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Chapter 26 - Unanswerable Questions Tried by Fire: Expositions of the First Epistle of Peter by Meyer, Frederick Brotherton
"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"-I PETER iv. 17, 18.
STORMY times were already breaking on the Church as the Apostle penned these words. Such times had been repeatedly predicted by the Lord, but until now they had not been allowed to break forth in all their terror. A Divine restraint had been laid on the antagonistic influences which lay in wait for the moment in which they should be slipped from their leash. But there was every reason to believe that further respite would be very brief-"The time is come when judgment must begin at the house of God."
Bitter as they are, such times are needed-needed as the north-east wind to break off the dead and useless timber in the spring; needed as the winnower's fan to separate the chaff from the wheat. Without these searching times of judgment, the Church becomes filled with those who make a profession of godliness, but deny its power; whilst without them even the godly and genuine are apt to become too luxurious and self-indulgent, wrapt in slumber, and indifferent to the needs of the world. So from time to time it is needful for God to set Himself to the work of discrimination, of crisis, of judgment.
But the sufferings of this life, at their worst, are only part of a great mystery of pain and judgment which exists, not here only, but hereafter. The believer in Jesus has nothing to fear from that. Whatever may be his present sufferings, they cannot pass the limit of this mortal life; they have no power to send one single stab or thrill over the barrier which separates the two worlds. With the ungodly it is not so. The tempest which breaks on their heads in this life is but the beginning of their sorrows. Through death they pass to greater misery. They depart accursed into fire. They are cast into outer darkness. They are reserved unto a further day of judgment to be punished. Moreover, the sufferings of such as refuse the Gospel are of a very different description, both here and hereafter, to those of God's children. There is the sting of remorse, the reproach of conscience, the bitter sense of severance from God, and love, and hope, and blessedness. Though the believer may suffer, his heart brims with hope; but the heart of the worldling is filled with darkness, the midnight of the soul.
His main end in adverting to the matter at all is with the view of comforting these troubled saints. If, says he, you suffer in time, remember that you will have an eternity of respite. If you suffer as children, rejoice that you will never have to suffer as enemies. If you pass through the deep dark waters of judgment, be sure that your lot is very different from what it would be if you were ungodly and profane. Great though your sufferings may be, they are not to be compared with those of such as reject the Gospel. And, standing on the edge of your own sorrows, you may peer into the seething abyss of theirs, which is indeed a bottomless pit, swathed in mist. And then he concludes this paragraph of suffering with sweet and helpful words about the committal of the soul to God.
I. THE LOT FROM WHICH WE HAVE BEEN SAVED.-There are three gradations or phases of rebellion mentioned here: the disobedient, the ungodly, the sinful. Thus does the spirit pass from the negative condition of carelessness to the positive position of rejection. And in its course it treasures up for itself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. If you obey not the Gospel, you are classed with the ungodly and the profane.
And if such shall read these words, let them consider how certain and awful must be their doom. We are not speaking now of idiots or heathen, or of those who knew not, and yet did commit things worthy of stripes. An infallible authority has told us that they shall be beaten with but few stripes. Our address is to those who have heard the dying words of Jesus, but have turned away from them unmoved, not because they cannot believe, but because they will not, preferring darkness to light, sin to goodness, self to God.
You have seen the righteous suffer, and how difficult they have found it to endure. Though sustained by the presence of God, and the promises of the Gospel; though assured of the certainty and glory of their reward; though able to read love's message in each stroke, and to see the speedy end of all discipline in heaven's azure calm-yet they have only just been able to keep heart and flesh from despair. But how will it be with you when the hour of your sorrow comes, as it will come, here or hereafter? You will have no presence of God to cheer you, no promises on which to lean, no certainty of a speedy termination, no testimony of a good conscience, no prospect of release. Before you only the certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?"
If the children suffer so, with all the alleviations of a Father's love, what will not the rebels suffer! If the sufferings of saints be so heavy, what of those of sinners? If the sufferings of this life are often so terrible, what will those of the next be? If the beginning be fraught with so much anguish, how about the end?
It was the earnest wish of a holy man that his death might be so triumphant that his unconverted sons might be convinced and attracted by the evident power of the Gospel to sustain and cheer in the dark passage of the valley. Instead of this, to his deep regret, his spirit lay under a cloud; he was oppressed with fear and misgiving; and the enemy was permitted to torment him to the uttermost. But these very facts were the ones which most profoundly impressed his children. "For," said the eldest, "we all know what a good man our father was; and yet see how deep his spiritual sufferings were. What then may we not expect, who have given no thought to the concerns of our souls?"
