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you wise unto salvation : he gives you a sound mind, and makes you of good understanding. They count you weak, and contemn you for your imbecility in the sight of the Lord; but he makes you “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might;" he is in you " the Spirit of power,” as well as “ of a sound mind.” They reckon you mean, but he gives you true dignity and grandeur of character; he makes you great in the sight of the Lord, and decks you with ornaments becoming your dignity as kings and priests unto God, even your Father. Is not the consideration of what he has made you, more than sufficient to neutralize the painful effects of all that they can call you ? If he has made you wise, what though they call you fools ? If he has made you strong, what though they call you weak? If he has made you illustrious, what though they should represent you as despicable? His bearing witness with your spirits that ye are indeed the sons of God," and if sons then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ Jesus,” is surely more than enough to counterbalance all their false and malignant reproaches. Such seems to be the import of the motive which the Apostle employs to induce Christians to rise above the disheartening influence of reproach for Christ, and even to rejoice in it. If you are Christians indeed, ye have a real abiding honour, springing from the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of glory resting on you, dwelling in you, which their reproaches can in no degree affect.
The meaning and reference of the concluding words of the fourteenth verse, “On their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified,” are somewhat doubtful. They may mean, what from their rendering our translators obviously supposed they did mean, This Spirit of glory which exists in you is evil spoken of, or blasphemed, by those men who reproach you for the name of Christ, who load you with abuse because you are Christians. He made you what you are as Christians, and, in reproaching you, they indeed blaspheme him. They who mock at Christians, as Christians, play at a dangerous game. The time is coming when the Son of God will say, “Inasmuch as ye did it to them, ye did it to me;" and the Spirit of God, 'In reproaching them ye blasphemed me, in ridiculing my work you poured contempt on my person. Let the men of the world take care. What they think but a jest, may prove a very serious affair. The Jews thought they were putting to death a poor unfriended Nazarene. It turned out that they crucified the Lord of glory. The enemies of vital Christianity may think they are only running down a set of wrong-headed enthusiasts; it may turn out they are coming very near the sin “that hath no forgiveness, neither in this world nor in that which is to come.” It is as if the Apostle had said, their reproaches are more against the Spirit that animates you than against you.
But while they blaspheme him, you glorify him; and surely it is very meet that it should be so. Christians should honour the Holy Spirit who makes them honourable. They should show forth his praises, giving visible form to his inward work, by proving themselves to be under his influence as “the Spirit of love, and of power, and of a sound mind.” This is the best way of meeting the reproaches of men against ourselves as Christians, and against the Spirit by whom, as Christians, we are animated and guided. Let us show what manner of spirit we are of; that it is indeed the Spirit of glory that rests on us; a Spirit which is "pure and peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated;" a Spirit which leads us to think on and to practise “ whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report."
While this is important truth, and while the words in themselves may be considered as well enough fitted to convey it, I am rather disposed to go along with those interpreters who consider the verbs here as used impersonally, and think the Apostle expresses this sentiment: On their part there is
1 James iii. 17. Phil. iii. 8.
evil-speaking, blasphemy, reproach; but on your part there is glory, true honour. They reproach, indeed, but ye are not dishonoured. The Spirit of glory rests on you, and therefore all their reproaches cannot rob you of true honour, cannot make you really contemptible. You are what the Spirit of God has made you, not what they represent you. What a comfort is this to a calumniated Christian, and how well-fitted to enable him in patience to possess his soul, amid calumnious reproaches and cruel mockings !
