The Pulpit Commentary

1 Peter 3:15 (1 Peter 3:15)

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. From Isaiah 8:13 . The reading of the best and oldest manuscripts here is κύριον δὲ τὸν ξριστόν , "Sanctify the Lord Christ," or, "Sanctify the Christ as Lord." The absence of the article with κύριον is in favor of the second translation; but the first seems more natural, more in accordance with the original passage in Isaiah, and the common expression, κύριος ὁ θεός , is in its favor. Whichever translation is adopted, St. Peter here substitutes the Savior's Name where the prophet wrote, "the Lord of hosts, Jehovah Sabaoth"—a change which would be nothing less than impious if the Lord Jesus Christ were not truly God. "Sanctify him," the apostle says (as the Lord himself teaches us to say, in the first words of the Lord's Prayer); that is, regard him as most holy, awful in sanctity; serve him with reverence and godly fear; so you will not "be afraid of their terror." The holy fear of God will lift you above the fear of man. "Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread" ( Isaiah 8:13 ; see also Le Isaiah 10:3 ; Isaiah 29:23 ; Ezekiel 38:23 ). St. Peter adds the words, "in your hearts," to teach us that this reverence, this hallowing of the Name of God, must be inward and spiritual, in our inmost being. And be ready always to give an answer to every man ; literally, ready always for an apology to every man. The word ἀπολογία is often used of a formal answer before a magistrate, or of a written defense of the faith; but here the addition, "to every man," shows that St. Peter is thinking of informal answers on any suitable occasion. That asketh you a reason of the here that is in you ; literally, an account concerning the hope. Hope is the grace on which St. Peter lays most stress; it lives in the hearts of Christians. Christians ought to be able to give an account of their hope when asked, both for the defense of the truth and for the good of the asker. That account may be very simple; it may be the mere recital of personal experience—often the most convincing of arguments; it may be, in the case of instructed Christians, profound and closely reasoned. Some answer every Christian ought to be able to give. With meekness and fear . The best manuscripts read, "but with meekness and fear." The word "but" ( ἀλλά ) is emphatic; argument always involves danger of weakening the spiritual life through pride or bitterness. We must sometimes "contend earnestly for the faith;" but it must be with gentleness and awe. We should fear lest we injure our own souls by arrogant and angry controversy; we should seek the spiritual good of our opponents; and we should entertain a solemn awe of the presence of God, with a trembling anxiety to think and to say only what is acceptable unto him.

- The Pulpit Commentary

1 Peter 3:1-22 (1 Peter 3:1-22)

The subject of this section is the necessity for a life becoming the Christian name; this is applied to Christian citizens and to Christian servants, and, here, to Christian wives. The reason for the conspicuous place here assigned to wives is obvious. The writer is addressing Churches in pagan countries, many of whose members were wives of heathen husbands. What were these to do? were they to continue in that relationship, or did their Christianity sever the marriage bond? That question occurred more than once; it was brought before Paul by the Church at Corinth, and he deals with it in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 . There was probably another reason for this. Dr. John Brown says, "When we reflect on the character of the conjugal relation among heathens, how much there was of the harshness of the tyrant in the husband, and of the baseness of the slave in the wife, and how much pollution and cruelty prevailed in the home, few things were more calculated to strike heathen observers favorably than the power of Christianity in introducing an order and purity and enjoyment into the domestic circle beyond what heathen philosophy had ever dreamt of." Peter's words are often applicable still. Two hearts, two lives, are often bound together by the closest human tics, one devoted to Christianity, the other not. The case here, however, is not of those who had been united after one had become a Christian; the nature of spiritual life and the direct Word of God forbid union of that kind, and there is no consolation here for the trouble that comes from disobedience in this respect. Here the wife is supposed to have become a Christian since she gave herself to the ungodly husband. The Divine finger is laid on the secret of many a troubled life, when husbands are here spoken of that "obey not the Word;" but the hand that pains is that which heals, for there is hope and strength and comfort for the wounded spirit in "Ye wives, be in subjection," etc.


