Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - 1 Peter 1:8 - 1:8

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - 1 Peter 1:8 - 1:8


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Love and Joy in Believing

Whom not having seen, ye love; on whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory.—1Pe_1:8.

In the preceding verses the Apostle has been speaking of the exceeding joy of primitive Christians in the midst of all their bodily trials and worldly privations. Driven from home, robbed of their substance, injured in person and reputation, they yet greatly rejoiced. What, then, was the secret source of their joy, their invisible support in affliction? The Apostle answers in the words of our text: “Whom not having seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Jesus Christ—their faith in Him and love to Him—accounts for this phenomenon of exquisite joy in Christian experience, a phenomenon so strange that it baffles philosophy, not only to produce it, but even to explain it.

I

Love to the Unseen Christ

1. Love to Christ is independent of sight.—The Christian’s love to Christ is of necessity spiritual. The eye that sees Jesus is the mind’s, and the heart that loves Him is the mind’s too. The sight is spiritual and the affection also. The love may lack the passion and intensity of instinct, but it has the calmness and the power of spirit. The claims of Christ have appealed not to eye and ear, but to heart and mind. We love Him, not for His beautiful face, I or fine voice, or winsome ways, but for His mercy and grace, the righteousness and truth that blend so perfectly in His character. We love Him, not so much for what He did, as for what He is. Gratitude for salvation may be the first, but is never the final form of Christian love. He who loves his deliverer simply as a deliverer loves for the lowest of all reasons, merely because he has been rescued. But he who loves his Saviour for what that Saviour is, loves Him for the highest of all reasons, because He is Supreme Love, perfect Grace and Truth.

How can the bodily absence of the Lord be for the benefit of His people? He Himself tells us. He must go, to send the Spirit. This fact touches the heart of the whole question. We can know Christ, trust Christ, love Christ, only as we are taught by the Spirit. Christ is a Spirit, to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; Christ in His whole Person and work is the great God infinite and eternal, transcending, therefore, the grasp not merely of all bodily senses, but also of all human reason. And it is as thus transcending the comprehension of nature that He presents Himself to be known, to be trusted, to be loved, to be gloried in by the soul.1 [Note: J. Hamilton, Faith in God, 235.]

Consider this strange fact: the Gospels give no hint as to Christ’s personal appearance, the colour of His eyes or hair, the cast of His features, the form of His head, the fashion of His body. Christ, as to physique, is to us an absolutely unknown being; but as to spirit, He is the best known of all beings. While physical descriptions help us to understand other persons, they would mar our conception of Him. In ordinary cases a good portrait is better than a big biography. How much better do we understand Dante, when we study his sad yet severe, worn yet ethereal face, with its keen, clear-cut features, yet look as of infinite remoteness from the world men most realize; or Luther, when we examine the lines of his heavy and broad, yet massive and mighty countenance, so full of laughter or tears, the loud indignation of the controversialist, and the inflexible resolution that could stand solitary against the world; or Oliver Cromwell, in whose large eyes, seamed brow, cheek furrowed and warty, and strong mouth, the mystic and soldier, the man of iron will and silent counsel, stands expressed. But so little has the outer man to do with Christ, so little is the face capable of expressing what was within, so impossible is it to human flesh or form to reveal the grace and truth that were in Him, that we should feel a description or a portrait an injury to our faith, a deprivation to our spiritual ideal.2 [Note: A. M. Fairbairn, The City of God, 346.]

An old divine said that he wished he could have seen three things—Rome in her glory; St. Paul preaching at Athens; and Christ in the body. And it was because of their desire to satisfy themselves, and to meet this great longing, that the great painters of Christendom covered the walls of picture galleries with conceptions of the face of Jesus. Crowds have stood transfixed and touched before these masterpieces of art. But who has not turned from the very noblest of them with a sigh of dissatisfaction, and a secret conviction that even if the sublimest feature were to be taken out of each separate picture and all combined into one, the face so composed must still fall infinitely short of that in which Deity and humanity met, and shone, and wept, and loved. We shall never see anything worthy of that face till we see Him as He is.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, Tried by Fire, 39.]