Besides, consider all that required to be done before the righteous could be saved. Expenditure, such as taxed the resources of Divine Omnipotence. An atonement, which could only be achieved by the death in a human body of the infinite God. The gift of the Holy Spirit Himself, to enter and possess corrupt and wayward hearts, winning them to Himself. All the marvellous interpositions of Providence; the teachings of Scripture; the strivings of conscience. And yet, notwithstanding all, how little is effected in many of God's children! Christian character seems to resemble Chat Moss, which swallowed tons on tons of earth apparently in vain, till the contractors began to despair of ever making even a thin railway embankment across the treacherous bog.
In nature we see glowing worlds, gigantic orbits, vast mountains, noble oceans in their gleaming expanse, cataracts, forests, waterfalls-all worthy of God. But when we come to the moral and spiritual side of his people's character, in spite of all that He has done, we are astonished at the meagre result. They are saved at tremendous cost, and they certainly hardly seem to repay the outlay to which the ever-blessed God has zone.
But if, after all that has been done in them and for them, they are no further forward than they are, what will be the condition of those who remain where the righteous were once, and who have rejected the gracious operations of the Most High? They are charged with sin, with no part or lot in the redemption which the Saviour wrought. They are subject to the abominable pollution of inbred corruption, without the counteracting influence of the Divine Spirit. They are indifferent to those blessed provisions which have engaged the attention of the ever-blessed Trinity from all eternity and rush heedless into the other world. "Where will they appear?"
There are several of these dread unanswered questions in the Bible. "What will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far?" Again: "Who can stand before his indignation, and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" And again: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" But amongst them all there is not one more terrible and unanswerable than this: "Where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?"
We can only answer the question in the negative. They will not appear in the clouds when Jesus comes again: only his saints will come with Him. They will not appear at the marriage supper of the Lamb: only the blood-washed can enter there. They will not appear on the right hand of the Judge: only the righteous are found there. They will not appear among the blessed throngs of the golden city: for thither entereth nothing that defileth. But when we have ransacked all these places in vain, we have not answered the inquiry as to their abiding place. We must leave this for the solemn light of eternity to disclose.
Oh for tears of blood to weep over their fate! But let us mingle notes of thanksgiving, that we shall never, never know it. We cannot perish. We are the objects, as they might be, of an unchangeable love which cannot be thwarted. Bought by the blood, taught by the Spirit, the subjects of the mighty power of God, we shall yet be more than conquerors. Troubled, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; cast down, but not destroyed; staggering, but not falling to our eternal destruction; on the edge of destruction, but brought safe home on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. Well might Dr. Caesar Malan say to Dr. Gray, turning suddenly on him, when walking with him at Geneva: "Brother, you would not go to heaven if you could help it"; and then, in answer to a look of surprise, added: "But, brother, you must go, for Jesus will not let you go elsewhere."
II. THE METHOD SUFFERING SAINTS SHOULD ADOPT.-First, Be sure that you keep in the current of the will of God.-"Suffer according to the will of God." Do not go out of your way to incur trouble. Refuse to fling yourselves from the mountain brow at the suggestion of the tempter. Dare not to go far afield from under the canopy of the stately pillar-cloud. Accept all that comes in the natural course of things, but do not sow harvests of pain by presumption or wrong-headedness, or any form of evil-doing.
(2) Secondly, Go on doing well.-"In well-doing." Do the next thing. Even if maligned, traduced, or misunderstood, persevere in doing well. It does not matter how your good deeds are received by men. If you are like God, you will find them received with contempt and ingratitude. But your sun must still shine and your showers fall on the evil and the good, on the just and on the unjust. You serve the Lord Christ. Live to please Him.
(3) Thirdly, Commit the keeping of your souls to God.-Our dying Lord committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously. "Father," he cried, "into thy hands I commit my spirit." And God has vindicated Him. Let us, in life and death, place our souls, our honour, our good name and standing, our prospects and future, without reserve or question, in the hands of God. He is faithful. Creation is witness to his faithfulness. The stars return with unerring punctuality. Seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, do not cease. He satisfies all instincts which He has implanted. He hearkens to every cry which He has instilled. And, therefore, with unerring love and power He will respond to every appeal made to Him by his suffering ones. He who created is faithful to keep those who commit themselves to Him; as He who provided the Atonement is faithful and just to forgive those who confess their sins. "He will redeem their soul from deceit and violence; and precious shall their blood be in his sight."
Safe and strong, tender and true, are the hands of our faithful God. Drop down into them, they will catch you, and sustain your burdens and yourselves. They can hold the oceans in their hollow; but they are scarred with Calvary's nails. Weary, tired, suffering ones, lie still! none shall pluck you out of the Father's hands. Without anxiety or alarm you may look out from them on the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds. Those hands shall ultimately bear you, as they did your Lord, through all the heavens, and set you down at his own right hand in glory.