1. And the first point included is faithful fulfillment of the duties of her relationship. "Be in subjection to your husbands;" equivalent to a summary of the various duties of the position. The expression is harsh at first, but the harshness wears off as we think of it, for love is always in subjection, He whose life was the embodiment of love came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Love cannot help serving. This word lays no burden on love but what she lays on herself. Nor is this a one-sided requirement; for the same Word says, "Husbands, love your wives"—so that the subjection is mutual" submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." Yet, though the harshness be removed, the command remains and means something, and it is remarkable that in the three instances in the Epistles where the duties of wives are referred to, the same idea of subjection occurs ( Ephesians 5:22 ; Colossians 3:18 ; and here). Woman was made for a "helpmeet for man;" " Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee;" " Man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man." The subjection, therefore, was to be real, yet not that of a servant, but of a companion; man's other self, yet still subject.

2. Possession of that pure character which springs /rein the fear of God. "Chaste conversation;" equivalent to pure manner of life, a character unsullied, and this arising from the fear of God in the heart. The godly wife of an ungodly man is exposed to great difficulty; the husband, troubled by no scruples, will often expect of her what her conscience condemns; and that position is as perilous as it is painful. Now, this word requires no swerving a hair-breadth from righteousness, not even under pressure of the husband's love and plans. "Whoso loveth… husband… more than," etc.

3. Manifestation of the graces of spirituality. "Whose adorning," etc. This does not necessarily condemn what is simply ornamental. Did we only use what is necessary for bare existence, many of our fellow-creatures could not live. God's works also are marked by beauty, needless but for gratification, and we may well copy him within his own lines. But do not let these be your adornment, do not let these be what men think of first when they see you, nor find in them your attraction; but let your adornment be the graces of the inner life. Let Christian women set themselves against the dress curse, one of the greatest curses of the day, and put character first, as God does.

II. THIS IS SET FORTH AS THE MEANS OF WINNING THE UNCONVERTED HUSBAND . These heathen husbands did not frequent the sanctuary, nor listen to the Word, and thus their case seemed hopeless. But the Divine Word may be carried to heart and mind as much by a Divine life as by a Divine book. Feeding on this book, we become its embodiment, living Epistles of Christ, read of all; and the promise is as true of the Word lived as of the Word spoken, "My Word shall not return unto me void." Verses 5 and 6: not simply the hope to win the husband should lead to living thus, but not otherwise could the wife prove herself a daughter of Abraham, a member of the true Israel. The membership of the Christian wife in God's family is of itself the ground of her doing what is here required; all this is owed to God as your blaster; but there is an additional motive for this in its effect on the husband. See how this operates.

1. A true Christian life is a standing proof of the Divinity of Christianity. How can the doubting husband be undeceived? By the life of the wife.

2. An exemplification of the beauties of holiness is a constant persuasion. Acts of forgiveness, endurance, sacrifice, adherence to right, etc., gradually tell even on the hardened, and often loudly plead for Christ.

3. Conquest by the passive virtues is God ' s own method. Men dislike direct assaults on their moral nature, but often open their hearts spontaneously to what seems to make no onset. God recognizes that in his dealings with us. The meaning of his cross is, in fact, that he expects to subdue us by suffering for us and bearing with us. We may expect to win by the same means.

III. THIS IS ONLY ACCOMPLISHED BY PERSONAL HEART - CULTURE . How can we gain this becoming character? The passage answers, "By heart-work." Christian character grows from within.

1. Life is a reflex of faith. "What a man believes, that is he." Love, peace, purity, power, etc., are the proper fruits of trust in God; therefore strengthen your faith.

2. Character is according to companionship. We become like those with whom we associate. They take knowledge of those who have been with Jesus. God impresses his image on the soul that is much with him - C.N.

1 Peter 3:7 - The Christian husband called to enjoy spiritual blessings with the Christian wife.

A happier case is supposed than the preceding. The husband is "won;" they are "heirs together of the grace of life;" and there opens before them the possibility of blessing they have never known. But even this bus a touch of sadness in it. If it be painful for the one member in this relationship having a piety in which the other has no share, it is only one degree less so when they share it equally, but live as though they did not. Sharing in all else, but units and solitary in things eternal. Two fellow-travelers walking to Emmaus, each talking with Jesus as they go, but neither with the other—that is the case supposed here. ("According to knowledge;" equivalent to knowledge of what is possible and due to two hearts bound together, first by natural relationship, and then by common love to God.)

