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apostles counted them happy, which endured them; for they were thereby brought more immediately into a state of entire dependence upon their Redeemer ; and the chastening itself under his blessing, however grievous, yielded the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them, which were exercised thereby.
Nevertheless, though this was the appointed happiness of all, who really suffered, and suffered willingly, for righteousness' sake, it was necessary in order to their partaking of that happiness eventually, that they should always be in a state of preparation for the suffering, by which it was to be preceded. Some men are bold at a distance, but shrink, when the trial comes. Saint Peter himself had said- Lord, I am ready 'to go with thee both into prison and unto 'death' and yet on that same night he thrice denied his master. He is therefore well qualified to teach others the means of avoiding a sin, into which he was himself betrayed.
What then is his exhortation to those Christians, who were ever subject to persecution, and who therefore might on any day be called to suffer for the name of their Saviour? What
was the habitual temper, in which they were to live, that so the fiery trial, when it came, might not find them unprepared?
The answer to this question is given in the words, which immediately follow the congratulation you have heard have heard; and they enclose the text, as a part of them. Be not afraid of their 'terror,' says the experienced apostle-' nei'ther be troubled! But sanctify the lord, God,
in your hearts, and be ready always to give
an answer to every man, that asketh you a 'reason of the hope, that is in you, with meek'ness and fear, having a good conscience, that, 'whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed, that falsely accuse your ' good conversation in Christ!'
These words of the apostle are an expanded commentary on his Lord's declaration—' Be ye also ready! For in such an hour as ye think not, the son of man cometh. Let your loins 'be girded about, and your lights burning, and
ye yourselves like unto men, that wait for their 'Lord!' It is incumbent on those, who would be ready to meet the Lord, when he cometh, or to meet his messengers, when they summon
them to martyrdom or to judgment, to have always, if it were possible, a conscience void of offence toward God and toward men, to give no unnecessary occasion of scandal to the cause of their Redeemer, but especially to live near to God, to sanctify him in their hearts, and thence to preserve themselves free from those perturbations, which the fear of man and the apprehension of his censure or of their own sufferings might produce. But withal it especially became those, who were constantly liable to be questioned concerning their faith, to be ready at any moment to give an answer to every man, that should ask them a reason of the hope, that was in them; while yet this answer, however unreasonably demanded, was always to be given by them with meekness and fear, not with confidence and boasting, because confidence would expose them to the danger of defeat, while meekness would lead them to seek their help from God, and thus tend to secure them from falling.
This is the substance and tenour of saint Peter's exhortation in the context. It is evident, that his command to be ready always to give an
answer is grounded partly on the expectation, under which every Christian then lived, of being interrogated upon the reason of his hope by the magistrate. But it is not grounded exclusively on that expectation: for he is required to give an answer to every man, that asketh him a reason of the hope, that is in him, to him, who wishes to be informed, as well as to him, who requires to be obeyed. And surely this is a duty, common to every age. It becomes every man for his own satisfaction to have a sufficient reason of the hope, that is in him; it is due to others, that he should be always ready to give that reason to every man, that asketh him; and it is due to God, that he should do this with meekness and fear.
But, in order to do full justice to this subject in our treatment of it, there is still a preliminary inquiry to be instituted; for some men have not the hope, for which the text injoins them to give a reason. The three truths therefore, which I shall hope to illustrate this day, are first, that we ought to make sure, that we have a hope in us, such as that, which saint Peter supposes in the text; secondly, that it becomes
us, as rational persons, to have always a reason of that hope; and, thirdly, that it is our duty, as humble Christians, to give that reason to every man, that asketh us, with meekness and fear. As these principles are intended to be a foundation for some further matter, which I shall hope afterwards to bring before you, I beg your particular attention to them: and may God give you grace to continue in the faith, grounded and settled, that ye may never be moved away from the hope of the gospel!
First, it becomes us to take heed, that we have the hope of the gospel. Some persons think little about it. Others presume, that they have it, because they have read of it, and because, as they know they must die, it is a pleasant thing to persuade themselves, that there is something to be expected after death, which is enjoyable. The first of these classes have no hope for a hope, which is little in the thoughts, has no reality. The second have a presumptuous hope: for a hope, that is encouraged without evidence, is presumptuous.