1 Peter 1

Commencing then our reading of the Epistle, we find the opening address in verses 1 and 2. To whom does he write? To "strangers scattered" or "sojourners of the dispersion," to people who were a standing witness to the fact that the Jew had forfeited his ancient privileges, to folk who had lost all the earthly foothold they ever had, though it was a big foothold as originally granted. Yet the sojourners he addressed were not by any means all the scattered Jews of those provinces, but such of them only as were "elect," or chosen of God.

Three things are mentioned as to God's choice of them, connected respectively with the Father, the Spirit and Jesus Christ. Note the prepositions used:-

"According to," indicating character.

"Through," indicating the means employed.

"Unto," indicating the end in view.

God's choice of them-and of us, for both Jew and Gentile come into the same Christian blessings on the same ground, as Paul's epistles show-was characterized by His foreknowledge as Father. What a comfort this is! How far removed it is from the blind fate which is supposed by some to preside over human destiny. God's election is never capricious and the idea of a sinner earnestly desiring salvation, and yet prevented by an adverse decree, is a nightmare of human reason and not Scripture. God chooses, knowing the end from the beginning, and therefore His choice is always right and justifies itself in its results.

His choice is made effectual "through sanctification of the Spirit." The root idea of "sanctification" is "setting apart for God" and the Holy Spirit is He who, by His inward life-giving work, sets apart the one who is the subject of it.

The end in view is that the one so set apart should be marked by the obedience of Christ-that is, obey even as He obeyed-and also come under the efficacy of His blood to this end. The words "of Jesus Christ" refer to both the obedience and the sprinkling of blood, but why, we may ask, is this order observed; why not the reversed order, for do we not need the cleansing of His blood before we can obey at all? The answer is, because of the reference there is to Old Testament Scripture.

They belonged racially to the people who were God's elect nation, chosen in Abraham, and sanctified, that is, set apart, as Exodus 13: 2 testifies. Now read Exodus 24: 3-8, and you will observe there the order, first the obedience promised which the law demanded, then the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice in ratification. Peter, addressing believers who were very familiar with this, carefully observes this order, only showing that we Christians have these things on a far higher plane in a vital and spiritual way, and the blood of Jesus Christ instead of being like that of the sacrifices of Exodus 24: 8, which had a penal force (that is, it indicated that death was the penalty attached to disobedience to the law's righteous demands) is wholly purifying, and the righteous basis of all our standing and relations with God. Sanctified by the Spirit and sprinkled by the blood of Christ we are committed to a life of obedience after the very pattern of Christ. With so exalted a course set before us we certainly need the multiplication of both grace and peace!

Verse 3 opens the apostle's message in striking a note of praise to God, now revealed as the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, since He has begotten us again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As belonging to the commonwealth of Israel they had formerly had national hopes which centred in a Messiah upon earth, but the light of those hopes was quenched in their hearts when He died rejected, crucified between two thieves. The story of the two going to Emmaus, as told in Luke 24, is a telling illustration of this; but, when those two had their eyes opened and beheld Him risen, a new hope dawned in their hearts which nothing on earth could quench. It was a living hope because centred in a Saviour living beyond the power of death. How aptly the very words of verse 3 would have sprung from their lips as they entered the upper room in Jerusalem to tell the news to the rest after their return journey of three-score furlongs! They were like men who had been born again into a new world of hope and expectation, in the great mercy of God.

Israel's hopes, when brought out of Egypt, centred in the land that was to be given to them as their inheritance. The Christian's hope also has an inheritance connected with it, as verse 4 shows, but what a contrast is here! Palestine as an inheritance proved a sad disappointment. The land itself was all that a land should be, still it was capable of being corrupted, and consequently it was speedily defiled by those who inherited it, since they were left to their own responsibility. Thus, bit by bit it was forfeited and it faded away. Our inheritance is reserved in the heavens and consequently it is beyond the possibility of corruption, undefiled and unfading; and we, for whom it is reserved, are being kept by the power of God for it. There shall, therefore, be no slip betwixt the cup of the inheritance and our lips!

