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FIRST EPISTLE OF ST. PETER.
Ver. 1. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
THE grace of God in the heart of man is a tender plant in a strange unkindly soil, and therefore cannot well prosper and grow without much care and pains, and that of a skilful hand, which hath the art of cherishing it: for this end hath God given the constant ministry of the word to his church, not only for the first work of conversion, but also for confirming and increasing his grace in the hearts of his children. And though the extraordinary ministers of the gospel, the apostles, had principally the former for their charge, yet did they not neglect the other work of strengthening the grace of God begun in the new converts of those times, both by revisiting them and exhorting them in person, and by the supply of their writing to them when absent. And the benefit of this extends, not by accident, but by the purpose and good providence of God, to the church of God in all succeeding ages.
This excellent Epistle, is a brief and yet very clear summary both of the consolations and instructions needful for the encouragement and direction of a Christian in his journey to heaven, elevating his thoughts and desires to that happiness, and strengthening him against all opposition in the way, both that of corruption within, and temptations and afflictions from without.
The heads of doctrine contained in it are many, but the main that are most insisted on are these three, faith, obedience, and patience-to establish Christians in believing, to direct them in doing, and to comfort them in suffering. And because the first is the ground-work and support of the other two, this first chapter is much occupied with persuading them of the truth of the mystery, which they had received and did believe, namely, their redemption and salvation by Christ Jesus; that inheritance of immortality bought by his blood for them, and the evidence and stability of their right and title to it. And then he uses this belief, this assurance of the glory to come, as the great persuasive to the other two, both to holy obedience and constant patience, since nothing can be too much either to forego or undergo, either to do or to suffer, for the attainment of that blessed state,
And as from the consideration of that object and matter of the hope of believers, he encourages to patience and exhorteth to holiness in this chapter in general, so, in the following chapters, he expresses more particularly both the universal and special duties of Christians both in doing and suffering, often setting before those to whom he wrote, the matchless example of the Lord Jesús, and the greatness of their engagement to follow him.
In the first two verses, we have the inscription and salutation, in the usual style of the apostolic epistles. The inscription hath the author and the address-from whom and to whom. The author of this Epistle is designated by his name, Peter; and his calling, an apostle.
By that which is spoken of him in divers passages of the gospel, he is very remarkable amongst the apostles, both for his graces and his failings; eminent in zeal and courage, and yet stumbling oft in his forwardness, and once,grossly falling.
We see here Peter's office or title, an apostle, restored and re-established after his fall by repentance, and by Christ himself after his own death and resurrection. Thus we have in our apostle a singular instance of human frailty on the one side, and of the sweetness of divine grace on the other. Free and rich grace it is indeed, that forgives and swallows up multitudes of sins, of the greatest sins, not only sins before conversion, as to St. Paul, but foul offences committed after conversion, as to David, and to this apostle; not only once raising them from the dead, but when they fall, stretching out the same hand, and raising them again, and restoring them to their station, and comforting them in it by his free Spirit, as David prays; not only cleansing polluted clay, but working it into vessels of honor, yea, of the most defiled shape making the most refined vessels, not vessels of honor of the lowest sort, but for the highest and most honorable services, vessels to bear his own precious name to the nations; making the most unworthy and the most unfit, fit by his grace to be his messengers.
Apostle of Jesus Christ; sent by him, and the message no other than his name, to make that known. And what this apostleship was then, the ministry of the word in ordinary is now, and therefore it is an employment of more difficulty and excellency than is usually conceived by many, not only of those who look upon it, but even of those who are exercised in it-to be ambassadors for the greatest of kings, and upon no mean employment, that great treaty of peace and reconcilement betwixt him and mankind.
This Epistle is directed to the elect, who are described bere, by their temporal and by their spiritual conditions. The first hath very much dignity and comfort in it; the other hath neither, but rather the contrary of both; and therefore the apostle, intending their comfort, mentions the one but in passing, to signify to whom particularly he sent his Epistle; but the other is that which he would have their thoughts dwell upon, and therefore he prosecutes it in his following discourse. And if we look to the order of the words, their temporal condition is but interjected; for it is said To the elect first, and then To
the strangers scattered; and he would have this as it were drowned in the other.
That those dispersed strangers who dwelt in the countries here named, were Jews, appears, if we look to the foregoing Epistle, where the same word is used, and expressly appropriated to the Jews, James i, 1. St. Peter is called an apostle of the circumcision, as exercising his apostleship most towards them; and there is in some passages of this Epistle somewhat, which, though belonging to all Christians, yet hath, in the strain and way of expression, a particular fitness to the believing Jews, as being particularly verified in them; ii, 9, 10.
Some argue from the name strangers, that the Gentiles are here meant, which seems not to be; for proselyte Gentiles were indeed called strangers in Jerusalem and by the Jews; but were not the Jews strangers in these places, Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia?-not strangers dwelling together in a prosperous florishing condition, as a well-planted colony, but strangers of the dispersion, scattered to and fro. Their dispersion was partly, first, by the Assyrian captivity, and after that by the Babylonish, and by the invasion of the Romans; and it might be in these very times increased by the believing Jews flying from the hatred and persecution raised against them at home.
The places here mentioned, through which they were dispersed, are all in Asia, that is Asia Minor. It is to be observed, that some of those who heard St. Peter, Acts ii, 9, are said to be of those regions. And if any of the number then converted were amongst these dispersed, the comfort was no doubt the more grateful from the hand of the same apostle by whom they were first converted; but this is only conjecture. Though divine truths are to be received equally from every minister alike, yet it must be acknowledged, that there is something, we know not what to call it, of a more acceptable reception of those who at first were the means of bringing men to God, than of others; like the opinion some have of physicians whom they love.
The apostle comforts these strangers of this dispersion, by the spiritual union which they obtained by effectual
calling; and so calls off their eyes from their outward, dispersed, and despised condition, to look above that, as high as the spring of their happiness, the free love and election of God. Scattered in the countries, and yet gathered in God's election, chosen or picked out; strangers to men amongst whom they dwelt, but known and foreknown to God; removed from their own country, to which men have naturally an unalterable affection, but made heirs of a better, and having within them the evidence both of eternal election and of that expected salvation, the Spirit of holiness. At the best, a Christian is but a stranger here, set him where you will, as our apostle teacheth after; and it is his privilege that he is so; and when he thinks not so, he forgets and disparages himself. He descends far below his quality, when he is much taken with any thing in this place of his exile.
But this is the wisdom of a Christian, when he can solace himself against the meanness of his outward condition, and any kind of discomfort attending it, with the comfortable assurance of the love of God, that he hath called him to holiness, given him some measure of it, and an endeavour after more; and by this may be conclude, that he hath ordained him unto salvation. If either he is a stranger where he lives, or as a stranger deserted of his friends and very near stripped of all outward comforts, yet may he rejoice in this, that the eternal unchangeable love of God, which is from everlasting to everlasting, is sealed to his soul. And O what will it avail a man to be compassed about with the favor of the world, to sit unmolested in his own home and possessions, and to have them very great and pleasant, to be well monied, and landed, and befriended, and yet estranged and severed from God, not having any token of his special love?
To the elect. The apostle here denominates all the Christians to whom he writes, by the condition of true believers, calling them elect and sanctified; and the apostle St. Paul writes in the same style in his epistles to the churches. Not that all in these churches were such in deed, but because they professed to be such, and