Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 4:12 - 4:16

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 4:12 - 4:16

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1Pe_4:12-16. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busy-body in other men’s matters. Yet, if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

THE quiet and repose which Christians enjoy at this day, may seem to render a discourse on the subject of persecution quite uninteresting. But the whole New Testament abounds with warnings to expect it, encouragements to endure it, and directions how to conduct ourselves under it: nor is there any intimation given that this state of things was to be confined to the first ages, when Christianity was new in the world; or that “the offence of the cross should ever cease.” On the contrary, we are taught to expect, that “they who are born after the flesh only, will hate those who are born after the Spirit;” and that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The circumstance of Christianity having become the national religion, may justly be supposed to have abated somewhat of the fury of persecutors; whilst the protection afforded by the laws of the land keeps within bounds their hostility against those whom they hate for righteousness’ sake. But I am not sure that much of our repose may not be ascribed to the low state of religion amongst us: and I cannot but think, that, if God were to pour out his Spirit upon us as he did on the primitive Church, and our light were to burn as bright as theirs, there would yet be found much the same rancour in the hearts of men against vital godliness now, as there was in former days: for there are not wanting at this hour many proofs of what men would do to suppress real piety, if the toleration accorded to us by the laws did not restrain them. At all events, we know not what trials we ourselves personally may be called to endure, even though the Church at large should still continue to enjoy tranquillity: and for these we ought to be prepared. The words before us are admirably calculated to fortify our minds against all that at any time may come upon us; since, whilst they teach us to expect persecution for righteousness’ sake, they shew us,

I.       In what light we should view it—

“We should not think it strange, as though some strange thing happened unto us”—

[God has seen fit to ordain that his people should be subjected to “fiery trials,” not only for the discovery of their graces, but also for the improvement of them. To them he has given a new nature, altogether different from that which they brought into the world with them,—a nature, which for its excellence may be compared to gold: but there still remains in them much dross, which must be purged away: and, as gold is both ascertained and purified by the action of fire, so must these be tried and purified in the furnace of affliction. Of course, their persecutors have no such object in view: they seek only to suppress the piety that offends them: but God has other, and very opposite, ends to accomplish: He seeks their advancement in the divine life, and will suffer no heavier trial to assault them than what he has strengthened them to bear, and will overrule for their eternal welfare. True it is that, notwithstanding he has taught us to expect these things, we are ready to account them strange: we think it strange that such trials should come upon us, and from such quarters, and on us who have done so little to deserve them. But we should remember, that “the same trials are accomplished also in our brethren who are in the world [Note: 1Pe_5:9.];” and that “none have come upon us but what are common to man, nor any which God will not enable us to sustain [Note: 1Co_10:13.]:” and under this conviction we should receive them as our appointed lot, and submit to them as dispensations ordained by God for our eternal good.]

We should rather regard it as a ground of joy—

[On this subject there is but one testimony throughout all the Holy Scriptures. Our blessed Lord says, “If ye be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, rejoice ye, and leap for joy.” St. Paul tells us, that the true Christian will “glory in tribulations [Note: Rom_5:3.]:” and that he himself actually “took pleasure in them” from the consideration that Christ’s strength would thereby be displayed and glorified [Note: 2Co_12:10.]. St. James bids us “count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations:” and gives it as his deliberate judgment, “We count them happy that endure [Note: Jam_1:2; Jam_5:11.].” St. Peter, as this whole epistle informs us, had the same view of the subject: and therefore we feel warranted in saying to all of you, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.”]