I. THE BLESSEDNESS OF MUTUAL PIETY IN HUSBAND AND WIFE . They are both "heirs of the grace of life;" but the fear is that they do not dwell with one another as "heirs together." Two persons may make the same journey, and never speak. How different that from two who go in every respect together, having common interest in all that happens! The one is far less blessed than the other. Peter here urges the greater blessedness. Think how much it involves.

1. It produces the closest possible union. For that there must be no secrets, nothing reserved. Thus we can get nearer to God than to any other; we can never lose ourselves but in the heavenly Father. But those we love best on earth may come closer to us in this respect than they sometimes do; and some Christian husbands and wives may thus be more to each other than they are, sharing not only temporal, but spiritual affairs. In this way there may be a union unutterably more intense, precious, and fruitful, than before.

2. It provides much powerful support. Our deepest spiritual experiences cannot be told; many others should not be. In some things God would have us for himself. But there is much also of the spiritual life whose utterance to a fellow-creature is a distinct need of the soul; as our Lord himself, in taking the favored three apart with him at some of the crises of his history—the Transfiguration, for instance, and Gethsemane—seemed to express the need of human sympathy, although in its highest degree he had the Divine. God, moreover, has given us our fellows to be a helpmeet to us, as well as himself, and we are only complete with both. It would lighten the spiritual burden and brighten the spiritual journey for husband and wife to commune together of the way they go.

3. It gives the most blessed of all anticipations. "Till death us do part" is only true of those whose union is not in the Lord. Absence for the day's work, or across broad seas, does not part husband and wife; they are still one, still one another's. To more does death rend in twain Christian spirits; the oneness remains, and there will be a meeting again soon; and that meeting will be heaven. If supreme love to God, which is required of us on earth, be consistent with profound and tender love to a fellow-creature, which is also required, they will be mutually consistent in the higher world. Yea, then God will be more to us, being shared with the other at our side, and the benediction of his presence will impart an added rapture because it is given to us both. Of those who are gone before it is said, "They without us are not yet made perfect." "So"— i.e. "together "—"we shall ever be with the Lord." That is our prospect. Then let us by a mutual piety anticipate heaven now.

II. THIS BLESSEDNESS DEMANDS MUTUAL PRAYER FOR ITS ENJOYMENT . In "that your prayers be not hindered," is not the apostle thinking of mutual prayer? If mutual prayer be wanting, is not the blessedness of mutual piety also wanting as the result? Tertullian wrote, "What a union is that which exists between two believers, who have in common the same hope, the same desire, the same service! Like brother and sister, united both in spirit and in flesh, they kneel together, they pray and fast together, they teach and support each other with gentleness, they share one another's trials, and conceal nothing from each other, and they rival each other in singing with their heart to God. Christ is pleased to see and hear these things. He sends down his peace upon them. Where two are thus met he is with them, and where he is the evil one cannot come." That is, perhaps, Peter's thought here.

1. Mutual prayer is the first and most natural form of spiritual intercourse. If we cannot break through our reserve so far as to pray together, it is unlikely that we have any communion on spiritual topics. It would seem the first instinct of a Christian man to ask her he loves best to kneel with him at the throne of grace. Probably this prayer is the door to spiritual intercourse, the removal of the barriers of timidity through which we must pass to the enjoyment of a mutual piety.

2. The utterance before God of a common experience tends to conscious spiritual oneness. We never know how much we are one with other saints till we join with them in prayer; then we find ourselves sorrowing, rejoicing, hoping, loving, fearing, trusting alike, and are thereby drawn closer together still. That principle operates even more certainly in the mutual prayer of husband and wife.

3. The fact of mutual prayer tends to mutual spiritual fidelity. Would not mutual prayer go far to be a remedy for the difficulty which it is to be of spiritual use to those nearest to us? The parent who prays with his household, the husband with his wife, will find it specially hard to sin against or with them. As the spirit of prayer prevails, the spirit of unkindness, indifference, evil example, etc., will lessen. "That your prayers be not hindered" is thus the warning to those who would be "heirs together of the grace of life."

