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Should they not thus persevere in well-doing, but, under the power of terror and shame, abandon the cause of Christ, making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, they would make a miserable exchange of circumstances. They must in this case take their place among the ungodly and sinners, who obey not the gospel of God. However severe the trials of Christians may be, they are nothing compared with the punishment which awaits the impenitent and unbelieving. Even in this world, some of the apostates of that age, in seeking to escape the persecution to which Christians were exposed, involved themselves in still more dreadful calamities. They who in Jerusalem remained faithful to Christ, following his command, left the doomed city, embracing an opportunity very wonderfully offered to them, and so were saved, saved with difficulty; while the apostates continued, and perished miserably in the siege and sack of that city. In the times of the severest persecution, it is men's wisdom, by embracing the gospel, to cast in their lot with the afflicted people of God. That is the only way of escaping evils immeasurably more dreadful than any which the malignant ingenuity of earth or hell can inflict on the saints; and it is madness, absolute madness, to purchase security from persecution, and all that this world can bestow, at the price of apostasy. “For he who turns back, turns back to perdition." Since, then, trials so severe were awaiting the church of God, and seeing destruction so awful was impending over those ungodly men and sinners, who either by impenitence or apostasy were disobedient to the gospel of God, how appropriate and how powerfully enforced the injunction of the Apostle, “Wherefore, let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as to a faithful Creator !”
The two injunctions are most intimately connected. It is only he who is continuing in well doing, that in the day of severe trial can commit the keeping of his soul to God, as to a faithful Creator; and it is only he who commits the keeping of his soul to God, as to a faithful Creator, that in the day of severe trial will continue in well-doing. All others will become weary in well-doing under persecution; and silently withdraw from, or openly renounce connexion with, the oppressed persecuted church of Christ.
There are two general principles of a practical kind, and of very general application, naturally suggested by what we have said, to which I would call your attention for a moment before we conclude.
They who obey the gospel may count on varied, and, it may be, severe trials previously to their obtaining the salvation that is in Christ with eternal glory;" and they who obey not the gospel can reasonably count on nothing but everlasting perdition.
They who obey the gospel are as sure of salvation as the love and power, the faithfulness and wisdom, of God can make them. The righteous, those “justified freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” those sanctified by the Spirit through the truth, will certainly be saved. When it is said they are “ scarcely saved,” the reference is not to the uncertainty of their being saved, but to the difficulties and trials they may experience in the course of their being saved. All Christians are not tried as the Christians to whom Peter wrote, the Christians at the close of the Jewish dispensation ; but all Christians meet with afflictions, and meet with afflictions because they are Christians; all suffer, and all suffer as Christians. We must never think ill of a cause merely because it is persecuted, nor indulge dark thoughts respecting the spiritual state and prospects of men merely because they are very severely afflicted. The absence of trial is a worse sign than what we might be disposed to think the excess of trial.
“ If ye were without chastisement, of which all are partakers, then were ye bastards, and not sons.” 1 But it is not exposure to trial, but the endurance of trial, in “a patient continuance in well
1 Heb. xii. 8.
doing," that is the characteristic mark of those who obey the gospel of God. Let Christians, then, not wonder at their trials, however severe. Let them not count strange even the fiery trial, as if some strange thing had happened to them ; and let them seek, by rightly improving their trials, to convert them into proofs of saintship and means of salvation.
They who obey not the gospel of God can reasonably count on nothing but unmixed misery, everlasting perdition. “If judgment begin at the house of God, what will the end be of those who obey not the gospel of God? and, if the righteous scarcely be saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear ?" These words most strikingly bring before our minds both the severity and the certainty of the punishment which awaits the wicked. If even the children of God, the objects of his peculiar love, are severely chastened for their faults in this season of Divine forbearance, what can those who are the objects of his moral disapprobation and judicial displeasure expect, but the unmitigated punishment of their sin, under an economy which is the revelation of his righteous judgment, where justice is to have free course and to be glorified? If the trials to which the righteous are exposed are so varied and severe, that, though saved, they are “saved as by fire,” saved with difficulty, with a struggle, after “a great fight of affliction," what will be the state of those who are not to be saved at all—not saved, but destroyed with an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power ? If even children are so chastened, how will hardened rebels be punished ? “If these things are done in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?" Oh! that men who obey not the gospel of God could be but induced to lay these things to heart. If they continue disobedient to the gospel, there is no hope; for there is no atoning sacrifice, no sanctifying Spirit, no salvation, but the sacrifice, the Spirit, the salvation revealed in the gospel.
But why should they not obey this gospel ? Is it not " faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation ?" Oh! why
will they reject the counsel of God against themselves ? If they continue to reject this counsel of peace they must perish : but there is no necessity of rejecting this counsel of peace, but what originates in their own unreasonable, wicked obstinacy.
I conclude, in words full of comfort to the first of these classes of whom I have been speaking, and full of terror to the second. May God carry them home with power to the hearts of both! “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” “The Lord is not slack concerning his declaration, as some men count slackness ; but he is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come unto repentance. He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”ı
1 2 Pet. ii. 9; iii. 9. Prov. xxix. 1.
NOTE A. It must be admitted that there is a strange disparity between “the busy-body,” and “the thief,” and “the murderer.” It is an ingenious conjecture, but nothing more, of Dr Mangey, that a very early transcriber may have written αλλοτριοεπισκοπος, which appears in all existing manuscripts, for alloTPLOETIKAOTOS, “ a purloiner of other men's property.” There is more weight in Bishop Barrington's suggestion—“ This caution probably owed its origin to the temper and conduct of the Jews at this period. They were peculiarly fond of intermeddling in the public councils and concerns of other bodies of men. Josephus, de Bell. Jud., lib. ii. c. xviii. § 7, 8, gives an excellent comment on this apostolical prohibition. He relates that his countrymen, “needlessly mixing with the Greeks assembled at Alexandria on their own affairs, and acting the part of spies, greatly suffered for it.” This took place A.D. 66, just about the time this Epistle was written.-Vide BowYER's Conjectures, p. 603, 4.