2. It is no hardship to have an invisible Saviour.—We can love Him the better that He is unseen. Sight assists the affection that is akin to instinct, but not that which lives in the spirit. That which the eye sees and the hand handles is commonplace and gross, loses in ethereality by what it gains in visibility. Were God localized, He would seem to our thought much less awful and majestic than when He is conceived as everywhere, like the air we breathe, the element in which all beings live. If there were only one spot on earth where God and my heart could stand face to face, God would seem to my heart much less Divine than He does now, when I can meet Him anywhere, speak to Him anywhere, I just as my soul has need. So a Jesus visible to the eye, tangible to the touch, would be a Jesus too limited and gross to be the object of a universal and spiritual affection—a Jesus known to the senses rather than to the soul. And so, while God gave us an historical Christ on whom our faith could rest, He made the history but a moment in the heart of His invisible and eternal being, that we might be compelled to love Him, if we loved Him at all, in spirit and in truth.

There attaches a transcendent character to the soul’s true love of the Lord. A beauty which we can see with our bodily eye,—a worth and excellence which we can measure off by the standard of our own being or observation,—all earthly and all finite grandeur,—utterly fail to touch the depths of a renewed heart, or to fill the large longings of the soul’s love. Unless the soul finds the Lord in His gifts, it soon sucks out the sweetness from the blossom of all created beauty, and turns away from the crushed and withered leaves with discontented yearnings after something higher and better. All the noblest and tenderest of merely human loves retain their strength only so long as they preserve some natural semblance of Divine and infinite mystery. The passionate and exulting fondness of the mother for her babe, of the boy for his parent, of the young bridegroom for his bride, is drawn forth, not by the actual realities of its objects, but by the imagination of all conceivable and all inconceivable excellences, which floats before the soul in unformed and untried vagueness. When the natural heart loves its grandest and its best, it loves but its own dream. The love of the spiritual mind, however, finds the beauty and the worth of its Beloved greater and ever greater as it gazes on Him with fixed, fond look—greater than anything the eye hath seen or the heart conceived. To the Christian’s love for Jesus necessarily belongs that character of transcendency and mystery which so essentially belongs to true love.1 [Note: J. Hamilton, Faith in God, 237.]

II

Joy in the Unseen Christ

“In whom,” with all the disabilities and pains and absence, “yet believing,” you can put out a long arm of faith across the gulf that lies, not only between to-day and nineteen centuries ago, but the deeper and more impassable gulf that lies between earth and heaven, and clasp Christ with a really firm grasp, which will fill the hand, and which we shall feel has laid hold of something, or rather has laid hold of a living person and a loving heart. That is faith. The Apostle uses a very strong form of expression here, which is only very partially represented by our English version. He does not say only “in whom believing,” but “towards whom”; putting emphasis upon the effort and direction of the faith, rather than upon the repose of the heart when it has found its object and rests upon Him. And so the conception of the true Christian attitude is that of a continual outgoing of trust and its child love; of desire and its child possession; and of expectation and its child fruition towards that unseen Christ.

It is much to believe Christ, it is more to believe in Him; it is—I was going to say—most of all to believe towards Him. For in this region, quite as much as, and I think more than, in the one to which the saying was originally applied, “search is better than attainment.” Our condition must always be that of “forgetting the things that are behind”; and however much we may realize the union with the unseen Christ in the act of resting upon Him, that must never be suffered to interfere with the longing for the larger possession of Himself, and fuller consequent likeness to Him, which is expressed in that great though simple phrase “believing towards Him.” Such a continual outgoing of effort, as well as the rest and blessedness of reposing on Him, is indispensable for all true gladness. For the intensest activity of our whole being is essential to the real joy of any part of it, and we shall never know the rapture of which humanity, even here and now, is capable until we gather our whole selves, heart, will and all our practical as well as our intellectual powers in the effort to make more of Christ our own, and to minimize the distance between us to a mere vanishing point.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

Faith does something from which I think joy specially springs. It appropriates. It takes possession, and you all know how possession of anything gives joy. Though it is only a very little thing, if you have long had possession of it how you cling to it. And still more is this the case with more important things. Now, for instance, you and I may have a natural love of children, and will love children wherever we see them. But what a different emotion is produced in us when we first know that we possess a child of our own! What must it be to possess a Saviour of our own? To possess a Saviour is to possess pardon and peace; it is to possess a holy life; it is to possess the assurance of a happy death and of a blessed eternity. Everything that the mind of man can think of in its highest and holiest moments is included in possessing Christ.2 [Note: James Stalker.]

It is this which made the fortunes of Christianity—its gladness, not its sorrow; not its assigning the Spiritual world to Christ, and the material world to the Devil, but its drawing from the Spiritual world a source of joy so abundant that it ran over upon the natural world and transfigured it.3 [Note: Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism, 1st Ser., 220.]