III. THIS PRAYER REQUIRES THE FULFILLMENT OF MUTUAL DUTIES FOR ITS SUCCESS . If prayer helps duty, so duty helps prayer. Is not the fact that some Christians in the same home seldom pray together, due to the fact of an inconsistent life—the life of a kind which makes the proposal to pray impossible? That seems to be the idea here: "Ye husbands, dwell with them,… giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers," etc.

1. The consideration of what we owe to one another will prevent the neglect of mutual prayer. "Honor" is due to the wife on the physical ground—she is "weaker," which brings corresponding duties to the stronger; and on the spiritual ground—she is partaker of the same immortal nature, with its great conflicts and high responsibilities, equally an heir of Divine grace, which brings corresponding duties to the fellow-heir. The consideration of that should lead to united prayer.

2. The fulfillment of what we owe will afford the right spirit for prayer. As long as the wife is defrauded of what she has a right to, mutual prayer, if not impossible, will be robbed of its sweetness and power. Unkindness and bitterness kilt prayer. Mutual prayer can only flourish in the atmosphere of mutual love - C.N.

1 Peter 3:8 - The conduct that becomes the Christian towards other Christians.

" Finally, be ye all like-minded, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous." Only a colon separates this passage from what follows: ought it not, therefore, to be taken with the subsequent verses? I think not. Peter is evidently thinking here of the mutual relation of believers; whilst in the next verse he passes to the thought of how Christians should treat their persecutors: "Not rendering railing for railing," etc. Then why should there only be a colon between the two? Because the two are so closely connected. It is in fellowship with our brethren that we find much of the inspiration we need for facing and conquering persecution from without.

I. BROTHERLY LOVE THE IDEAL OF A CHRISTIAN CHURCH . Is it possible for a Christian to have no practical relationship with the Church? I do not say that it is not possible, but such a position is very unlikely. A Christian is he who is born into the family of God, and a certain close relationship to the Father's other children is, in the nature of the case, almost inevitable.

1. By brotherly love we come nearest to the spirit of the Father. The feelings which are classed under the term "love" vary considerably. Love may be due to admiration for the personal qualities of another, to a common interest in Church matters, to a sense of obligation, the fruit of gratitude; but there is nothing essentially Christian in all that. Brotherly love is to love another because he is our brother, and for no other reason; not because there is anything lovely in him, but just because we have a common father. Brotherly love towards God's children—that is Divine; that is to be of one spirit with the Father; that is to feel in measure as he does.

2. By brotherly love we come nearest to the example of Christ. The Church is to be a perpetual representation of Jesus—what he was and is. By his gracious Spirit he is embodied in his people; and they most truly approach his likeness who love those who are his. He loves the world; he died to save it; but he has a love of fellowship for those who come to him out of the world that he can have for no others, his love, his joy, his work, his life, his glory, all theirs; reaching the climax in the prayer, "That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.'

3. By brotherly love we come nearest to the fulfillment of our mission as a Church. The Church has a mission to itself as well as to the world. Christians are banded together in fellowship for mutual help; they are united that they may build up one another; and this building up is to be done by love. What will not love do for the brethren? It will encourage the timid, help the weak, uphold the infirm, seek the wandering, give the vigor of joy to those who are strong, will stoop even to wash the disciples' feet. The Church, fulfilling her mission to herself in love, thereby begins her mission to the world.


1. Divergence of aim. "Be ye all like-minded." That does not mean unanimity of sentiment and action in all matters; for that is manifestly impossible. Variety of thought and feeling and action there must obviously be; but there is, of course, a limit to this variety. The Church cannot fulfill her calling as the "pillar and ground of the truth" unless there be a consent of opinion as to what that truth in its essential features is. We have different work, different positions in the Church, and sometimes different views as to the best things to do; but if Christian love is to be maintained, as the different colors into which the prism diverges the light—red, and purple, and orange, and the rest—all blend and are lost in the pure white ray they form, so we must learn the secret of blending our differences in a holy unanimity. Perhaps nothing is harder than to sink, and that gracefully, so that no one knows we are doing it, our personal feeling into the common feeling of the rest. How can all be like-minded? In the Revised Version the word "courteous" drops out, and in its place we have "humble-minded." That is it; heart-culture, personal discipline, stern struggle, are needed if we are to be like-minded, laying a strong hand on self, and keeping it under when it wants to rise.

