The general rule of a Christian conversation is this, it must be honest, which it cannot be if there be not a conscientious discharge of all relative duties. The apostle here particularly treats of these distinctly.
I. The case of subjects. Christians were not only reputed innovators in religion, but disturbers of the state; it was highly necessary, therefore, that the apostle should settle the rules and measures of obedience to the civil magistrate, which he does here, where,
1. The duty required is submission, which comprises loyalty and reverence to their persons, obedience to their just laws and commands, and subjection to legal penalties.
2. The persons or objects to whom this submission is due are described, (1.) More generally: Every ordinance of man. Magistracy is certainly of divine right; but the particular form of government, the power of the magistrate, and the persons who are to execute this power, are of human institution, and are governed by the laws and constitutions of each particular country; and this is a general rule, binding in all nations, let the established form of be what it will. (2.) Particularly: To the king, as supreme, first in dignity and most eminent in degree; the king is a legal person, not a tyrant: or unto governors, deputies, proconsuls, rulers of provinces, who are sent by him, that is, commissioned by him to govern.
3. The reasons to enforce this duty are,
(1.) For the Lord’s sake, who had ordained magistracy for the good of mankind, who has required obedience and submission (Rom. 13:1-14), and whose honour is concerned in the dutiful behavior of subjects to their sovereigns.
(2.) From the end and use of the magistrate’s office, which are, to punish evil-doers, and to praise and encourage all those that do well. They were appointed for the good of societies; and, where this end is not pursued, the fault is not in their institution but their practice. [1.] True religion is the best support of civil government; it requires submission for the Lord’s sake, and for conscience’ sake. [2.] All the punishments, and all the magistrates in the world, cannot hinder but there will be evil-doers in it. [3.] The best way the magistrate can take to discharge his own duty, and to amend the world, is to punish well and reward well.
(3.) Another reason why Christians should submit to the evil magistrate is because it is the will of God, and consequently their duty; and because it is the way to put to silence the malicious slanders of ignorant and foolish men, 1 Pet. 2:15. Learn, [1.] The will of God is, to a good man, the strongest reason for any duty. [2.] Obedience to magistrates is a considerable branch of a Christian’s duty: So is the will of God. [3.] A Christian must endeavour, in all relations, to behave himself so as to put to silence the unreasonable reproaches of the most ignorant and foolish men. [4.] Those who speak against religion and religious people are ignorant and foolish.
(4.) He reminds them of the spiritual nature of Christian liberty. The Jews, from Deut. 17:15; concluded that they were bound to obey no sovereign but one taken from their own brethren; and the converted Jews thought they were free from subjection by their relation to Christ. To prevent their mistakes, the apostle tells the Christians that they were free, but from what? Not from duty or obedience to God’s law, which requires subjection to the civil magistrate. They were free spiritually from the bondage of sin and Satan, and the ceremonial law; but they must not make their Christian liberty a cloak or covering for any wickedness, or for the neglect of any duty towards God or towards their superiors, but must still remember they were the servants of God. Learn, [1.] All the servants of Christ are free men (John 8:36); they are free from Satans’ dominion, the law’s condemnation, the wrath of God, the uneasiness of duty, and the terrors of death. [2.] The servants of Jesus Christ ought to be very careful not to abuse their Christian liberty; they must not make it a cover or cloak for any wickedness against God or disobedience to superiors.
4. The apostle concludes his discourse concerning the duty of subjects with four admirable precepts:—(1.) Honour all men. A due respect is to be given to all men; the poor are not to be despised (Prov. 17:5); the wicked must be honoured, not for their wickedness, but for any other qualities, such as wit, prudence, courage, eminency of employment, or the hoary head. Abraham, Jacob, Samuel, the prophets, and the apostles, never scrupled to give due honour to bad men. (2.) Love the brotherhood. All Christians are a fraternity, united to Christ the head, alike disposed and qualified, nearly related in the same interest, having communion one with another, and going to the same home; they should therefore love one another with an especial affection. (3.) Fear God with the highest reverence, duty, and submission; if this be wanting, none of the other three duties can be performed as they ought. (4.) Honour the king with that highest honour that is peculiarly due to him above other men.