The power of God keeps us and not our fidelity, yet God's power works through faith. Faith is our side of the matter. God is sovereign in exercising His power, and we are responsible as to the exercise of faith. Many are puzzled as to how to put these two things, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility together, and regard them as quite incompatible and irreconcilable. Yet here, in this fifth verse, they are found going hand in hand, preserving the believer to the salvation that awaits him in the last time. The salvation mentioned here is future. It is the final deliverance that awaits the believer at the coming of the Lord. That final deliverance is a certainty before us; yet we cannot await it with self-confidence, for nothing short of the power of God is needed to keep us, nor can we await it with carelessness, for God's power is effective through faith, on our side. How then do we await it? Why, with exultation, yet tempered with the heaviness of many trials, as verse 6 declares. The coming glory shone brightly before the faith of these early Christians and filled them with great rejoicing, so that they were like ships with sails set and filled with heaven's breezes. On the other hand they had plenty of ballast in the shape of heavy trials. These trials are permitted in love, for they only come "if need be." In one way or another we all do need them. If we try to rejoice in the world and its pleasures we need trials to dislodge us from the world by stirring up the comfortable nest we would fain build below. If we are exulting in the coming glory we need them as sobering and steadying ballast, lest our exulting should overbalance us.

The heavy trials, however, are "now, for a season," even as the "pleasures of sin," which charm the poor worldling are "for a season" (Heb. 11: 25). Soon the worldling will say good-bye to his pleasures, and the Christian to his trials.

Moreover, the very trials themselves are profitable as working in us-in our character and lives-the qualities that glorify God. Hence verse 7 declares that faith (which is much more precious than gold) being tested by the fire of persecution, will come out to the praise and honour and glory of God when Christ appears. Many a bold confessor, suffering fiery trial-even to death perhaps-may have been tempted to think that, their light being extinguished, all was lost. The apostle tells them that, on the contrary, all would be found in that day. Christ being revealed in His glory, everything to His praise and honour will come into the light and be displayed.

Then Christ will appear, or be unveiled, as the word is. At the present time He is unseen. These dispersed exiles had never seen Jesus in the days of His flesh for they had been driven far outside the land of Promise, nor were they then looking on Him. Yet they loved Him, and He was the Object of their faith and this caused them to exult with a joy beyond words and full of glory.

We, like them, have never yet seen the Lord, but is faith as active with us? Faith, remember, is the telescope of the soul, bringing into the field of our spiritual vision what is unseen to mortal eyes. Then we see Jesus as a living, bright Reality, and our joy is filled with the glory of what He is and the hope of what He is going to be, which is beyond all human language. Believing we rejoice, and believing we receive the salvation of our souls, for soul-salvation is the end, or result, of faith in the risen Saviour.

Love, faith, joy and hope are all found in verse 8, though the last is inferred and not explicitly named. How excellent must be the spiritual state marked by these things! Yet all produced not by being occupied with one's spiritual state, but by Christ Himself being the loved Object of faith's vision.

Those to whom Peter wrote were quite familiar with the idea of a salvation which consisted of temporal deliverance, such as the deliverance of their fathers from Egypt, and they had expected a supreme salvation of that kind at the advent of their Messiah, as promised through the prophets; but by faith in the risen Christ (verse 3) a salvation of a spiritual sort affecting their souls had reached them, though they were externally still under the iron heel of Rome. Of this salvation the prophets had also spoken, for the theme of their testimony was twofold-first, the sufferings of the Christ, and second, the glories that were to follow. As the immediate result of His first advent to suffer there is a soul-salvation for those who believe. As the direct result of His second advent to reign in glory the bodies of the saints will be saved from the power of death and public and universal salvation will be established for those who enter His kingdom.

Three very important things should be noted in verses 10 to 12.