2. Exclusiveness of feeling. " Compassionate " (the Greek word is συμπαθεῖς , our word, "sympathy," fellow-feeling). Our Churches are not always conspicuous for that. They are often broken up into little sets, little bands of friends complete in themselves; then farewell to the reign of Christian love, with its benediction, and in its place expect hard thoughts, bitter feelings, wounded spirits, lonely lives, and the curse that means. But how can we get this compassion? The apostle adds, "tenderhearted" (as the same Greek word is rendered in Ephesians 4:32 ), and in that he may be showing us how to secure the like-heartedness. It comes from keeping the heart tender. We must live much with Christ; a tender heart will come from that, and a like tenderness with his people.

III. WE HAVE HERE THE INFLUENCE OF OUR ATTAINMENT OF THIS IDEAL ( OF BROTHERLY LOVE ) ON THE WORLD . The Church has a mission to those who are without; but that will not be fulfilled till her mission to herself is fulfilled. A Church building up herself in love will be the Church which compels the Gentiles to "glorify God in the day of visitation."

1. The Spirit works where love is. Absence of love is to him an ungenial atmosphere; it grieves him and tempts him to depart, or to withhold his gracious influences.

2. The beauty of piety reveals itself where love is. Love which is independent of the restraints of natural affection, and loves men not because they are good, but because God loves them; love which is disinterested and strong to sustain and protect, and tender to make common cause with those who need it, and which sheds a holy grace over the life;—that love will at least constrain the world to acknowledge its Divinity, and we may expect to hear more frequently that welcome utterance, "I will go with you, for I perceive that God is with you." And God himself will triumph over such, in the ancient words, "I drew them with cords of love."—C. N.

1 Peter 3:9-17 - The conduct becoming the Christian towards his persecutors.

Peter's Epistles were written on the very eve of the persecution by Nero, who, anxious to divert the suspicions of the people who accused him of setting fire to Rome, charged the Christians with the crime, and caused them to be seized and tortured and slain. Some were crucified; some were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, that they might be torn by the dogs; some, having been rubbed over with pitch, were made to serve as torches to light up the imperial gardens,—this gratified at once sovereign and people. It is true that this severity was confined to the neighborhood of Rome, but Rome was the center of life to her provinces; the pulsations of the heart thrilled to the most distant parts of the empire. The words of our text have a new meaning as they rise before us on this dark background. Some may ask—What is the bearing of this on us? The answer is, that when Paul said, "They that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution," he uttered what would be a fact to the end of the age. The fire, the rack, the headsman's axe, are gone; but in their place there are words that burn, looks that go like poisoned shafts to the soul, and treatment that stings like a scourge. As long as the truth which the Church is called to maintain and to live before a world that hates it is what it is, as long as our spiritual life needs trial for its cleansing and development, so long will Christ's people find how true it is that, because they are not of the world, but Christ hath chosen them out of the world, therefore the world hateth them. We can only glance at the bare outline of such a long passage as this. It contains three requirements, each of which has a benediction attached to it.

I. CALL TO BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US . From the ninth verse to the twelfth: you can hardly read these words without feeling you are listening to one who heard the sermon on the mount, and is inspired with its spirit; and we cannot help noting the change they imply in Peter himself. But perhaps it was what he saw in his Lord, more than what he heard from him, to which the change was due; Christ's character carrying his words home with transfiguring force. We do not wonder that it was Peter who wrote, " Not rendering evil for evil," etc., and it is the word and example of the same gracious Lord that lays the same burden on us. And mark the blessing to ourselves that grows out of that. Never give place to evil in word, or act, or thought, let the provocation be what it may. Yea, not only so, return evil with good, recompense wrong with right, and your fidelity to Christ will make an open way through the skies, through which you shall see his smile and hear his " Well done!" and find for your prayers and spirit a clear path to his throne.

