1 Peter iii. 8-12. "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil."
This is one of the texts which is apt to puzzle people who do not read their Bibles carefully enough. They cannot see what the latter part of it has to do with the former.
St. Peter says that we Christians are called that we should inherit a blessing. That means, of course, they say, the blessing of salvation, everlasting life in heaven. But then St. Peter quotes from the 34th Psalm. "For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile." Now that Psalm, they say, speaks of blessing and happiness in this life. Then why does St. Peter give it as a reason for expecting blessing and happiness in the life to come? And then, they say, to make it fit in, it must be understood spiritually; and what they mean by that, I do not clearly know.
Their notion is, that the promises of the Old Testament are more or less carnal, because they speak of God's rewarding men in this life; and that the promises of the New Testament are spiritual, because they speak of God's rewarding men in the next life; and what they mean by that, again, I do not clearly know.
For is not the Old Testament spiritual as well as the New? I trust so, my friends. Is not the Old Testament inspired, and that by the Spirit of God? and if it be inspired by the Spirit, what can it be but spiritual? Therefore, if we want to find the spiritual meaning of Old Testament promises, we need not to alter them to suit any fancies of our own; like those monks of the fourth and succeeding centuries, who saw no sanctity in family or national life; no sanctity in the natural world, and, therefore, were forced to travesty the Hebrew historians, psalmists, and prophets, with all their simple, healthy objective humanity, and politics, and poetry, into metaphorical and subjective, or, as they miscalled them, spiritual meanings, to make the Old Testament mean anything at all. No; if we have any real reverence for the Holy Scriptures, we must take them word for word in their plain meaning, and find the message of God's Spirit in that plain meaning, instead of trying to put it in for ourselves. Therefore it is that the VII. Article bids us beware of playing with Scripture in this way. It says the Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises, that is temporary promises, promises which would be fulfilled only in this life, and end and pass away when they died.
But some one will say, how can that be, when so many of the old Hebrews seem to have known nothing about the next life? Moses, for instance, always promises the Children of Israel that if they do right, and obey God, they shall be rewarded in this life, with peace and prosperity, fruitfulness and wealth; but of their being rewarded in the next life he never says one word--which last statement is undeniably true.
Is not then the Old Testament contrary to the New, if the Old Testament teaches men to look for their reward in this life, and the New Testament in the next? No, it is not, my friends. And I think we shall see that it is not, and why it is not, if we will look honestly at this very important text. If we do that we shall see that what St. Peter meant-- what the VII. Article means is the only meaning which will make sense of either one or the other; is simply this--that what causes a man to enjoy this life, is the same that will cause him to enjoy the life to come. That what will bring a blessing on him in this life, will bring a blessing on him in the life to come. That what blessed the old Jews, will bless us Christians. That if we refrain our tongue from evil, and our lips from speaking deceit; it we avoid evil and do good; if we seek peace and follow earnestly after it; then shall we enjoy life, and see good days, and inherit a blessing; whether in this life or in the life to come.
And why? Because then we shall be living the one and only everlasting life of goodness, which alone brings blessings; alone gives good days; and is the only life worth living, whether in earth or heaven.
My dear friends, lay this seriously to heart, in these days especially, when people and preachers alike have taken to part earth and heaven, in a fashion which we never find in Holy Scripture. Lay it to heart, I say, and believe that what is right, and therefore good, for the next life, is right, and therefore good, for this. That the next life is not contrary to this life. That the same moral laws hold good in heaven, as on earth. Mark this well; for it must be so, if morality, that is right and goodness, is of the eternal and immutable essence of God. And therefore, mark this well again, there is but one true, real, and right life for rational beings, one only life worth living, and worth living in this world or in any other life, past, present, or to come. And that is the eternal life which was before all worlds, and will be after all are passed away--and that is neither more nor less than a good life; a life of good feelings, good thoughts, good words, good deeds, the life of Christ and of God.
