in heart and life.]

2.       The reason with which it is enforced—

[As children of God, we ought to be “children of obedience.” The very circumstance of our having been “called” by divine grace, lays this obligation upon us. But there is a remarkable force in the reason here assigned; “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” It seems to import these three things: “Be ye holy; for without holiness you cannot belong to me, or enjoy me, or dwell with me in my kingdom.” I could never acknowledge an unholy person as having an interest in my favour: it would be unworthy of me: it would be to make myself a patron and partaker of his sins. Nor could an unholy being gain access to me: his very dispositions would separate him from me; and prevent his having communion with me. Nor, though he were admitted into heaven, could he be happy there. He would find no one there that resembled him, or that had a like taste with him, or that could join with him in any of his pursuits. He would be out of his element altogether: nor would one in hell pant more for deliverance, to get rid of his pains, than he would for an escape from the company and occupations for which he felt no relish. Hence, when God says, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” we must understand him, not as issuing a mere arbitrary command, but as declaring, that none but a holy being has any reason to expect, or any capacity to enjoy, his favour.]

But we shall have a deeper insight into the injunction, if we consider,

II.      The exhortation founded upon it—

“As he that hath called you is holy, so be ye holy, in all manner of conversation.” In these words the Apostle does not merely confirm the authority of the injunction itself, but points out the extent to which it is to be obeyed, and the object we must aim at in order to a full compliance with it.

We must take God himself for our pattern [Note: This is the idea suggested in the original.]—

[The natural perfections of the Deity are, and ever must be, peculiar to himself: but his moral perfections must be possessed by us, so far as we are capable of attaining them. His goodness, his patience, his mercy, his love, his truth, his faithfulness, are all to be imitated by us; so that “what God himself is in the world, that are we to be also [Note: 1Jn_4:17.].” That we might be at no loss on this all-important subject, the Lord Jesus Christ has “set us an example, that we might follow his steps [Note: 1Pe_2:24.]:” and we are “to walk in all things as he walked [Note: 1Jn_2:6.],” and to “purify ourselves even as he was pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.].” Of course, we cannot expect ever to attain his perfection: but that is no reason why we should not aim at it. There is no one point in which we should allow ourselves to fall short of it: we should strive to be holy in all things, even as God himself is holy; and “perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect [Note: Mat_5:48.].”]

By this must we shew that we are his people indeed—

[It is to this that “God has called us.” It is the very object which he had in view, in his whole work of grace upon our souls, even that we might be “created anew after his image, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:24.].” And, if our hearts be upright before God, this is the thing which we shall pant after, no less than after heaven itself. Sin will be our burthen and aversion; and a conformity to God will be regarded as the first object of our desire. Yea, to be “like him” will be contemplated by us as the perfection of our happiness, in “seeing him as he is [Note: 1Jn_3:2.].”]


1.       Those who are yet in nature’s “ignorance”—

[To exhort you to holiness were a vain attempt. You have no eyes to discern, no heart to appreciate its excellence. You must have the eyes of your understanding enlightened by the Spirit of God, before you can form any just conception of the beauty of holiness: you must have your heart of stone removed, and a heart of flesh given you, before you can be capable of bearing on you any lineaments of the Divine image. Let your first concern, therefore, be to become regenerate: for most assuredly, except ye be born again, you can never enter into, nor ever see, the kingdom of God. Remember, I say not this to those only who are openly and grossly wicked: I say it to the most moral amongst you: if you were as moral and amiable as Nicodemus himself, I would say to you, “Ye must be born again [Note: Joh_3:3; Joh_3:5; Joh_3:7.].” “A new heart must be given you, and a new spirit must be put within you,” ere you can have the very first principles of holiness in your souls. I pray you, therefore, to seek this first of blessings at the hands of God; and not to rest, till, through the operation of his Spirit upon your souls, “old things are passed away, and all things are become new.”]

2.       Those who have been “called” out of darkness into God’s marvellous light—

[You are longing for the very blessing of which we have spoken. But in many of you there yet remains a considerable degree of ignorance respecting the appointed method of obtaining it. You are looking too much to your own exertions, and too little to the Saviour: and hence you make but little progress in the divine life. Hence, also, you obtain but little comfort in your own souls. You are ready to say, How can I be a child of God, when I bear so little of his image? and how can I venture to apply to myself his promises, whilst I am so unworthy of them. But these persons need to be informed, that they reverse God’s method of making his people holy. They would become holy first, and then apply to themselves the promises of God: whereas they must first take to themselves the promises of God as sinners; and then, through their influence upon the soul, obtain a conformity to the Divine image. “God has given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by them we may be made partakers of the Divine nature [Note: 2Pe_1:4.].” Hence the Apostle says, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].” Adopt this method, then: look to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, and “lay hold on him as your sure hope and refuge.” First receive him in all the freeness and all the fulness of his salvation; then shall you attain the holiness you desire; and be able to say with the Apostle, “We, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2Co_3:18.].”]