Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 4:17 - 4:17

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Charles Simeon Commentary - 1 Peter 4:17 - 4:17

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1Pe_4:17. What shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?

MANY are the troubles of the righteous: and though their afflictions are not always penal, yet they are for the most part to be considered as paternal chastisements, and as the judgments which God inflicts on his own household with a view to their advancement in faith and holiness. On the other hand, the enemies of God often triumph, and revel in a fulness of all earthly enjoyments. But the intelligent Christian will see in these dispensations the certainty of a future retribution, when the wicked shall receive the just reward of their wickedness, and he himself be exalted to an inconceivable state of bliss. He will argue thus: If God so afflict his children in the day of his mercy, how will he punish his enemies in the day of his wrath. And, if he so prosper his enemies and load them with benefits in this vale of tears, what prosperity and happiness must he have reserved for his friends in the regions of glory! If crowns and kingdoms be the portion of many who disregard and despise him, what shall be the inheritance of those who honour and obey him!

Such is the Apostle’s mode of arguing in our text; where, speaking of the trials sustained by Christians, he says, If God’s paternal chastisements be so severe, what must his vindictive judgments be? If judgment first begin at the house of God, what must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?

To impress this solemn consideration upon our minds, we shall shew,

I.       Who they are that obey not the Gospel—

To ascertain this, it will be proper to state briefly what the Gospel requires—

[The Gospel supposes men to be in a state of guilt and misery, obnoxious to the wrath of God, and incapable of delivering themselves from it. It proposes to them a remedy of God’s appointment: it sets forth Jesus as an all-sufficient Saviour; and declares that sinners of every description may be washed in his blood, and renewed by his Spirit. But, if we will not apply to him by faith, and thankfully accept his proffered benefits, it dooms us to destruction under the aggravated guilt of despising, and trampling under foot the Son of God. The commission which our Lord gave to his disciples [Note: Mar_16:15-16.], and the answer given by Paul to the awakened jailer [Note: Act_16:30-31.], abundantly confirm this view of the Gospel, and shew that a cordial acceptance of Christ as our only Lord and Saviour is the sum and substance of a Christian’s duty.]

According to this statement, very many will be found disobedient to the Gospel:

1.       They who neglect Christ altogether—

[This is so obvious a truth that the mention of it seems needless and absurd: but experience proves that the most abandoned sinners, and most avowed infidels, are often insensible of the guilt which they contract. Be it known however, that their excuses or objections will avail them nothing in the day of judgment: their whole lives were one continued act of disobedience to the Gospel; and they will most assuredly be numbered amongst the enemies of their incarnate God. Their rejection of him, whether in principle or practice, will be a decisive evidence of their guilt.]

2.       They who unite something else with him as a foundation for their hope—

[The Gospel requires us to renounce all dependence on our own works. However good our works be, they must never for one moment be considered as justifying us before God, either in whole or in part. In Christ alone must be all our hope; and if we attempt to unite any thing of ours with his perfect righteousness, we shall not only not add to our security, but shall altogether invalidate all which Christ himself has done for us. St. Paul asserts this in the plainest terms [Note: Gal_5:2; Gal_5:4.]; and from the fullest conviction of its truth desired to be found in Christ, clad with his righteousness, and his only [Note: Php_3:9.].]

3.       They who, while they profess to follow Christ, dishonour him by their conduct—

[Many there are who with apparent zeal cry, Lord, Lord, who yet are far from doing the things which he commands. Many, alas! “profess to know him, but in their works deny him:” they are observant of outward duties, but inattentive to their spirit and temper: instead of being meek and lowly, patient and forgiving, and solicitous only to honour God, they are proud and passionate, covetous and worldly, and studious rather to be thought Christians than really to deserve the name. Let such know that they “amidst all their appearances of religion deceive themselves, and their religion is vain [Note: Jam_1:26.].” By neglecting to walk as Christ walked, they disobey the Gospel, as much as if they rejected him altogether.]

To awaken such from their slumbers, we proceed to shew,

II.      What their end shall be—

The peculiar manner in which the Apostle speaks of their “end,” intimates that it will be dreadful,

1.       Beyond expression—

[In the text St. Peter infers from the trials, which God suffers to come upon believers here, the far greater miseries that shall be endured by unbelievers hereafter. But his very mode of suggesting this inference shews, that the two states could scarcely admit of any comparison: for what are any transient pains of body inflicted by the most ingenious cruelty of man, when compared with the eternal torments both of soul and body, which will be inflicted on the wicked by the hand of an incensed God? St. Paul institutes a similar comparison, and like St. Peter, leaves our imagination to supply what no language could possibly express [Note: Heb_10:29.]—. There are indeed terms used in Scripture to represent to us the misery of the damned. They are represented as “cast into a lake of fire and brimstone,” “where the worm of an accusing conscience dieth not, and the fire of God’s wrath is not quenched;” they “weep and wail and gnash their teeth;” and the “smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” But, awful as these expressions are, they convey no adequate idea of the misery sustained by those who have perished in unbelief: we must say of that, as St. Paul says of the things he heard and saw in the third heavens, that it is unutterable [Note: 2Co_12:4.].]

2.       Beyond a doubt—

[The Apostle appeals to our own consciences for the truth of the inference which he suggests. He says, in effect, What must the state of unbelievers be? Can it be the same with that of obedient believers? Will God put no difference between those who serve him, and those who serve him not? Has not the Scripture plainly declared the end of those who disobey the Gospel? And are we not constrained to acknowledge the equity of that sentence, which the contemners of Christ are taught to expect? Shall an angel from heaven be accursed, if he presume to preach any other Gospel [Note: Gal_1:8.], and shall we escape with impunity, if we reject this? Our wishes are doubtless in opposition to the declarations of God; but in our judgment we must approve of them; and we shall surely be silent in the day that they shall be enforced, even though we ourselves be the unhappy monuments of God’s displeasure.]

We may learn from hence,

1.       How to judge of our state before God—

[Mere morality is by no means a sufficient criterion whereby to judge of our state: we may be free from gross violations of God’s law, and yet be far from yielding obedience to the Gospel. Let us then inquire whether we be obeying the Gospel by a simple dependence upon Christ, and by a spirit and temper suited to our profession? This is the test to which we must bring ourselves, since we shall be tried by it at the last day. In vain will be our morality, if Christ be not our only foundation; and in vain will be our professed adherence to Christ, if we do not adorn the Gospel by a holy conversation. Let us then examine ourselves, that we may know beforehand what our end shall be.]

2.       The importance of considering our latter end—

[We are ready enough to contemplate the circumstances to which we look forward in the present life; but O, how backward are we to reflect upon our latter end! Yet the events of this life are not worthy of a thought in comparison of eternity. I pray you, brethren, consider how fast your end is approaching, and what it is likely to be, an eternity of bliss in heaven, or an eternity of misery in hell? O, lose not an hour in preparing for your great account! and be careful so to pass through things temporal, that you finally lose not the things eternal — — —]