In confirmation of this sentiment, I proceed to shew,

II.      What reason we have for viewing it in that light—

Certainly it appears strange and paradoxical that the most cruel persecution for Christ’s sake should be considered as a ground of joy. But this view of it is just: for, when we suffer for Christ’s sake,

1.       We are made “partakers of Christ’s sufferings”—

[We all know, that if any part of the human body suffer, whether the head or members, the whole participates in the pain. Now the Lord Jesus Christ is the head of his mystical body, and we are the members: and when he suffered on the cross, we suffered with him; as it is written, “We are crucified with Christ;” “we died with him;” “we were buried with him [Note: Gal_2:20. Rom_6:4; Rom_6:8.].” So when we suffer, he suffers, as it were, with us: as he said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me [Note: Act_9:4.]?” “In all our afflictions he is afflicted [Note: Isa_63:9.]:” and “he who toucheth us, toucheth the apple of his eye [Note: Zec_2:8.].” As far as respects an atonement made for sin, he suffered alone: but, that we may be conformed to his image in all things, he has ordained that his Church should complete and “fill up the measure of his sufferings:” so that, though in his own person he is beyond the reach of man’s cruelty, he is still enduring much from it in the persons of his people. In truth, it is not on their own account that his people suffer any tiling. If we would but renounce our allegiance to him, the world would find no more occasion against us. It is for His sake that they hate us. They hate not us, but Christ in us: nor do they persecute us, but Christ in us. Therefore our sufferings are his; and, in enduring them, “we are truly partakers of his sufferings.”

Now then I would ask, ‘If when he drank the bitter cup even to the dregs, and left, as it were, but a drop for us to taste, shall we account it a hard matter to put it to our lips for his sake?’ No: we should rather rejoice that an opportunity is afforded us of so testifying our love to him.]

2.       The Spirit of God descends into our bosom, to support and comfort us—

[The Spirit is here called “The Spirit of glory and of God;” as being one with the Father, who is “the God of glory [Note: Act_7:2.];” and one with the Son, who is “the Lord of glory [Note: 1Co_2:8.].” His office it is to descend and dwell with the saints, as their Comforter [Note: Joh_14:16.]. And when we really suffer for Christ’s sake, it is both an evidence that he does rest upon us, and a pledge that he will be with us in a more abundant measure. If the Holy Spirit had not already wrought faith in our hearts, and put somewhat of the image of Christ upon our souls, the world would have suffered us to rest in peace: for “if we were of the world, the world would love its own; but because we are not of the world, but Christ has chosen us out of the world, therefore the world hateth us [Note: Joh_15:19.].” But the enmity of the world on account of what we have received from this divine Agent, only serves to call down upon us yet richer communications, even such as shall be sufficient to bear us up under our trials, and to make us conquerors over all our enemies.

And shall not this reconcile us to sufferings? Or, should any trials be deprecated, which are productive of so great a benefit? If the loss of Christ’s bodily presence was a proper ground of joy to the Disciples, because of the presence of the comforter, who would come to them in his stead [Note: Joh_16:6-7.], much more may any loss or any trials be welcomed by us, if they may but lead to a more abundant effusion of this divine Spirit upon our souls.]

3.       God is particularly glorified in us—

[Doubtless, on the part of the persecutors, God is dishonoured and blasphemed; but on the part of the sufferers he is glorified. Behold a man enduring sufferings for righteousness’ sake: what does he say to all who behold him? In respect of words, he may be silent, as a lamb before its shearers: but by his actions, he proclaims in accents that cannot be misunderstood, ‘My Lord is worthy of all this: never can I shew my love to him sufficiently: if I had a thousand lives, they would be well disposed of in his service: I am ready to bear any thing for him; and am so far from regretting that my love is thus put to the test, that I am thankful for it, inasmuch as it gives me an opportunity of evincing my sense of his excellency, and the ardour of my love towards him.’

In another view, too, his sufferings advance the glory of God; because they shew how powerful that grace must be, which enables a poor feeble worm to bear them, yea, and to rejoice and glory in them. Many persecutors have been perfectly amazed at the patience of the saints under the most cruel torments that could be inflicted on them: and have been led by the very conduct of the sufferers, not only to embrace the principles which were so mighty in operation, but even to subject themselves to the same torments which they themselves had inflicted upon them.

How does divine grace triumph on such occasions as these! And who would not be willing to suffer, if only Christ might be so magnified, and the efficacy of his grace be so displayed [Note: Php_1:20. 2Co_4:10-11.]?]

