In this inscription we have three parts:—
I. The author of it, described, 1. By his name—Peter. His first name was Simon, and Jesus Christ gave him the surname of Peter, which signifies a rock, as a commendation of his faith, and to denote that he should be an eminent pillar in the church of God, Gal. 2:9. 2. By his office—an apostle of Jesus Christ. The word signifies one sent, a legate, a messenger, any one sent in Christ’s name and about his work; but more strictly it signifies the highest office in the Christian church. 1 Cor. 12:28; God hath set some in the church, first apostles. Their dignity and pre-eminence lay in these things:—They were immediately chosen by Christ himself,—they were first witnesses, then preachers, of the resurrection of Christ, and so of the entire gospel-dispensation,—their gifts were excellent and extraordinary,—they had a power of working miracles, not at all times, but when Christ pleased,—they were led into all truth, were endowed with the spirit of prophecy, and they had an extent of power and jurisdiction beyond all others; every apostle was a universal bishop in all churches, and over all ministers. In this humble manner Peter, (1.) Asserts his own character as an apostle. Hence learn, A man may lawfully acknowledge, and sometimes is bound to assert, the gifts and graces of God to him. To pretend to what we have not is hypocrisy; and to deny what we have is ingratitude. (2.) He mentions his apostolical function as his warrant and call to write this epistle to these people. Note, It concerns all, but especially ministers, to consider well their warrant and call from God to their work. This will justify them to others, and give them inward support and comfort under all dangers and discouragements.
II. The persons to whom this epistle was addressed, and they are described,
1. By their external condition—Strangers dispersed throughout Pontus, Galatia, etc. They were chiefly Jews, descended (as Dr. Prideaux thinks) from those Jews who were translated from Babylon, by order of Antiochus king of Syria, about two hundred years before the coming of Christ, and placed in the cities of Asia Minor. It is very likely that our apostle had been among them, and converted them, being the apostle of the circumcision, and that he afterwards wrote this epistle to them from Babylon, where multitudes of the Jewish nation then resided. At present, their circumstances were poor and afflicted. (1.) The best of God’s servants may, through the hardships of times and providences, be dispersed about, and forced to leave their native countries. Those of whom the world was not worthy have been forced to wander in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. (2.) We ought to have a special regard to the dispersed persecuted servants of God. These were the objects of this apostle’s particular care and compassion. We should proportion our regard to the excellency and to the necessity of the saints. (3.) The value of good people ought not to be estimated by their present external condition. Here was a set of excellent people, beloved of God, and yet strangers, dispersed and poor in the world; the eye of God was upon them in all their dispersions, and the apostle was tenderly careful to write to them for their direction and consolation.
2. They are described by their spiritual condition: Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, etc. These poor strangers, who were oppressed and despised in the world, were nevertheless in high esteem with the great God, and in the most honourable state that any person can be in during this life; for they were,
(1.) Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Election is either to an office: so Saul was the man whom the Lord chose to be king (1 Sam. 10:24), and our Lord says to his apostles, Have not I chosen you twelve? (John 6:70); or it is to a church-state, for the enjoyment of special privileges: thus Israel was God’s elect (Deut. 7:6), For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself above all people that are upon the face of the earth; or it is to eternal salvation: God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. This is the election here spoken of, importing God’s gracious decree or resolution to save some, and bring them, through Christ, by proper means, to eternal life. [1.] This election is said to be according to the foreknowledge of God. Foreknowledge may be taken in two ways:—First, for mere prescience, foresight, or understanding, that such a thing will be, before it comes to pass. Thus a mathematician certainly foreknows that at such a time there will be an eclipse. This sort of foreknowledge is in God, who at one commanding view sees all things that ever were, or are, or ever will be. But such a prescience is not the cause why any thing is so or so, though in the event it certainly will be so, as the mathematician who foresees an eclipse does not thereby cause that eclipse to be. Secondly, Foreknowledge sometimes signifies counsel, appointment, and approbation. Acts 2:23; Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. The death of Christ was not only foreseen, but fore-ordained, as 1 Pet. 1:20. Take it thus here; so the sense is, elect according to the counsel, ordination, and free grace of God. [2.] It is added, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. By the Father we are here to understand the first person of the blessed Trinity. There is an order among the three persons, though no superiority; they are equal in power and glory, and there is an agreed economy in their works. Thus, in the affair of man’s redemption, election is by way of eminency ascribed to the Father, as reconciliation is to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Ghost, though in each of these one person is not so entirely interested as to exclude the other two. Hereby the persons of the Trinity are more clearly discovered to us, and we are taught what obligations we are under to each of them distinctly.