1. This joy is described as (1) unspeakable, and (2) full of glory. Why is it unspeakable?

(1) Because it is too deep and sacred for words.—“Still waters run deep.” The worldling’s joy barely covers the stones of his daily sorrow, and therefore it babbles like a shallow brook as it runs along in its narrow bed; but the Christian’s joy is broad and deep, and it scarcely makes any sound as it majestically rolls on like some great river on its way to the sea. The Christian’s joy is unspeakable, because it is unfathomable, even by those who enjoy it.

The climax of every emotion is silence. The climax of anger is not the thunder, not the earthquake, not the fire, not even the still small voice; it is the absence of any voice at all; we say habitually, “He was speechless with rage.” The climax of grief is not the cry, not the shriek, not the paroxysm; it is the numbness, the deadness, the torpor, the insensibility to all around. And the climax of praise or joy is silence. When did you experience most difficulty in expressing your admiration of a thing? Was it not when you were thoroughly carried away with rapture! A girl plays a piece of music with great brilliancy. She receives gushing compliments from all but one. That one has been sitting in rapt attention all the time of the performance, yet at the close he only says, “Thank you.” I should esteem his the greatest praise of all. His silence comes from the “joy unspeakable”—from an admiration too deep for words, too high for compliments, too intense for plaudits.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, 161.]

Did you ever ask yourself when it was that according to the Book of Revelation there was “silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”? It was when the seventh seal was opened and the prayers of the saints ascended as incense to the Father. In other words, the moment of silence was the moment of ecstatic praise; thanksgiving expressed itself in speechless adoration. There are members of the choir invisible who at times cannot sing—not because they have hung their harps upon the willows, but because they see no willows on which to hang them; they are too full of joy to sing; the fulness of their joy makes it unspeakable.2 [Note: Ibid.]

Dr. Berry of Wolverhampton received a call from Brooklyn to succeed Henry Ward Beecher. He hesitated much. “When I left him on the Friday,” says his biographer, “he was still in uncertainty. On the Sunday morning, however, a letter reached the deacons intimating that the call had been declined. I shall never forget the scene when, in the course of the service, the letter was read. The church was crowded; the faces upturned to the pulpit were wistful, sad, and apprehensive. But when, after listening to a forcible statement of the broad and vital issues presented by the invitation to America, the sentence was read by Mr. Bantock, ‘I must remain in England,’ the moment will never be forgotten by any who were present. There was no sound except a rustle and sigh of relief—not the slightest breach of Christian decorum, only the silent and unconscious tokens of a relief and thankfulness too deep for words and outward signs. His people realized the responsibilities they were assuming in retaining him, and in promising him as their pastor a sphere of usefulness, a ministry as wide as that which would have been his had he chosen to accept one of the most illustrious pulpits in the world, in succession to one of the greatest preachers of the age.”1 [Note: James S. Drummond, Charles A. Berry, 63.]

(2) Because it is too subtle.—The joy which wells up in the Christian’s heart cannot be conveyed in language, being too subtle and volatile a thing, evaporating in the very attempt to pour it from the heart into the bottles of grammatical construction. It cannot be told out. Hence Christians, after exhausting all the vocabulary at their command, feel the utter inadequacy of their highest efforts.

There are sounds, like flakes of snow falling

In their silent and eddying rings;

We tremble,—they touch us so lightly,

like the feathers from angels’ wings.



There are pauses of marvellous silence,

That are full of significant sound,

Like music echoing music

Under water or under ground.



That clarion again! through what valleys

Of deep inward life did it roll,

Ere it blew that astonishing trumpet

Right down in the caves of my soul?2 [Note: F. W. Faber.]

2. It is “full of glory,” i.e. glorified.

(1) Joy in Christ is higher than the joys of the world.—There is nothing more ignoble than the ordinary joys of men. They are too often like the iridescent scum on a stagnant pond, fruit and proof of corruption. They are fragile and hollow, for all the play of colour on them, like a soap bubble that breaks of its own tenuity, and is only a drop of dirty water. Joy is too often ignoble, and yet, although it is by no means the highest conception of what Christ’s Gospel can do for us, it is blessed to think that it can take that emotion, so often shameful, so often frivolous, so often lowering rather than elevating, and can lift it into loftiness, and transfigure it, and glorify it, and make it a power, a power for good and for righteousness, and for whatsoever things are lovely and of good report in our lives.