II. The case of servants wanted an apostolical determination as well as that of subjects, for they imagined that their Christian liberty set them free from their unbelieving and cruel masters; to this the apostle answers, Servants, be subject, 1 Pet. 2:18. By servants he means those who were strictly such, whether hired, or bought with money, or taken in the wars, or born in the house, or those who served by contract for a limited time, as apprentices. Observe,
1. He orders them to be subject, to do their business faithfully and honestly, to conduct themselves, as inferiors ought, with reverence and affection, and to submit patiently to hardships and inconveniences. This subjection they owe to their masters, who have a right to their service; and that not only to the good and gentle, such as use them well and abate somewhat of their right, but even to the crooked and perverse, who are scarcely to be pleased at all. Learn, (1.) Servants ought to behave themselves to their masters with submission, and fear of displeasing them. (2.) The sinful misconduct of one relation does not justify the sinful behaviour of the other; the servant is bound to do his duty, though the master be sinfully froward and perverse. (3.) Good people are meek and gentle to their servants and inferiors. Our holy apostle shows his love and concern for the souls of poor servants, as well as for higher people. Herein he ought to be imitated by all inferior ministers, who should distinctly apply their counsels to the lower, the meaner, the younger, and the poorer sort of their hearers, as well as others.
2. Having charged them to be subject, he condescends to reason with them about it.
(1.) If they were patient under their hardships, while they suffered unjustly, and continued doing their duty to their unbelieving and untoward masters, this would e acceptable to God, and he would reward all that they suffered for conscience towards him; but to be patient when they were justly chastised would deserve no commendation at all; it is only doing well, and suffering patiently for that, which is acceptable with God, 1 Pet. 2:19, 20. Learn, [1.] There is no condition so mean but a man may live conscientiously in it, and glorify God in it; the meanest servant may do so. [2.] The most conscientious persons are very often the greatest sufferers. For conscience towards God, they suffer wrongfully; they do well, and suffer for it; but sufferers of this sort are praiseworthy, they do honour to God and to religion, and they are accepted of him; and this is their highest support and satisfaction. [3.] Deserved sufferings must be endured with patience: If you are buffeted for your faults, you must take it patiently. Sufferings in this world are not always pledges of our future happiness; if children or servants be rude and undutiful, and suffer for it, this will neither be acceptable with God nor procure the praise of men.
(2.) More reasons are given to encourage Christian servants to patience under unjust sufferings, 1 Pet. 2:21. [1.] From their Christian calling and profession: Hereunto were you called. [2.] From the example of Christ, who suffered for us, and so became our example, that we should follow his steps, whence learn, First, Good Christians are a sort of people called to be sufferers, and therefore they must expect it; by the terms of Christianity they are bound to deny themselves, and take up the cross; they are called by the commands of Christ, by the dispensations of Providence, and by the preparations of divine grace; and, by the practice of Jesus Christ, they are bound to suffer when thus called to it. Secondly, Jesus Christ suffered for you, or for us; it was not the Father that suffered, but he whom the Father sanctified, and sent into the world, for that end; it was both the body and soul of Christ that suffered, and he suffered for us, in our stead and for our good, 1 Pet. 2:24. Thirdly, The sufferings of Christ should quiet us under the most unjust and cruel sufferings we meet with in the world. He suffered voluntarily, not for himself, but for us, with the utmost readiness, with perfect patience, from all quarters, and all this though he was God-man; shall not we sinners, who deserve the worst, submit to the light afflictions of this life, which work for us unspeakable advantages afterwards?