(2.) They were elect through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. The end and last result of election is eternal life and salvation; but, before this can be accomplished, every elect person must be sanctified by the Spirit, and justified by the blood of Jesus. God’s decree for man’s salvation always operates through sanctification of the Spirit and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. By sanctification here understand, not a federal sanctification only, but a real one, begun in regeneration, whereby we are renewed after the image of God and made new creatures, and carried on in the daily exercise of holiness, mortifying our sins more and more, and living to God in all the duties of a Christian life, which is here summed up in one word, obedience, comprehending all the duties of Christianity. By the Spirit some would have the apostle to mean the spirit of man, the subject sanctified. The legal or typical sanctification operated no further than the purifying of the flesh, but the Christian dispensation takes effect upon the spirit of man, and purifies that. Others, with better reason, think that by spirit is meant the Holy Ghost, the author of sanctification. He renews the mind, mortifies our sins (Rom. 8:13), and produces his excellent fruits in the hearts of Christians, Gal. 5:22, 23. This sanctification of the Spirit implies the use of means. Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth, John 17:17. Unto obedience. This word, as it is pointed in our translation, is referred to what goes before it, and denotes the end of sanctification, which is, to bring rebellious sinners to obedience again, to universal obedience, to obey the truth and gospel of Christ: You have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit, 1 Pet. 1:22.
(3.) They were elected also to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus. They were designed by God’s decree to be sanctified by the Spirit, and to be purified by the merit and blood of Christ. Here is a manifest allusion to the typical sprinklings of blood under the law, which language these Jewish converts understood very well. The blood of the sacrifices must not only be shed but sprinkled, to denote that the benefits designed thereby are applied and imputed to the offerers. Thus the blood of Christ, the grand and all-sufficient sacrifice, typified by the legal sacrifices, was not only shed, but must be sprinkled and communicated to every one of these elect Christians, that through faith in his blood they may obtain remission of sin, Rom. 3:25. This blood of sprinkling justifies before God (Rom. 5:9), seals the covenant between God and us, of which the Lord’s supper is a sign (Luke 22:20), cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7), and admits us into heaven, Heb. 10:19. Note, [1.] God hath elected some to eternal life, some, not all; persons, not qualification. [2.] All that are chosen to eternal life as the end are chosen to obedience as the way. [3.] Unless a person be sanctified by the Spirit, and sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, there will be no true obedience in the life. [4.] There is a consent and co-operation of all the persons of the Trinity in the affair of man’s salvation, and their acts are commensurate one to another: whoever the Father elects the Spirit sanctifies unto obedience, and the Son redeems and sprinkles with his blood. [5.] The doctrine of the Trinity lies at the foundation of all revealed religion. If you deny the proper deity of the Son and Holy Spirit, you invalidate the redemption of the one and the gracious operations of the other, and by this means destroy the foundation of your own safety and comfort.
III. The salutation follows: Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied. The blessings desired for them are grace and peace. 1. Grace—the free favour of God, with all its proper effects, pardoning, healing, assisting, and saving. 2. Peace. All sorts of peace may be here intended, domestic, civil, ecclesiastical peace in the church, and spiritual peace with God, with the feeling of it in our own consciences. 3. Here is the request or prayer, in relations to these blessings—that they may be multiplied, which implies that they were already possessed in some degree of these blessings, and he wishes them the continuation, the increase, and the perfection of them. Learn, (1.) Those who possess spiritual blessings in their own souls earnestly desire the communication of the same to others. The grace of God is a generous, not a selfish principle. (2.) The best blessings we can desire for ourselves, or one for another, are grace and peace, with the multiplication of them; therefore the apostles so often make this their prayer in the beginning and end of their epistles. (3.) Solid peace cannot be enjoyed where there is no true grace; first grace, then peace. Peace without grace is mere stupidity; but grace may be true where there is for a time no actual peace; as Heman was distracted with terror, and Christ was once in an agony. (4.) The increase of grace and peace, as well as the first gift of them, is from God. Where he gives true grace he will give more grace; and every good man earnestly desires the improvement and multiplication of these blessings in himself and others.