It is needful, I say, to bear this in mind just now. People are, as I told you, too apt to say that the Old Testament saints got their rewards in this life, while we shall get them in the next. Do they find that in Scripture? If they will read their Bible they will find that the Old Testament saints were men whom God was training and educating, as He does us, by experience and by suffering. That David, so far from having his reward at once in this life, had his bitter sorrows and trials; that Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, all, indeed, of the old prophets, had to be made perfect by suffering, and (as St. Paul says) died in faith NOT having received the promises. So that if they had their reward in this life, it must have been a spiritual reward, the reward of a good conscience, and of the favour of Almighty God. And that is no transitory or passing reward, but enduring as immortality itself. But people do not usually care for that spiritual reward. Their notion of reward and happiness is that they are to have all sorts of pleasures, they know not what, and know not really why. And because they cannot get pleasant things enough to satisfy them in this life, they look forward greedily to getting them in the next life; and meanwhile are discontented with God's Providence, and talk of God's good world as if some fiend and not the Lord Jesus Christ was the maker and ruler thereof. Do not misunderstand me. I am no optimist. I know well that things happen in this world which must, which ought to make us sad--so sad that at moments we envy the dead, who are gone home to their rest; real tragedies, real griefs, divine and Christlike griefs, which only loving hearts know--the suffering of those we love, the loss of those we love, and, last and worst, the sin of those we love. Ah! if any of those swords have pierced the heart of any soul here, shall I blame that man, that woman, if they cry at times, "Father, take me home, this earth is no place for me." Shall I bid them do aught but cling to the feet of Christ and cry, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Oh, not of such do I speak; not of such sharers of Christ's unselfish suffering here, that they may be sharers of His unselfish joy hereafter. Not of them do I speak; but of those who only wish to make up for selfish discomforts and disappointments in this life by selfish comforts and satisfaction in the next; and who therefore take up (let me use the honest English word) some maundering form of religion, which, to judge from their own conduct, they usually only half believe; those who seem, on six days of the week, as fond of finery and frivolity as any other gay worldlings, and on the seventh join eagerly in hymns in which (in one case at least) they inform the Almighty God of truth, who will not be mocked, that they lie awake at night, weeping because they cannot die and see "Jerusalem the golden," and so forth. Or those, again, who for six days in the week are absorbed in making money-- honestly if they can, no doubt, but still making money, and living luxuriously on their profits--and on the seventh listen with satisfaction to preachers and hymns which tell them that this world is all a howling wilderness, full of snares and pitfalls; and that in this wretched place the Christian can expect nothing but tribulation and persecution till he "crosses Jordan, and is landed safe on Canaan's store," and so forth.
My friends, my friends, as long as a man talks so, blaspheming God's world--which, when He made it, behold it was all very good--and laying the blame of their own ignorance and peevishness on God who made them, they must expect nothing but tribulation and sorrow. But the tribulation and the sorrow will be their own fault, and not God's. If religious professors will not take St. Peter's advice and the Psalmist's advice; if they will go on coveting and scheming about money, and how they may get money; if they will go on being neither pitiful, courteous, nor forgiving, and hating and maligning whether it be those who differ from them in doctrine, or those who they fancy have injured them, or those who merely are their rivals in the race of life; then they are but too likely to find this world a thorny place, because they themselves raise the thorns; and a disorderly place, because their own tempers and desires are disorderly; and a wilderness, because they themselves have run wild, barbarians at heart, however civilised in dress and outward manners. St. James tells them that of old. "From whence," he says, "come wars and quarrels among you? Come they not hence, even of the lusts which war in your members? You long, and have not. You fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and have not. You pray for this and that, and God does not give it you. Because you ask amiss, selfishly to consume it on your lusts." And then you say, This world is an evil place, full of temptations. What says St. James to that? "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."