3. The example of Christ’s subjection and patience is here explained and amplified: Christ suffered, (1.) Wrongfully, and without cause; for he did no sin, 1 Pet. 2:22. He had done no violence, no injustice or wrong to any one—he wrought no iniquity of any sort whatever; neither was guile found in his mouth (Isa. 53:9), his words, as well as his actions, were all sincere, just, and right. (2.) Patiently: When he was reviled, he reviled not again (1 Pet. 2:23); when they blasphemed him, mocked him, called him foul names, he was dumb, and opened not his mouth; when they went further, to real injuries, beating, buffeting, and crowning him with thorns, he threatened not; but committed both himself and his cause to God that judgeth righteously, who would in time clear his innocency, and avenge him on his enemies. Learn, [1.] Our Blessed Redeemer was perfectly holy, and so free from sin that no temptation, no provocation whatsoever, could extort from him so much as the least sinful or indecent word. [2.] Provocations to sin can never justify the commission of it. The rudeness, cruelty, and injustice of enemies, will not justify Christians in reviling and revenge; the reasons for sin can never be so great, but we have always stronger reasons to avoid it. [3.] The judgment of God will determine justly upon every man and every cause; and thither we ought, with patience and resignation, to refer ourselves.
4. Lest any should think, from what is said, 1 Pet. 2:21-23, that Christ’s death was designed merely for an example of patience under sufferings, the apostle here adds a more glorious design and effect of it: Who his own self, etc., where note, (1.) The person suffering—Jesus Christ: His own self—in his own body. The expression his own self is emphatic, and necessary to show that he verified all the ancient prophecies, to distinguish him from the Levitical priests (who offered the blood of others, but he by himself purged our sins, Heb. 1:3), and to exclude all others from participation with him in the work of man’s redemption: it is added, in his body; not but that he suffered in his soul (Matt. 26:38), but the sufferings of the soul were inward and concealed, when those of the body were visible and more obvious to the consideration of these suffering servants, for whose sake this example is produced. (2.) The sufferings he underwent were stripes, wounds, and death, the death of the cross—servile and ignominious punishments! (3.) The reason of his sufferings: He bore our sins, which teaches, [1.] That Christ, in his sufferings, stood charged with our sins, as one who had undertaken to put them away by the sacrifice of himself, Isa. 53:6. [2.] That he bore the punishment of them, and thereby satisfied divine justice. [3.] That hereby he takes away our sins, and removes them away from us; as the scape-goat did typically bear the sins of the people on his head, and then carried them quite away, (Lev. 16:21, 22), so the Lamb of God does first bear our sins in his own body, and thereby take away the sins of the world, John 1:29. (4.) The fruits of Christ’s sufferings are, [1.] Our sanctification, consisting of the death, the mortification of sin, and a new holy life of righteousness, for both which we have an example, and powerful motives and abilities also, from the death and resurrection of Christ. [2.] Our justification. Christ was bruised and crucified as an expiatory sacrifice, and by his stripes we are healed. Learn, First, Jesus Christ bore the sins of all his people, and expiated them by his death upon the cross. Secondly, No man can depend safely upon Christ, as having borne his sin and expiated his guilt, till he dies unto sin and lives unto righteousness.
5. The apostle concludes his advice to Christian servants, by putting them in mind of the difference between their former and present condition, 1 Pet. 2:25. They were as sheep going astray, which represents, (1.) Man’s sin: he goes astray; it is his own act, he is not driven, but does voluntary go astray. (2.) His misery: he goes astray from the pasture, from the shepherd, and from the flock, and so exposes himself to innumerable dangers. (3.) Here is the recovery of these by conversion: But are now returned. The word is passive, and shows that the return of a sinner is the effect of divine grace. This return is from all their errors and wanderings, to Christ, who is the true careful shepherd, that loves his sheep, and laid down his life for them, who is the most vigilant pastor, and bishop, or overseer of souls. Learn, [1.] Sinners, before their conversion, are always going astray; their life is a continued error. [2.] Jesus Christ is the supreme shepherd and bishop of souls, who is always resident with his flock, and watchful over them. [3.] Those that expect the love and care of this universal pastor must return to him, must die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.