II. CALL TO BE FEARLESS ABOUT WHAT OUR PERSECUTORS CAN DO TO US . "And who is he that will harm you," etc.? Persecution need not harm us, brethren; it is only one of God's refining fires, that, when thus he has tried us, we may come forth as gold. And what is the remedy for this fear? Peter is thinking of a passage in Isaiah where Judah is called, instead of fearing idolatrous Syria and trusting in Sennacherib, to fear and trust in the Lord. "Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear." Now, with that Old Testament passage before us, the change which the Revisers have made here is very striking. Instead of" Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts," it is, "Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord." Peter, the Jew, who knew that perhaps the very highest title which could be ascribed to Jehovah was "the Lord of hosts," did not hesitate to give that title to Christ. Peter had known him in the humiliation of his human life; he had even washed Peter's feet, yet Peter uses his name and that of "the Lord of hosts" as convertible terms—speaks of these two as one. Peter, at least, had no doubt of the Deity of Jesus. And this attitude also has a blessing attached to it, "If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, blessed are ye."

III. CALL TO MAINTAIN A GOOD CONSCIENCE IN THOSE THINGS ABOUT WHICH OUR PERSECUTORS REPROACH US . "And be ready always to give an answer," etc. A good conscience, a good conduct, a good answer—I think that is the order here. A good conscience. Be sure that you are suffering for goodness and not for badness; be sure that you have an unclouded sky between you and God; be sure that, when your heart does not condemn you, you hear him saying, "Neither do I condemn thee." And out of that will come what Peter calls "your good conversation," i.e. conduct. For as the sunshine develops and perfects the hidden beauties of nature and the fruits of the earth, so does the light of God's favor resting upon the conscious soul draw forth into character the graces of the spiritual life. The clear conscience that catches Heaven's smile is always followed by a brave and beautiful piety, which is its own justification against those who speak evil of it. And see the blessing attached to that! There is a broad sense, no doubt, in which we might apply these words to the Christian hope generally, and the duty of being able to give an intelligent and saris-factory reason for its possession; but their meaning here seems to be more defined. The good conduct that issues from the good conscience and puts to shame the evil speakers, leads them to question us about the hope which they see hidden within us and sustaining us, and they come to envy it, and secretly to want to know what it is. Now, says Peter, "be ready to tell them; let them know that it is the grace of Christ which renews and sanctifies." One of the benedictions of persecution endured and triumphed over is that it may bring the very persecutors themselves to the feet of Jesus. Then, brethren, can we not endorse the truth in the verse which closes this long passage, "It is good, if the will of the Lord be so, that ye suffer for well-doing." It is good in its purifying efficacy on ourselves; it is good in its tendency to glorify God; it is good as a saving power on our fellow-men - C.N.

1 Peter 3:18-22 - The remembrance of atonement by our Lord, a help to persecuted Christians.

We omit for the present the clause in the nineteenth verse, and will consider that afterwards. "For Christ hath once suffered for sins," etc. The death of Christ is not only the purchase of our redemption, it is also the power by which we enter into what redemption means. Christ's cross is not only the secret of pardon, but also of holiness. Christ alone will not avail us; it must be Christ crucified, every step of the way, till what has been the inspiration of our spiritual life down here, of every duty, every conflict, every joy, every hope, will be the inspiration of our song up there: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain." Let us see how Christ's sufferings bear on the conduct of his persecuted people.

I. THE SUBSTITUTIONARY SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST . "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God."

1. A plain statement of the substitutionary character of our Lord ' s sacrifice. How does Christ save? By substitution. In that word is the explanation of our Lord's sacrifice and of his sufferings; they were endured by him as our Substitute, in our stead. They were undoubtedly the expression of his perfect consecration to the Father, the great proof of his obedience; they were also the great revelation of God's love and mercy to the sinful, of his yearning for the restoration of the lost; but they were this, without which they would have been in every other respect unavailing, they were the endurance in the stead of the sinner, of that which alone makes his righteous forgiveness possible. But it is said that Jesus was simply revealing what God was willing to bear for man's redemption, and that it is by this revelation of love he saves us. That is not what Scripture says. "God made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;" "Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree [or, 'to the tree,' and left them there]." But, says another, " Christ saves by his holy example, leading us to holiness, and not by his cruel sufferings. So far from that, the apostles, in their teaching, gave weight to the death of Christ as the world's hope. "In him we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins," "We are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ;" "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." Others say that this was a mere Jewish mode of expression; the apostles were only meeting Jewish prejudice when they spoke thus. But we find they use the same words in writing to the Gentiles—to the Churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, etc. It is also said that there is an element of injustice in the idea of substitution. Is it not unjust to inflict the punishment incurred by one on another who is innocent? But that is not the case here. Jesus was God—this was God himself making the atonement necessary for our forgiveness by shedding his own blood.