So it was in the Old Testament times, and so it is in these Christian times. God is good, and God's world is good; and the evil is not in the world around us, but in our own foolish hearts. If we follow our own foolish hearts, we shall find this world a bad place, as the old Jews found it--whenever they went wrong and sinned against God--because we are breaking its laws, and they will punish us. If we follow the commandments of God, we shall find this world a good place, as the old Jews found it--whenever they went right, and obeyed God--because we shall be obeying its laws, and they will reward us. This is God's promise alike to the old Jewish fathers and to us Christian men. And this is no transitory or passing promise, but is founded on the eternal and everlasting law of right, by which God has made all worlds, and which He Himself cannot alter, for it springs out of His own essence and His own eternal being. Hear, then, the conclusion of the whole matter: God hath called you that you might inherit a blessing.
He hath made you of a blessed race, created in His own likeness, to whom He hath put all things in subjection, making man a little lower than the angels, that He might crown him with glory and worship: a race so precious in God's eyes--we know not why--that when mankind had fallen, and seemed ready to perish from their own sin and ignorance, God spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us, that the world by Him might be saved. And God hath put you in a blessed place, even His wondrous and fruitful world, which praises God day and night, fulfilling His word; for it continues this day as in the beginning, and He has given it a law which cannot be broken. He has made you citizens of a blessed kingdom, even the kingdom of heaven, into which you were baptised; and has given you the Holy Bible, that you might learn the laws of the kingdom, and live for ever, blessing and blest.
And the Head of this blessed race, the Maker of this blessed world, the King of this blessed kingdom, is the most blessed of all beings, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, both God and man. He has washed you freely from your sins in His own blood; He has poured out on you freely His renewing Spirit. And He asks you to enter into your inheritance; that you may love your life, and see good days, by living the blessed life, which is the life of self-sacrifice. But not such self-sacrifices as too many have fancied who did not believe that mankind was a blessed race, and this earth a blessed place. He does not ask you to give up wife, child, property, or any of the good things of this life. He only asks you to give up that selfishness which will prevent you enjoying wife, child, or property, or anything else in earth, or in heaven either. He asks you not to give up anything which is AROUND you, for that which cometh from without defileth not a man; but to give up something which is within you, for that which cometh from within, that defileth a man.
He asks you to give up selfishness and all the evil tempers which that selfishness breeds. To give up the tongue which speaks evil of your fellow-men; and the lips which utter deceit; and the brain which imagines cunning; and the heart which quarrels with your neighbour. To give these up and to seek peace, and pursue it by all means reasonable or honourable; peace with all around you, which comes by having first peace with God; next, peace with your own conscience. This is the peace which passeth understanding; for if you have it, men will not be able to understand why you have it. They will see you at peace when men admire you and praise you, and at peace also when they insult you and injure you; at peace when you are prosperous and thriving, and at peace also when you are poor and desolate. And that inward peace of yours will pass their understanding as it will pass your own understanding also. You will know that God sends you the peace, and sends it you the more the more you pray for it: but how He sends it you will not understand; for it springs out of those inner depths of your being which are beyond the narrow range of consciousness, and is spiritual and a mystery, and comes by the inspiration of the holy Spirit of God.
But remember that all your prayers will not get that peace if your heart be tainted with malice and selfishness and covetousness, falsehood and pride and vanity. You must ask God first to root those foul seeds out of your heart, or the seed of His Spirit will not spring up and bear fruit in you to the everlasting life of love and peace and joy in the holy Spirit. But if your heart be purged and cleansed of self, then indeed will the holy Spirit enter in and dwell there; and you will abide in peace, through all the chances and changes of this mortal life, for you will abide in God, who is for ever at peace. And you will inherit a blessing; for you will inherit Christ, your light and your life, who is blessed for ever. And you will love life; for life will be full to you of hope, of work, of duty, of interest, of lessons without number. And you will see good days; for all days will seem good to you, even those which seem to the world bad days of affliction and distress. And so the peace of God will keep you in Jesus Christ, in this life, and in the life to come. Amen.