4.       Our eternal happiness is augmented—

[Soon will that Saviour who once died upon the cross come again in his glory to judge the world. Then will he gather together his elect from every quarter of the world; and bestow on them that recompence of reward, to which, whilst suffering for his sake, they had looked forward. He had told them beforehand, that “if they suffered with him, they should also be glorified together.” He had told them, that their light and momentary afflictions should work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Even whilst they were in this life, he had given them an hundred-fold for all that they had lost or endured for his sake: but then will be the time for their “full reward.”

Tell me then, I pray you, Will Moses in that day regret that he had “esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt?” Or will those feel any regret, who, “when tortured, would not accept deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection?” Will any of the Apostles regret that they sealed the truth with their blood? Or will any of you regret that you were “faithful unto death, when God shall put upon your heads the crown of life?” No: one moment of that joy will far overbalance whole years of pain. What then will not be our triumph through all eternity?]

But, as this subject may be misapplied, let me shew you,

III.     What we should especially guard against, in relation to it—

We must not bring trials on ourselves by any misconduct of our own—

[It is possible enough, that a wild enthusiast may fancy himself at liberty to disregard all human laws, and, whilst suffering for the violation of them, may conceive himself to be bearing the cross of Christ. Even war itself has been waged, under the idea of its being a service acceptable to God: and within our own memory has a spirit of insubordination and rebellion been too lightly cherished under the cloak of religion. But when persons reap the just reward of such conduct, so far are they from honouring God, that they greatly dishonour him, and expose religion itself to hatred and contempt. The being “a busy-body in other men’s matters,” is no uncommon character amongst those who profess religion; and who indulge an assuming, prying, officious spirit, under the idea of rendering a service to God and man. We may also yet more commonly see amongst professors a neglect of their own proper calling; an intrusion into the callings of others; a substitution of services which do not belong to them, in the place of others which are proper to their situation; an impatience of reproof; an unbecoming pertness towards their superiors; and a self-will, that knows no bounds. Ah, brethren! if ye suffer for such conduct as this, think not that ye are to expect any recompence at the hands of God: the cross which you are called to bear is not Christ’s, but your own: and what is inflicted on you by man is only a prelude of a yet sorer punishment that shall be inflicted on you by God, even by that God whom you profess to serve, but whose name you dishonour, and whose displeasure you incur.]

But, if we suffer really as Christians, we may rejoice in all that we endure—

[Our enemies may think that they load us with disgrace: but shame in such a cause is no shame: it is honour: and we may take it up, and bind it on us as a diadem. The Apostles, when imprisoned and scourged for the truth’s sake, “went out from their persecutors, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ.” And thus may we do, turning the very indignities that are cast upon us into an occasion of praise to God. Thus “out of the eater we shall bring forth meat, and out of the strong we shall bring forth sweetness.”]

Two hints, as rising from this subject, I would beg leave to suggest:

1.       In embracing religion, be deliberate—

[Religion, sooner or later, will subject you to trials: for our Lord has plainly warned us, that, “if we will be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, and take up our cross, and follow him.” He tells us farther, that, “if we hate not father and mother, and even life itself, for his sake, we cannot be his disciples.” Then, before we profess ourselves his people, we should “count the cost:” we should consider, whether we are willing to “part with all for the pearl of great price.” To what trials we may be subjected, we know not; but we must be prepared for the worst. For I have no hesitation in saying, that it were better never to follow Christ at all, than to follow him for a season, and then turn back from him: “It were better never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn away from it: for the last end of such a man is worse than his beginning.”]

2.       In maintaining it, be firm—

[If persecution arise for righteousness’ sake, you must not be thinking how you may escape it, so much as how you may glorify God under it. I mean not to say, that, “if persecuted in one city, you may not flee to another;” for that liberty was conceded by our Lord himself to his Disciples: but this I mean; that you should not for a moment think of conciliating your enemies by any sinful concession. Your duty to God must be paramount to every other consideration. Your great concern must be, to approve yourselves faithful to him. The Hebrew Youths with the fiery furnace in their view, and Daniel in expectation of the den of lions, thought of nothing but their duty to their God. So you must fear God, and God only. And, if it please God that you should be called to martyrdom itself, be content to “go through much tribulation in your way to the kingdom;” and to ascend to heaven in a chariot of fire.]