2. The necessity for such a sacrifice is implied in its design. What was its design? "To bring to God," says the text. But there are two great obstacles to our coming back to God—one on his part, and one on ours. How can he receive us sinners? How can we dare to come? How can God receive us? "Cannot I," says a father, "forgive my child just because I will?" No, you cannot, if, like the great Father, you have been compelled to declare what the penalty of transgression must be. That is God's position. He can only forgive if he forgives righteously. How shall he do that? The substitution of Christ is the answer. Apart from that, how could we dare to go to him? Some say Christ saves by revealing God's love, by alluring us to follow his example of self-sacrifice. If that is all the gospel you have for me, I am condemned the more; for I am conscious of the unutterable distance between what Jesus was and what I am. I dare not go to God, and I must pass into the unseen hopeless. But when we follow the meaning of these words, "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God," we can go hack to God then, and are welcomed for Christ's sake.


1. Quickened spiritual power. "Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." It should read, "in the spirit," not "by the Spirit." There is no reference here to the work of God the Spirit, to whom elsewhere the resurrection of Christ is attributed; it is here simply a contrast between Christ's flesh and his spirit. His spirit did not die; it was raised by the death of the flesh into new energy, and he became able to do what before was impossible. He had often thought of this: "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

2. Influence on spirits in prison. This subject we will leave for the present.

3. Ascension to heavenly authority. "Who is gone into heaven," etc. What see we now? "I looked, and behold in the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain." Redemption enthroned. All things required to glorify redemption. Devils restrained by the Redeemer's will; angels his swill-winged messengers; providences, his servants; history, the unfolding of his purpose; the kingdoms of this world become his kingdom; and he ever living to secure this glorious consummation. But this had been impossible apart from the atonement; it was only through the cross that Jesus changed the throne of heaven from that of almightiness and mercy to that of redemption.


1. It sets forth Christ ' s claim on our suffering for him. There surely is nothing like a remembrance of his cross to constrain us to take up ours.

2. It reminds the persecuted of the spiritual quickening that may come through the suffering. For what was true of Jesus is to be as true of us: "Put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the spirit." The storm which shakes us to the center sends our roots down deeper, mooring us the faster to the Rock of Ages. Suffering has a rare tendency to send us down to the foundation of things, a rare tendency to send us home to the Life of all, and closer contact with him means more life from him.

3. This points to the glorious end of the suffering of the saints. First the cross, then the crown. Jesus once suffered, then heaven and the right hand of God, and "angels and authorities and powers subject unto him."—C.N.