There is a question which naturally enough is suggested by what has been said. Since we all, with scarcely an exception, profess the religion of Christ, have we ever been exposed to suffering on account of our religion? Is the fiery trial a strange thing to us? Have we never been partakers of the sufferings of Christ? never been exposed to the reproach of Christ? If we have not, I am afraid there is something wanting, something wrong. The world and Christianity are substantially the same things, they were in the primitive times; and, though the world may take other ways of showing its hatred and contempt of Christianity and Christians than it did then, that hatred and contempt still exist unmitigated, and will find a way to manifest themselves when they meet with their proper object. But it is not every thing that is called Christianity the world hates; it is the Christianity of the new Testament. It is not the name, it is the thing. There is much that is called Christianity which the world does not at all dislike: it is its own work. There are many
called Christians who are of the world, and the world loves them. A wo is denounced on the Christian man, of whom all men speak well ; and if we have in no way incurred the hatred of an ungodly world, we have reason to fear, that though we have the name we have not the thing. It is a faithful saying, “Every one who will live godly must suffer persecution.” We are not to court persecution : if we are consistent Christians, we will not need to do so. It will come of its own accord. The world will be consistent in its hatred, if Christians are but consistent in their professions and conduct. Let us take care that we do not sinfully shun it. Let us hold fast the faith and profession of the gospel, to whatever privations and sufferings this may expose us. Let us part with every thing rather than the Saviour and his truth, the testimony of a good conscience, and the hope, through grace, of rejoicing with exceeding joy at the appearing of his glory; let us show how highly we value him and his gospel, by the cheerfulness with which we submit to such trials as attachment to them may bring on us.
III. BE NOT ASHAMED OF YOUR SUFFERINGS.
The third direction given by the Apostle to his persecuted brethren is, Be not ashamed of your sufferings in the cause of Christ. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busy-body in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.”
The Apostle proceeds on the principle, that there are sufferings which are indeed disgraceful; that it is a possible thing that Christians may expose themselves to such sufferings, which in their case must be doubly disgraceful ; that it is the duty of Christians carefully to guard against rendering themselves liable to such sufferings; that there are sufferings to which Christians may be exposed, merely because they are Christians, merely because they profess the faith, obey the laws, observe the institutions of Christ; and that such sufferings, however disgraceful in their own nature, and in the estimation of men, are no proper ground of shame to those who meet with them; but, on the contrary, should be subjects of gloriation and thanksgiving to God.
When suffering is just punishment it is always disgraceful. Crime in all its forms is a shameful thing, something base and unworthy ; and so must punishment be, which proclaims the man a criminal, which at once publishes the fact that he has been guilty, and brands him with public reprobation on account of his guilt. It is shameful to commit murder, and therefore it is shameful to suffer as a murderer. It is shameful to commit theft, and therefore it is shameful to suffer as a thief. It is shameful to violate any law of man established by competent authority, which is not opposed to the law of God, that is, to be an evil-doer, a malefactor in the eye of the law, and therefore it is shameful to be punished for such a violation as an evil-doer or malefactor. When such punishments have been incurred, the person subjected to them ought to be ashamed ; and, when they are not felt to be shameful by the criminal, it is a proof of most deplorable obtuseness of moral apprehension and feeling
Nor are sufferings which are the punishment of violation of positive public law the only sufferings which are of a shameful kind. All suffering which is the effect of improper conduct is shameful, just in proportion as the conduct which has produced it is shameful. There are many very improper acts or habits which are not, and cannot, be the subject of public law, lying beyond or below its sphere, which yet naturally bring down on those characterised by them appropriate, and it may be severe punishment. For example, “the busy-body in other men's matters," whether his intrusive interference originate in mere impertinent curiosity, or in worse motives, is likely to suffer by exclusion from respectable society, by general contempt, and, it may be, in even more substantial forms; and his sufferings, whatever they may be, are disgraceful sufferings--sufferings of which he ought to be ashamed.
By many interpreters, I am aware that “the busy-body" here is considered as equivalent to “ the seditious person," who, in a private station, plots against the existing order of society, meddling with things too high for him, and who consequently is naturally enough classed along with the murderer and the thief, as drawing down on himself deserved punishment from the hand of violated law; but I think it more likely that the Apostle meant to warn Christians against exposing themselves, not only to shameful sufferings,