(1). The reality of inspiration, and its remarkable character. The prophets ministered, but the source of their prophecies, whether oral or written, was the Spirit. The Spirit in them testified through them, and He was so really the source of their utterances that they had to search diligently their own words and inquire as to their real force, only to discover that their full meaning was beyond the apprehension of the age in which they lived, and that they were really writing for the instruction of saints in a coming age-even for us.

(2). Though in the bygone age Christ had not been manifested, yet the Spirit in the prophets and speaking through them, could be spoken of as "the Spirit of Christ." Christ was accordingly the Speaker by His Spirit even in Old Testament days. We shall see the bearing of this when we consider 1 Peter 3: 18-20.

(3). The strong difference drawn between the age before and the age after Christ. The soul-deliverance, which is the common possession of believers today, was for even the prophets of the bygone age a subject of enquiry; it is spoken of as "the grace that should come unto you," i.e., it was not come in the previous age. Further, the things now reported to us by the apostles and others who have preached the Gospel by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven are the things which were only prophesied before. Then predicted by the Spirit; now reported by the Spirit. Then the Spirit was in the prophets for the purpose of inspiration, but now the Spirit is sent down from heaven. The present age is marked by the sufferings of Christ having been accomplished and consequently by grace having come, soul-salvation being realized, things that angels desire to look into being reported, and the Holy Ghost having been sent down from heaven.

Having unfolded these great and blessed facts, the apostle turns aside to exhortation in verses 13 to 17. The great advance which marks Christianity as compared with Judaism entails a corresponding advance in the character of Christian life and behaviour. We are now children and call upon God as our Father, but we are to be obedient. On the one hand, we are to be braced up mentally, marked by sobriety and confident hope; on the other hand, we are to avoid the old desires which mastered us when we were in ignorance of God, and to be holy in all our conduct as God Himself is holy. What God has revealed Himself to be sets the standard for all our conduct. Moreover, the One whom we call Father is the impartial Judge of the work of each, hence, reverential fear becomes us. He is Judge, but He is our Father, and we are before Him, therefore, in filial fear.

These exhortations, which spring out of the truth unfolded in verses 1 to 12 (notice the word "wherefore," commencing verse 13), are reinforced by the further details of truth expounded from verse 18 onwards to 1 Peter 2: 10, as witness the word "Forasmuch" with which verse 18 starts.

They knew, and so do we, that we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. Their fathers had been redeemed with silver and gold-a typical redemption carried out under Jewish law. Sometimes actual money was given as in Exodus 30: 11-16; Numbers 3: 44-51. Sometimes it was by sacrifice, as in Exodus 13: 13-15; still, even then, silver and gold were involved, since they were needed to purchase the animal used for sacrifice. Silver and gold are the least corruptible of metals, yet they are corruptible. The price of our redemption was incorruptible and precious.

The Jewish manner of life had degenerated into a matter of mere tradition received from their fathers. This was quite manifest in Isaiah's day (Isa. 29: 13), and the Lord Jesus charged it home upon them, quoting Isaiah's words, in Mark 7: 6-13. Even the right things they did, they did not because they were enjoined of God, but because ordered by tradition. Thus their manner of life had become corrupt and most offensive to God. Our Gentile manner of life was pure darkness and lawlessness, and equally corrupt. Whether, however, it were we or they, we have been redeemed out of our old manner of life by the precious blood of the One who was typified as the unblemished and spotless lamb of Exodus 12: 3-6; only He was ordained not a mere matter of four days before sacrifice, but from before the foundation of the world. Our redemption, therefore, was according to the eternal counsels of God.

The Lamb of God was ordained in eternity, but manifested in time. He appeared "in these last times"-the "end of the world," or the "consummation of the ages" of Hebrews 9: 26-and that not only as the Redeemer but as the Revealer. God was perfectly revealed in Him so that it is by Him that we believe in God. We do not believe in God by the wonders of creation, nor by the law as given through Moses, nor by visions of angels, but by Christ, once dead but now risen and in glory. Our faith and hope repose in God who is known to us as He who raised Christ up from the dead and gave Him glory. How wonderfully this fits in with Paul's testimony in Romans 4: 23-25, and Romans 10: 9.

