But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts - To sanctify God may signify to offer him the praises due to his grace, but as to sanctify literally signifies to make holy, it is impossible that God should be thus sanctified. We have often already seen that ἁγιαζω signifies to separate from earth, that is, from any common use or purpose, that the thing or person thus separated may be devoted to a sacred use. Perhaps we should understand Peter's words thus: Entertain just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth. Do not conceive of him as being actuated by such passions as men; separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful. Consider that he can neither be like man, feel like man, nor act like man. Ascribe no human passions to him, for this would desecrate not sanctify him. Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space, vacuity, heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Avoid the error of the heathens, who bound even their Dii Majores , their greatest gods, by fate, as many well-meaning Christians do the true God by decrees; conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree, that implies it: this is not only a human passion, but a passion of fallen man. Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did, or ever can, hate any of those whom he made in his own image and in his own likeness, so as by a positive decree to doom them, unborn, to everlasting perdition, or, what is of the same import, pass them by without affording them the means of salvation, and consequently rendering it impossible for them to be saved. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and, by so doing, you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power, without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without rigour or severity on the one hand, or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do, any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he hates nothing that he has made; and has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth. Most religious systems and creeds are incapable of rational explanation, because founded on some misconception of the Divine nature.
"They set at odds heaven's jarring attributes,
And with one excellence another wound."
The system of humanizing God, and making him, by our unjust conceptions of him, to act as ourselves would in certain circumstances, has been the bane of both religion and piety; and on this ground infidels have laughed us to scorn. It is high time that we should no longer know God after the flesh; for even if we have known Jesus Christ after the flesh, we are to know him so no more.
What I have written above is not against any particular creed of religious people, it is against any or all to whom it may justly apply, it may even be against some portions of my own; for even in this respect I am obliged daily to labor to sanctify the Lord God in my heart, to abstract him from every thing earthly and human, and apprehend him as far as possible in his own essential nature and attributes through the light of his Spirit and the medium of his own revelation. To act thus requires no common effort of soul: and just apprehensions of this kind are not acquired without much prayer, much self-reflection, much time, and much of the grace and mercy of God.
Instead of τον Θεον , God, ABC, four others, both the Syriac, Erpen's Arabic, the Coptic, Vulgate, and Armenian, with Clement and Fulgentius, read τον Χριστον , Christ. Sanctify Christ in your hearts. This reading is at least equal to the other in the authorities by which it is supported; but which was written by St. Peter we know not.
A reason of the hope - An account of your hope of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life in God's glory. This was the great object of their hope, as Christ was the grand object of their faith.
The word απολογια , which we translate answer, signifies a defense; from this we have our word apology, which did not originally signify an excuse for an act, but a defense of that act. The defences of Christianity by the primitive fathers are called apologies. See the note on Acts 21:1 .
With meekness and fear - Several excellent MSS. add the word αλλα , but, here, and it improves the sense considerably: Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, But with meekness and fear. Do not permit your readiness to answer, nor the confidence you have in the goodness of your cause, to lead you to answer pertly or superciliously to any person; defend the truth with all possible gentleness and fear, lest while you are doing it you should forget his presence whose cause you support, or say any thing unbecoming the dignity and holiness of the religion which you have espoused, or inconsistent with that heavenly temper which the Spirit of your indwelling Lord must infallibly produce.