1 Peter 3:19 , 1 Peter 3:21 . - The crucified Savior quickened in spirit preaching to the spirits in prison.

We have already seen that through our Lord's sufferings he secured quickened spiritual power—influence over spirits in prison, and ascension to heavenly authority. This passage reveals him quickened in spirit, preaching to the "spirits in prison." Now, if that be the apostle's line of thought, the correct meaning of this passage, whatever it be, will fall in naturally with it. May I venture to show why I cannot accept either of two common explanations of these words? It is thought by some that after our Lord's death (possibly in the interval between his death and resurrection ) his disembodied spirit passed into the unseen world, and preached the gospel to the disobedient dead. Now, if that be the proper meaning of the words, if they cannot mean anything else, we must accept it. That the words taken by themselves will bear that meaning cannot probably be denied: then why should we hesitate to adopt it? I might remind you that as far as those three days are concerned, we seem to be told that they were spent in Paradise with the Father and the redeemed. "This day," he said to the penitent thief, "thou shalt be with me in Paradise;" "Father," he said, "into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the spirit." Then, if this passage does mean that Christ preached to the dead, it only speaks of the dead in the days of Noah; it seems incredible that these comparative few should be singled out from the great mass of mankind for so great a blessing. I might remind you, too, that if these words mean that the impenitent dead have a second chance, they stand alone in Scripture, at least as far as I am aware. But weightier than all is the fact that the plain teaching of this book is to the contrary. I know the tenacity with which we cling to the hope that those who have never heard the gospel shall yet hear it, if not here, hereafter; and that many have cherished this hope, partly on the strength of these words. My hope of that is not less because I do not see it encouraged here. I know God well enough, and I know this book well enough, to know that no man will be condemned because of Adam's sin; through Christ every man stands on a fair footing; the condemning sin is rejection. Then the Savior must be presented to each hereafter, if not here. I cling to the hope that the preaching of the Savior on the other side of the grave will bring multitudes to heaven who died without a gospel. But for you who have the gospel now, this is your day of grace; with you, salvation is now or never. It has been supposed that these words refer to Christ, by his Spirit, preaching in the days of Noah to men who were then on earth, but who, when the apostle wrote, were in the unseen world—"spirits in prison." But there are two fatal objections to this meaning—one is, that there is nothing here about God the Spirit, as I have already shown; and the other is that such a meaning is foreign to the drift of thought in the chapter. It is not easy to see what room there is in that for the interjection of a reference to the Spirit of God striving with men nearly three thousand years before; it seems altogether irrelevant to the apostle's argument—that alone condemns it.

I. WHAT , THEN , IS THE MEANING OF THE PASSAGE ? There is no necessity to refer the words, "spirits in prison," to those who have passed into the unseen world; for in Scripture the ungodly are constantly spoken of as in a state of imprisonment, bondage, captivity. "Spirits in prison" may then be said to be a frequent designation of the unredeemed on earth; indeed, the very word "redemption" carries this idea. Some may object that the context seems to imply that the spirits referred to are the spirits of the dead. Not necessarily so. If we refer the expression not to certain individuals, but to the whole lost race, the difficulty vanishes. Christ did not preach to the same persons that were disobedient before the Flood, but to the same race, the same spiritual condition. But did Christ thus preach? Certainly, through his servants. It has been said that the more correct title of the Acts of the Apostles would be the Acts of the Risen Lord. But why this reference to the days of Noah? If you look through Peter's Epistles you will see that he seems to have regarded the Flood as a dividing-line between two worlds, which afford points of contrast. We have this contrast here. The power of God over "spirits in prison" was straitened formerly,—after all the years through which his long-suffering waited, only "few, that is eight souls, were saved;" but since Christ suffered for sins, this is the record," The same day there were added to the Church about three thousand souls;" and the record ends with the great multitude which no man can number, standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.

II. THE DESIGNATION OF THOSE TO WHOM CHRIST PREACHED , " SPIRITS IN PRISON ." "Spirits:" what are they? Ah! who can tell? Immortal natures, whose greatness is not hinted at in the frail tabernacle in which they dwell. Spirits never destined to find their home in the dust, or their joys on earth, but to rise in the free vast world of spirits to the Father of spirits, wearing his likeness, fulfilling his will, sharing his glory, standing before his throne. Think of these in prison, bound by the fetters of sin, groping in darkness, in the narrow chamber of an ever-narrowing life—bound, with Satan for the gaoler. The power with which the crucified Christ preached to these. The power over men and on men's behalf which our Lord possesses, he acquired through his cross; only if he were "lifted up" would he be able to draw all men unto him.

III. THE FREEDOM IN THE CLEANSING OF THE CONSCIENCE WHICH RESULTED FROM HIS PREACHING . The twenty-first verse is very complicated; the mixture of metaphor, too, is not in accord with modern ideas, but it is frequent in Scripture. Here there are two incongruous figures blended, but the idea is this: Peter had said that Noah was saved by water, and he adds as it were, "And by the way it is water that saves you, that which is typified in the water of baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience towards God, through the resurrection of Christ. Sin is the great bond that holds Satan's captives fast—sin in the conscience; there is no freedom for the soul till that is removed. Salvation, i.e. freedom, comes through cleansing (water); cleansing comes through a crucified Savior; "the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin." Brethren, therein lies Christ's delivering power - C.N.

- The Pulpit Commentary