With a mighty victory over himself, Francis sprang from his horse, approached the leper, from whose deformed countenance the awful odour of corruption issued forth, placed his alms in the outstretched wasted hand—bent down quickly and kissed the fingers of the sick man, covered with the awful disease, whilst his system was nauseated with the action.

When he again sat upon his horse, he hardly knew how he had got there. He was overcome by excitement, his heart beat, he knew not whither he rode. But the Lord had kept His word. Sweetness, happiness, and joy streamed into his soul—flowed and kept flowing, although his soul seemed full and more full—like the clear stream which, filling an earthen vessel, keeps on pouring and flows over its rim, with an ever clearer, purer stream.1 [Note: J. Jörgensen, St. Francis of Assisi, 34.]

(2) It is an earnest of the joy to come.—“Full of glory”—that is, it is Heaven already begun. There is a most significant suggestion here. Some men seem to fancy that they shall gain joy by entering Heaven. But the joy of which we are speaking is not gained or lost by any change of state; it belongs to the immortal soul. You cannot get into Heaven, Heaven must enter you. You must carry Heaven with you in the joy of Christ, or you will find no Heaven beyond the grave. But some one may ask, “Is this feeble rejoicing of the Christian on earth the real element of the eternal Heaven?” Remember, your present joy will then lose its imperfections; your present sacrifice will then be shorn of its painfulness; that which is perfect will have come, and that which is partial will be done away. Then the love which “hopeth all things, endureth all things,” will be the light that shall not fail when the lamps of faith and hope are lost in a blaze of glory. Then we shall cease our life of struggle, of endeavour, of unrest, and be filled with the eternal love, which is the eternal joy.

It is of the same substance, if not of the same bulk and weight, as the glory which awaits us on the other side. There are moments of heaven upon earth; prelibations of the river of life; stray notes of the angel choruses; Eschol grapes from the vineyards of the land of promise; flowers from the parterres of Paradise. Oh for more of heaven on the way to heaven! A prayer which we may almost answer for ourselves by seeking more of Him who is Himself the heaven of heaven; and so adopting Bengel’s motto: “Christ in the heart; heaven in the heart; the heart in heaven.”1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, Tried by Fire, 44.]

Upon the water’s face

Of sadness not a trace!

Bright rays from sunny skies—

All Heaven reflected lies.



Beneath the golden glow

There lie concealed, we know,

Hopes buried in the wave,

Full many a lonely grave,

Full many a vague unrest,

And many a gem unguess’d;—

Aye, many a lost delight,

All hidden from our sight.



One day life’s pulse will cease,

And God will grant us peace:

Yea—joy for evermore;

Lost treasures He’ll restore.

Earth’s last farewells then said,

The sea will yield its dead.2 [Note: Una, In Life’s Garden, 40.]

Love and Joy in Believing

Literature

Arnot (W.), The Lesser Parables and Lessons of Grace, 289.

Brown (C.), Trial and Triumph, 15.

Cunningham (W.), Sermons (1828–1860), 159.

Fairbairn (A. M.), The City of God, 335.

Foster (J.), Lectures, ii. 107.

Hamilton (J.), Faith in God, 226.

Hodge (C.), Princeton Sermons, 204, 207.

Jones (J. C.), Studies in the First Epistle of Peter, i. 50.

Lambert (J. C.), Three Fishing Boats, 27.

Leckie (J.), Sermons at Ibrox, 147.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: 1 and 2 Peter and 1 John, 34.

Matheson (G.), Messages of Hope, 161.

Meyer (F. B.), Tried by Fire, 38.

Moore (A. L.), God is Love, 107.

Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 370.

Parker (J.), Sermons (Cavendish Pulpit), i. 113.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, ii. 17.

Raleigh (A.), The Way to the City, 157.

Somerville (A. N.), Precious Seed, 129.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xii. (1866) No. 361; lvi. (1910) No. 541.

Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 72 (Tuck); xxxiii. 193 (Ferguson); xxxiv. 88 (Rowland); lviii. 266 (Macfarland); lxxiii. 118 (Veevers).

Church of England Magazine, xxxiv. 345 (Browne).

Church Pulpit Year Look, ii. (1905) 296.

Preacher’s Magazine, xvi. (1905) 34 (Johns).

Treasury (New York), xvi. 163 (Hallock).