From this it is clear that if we desire to win the faith of men for God we must present Christ to them-Christ once dead; Christ as risen; Christ now in glory. Every other theme is useless. We may possibly find subsidiary matter elsewhere. Useful illustrations may abound in the fields of creation and providence. They may be furnished sometimes by the facts, or even the speculations of science-though as to the latter, the greatest caution must be exercised as they are mostly wrong, as witnessed by the ease with which the oncoming generations of speculators dispose of the hypotheses (or, guesses) of their predecessors. Still, the fact remains that if men really believe in God it is by Christ that they believe in Him. Let us therefore preach CHRIST, whether by life or lips or pen.

Redemption is, of course, a work accomplished for us. We need also a work wrought in us. Of this the apostle proceeds to write.

The truth of the Gospel had brought their souls into subjection and obedience in the energy of the Spirit. This had wrought a mighty work of purification. The purifications of the law had consisted in "divers washings" of water (Heb. 9: 10), purely external. This was a soul-purification, a moral renovation with love as the outcome, for love is as native to the new nature as hatred is to the old.

If verse 22 presents the work wrought in them and us as it might be observed and described by man, verse 23 lets us into the real secret of it all, from a point of view impossible to man and only to be known because revealed by God. We are born again.

The necessity of this new birth for Israel was alluded to, though in veiled terms, in Ezekiel 36: 25-27. The Lord Jesus yet more strongly enforced its necessity when speaking to Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus should have known the passage in Ezekiel, hence the Lord's words, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" The teaching of the Lord is based upon Ezekiel's words, though He greatly expands and clarifies them. Even so, the Lord did not drop all figurative language and still spoke of "water." In the main, however, He stressed the Spirit's sovereign action in new birth. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

Peter's epistle was written in the full light of Christianity. It was not now the Lord Jesus on earth speaking to a Nicodemus, but the same Jesus, risen and glorified after the accomplishment of redemption, speaking through His inspired apostle to Christians. Hence, figures are dropped and the matter stands out with full clearness. Here the energy of the Spirit is only alluded to in verse 22 and the main stress is laid on what we are born of and by.

The life of Adam's race, to which we belong, whether Jews or Gentiles, is utterly corrupted; its nature wholly evil. We must be not only redeemed, but purified. The Spirit of God works to this end and we obey the truth. The real inwardness of the matter, however, is that the Spirit uses the Word of God in such a way that we are born again of incorruptible seed. Consequently, we possess a new nature, springing from a divine source and beyond the taint of corruption. Here, then, is a purification of a most profound and fundamental sort brought about through the Spirit of God by the agency of the Word of God-the "water" of John 3 and Ezekiel 36. It is not difficult to see how apt a figure "water" was.

You will find it helpful to glance at 1 John 3: 9, which carries the matter a step further. The expression "born of God" emphasizes the divine source whence we spring. The seed of God remains in us and is incorruptible, as Peter has told us. This is the essential character of our new nature, as will be plainly manifested when the last trace of the old nature is eliminated from us at the coming of the Lord.

Returning to our passage we note that the Word of God by which we are born again is living and it abides for ever, and in this it is directly in contrast with ourselves as the children of Adam. All flesh is as grass which grows up and speedily withers. All man's glory is as the flower of grass, which falls away and disappears even more rapidly than grass itself. Man's glory speedily fades, and man himself passes away into death. The Word of the Lord lives and abides for ever, and by it we are born again.

How wonderful this is! That which is born partakes of the nature and character of that which gives its birth. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." It is equally true that that which is born of incorruptible seed is incorruptible, and that which is born by the living and abiding Word of God is living and abiding. And that enduring Word of the Lord has reached us in the gospel message that we have believed. We shall not be surprised therefore when in the next chapter we find ourselves spoken of as "living stones" and as connected with a "house" which is incorruptible and abiding.